Sunday, April 26, 2015

For Shame

I just finished Jon Ronson's So You've Been Publicly Shamed, a book detailing how public shaming works in today's social media landscape.

The book itself, I believe, is both interesting and important; he goes through several people's lives as they go through the aftermath of having the entire world publicly call them out for some sort of behavior, whether it be getting caught in a prostitution ring or a single tasteless tweet. The book itself is fascinating as it goes into this detail and seeing how people live through something rather unique in history--a world where one word or sentence is now available for (literally) the entire world to react and judge.

Sadly, the book doesn't do two things I wish it would have: one is to delve more into the history of public shaming (he does devote some time to it, but not nearly enough to provide a lot of context). Second is dealing less with the individual examples and more navel-gazing introspection as to what that means for our society at large.

Megan McArdle's take on this roughly corresponds with my own thoughts, but I read her article before the book. Now that I've had the time to read the book I can sort of reconcile my opinions.

We're really talking about a few different things, which I believe is the core of people who might disagree. There was the old-school public shaming, which literally meant dragging souls out to the town square, placed in stocks, and judged by the community. This sort of thing was (rightly) removed from modern society, although it does exist in some forms; it's not unheard of for a judge to incorporate shaming as part of a sentence. (Ronson is surprisingly sympathetic to this; a lot of the people he spoke with that went through such a shaming felt that this was by far the only way they could change their behavior.)  If done judiciously and not via malice, I am also sympathetic to this, although my big fear is that there is a thin line between genuine, behavior-changing shaming to outright hostility and revenge.

The second is more intimate: one may not care how the community feels about them, but they may be concerned about how their close friends and family feel about them. This is most likely the shaming that has the greatest effect, but pretty much by definition is impossible to "officially" endorse. A judge can't make your dad be disappointed in you. The only way to making this sort of shaming effective is via a shift in the culture, and it's difficult to steer that in any effective manner by choice. It was popular in the 80's (and espoused by social scientists like Charles Murray) that many of the social ills we suffer in modern society is due to a lack of this intimate shame. When our families, churches, schools, and other institutions lose influence, there's less of a reason to care if you are ashamed of what you've done--we didn't need a government program to force people to do X when a disapproving look from our parents worked just as well. This is tricky, since it's difficult to separate these relationships into discrete patterns, but it's a compelling, if imperfect, theory.

The third is new, and that is the public shaming of the world via the internet. One tweet, or Facebook status, or blog post can literally be shared to everyone on the planet, and they can immediately respond within seconds. This is unprecedented and, one has to admit, a little scary.

The previous two forms of shaming involved people and institutions who were invested in the target. Judges want people to reform and family members want you to succeed, so shaming had a perfectly legitimate application as a deterrent to bad behavior. For institutional shaming, a solid list of rules and laws existed so--if one was found guilty--most are comfortable with the shame because it's been through a legitimate process to determine this. After all, some people do deserve to feel ashamed of what they have done, and the social pressure and institutions had evolved where there was a back-and-forth between the shamers and shamees, as it were. It was constructive because there were incentives on both parties to assist.

Not so with this new form of shaming. People who get publicly shamed have thousands, if not millions, of people who actively put forth an effort to judge someone else, often with little by way of context or justice. There are no rules; once the judgement of the public has been determined, there is literally no way to stop it. And there are no consequences for the shamers--a brief, ten-second email with which a person has no stake still causes immense grief to the target. The constructive portion of the act of shaming is destroyed; it's a million anonymous fingers, pointed accusingly at a person whose transgression are often mild and certainly haven't been vetted through any sort of vehicle for review or justice. 

It's frustrating, to say the least. I've seen companies and politicians make extraordinarily minor missteps only to see their entire future crumble. Regardless of whether it is fair or not, the verdict is enacted and there's very little anyone can do about it. Books like Ronson's trigger a small amount of self-reflection regarding the act of public shaming, but one suspects that it's a difficult trend to counter.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Mad Men Predictions

This Sunday starts the final season of Mad Men, the critically-acclaimed drama that looks at the advertising industry in the 1960s, following the requisite changes in morals, politics, and sideburns.

The show is well-known for its sharp writing and thoughtful, cryptic symbolism, leading many to speculate on how the series will end. Nearly all of the theories center around the fate of Don Draper and whether he lives or dies or if his secrets are revealed or if he just turned into an old, jaded man. Well, jadier.

But what will happen? Here are a few predictions:

  • Don Draper, tired of his reckless drinking, meaningless sex, and barely-concealed disgust at his coworkers, decides to straighten up his act by only drinking after noon and only having six girls on the side.
  • Peggy has a successful string of successes, landing nine of the top ten corporations in America and locks each of them into at least a four-year commitment. For her efforts, she is given a forty dollar raise and a new desk.
  • Lou dies and nobody cares.
  • Ironically, though, Stan takes up Scout's Honor in his memory and it becomes a lucrative Sunday comic strip. He spends the rest of his life worried someone will find out he stole it, until he realizes that no one cares because it's Lou.
  • Megan wins the Kentucky Derby.
  • For some strange reason, Bob Benson decides he doesn't want to visit a client in Indiana.
  • Sally gets drafted and moves to Canada, where she becomes an astronomer-lifeguard.
  • Pete eats a Snickers Bar and subsequently breaks down in tears telling a story about his childhood and when he was ostracized for only being immensely rich and not incredibly rich. Mars is not impressed.
  • Roger, high on mescalin and crystal THC, votes for Humphrey sixteen times. In 1970.
  • 9 Bobbys in 7 episodes!
  • In a moment of weakness for both of them, Don and Joan have sex and everybody in a five mile radius has their head explode and perfect babies fly everywhere and I think a new religion gets started and Roger finds a way to put it all in a pill and becomes fantastically wealthy. 
  • Roger's daughter ends up joining the cast of Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, where she is fired after being impregnated by a clearly intoxicated Ruth Buzzi. Roger disowns her, since, in his words, "She didn't even have the class to get knocked up on the set of The Smothers Brothers."
  • In an angry letter found after his death, Lou is outraged that he doesn't get to do an elaborate song-and-dance routine after he dies, because that's the sort of stupid shit that Lou does.
  • Betty's fluency in Italian turns out to be a pivotal skill in acquiring a new client for the firm. LOL just kidding, she's still a useless cold heartless shrew. 
  • Paul Kinsey moves to Jonestown. Everybody sees this as a positive move.
  • In a dramatic twist, Harry finally reveals that he has been stealing Pete's hair and attaching it to his sideburns. Strangely, Pete is OK with this.
  • Glen does a bunch of weird shit.
  • Peggy is traumatized as various bits of Ginsburg are sent to her in a package every week from the institution, from toes and earlobes to small squares of tongue. When she complains they threaten to throw her in the cell next to his for being "hysterical". 
  • Ken Cosgrove, after years of hard work, finally finds success as a sci-fi author. He then reveals to the world that he is, in fact, an actual robot, which surprises no one.
  • Seriously, Lou is the worst.
  • Sal and Chauncey come back and both make partner.
  • Don Draper doesn't die, or grow old, or kill someone. He just ends the series, sitting despondently at his desk, and wishing that he had been the one who cemented himself in history as the person who came up with the WE BUY ANY CAR commercials.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Candy Review: New Peeps Flavors


It's that time of year again: it's time when every store had a boatload of Easter candy. This year, we have some new things to try, so might as well crack them open just in time for the Easter Bunny to figure out what he's going to do this year. Lazy rabbit.


We've got three on tap this time: Blue Raspberry, Party Cake, and MYSTERY CHICKS.

I'm a sucker for Blue Raspberries. (Well, blue raspberry flavored things. I don't think I've ever had an actual blue raspberry.) So while I'm not a fan of Peeps, I figured this would at least balance things out. Thankfully, it did--this is one of the first flavors of Peeps I've ever had and not immediately regretted it afterwards. I actually voluntarily ate a second one! So, thumbs up for me.

Next up was the Party Cake. I'm lukewarm on cake-flavored things; they're almost always too sweet and it's almost always better to just have a cake. But in this case, I thought maybe things were different. Sadly, not so much. While I appreciate the effort to put little sprinkles on the Peeps (well, coloring, anyway), the smell was actually not very good. Not bad, but just so strong and so overpowering it wasn't appetizing. And while it tasted OK (not great, but not overpowering like most are) the smell was a bit too much for me. Pass, but if you like this sort of thing (and probably don't mind the smell as much as I did) it's probably worth a try.

Okay, let's get to the showstopper here: the MYSTERY CHICKS. The label says it all: who knows what flavor is inside of the package? The wrapper helpfully gives you some clues (Savory? Sweet? Fruity? Salty? Tangy?) and they are snow white and relatively odorless, so you have no idea what you're getting into. Oddly, I ate two of them, and it truly is a mystery: aside from a vague fruity taste, they were actually pretty weak and I have no idea what it was supposed to be. Zero idea. So the MYSTERY CHICKS will remain a mystery, at least to me.

Now, I have no idea if different packages are different flavors--I don't think so, because you're supposed to submit what you think the flavor is to their web site. I'm not gonna cause I have no clue, and I'm not buying another package to test if they are different flavors or not. If y'all want to give it  try, be my guest.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Guest Post: Burgh Man

Today’s post comes from Michael Pellas of Downtown Pittsburgh Living, and is part of a special day of shenanigans from other Pittsburgh bloggers. You can see my post over on Sean's Ramblings, where I talk about introducing a new Pittsburgh currency. It makes sense when you read it. Sort of.



(above image courtesy of Burghman.com)
While thinking about this guest post, I kept trying to think of something different to do. I'm not very good at writing "general lifestyle" posts so I tried to think of something about Pittsburgh that needed some love.
We've all seen Burghman during the warmer months in town...
He appears at Pirate games or festivals in downtown. He's dressed in a cape and is always juggling something or making people laugh and smile. I've always wanted to have more of a direct conversation with him and this guest post gave me the opportunity...I hope this is ok!
A HUGE thank you to Alex, Steve (from this blog) and Burghman for the opportunity to talk about something and someone that is an inspiration to me...even my ripe old age of 40!
(above image courtesy of Burghman.com)
How did Burgh Man evolve into the Burgh Family?
My career has been spent involved in the Social Services. I have a Master’s Degree from Duquesne University in Counseling. Somehow, I have always had the ability to help hurting people. Subsequently, I used my gifts and talents to try and reach people who needed encouragement and to believe in themselves. Additionally, I grieved for families that have lost loved ones too many types of tragedies. Somehow, consoling people has always given me purpose in life and made me feel good about myself.
I’ve worked in numerous capacities over the years from Therapist, Youth and Family Specialist, Director of a Psychiatric inpatient clinic, Director of 130 bed homeless inpatient shelter, therapist in the Western Penitentiary and numerous other positions over the years.
Burgh Man started with an emphasis on promoting healthy lifestyles and telling the world about the Great City of Pittsburgh and the many firsts accomplished here. I have enjoyed showcasing the amazing personalities that have made Pittsburgh what it is today. It has been my goal t to be the best I can be physically, emotionally and mentally and to carry these positive messages to others. Burgh Man believes that everyone is a Super Hero and that some people just have not discovered it yet. J
The Burgh Man family has evolved due to my intense desire to help people whatever age they may be. Lady Burgh was my second creation and Baby Burgh followed. JIt is important for me to carry healthy messages to children so that they can grow up to be productive citizens and to contribute in positive ways to humanity. All people deserve to be the best they can be and to appreciate the beauty within themselves and all around them. Subsequently, the Burgh Family keeps evolving. Maybe one day I will create Grandma and Grand Pa Burgh. J Somehow love keeps me hoping for the best for myself and others.
Did super heroes play an important role for you in your youth?
That is a great question. I guess I grew up on Super Man, Batman, Westerns and all the shows that portrayed that good does conquer evil in the end. It seems that I have always been for the underdog and it makes me feel good to see people overcome seemingly insurmountable odds. Super Heroes have had a major impact on my life. Most of my life I have been a dreamer. I’m always dreaming of creating new things and seeking ways to live a more meaningful life. I think everyone should have a cape and a mask and use their own creativity to see what good they can develop. A cape and mask somehow perpetuate a fun fantasy world where good always triumphs. I’ve found that money has its place in life, but it’s a purpose in life that resonates with me more than anything else.
How awesome is it to see the reaction you get?
You cannot imagine the way I have felt over the years watching young and old, men and women, Americans and Cultures from all over the world interact with Burgh Man. I have taken more photos with people from around the world than I can even recollect. To watch the awe and wonder of and infant or a toddler is magical. To watch people laugh and smile and get a kick out of Burgh Man gives me the positive energy and desire to keep doing what I do. Burgh Man and Family will always hope to bring smiles and laughter wherever they go.
Burgh Man was on America’s Got Talent twice and was voted off both times. It was truly a great experience to have been asked to appear on that show. The memories that I have obtained from those experiences are beyond priceless.
If you could talk to all the children of Pittsburgh at once, what would you say?
I would tell every child to seek people who would encourage them and that treat them with dignity and respect. To always learn as much as they can and to be the very best that they can be. Once that have become successful in life to pass it on and help others to gain the awareness and enlightenment that allows people to reach their maximum potential. Finally, I would tell them that if they practice and teach Love that they will find a life of meaning far beyond what they could have ever imagined.
How awesome is it to see the message of Burgh Man spread throughout the city?  
Please look on BurghMan.com/About and you will see a Proclamation that the City of Pittsburgh gave Burgh Man honoring his work in 2002. This might be the greatest gift I have ever received!
I have wept in silence many times over the years to think that other people have found my work worthy of notice. Contemplative moments always bring me peace and a hope that something profound is still waiting for my discovery. I wish I could compare these feeling to something tangible, but unless you experience them words cannot adequately describe them. To even think that Burgh Man’s message would be part of my legacy brings enormous gratitude to me. What greater honor could there be than to know you left the world a little better than where you found it. It is certainty my greatest wish that people will extract all of the positivity that Burgh Man tries to disseminate.
Where are your favorite places in Pittsburgh to spread positivity?
The entire greater Pittsburgh area is my playground. I’m at home in every neighborhood that I visit. Pittsburgh is truly the home of Burgh Man. I grew up in The Burgh and it takes everyone to make us what we are and what we are to become. I’m excited about the way Pittsburgh is moving with technology, education, medicine, the arts, sports and every other area.
I suspect I will always have a soft spot for the North Shore. I love entertaining on the streets and interacting with the people. Skating down by the river and watching the responses of the people when Burgh Man comes skating by in his lighted costume, juggling lighted Clubs is a high all of its own. Burgh Man keeps me high on life. Burgh Man really got his start in Market Square and the North Shore nearly 15 years ago. I’m Burgh Man and the Burgh is my home J
Thank you for thinking about Burgh Man and allowing me this wonderful opportunity.
A Hero is someone who brings out the best in others ~~ Burgh man
---
I think someone like Burghman is very important in today's society - with what we see in the news every day. Being able to take your family out knowing your children will be able to see someone real and true like Burghman  adds some extra awesomeness to events around town. When I saw him in front of the Toonseum last year, people would stop what they were doing and stop to chat or take a picture. They always walk away with a smile.