IN POLITE SOCIETY
Strike three, you're out! Lol
I usually hate “I don’t know who needs to hear this” declarations, but I have one.
I don’t know who needs to hear this, but in a normal game of bowling, if you hit a spare on the tenth and final frame, you get one more roll. If you bowl a strike on that tenth frame, you get two more rolls.
If your tenth frame ends without a strike or a spare, your game is over.
It has always been this way. Ever since I first went bowling as a little kid, all through the years of birthday parties, school field trips, summer camp outings, vacations with family in town. . . this has always been how traditional ten-pin bowling is played. The rules haven’t changed at any point since I’ve been alive. Little kids play this game, and little kids inevitably learn these rules. I’m not an “expert” at bowling, either. I just. . . remember how the game is played?
And yet, every single time I have EVER bowled, be it with family, friends, classmates, or even complete strangers, there are always MULTIPLE people who seem absolutely bewildered to learn that the last frame of the game sometimes plays differently than the previous turns. And I really don’t know exactly who needs to hear this, because the phenomenon transcends age, athletic ability, intelligence, and bowling frequency.
Family members will bowl a spare on their last frame of the game, only to stare at the overhead screen, turn back to look at the rest of us waiting for them, turn forward and stare at the lane, and look up at the screen again, absolutely mystified by what they’re discovering. Somehow their turn isn’t over yet! Of course, someone like me (not always me!) is forced to explain it to them.
It doesn’t matter how many times they’ve bowled over their many years of life, somehow this “quirk” of the rules absolutely does not stick with people. The rule isn't difficult to understand: in the game, bowling a spare adds 10 to your score plus whatever you get on your next roll. Bowling a strike adds 10 plus the sum of your next two rolls. So, if you bowl a strike or spare to finish the game, you need one or two more rolls to acquire those points to add on to your score. There is nothing mystifying about it. Why adults can have the ability to work and drive cars and take care of children and pay bills, but not simply remember a couple of simple rules to a game they have played hundreds of times, is so beyond me that the metaverse won’t let me coexist within its boundaries at the same time as that concept. I asked.
Oh wait, I do know, it’s actually because everyone on the planet continues to be stupid, day in, day out. Just kidding! Surely. ✍︎
IN POLITE SOCIETY
You'd fall asleep as soon as you hear the word "tax."
We just passed Tax Day, and every year around this time, people hem and haw about how they don’t know anything about taxes and how they wish they had been taught how to do them in school. Like clockwork.
Young people seem frustrated, appalled, and even resentful that there was no dedicated time in high school for an instructor to “teach” the class how to file taxes. “We took years of USELESS algebra,” they say, “but there was no time to learn something we’d actually need to know as an adult?”
YEAH. . . RIGHT. Taxes are definitely confusing, but how exactly do you propose someone go about teaching an entire class of high schoolers how to fill out random paperwork they’ve never seen before? Especially when most of them – even those who are already working – are still being claimed as dependents, and may continue to be for YEARS?
Does anyone really believe that even though students sleep, eat, talk, and stare at their phones every other school day of the year, they would’ve woken up and given their undivided attention on the day dedicated to learning TAXES? Above all else? And they would’ve retained it, five or ten years later? REALLY?
Not to mention, what do you think the tax lesson would look like? The actual filling out of the tax forms themselves are not what’s difficult. There are many free programs with modern interfaces that tell you exactly what to enter where – and often they can even import documents and fill out the forms themselves.
Sure, that all can be very tedious, and I wish there was less of it to do. But that doesn't change the fact that there isn’t anything to teach. I’d argue that the most complicated part of doing taxes is making sure you account for all of the different forms, transactions, and other activity they’ll ask about. There is absolutely no way to TEACH that. There isn’t anything TO teach.
You think a teenager is going to be starting to file and suddenly remember what a goddamn 1099-B form is? I see those forms every single year and still have no idea what they are before looking them up, which takes two seconds.
Think about it, even if high school had a tax lesson every single day of every year from ages 14 to 18, how would this make tax preparation go faster? You'd still need to collect all of the documents and enter in the numbers where they belong. You'd still need to look up information that pertains to your specific circumstances, so. . . how much time and energy would've been saved? WHAT WOULD'VE BEEN THE POINT? ✍︎
Let’s go and just churn this out.
Nowadays, I often hear people yell, “LET’S GO!” as an exclamation of triumph. When an athlete makes their play, for example, they don’t merely smile or clap their hands, pump a fist or call out a simple, “yeah!” as they may have in generations past. They scream “LET’S GO!” specifically, and they often repeat it again and again, looking around at their teammates.
“LET’S GO!” as they pound their chests, “LET’S GO!” as they dance around the court or field. “LET’S GO! LET’S GO! LET’S GO!” howled as they finish the feat, overcome with emotion and pride as they celebrate their achievement.
It’s not just athletes; laypeople do this too as they commemorate everyday accomplishments. But why say, “let’s go” when the effort has already been completed?
“Let’s go”. . . and do what? The imperative “let’s [let us] go” implies that something is to be started. “Let’s” go forth. “Let’s go” and begin working. Not, “let’s rest” or “let’s stop” now that we’ve accomplished what we’ve set out to do. Seemingly, every common contemporary utterance of the phrase “let’s go” is backwards: it’s timed to when the action or undertaking in question has already been successfully done.
Based on absolutely nothing, I’d wager that this modern use of the phrase is a result of the neverending “storylines” in sports and athletic advertising. Every athlete with recognition is a brand imbued with a storyline – wherein they’re constantly expected to be pursuing the next accomplishment, even when they themselves aren’t vocal about it. As such, even if one particular sporting event is over for the day, the athlete’s overall “journey” never ends. They’re almost obligated to yell out, “let’s go!” as they make the final play, to signal that this is just the first in a series of other triumphs still to come. God forbid the coaches, teammates, and fans think they’ve grown complacent with only that one particular accomplishment.
Of course, it’s not like everyday people on the street think about the “storylines” of their own lives when they imitate the behavior. We are simply dumb apes who mimic the social cues and slang of celebrities presented to us. It’s trickled down enough that people will exclaim “let’s go!” at the mere reception of new information. So say someone learns some exciting news – “let’s go!” I’ve even seen videos where people introduce and say a fact about themselves and then add in a “let’s go” to that (no other content follows the declaration).
P.S. Another common phrase never employed properly? “I’m done.” People seem to dramatically exclaim, “I’m done,” as a way of shutting down an argument or fight – but then continue fighting! If you’re going to announce that you’re done, you shouldn’t then tack on further comments. How about that! ✍︎
PERSON TO PERSON
Nice joke, asshole.
I don’t know why I remembered this, but I did.
In fact, I’ve remembered this for about a decade, probably because of how stupid it was.
Many years ago, in a hazy, distant time and otherworldly consciousness, I was standing in a crowd, waiting for a punk show to start. I was at some dive bar, probably in Gainesville, Florida, and probably alone. I don’t remember the year. I don’t remember the bar. I don’t remember the band.
The doors had just opened. Soon, the act came out and started setting gear and tuning up. The frontman was downstage, adjusting the microphone stand and tuning his guitar. He decided to break the ice with some crowd work.
“Anyone know a joke?” he called out to the audience.
At first, people murmured and chuckled sheepishly like they usually do while trying to gauge the seriousness of the request. Bands often address the crowd directly or indirectly and it isn’t always clear if their questions are rhetorical.
But he asked again. “Come on, anyone got a good joke?”
That’s when some completely random, nameless, faceless, anonymous person without an identity answered him.
“What did the zero say to the eight?” she yelled out.
I immediately cringed, but not because I have anything against simple, youthful jokes and not because I think I’m above telling or hearing them. I cringed at the prospect of her employing this tired joke in particular, as it seemed utterly uninspired given the weight of the guitarist’s request, the golden opportunity to have her voice heard, and the heft of the crowd giving her attention. Anybody there could have yelled out anything, but she fancied herself to be the strongest candidate to take the reins, shout the loudest, and offer this joke.
I knew the punchline (“nice belt”) ever since I heard the joke as a child, but apparently the frontman wasn’t familiar with it.
“What did the. . . zero. . . say to the. . . eight?” he repeated, not really following. “Like numbers? I don’t know, what did it say?”
The girl paused for a gleeful moment before triumphantly calling back, “Nice belt, asshole!”
Nice belt – asshole?
What? Why? Why “asshole”? Why did she say that? There was absolutely no aggression in this children’s joke, either stated or implied. Why did she need to add “asshole” to a joke that was not only clean, but already complete without it? Given what we knew about the characters, there’d be no reason for either of them to speak that way to the other.
The frontman emitted a half-hearted laugh, never once looking up from his plucking. “Nice belt. . . asshole. . .” he echoed, clearly trying to remain polite in the face of the obvious rigmarole he helped perpetuate.
Then he quickly moved on, made a bit more small talk, and the band started their set.
Did this girl throw in the ungodly profanity because she felt the audience of this punk show needed something edgier than what her joke could offer? Did she think her reinterpretation would seem punker-than-thou and thus accepted by the community? It’s reasonable to aspire to that, but if so, why settle for that joke in the first place?
Was her wordsmithery the product of a last second maneuver, because as she felt the punchline coming off her lips, she knew in the moment the joke had completely, utterly flopped? Did she figure she could think quickly and salvage her doomed opportunity with a half-hearted appeal to punk folk’s apparently simple minds? That they’d be gratified with any and all inappropriate language?
See, my problem with this whole GD incident (I like using “GD” more than the actual words) is that there is already dissonance between how the general, non-punk public characterizes the punk subculture. It sees them as any combination of violent, irrationally angry, rude, irresponsible, immature, and spreading “negative” values (whatever those are). . . etc. But anyone who’s spent even one second around the punk world would know it’s actually anything but that: it’s inclusive, progressive, morally responsible, humane, supportive of mental health, and championing the underdog all the time. So while a short interaction like this may not exactly be changing the course of history, it does inject an unnecessarily aggressive, immature, and thoughtless bit of tension into a scene that wholly did not need nor want it.
Anyway, I will give one million dollars in cash to anybody reading this who was at the show where this took place. You don’t even have to prove it. ✍︎
POP OF CULTURE
A T. rex with little arms, and I'm already cringing.
There was a short time when society thought it was absolutely hilarious that the Tyrannosaurus rex, the dinosaur species, had very short front arms.
Though dinosaurs have been popular with children for generations, this observation about T. rex limbs seemed to have never been made prior to a decade ago.
Once it was, you couldn’t escape it. Children’s movies, internet memes, museum exhibits, TV commercials, graphic T-shirts. . . creators were practically tripping over themselves to throw in a joke anywhere and everywhere about little T. rex arms. What a crazy juxtaposition: the ferocious, fearsome carnivorous dinosaur rendered harmless, and even adorable, by its inability to reach, grab, or hug with its miniature appendages! What a novel, whimsical insight! And one that should keep being made over and over! God forbid Blue Sky Studios think of something else to joke about, they may have stayed in business!
Pretend, for a moment, that you’re over the age of three. Was this observation ever actually funny? Do these children’s movie trailer jokes or Facebook memes shared by grandparents really elicit genuine laughter?
I realize that there is a big market for animal humor (“doggos”, Grumpy Cat, “trash pandas” as a nickname for raccoons, honey badgers, the blobfish, etc.). . . but as hamfisted as all of that is, at least it cycles around a bit. You don’t hear about any one of these animals for too long before a new one pops up. But the entertainment world was REALLY pushing the T. rex nonstop for a few years there, as if the species’ anatomy was only just discovered. It also came during a time when memes were commonplace in mainstream culture, but culture itself wasn't varied enough to be able to escape them.
What’s more, none of the vehicles pushing T. rex arms seemed to add anything new to the discussion. They all laid out the same setup quite plainly: it was a dinosaur. With little arms. And the punchline? That its arms were too small, in a comically inconvenient way. Period. No further character development. No other layers to the joke. I mean, even children can and do appreciate complex, layered jokes.
It’s just not funny. The T. rex has small arms, we get it. Isn't humor supposed to be the subversion of expectations?
And that’s the crux of these blog entries; we KNOW things aren’t funny and yet people mindlessly consume it all anyway. No one cares or does anything to dismantle the system. This sentence is funnier than the concept of T. rex having little arms. Yes, that one. Now, I’m tired. ✍︎
IN POLITE SOCIETY
What should I call this so that I'm not advertising Dr Pepper? Oops.
In the early to mid 2000s, you couldn’t go to a mall, high school, or social event without seeing someone wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the phrase, “I’m a Pepper.”
Most popular with teenage girls, the T-shirt was a Dr Pepper-branded graphic tee, much like those found in Abercrombie & Fitch or Old Navy. But. . . it was referencing the Dr Pepper brand of cola. The shirts were usually red, white, or pink, with the words “I’m a Pepper“ heathered or worn away to make the garment look vintage.
The expression was nothing more than one of Dr Pepper's slogans — literally an advertisement. Apparently, in the 1970s, there were Dr Pepper commercials where a man sang about being “a pepper,” meaning that he was a devotee of the cola. There isn’t much more to it than that (but I also don’t care to find out any more, even if there is).
For some inexplicable reason, it became trendy for teenage girls to advertise a slogan that was only in use decades before they born. Nobody knew why then, and nobody knows why now.
I always liked Dr Pepper, but I don't remember the soft drink ever being particularly popular. It was not a fad. It was not a trend. “I’m a Pepper” didn’t mean anything: slang, innuendo, or otherwise. Nobody talked about Dr Pepper for any reason unless they happened to be discussing soda already. Quite simply, liking Dr Pepper was not a thing, even ironically. But 20 years ago, tens of thousands of people wore that specific T-shirt all the time. Of all the graphic tees advertising a real-life brand, I’d wager that this particular Dr Pepper rag was among the most common. I mean, you’d definitely see it much more often than any clothing promoting Coca-Cola or Pepsi, two soda brands that were obviously much more commonplace.
Nobody talked about the shirt as a fashion choice, either. People just. . . wore it, without further comment or analysis. Nobody complimented it; nobody insulted it. I think most people figured the phrase had some hidden meaning they simply didn’t understand, but because the shirt was always so ubiquitous, they were too embarrassed to ask what.
How many people knew they were promoting anything in the first place? I imagine many shoppers must’ve seen the shirt folded in a stack on a table at a Gap and picked it up, just because it was available. How many noticed the Dr Pepper logo underneath the slogan? Did they think “I’m a Pepper” was just a cute, flirty, meaningless phrase? Did being a “pepper” mean something in their minds (like. . . a “hot tamale,” maybe??)?
This phenomenon may have started among teenage girls, but it didn’t stay that way. After a few years of the fashion cycle trickling down, you’d see men, women, and others of all ages — anyone gunning for a casual, no-frills, no-personality look — proudly strutting their stuff. Whether dressed up cute for a date, thrown on lazily as pajamas for a trip to the airport, or styled in countless morning-to-evening looks between school, the mall, or the movies, in the 2000s -- everyone was, indeed, a pepper.
Then, the trend was gone almost as quickly as it started, with the Captain America logo tee swiftly taking its place.
Why? Why that? Why then? Why that shirt? Why that style? Why Dr Pepper? Why Captain America? Why was it never formally acknowledged? Why are you still reading this? ✍︎
This performance contains language.*
Even if you didn't grow up involved in theater, you might be familiar with Thespians, the drama club for middle and high school students. Thousands of members of the International Thespian Society gather every year to watch each other perform monologues, scenes, songs, and other works, competing against fellow schools.
Theoretically, student actors can perform anything they'd like at Thespian festivals, and that often includes works with adult language, sexual situations, violence, or themes of drug and alcohol abuse. The judges don't have a problem with this, presumably as long as it's all done maturely and with respect to the source material.
Like any competition, there are standards and practices participants follow. All Thespian performers start by standing before the audience, introducing their school and the name of the piece. Florida Thespians' official guidelines also state that, before they begin, students must disclose if their performances include any inappropriate material. When I was in school, every performer I would see seemed to abide by this.
But the guidelines don't give strict instruction on how the disclaimer must be worded. Interestingly, students all across the county, city, and state conformed to one consistent phrase. No matter their age or where they were from, actors would always announce the offensive content in the exact same way: they’d say the piece "contains an asterisk" for language. Or that it "contains an asterisk" for drug abuse, or rape, or whatever the offense was. Every risque performance, whether scene, song, or pantomime, would be introduced to the audience as "containing an asterisk.”
Year after year, Thespian pieces continued to be announced with this syntax. They never simply "contained language" or "contained sexual situations." It was always containing “an asterisk” for said content. This was so for the highest-awarded large group musical songs all the way down to a freshman’s first contrasting monologues.
Why? An asterisk already indicates that the piece contains some sort of inappropriate material, in and of itself. It’d be like if a table of contents in a book included itself in the listing. When taken literally, the students are saying, "we are telling you that our piece contains an indicator. The indicator references that the piece contains some sort of inappropriate material. And that the inappropriate material just so happens to be language.”
Just say what it is! "The piece contains language." That's it!
I never heard a single teacher or judge ever question, notice, or correct this language, and if one did, it clearly didn’t catch on. We’re talking about a competition where rules are so strict that a group would be disqualified if the piece ran one second over. It’s a system so sophisticated that scene actors would be required to present a printed copy of the play to each judge just to prove their work was from a real publication. With such elaborate rules, you’d think verbiage might count for something. Could I go up and say whatever the hell I want and still get a perfect superior rating?
You could argue that in the grand scheme of things, none of this matters at all. And you’d be wrong. ✍︎
IN POLITE SOCIETY
Lately, I’ve been thinking about signs and signage. The world is full of different signs, but nobody ever thinks about them except me.
After a lifetime of reading signs, I’ve come to notice something. The signs associated with shops and businesses have become more and more inaccurate or unreliable over the years. Whereas signs once used to directly inform readers of specific, unwavering information, nowadays they seem to stretch the truth, outright lie, or else provide incomplete or incomprehensible claims.
I suppose that in olden times, if you were passing by a place of business, the store proprietor was the one who made and erected the sign. There’d be little doubt that they’d engrave exactly the message they intended to communicate. Nowadays, with a store’s property owner, business owner, day-to-day manager, and designer of the outside signage being completely different people who may not have even met, there’s a lot more room for error and stupid decisions.
Unfortunately, nobody really does anything about fraudulent or faulty signs, most likely because it’s too much effort for the average passerby to take on. First, imagine anyone actually noticing or caring about this in the first place. But then factor in having to track down who created the sign, who approved it, who is responsible for its content, and who intakes feedback for changes. Then there’s taking the time to actually voice the complaint, track and follow up on the case, see that any necessary changes are indeed made, and a dozen other steps. I’m the only one who would do that, and even I wouldn’t do that.
Here are some incidents that have stood out to me:
Plenty of restaurants and other businesses decorate their front windows with a bright, neon sign saying, “OPEN.” It’s a sight so common, it doesn’t need explaining. But nowadays, I’ve noticed that MANY places keep that open sign glowing 24 hours a day, regardless of whether or not they are currently doing business. In the middle of the night, long after the store has closed for the day, their open sign will remain brightly lit and flashing. What’s the point of having it, then? Don’t tell me that it’s to signify that the store is merely “in business” (that it hasn’t closed forever). That was never what an open sign was supposed to indicate. After all, people will generally assume that a shop is open until some proof otherwise, especially if that shop has customers entering and exiting it, merchandise and fixtures visible through the windows, and cars parked around it. And after hours, they’ll still assume it. OPEN SIGNS MEAN THAT THE BUSINESS IS OPEN DURING THE TIMES THE SIGN IS ON. I am not dumb, and I have pulled into the parking lots of various different places over the years only to be fooled by this.
Have you ever noticed how the restaurants that describe themselves as “world famous” are always small, mom and pop diners on the side of a highway, usually in a quiet, rural part of the country? They’re always “world famous” for a certain fare, like ribs, crab cakes, or lemonade, even though most of the “world” couldn’t fathom they existed.
I have nothing against the wholesome sentiment of a kitschy, folksy, “world
famous” sign; it’s a nice, fun bit of decoration. But of course, Wok and Roll
off I-4 in Orlando does not have “world famous” General Tso’s chicken, and
everyone knows it.
Have any of these restaurant owners thought about the implications of starting
off potential relationships with such a bald-faced lie? As lighthearted as the
sentiment may be, that is precisely what they’re doing. This deception is often
the first piece of information the customers discover after the name. If the
restaurant isn’t McDonald’s, it’s not world famous.
I’m willing to bet, again, that no one cares. (Do you see a pattern with this
blog? [hold for applause]) But imagine starting a romantic relationship with
some kind of lie. Even if you and your partner live a happy life together, you’ll
always have that dishonesty at the back of your mind. A restaurant’s
customers could dine there happily hundreds of times, but the owner can’t
ever be sure that they weren’t influenced at least slightly through believing
they were eating “world famous” dishes when they NEVER were. Is this lie a
risk worth taking?
An advertisement that essentially says, “we caught you looking, and so your customers will look, too” is not clever. Everyone thinks they’re so cool when they put out an ad like this, even though it’s been done hundreds of times already. We get it. Yep, you caught us. I’m reading the ad. You know what I’m not doing? Following up in any way. There are also thousands of ads like this that I’ve either read and immediately forgotten (even subconsciously) or were completely irrelevant to me. So no, your work isn’t done just because you proved the copy reached my optic nerves, as my brain couldn’t NOT interpret it.
The Amtrak trains traveling along the northeast corridor of the country have similar electronic signage at every station. These signs depict such messages as when the next train will arrive, its number, and its destination. When the sign means to inform customers that a particular train has departed, it doesn’t say so very clearly. When boarding is over, it says, “GATE CLOSED.”
Gate closed? If I’m trying to catch that train and I missed boarding, isn’t that a
little passive aggressive? What does that actually mean? I need to know
precisely what's going on with that train. If the gate is closed. . . open it? The
sign doesn’t really convey much information, seeing as how the “gates” are
usually just open areas on the side of the tracks that anyone can position
themselves on whenever they want. It’s the doors that close, not the gates.
If it’s too late to board, say so. If the train has departed, say so. Don’t sidestep
that responsibility with weasel words.
BONUS: Earlier this year, I was in an airport bathroom, and the toilet had one of those dual-function handles that could be pushed up or down depending on the amount of water desired. At this point, I trust that we understand each other, with no further description necessary.
On a small plaque above the handle was a sign. There was an image
demonstrating which direction to flush for which purpose, and the following
message in microscopic print:
“By installing this water-saving handle with dual-function flush, this
facility has demonstrated its commitment to protect and preserve the
environment. For the system to work, we need your help. Please take a
look at the diagram above and push the handle in the direction which best
suits your needs. With your assistance, we can do our part to conserve
this precious resource.”
It’s a fucking TOILET HANDLE.
If you made it to the end here, you have problems. ✍︎
POP OF CULTURE
Back in the early 2000s, I remember exactly what I was doing almost every Tuesday and Wednesday night of my little preteen life. I was watching American Idol, just like every other God forsaken soul in the country.
Back then, it aired Tuesdays at 8 pm for the performance episode, and Wednesdays at 9 pm for the results show. Both nights ended at 10 pm, and because Fox has never had a 10 pm hour of programming, as soon as Idol was done, the local news began.
And I mean that literally: the very moment the show was over, that local news jingle BOMBARDED our family room with such force that the picture frames on the wall would often shake, crash to the floor, and shatter. So, even if my sister and I weren’t actually staying up to watch, we got a pretty good idea of what the nightly headlines were from the deafening promotional billboard.
I watched a lot of American Idol then and consequently, ended up sticking around for a lot of the top news stories at the beginning of the hour. And now, all these years later, I clearly remember them, for one reason.
Approximately 75 percent of the time, the leading story was exactly the same every Tuesday and Wednesday night. Can you guess what it was?
Keep in mind, this was in 2002, 2003, and 2004. What was the country up to back then? What may have made the news?
If you guessed anything relating to terrorism, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, or the 2004 presidential election. . . you’re wrong!
According to my local news station, after every airing of American Idol, the top, most important, most urgent, above-the-fold, leading story of the night was always THE RESULTS OF THE EPISODE OF AMERICAN IDOL WE JUST FINISHED WATCHING!
Rather than tell us anything about the world, or war, or politics, or business, or even, maybe, other pop culture. . . WSVN’s 7 News graced us with the privilege of discovering who got voted off, who performed what songs and how well, and other twists and turns that everyone LITERALLY JUST SAW HAPPEN MINUTES EARLIER ON AMERICAN IDOL.
And I understand the need for lead-ins, hooks to keep people tuned in to the news rather than immediately shutting off the TV and going to bed. But for the lead story every Tuesday and Wednesday night for an entire season of Idol, year after year?! This wasn’t exactly NBC’s Must See TV. This wasn’t even some kind of wrap-up show like you see now where people sit around and recap the episode as a vehicle for more entertainment.
It was. . . the local news. The same local news in Miami that ran every single night at 10 pm and continues to run to this day. And though I’ve seen the way news programs gradually degrade into pure fluff as time goes on, this was the early 2000s! It was a time when most people still actually needed a dedicated nightly news source! During the turbulent Bush years! And it was at 10 pm, beating the other Big Three networks to the punch by a whole hour!
How could channel 7’s journalists (I’m not putting journalists in quotes, as regardless of whether anyone considers them to be “real” journalists or not, I call myself a journalist even though I do much less with news than they do) rationalize this? (Or, maybe they didn’t try to rationalize it and were looking for nothing more than the big advertising bucks.) Just, WHY? We just watched the show! This was the grand plan, draw in more eyeballs this way than with hard news? They’ve had the same advertisers week after week, year after year, regardless of what the news cycle has looked like. BELIEVE ME — I’ve watched.
It’s like, damn it! There were some good kids out there watching TV, staying up and waiting to hear the local news tell them something important about the world! Little Miami kids that may have been inspired to, I don’t know, become reporters! I could’ve been one of them! Look at what I write instead! This garbage! ✍︎
BUSINESS & ADVERTISING
First-ever time writing ad copy.
I just saw a car commercial featuring a voiceover that said, “Introducing the first-ever Kia Seltos.”
The ad was completely normal, boring, and mostly forgettable. . . save for that line. That phrase stuck out to me. The “first-ever” Kia Seltos. What is that supposed to mean? That name is something they just made up. It has no inherent significance. Why should I care that this is Kia’s “first-ever” Seltos? Seltos doesn’t mean anything. What is it, some kind of bastardization of some vaguely Greek word? First Seltos or millionth Seltos, a car company can add or drop product names whenever they feel like it. Who gives a shit that this is the “first” one?
I could understand if the line was, for example, “introducing Kia’s first-ever. . .” something else, like their first-ever pickup truck, or their first-ever electric vehicle, or their first-ever barrel of urine. These descriptors might at least provide the average layperson some new information about Kia, a vehicle brand I’m assuming most people rarely think about.
But no, this is Kia’s “first-ever” Seltos and nothing more, as if the Seltos trademark exists as its own independent, ethereal concept and they just happened to be the genius company to summon it into existence for the first time. This is what they spent airtime conveying to me so I could apparently give them some free advertising for you. ✍︎
BUSINESS & ADVERTISING
The lie of the healthy chip.
Why does every brand of “healthy” chip think they’re going to be the ones to change snacking forever?
You know the ones I’m talking about. They’re often made by small mom and pop operations. They have friendly-looking packaging. They’re “natural,” or made “with” vegetables, they’re “baked” instead of fried, and they might “contain protein.”
Now, I happen to like these chips. Not because I actually believe they’re any healthier than a bag of Lay’s — I just happen to like the “complex” flavor of the quinoa, pea, flax, or what have you. Plus, whatever, supporting a small brand rather than PepsiCo.
But every single family chip brand has that exact same shtick going on on the back of the package. In the top-left corner of the bag there’s always a letter to you, the consumer, from the family behind the brand, and they always have the exact same story. The family grew up working on their farm and served their homemade chips to friends. Then they decided they wanted to share their “better” chip with the world. Now, they’re growing their humble business in order to change snacking forever, one chip at a time.
Well? Has it happened?
Because. . . it’s certainly been a long time now, hasn’t it? Probably more than a couple of decades since the first wave of these new-age snacks hit grocery store shelves. And there’s dozens of them doing it.
Has snacking changed? I don’t know, it kinda seems like the majority of the country eats just as unhealthily as ever, doesn’t it?
You’d have thought that if any one of these brands actually managed to REVOLUTIONIZE SNACKING FOREVER. . . we may have heard something about it. If someone created a salty snack that was indeed as beneficial as biting into a carrot stick or raw broccoli floret but also as delicious as junk food, it would make international news.
But no, there is no such snack. Nothing’s changed, and this is coming from a fan. At most, we may have created some confections that are just marginally better for you: less ingredients overall, less oil, less fat. But those metrics are hardly used by anyone, and those who do use them would have undoubtedly skipped the marketing tricks and started baking their own kale chips by now. These chips are not healthier in any real-world sense of the term.
So what happened? It seems like the family farms only got two of the essential steps down. They started with a vegetable — that was good. They took a chickpea, beet, green bean, or pea — some interesting, healthy vegetable that the average person wouldn’t have seen made into a snack before. And they succeeded on the other end, as the result usually tastes delicious. It’s just the middle step, the keeping it healthy like the vegetable from which it was derived. . . that part didn’t quite happen.
See, the same way any fly-by-night rental car agency can “take a reservation” (but not hold it), any food scientist can also “take a vegetable” and do all kinds of things to it behind the scenes and give you an end product that tastes good. But somewhere during the baking process, they can also do something to that vegetable that makes it not really a vegetable anymore. And analogous to the rental car agency “holding” the reservation, it’s the HOLDING the nutrition that matters. Anyone can just TAKE them.
I wouldn’t even care about any of this if it weren’t for that damn letter on the back of the bag! The promise that this one would be the one, the chip that would change snacking forever!
If you’re a snack brand and you want to revolutionize snacking forever, go ahead and do it! But don’t make the promise if you’re not actually doing it! It’s not like a vegetable can’t be turned into something snackable, you’re just not doing it. Why not? Maybe because they’d inevitably taste a little “weird.” Like, “health food store” weird. Instead, you’d rather they taste conventional enough to sell en masse to the general population, not sacrifice taste so that they can stay nutritious. So, that burden is on you. Save the inspirational, revolutionary, impassioned message for the family farm that comes along and actually changes snacking forever. ✍︎
IN POLITE SOCIETY
A dad goes out to buy cigarettes.
Everyone’s heard this old trope about a dad going out to buy a pack of cigarettes and never coming back. The child waits there, thinking Dad will return from the store any minute now, even as decades pass. (In some tellings, the father goes out for milk instead.) Either way, the stories are the same: the hypothetical father really just used the story as a cover to abandon the family.
For some reason, this is still a thing. People think it’s funny. And not just “smile-in-your-head-in-acknowledgment-while-remaining-stone-faced” funny — legitimately funny. Online, I still see it mentioned and joked about to this day.
Now, if you haven’t seen or heard it before, I can understand your confusion. Why should this random scenario come up over and over again enough to be anything? Well, you usually see people reference it when somebody shares something about their dad. For example, imagine somebody posting a sweet old photo of her smiling dad, picking her up and giving her a big hug when she was a little girl. In response, people leave comments happily talking about their own childhood memories, until someone jokes, “I’m still waiting for my dad to come home from getting cigarettes!” Someone else might add on to it, “I’m right here, son! I’ll be home soon!” or "I'm never coming back because I hate you." Or from another, “I’m waiting, too!” Everyone laughs and votes up the unexpected (but, now, expected) comments, trying to one-up each other with ever more outlandish fake stories.
Cool. But. . . it isn’t actually funny. . .? Are people really entertained by this?
And no, I’m not arguing against the story from any kind of moral perspective. It just isn’t funny. Where’s the joke? Is it that the kid stayed waiting for Dad for decades? I don’t see where the humor is coming from. This could, perhaps, be the setup to some larger amusing story, but it never is. People just meme this simple scenario, nothing further, and find it hilarious.
Even though I admit I’m much more critical of comedy than the average person, I can usually understand what makes something funny for others even if I don’t like it. But this. . . this isn’t anything? It’s not even that it isn’t funny as much as it is the lack of any thing. It’s a very vague setup that is not relatable for most people and doesn’t go anywhere.
What’s most surprising is that we’re not finding this story buried in old comedy routines from decades ago. It’s not like the story is being told by a kindly old lady whose sense of humor is from another era. This is what the harshest, least-forgiving audience in the world (the mainstream internet, particularly Reddit and other social media) is using as humor to entertain more of the harshest, least-forgiving audience in the world! They eat it up! This audience, who regularly consumes and critiques some of the best comedy in the world, is also in STITCHES when someone rehashes the same tired, pointless nonsense, over and over again like clockwork.
What the absolute HELL is wrong with everyone? ✍︎
IN POLITE SOCIETY
The bouncer's question.
No one’s gone to a bar in a year, so naturally, this is top of mind.
Whenever you go to a bar, club, or other age-restricted entertainment venue, you can count on being asked for your identification by a bouncer. At least, there may have been a time when this was true — by which I mean, a time when you were actually asked, verbally.
Nowadays, it seems like whenever you approach the door to one of these facilities, instead of asking to see your identification out loud, the bouncer or guard is more inclined to silently hold up their thumb and index finger horizontally to form a rectangular shape. They don't say a word, they just hold the gesture until you grasp the meaning of this arbitrarily made-up sign language.
Most people I know have been out often enough to know what this means, but why is it assumed? You see some random guy, dressed in all black or other street clothes, standing outside of the bar. He's often not even looking directly at you as he flashes an arbitrary hand signal in your direction. Wouldn't the typical person be a bit confused by this? Should the average Joe be expected to be able to comprehend what's happening, especially in a dimly-lit environment where any attempts to slow down and make sense of the situation will lead to said person being swiftly and thoroughly ridiculed? Are we so impersonal, so rushed and hurried to get through the doldrums of our lives that we're not able to actually communicate our objectives like human beings? Just once I'd like to walk up to the door of the bar and have the bouncer state in a loud, clear voice their name, their role with the establishment, and what they require of me before I can enter. If it's too noisy for me to discern all of that, they can simply speak up.
Other times, there's been no communication at all. I've walked toward the door of a bar and seen a few individuals loitering around outside, but no obvious security. Because the guys stay talking to each other without looking up at me, I've simply proceeded on in. . . only to be stopped by a sudden outstretched arm jutted out in my path like a tollbooth boom barrier.
Insulted at the idea of having someone try to hold me back like I'm a wandering child, I look up and know exactly what I'm going to see. It's one of those guys I thought was just loitering around, and he doesn't stop chatting with his buddies even as he continues to hold his arm out. Finally, he looks down at me with an expression that says, "Yeah, nice try buddy, you think you're slick?" — even though I was not trying to get away with anything. As I'm fumbling to whip out my ID as quickly as possible to end the interaction, he silently holds up his two fingers in that rectangular shape. ✍︎
Special thanks to Ashley D'Achille.
The DEFINITION of insanity.
"Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity."
You've undoubtedly heard this nugget of wisdom before. People love to whip out this quote in Twitter debates and political news comment sections, using it as a handy zinger the moment anybody repeats an action or advocates for a policy that has failed in the past.
It's spread around so much that people take it as gospel, even misattributing it to Albert Einstein on occasion. Nobody has ever stopped to question it, ever.
You know what doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is actually the definition of? Practice. That is, quite literally, the definition of practice. How do you get better at doing anything if you don't do it over and over?
Some may nitpick and argue that each time you practice an activity, you're not carrying it out exactly the same way as before. You're improving a little bit each time, and presumably doing it slightly differently. Thus, it doesn't truly qualify as doing "the same thing" over and over again. That's ridiculous. Any time you do anything at all, you're not doing it exactly the same way as a previous time. Where do you draw the line over what constitutes doing the "same" thing over and over versus doing a marginally different, but mostly same thing over and over?
Now, what's interesting about the quote is that the complete opposite declaration appears to actually be more valid:
"Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting the same result is the definition of insanity."
Doesn't that make more sense? There are so many variations to the way one action can play out. Doing the same thing repeatedly, no matter what it is, will almost always have a different result. Think about a random example I just found on Quora — chipping away at a boulder. The first time you do it, you still have a mostly intact boulder. The thousandth time, you've probably reduced it to rubble. It's the same thing you're doing, over and over again. You're expecting different results.
Or what about a company running the same advertisements for many months? They should almost definitely expect a different result after doing the same thing over and over again. It's why they do it. They start an ad campaign, and at first it's fresh and new, so people take notice and talk about it. They are interested in the product and they buy it. But how about after several weeks? The ads didn't change. The placement didn't change. For all intents and purposes, the company is "doing the same thing over and over again" by keeping the exact same advertising going. But it is almost assured that the results of the advertising will be different after all that time. Either the product will become a staple in people's minds or they'll begin to move on from it.
You might do the same thing, or make the same choice, but encounter a different result because you did it at a better time. It might affect different people than it originally did. The circumstances change. Life changes! Why are you insane for trying something repeatedly, when the world around you changes all the time from moment to moment?
And what about that — insanity. This is supposed to be the definition of insanity? Really, full-blooded insanity? Disregard the fact that "insanity" is a legal term with no medical or clinical usage. Even if you take the quote at face value, acknowledging that doing the same thing over and over is insane behavior, why is it the definition of insanity rather than just a characteristic of it?
I don't you know about you, but when I think about the concrete definition of insanity, in its colloquial usage, I'm more likened to think about somebody doing absolutely ridiculous things with no rhyme or reason. I picture somebody who isn't making sense of what they are saying or doing, even in their own mind. I don't associate insanity with bad reasoning; I associate it with the lack of reasoning at all. Someone merely doing the same thing over and over, no matter what kind of result they expect, may be stupid, ignorant, wrong. . . but insane? How? How would it show the subject to be mentally unstable, simply because they didn't see the result they expected?
Sometimes trying things repeatedly does lead to the intended result! ✍︎
PERSON TO PERSON
The birthday message.
A few years ago, I worked a side job at a music lessons studio. I sat at the front desk, managing people’s bookings and answering questions.
I was also in charge of the brand’s very sparse, bare-bones social media presence. On staff with me were Mike, a fellow front desk laborer, and Ingrid, the unofficial marketing and PR person.
On Mike’s birthday, I took to the studio’s Facebook to wish him a public happy birthday in a text post. It was just for fun, and ultimately very low stakes: there were just a few hundred followers at the time and no one in charge had ever cared about the content of these accounts. The overall tone of the studio’s social media was light and conversational, so this simple, silly happy birthday greeting fit the brand identity perfectly. There was nothing controversial about it.
The next day, I went back to Facebook, curious about how well the post had performed. I also wanted to know if Mike had seen it.
Only. . . my message was gone, and its place was a new, completely unrelated happy birthday post that I had not written. I looked at the studio’s analytics and discovered that Ingrid, who rarely partook in any day-to-day social media tasks, was the author of the new greeting.
Now, there was nothing wrong with her birthday post; it was similar to mine but a little more sweet and friendly, matching her personality. Alongside it was a photo of Mike at a drum set.
At first, I wasn’t upset, just confused. Did my own birthday greeting not save? Was it flagged and taken down for some reason? Did I accidentally tag the wrong Mike? I couldn’t figure out what was so different about our two versions that would warrant taking the time to log in, delete mine, and craft a new one.
The next time I saw Ingrid, we somehow got to talking about it, and she cheerfully remarked that she loved my idea to wish Mike happy birthday. But, she said, she replaced mine because “posts with photos do better.”
Hmm. Posts with photos do better.
Well, fine, I thought. That made sense.
But then I thought about it some more. Sure, posts with photos might “do better,” as in, they may garner more interaction with the page’s followers — but why the hell did it matter? I mean, who cared? This was a one-time happy birthday wish on a small business Facebook page followed by fewer than a thousand people. What level of performance were we really aspiring to? Nothing we ever published garnered more than ten interactions, ever. In fact, the studio’s social media was typically silent unless I was the one running it that shift.
The final time I saw my original happy birthday post before it was deleted, there were maybe four interactions on it: three likes and one comment. At the time I saw Ingrid’s, there were at most ten interactions. . . probably, I don’t know, seven likes and three comments.
Now, this may seem like a big jump, but to what ultimate goal? The only people who would see the studio’s social media were people that already followed it and were most likely already customers. I may not have a degree in consumer behavior, but I am willing to bet the studio’s clientele weren’t swayed into purchasing additional drum lessons and/or band rehearsal space just because the studio wished one of their employees happy birthday.
Even if you’re thinking strictly mathematically, considering all work done on the clock as an expense and every pair of eyeballs on a post as potential business, this was still a pointless move. Ingrid took paid time and effort to delete my post when she could’ve kept it up while contributing a post about something else entirely. She could’ve modified mine without deleting it so that the original interactions were maintained. Or, better yet, she could’ve posted a birthday message on a different platform, like Twitter, in order to reach a completely different group of followers for twice the impact.
By deleting my happy birthday message but immediately following it up with another post communicating the same thing, Ingrid took the risk of alienating some of the studio’s eagle-eyed followers; she may have inadvertently led them to believe that our studio was just spamming messages willy-nilly with no curation process at all. I’m not well versed in risk assessment, but I wonder if this action would risk losing followers at a rate greater than increasing interaction from the happy birthday post itself.
What’s more, the pain and suffering I went through is immeasurable. My ego was bruised irrevocably and my future social media posts from then on out were affected. I could no longer be as confident in my abilities.
By the way, all of this took place more than four years ago. ✍︎
Don't say it five times, slow or fast.
We're all adults, right? We're all of sound body and mind. Together, we have a mostly respectable education.
So why do we still need to say, "try saying that five times fast!" when we encounter a tongue twister in reading or speaking?
We all know they're there. We all know they happen. Sometimes when you're reading aloud or saying something quickly, you get to a string of words that are tricky to say together. You might stumble or pause for a second, but then you slow down and read them properly.
And yet to this day, we adults have all silently agreed to this asinine ritual whenever we come across a tongue twister. We must stop our speech cold and literally say out loud, "try saying that five times fast." Or three times. Or ten times. We must acknowledge that we have discovered a tongue twister.
Who are we speaking to? Why does this need to be said? Is anybody supposed to react or take further action upon hearing this? We get it, it's a tongue twister.
The only worse practice I can think of is the tongue twister's sister phrase, the choice descriptor when a speaker encounters two rhyming words: "hey, that rhymes!"
Yep. Words rhyme. That happens sometimes. By virtue of being a participant in language and communication, we know this already. You don't need to say it. If you're not literally in or speaking to those in kindergarten, there is nothing to gain by pointing this out.
In fact, worse than hearing someone point out the presence of a tongue twister or a rhyme in speech is the feigned politeness we're "supposed" to have to it. Right? When someone says, "try saying that five times fast" or "hey, that rhymes," we all feel that we're supposed to give a small smile, or a little chuckle, or some other sort of audible reaction.
At least, it seemed like we used to be expected to. As years have gone on, I sense that people have grown so tired of going through this tired song and dance that they don't even pretend to react anymore. We just leave our tongue-twisted orator or newfound poet hanging.
With your help, I hope we can show further and further disinterest until the pointless and irritating custom is permanently abandoned. ✍︎
BUSINESS & ADVERTISING
The Charmin bears
We need to talk about the Charmin bears.
[Hold for gratuitous applause as I make my long-awaited return to blogging after a six-year absence.]
So, we need to talk about the Charmin bears. Charmin has been advertising on TV using cartoon anthropomorphic bears as mascots for decades, and now I need to complain about them.
For the longest time, there was nothing notable about these ads. In the world of Charmin, some wild bears needed to make caca, but they didn’t have toilet paper. Then they discovered Charmin toilet paper and noticed how soft and strong it felt, and they used it and were happy. As far as commercials go, these spots were tame and mostly tolerable. More importantly, they didn’t spend too long actually talking about the intricacies and usage of toilet paper. They communicated a few key points about the product and moved on. Oh, and they also weren’t annoying.
But gradually, Charmin modernized the bears. . . and soon their computer-animated descendants became absolutely obsessed with toilet paper to the point of delirium.
At this point, the bears do not seem to have lives outside of defecating. Each spot features one of two bear families: an all-blue clan captivated by Charmin’s ultra soft variety, and a parallel red crew that gets off to the ultra strength. They talk about the bathroom, contemplate their inevitable trips to the bathroom, and detail trials and tribulations upon using said bathroom. The mothers are constantly micromanaging their cubs’ excretions by reminding them to not use too much toilet paper. Each ad culminates with the entire bear family singing, dancing, or rapping about their devotion to the brand.
Now if they had stopped here, I might not have an argument. Commercials like that come close to a line, but don’t exactly cross it. These ads made us think about the toilet paper, the toilet paper’s qualities, how it differentiated itself from competing brands, and how it performed under some basic tests. Fine. That moves product. (Don’t get me wrong, all of these ads are annoying as hell, but they aren’t particularly off-putting or gross, even considering the bathroom setting.) But unfortunately, Charmin didn’t stop there.
Soon, the bear families started to reference “pieces left behind,” “skid marks,” a song and dance about a “clean heinie,” and even the implication that using Charmin toilet paper keeps your underwear “clean” when it otherwise wouldn’t be. Rather than keep the narrative to the product itself, Charmin felt the need to “expand” the narrative into discussions about the actual WASTE that was previously only alluded to.
Why? Why do we need this? Why does the world need this? I just don’t see the need. We all know what toilet paper does, we all understand the issues that arise in that department. We know what can go wrong in there, and hopefully we’ve been handling it all our lives without too much trouble. Did we need to bring these private musings into the living room? Charmin was already doing its job: it had recognizable mascots, they were a household name, no doubt brand awareness was strong. Why did we then need to be subjected to these cartoons singing and dancing. . . to the literal concept of feces? Feces theoretically outside the toilet where it belongs? And while we’re settling in to watch America’s Got Talent? Nobody asked for this. We as a civilized people do not need to turn on our televisions to hear cartoon bears singing about pieces of toilet paper sticking to one’s buttocks!
It’s crazy when you realize that none of this NEEDS to exist in the world in the first place. The entire lore and mythology of the Charmin bears isn’t one of the world’s inherent evils; it is merely the product of office workers like you or me going to work one day and needing to come up with something to earn a paycheck! One day, those same people were like, “We need some new copy where they actually reference the doodoo.”
But before that, the national slate of ads were only talking about the strength and softness of the toilet paper, the bigger rolls, the superior quality to competitors. Was all of this not successful enough for Procter & Gamble to build a campaign on? I mean, I understand the need to refresh marketing tactics after years of running them, but did introducing these specific concepts around feces effectively elevate market share or brand recognition in a way that couldn’t have been done with other editorial choices? And by how much?
The worst part of all is how the bears sort of playfully wink at the audience, as if to say, “aren’t we cute? Aren’t we a fun, relatable American family (who just so happen to be bears)? We’re just trying to get through the day and enjoy our time in the bathroom, too! I’m a busy mom trying to make sure my rambunctious kids have clean heinies! My husband is an idiot! We’re just like you!”
I’m sure they THINK we’re sitting there giggling, smiling, and nodding along. We’re not. We’re tired, we have a lot of other shit to deal with. We’re just trying to settle in and forget our lives watching America’s Got Talent. We do not need to be lulled into a peaceful stupor only to be bombarded with conversation about someone not wanting to touch underwear with feces in or around it.
Imagine doctors, professors, or Nobel Prize laureates settling in for a little television treat, perhaps their one night a week when they’re free enough to do so, and being subjected to advertisements where cartoons teach them how to better wipe themselves with toilet paper. JUST IMAGINE IT.
Now, why did I spend more than six hours writing this. . .? ✍︎