Tuesday, September 13, 2011

'We do not need to tell you what happened 10 years ago today. You know.'

The Star-Ledger has my favorite Sept. 11 anniversary cover, partly because it is just words. In this day, when text always has to submit to the power of images, they're making a very powerful statement by not including a photograph -- or a drawing, or a compilation.

They also included a reprint of the Sept. 12, 2001 issue in Sunday's paper. I still get goosebumps reading it all.

I still dislike the idea that we have to live each day as if it's our last, but that's another story. Beautiful cover.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Message Board Devotee No Longer

I used to be an avid message board user.

I was never a prolific poster, though – I preferred to lurk, as was the parlance, reading others’ posts and occasionally chiming in. The problem with television shows, though, was that if you didn’t post quick enough, a lot of what you’d say was repetitive. Also, writing posts was very time-consuming, at least to me – everything had to be structured, checked over, formatted.

I also found that I had a limit, in terms of how many pages I was willing to read. Being active in a forum is very time-consuming. Checking every topic of interest, reading up on the threads of note – hours, hours, hours.

And so, I moved away.

I am prompted to write about this now after reading Virginia Heffernan’s ode to message boards in her online column for NYTimes.com. She write about the fertility boards she visited in 2004, and how they’ve declined over the past half-decade as social networking grew more popular – places where you connected with friends, people with real names, rather than just avatars and handles. The trajectory of the boards and their users mirrors my own behavior – something I’ve noticed with many other internet behavior shifts.

My family first signed up for the internet in 2000, and I spent the first few months wading through the a/s/l of AOL chat forums, a creepy place that always left me sick to my stomach. I bookmarked everything. Eventually I waded into the EW.com forums, where I got through Sept. 11 (I was worried about one of the regulars), before Time Warner closed them up and moved to a version of their current commenting section. Everyone flew to the People.com boards, but I didn’t stay long.

It was on the sites that I first heard of Mighty Big TV, which shortly after I joined it in October 2001 became Television Without Pity, a name it still retains after it was bought by Bravo Networks in 2007. There, I found a like-minded and passionate community around television. It was a big site, but it wasn’t overwhelming, and I spent many a day in school thinking about what I would post online about various episodes, and about the people behind the posts.

I spent so much time on the site, however, that I eventually began to police myself. I refused to post for an entire summer. In hindsight, that was the beginning of the end. I entered college, and I found that no longer was my loneliness placated by visiting the site. Watching television and spending hours analyzing it was no longer as fun when there were interesting people around to spend time with instead.

With television, like many other topics, time changes things. Once a show begins to show age, fans fly the coop. It becomes unbearable to spend a significant amount of time on a show if it’s no longer enjoyable, when most of the posts are merely complaints or nostalgia. While some shows have overlapping fans, eventually a show ends and fans move on, and the community disperses. What’s also significant in this world is the rise in other technologies. DVR and Netflix, to me, have killed many of these communities. Television, for most of its history, relied on the time factor – a new episode weekly, for a period of months, with fallow periods in between. But with a DVR, if you watch a show a few days later, or months later, the discussion isn’t the same. People who watch shows online, or watch a few episodes in a row – all common behaviors – also changes the nature of anticipation and speculation. Netflix enables viewers to watch whole series in a manner of weeks, so the long discussions on character behavior, motivations, and plot outlines disappear.

Topics devoted to media speculation, finding actors in small spots in movies and other shows, and well as press coverage also have changed in the last decade, now that gossip sites and most mainstream media also devote a large section of coverage to entertainment. Although IMDB has been around for a while, it’s fairly easy to find out that a favorite character actor guested in a blockbuster several years ago. It’s a different world.

I’ve waded occasionally into Television Without Pity, but the old communities are gone. Screen names I knew a decade ago no longer exist. People have moved on. There are new shows, most of which I don’t watch. I’ve found that I prefer to spend my time differently. Do I miss it? I do. I miss that side of myself – the television-loving, analyzing-everything, upfront-reading self. I assume at some point, parts of it will resurface. I have that capacity within myself.

Like Heffernan, I am part of the problem. I haven’t posted in ages, and the few times I have in the past four or five years have been one-offs. No one remembers my handle, except one friend – she was the first person I ever met who had ever heard of the site. And even now, I’m not sure if she goes on.

Like many things of early internet, I don’t think forums will ever go away. They have a purpose, but it a short-lived one. As people move throughout their lives, interests and priorities change, and that includes habits.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

What's Missing in the Jared Loughner Narrative

I've been following the Giffords shooting, as I've done for most of the other major massacres the past several years.

But one thing, despite all the Times stories on Loughner, remains missing, and that is Loughner’s parent's reaction to him getting kicked out of school in September and what happened in the months after, between when he bought the gun in November and when the actual shooting occurred.

The officers drove to Loughner’s house to deliver his suspension letter from Pima Community College, reading the entire letter to him and making him repeat it so he understood exactly what and why it was happening. But then what? By all accounts he was devastated about leaving school, probably a stabilizing force for him, and the letter clearly stated that he would only be allowed back if he received an ok from a mental health professional.

So did he ever see a mental health professional? Was there discussion among him, his family, his acquaintances about trying to get him help? It’s also been generally acknowledged that Loughner was getting crazier and crazier, and many of those who interacted with him felt that something was off. But why didn’t he see someone? Was he opposed? Did he fight it? Was it ever an option? Could he – or his family – not afford it? None of these things has ever been addressed.

I understand that Loughner is an adult, and as such, as far as I know, could not be forced into therapy or an evaluation. But it’s clear that one was warranted. Why didn’t anyone – his family, for one – say, hey, this might be a good idea? Because you have an erratic history and your behavior is suspicious and your life is not going well?

We know that he had a fractious relationship with his father, and for all we know this might have been (one of many, I’m sure) a wedge issue. But to not have this mentioned at all is a huge omission is a story that, as much as it is about gun rights, is really about mental illness and how a troubled young man really needed to get help, even if he was unable to understand or articulate that.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

What's the biggest story out of the Rally? Maybe that your mom attended, too

I attended the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. I was not pleased with the media coverage of the event (that I saw/read). It didn’t capture the spirit at all, what it really felt like to be there. The rally was a genial affair, generally fun, full of good spirit and intent. What surprised me the most, though, was the age factor. And I was not the only one. I didn’t expect to see kids, because, well, I didn’t expect to see parents. Or at least lots of them.

But then again, I fell under the trap of thinking that the rally was pretty much for us twenty- and thirtysomethings. As a professor of mine put it, “It’s being billed as the rally for your generation,” which seemed excessive to me, but ok. And so I was puzzled that none of the guests really fit into our demographic. Singers from the ‘70s? Tony Bennett? (Hell, one of my friends made a joke about him appearing, to prove he’d be too old for the crowd, and then he did.) Acts I’ve never heard? When the hippest performers are Kid Rock and John Legend, you know you need to readjust your perceptions.

So was that the big story of the rally? Did the media miss it? I didn’t think the rally would influence the election (c’mon, no one who attended was going to vote for the tea partiers anyway, and they won), and the rally was held in Washington, DC, too far away for Prop 19. And Stewart’s big speech was about the media anyway.

As Kelli Marshall of the University of Toledo asserts, it’s time for everyone to wakeup and realize that these shows, for all their leftist leanings, actually have fan bases that aren’t young:

But as the world now knows, Millennials are clearly not the only demographic that watches, embraces, and relishes in the smart satire of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. Of course, those of us who’ve researched the two programs have been aware of this for years. For instance, we knew that in 2006, the average age of viewers was 35, their average income was $67,000, and they were 78% more likely than the average adult to have four or more years of college education. What’s more, we now know that the shows’ viewing age is steadily rising, for according to Nielsen ratings and a Forbes report, the median age of Stewart’s viewers is currently 41.4, and Colbert’s has risen from 33 to 38. I can only imagine that as the hosts and their audiences age, the figures will continue to increase. But so what? If the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear is any indication of what that future will look like, why that’s not bad at all.
Something I have to tell the diehard eightysomething grandma I know.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Chelsea Clinton's Getting Married. Let's Talk About It.

I don't read Rebecca Traister enough. I don't blog enough, either. But right now, I am rectifying this, by doing one of my favorite things: killing two birds with one stone.

As most of the world knows, Chelsea Clinton is getting married. Like many others, I am intrigued by Ms. Clinton--part of that is her reticence, part of it her background (hedge fund manager to MA candidate in public health!), and part of it her unique place in the world--but I really don't care about her wedding. Or really anyone's, for that matter.

What has always bothered me about weddings, about being paired off, is that it implies that you are desirable, a desirable person, in all senses of the word, and that, on the flip side, that if you are not paired off you aren't desirable. And being married is a validation of who you are:
That Chelsea has grown up gorgeous seems to have relieved a lot of people (though it's difficult not to wonder: What if she hadn't?). That she evidently has grown up stable has satisfied others. And I'm willing to believe that those who are now getting all het up about her wedding want the best for her. What bothers me is the barely veiled attitude that it is the fact of her upcoming wedding -- and that alone -- that somehow demonstrates to them that Chelsea is pretty and that everything has turned out all right for her.

There are a lot of people who don't get married. There are a lot of people who can't get married. If Chelsea Clinton, by chance or design, had fallen into one of these two categories, would it mean that her parents had not done what they were supposed to do, that they would feel less pride in her, that her life would lack its most important moment? I wonder if those focusing so hard on her wedding would think it meant she was any less well-adjusted, or any less beautiful.

The fevered fetishization of the marital day is not just irritating, it's destructive. It reproduces attitudes about personal -- and especially female -- achievement that are far past their sell date: that marrying is the goal toward which all of us strive, that our weddings are somehow the most exalted expressions of our accomplishments and of ourselves. That they are proof, validation, some sure sign that we turned out OK.

Chelsea Clinton, at 30, also falls into that "acceptable range" for a first-time marriage, the one thing that Traister does not mention. She's at that threshold where her crazy twenties are over, she has the starting jobs and degrees behind her, that she knows what she wants, but she hasn't fallen into too-old or biological clock times, so no one can cluck their tongue and say disparaging, questioning remarks--why she's waiting too long, that she's too picky, etc. etc. For an elite East Coaster, like someone with her background, she is getting married at the perfect time, the sweet spot of her life. How this number has come to represent so much is beyond me; maybe it is all the hysteria about reproduction, or our current climate that makes the twenties such a time of arrested development.

I'm sure Chelsea will have a beautiful wedding, despite the media crunch. I hope for her sake that she doesn't start popping babies soon, because then we'd have to go through the whole thing again. I'd probably write about it, though.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Maureen Dowd Gets It Right

For once.

Taken from today's column on Elena Kagan:
When does a woman go from being single to unmarried?

Single carries a connotation of eligibility and possibility, while unmarried has that dreaded over-the-hill, out-of-luck, you-are-finished, no-chance implication. An aroma of mothballs and perpetual aunt.

White House officials were so eager to squash any speculation that Elena Kagan was gay that they have ended up in a pre-feminist fugue, going with sad unmarried rather than fun single, spinning that she’s a spinster.

You’d think that they could come up with a more inspiring narrative than old maid for a woman who may become the youngest Supreme Court justice on the bench.

Kagan has told a friend in the West Wing that she is not gay, just lonely. Even so, that doesn’t mean her sherpas in the White House, in their frantic drive to dismiss the gay rumors, should be spinning a narrative around that most hoary of stereotypes: a smart, ambitious woman who threw herself into her work, couldn’t find a guy, threw up her hands, and threw herself further into her work — and in the process went from single to unmarried.
I've heard this many times before. If you're single for too long, that's a problem. It must mean you are a lesbian. Of course!

Any way this narrative is spun, it is depressing and insulting. We haven't heard Kagan speak, but it's embarrassing that she'd have to address the rumors, because nothing will be acceptable; she'll be pitied, cast as pathetic in one way or another.

How do you address the questions? Is the truth (whatever that is) even good enough? Why is the dominant answer the same old stereotype—did nothing else make sense? Why did the Obama Administration feel they needed to weigh in on this topic, instead of just staying tight-lipped?

Dowd asks the same questions, offering her own spin:
Why is there this underlying assumption that Kagan has missed the boat? Why couldn’t she be eager to come to Washington to check out the Obama-era geek-chic bachelors, maybe get set up on a date by Michelle Obama, maybe host some single ladies fiestas with Sonia Sotomayor, maybe even sign up for JDate with a new and improved job status?
The sad thing is that Kagan practically has to answer these questions, to defend her choices in her private life, whatever they may be. They will come up at some point. But that seems to be true no matter how old you are—if you’re single, especially after a certain age, you have to explain it.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Abortion and Universal Healthcare

On why Britain's abortion rate is much lower than the US's:
[O]ne important explanation was Britain's universal health-care system. "If that frightened, unemployed 19-year-old knows that she and her child will have access to medical care whenever it's needed," Hume explained, "she's more likely to carry the baby to term. Isn't it obvious?"

A young woman I knew in Britain added another explanation. "If you're [sexually] active," she said, "the way to avoid abortion is to avoid pregnancy. Most of us do that with an IUD or a diaphragm. It means going to the doctor. But that's easy here, because anybody can go to the doctor free."

For various reasons, then, expanding health-care coverage reduces the rate of abortion. All the other industrialized democracies figured that out years ago. The failure to recognize this plain statistical truth may explain why American churches have played such a small role in our national debate on health care. Searching for ways to limit abortions, our faith leaders have managed to overlook a proven approach that's on offer now: expanding health-care coverage.

When I studied health-care systems overseas in research for a book, I asked health ministers, doctors, economists and others in all the rich countries why their nations decided to provide health care for everybody. The answers were medical (universal care saves lives), economic (universal care is cheaper), political (the voters like it), religious (it's what Christ commanded) and moral (it's the right thing to do). And in every country, people told me that universal health-care coverage is desirable because it reduces the rate of abortion.