Rant #257,943 – I Must Be Too Stupid To Understand Marketing

stereotypes

I’m not very smart, but I’ve noticed a pattern. This is the average commercial:

A bitchy, smart, thin, well-dressed mom/girlfriend/wife is out at a restaurant/supermarket/Verizon store, and she’s there with a slightly (or very) out of shape male who would never be able to date/marry/talk to her in real life. The male is also pretty dumb or gluttonous or socially inept or unable to control himself, and embarrasses the woman he’s with. But then she jokes with the kids/store employee/waitress/owner and everything’s okay again because even though the man she’s chosen to be with is incredibly ridiculous/stupid/balding/soft-handed/video-game-playing/incapable of cooking, she condescends to put up with him and that makes her a better person.

Or am I missing something?

And since the goal is to sell product or make a brand known or establish a market for something that doesn’t yet exist, using unrealistic and over-the-top stereotypes must be the best way to do it.

Like I said though, I’m not very smart + I’m balding + I don’t know how to talk to anyone at a Verizon store.

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My New Huffington Post Article – On Me Being a Rough Kid, Policing, and Black Lives Matter

Here’s my new Huffington Post piece on policing, my struggles as a teenager, and Black Lives Matter:

Click to read.

New Piece On Censorship – Huffington Post

I’m writing for The Huffington Post again (after a three year break). Here’s my new piece on censorship:

“Should We Censor What Teens Read?”

Wisdom On Our Modern Times, By Louis C.K.

This is comedy that is not comedy. We are ungrateful, ridiculous humans, people…
“Everything is amazing right now, and nobody’s happy. … Now, we live in an amazing, amazing world, and it’s wasted on the crappiest generation of just spoiled idiots that don’t care. This is what people are like now: they’ve got their phones and they’re like ‘ugh, it won’t–‘ GIVE IT A SECOND! It’s going to SPACE! Can you give it a second to get back from space?? Is the speed of light too slow for you?! I was on an airplane and there was high speed internet. That’s the newest thing I know that exists. And I’m sitting there and they go ‘open up your laptops you can go on the internet,’ and it’s fast, and I’m watching YouTube clips, I’m in an airplane! And then it breaks down, and they apologize that the internet’s not working, and the guy next to me goes ‘ugh, this is bullshit.’ Like how quickly the world owes him something he knew existed only like 10 seconds ago! Flying is the worst one because people come back from flights and they’re telling you their story, and it’s like a horror story. They act like their flight was a cattle car in the 40s in Germany. They’re like, ‘it was the worst day of my life! First of all, we didn’t board for like 20 minutes and then they made us sit there on the runway for 40 minutes! We had to sit there!’ Oh really? What happened next? Did you FLY in the AIR incredibly like a BIRD? Did you partake in the miracle of human flight, you non-contributing zero?! … You’re sitting in a chair in the SKY! Here’s the thing: people say there’s delays. Delays? Really? New York to California in 5 hours. That used to take 30 years! And a bunch of you would die on the way there, and have babies… you’d be a whole different group of people by the time you got there. Now, you watch a movie, you take a dump, and you’re home!”

A Rant: “Here, Let Me Put You On Speaker Phone.”

It’s well-known that I don’t like cell phones (see my article last year for VICE Magazine), but the truth is I don’t like any kind of phone (Not a rotary phone, not a cordless phone, not a payphone, in fact, no phone at all). I’m partial to the phrase “A phone is an appliance, not an obligation,” and I treat all phones like appliances, annoying appliances, appliances that I want to silence or rip out of people’s hands, appliances that I want to crush with my 20-ounce framing hammer.

But one of the worst phone-gadget-accessory-inventions is the speaker phone. That small insidious button is a true asshole.

speakerphone-1

I hate being put on speaker phone. Hate it. I hate speaker phone like many people hate Justin Bieber, long lines at the super market, heavy traffic, engine trouble, or the uglier Kardashians. I have never knowingly put another human being on speaker phone in my lifetime, and I hope I never become a terrible enough person to do this to someone I love (or even to someone I just sort of like).

There are so many things I hate about speaker phone, so it’s difficult to know where to begin with this rant. Maybe I’ll just start with this one, tiny, abominable phrase:

“Oh here, Pete, let me switch you over to speaker phone so you can talk to everyone.”

Really? You’ll do that for me? You’ll just switch me over to speaker phone so I can talk to everyone? Everyone I didn’t ask to talk to? Thanks. I really wanted to talk to everyone. I really wanted to talk to everyone so badly that I called you, only you, just you, one single person, to communicate one single thing that now is going to take FUCKING FOREVER because I’ve got to navigate the Everest-size crevasse that is communication with whoever EVERYONE is.

And also, thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to many, many people who I can’t picture in whatever size room you’re in, wherever you are right now, doing whatever you all are doing. I already had a hard enough time just picturing you and your face and your actions while we’re on the phone having a singular conversation, but thank you for giving me another mental challenge. I really wanted this phone call to be a mental Gordian Knot rather than a quick one-on-one communication to convey a message or ask a question.

Next: The sound of a speaker phone in someone’s car.

The other person’s voice cutting in and out? The mumbling? The “What did you say?” repeated over and over. The person saying, “I’m sorry” but it’s never an actual apology. Or what about the side conversations in the car during the phone call? The passing traffic sounds? The driver’s comments about other drivers? The music in the background? The clicking? The clunks? And all the while it sounds like a prenatal ultrasound machine is struggling to find a baby’s heartbeat. It’s really a great experience. I just love being on car speaker phone.

Nokia_Bluetooth_HF310_GPS_Speakers_Elegant_Grey_Car_Cute_Man_Model_Hand_Dandy_Gadget_Speakers

I also love seeing fellow drivers talk on their speaker phones, leaning out their open windows, or looking directly at me while talking to their own empty cars like patients at the state hospital in serious need of heavy psychotropics. And then when they yell at whoever they’re talking to as if they’re trying to get my attention? Oh, I love that too.

Let’s see…

Another of my favorite things is when I’m apparently too stupid to detect that I’ve been SECRETLY on speaker phone the whole time. I say something like, “Oh, that’s a good question. Let me talk to her for a minute and see what she thinks.”

Then the person who I called directly chuckles at my ridiculous and obvious stupidity. He says, “You’re already on speaker phone, Pete. She just heard everything we said.”

Oh really? She was silently listening like a creep, like a stalker, like a serial killer to everything we just said, not commenting, not letting me know that she was listening, just you and her in on a little trick you were pulling on me? That’s so funny. That so chuckle-worthy. I love, love, love it when I don’t know someone is in on our private conversation.

But I get that people are busy, that sometimes they have to click me over to speaker phone, that sometimes they’re cooking or changing a baby or doing something else that might actually be sort of worthwhile or important when I call them…

Which leads me to my least favorite calling experience: When someone CALLS ME and we’re already on speaker phone when I pick up.

“Hey Pete, how’s it going?” and it sounds like they’re calling me from a public restroom, the hard sounds caroming off the stall’s angles as I’m forced to picture them squeezing off a burrito-sized log.

It’s hard for me to stay with phone calls that obviously begin on speaker phone. If you’re too busy not to multi-task, don’t call me. Don’t call me while you’re in the bath shaving your legs or slopping soap on your genitals. I don’t want to hear that watery-sudsy sound in the background.

And don’t call me while you’re peeing (which people actually do somewhat regularly with me). I don’t need to hear the force of your stream and wonder about your coffee or water intake as you ask me what I’m up to. I want to say, “Who cares?!! You’re FUCKING peeing right now, right when you called me!”

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And please don’t ever call me as you try to find something that you’ve lost. I can hear your hand sorting through that spilling-over junk drawer as you say, “Yeah I was just…” more sorting noises, then “I’m sorry, I’m just…” more sorting noises, and I have no idea why you called me, but if I wait a minute or two while you find whatever it is, I’ll get the opportunity to know what our conversation is going to be about.

Yes, thanks for calling me just now. This is great. This is a really, really, really wonderful phone call we’re having here. Thank you. Thank you so much for letting me join you on this incredible adventure with your favorite technological accessory.

7 Strong Opinions: If You Want To Be A Great Artist, Don’t Eat Fat Chunks Of Half-Cooked Mediocrity

Mushy food

A few years ago, I finished writing and revising my first publishable literary novel (I say “publishable” because I’d written a lot of garbage-pseudo-literary fiction before my first published novel, and that trash fiction was thankfully never published).

While I went through the whole publishing process with my first novel – revisions, copy-editing, covers, blurbs, publicity, etc. – I almost destroyed my own mind.

How did I do this? By reading a lot of commercial nonfiction.

That might seem dramatic, but it isn’t. Reading a large quantity of commercial nonfiction was a horrible decision. Don’t get me wrong, I thought I was doing the right thing. I had a best friend who loved and recommended nonfiction to me, and I kept reading the material he gave to me. From there, I branched out and tried other informative nonfiction.

But I’m not being dramatic when I say that the regular reading of nonfiction affected me. I struggled to write high-quality literary fiction for two years after, and regularly discovered myself thinking more simply about everyday issues. As an artist, I was becoming mentally simplistic. Vacuous. Vapid.

It’s not that nonfiction is terrible writing, and it’s not that nonfiction is inherently a bad thing. BUT…commercial nonfiction is incredibly mediocre writing. If all writing is bathwater, commercial nonfiction is tepid, luke-warm, not worth getting into, and certainly not worth submerging in for long periods of time.

I know I sound harsh, but if producing great art is your goal, then don’t immerse yourself in mediocre art. Set high standards, and maintain those high standards.

Here are seven strong opinions on the topic:

1. Keep your internet visits short. VERY FUCKING SHORT.

The internet is a festering puss pond of mediocrity. Have you ever sat next to someone while he’s surfing Facebook? That catatonic, slack-mouthed, dead-eyed face he makes while he stares at the screen? That once-every-10-minutes “Whoa, you gotta see this” exclamation?

Or long episodes of hanging out on Twitter?

Scrolling through other people’s Instagram photos?

Looking up sports gossip?

Celebrity news updates?

Set a time limit with the internet and stick to it. Say, “I’ve got ten minutes to answer these two emails, post once, and get offline.” Then stick to your time limit. CLOSE THE LAPTOP.

2. Don’t read mediocre writing.

My mother raised me on the phrase “Readers are leaders,” and I love that phrase because it’s true. If you’re not a reader, you’re not a great artist. It’s as simple as that. Great books and memoirs and poetry develop creativity. They make your mind work. The metaphors and complicated structures and narrative arcs force your mind to find new connections, spark analogous thinking, enhance mental divergence. If you want to be a great artist of any kind, you have to be a great reader.

But although I love the phrase “Readers are leaders,” it’s not completely true, or it’s not completely true in all cases. What you choose to read does matter. Selection matters. For example, if you read only Amish Murder Mysteries (a real genre in publishing that sells quite well) or Paranormal Romance, for example, you’re never going to create great art. That’s a fact.

To create great art, read great art.

3. Don’t watch reality television.

The average person in The United States watches hours of reality television every week, and some of the most popular shows on television are reality shows. So reality shows are – by definition – what the middle watches. The average. The mediocre middle of America.

Most artists know that reality shows won’t help them produce great art, but what about the opposite effect? Can watching bad reality shows negatively affect you as an artist?

Bad Input = Bad Output?

That seems like a logical equation.

th

Let’s take The Bachelorette on ABC for example since it was listed by TV guide as the most popular show on television last week. This is a show about a young woman looking for love, and two dozen men trying to be the last man standing. It seems like a classic plot, right? But if great art is the goal, then the specifics of the art matter.

In The Bachelorette, no character has any depth, people’s lives are made up of dates, roses, feelings, alcohol, more feelings, more alcohol, talks, swimming, hot-tubbing, and eating while drinking more alcohol and again talking about feelings. Also, everyone on the show speaks in the passive voice:

“Feelings are getting intense.”

“Tough conversations need to be had.”

“Things are being said that I don’t like.”

Wait, who did what?

Why can’t those subjects do any actions?

Even the better reality shows, shows with more powerful conflicts, shows like Naked And Afraid on Discovery, are – unfortunately – formulaic. Since Naked And Afraid is a true survival show meaning the (contestants? stars? participants?) actually suffer physically while trying to survive for 21 days, all of the conflicts are the same show to show. While trying to survive, will the two people find quality drinking water? Will one of the people start a fire? Will either of them find much to eat? Those questions are great for a little while, but not for long. Every show is the same. And the mundane is the unimaginative.

4. Study art.

– Go to the Picasso museum in Barcelona. Watch Picasso’s developmental process unfold room to room. Examine his mental process as he becomes more abstract.

– Read at least five Toni Morrison novels.

– Listen to Wu-Tang. Then listen to Jay-Z’s The Blueprint.

– Go to the Vatican in Rome, and stare at each sculpture for a long, long time. Think about chiseling any of those marble sculptures out of one giant block, start to finish, no mistakes.

– Read Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson over and over.

– Listen to Mad Villain’s beats.

– Read Dorianne Luax’ poetry. For something completely different, read Kay Ryan’s.

– Stare at Jackson Pollock’s “Autumn Rhythm” until you can see a rhythm.

– Read contemporary poetry and fiction in the literary journals Tin House and The Missouri Review.

– Listen to Bob Dylan’s Biograph collection, and dwell on the lyricism. Then listen to Adele cover Bob Dylan and sing each song infinitely better.

– Peruse a different painter online each month (Google images is an amazing and free resource for learning a painter’s body of work).

– Watch highlight compilation videos of Barry Sanders playing running back.

5. Attempt to understand other people’s lives (and/or suffering).

Although many, many TV shows are about the richest most best looking people on the entire planet, this is not what great art is about. Great art is about empathy and depth and creativity and wonder and struggle. I don’t mean that you can’t be a great artist if you grew up in The Hamptons, but I am saying that you’ll never be a great artist if you stay in The Hamptons your whole life because great art isn’t about one thing, and it certainly isn’t about a few monochromatic rich people who live in boring, daily unreality.

So try something different:

– Talk to illegal immigrants.

– Feed the hungry.

– Work with the homeless.

– Talk to people who are different from you, to people who work different jobs, to people who’ve made different choices, to people who speak different languages. And while we’re talking about languages, learn another language. Don’t be an American who’s content with only speaking English.

– Ask good questions and really listen to other people’s answers. Don’t try to interject with your own better stories or your really funny comebacks or comments. Listen to other people. Imagine their entire lives, waking to sleeping. Be in their houses. Wear their clothes. Sleep with their lovers. Raise their children.

6. Break rules.

My agent recently told me that she couldn’t sell a piece of fiction because the dialogue was a mess. I said, “What kind of a mess?”

She said, “It’s too perfect. No one uses any contractions.”

Dialogue is a careful mixture of eloquence and atrocious grammar. Correct structure and god-awful colloquialisms. The masters of dialogue break rules in perfect ways, and in the creation of great art, we must break rules often. Judiciously.

Think of Gwendolyn Brooks enjambment to break the simple rhymes of “We Real Cool.”

Or Leonardo da Vinci digging up dead bodies?

Or Jimi Hendrix with his homemade distortion pedals?

Yo Yo Ma warping time with his elongated cello swells?

Sylvia Plath going DARK in her personal narratives.

7. Finally, don’t follow anyone else’s advice.

Not even mine. You can follow some of it, sure. Some of it will work with you. But you have to set your own standards. And the truth is, I don’t always follow my own advice. None of us do. We’re all hypocrites. But I keep pushing. I keep trying. And you can too. Set your own high standards, and try to live up to those standards most of the time.

But be your own person. Do your own thing. Find your own artistic outlet and push, push, push yourself to improve. Don’t become complacent and don’t allow yourself to wallow in your own mediocrity. Work on your weaknesses. You aren’t born with talent. You earn talent through daily and monthly and yearly choices, actions, and discipline.

Finally, don’t congratulate yourself too much if you have a moment of success because what is success anyway? Success is one of those cheap 4th of July sparklers on a short metal stick. It may not light. It may not stay lit. And even if it sparks into something bright green and orange and yellow, you’re likely to burn your own hand before the process is over.

Maybe We Take Ourselves A Little Too Seriously?

Number One:

My friend has started doing Sensory Deprivation Floatation Tank sessions. I’d never heard of these, so I asked him to explain.

He said, “I pay $60 to ‘float’ for 90 minutes. I get in something sorta like a coffin that’s filled with 94-degree salt water.”

“Wait, you get in a coffin?”

“Yeah,” he said, “and the goal is to ‘float’ successfully.”

“How do you ‘float’ successfully?”

“Well, you get into a lucid dreaming state.”

I had to look this thing up. And there were some sketchy sites on the topic. But there was also a Wall Street Journal article, and one on Slate.com. So I read those. And according to Slate.com, floating is a “profound, ecstatic state of nothingness…achieved while floating naked in a sensory deprivation tank.” According to gravityspa.com, floating can help the brain access the mysterious, elusive state of theta wave production.

But I get stuck on words like ‘naked.’ So I go back to that idea. I asked my friend, “So people float naked?”

He said, “The first time it was crazy. I had a dream about owls, man.”

“Okay,” I said, “so let me get this straight: People pay $60 to get in a coffin half-filled with water and salt.”

“Yep, then the workers close the lid, and you don’t know where you are. Total sensory deprivation.”

“Awesome,” I said, “and you dream?”

“Well, if you float successfully, you dream.”

“So,” I said, “is ‘floating successfully’ just a euphemism for sleeping? So people are paying $60 to sleep for 90 minutes?”

“No, no, man. Clearly you don’t understand.”

Clearly.

I told my other friend Corrina about floating and she said, “That sounds a little hipster. Do all the people who work at the floating tanks have mustaches?”

“Probably,” I said.

“Yeah,” Corrina said, “you’d have to pay me to get into someone else’s warm naked tank. You know people jack off in there.”

Clearly, she wasn’t taking this seriously enough either.

Number Two:

On June 18th, 2000, anarchists from around the country organized in my hometown, Eugene, Oregon, to mark the anniversary of an anarchist riot the year before. 400 protesters gathered in a park and smashed a dummy of a police officer using potatoes, skateboards, and boots. Speakers announced that they were calling for an end to capitalism. A dozen anarchists used puppets to reenact violence, while 80 others marched into downtown. It was very organized.

On 7th street, the anarchists gathered in front of the federal building and threw batteries against the windows, chanted “Red Rover, Red Rover, send fascists right over,” hoping for a senator or a congressman to exit the building. But the politicians weren’t coming forward, and riot police had locked down the building ahead of time. A S.W.A.T. team was in the lobby, waiting for the command to arrest the anarchists (which they eventually did).

I was working in the lobby of that federal building – selling coffee and baked goods – when the riot took place. I thought it was hilarious that anarchists – who had chants and slogans against organization – had organized these events. I also thought it was funny that they performed a puppet show. I said, “Do anarchists enjoy puppet shows?”

My friend said, “The puppets were a depiction of the police, man.”

“Oh, that makes it better.”

“Yeah, man,” my friend said. “Fuck the police, you know?”

“Okay,” I said, “but the anarchists have leadership and organization and all that. Isn’t that hilarious?”

“Why?” he said, “Are you, a fascist, Pete?”

“Yes,” I said. “I’m a fascist. Sorry I didn’t take this seriously enough.”

Number Three:

Like I said, during that anarchists’ riot, I was working at the coffee shop on the ground floor of the federal building. I was in there when the S.W.A.T. team locked it down, put zip-ties on the insides of the doors, announced that no one was going in or out, and sent a runner up to the political offices on the upper floors.

I was supervising the café, so I called my manager and asked her if she wanted me to close it down.

She said, “No, don’t close the café. Maybe keep it open for a while and see if the cops end up buying anything.”

So I left the café open. And the cops did purchase goods. They bought doughnuts, all of the fresh doughnuts. Then they started buying the day-old doughnuts, one by one. A cop would saunter over to the counter with his riot gear on, look at the display case as if he was considering what to buy, then go ahead and buy another doughnut. When I was down to my last, day-old doughnut, one of the S.W.A.T. team members walked up with his helmet tipped back, his AR-15 rifle slung across the front of his Kevlar vest.

He pointed to the last doughnut, a crusty little old-fashioned circle that had been there since yesterday morning. As if picking out a fine wedding ring, he said, “I think I’ll just take that one right there.”

“That’s the last day-old doughnut.” I said, “You guys ate all of the doughnuts.”

“Yep,” he said.

“Isn’t that funny?” I said.

The cop tilted his head to the side like he didn’t understand what I was saying. “Why?” he said.

Number Four:

It’s easy to tell other people to take themselves less seriously. It’s harder to follow my own advice. Because, you know, I take myself too seriously.

For the following anecdote to make sense, you have to understand that I am not a tall man. I am, as my students say, “A fun-sized person.”

My sophomore year in college, when I was on the wrestling team, the media-guide director decided to list my height as 5’6”, and I was elated. That is – by far – the tallest height anyone has ever given me. In all honesty, if I woke up in the morning (when humans are the tallest), and went directly to a bar to hang for ten minutes, I still wouldn’t be 5’6”.

People have made fun of me over my height, or lack of height, my entire life. I’m not complaining, it’s just a fact. And I usually don’t mind too much. I’m not a big man. I’m okay with that.

Do I sound defensive?

Anyway, I was in the store the other day. I was in the milk section, where all of the butter, yoghurt, and milk are housed. At our local grocery market, this is sort of an enclosed space where people walk in and walk out. We get in each other’s way back there, but we make do and brush against each other in that tight space.

So I walked into that small milk section, and as I walked in, I heard a kid’s voice. He said, “Thomas, Thomas, look! Look, Thomas! There’s a midget!”

I looked at the kid tapping his brother’s shoulder. They were both grade-school-aged, youngish kids, both really excited.

Then I looked around the milk section trying to figure out where the midget was because even though I’m a small man and naturally tend to defend small people, I like seeing midgets too. So I looked behind the butter fridge, looked out past the orange juice, past the yoghurt, past the chocolate milk. But I didn’t see the midget. In fact, I didn’t see anyone. I was all alone in that section.

I looked back at the boys. They were both staring at me.

“Thomas,” the first one said, “look, it’s a midget.” He pointed.

I just stood there next to the butter.

Then their mother walked up. Apparently she’d heard the kid yelling about me being a midget and she was here to correct the misconception.

I thought she was going to say, “Oh, no, son, that’s not a midget. That’s a smallish, full-size man.” Or something like that.

But instead, she said, “Oh, Sweetie, shhhhhhh. You’ve got to be quieter. They can hear you when you talk about them.”