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The Grief Glass

The Playground hasn’t been so playful as of late, likely due to my recently pressurized life. I have less time and less energy to write than ever before, and as a result the words that get published are flavored by the more serious outlook I’ve been forced to pick up. I find this terribly sad, and as the Childlike Author, I can feel the push from all sides attempting to make me grow up.

But I will not.

For one thing, Peter Pan would be disappointed in me.

For another thing, I would almost certainly go insane.

The nature of children is such that if sufficient grief and hardship is meted out to them, their demeanor becomes overly grim and perhaps irreversibly serious. This is typically referred to as maturation, and it may or may not occur before its time. It can happen all at once, or it can happen gradually. It is rather like glass under a dripping faucet… it will eventually fill up, but if the faucet is opened in full the glass will fill up in little more than an instant.

Everyone has their own grief glass, and tiny drips of grief and hardship will eventually fill it to capacity. Children’s glasses are relatively empty compared to an adult’s simply because their glass has not experienced the passage of time for quite as long. But even this means nothing if their faucet is running rather than dripping.

Currently my own faucet of grief and hardship is a bit more open and my grief glass is filling a bit more quickly than I’ve been accustomed to, but then again, I’m a bit of a cheater…

I may or may not have drilled a hole in its bottom.

Mistaking Success for Blunders

The recent shootings in France have sparked quite the discussion on multiple fronts, including the controversial subject of diversity and its effects on a nation. Ultimately, however, it’s not hard to determine what those effects are on such a large scale. When powerful men with powerful armies and powerful weapons discover their differences are not compatible with other powerful men with powerful armies and powerful weapons, there are only two courses of action left, and they both run parallel to the courses taken by two pre-pubescent brothers sharing a bedroom: either slug it out, or define strictly enforced territorial boundaries which if crossed will result in the first option.

In other words, different nationalities and cultures require their own countries where they can live by their own rules. This is done out of mutual respect for the foreign nation’s (1) ability to inflict great harm or kill many members of your native land, and (2) their desire to live in peace and within their own country. If either of these requirements are not met, then one country will inevitably invade the other, and the game will only end when the stipulations are again met through conquest. The conclusion therefore is that diversity results in violence.

But this is diversity on a giant scale. What happens when it occurs on a different, smaller scale? Within, for instance, business or entertainment? In business, diversity of thought is highly valued when creating new products. In entertainment, diversity of thought is valued for much the same reason as business, but on a more fundamental level since the entertainment industry thrives on one thing and one thing alone: story.

More specifically, most writers of fiction know, at least on a theoretical plane, that story itself is based in the resolution of conflict, but that conflict can only occur when there are opposing sides. The main character must be pitted against another character, entity, force, or unsolved problem or else the reader will lose interest. This is true throughout the entertainment industry. Movies and television must have conflict and the promise of resolution or viewers will not enjoy it. Poetry, too, has conflict, as do even the barest lyrics of popular song, and the best music always evokes some kind of emotion in the listener by relating itself to universal human difficulties. Even a simple news article or television exposé follows the pattern of story writing, albeit with a more rigidly defined and drier set of rules. As such, diversity is necessary for a good story simply because it naturally compels conflict, which in turn must be resolved. Resolution is the drug that keeps us reading and watching.

But zooming in too closely does not particularly help us or give us new insight into the effects of diversity, for we are dealing with stories rather than real life. In real life, we deal with sales, and whether or not something sells depends on what your target market is. For instance, this author at Tor.com writes an article with a specific target audience in mind, one which readily enjoys hearing about Disney’s apparent inability to provide true depictions of equality and diversity. The author asserts that Disney’s more recent princess movies, TangledBrave, and Frozen, all make the same “critical mistake.”

Where are all the periphery female characters in Tangled, Frozen, and Brave?

Look, we’ve got two main female characters in Tangled (Rapunzel and Mother Gothel), Brave (Merida and Elinor), and Frozen (Elsa and Anna). Tangled features brief, silent, and grave moments from Rapunzel’s true mother, and all of these films show the occasional peasant woman or palace worker. There are female rock trolls that look exactly like male rock trolls in Frozen, and the whole group basically function as a chorus anyhow. There’s a short cameo by a witch in Brave. And outside of these fleeting examples, every single character of note is male. All of them. Literally.

And yes, this is a problem in practically every movie we watch.

Everyone: let it be known. It’s a problem. No, it’s worse. It’s a mistake. Yet apparently this “critical mistake” did not prevent millions of kids (and adults) from liking the three movies. The reason for this is, shockingly, because the background characters are irrelevant. The story is not about the background characters. In a curiously twisted way, however, it is this same quality of irrelevance that draws the author’s attention and on which she pins her argument. I admit, the significance of this escaped me at first, but now I believe I understand.

It is because the author doesn’t actually want a story. The quotes below should shed some light on this.

Concerning Brave:

For example, what if Merida had triplet sisters? They would have been young enough to keep out of the fight between their older sis and Queen Elinor, but it also would have meant that the people Merida felt closest to in her family weren’t all male. She could have had a strong relationship with her young sisters, which actually would have helped to soothe the entirely gendered aspects of the argument she and her mother are having throughout the film. What Queen Elinor really wants is for Merida to accept some responsibility in her life—but when the entire fight gets codified using terms like “ladylike” and “graceful,” Elinor seems like a parent who is disappointed at her daughter for not fitting into the stereotypical gender boxes. It weakens the whole narrative.

Do you see what I see? If not, here’s another one about Tangled:

So… how to counter these female leading ladies and make certain that boys will still find themselves represented into the tale? Surround them with bands of men, of course! When Rapunzel and Flynn leave her tower, they wind up at a tavern filed with a variety of surly guys who want to turn Flynn over to the crown and collect the reward on his head. Rapunzel sings them a song about following your dreams, and the haggard crew reveal that they all have softer sides. Later, they come to Flynn’s rescue so he can run back to his lady love. And the two accomplices to Flynn’s recent crime, stealing the lost princess’s tiara? Two burly twin brothers.

….

For Tangled’s part, it would have been pretty adorable if Pascal—or Maximus the war horse!—had been lady animals. Or even better, that band of gruff ruffians at the tavern? Women. Just, the whole lot of them. Why not? Or if Flynn had been pulling his heist with twin sisters. And I’m sure someone is saying “But if they were ladies, he would have flirted with them!” But you know, he could have just… not. He doesn’t have to be interested in every age-appropriate female with a pulse just because he’s a scamp.

You see, what if Merida in Brave had had triplet sisters instead of brothers? Just as the author says, it “would have meant that the people Merida felt closest to in her family weren’t all male. She could have had a strong relationship with her young sisters, which actually would have helped to soothe the entirely gendered aspects of the argument she and her mother are having throughout the film.” Meaning, that the mother-daughter conflict that is the essential basis for the story no longer exists. I mean, gee, if Merida had a better relationship with her mother, then she would have never had the witch turn her into a bear, and everything would have been sooo happy!

And in Tangled, what if the crowded tavern had been full of women instead of men? For one thing, the beautiful Rapunzel would not have been able to charm them at all, and would more likely have been met with icy indifference or cruelty by the lesser female beauties such a place would attract. The story may not have halted in its tracks with such a change, but the roles would most assuredly be reversed, with Flynn flirting his way out of a jam instead of Rapunzel, or else physically cowing the women. But then who would have dared save Flynn in the end? Probably not the women—their nature would not lend itself to such an act. Instead, the story would have ended with Flynn’s execution and Rapunzel back in the tower, ergo, no story at all. Nor would it be in Flynn’s nature to avoid totally seducing twin female accomplices, not to mention making for less than terrifying bad guys. Flynn is, above all, a scoundrel, who likes pretty women and probably isn’t intimidated by less than terrifying bad guys.

In other words, the author’s assertion that “It weakens the whole narrative” is not about the story’s narrative. she doesn’t care about the story. She doesn’t want story. What she wants is grey putrescence because real story subconsciously reminds her too much of the greatest story of all. And when she says “it weakens the whole narrative,” what she means is “the story is too strong.” For such a person as the author of the article, forward is backwards and backwards is forward, and a blunder is preferable to success.

Ultimately the fact remains that the peripheral characters are just that: peripheral. They do not make the story. Nor is their gender an issue for children watching the movies, whose focus will be almost solely on the main characters. The peripheral characters genders will not teach children that women matter less or women matter more. After all, when was the last time that a girl said she wanted to be the background character and not the heroine? When was the last time a boy said he wanted to be the nobody instead of the hero? It is only the twisted mind of a twisted adult who replaces success with blunders and prefers ugliness to beauty. If the author had her way, there would be no true diversity in these stories, effectively removing their status as stories. Each character would think and act the same, and telling such a tale would not be a story at all, but a monotonous and never-ending description without conflict and without resolution.

And that would be a hell to be pitied for anyone who had the misfortune of watching or reading it.

Internet Rhetoric

Today I ran across this popular Internet image:

Yes. This meme IS stupid.

Willy Wonka gives economical advice. So very unusual for a man of his nature.

It is a prime example of Internet Rhetoric, and while it seems simple, it was created by a professional who knows his work. The image does many things, but its primary intention is to elicit an emotional response in the viewer to shape their thinking and direct it to a specific viewpoint. The specific viewpoint in this case is to support a raise in minimum wage from $7.25 to $11.00. This part is obvious considering the “In support of an $11 minimum wage” badge placed clearly in the right corner beneath the first line of text. Yet it is an extremely important part of the rhetoric because the creator wants the viewer to associate their emotion, their sense of sympathy and simultaneous outrage, with the creator’s wares.

In essence, it immediately promises to relieve them of their outrage and their heartbreak by delivering a solution. There is no waiting around for the viewer to think outside the emotional wave. If the viewer is allowed time, then the emotion abates and the creator loses some of his rhetorical advantage. Therein lies the goal of the salesman, the creator of this rhetoric, but how does he obtain the emotional response he needs?

First he must lay the groundwork. He must gain the viewer’s trust and he must show that the minimum wage is not high enough. The perfect way to do both is by flavoring the rhetoric with dialectic. This dialectic is confined almost solely to the statistical numbers presented in the image: 25% and 1120% respectively. But these alone are not enough… the Internet is rampant with false statistics and false stories, and most who visit the world wide web are aware of the pervasive scams located there, to the point where such numbers are disregarded almost without thought. In some ways, the Internet is a massive extension of the state of Missouri, the “Show-me state.” Words in the vein of “Pics or it didn’t happen,” or even the old joke “70% of statistics are made up” become commonplace in the comment sections. This skepticism is healthy, but it can be taken care of rather easily by citing a semi-legitimate source. In this case, the creator of the rhetoric uses CNN.com, a fairly trusted news site.

Now the creator has piggybacked on CNN’s reputation into a position of trust, rather like a virus piggybacks into a computer system on the shoulders of a downloaded file. The user gets the file they wanted, but they also get the virus. Sadly, they won’t know the virus is there until it’s too late. The viewer sees the statistics are from CNN and therefore assumes that the numbers are legitimate. What must be understood however, is that this dialectic is not being used as dialectic… it is being used as a rhetorical device. And now that it has been successfully used as such to gain the viewer’s trust, anything that follows will be taken at relative face value.

Once the salesman clearly establishes in the viewer’s head that the value of the minimum wage is going down and the cost of tuition is going up, only then does he do the rest. “Trust me,” says the salesman, “you care because the poor people earning minimum wage can’t afford an education to help them escape poverty. Isn’t that terrible? Now buy my wares–it’s the solution.”

And that’s how the salesman gets his pay. He has gotten the viewer’s trust and now he kicks them in the gut. Now they’re feeling emotion they didn’t know they had about the subject. What they don’t realize is that the emotion is manufactured and fabricated on the spot. This principle is the same for all rhetoric and good salesmanship, but in this particular case there is a master stroke.

Notice how the creator of the rhetoric uses the “Condescending Wonka” meme generally used to convey sarcasm. In this case, the carefully crafted caption Tell me more about how poverty-wage workers just need to “get an education”? gets flavored by both the quotation marks indicating someone else’s words and the sarcasm associated with the Wonka meme. The effect is threefold.

First, it establishes a link between high tuition costs and minimum wage and why the viewer should care.

Second, it uses the word “poverty” to capture an even greater measure of compassion from the viewer. They immediately think of Oliver Twist levels of poverty, sweet little orphan kids on the street working hard to survive, or some varying degree of this compassion-grabbing scenario.

Third, it instantly disqualifies the opposing viewpoint by depicting it simultaneously as uncaring, unfair, and based outside of statistical and factual evidence.

The first two are ordinary rhetoric. The third is the master stroke. If your opponent cannot argue against you, then you are the victor by default. This is why those who agree with the overall sentiment of the picture will argue almost solely with emotional subject matter using appeals to “fairness” and compassion in order to claim a moral high ground. After all, who can argue against fairness and compassion? The answer is that you can’t argue with it… at least, not by using the more rational dialectical means. The only way you can combat such rhetoric is to meet it on your own terms by refusing to concede the moral high ground, and by using rhetoric to battle rhetoric. The dialectical element will take care of itself as long as you are on the correct side of logic and reason.

That is the rhetorical analysis. Now let us analyze the nearly absent dialectical component.

Since the creator cites CNN.com as his source for the statistics, I went on a little searching spree. I didn’t have to look very hard before I found that the article cited derived some of its information from yet another source: BuzzFeed. In turn, BuzzFeed used Andrew Rossi’s documentary Ivory Tower as the source for their article. I went ahead and started watching the one and a half hour long documentary, and within the first fifteen minutes the statistics in question turned up. I almost stopped right there, but it had been a decently interesting beginning and I wanted to watch the entire thing to make sure I didn’t miss anything important. Unfortunately, what ensued could reasonably be labeled a propaganda piece advocating for free education… and the statistical numbers exhibited in the first quarter of an hour were never cited.

And so I was left wondering. Where did those numbers originate? Where did Andrew Rossi discover that the cost of a college degree had risen 1120% since 1978? And wasn’t that fitting for his documentary, so dramatically convenient, that the number was so unbelievably high?

As a result of my speculation I decided to check the numbers directly and went straight to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Center for Educational Statistics to look at their figures and use their inflation calculator. Here is what I found…

From 1977-1978 and from 1978-1979 tuition for a full year of college at all institutions was an average of $2,411 and $2,587 respectively. Because a year in college typically spans two calendar years, I took the average of the two to get the tuition from 1978 alone, which is $2,499. Adjusted for inflation, the current value comes out to be $9,051. In 2012, average tuition for a full year of college at all institutions was $20,392 (also adjusted for inflation). But after calculating, this gives us only a 125% rise in tuition, 995% lower than the figure put forth in the original source, Ivory Tower. Even accounting for the two years difference between 2012 and 2014 would not give us a 1,120% rise in tuition from 1979 to 2014, as tuition only rises about $1,000 every three years. Take note as well, that the tuition I am discussing above is inclusive of room and board. In other words, there are no more fees to take into account for a student paying for college courses. The number I calculated is the number. It’s not getting any bigger.

No, I thought, it cannot be. Surely the documentary maker Andrew Rossi was a stand up guy, surely he was forthright and honest. And for all I can tell, he might be. Because what he says in his documentary is that the price of college is 1120% higher. Not the price of obtaining a college degree. Not the price of tuition. The price of college. So, while the context seemingly indicates otherwise, Andrew Rossi may be an honest man after all. I certainly don’t have all the facts necessary to say conclusively that he is dishonest. (As a side note, the curious number of 1120% is also given on affordableschools.net in an article titled “20 Tuition-Free Colleges.” No mention of this article is made on CNN.com, BuzzFeed, or the documentary. It is a bit unclear if this source is the true originator, but I have my guesses. And it can’t possibly be a coincidence that the same outrageously high number is again used in connection with free education, right?)

In 1978, minimum wage was $2.65, which adjusted for inflation is $9.60. Taking 2014’s minimum wage of $7.25 we can calculate that the value is 24.5% lower than in 1978. That’s 0.5% lower than the number on the meme, but it’s close enough, so no problem there unless you really want to be a stickler. After all, what’s a 0.5% difference compared to a 995% difference?

The tuition number is so exaggerated it’s laughable. It’s like shooting a basketball and missing by a whopping margin of eight feet (was that supposed to be a pass?) instead of scoring a basket. Yet it serves to show that the creator of this image could have put almost any number he wished as long as he pretended to cite a semi-legitimate source. This makes it clear that the salesman was not using a dialectic argument, but a purely rhetorical one.

By now it should be apparent that this Internet picture was intentionally being deceptive. Not only does it play upon the viewer’s emotions, but the information included in it is false. Even though the price has increased 125%, the reason for this is not because of minimum wage. In fact, minimum wage is irrelevant. Tuition costs have risen because of separate factors such as government subsidies, the increased availability of student loans from both federal and private sources, the massive business structure of modern day universities and colleges with all their amenities, facilities, and luxury student housing, their bloated administrative branches, and the grotesquely high salaries of  their presidents and provosts—all issues which a single picture on the web cannot possibly discuss properly.

But that is the nature of rhetoric. It readily obscures truth.

The Survival of America

In a May, 2014 post on the website American Renaissance, lawyer and public defender Michael Smith describes how blacks behave in court, and attempts to explain why so many of his clients are black and why they behave so poorly. The description is vivid and sadly unsurprising. His explanation too, is mostly correct. What interests me, however, is his apparent lack of understanding amid such an eye-opening environment. After informing the reader that the majority of his clientele are both black and unemployed (with sociopathic tendencies to boot), he goes on to say this:

I am a liberal. I believe that those of us who are able to produce abundance have a moral duty to provide basic food, shelter, and medical care for those who cannot care for themselves. I believe we have this duty even to those who can care for themselves but don’t. This world view requires compassion and a willingness to act on it.

My experience has taught me that we live in a nation in which a jury is more likely to convict a black defendant who has committed a crime against a white. Even the dullest of blacks know this. There would be a lot more black-on-white crime if this were not the case.

However, my experience has also taught me that blacks are different by almost any measure to all other people. They cannot reason as well. They cannot communicate as well. They cannot control their impulses as well. They are a threat to all who cross their paths, black and non-black alike.

I do not know the solution to this problem. I do know that it is wrong to deceive the public. Whatever solutions we seek should be based on the truth rather than what we would prefer was the truth. As for myself, I will continue do my duty to protect the rights of all who need me.

It is difficult to doubt the words of someone so clearly and intimately acquainted with the subject, yet it astounds me that the author’s welfare worldview is unchanged despite his close familiarity with the results of such a system. In other words, public defender Michael Smith believes that the working population procuring its own food, shelter, and medical care, should also be the serving maids and butlers for “those who can care for themselves but don’t.” This is a far cry from the original tenets used to build America, and the total opposite of the philosophy and policy implemented by another Smith in order to make the initial settlement in the New World a possibility. In the words of Captain John Smith, “He who does not work, will not eat.” Jamestown survived because of this policy, but without it America will not. Instead, we will continue to fund the sociopathic and the criminal who threaten our civilization.

The Childlike Author is Still Alive… Because of Soccer

world-cup-2014

As many of you are probably aware, the World Cup has started. Either you’re a soccer fan and you already knew that (because soccer), or you’re living anywhere but the barren wastelands of the Sahara or Siberia deserts. If you weren’t in the middle of the Sahara or frozen in Siberia like some sort of hermit (not the crab), you’ve probably heard words like “Brazil” and “football” and “World Cup” and “soccer” everywhere you’ve physically gone, or maybe you’ve seen them written all over the Internet for several days running. So, really, I think what I’m trying to say is that if you haven’t heard of this year’s World Cup, you’re either a deaf-blind or a time-traveler from prehistoric pre-Internet days.

But you’re none of those things, because 1) if you’re reading this then you’re on the Internet and not blind, and 2) if you’re hearing it read to you, then you’re not deaf. Which means you, my reader and listener, have heard of the World Cup. (Also, I just told you about the World Cup, so there’s that.)

Why am I telling you about the World Cup, you ask? (Okay, maybe you’re not asking that. Maybe you figured I’m telling you because the World Cup started two days ago and most everybody’s talking about it. Well, yes, that’s true, but why do you have to be so technical all the time? I’m just using the phrase as a rhetorical device. It’s a rhetorical question within a rhetorical question, sort of like Inception except way more boring and way easier to understand. Besides, you weren’t actually supposed to answer or tell me that you weren’t asking the question I put in your mouth for rhetorical reasons, and frankly,  I should be allowed to put whatever I want in your mouth maybe you should just “pretend” that you asked me why I was telling you about the World Cup. Sheesh. It’s as if you’ve never heard of imagination, or never had a childhood.)

Anyway, the reason I’m telling you about the World Cup is because it’s so darn incapacitating. Which is how I discovered I was still alive. How are discovering life and incapacitation related, you ask? (Oh, gee. Not this again. Didn’t I already tell you this was like the rhetorical version of invading another person’s dreams? What more explanation can I give you? Just pretend you understand, and maybe you’ll fool your friends start to pick up on things.) To answer that question, for the past two days I have literally done nothing except watch people kick a ball up and down a field of grass and sometimes into a net. Two full days of watching soccer, and that… is… it.

And it has totally incapacitated my ability and will to write. Because soccer.

For those of you who follow The Playground, you know that I either died or that I took a temporary hiatus from posting new articles in order to procrastinate elsewhere in order to focus all of my energies on writing my book. I can attest to the fact that I have not focused all of my energies on writing said book, which, via logic, leaves only the “died” option. Ergo, for a while I was dead.

But that all changed when the Fire Nation attacked when the World Cup started.

My pure excitement over watching the World Cup has sapped the time which I usually spend trying to find the time to spend writing my book. Thus, I am not getting any writing done because I’m squandereing I’m better employing the time I usually use to find more time to write. So I figured since the World Cup is preventing me from doing what I said I’d be doing while I was away from The Playground, I might as well make a short appearance and write a few posts for my readers.

And, since I’ve made my appearance now, it’s clear that I’m not dead after all.

Which is quite a relief, in my opinion.

As a result I now owe my life to the game of soccer, and I should probably watch more of it to show my gratitude.

It’s the only honorable thing to do.

P.S. Go USA! Beat Ghana!

UPDATE: USA went, and beat Ghana, 2-1. Revenge is a sweet, sweet dish.

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