Past, Present, and Future Collide

I can’t help noticing how much past, present, and future of one life clash pretty frequently these days. Thanks to media and the everlasting record called the internet, people receive disparaging judgement about their mistakes*, whether those happened last month, last decade, or decades ago.

Two recent examples (I am not taking sides on either, by the way):

  • Our current lieutenant governor, Glenn McConnell, is being considered for the Presidency of the College of Charleston. Some folks within the College and in the community don’t feel McConnell’s Civil war projects and his repeated identification with Confederate forefathers will reflect well on the school if McConnell is chosen. It might also harm the ability to attract more non-white students. For those that don’t know, the College is attended by mostly whites, and in my lifetime, mostly women. Brian Hicks of the Post and Courier countered this opposition with a piece mentioning that McConnell’s online images do not mirror McConnell’s legislative efforts. These efforts which don’t reflect a racist, Jim Crow attitude that a Confederate uniform or other images of McConnell might imply. What matters most-image, or actions and skill sets?
  • Duck Dynasty. It may be just another case of true colors and inconvenient truths coming to light after a successful, profitable rise to fame. After the GQ interview’s release, an online video surfaced featuring Phil (the DD Patriarch) advising fellow duck hunter men to seek out 15 year old wives. Maybe Phil thinks the reality show and merchandising fame orgy is over. Or maybe the family just wants it to be over, riling groups they didn’t gel with anyway is a the quickest way to exit the public consciousness. Phil’s experience really does not seem that different from Paula Deen’s experience earlier this summer, or the statements made in an interview with Chik-Fil-A COO Dan Cathy.

Contrast these real people with a fictional character, Natasha Romanoff, aka the Black Widow, a member of the Avengers. Romanoff is the only female and only foreign Avenger. Russian by birth, she has a keen skills set that she used to help the enemy for years. Romanoff hints at her past when she says I have a lot of red in my ledger. In the films, she says this several times. For those that don’t know, red in my ledger is an accounting analogy. Red ink indicates loss (debt), black ink indicates profit (SIDENOTE: this same accounting language is what puts the black in Black Friday).

Romanoff is saying she has a lot of debt to pay for what she did before. Now she is focused on using her skills set for good. Apparently Nick Fury didn’t feel her nationality, her past, or both, were disqualifiers. Romanoff was asked to join the Avengers.

I think it’s worth pointing out that real-life people struggle with getting similar second chances to Romanoff’s, whether they are criminal, or not, whether they are famous or not. I suspect we have reached the point where no one is immune from having either a criminal record or other ‘damning’ recorded evidence about him/her online.

Attempting to get a new job, run for public office, buy a car, buy a house, start a business, etc. is that much harder when a person’s whole life is held against them. It’s only a matter of time before evidence surfaces that the person made mistakes, allied themselves with the wrong crowd, supported the losing team, misjudged a situation and failed. We’re all human, so why are mistakes so damning and shocking? Why are famous people expected to be one-dimensional and uncomplicated? No person is like that.

Our current media culture is obsessed with mugshots and police blotter reports. Crime reporting is completely oversaturating news coverage.  Unless a suspect is on the loose, it really has no point other than to instill and maintain a high level of public paranoia. Add to that the sensationalist drivel that makes up the rest of the news–the rise and fall of entrepreneurs turned TV show personalities (Paula Deen, Phil Richardson), politicians’ flubs and romantic affairs, and celebrity screw ups. The news has morphed into a warped version of America’s Funniest Home Videos, only no one wins a massive cash prize for the kick in the nuts they receive. They just lose face, opportunities, and millions of dollars.

There’s a lot of glorification of failure on our airwaves. What’s funny in the moment is not funny at all long term; it’s pathetic that this is entertainment. I don’t feel “failure media” is inspiring anyone, helping to create a better nation, or a better world. If we want a peaceful world, full of good people, doing great things, giving bad behavior star treatment and hyper-coverage is the wrong way to go about achieving that end. If we expect individuals to function creatively in society, they deserve credit for learning from their mistakes and they deserve the opportunities to prove that. Making everyone in society a criminal of one form or another is dysfunctional. It’s a gunshot in both feet. It’s our puritanical sadistic side rearing its haughty, disdainful head.

As the viewing public, our collective attention impacts what airs and what continues to air. When what airs way too much is nudging our culture in a bad direction, we need to admit that and change course. We need to change the game for the better. Take a step back, and find other means of spending our time, for better outcomes.

If everyone who has ever failed has little reason to try again because the failures count for too much for too long, what kind of future are we creating for ourselves? We are creating not a very good one.

*=For the purpose of this blog post, a mistake is any act or statement held against the person doing the speaking or acting. These mistakes are evidence used to deny future opportunities to that person. Whether they are actual  screwups is relative, it depends on who you ask. In modern times, these mistakes are called ‘indiscretions”. They are usually an individual’s beliefs or hobbies that once publicized, reflect badly on that individual.

Storytelling Can Win New Fans

Garth Brooks has come out of retirement. I caught his WYNN Las Vegas TV special last Friday night.

Growing up, I knew who Garth Brooks was. I was a teenager in the 1990s, after all. Kids were singing “I’ve Got Friends in Low Places” on the bus. But I don’t own any albums, and I can’t claim to be a hardcore, longtime fan. I don’t make a habit of blogging or tweeting my viewing habits. The style of this show stuck with me, though, so I wanted to blog about it. It was different from the typical televised concert.

The typical concert format is a well-styled singer singing, dancing, video accompaniment, elaborate lighting effects, maybe pyrotechnics. You the audience member are singing (or mouthing) along to songs you know and love. If you are not a fan, you pass. You won’t pay $30+ to see someone you don’t know. You don’t spend $30+ to spend a couple hours in a room with someone you don’t know and a stadium full of their adoring fans either. If you are watching at home, you would keep channel surfing past this stranger and their fan base. Why? No one pays with their money, or their time, to feel excluded.

In contrast, this is how Brooks’ show was formatted:

Imagine a white American man is onstage, dressed in very average clothes: Timberland steel toe work boots, a black hoodie sweatshirt, black baseball cap, and blue jeans. The baseball cap has a logo on it. There is no band. He is playing an acoustic/electric guitar and wearing a microphone headset over his ball cap.

For every song he plays, he is telling stories. Most of the songs he plays are covers that relate to the story he just told. The stories run the gamut of his 51 years: his parents’ musical tastes; growing up in the 1960s and 1970s; being the youngest of six; riding in older cars that never sold (no matter how much time and effort was made fixing them up); poking fun at himself; poking fun at lyrical trends of the 1960s and 1970s; learning a lot about performing while paying his dues in a small club in Stillwater, Okla.; and finally, the daunting task of covering a song for a movie soundtrack when you can’t understand the original artist’s version.

If you know nothing about Brooks and didn’t care prior to this show, he’s provided eight reasons to care now. Maybe one or more of these themes resonated with you.

At this point, he is introduced by his wife, Trisha Yearwood. She brings out that famous black cowboy hat. He dons it. He ends the show with a couple of his own hits.It’s Garth Brooks.

You were willing to give his music a chance at this point, weren’t you? You could hear how his influences came through? Following this show, even if you still don’t like his music, you can still relate to him as a person.

Once people feel some rapport with a performer or a speaker, they are more apt to listen to what they have to say.

Quite often, there’s a pressure for the performer or speaker to focus on nailing each performance one day at a time. He or she may just want to get through it and not screw up. He/she may want to blow people away. He or she may want to create post-show buzz. He or she may want all of the above.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with “rocking it”, so to speak. I think the internet age has really bombarded ordinary people with an endless supply of footage of people rocking it. We already had television. And social media involves a lot “rocking it” announcements by both famous and everyday people, every day of the week.

Rocking it proves the performer is highly skilled.  If all you ever see of someone is the “rocking it” footage, what does that do for you long term? Do you get inspired? Do you get bored? Do you feel intimidated or inadequate after awhile?

Contrast those feelings with someone who shared their stories and related to you as another human being before rocking it. How do you feel about that person?

These are the things I am thinking about three days after seeing Brooks’ show.