Friday, October 31, 2014

Karl the Curmudgeon Hates Selfies

Karl, scoot over here, I said.

"I'm not really comfortable doing that, Kid."

Don't flatter yourself, old man. I want to take a picture of the two of us. Karl and I were at The Tilted Windmill, our favorite Dutch bar, to watch a game from Dutch Eredivisie Soccer, the Netherlands' professional soccer league — FC Utrecht was beating FC Eindhoven, 2 – 1.

"I know that. That's what I'm not comfortable with."

What? I said. Are you ashamed to be seen with me?

"No more than usual," he said.

I gestured to Nicholaas the bartender for two more beers. Put it on his tab, Nicky, I said. Maybe I can get him drunk enough that he's not ashamed of me anymore.

"Oh, don't be such a baby," growled Karl. "I just don't like selfies"

What? How can you not like selfies?

"You mean besides the fact the word just sounds stupid? That it's one letter away from 'selfish?' Or that it's completely shallow and narcissistic, and shows the world that the picture takers care only about themselves?"

That's harsh, man. I just wanted a photo of us together, since I don't have any. I slumped my shoulders for effect. I mean, you're a good friend, but I don't have anything to remember you by when you finally die.

"That's pretty manipulative, even for you." Karl took a big swig of his beer to wash out the saccharine taste. "Fine, if you want a picture of us, get Nicky to take it. Just don't take it yourself."

After Nicky snapped our photo — where I later discovered Karl had rolled his eyes — I defended the art of the selfie.

It's not a big deal, I said. People have always wanted to photograph themselves, ever since cameras were invented. We just couldn't do it easily. We had to focus, had to hold still, had to leave some extra distance between us and the camera. Even with digital cameras, we could never be sure if we were in the frame or not. Now, with our cell phones, we can see what we're taking a picture of. Rather than getting people to do it, we can do it ourselves.

"But what's the point?"

Because people want to share their experiences and adventures with friends. Instead of handing your phone or camera to a stranger — who could run off with it — and asking them to take a picture of you in front of the Great Pyramid of Giza, you can do it yourself.

"Yeah, but then the photo becomes about you, and not about the experience. You have a collection of photos of you, not places you've been. I'd rather have a photo that shows as much of God's creations or man's constructs as possible and not to have my giant melon in the shot."

You're right about that, I said. You do have a giant melon.

"No bigger than yours, Great Pumpkin." Karl asked Nicky for two more beers and pointed at me. It was my turn to buy. We sat in silence for a few minutes, watching one of the FC Utrecht players fake an injury. After a thoughtful draught, Karl said, "I read an article in the Reno Gazette-Journal recently that said the US Forest Service at Lake Tahoe had to tell people to quit taking selfies with bears they saw in the wild."

Reno, as in Reno, Nevada? We live in Indiana. Why are you reading a newspaper over 2,000 miles away?

"I'm well-read," said Karl. "I read three or four newspapers a day."

Oh, bull! You saw it on Facebook. I saw the same article in your news stream.

"That's not important right now. What's important is that when these idiot campers see a bear, they try to take a picture of themselves with it. And turn their back on it. Just so they could say 'hey look, I was near a bear.'"

I can see the safety concerns, but still, it's pretty cool to be that close to a bear.

"Yeah, but why not just take a picture of the bear? It's gotten so bad that some people actually run toward the bear just to get a picture. The Forest Service is worried people are going to be attacked."

At least their loved ones will know how they died.

"But it goes to my point. Some people are so obsessed with getting selfies, they're not only missing the sights, they're putting themselves in danger."

I think you're fighting an uphill battle, Karl. Selfies are here to stay.

"Maybe so, but that doesn't mean I need to be a part of the Selfish Generation," said Karl. "I prefer to contemplate the wonder of nature and the marvels of our creations, rather than shoving my face into everyone else's experience."

I'll remember that the next time I read your autobiography.

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on

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Friday, October 24, 2014

The Bechdel Test: Hollywood's Conversational Rut

What do you talk about during normal conversations? Does it vary between men and women? Do men only talk about sports and sex, while women only talk about clothes and men? Do parents only talk about their kids with other parents? Do you talk about those same topics over and over, or do you discuss different topics?

What about work friends versus personal friends? Or work friends who are also personal friends? When I worked in an office, I found that I would talk to friends at work about personal things, but if we were ever at lunch or dinner, we talked about work.

More importantly, do the movies reflect real life, or are they a cheap, facile imitation?

I recently learned about the Bechdel test in movies, and how it relates to conversations between two women. It's a simple test that determines whether a work of fiction — a movie, book, or TV show — meets three rules at least once. The work has to have 1) two named female characters, 2) who talk to each other, 3) about something besides a man.

Named for Allison Bechdel, creator of the "Dykes to Watch Out For" comic, the test applies to any two women talking about any man. It could be two friends talking about their husbands or boyfriends, two sisters talking about their father, or two female doctors talking about a male patient.

There's even a joke about it: Two women walk into a bar and talk about the Bechdel test.

Of course, it fails if one of them is actually dating a guy named Bechdel Test.

Many cinemaphiles and women's advocates have cited the high number of Bechdel failures as a sign that Hollywood isn't interested in anything where women aren't interested in men or need men to complete them. It fosters the belief that women are merely accessories to men and spend their whole lives trying to win and please them.

You can see which movies pass the Bechdel test at They apply the three rules to every movie, people share their opinions in the comments, and the moderator will declare whether it passes based on the discussion.

A few movies that pass the test are Disney's "Brave" and "The Incredibles," and Dreamworks' "How To Train Your Dragon." "Bridesmaids" passed with flying colors, because the cast was nearly all women who talked about their friendships, the explosive diarrhea at the dress shop, and how much Annie hated Helen.

Er, so I've been told.

Meanwhile, other movies failed because of a lack of female characters. "The Expendables 3" and "Captain America" only had one female character, while "The Avengers" failed because there was only one female character in a scene at any one time.

I wonder if the third rule is too broad. After all, two female doctors talking about a male patient is not the same thing as two women talking about a male love interest. But, no one asked me, so I don't get to have a say.

Could we pass the Bechdel test in real life? If art truly imitated life, you would expect more movies to pass, because our real conversations pass it with ease. I know plenty of women who talk about all sorts of things besides men.

Forget the stupid old jokes about shopping and shoes. They talk about work, family, music, art, food, and the friend who couldn't make it to lunch that day. Once in a great while, they'll talk about their boyfriends, husbands, or that creepy guy eavesdropping on us at the next table, and oh my God! I think he's writing down what we're saying!

It would be interesting to apply the Bechdel test to other situations. For example, can two men talk about something other than sports or sex?

Man #1: Did you see the sportsball game last night?

Man #2: Oh yeah, I loved it when my favorite player did that awesome sportsball move.

Man #1: I couldn't believe the sports official blew that call in the third session.

Man #3: Boobies!

Similarly, I'd love to see parents talk about something other than their children. Whether it's a couple alone, or getting together with friends, young parents should spend an hour without talking about the kids at all. Or at least spare us from that stupid story about the cute thing Jeremy did with the wastebasket again.

We all get into conversational ruts at times. We have people in our lives we discuss the same topics with over and over. We have a wondrous variety of conversations that pass the test with ease. If only Hollywood would figure this out for itself.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm meeting my friend, Bechdel, for lunch. He's having girlfriend problems again.

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on

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Friday, October 17, 2014

School Bans Cake Because They Hate Fun

Hands up, all you kids who love getting cake at school on your birthday.

Not so fast, Burlington, Kentucky.

According to a story in the Cincinnati Enquirer (official motto: "What's the meaning of life?"), Burlington Elementary School revised its wellness policy to make birthdays absolutely no fun.

"We hate children, and we hate birthdays," cackled the principal, stroking her black cat. "We don't think kids should have fun at school, and banning food at birthday parties was a good start."

Okay, that's not true (as if I have to say that), but I do think educators often throw the baby out with the bath water.

The Burlington Elementary PTA really did change their wellness policy to ban birthday cake and ice cream. In fact, they banned food of any kind at birthday celebrations.

"We're finding it's difficult to be the first," Valerie Bailey told the Enquirer. Her son goes to Burlington, and she was on the committee that created the policy. "Parents say it's not fair. But we hope it sends a message to the parents and kids, especially with the obesity rate being so high, and puts a bug in their ear."

Except they can't have bugs either. Someone might be allergic.

Oh, but it's not all bad! You can still have non-food treats. Fun things like pencils, erasers, and bookmarks. Because the one thing every kid is dying for at a school birthday party is a pencil.

"Yay, this is much better than cake and ice cream and playing party games," said no kid ever.

It's like the Grinch stole Christmas again, and left you a pair of socks.

Parents and teachers were concerned that birthday parties took up too much class time, something they apparently couldn't control. Meanwhile, pencil birthday parties only take 30 seconds, because the last thing you want to do with a No. 2 Disappointment Stick is have a party.

Now the school is finding "fun" and "enjoyable" ways to "celebrate" birthdays. One student brought jump ropes for the class, and they celebrated with a jump rope party.

Next week, they'll celebrate Caitlyn's birthday with a math quiz, because jump ropes and pencils will be banned because of Zero Tolerance weapons policies.

Burlington Elementary joins a growing number of schools concerned with childhood obesity. Kathy Reutman, a Boone County school system spokesperson, said that 37 percent of their children are either at risk for obesity, or are already obese. She's also responsible for making sure the district's wellness policies meet the federal guidelines.

"It's not up to us to tell parents what to do," she told the Enquirer. "But when children are in our care we make sure that nothing gets in the way of them and their learning. Food allergies or too much sugar get in the way of that."

She sounds like one of those educators who say "disrupting the educational process" a lot. Like my teachers said to my parents. A lot.

Here's an idea: if you're worried about childhood obesity, quit eliminating gym class. Make it a part of the school day, not the once or twice a week playground stroll it's become. Physical fitness experts tell us we perform and learn better if we exercise, so let kids play and run around at recess, twice a day. Don't let them sit for six or seven hours a day. We do that as adults, and that's a primary reason we're getting fat.

One reason we didn't have problems with childhood obesity when I was a kid is because we played outside all the time. Now, kids sit inside at school, sit inside at home. They don't spend much time playing or engaging in physical activity at all. And when they do, it's so structured and parent-driven, the kids can't have any fun, and aren't allowed to organize their own play.

Yes, this is a food issue. Yes, schools should set an example and limit the amount of sweets kids get. But any nutritionist will tell you that diet without exercise doesn't do anything. It makes people skinny, but not healthy.

Let the kids have their birthday fun. They're in school on their birthday, which already sucks. But now you've taken away the only thing they have to look forward to and replaced it with pencils, erasers, and bookmarks. Things they already get at school.

Or, just remember the disappointed looks on their faces when they get yet another birthday pencil. It's the same look you'll have when your kid gives you a spatula for Christmas.

Photo credit: Angie Chapman (Flickr, Creative Commons)

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on

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Friday, October 10, 2014

I Need A Truck That Runs on Daisies

Erik had a molar removed on Column Day, and was not feeling very funny. When he called, we pretended not to understand him — "Uh kent weh mu colluh" — and made him repeat himself four or five times. He swore at us, we think, and hung up. We're running a reprint from 2005.

I've got a serious confession to make. I'm not proud of what I've done, but I can't shoulder this terrible burden any longer. Even though my liberal friends will gasp in disbelief, and my conservative friends will point their fingers and shout, "See?! See?! Hypocrisy!" I have to say it.

I used to own an SUV.

A gas guzzling, planet wrecking "I'm changing the environment ask me how" SUV.

I feel so guilty, like I've committed an unpardonable sin like stealing from old people, or accepting a prepaid trip from foreign lobbyists.

Me: Hello, my name is Erik, and I'm an SUV owner.

Support Group: Hello, Erik

Me: It's been 12 months since I've owned an SUV. I still lay awake at night, dreaming of the spacious roominess and feelings of supremeƍ power as I bore down on smaller, weaker drivers with 280 horses strapped under me, CRUISING DOWN THE HIGHWAY, KNOWING I COULD HAUL A BOAT, TRAILER, AND SMALL VILLAGE THROUGH THE MOUNTAINS AT A MOMENT'S — uhhh, that is, I feel shame for all the gas I consumed and ozone-killing poison I pumped into the atmosphere.

Actually, it was my wife's SUV, which makes me an enabler. But I still carry the guilt. I used to be a strong environmentalist in my younger days, so I felt appropriately ashamed for all the damage our SUV was doing.

So I assuaged those feelings by driving a full-size Chevy pickup. (Mine looked a lot like the one in the photo, but that's not actually my truck.) Not one of those Nancy-boy-it's-really-just-a-big-car SUVs. And not one of those toy pickups that need a little windup key to get started5. No, my pickup was one of the big ones, it was appropriately dirty, and I could haul 100 two-by-fours without missing a beat.

When I drove, car owners pulled over in fear. SUV owners glared at me in fits of yuppie jealousy. The toy pickup drivers would hang their heads in shame and putt-putt home.

However, the engine wasn't in great shape, and so my gas mileage was — let's just say it was a bit on the thirsty side. It's not that it was inefficient. . . at least not if you measured it in feet instead of miles per gallon. Global oil prices rose and fell, depending on whether I took a road trip. I realized I had a problem when OPEC named me Customer of the Year over Shell and ExxonMobil.

That's when my beloved truck began to conflict with my past environmental activist tendencies, and I began to have serious doubts about whether I should own a pickup, or switch over to a car that ran on solar power and liberal guilt. Unfortunately, Indiana is a conservative state, and it actually causes inefficiencies in the creation of guilt — too many knee-jerk reactions really limit how much guilt can be created by one man — so I decided to stick with a regular gas combustion engine. At least until someone could create an electric car that traveled for more than 20 miles on a single charge and didn't look stupid.

I finally got rid of my truck when I started a new job that required an hour long daily commute. When I started, some quick calculations showed that I'd be spending my children's inheritance each month just to get to work each day. And that didn't count all the extra trips to the Spotted Owl Skeet Shooting Range on the weekends.

So I sold my truck and got a car that gets 30 miles per gallon, but gets blown off the road whenever I get passed by a semi.

Now I can drive to and from work four times on a full tank of gas, although it struggles to haul anything heavier than a pair of socks. And while the toy pickup guys now point and laugh at me, at least the Nature Conservancy gave me the Most Improved Award for 2004. I proudly display the sticker on the passenger side window, but now the car leans toward that side.

But I think I found a compromise. In the next couple of years, Toyota will come out with all new hybrid vehicles. Not a gas-only engine in their entire line, including their trucks. Their new pickup promises 30 miles per gallon and 290 horsepower. And I'm seriously considering getting one. They're energy efficient, but they're also big, macho, manly machines. WITH ONE OF THOSE MONSTERS, I CAN RULE THE ROAD ONCE AGAIN!

At least if my wife lets me get one.

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on

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Friday, October 03, 2014

Movie Night at the Deckers

"What should we watch tonight?"

"One at a time, please. One at a time. Buddy, what do you want to see?"

"We watched that a couple weeks ago, didn't we?"

"Yes, we did. Plus you watched it twice last weekend."

"I know they're awesome, but that doesn't mean we have to watch the Avengers every week."

"Fine, let's put that in the Maybe column. Sweetie, what's your pick?"


"I'm just not in the cartoon mood."

"Fine, anime."

"Fine, manga."

"I said it right. How do you say it?"

"Mahn-gah? I'm not calling it that. It's manga. Like mango."

"Because I'm not pretentious. I'm a Hoosier. We pronounce things Hoosier-ly."

"Well, there's warsh. People go'et the store. They say Tuesdee instead of Tuesday."

"I know I don't talk that way, because my parents aren't from here. But that's how people talk in Indiana. And people also say manga."

"Regardless, I'm vetoing that one."

"No, it doesn't even get in the Maybe column. Excuse me, the mah-be column."

"What about you, Honey? Any ideas?"

"I'd rather watch manga."

"It's NOT mahn-gah!"

"No, I'm not watching that."

"Because I don't want to watch some sad movie about two teenagers with cancer."

"I know it was a best-selling book. I didn't read it either."

"Because I'm a grown man and I don't like reading young adult sad stories."

"No dystopian archery fiction either."

"it means the world has gone to pot."

"None. I don't like young adult fiction."

"He's different."

"Because he's a cultural phenomenon. They made eight movies, and his books were global best-sellers. How could I not watch them?"

"That little boy turned out to be an incredible wizard, and I will hear nothing bad said about him or Ms. Rowling!"

"Yes, I know he's from Indianapolis. I'm still not watching The Fault With Our Stars."

"In Our Stars. Whatever."

"Tell you what, if John Green buys one of my books and reviews it on his website, I'll read one of his."

"We still need to finish watching 'Wayne's World.'"

"What are you talking about? It was awesome!"

"You all liked the Bohemian Rhapsody scene, and the part where Garth zapped the guy with the stun gun."

"You haven't even seen the best part where they get Mr. Big to show up at Wayne's place to hear Crucial Taunt."

"It would make more sense if you watched the whole movie."

"Fine, let's watch Return of the Pink Panther."

"Keep talking like that, and you'll be grounded."

"This is Spinal Tap?"


"Let's just pick one before your mother comes downstairs."

"Because she'll make us — hey, I didn't hear you there."

"I said, uh, we needed to pick a movie before you came down."

"Because you'll make us watch something I don't want to see."

"I do not! I rarely get to pick."

"The last thing I picked was Wayne's World, and we haven't even finished watching that. Meanwhile, we've had suggestions of The Avengers, something manga — manga! — and The Fault With Our Bodies."

"In Our Bodies."

"Stars. Whatever."

"If we can't pick a movie, let's watch something on TV instead. Who wants to watch Brooklyn-Nine-Nine?"

"Absolutely not! I hate zombies."

"No, no anime TV."

"Not The Red Band Society either."

"Because I liked it better when it was called The Fault With Our Hormones."

"In Our Hormones."

"Stars. Whatever."

"Alright, Big Bang Theory. I can live with that. Is that okay with everyone?"

"Excellent. Now, does anyone want a snack before we start?"

"No, I don't want popcorn. How about chips?"

Photo credit: Sharyn Morrow (Flickr, Creative Commons)

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on

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