Archives for category: media

It is trite to link to Seth Godin but his article last Friday had very useful ideas.

“How big is your farm?” he asks. The idea is that you shouldn’t spread yourself around everywhere.

The number of media channels available to you keeps growing. The number of places you can spend time and money is almost endless. Yet your budget isn’t. Your time certainly isn’t.

Some people would have you spend a little time on each social network, run ads in ten or fifteen media, focus on one hundred major markets and spend time on PR and publicity in every publication willing to listen to you.

Or you could pick one channel and win.

When it comes to leather & rubber, we dominate by Flickr user sillygwailo

"When it comes to leather & rubber, we dominate" by Flickr user sillygwailo

My friend Gary Nordlinger, a successful international political consultant, gives a different version of this basic idea. I have always liked Gary’s version, because it’s very hard nosed.

This is Gary’s answer to political neophytes who say, “How much should I spend on advertising?”

  • Order your media channels in descending order of importance
  • Spend enough to dominate the most important
  • If you have money left over, spend enough to dominate the next most important
  • Repeat, etc.

Don’t spread everything around, even though it feels good.

The article by me first appeared in Pajamas Media.

There is a priceless moment in Oliver Stone’s unfairly maligned The Doors, when our heroes are prepping to go on the Ed Sullivan Show. They are met by a stage assistant, a real twerp, who informs them that, “The network guys have a problem with one of your lyrics. ‘Girl, we couldn’t get much higher.'” He goes on: ” You can’t say ‘higher’ on the network, so they asked if you could say instead: ‘Girl, we couldn’t get much better.'”

The band looks at him, bemused. He finishes with: “Could you dig that?”

That dork’s use of the word “dig” in this context perfectly illustrates what often happens when mainstream folks try to appropriate street talk: they get it wrong, either by not understanding proper usage, or just plain sounding silly. While we play such things for laughs, they ring true because we see the same thing every day.

I remember a song by a milquetoast rapper named Vanilla Ice, called “Ice Ice Baby.” You probably remember it too. It’s your standard 1990’s fare, filled with braggadocio about the protagonist’s many fine exploits. I can’t help laughing when I hear some of the lines in the tune. Vanilla says he is “Rollin’ in my 5.0” at one point. We all remember the angular 5.0 liter Mustang that was popular then. Vanilla spends three couplets on his “5.0,” with evident pride not just in its fanciness but also in his street cred for knowing such slang. Thing is, that’s not what the term “5-0” meant at the time — it meant “police,” as in “Hawaii 5-0.” (Vanilla, whose real name is Rob Van Winkle, is a far more mature person now and a new crowd has come to enjoy his music.)

All this came back to me as the David Shuster saga unfolded. In an intemperate moment, our chalk-stripe-suited host says that Chelsea Clinton is being “pimped out” by her mom’s campaign.

This has generated a firestorm and Shuster is now suspended for uttering such a derogatory remark. For my part, I would have wanted to suspend him for not understanding the language he was trying to use. He pulled a Vanilla Ice.

Dig: “Pimped out” means “made very fancy,” as a stereotypical pimp might decorate something. There are overtones of exploitation, too, as in when something is “tricked out” — that is, made alluring enough for a trick.

What Shuster probably meant to say was that he felt Chelsea was being “pimped,” as in “exploited.” It’s a small slip, like Vanilla Ice’s slip when it comes to his car, but it matters. On its face, Shuster’s remark meant the campaign was dressing Chelsea up. In context, it was incoherent. In trying to appropriate so-called street lingo, he botched the job and made the same mistakes any foreign speaker makes when idiomatically out of their depth, with similarly hilarious results.

When I was in high school, I hosted an exchange student from Belgium. He fancied himself quite the Casanova, but most of my friends thought him the opposite. We taught him that the term “doughbrain” was our slang expression for “ladies’ man.” I regret it, now, as it was just mean — but, man was it funny at the time.

If I were advising my exchange brother now, I would say to watch out and double check what idiomatic expressions mean, because you might just wind up sounding like a real Newman.

I guess David Shuster could use the same advice.

ADDENDUM: Looks like I made a mistake, and relied on my recollection and the lyric sheet when it came to Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby” — instead of re-listening to the song itself. He doesn’t say “five-oh” (which is what I remembered) but says “five point oh.” Commenters at Pajamas Media who have pointed that out are right. Kicking myself. You should, too!

They’re also right that it knocks a big leg out from under my point, but not entirely: Shuster sounded really silly saying “pimped out,” like a suit trying to talk street, and (this much I still maintain) misusing the term in that way.

This article first appeared in Pajamas Media

Just a couple of days ago, I sought in vain for a “recall” function on my email application. Of course there was none. My message had already been delivered, to the wrong recipient and containing thoughts I wished it hadn’t. That person had sent me a note earlier, critiquing a community activity I am involved with. I thought I was forwarding the note, along with some commentary that, had I had my wits about me, I would not have committed to writing. Instead, I had replied. Intending my words for someone else, my commentary had opined that the original writer had sent the message in haste.

The irony, of course, is that my accusation of hastiness was itself made rashly, and I paid the price in remorse.

This was not the first time I had felt that twinge of panic, the desire for recall. Who among us has not wished we could un-say something?

* * *

I am a blogger. For years, I resisted using the word. While I might speak it, I would take pains not to write it, even when referring to the things. This was for philosophical reasons: I saw nothing fundamentally different about a blog from any other small, published work, like a newsletter. It just happened to be there on your screen instead of in a pile on your desk.

But, while there may be little difference between these two products, I have learned there is an important difference in how they get produced and consumed.

Like many writers, I typically ply my trade around the margins of a workday. Writing for pleasure, after all, pays little. So I write in the late evenings and in the early mornings, before the sun’s up. When I am on a roll, in the dark, with my coffee, there’s a certain adrenaline-charged intimacy. I craft and cut, finally reading the piece over a few times to make sure it’s right. The essayist’s euphoria, of having said something clever and in a clever way, mounts. I push the button, and you see it.

Too, too often, the piece would benefit from sitting, if even a few hours. When I save it and return later, I invariably find an unsupported point in my argument or an intemperate sentence that needs to be ratcheted back. Mostly, though, I don’t wait. It’s done. Get it out there!

But that essayist’s euphoria leads to hubris. I know that I should pass my words by another, that I should wait and re-edit when the flush and glow of creation has subsided. But my lower self, the self who is under the influence of that euphoria, knocks such considerations aside: “You’ve thought hard about this, and crafted carefully,” says this lower self. “There is nothing more to do. People must read it!”

The hubris lies in the fact that I have been down this road many times. It’s not an isolated slip.

The thing about blogs, publication under the influence is the norm. Large sites, like Pajamas Media and others, have editorial controls in place. But most smaller blogs have little, if any, apparatus to ensure quality. We self-publishers work alone, think alone, write alone. We must fabricate our own mechanisms to keep our hands away from the publish button. For many of us, this is a greater task than we are capable of.

Just a few hours, maybe a day, to separate the euphoria from the editing.

But the medium of blogging leaves little room for that. When I publish, I feel as if I am passing something directly to my readers. If I am to believe my statistics, many of my readers are reading at about the time I am writing. I want to keep that early morning (or late night) intimacy.

* * *

I got a note back from my mistaken email. It was very professional and we basically agreed to move on. Notably, my correspondent thought it important to respond to my accusation of “rashness” and pointed out that the original email took forty five minutes to write. That’s long enough, I thought, to write a very thoughtful email — but not long enough for the euphoria of creation to subside.

The World Wide Web, and the ubiquity of e-mail, have brought writing back into the culture of everyday people. There are millions of budding essayists across the globe. We have a medium that beckons us to share our thoughts, some deep, some shallow, some spiteful, some hilarious.

It will be a measure of our growth to see how many of us are able to moderate what we do and write pieces that, in the harsh light of day, stand up and sing as beautifully as they did in the twilight of dawn.


Brad Rourke writes a column on public life called Public Comments, produces a videolog called Taxonomies, is a founder of the Maryland neighborhood blog, Rockville Central, and is in a band called The West End.

(Image Pajamas Media)

This column originally appeared in Pajamas Media.

As luck would have it, we have a late-summer camp-gap as we get ready for school to start. In our household, both my wife and I work at home. So, day-in, day-out, parents and children are spending a lot of time together.

I was reading what looked like an interesting blog post on some of the differences between the Western and Islamic worlds when it comes to women. The point was that women in fundamental Islamic cultures, who may only go out in public when fully covered from head to toe, may actually have more anxiety over their bodies and weight than do women in more permissive Western cultures. At least according to one report. Fair enough.

It so happened that my middle school age daughter wandered into the room at about this time. Just then, I clicked on a link that looked like it was a humorous aside to a Wikipedia entry. Oops. It opened up a Google image search page of paparazzi photos of celebrity nether regions. None of them were X-rated but they were all very, very R-rated.

There my daughter was, eyeing my computer screen. Of course, I panicked. I fumblingly tried to close the window. It seemed to stay open for hours before disappearing. My daughter asked me the question she wanted to ask, and wandered back out of my office.

It’s things like this that make me and other parents feel besieged by a culture around us of non-stop porn. In my gym there is a flyer advertising an “Urban Striptease” class right next to the flyer for a kids’ ballroom dancing class. In one of the most popular stores for middle- and high-school age clothing, Hollister, the images are all of bikini-clad beach babes and dudes with jam shorts down below their devil’s horns, a faint sense of making out in the rec room wafting through it all. Oh, and in our mall, this store is right across from a Victoria’s Secret.

None of it is explicit. Yet it all skirts the line. None of it is appropriate.

This is not an indictment of the Internet, nor is it a call for censorship. It’s a plea for us all to show some decency and remember how easy it is to pollute the environment around us.

I recall an incident from my past that shames me to this day. I was in my mid-twenties, attending a baseball game with friends. I was a nihilistic little punk, filled with bile for everything. Goodness knows how I ended up at an Angels game. Regardless, I amused myself with running, sarcastic, bitter commentary. I was on a roll. Recalling that I was in a public place, I was not profane and avoided George Carlin’s Seven Words. But, even without swearing, I was as graphic as a sailor. If you know me, you know my voice carries.

Finally, maybe around the fifth inning, a man behind me spoke up. He yelled at me to shut up. I turned and saw he had a young boy with him, maybe nine or ten years old, with a summer buzz cut and a baseball cap. Angry young man that I was, I laughed it off.

But I toned it down and felt inward remorse. It haunts me still, now that I am a father with children of about that age. I didn’t just ruin that man’s baseball game, I polluted his day with vitriol. He, no doubt, had to explain to his son why that man was behaving like he was, talking like he was. Or maybe he didn’t — maybe he just fumed on his way home, hoping his son would forget it.

I benefited from being taken down a peg, there in the moment. In today’s culture, there’s no one for me to take down, no single offender. Everywhere I turn tells my daughter to be sexy, my son to be violent, and both of them to disrespect authority simply on principle.

What is a parent to do? I really am at a loss. Some of my friends say the key is education and fostering an open relationship with our children. Others say there’s nothing wrong with sheltering our offspring longer than they would like. There are tools that help parents band together and make recommendations about appropriate movies to one another.

Sure, it’s all true. None of it is a real answer; none of it gets to the root of the problem which, from a parents’ perspective, is this: Our culture has run amok.

I feebly went to my daughter and asked her if she had seen the page on my screen. Yes, she said. I told her that I had gotten there by accident, that she ought to be careful too. She nodded, yes dad. It was all very lame. The horse was out of the barn, had left long ago.

Some days, it really does feel as if we live in Rome just before its fall.