A Reminder to Pursue the Stop and Chat

Someone I'd known since childhood just passed away far too soon. Details are pending and making anything google searchable is always risky, so hence his forthcoming anonymity.

It’s actually hard to think about my relationship with this friend without acknowledging a beginning when we were kind of dicks to each other - trading insults, some weak attempts at physical posturing. That was middle school, though, and everyone’s a dick in middle school when we’re less human, more just confused, kid-shaped vessels of bubbling hormones, competing for safety in the pack.

Of course, part of the beauty of growing up is recognizing that everyone experiences their own misery in those years. Hopefully, it passes, and if you're so inclined you get to appreciate the person underneath.

I remember him most from band – he played trombone, but was gleefully loud whether he had instrument up to his mouth or not. Particularly in high school, pep band I think, he’d give me props if I did something cool playing the drums, and we’d share some laughs every now and again. We didn’t have much in common, but, after the struggles to get along in middle school, he turned out to be a surprisingly fun dude. He was popular, more so than me. The people I liked most liked him, and anyone cool enough for them was definitely good enough for me.

I barely saw him after high school. We connected on Facebook at some point, but never talked. The next I’d see him was our 10-year reunion. The great joy of that occasion was the evaporation of boundaries, the equanimity between formerly divided cliques and classes. The sense that so much of the drama and B.S. of school was just silliness and it’s ten years later and fuck it – let’s just all have a beer together and laugh. He manned the bar and probably should’ve cut me off because I got absolutely blasted. But god damn it was a great party and he imbued it with pulsing, boisterous life, pouring drink after drink, driving conversation.

A few years later when visiting my family, I took my wife – then my girlfriend – to a local dive. She was born and raised in Manhattan, and I wanted her to experience a proper slice of life from my hometown, cowboy boots and rodeo talk and all.

I saw him there, across the bar. He and I did that thing where you make eye contact real quick and then look away and pretend not to see each other. He had people around him; maybe he wanted to stay engaged with them. Or maybe a ‘stop-and-chat’ with an old high school friend seemed like too much effort, and, like I said, true closeness always eluded us.

When I consider it now, I think I felt too nervous to talk to him, too afraid of rejection of even a mild display of Cro-Magnon affection. I liked him, I admired his fearlessness with people in ways that I’m fearful. I wanted to introduce him to the woman who would become my wife. But with his booming laughter, in his element surrounded by friends, he still seemed popular and I felt the echoes of being a downcast, insecure teen.

I wish that I had dug a just a little bit deeper, and found the courage to talk that night. We grew up, if not quite together, then something close to it, intersecting with each other's lives off and on since childhood. Even if just a handshake and best wishes until the next reunion, he wouldn’t have suffered for a moment of camaraderie, and we all deserve a reminder when we are good people in each other’s eyes.

See-ya Twitter, You’re the Worst

Update: Surprise surprise, this didn't last! I'm back on Twitter and still can't stand it.

As with so much, but especially with this topic, the post below reflects only my opinions.

Others have written more comprehensively on the state of Twitter, how it’s a cesspool of yelling, mansplaining, race-baiting, filter-bubbling hate. I have little more to add, other than to say they’re all right, Twitter is just so much terrible, and I'm out.

It’s the little things that all tallied-up like poison “likes” (or is it “loves” the same way every brand co-opts “love”?). The profiles with statements like “I WAKE UP HAPPY EVERY DAY KNOWING THAT DEMS DON'T.” (Actual “about me” section!). Or my first time being told I was a miserable cuck who should’ve been incinerated in a concentration camp oven for criticizing a presidential candidate, only to have Twitter tell me it wasn’t hate. And then there’s the toxic, artificially-colored elephant in the room, spitting out an endless verbal pestilence 140 characters at-a-time that has the fun side effect of making the planet’s collective knees buckle with nuclear anxiety.

Nope, no hate here.

Nope, no hate here.

Why is Twitter this way? Who the hell knows anymore? Does it even matter? Free speech is actually "Free Speech," which means it still has limits and also that no private organization has to allow any speech they don’t like on their platforms. But they do out of some misplaced sense of righteousness, or naivete, or, more cynically, a knowledge that they need user eyeballs to assault with promoted posts and nothing’s more important than GROWTH, no matter if it’s healthy or just metastasis.

Or maybe, just maybe, no one thought it through, no one had the foresight to think that Twitter should be better than an all-day every-day release for our collective ids, to say “Hey, maybe we should regulate our digital lives with a modicum of the discipline we show in our physical lives. Supercuts doesn’t let you throw F-bombs at each other while you wait, let’s take a cue from Supercuts on this one.” Hell, at a cosmic level, this is all still just digital communication pre-pubescence, maybe adolescence will bring some semblance of sanity. (Wait, I remember adolescence, soooo maybe not.)

I used to love Twitter – microblogging in 140 characters? How fun! What a creative challenge! My first live-tweeting was a thrill – so many likes and mentions! And some organizations have used it to great effect, to help their businesses, to deliver breaking news, to stir grand revolution, to create the most-liked inspirational tweet of all time – all hip hooray! But my following is small, I’m not running a business, I don’t need to see breaking news tweets before they’re deleted and replaced with more accurate breaking news tweets.

At best, Twitter is trying to fix their hate problem and succeeding at the achingly slow pace set by many major American institutions. At worst, they don’t care, and I imagine the truth is a combination of it all – freedom of expression and the needs of a business forging new territory are hard to reconcile. In any event, it doesn’t particularly matter. There are other feeds fighting for my eyeshare and other sources of online toxicity to repel. Good riddance Twitter. You’ve been the worst.

Is Colbert Too Narcissistic for Mainstream America?

Ratings and results from a survey published this week suggest that Stephen Colbert’s left-leaning politics may be alienating middle-America viewers from his new Late Show on CBS. That may well be true, but said alienation could also run even deeper than politics. Despite being on a different network and not playing his old Colbert Report “character” any more, Colbert’s Late Show is still extremely focused on him, and heavily leverages the cult of personality he established back at Comedy Central. Which begs the question, if you’re not into him already, what exactly is going to beckon you in to the Cult of Colbert?

Looking back at Colbert’s body of work, the self-centric nature of his writing and performance well predates the Report, extending all the way to Strangers With Candy, his wicked after-school special satire written with pals Amy Sedaris and Paul Dinello in the early 2000’s. On Strangers, every character is self-obsessed to the point of grotesquery. Colbert’s sourpuss history teacher, Chuck Noblet, lambasts Sedaris’ depressed 40-something high school student after her father is ripped apart by rabid dogs (seriously, it’s a weird-ass show) not because he’s concerned about her well-being, but because she’s disrupting his class. Dinello’s white male art-teacher stakes a claim on all the trauma from a hate crime committed against black students — and it basically goes on like that for 30 episodes. It’s easy to observe seeds of the me-ness that would define Colbert’s future here, and while Strangers is gleefully subversive satire, it’s also hardly inviting.

The Colbert Report eliminated the meanness of Strangers, but amped the Colbert-as-narcissist element to 1 — to much more successful returns than Strangers. What started as a Daily Show companion spoof of bloviating punditry became a conceit through which Colbert could freely imbue every facet of his show with his passions and peeves. If you watched the Report, you know not only that Colbert satirizes conservative media, but that Colbert loves to sing, Colbert has a deep relationship with his faith, Colbert can quote the Lord of the Rings appendices backwards, Colbert hates bears, and so on.

Audiences ate it up. Through Colbert and his thin but sturdy conservative disguise, the viewer got to vicariously experience the rarest of gifts — a free license to be unabashedly self-celebratory in front of a national audience. It helped that he had the sharpest writing around, and always used his powers for good, so long as it didn’t conflict with the conservative goals of his character (see: his devotion to charity, his shows for the troops in Iraq, the heartrending tribute to his deceased mother). Rarely, though, has a show been so defined by sheer force of personality, and one ostensibly focused so inward, at that.

Now, though, the context has changed. Colbert is on a big-three network and the conceit of the self-obsessed blowhard has been put to rest. But, the approach to his show seems largely similar. The audience is still encourages to chant his name relentlessly at the top of every show; the Ed Sullivan theater is adorned with his face everywhere; recurring bits still have self-referencing names like “Stephen Colbert Gets All Up in Your Faith.” Even last week’s interview with Jane Fonda largely relied on the insular knowledge of their previous encounters on the Report. If you’re middle America, new to Colbert and discovering him for the first time on CBS, it’s not hard to imagine asking what the hell is going on, why is this guy’s name all over everything, and why should I care?

Colbert’s relentless self-promotion has taken him as high as he can likely go. He‘s gone from a barely-watched show on a network with a niche liberal audience to the most-watched network in America. But as the new late-night establishment settles in and the pressure mounts on Colbert to meet the ratings burdens of a more mainstream network, can he figure out how to let the rest of America in on the joke that is the Cult of Colbert? Or, is it simply time to tell some new jokes, instead?

Why Splitting Mad Men's Final Season In Half Was a Terrible Idea

Long goodbyes suck, and Mad Men's had one of the longest goodbyes a TV show has received in recent memory. People scoffed when AMC announced their decision to pull a Breaking Bad and cleave Mad Men's final season in two, and rightly so. Widely dismissed as a move to maximize the show's Emmy and awards potential by drawing out the final thirteen eps across two years instead of one, even series creator Matthew Weiner seemed to think it was a bad idea, only stating at the time that he "found a way to work with it." 

With Mad Men finally at a close, it's possible to look back and see just how inappropriate the seventh-season split really was. Unlike Breaking Bad, which worked with an increased episode count to turn it's final season into two, separately filmed "mini-seasons", Mad Men treated the season more like business as usual, and the difference is palpable. Where Breaking Bad ended season 5.0 on a breathless cliffhanger, Mad Men ended season 7.0 with "Waterloo" and the death of Bert Cooper. It's a beautiful ep, but more or less similar to, albeit a highlight of, the rest of this season of languid, thoughtful goodbyes. 

Watching through season 7.5 and hoping for closure with everyone's favorite relationships and characters, it's easy to forget just how much closure already came in 7.0. Bert's aforementioned death, Don and Peggy's slow dance, the dysfunctional SC&P family dinner at Burger Chef. All these moments should have built momentum into Mad Men's final hours (as they have every season) but instead, it feels like eons ago, and season 7.5 felt burdened with undue slack to pick up as a result.  

Goodbyes, especially with the one's you're close to, are best kept short and deliberate - a peck on the check, a firm hug, and a fond farewell - but Mad Men's sunset season held on like an endless, too-needy embrace. Hopefully, in the future, AMC realizes that's no way to end a relationship with something you love.