Archive for March, 2010

27
Mar
10

“Corpus Christi” and the Importance of Playing Devil’s Advocate

So just this week the school I graduated from three years ago, the not so esteemed Tarleton State University, has decided to ban a student production of the controverisal play “Corpus Christi.” The play, written by Terrence McNally depicts Jesus and the Apostles as gay men, and deals with issues like gay marriage, and sexual jealousy.

Tarleton State University is nestled comfortably between Fort Worth and Brownwoood, and is right in the heart of central Texas, a.k.a. “Conservative-ville.” So it is not surprising that the play was met with protest, and anger by both students and parents, and people in the community. What is perhaps surprising is the amount of bigotry and animosity directed at the school, the Theatre Department, and the students involved in the play. It may not be surprising that Tarleton decided to ban the production but it is dissapointing, and to some extent cowardly. If Tarleton chooses to ban one play due to controversy how easy will it be to ban anything that students disagree with?

Earlier this week, before the controversy picked up steam, my father called me and asked about the play. My Dad is a devout Christian, and was offended by the production. Just to play Devil’s Advocate ( that is where you take a different opinion just because it is more interesting) I challenged my Dad by saying that “Corpus Christi” may be offensive, but it is also art, and one purpose of art is to challenge conventional wisdom. Jesus may not have been gay ( I don’t think that he was) but it is interesting to put Jesus in different contexts and see how he would have handled different issues. Their are some contradiction in church rules and orthodoxy and Jesus forgiveness of sins.

Later this week my wife came home from Tarleton, where she works, and does her Masters studies, and told me how upset she was about students protesting the play. Once again I decided to play Devil’s Advocate and took the opposite approach. I told her that Tarleton is partially funded by private money and students have a right to know where there tuition dollars are going, and what type of “art” is on display. I also told her that although we have free speech in this country there is nothing wrong with people protesting and using public influence to get their way on issues. In both arguments, I was correct, and so how is this possible?

Many years ago I took college debate, and one of the first things that they teach you is to look at your oppositions argument and examine it carefully. Only by knowing what one side is thinking can you poke holes in their argument, and find the holes in yours… But playing Devil’s Advocate has another advantage. In the process of looking at things from the other side sometimes you become genuinely convinced that your first opinion, or interpretation was wrong. This type of thinking outside the box is a valuable commodity, and one sadly lacking in today’s culture ( just look at T.V. talks shows and Washington).

Initially I was kind of appalled by “Corpus Christi” myself. Not only do I not think Jesus is gay but the bible explicitly condemns homosexuality in first Corninthians. There is, furthermore, a belief that McNally may be using his play to rile up Christians and use controversy to increase publicity and revenues (McNally, who is a Christian, denies this). But after thinking about the opposition side I began to realize that many things that are controversial, particularly when it comes to art, have value and resonance. Aristotle said the purpose of art “was to please and to instruct.” Perhaps by showing Jesus in a different light we can come to appreciate him more, and perhaps homosexuals, viewing a play like this, can come away with a new interpretation or appreciation of Jesus. Since I haven’t seen the play I can not say this is true. “Corpus Christi” could be utter garbage for all I know. But it should not be condemned on site.

Tarleton State made a mistake in pulling this play. It would have been more interesting to see the play, and have a discussion about its themes, instead of everyone having an argument about their own idealogies. Part of living in a free society is that we have to allow for some messages we disagree with, and when we are tempted to close our minds and see things only in one way, it is precisely then that we should take a step back and look at the other side.

Playing Devil’s Advocate is not a waste of time. Feel free to challenge people’s ideas, whether or not you agree with them. Only by looking at how people view things, and how we view them can we truly learn anything. Different persepective are what made this country great. People should never lose sight of that.

Sincerely,

Jack B.

16
Mar
10

How the Environmentalists got it Wrong

If you’re as old as I am you may recall the broad “Recycling Movement” that cropped up in schools and industry in the late eighties/early nineties. For years no one really thought anything about trash. Where it went, what happened to it, this was all a great big mystery to the average person. Then all of the sudden something happened. The government of America, at the state and federal level started urging conservation, and along with this movement came the recycling programs. People realized that some things like aluminum cans and newspapers were fairly easy to re-use, and other things like plastic compounds and styrofoam were not easy to re-use. All over the country recycling bins popped up and consumers were urged to place appropriate trash in the bins. For awhile companies like McDonalds even suspended use of styrofoam and switched to paper cups.

By and large the recycling movement that began in the eighties was very successful, and if you look on certain products now you can find out how much came from recycled goods. When I was a kid my Dad used to drive us out to the paper mill in downtown Fort Worth on some weekends and the can factory in Saginaw on others to to recycle our old cans and newspapers for a modest price. My Dad was no environmentalist, but conservationalist? Sure. And even as a kid of fifteen with absolutely no interest in saving the planet or doing the right thing I usually would place my trash in the recycle bin after lunch. Why not? I mean the recycle bin is right there, and it doesn’t take much effort.

So why is it that the recycling movement was mostly successful and yet the recent global warming/”green” movement has not been? There are perhaps many reasons. First off, recycling as I mentioned, is fairly easy. The green movement is more abstract and requires more genuine sacrifice. It is easy to dump an aluminum can in a bin. It is not so easy to change your driving habits, your eating habits, and spend your time in the supermarket looking for “organic” foods. Incidentally, since all of our foods come from products grown on this planet, aren’t they all organic? But I digress…

I believe that for the most part people are still naturally inclined to do the right thing, even if it takes a little effort, so why are some people so resistant to the green movement? Well, for starters there is a difference in the message behind the green movement, and the message behind the recycling movement. Recycling was about doing your part for the planet, but no one suggested that those who didn’t recycle were “killing the earth.” The idea was about conservation not necessarily environmentalism. Why be wasteful when you don’t have to be? Sadly, many on the left failed to grasp the simplicity of this message, and how different it feels to people.

The current message sent by environmentalists is not about conservation but about “eco-terrorism.” Those who don’t drive hybrids or use less energy are somehow bad people, or “they just don’t get it.” The Global Warming movement never stated the simple importance of using less energy for the sake of wise stewardship of our resources, but rather attempted to scare people into believing the planet would die out if we kept up our wastefull ways. Even if this was true people don’t like being blamed for something they never knew was wrong. I don’t think anyone concsiously bought an S.U.V. so they could “stick it to the earth.” And now that some scientists have placed doubts on the global warming movement it is understandable that people who were fed up with being told how to live their lives are eager to forget all about global warming, the green movement, and anything that sounds like over-policing our lifestyles. In short, people don’t mind helping out, but not if you try to blame/bully them into it.

I don’t consider myself an environmentalist, and I don’t spend my waking hours worrying about the planet. If you look at humans and the industrial era in the context of the earth we are less than the equivalent of one hair on a buffalo in comparison to the life of the earth. I think planet earth will survive us and our smoke stacks without a hiccup. But even though I don’t care much for the environmental movement, the conservation movement, well sure… I am half Indian, half Irish. Conservation is in my blood. I drive fuel-efficient vehicles not so I can save the earth but because I  like getting good gas mileage. I don’t buy stuff I don’t need because I like saving my money, and I use energy efficient products for the same reasons. In short, I conserve because it is in my own best interest. Scare tactics don’t work on me, but self-interest does. Imagine that?

The environmentalists have wasted a golden opportunity. It is not hard to look at the amount of oil saturation in the middle east, not to mention the political situations, and realize we should become more oil independant. It is not hard to realize that as electric bills contimue to rise we should look for ways to cut back. These are things that make sense, and not just to environmetalists, but to everyone. But rather than focus on conservation and appealing to people’s own interests, the green movement sought only to blame people, and pit two sides against each other. Many of the Green movement people are elitist snobs who secretly think their lifestyle is better than yours. They are not green because they care about the planet, but green because it makes them sound and look important. “Like, I am doing the right thing man, and you are just screwing it all up!” That is the attitude of many of these people, and such an attitude will hardly inspire people.

I am no sociologist, and I can’t speak for everyone, but I know I am tired of being preached to by many people on the left. Don’t call me stupid, and don’t say I don’t get it. I am willing to do my part for the planet, but I don’t want to be called evil if I don’t. No one is out to get the earth. And we are all in this boat together. Sadly, many environmetalists just don’t get this. Forget the green movement people. Let’s focus on conservation and appeal to people’s best interest and better nature. Do it this way and maybe people will listen. It is obvious the current approach isn’t going to inspire anyone.

Sincerely,

Jack B.

14
Mar
10

The concept and consequence of reservation

Sometimes I think I was born at the wrong time, perhaps the wrong country. Americans, particularly Americans in the technology era, love to talk, love to bullshit, and they love their little devices, i.e. IPODS, IPHONES, Cell phones, Blackberries, PSP’s, etc. We are a web-surfing, internet browsing, i.m.-img, texting, tweeting, facebooking, group of people. And in all this communication, mass communication at its zenith, what exactly do we say? In short, nothing…

I can’t say my opinions, or my random musings on this blog or any other are more valid than other peoples opinions. And I realize there is a great big world out there filled with bright minds and stunning conversationalists, but lately I just haven’t seen it.

In Japan and other eastern cultures it is not polite to talk to people you don’t  know, or make eye contact with them. Throughout world history, class stratification encouraged people to socialize within their own economic and intellectual peer groups. And many people, our own founding fathers, did not waste any breath, or quill ink, comensurating with people whose ideas and opinions were not worthy of consumption.

I don’t consider myself arrogant, I give everyone a fair shake, but I don’t like to waste my time on ignorant people, or ignorant opinions, and although other peoples gossip may be interesting to them, it is hardly of importance to me. The way in which we choose to communicate, and this is a principal summed up in How to Win Friends and Influence People, is to listen to other people’s bullshit, in order that they listen to ours. (Dale Carnegie didn’t use these words exactly, but you get the point.) But what is the point of listening to bullshit if it only leads to more bullshit?

I have my own anecdotes that I could tell. I have stories about times I got high, or fought with my wife, or made out with some hot chick, but do you really care? Of course not, and neither do I. Just lately I have discovered that I really don’t enjoy talking to the average person all that much. I try, really I do, but sometimes I feel like a lonely woman who keeps getting set up on bad dates. I keep going out there, but it never leads to anything.

Perhaps because of this, or perhaps because my nature is to be shy, I have become more reserved in my older age. I listen to people, I am polite, but I don’t make much effort to engage them unless I think they have something to say. I consider myself a broad thinker. I like politics, philosophy, literature, movies. I’d love to tell people about a good book I just finished or hear about one that you have read. But I don’t care how many times you fucked Ashley, what’s-her-name, before she cheated on you with John. what-his-name. And I don’t care how many beers you can drink, or how much pot you smoked, or that your boyfriend dumped you. Start off by displaying some taste, some discernment, and then, if I am your friend, I will listen to some of your bullshit. I will let you tell me about how quickly you beat Halo 2, or how many fights you won, and I may tell my own stories about how quickly I beat Drake’s Fortune; Uncharted 2, or how drunk I got over the weekend. I can tolerate some of it, but please, have something more to say.

We live in a culture that does not respect reservation or wisdom. If you want to learn something you have to be willing to listen, but all too often those who listen, such as myself are seen as withdrawn, and not interesting. But how does conversation lead anywhere, if everyone is just talking right past one another?

There is a quality to reservation, to patience, and to listening, that needs to be emphasized. The technology we have today combined with the crude culture that accomodates it has lead to a coursening of the language, a crudity of the spirit, and a generation that speaks on impulsive thoughts, emotions; raw thought process, replacing consideration, contemplation, and adaptivity. We should think about what we say, and try to speak from a place of authority. We should not merely babble our mindless stories back and forth. It is okay to shut up now and then.

I know I don’t quite fit in anymore. I will proabably take some heat for this blog, and yeah, I know not everyone can avoid talking about themselves, we all do it. But how we communicate is important. As the kid says in Jerry Maquire, “I have not yet mastered the art of talking and saying nothing.” Shouldn’t we all be so lucky?

Sincerely,

Jack B.

10
Mar
10

Corey Haim, and Doing Hollywood the Wrong Way

I can’t honestly say that I woke up this morning thinking about Corey Haim, who died by way of overdose last night in Los Angeles, but in a way I have been thinking a lot about people just like Haim recently. I don’t know how many people ever watch A&E’s Biography, an hour to two hour length show that follows the careers and personal lifes of its subjects, but just this week Biography covered Johnny Depp and Joaquin Phoenix, and the two actors are connected by one tragic experience: the death of River Phoenix in 1993. Joaquin is the younger brother of River, and Depp was good friends with him. Both men were at Depp’s famous Viper Room club in Los Angeles the night River died of an overdose.

Just recently the actress Brittany Murphy died of a coronary disorder that may have been brought on by over-use of prescription drugs. And of course, ever year there are tragedies like these, and people we know and love lose their lives all too often for dumb, meaningless reasons. When is this type of behavior going to stop?

Corey Hain is not one of my all time favorite actors, and since I am not a girl I didn’t grow up reading about him in Tiger Beat magazine or hanging his posters all over my room, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t know about the guy or like him. Lucas, which was about a nerdy outsider and starred other young actors Corey Feldman, and Charlie Sheen, was one of my favorite movies growing up in the eighties. Silver Bullet, one of the scariest werewolf movies ever made used to terrify me as a child, and when I was a little bit older I loved License to Drive, and had a big crush on a very young Heather Graham. All of these movies and a few others starred the late, great Corey Haim. I don’t know why Corey’s career didn’t extend to adulthood, other than the fact that few child stars have good adult careers, but Corey was more than a cute face. He was embued with a certain earnestness and vulnerability that stood out on the big screen. Corey had that rare gift of being attractive without coming off as arrogant or self-aware. In many ways his career paralleled and perhaps propelled another famous teen actor, Macauly Culkin. Both were blonde, cute, and captured the precocious eighties child perfectly.

So it is sad to see Corey go, and it has been sad to see so many other people, guys like Chris Farley, and Curt Cobain, guys I admired, go the same way. Contrary to popular opinion it was more than drugs that killed these individuals. Some overdoses, like the one that killed River Phoenix, are more accidental, but most involve a pattern of self destructive behavior and a lifestyle that is simply unsustainable. I believe Hollywood and the price of fame is as big a culprit in these actors deaths as anything else. I lived near Hollywood for about six months in the city of Long Beach, and there is a permeance to the drug culture out there, a care-free attitude about drug use that just doesn’t exist in other parts of the country. It is easy to get caught up in the trappings of fame and in a town like Hollywood, where partying and drug use go hand-in-hand, it is easy to see how so many young men and women get swept up in that lifestyle. But how are some actors able to make it, and others aren’t?

If you watched the Academy Awards the other night you saw that Jeff Bridges, who won an Oscar for Crazy Heart, has been married for 34 years. He has been acting a long time, going back to The Last Picture Show in 1971, and smaller parts before that. The late, great Paul Newman, who died two years ago, was married for over fifty years. His marriage and acting career roughly spanned the same length of time, and other actors like Hugh Jackson, and Tom Cruise seem to be grounded by marriage, living outside of Hollywood, and pursuing passionate hobbies.

Hollywood is a rough town and it is a place that can eat you up if you are not careful. We hear a lot about living for the moment in today’s self-obsessed culture, but perhaps it is an irony that the actors who have been most successful in terms of a sustained career, and happy personal life have had good support structures at home, and don’t spend all of their time working in the industry.

It is sad that so many young people that make it in Hollywood don’t realize the importance of this. As a man who used  to drink heavily I know how much fun the party scene can be, but at some point the party has to end. Guys like Corey Haim may not have always had fame, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t have a great and productive life. I sometimes wonder what an actor like River Phoenix would be doing right now if he was still alive. What kind of music would Curt Cobain be making if he was still around? Unfortunately, we will never know.

There is a wrong way to do Hollywood, and a right way. Unfortunately guys like Haim went down the wrong path, and their death can serve as a lesson to us all. Sometimes the party just has to end. You do know that, don’t you?

Sincerely,

Jack B.

08
Mar
10

Rejection and the World of Self-Publishing

There is an old saying that when you can’t play by the rules, change the rules. Nowhere is this more true than in the world of self-publishing, and for the first time in my life I am beginning to understand. Just recently I finished editing my own novel, a futuristic romance called Social Conscience. The first thing I did was attempt to contact publishers, but quickly discovered that publishers do not publish non-solicited books ( i.e. books that aren’t represented by agents). So I need to find an agent, and using the Writers Market, I quickly made a list of one dozen agents that I thought were best suited for my novel. So far I have contacted seven of them, and already two have rejected me. Although I hold out hope that I will contact at least one agent willing to represent me I know that the odds are long against this happening.

The reasons that it is difficult to find an agent to represent your book are numerous. If you are a fictional writer, particulary a first-time fictional writer (as I am) then a publisher may not want to take a chance on you. They have no way of knowing whether or not what you are writing will sell. Even well-written fictional books may have difficulty selling depending on the market-place, and how people perceive your book. Furthermore fictional books are often difficult to categorize, and although readers may pick up twenty different westerns in a given month no one knows if your’s will be one of them.

Established writers, and non-fiction writers (who write for a very specific audience) are much easier to sell, and to market, and so many publishers stick with these tried-and-true’s. Another reason that selling books has become so difficult is that many publishing houses have consolidated into large corporations (think Amazon) that have C.E.O.’s running the show, and C.E.O.’s look only at the bottom line. Why invest in an unsure thing and risk losing money when you can continue to invest in sure things and only gain money? For these reasons a lot of agents don’t take on new books, or are very selective when they do. This has led many writers to turn to the phenomena of self-publishing. I will get to this in a minute.

Sometimes I hear people in the news bemoan the loss of traditional medium, such as old newspapers and the nightly network broadcasts. These have been replaced by the non-traditional medium such as cable news, on-line news and the bloggers. In the world of news I could understand this. Young people are trying new technology and older people are dying out. But I was surprised to find that the world of publishing has gone the same way. Although I was aware of alternative publishing (sites like Lulu.com and Book Surge, which is owned by Amazon) I always felt it was preferable to have a real agent and use a traditional publishing house. After all, when you hire an agent and get your book published a whole army of people go to work for you, editing, marketing, and selling your book. If you self-publish you have to do all this work yourself, and who wants to do that? Who has the time and money to do that? But now I am beginning to see why so many people have abandoned the traditional world of publishing. Don’t blame the writers, blame the agents.

You see, agents have a job, and last I checked that job was to find writers and publish their books. Sometimes this is difficult, but hey, guess what, you signed up for it. When I worked at Whataburger I had to clean up grease, I didn’t enjoy it, but I took the job, so I did it. And if you are an agent sometimes you have to wade through some grease in order to find a few pieces of gold. A long time ago somebody discovered Stephen King, and somebody discovered John Grisham ( actually it was the same man, bet he made some money) and somebody discovered J.K. Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, and about a million other people. If you are an agent then your job is to find those people and perhaps I am being naieve about this, but it seems to me the more books you read the more likely you are discover somebody. Sadly, most agents don’t see it this way.

In my attempt to find an agent I have been hampered by all kinds of lame, pathetic rules and guidelines that agents impose on young writers. I have been told not to contact agents directly. I must send a query letter in order to get in touch. The query letter must be a certain length and style, and comply witht the agents requirements or it will not be read. Some agents even have a query form to fill in, lest you be so bold and come up with your own statement about your book. I must wait for a response from my query, and not contact anyone in the meantime. Usually I must get a response before sending any of my book. If they are willing to look at the book, then only the first ten pages, please! And of course, one should never be so bold as to just send the whole, whopping book into an agents office, and force them to read it. What are you trying to pull writer? It’s anarchy, I tell you!

So let me get this straight. I write a book for over a year. I spend two or three months editing it. I format it and print it according to editor specifications. I package it and mail it to you at my own expense, and then… You reject it on site? And your job is to find writers? Give me a break. I know it may be a little unpleasant to read a bad manuscript. I sometimes look back at my own work from ten years ago and wince at how bad it is. But how long does it take to read five, ten, twenty pages of a book and see if it has some potential? And I doubt all of these agents have some Milton from Office Space sitting in a basement somewhere besieged by bad manuscripts, destined to spend an eternity in limbo, readng page after page. How many books come in on a day to day basis? One, maybe two.

Agents will one day find themselves out of work, and one day big publishing companies will find themselves publishing little more than textbooks, and they will have only themselves to blame, sad but true.

Now, as for self-publishing… I must admit I was surprised to read how many self-publishing methods, and companies there are out there. Some of them, like Lulu are free, as well. But just because something is free or cheap doesn’t mean it is easy. If you wish to go the route of self-publishing (something I may have to consider) you will have to edit your book professionally by somebody on the outside (unless you really think it is good enough as is), you will have to use soft-ware to format the book professionally, you will have to handle all of the design, and marketing of the book, and you will have to spend considerable time and money getting the book out there for people to read.

The process of self-publishing is a daunting one, but at least you have all of the power, and a vested interest in seeing your work succeed. Self-publishing may be difficult, but it beats getting turned down by agents who aren’t doing their jobs. Like most things, in the world of book publishing, if you want something done wright you have to do it yourself.

Sincerely,

Jack B.