Friday, May 29, 2015

TRIGGER WARNING: This Column Has Ideas In It

Kurt Vonnegut once said, "I hate it that Americans are taught to fear some books and some ideas as though they were diseases."

More and more people are becoming afraid of certain ideas, and want to put warning labels on them before anyone gets hurt.

The labels are called "trigger warnings," the belief that certain books, TV shows, or movies can trigger serious post-traumatic stress disorder in some people.

In others, these ideas can trigger feelings of sadness, crankiness, mild cognitive dissonance, or a general malaise. And since people don't like to feel slightly uncomfortable, they're getting apoplectic about trigger warnings as well.

Recently, some Columbia University students wanted to put a muzzle on their classrooms. In a recent op-ed piece in their college newspaper, four members of the Multicultural Affairs Advisory Board called on their Classics department to slap a "Trigger Warning" label on the Ancient Roman poem "Metamorphoses" by Ovid.

"It contains triggering and offensive material that marginalizes student identities in the classroom," they wrote. "These texts, wrought with histories and narratives of exclusion and oppression, can be difficult to read and discuss as a survivor, a person of color, or a student from a low-income background."

Trigger warnings.

I wish the phrase had hard "P" sounds in it, so I could spit it out with contempt.

Trigger warnings.

It conjures images of whiny little snowflakes hiding behind their mothers' skirts.

It's often used by people who lack the experience and strength to deal with life's little hiccups. They can't make decisions for themselves, or handle the stress of life, so they want to be warned beforehand.

I recognize some people have had horrible experiences in life. Seeing them played out in movies, TV, or books can trigger memories that cause them to relive those experiences. A soldier with PTSD can be triggered by a book or even music. A rape victim can be triggered by a scene in a movie. People who have been through real traumatic events may actually need those warnings.

Instead, this faux outrage is making people ignore the real need for real warnings. They're being diluted by those who needlessly cry "wolf." As a result, people with real issues are being harmed by those who self-manufacture righteous indignation.

These precious snowflakes, the ones demanding that everyone else take care of them, are creating the problem. They don't want helicopter parents, they want snowplow parents. They want someone out in front, clearing a path through life.

I refuse. I won't put a trigger warning on my work just because it might be read by weak-minded snowflakes who can't deal with a little cognitive dissonance without snot-crying about it.

We should be challenged. We should be exposed to ideas that are difficult to read and discuss. We should all learn new things that make us worry and fret, and challenge our self-identity. Because that's what life is like.

In the real world, you will experience people who are mean. You will experience people who say things you don't like. They will have ideas you don't agree with, and if you go sniveling to a parental figure to save you from the bad people, you won't get very far in life.

Censoring those ideas will only make things worse.

Yes, censorship.

That's what you call slapping a warning on literature, art, and entertainment because it might make you slightly uncomfortable or challenge your identity.

It's what Tipper Gore's Parental Music Resource Center did in the 1980s. It's why the music you grew up listening to — or more likely, weren't allowed to listen to — had those black-and-white stickers: to warn parents that your music had naughty words in it.

Censorship is an ugly thing. No matter how well-intentioned, when you seek to censor someone's ideas, you tear at the very fabric of this country's ideals.

As Stephen King once wrote in a newspaper column, "(T)hose who would set themselves up in judgment on matters of what is 'right' and what is 'best' should be given no rest; they should have to defend their behavior most stringently. ... As a nation, we've been through too many fights to preserve our rights of free thought to let them go just because some prude with a highlighter doesn't approve of them."

Right or left, conservative or liberal, uptight prude or overly-sensitive PC thug, when you put warning labels on art and ideas, that's censorship. You're no better than book burners.

If you want trigger warnings to help you navigate through the big bad world, try this: write "TRIGGER WARNING" in six-inch letters on a piece of paper. Tape it to your front door, where you'll see it every morning before you leave.

And then step outside and grow up.


Photo credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

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 Amazon.com
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Friday, May 22, 2015

Sponsor This Column

I've spent a lot of time at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway over the last couple weeks. In fact, as I write this, it's three days before the 99th running of the Indy 500.

Excuse me, the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, part of the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Not that anyone actually says that, but that's the official hoity-toity designation: The Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. And it's presented by the Verizon IndyCar Series. Not "IndyCar," the "Verizon IndyCar Series."

The Borg-Warner Trophy.
Do you think anyone would notice if I just ran off with it?
It's called that because Verizon is a major sponsor of IndyCar, the league that oversees the Indianapolis 500, the Honda Indy Toronto, the ABC Supply Wisconsin 250, the Angie's List Grand Prix of Indianapolis, and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Most IndyCar races carry a sponsor name, although the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race has escaped that fate so far.

Speaking of sponsors and events, there's the "Indy 500 Snake Pit presented by Miller Lite" on Sunday morning, while on Saturday afternoon, there will be a performance by Florida Georgia Line presented by That Little Tourist Rest Stop On The Highway Just South of Valdosta.

According to the rules of sports sponsorship, the official names of the race include the sponsor names, which means they're occasionally spoken by the announcers. So if you watch the race on television, you will occasionally hear the announcers refer to the "ABC Supply Wisconsin 250," and not the "Wisconsin 250."

The drivers even do it. They all say the names of their car's major sponsor during interviews, as well as their team names. One of my favorite drivers, Dario Franchitti, always talked about his #10 Target Chip Ganassi car in interviews. Not "the car," "the #10 Target Chip Ganassi car." The bright red car with the big white target on it.

If I ever sponsor a race car, I'll do through my new company, "Erik Deckers Is The Awesomest Dude In The World."

"I felt pretty good driving the #67 Erik Deckers Is The Awesomest Dude In The World car," my driver will say. "And the I Wish I Could Be More Like Him racing team did a great job keeping me out there."

I'm not complaining, mind you. This is the life of auto racing; it's what the sponsors have come to expect.

I just feel like I'm missing out by not having my own sponsors. I'd be more than happy to wear a jacket, t-shirt, or hat as part of a sponsorship package, provided I was well compensated.

I normally hate wearing a company's name on my clothing. Why should I pay Eddie Bauer $25 to wear their shirt and promote their name? If I'm going to be their walking billboard, it seems like they should pay me and give me the damn t-shirt.

But I'd be happy to promote anyone who's willing to come across with some cash. For $100 per day, I'll wear your company's t-shirt, and refer to it in normal conversations with friends.

"Man, it sure is cold today. But my Klipsch Speakers 100% long-sleeve cotton t-shirt is plenty warm. The crew at Xiao Gan Manufacturing did a great job keeping me nice and toasty in this cool weather."

Of course, these messages would be a little weird to say at first, but with a lot of practice — and a lot of sponsors — I'd get better. I could even use it in everyday conversation with my wife.

"Honey, have you seen my blue t-shirt presented by Buffalo Wild Wings? I can't find my blue t-shirt presented by Buffalo Wild Wings."

"No," she'll say. "The last time I saw it, it was in the Verizon Clothes Dryer by Whirlpool."

I'll sell naming rights sponsorships for my car. I'd be more than happy to drive the Scotty's Brewhouse Kia Rio5 to work, where I'll sit in my Office By Herman Miller, occasionally checking my Yamaha Factory Racing watch to see what time it was.

I'd even consider selling the naming rights to my house, which we would repaint to match the sponsor's corporate colors. I'd invite people over to the Deckers House presented by Target, for Dinner By Omaha Steaks out on the Weber Grill Patio.

Corporate sponsors, think about what I'm offering you. Excellent exposure, plenty of news coverage, and I'll casually drop your name in conversations with friends.

And think of how great your logo will look on my roof to passing planes.

Come to think of it, maybe Target isn't such a good sponsor for my house.

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 Amazon.com.

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Friday, May 15, 2015

Fear and Loathing in Louisville, KY

Erik is out of the office this week, so we're reprinting a column from 2005, with a few updates.

It was a sad day for me in 2005 when I learned that Hunter S. Thompson, famed psychotic and drug-addled journalist, took his own life at his Colorado ranch. I'd been a fan of the good doctor for years, and have often imitated his style of gonzo journalism, the art form he perfected over nearly 40 years.

Gonzo journalism is a style of writing that blurs the line between writer as a silent observer and story subject, between fact and fiction, between quietly chronicling events and being enough of a pain in the ass that you have to tell people about it, if only for legal protection.

Thompson's reputation as a writer was outweighed only by his reputation as a hard-core boozer and drug abuser. Although some say his creative genius shone through in spite of, or perhaps because of, the frightening amount of substances he crammed in his body.

I like to think that Thompson and I had a lot in common. . . except for the heavy drinking. Or the drugs. Or the penchant for guns. Or peacocks. Okay, we had nothing in common, except that we're both writers and we both wear glasses.

And I'm starting to rethink the glasses part.

So it was a fitting tribute that I found myself in Louisville, Kentucky, his hometown, on the week of his death. And with my column deadline looming, I thought I would make that week's column a salute to Thompson.

To do it, I needed to reacquaint myself with gonzo journalism. Problem was, all my Thompson books were at home, and I needed one to write this column.

I would have to go on a Hunter hunt, but I couldn't go to one of the big book warehouses. He would have hated those kinds of bookstores, and I wanted to stay true to his spirit.

I grabbed my map of Louisville, tore the bookstore pages out of the hotel's phone book, shot the TV, and ran out of my room.

I jumped into my rental car, slammed it into gear, and roared down the highway to find my book. It was 8:00 and my deadline was just two hours away.

I stopped at the first bookstore just a few miles away. The sign, "New Life Covenant Books" didn't tell me much about the place, but the hundreds of Bibles and "What Would Jesus Read?" t-shirts should have been a clue.

I stopped a middle-aged woman whose name tag said "Bless you, my name is Caroline."

"Excuse me, do you have any Hunter S. Thompson books?" I asked.

Caroline's eyes bugged out. "That man was a drug addict and a sex fiend!" She flung holy water at me and began speaking in tongues. I blasted her with a fire extinguisher and ran out. Shrieks of "Heathen! Heathen" followed me to the car.

That was two minutes of my time wasted, two minutes closer to my deadline. Also, the holy water turned out to be lukewarm coffee and it stained my favorite shirt.

I roared down the Gene Snyder Expressway, weaving in and out of traffic to the next bookstore on my list. My attorney cackled in the seat next to me.

"As your attorney, I advise you to put club soda on that coffee stain," he shouted. Then I remembered I was actually traveling alone, and my attorney vanished. I kept my eyes peeled for bats.

The rest ofthe evening was a 90 mile an hour blur, as I wrenched my rental car from bookstore to bookstore. Womyn Withyn was no help, and neither was Book 'Em, Dano Mysteries. Wish You Were Here Travel Books was a bust too.

Finally, I came to the last store on my list. It was nearly 10 o'clock, and time was running out. I flung open the door, ran inside, and hollered at the guy behind the counter: "Quick, I need a Hunter S. Thompson book! I've got a deadline!"

He tossed me a copy of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." It was the movie printing – the one with a melting Johnny Depp on it. I couldn't complain though. They'd had a run on all the Thompson books, and this was the last one.

So I threw some money on the counter, and raced out the door. I found a nearby coffee shop, and sat down with two minutes to spare. I had the book, and I was able to write the column.

I never did get to reacquaint myself with gonzo journalism though.



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 Amazon.com
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Friday, May 08, 2015

No, Your Beard Doesn't Have Poop In It

In this week's Internet-induced hysteria, bearded men everywhere were told "your beard has poop in it" or that it's as dirty as a toilet.

Thanks to a "study" conducted by "news station" KOAT of Albuquerque, New Mexico, the "average" male beard was found to have enteric bacteria in it, which are part of the microbes found in a human's gastrointestinal system (i.e. your gut).

In other words, said the "news" station, enteric bacteria is found in poop. Enteric bacteria is found in beards. Therefore, there is poop in men's beards.

Except there's not.

A recent article by microbiologist David Coil in Slate magazine (official motto: "We're the Internet's smart news") debunked the entire story as the same kind of stuff found in bulls' beards.


There may be a squirrel in there,
but there's no poop.
First of all, there are germs on everything.

Ev. Ree. Thang.

Your toilet. Your sink. Your computer keyboard. Your mobile phone. The TV remote in the hotel. Your TV remote at home. Your kitchen counters. Your pets. And, of course, your skin.

All of it.

Including the face part of your skin.

Basically, unless you live a completely sterile environment, and undergo frequent full body anti-bacterial wipe downs, everything on the planet has bacteria on it. This is a non-story.

The microbiologist KOAT interviewed said he found members of the Enterobacteriaceae family in the samples, which are found in the gut. But there are so many members of that family that, as Slate says, "assuming that finding enteric bacteria equates to finding feces is like saying that finding cat hair on your couch means you’re at risk of being eaten by a lion."

So will a swab test of your beard reveal germs? Absolutely. Would a hairless chin have germs too? You bet. The proper question to ask is whether beards have more enteric bacteria germs than clean-shaven chins.

Except the "news" channel didn't do that, because while that may be good science, it's not good gross-out TV.

If you want a good gross-out story, consider the public drinking fountain.

People slobber on them as they drink, and their bacteria is left to fester until the next person comes and drinks and slobbers on it themselves. Why do you think so many kids get sick at school?

The fountains even get so plugged up with biofilm and bacteria, school janitors use a special cleaning acid product called Ram Rod — a "heavy-duty, ready-to-use liquid drain cleaner for clearing drains clogged by organic matter" — to clean them out.

Think about that the next time you want a drink from a drinking fountain. Or try to rinse your beard out in one.

The story also didn't mention how many beards they tested, other than to say "a handful." How many is a handful? Not many.

Plus, would you really want to grab a handful of beard if you're worried it's got poop in it?

In a valid study, there would be dozens, if not a few hundred, of beards tested and compared to a similar number of clean-shaven faces, including women. They would all be tested at the same time of day, or a specific number of hours after bathing.

But when you're a "news" station concerned about making good gross-out TV, you don't have time to test a few hundred faces. You just pick a vague number, like a "handful," "smattering," or "gaggle," and declare those filthy few to be representative of the world's bearded population.

But just because they didn't do it right doesn't mean it hasn't been studied before. According to Slate, "a recent article titled 'Bacterial ecology of hospital workers’ facial hair: a cross-sectional study' concluded that health care workers with and without beards harbored similar numbers of bacteria."

Except that's 163 characters long, which means it's not sexy enough for Twitter. It's not Twitter-sexy.

"Twexy," one might say, if one had been hit in the head.

(Also, the study was published by a hospital — you know, the big building where a lot of science-y things happen — and we can't let science-y facts get in the way of a good gross-out TV news story.)

That's the biggest problem with this so-called news story: the oversimplification of the entire story into one attention-grabbing Twitter friendly headline.

That's why last week we were all subjected to "Your beard is as dirty as a toilet" (34 characters) and "Beards contain poop particles" (29 characters). When a single tweet is 140 characters long, you have to write the shortest, punchiest you can muster. And "Beards contain enteric bacteria, as does everything else" just doesn't have the same pizzaz as headlines about poop.

Plus, it's just fun to say "poop" in a professional setting. You should try it some time. I said it eight times in this article alone.

Which is why I love my job.



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 Amazon.com
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Friday, May 01, 2015

Why People Hate Humblebraggers

"I am so tired of constantly being asked for my autograph. Can't I just have some privacy?"

That's what we call a humblebrag. A boastful statement uttered by a complete jerkface in a feeble attempt at false modesty.

We usually see humblebrags on Facebook and Twitter, where people love to share their good news (or too-good-to-be-true news, which makes us secretly hate them), but they want to make it seem as if the good news is a burden.

"I hate to think what the potholes around town are doing to my brand new Jaguar."

"My new job has me flying to Paris. Again. That's the third time in three months. #jetlagged."

"The last time I ate this much fresh lobster, I was full the entire next day."

That's too bad. What a difficult burden you must carry. Let's take up a collection and see if we can make your life less terrible.

I know one guy who hates humblebragging so much, he tweets about particularly heinous humblebrags. He once even called out John "Fault In Our Stars" Green on Twitter for a humblebrag photo with Snoop Dogg.

This guy also hates the misuse of the word "humbled," as in "I'm humbled by all your kind wishes." Instead, we should say we're "honored" or "privileged." "Humbled" means to be lowered in dignity, or to be decisively defeated by an opponent.

And then he reminds us that he learned all this at a fancy private university.

But he's got a point: it turns out humblebragging may actually backfire on the humblebraggarts.

According to an article in New York Magazine (official motto: "Our mom says we're just as good as The New Yorker"), humblebraggers are actually liked less than complainers, and even less than full-on braggers.

In short, humblebragging doesn't work, and you should stop it immediately. This is why no one likes you.

In a study done by researchers at Harvard Business School (official motto: "I went here because my family would miss me if I went to Oxford"), they tested humblebragging in five different experiments to see what people thought of the falsely modest claims.

In one experiment, they asked 300 people to rate a person who said one of these statements: a complaint ("I'm am so bored"), a brag ("people mistake me for a model"), or a humblebrag ("I'm so bored of people mistaking me for a model").

In their paper, "Humblebragging: A Distinct – And Ineffective – Self-Presentation Strategy," the researchers found that complainers are rated as the most sincere, with braggers in second place, while humblebraggers were rated as the least sincere and least liked.

Why would this be? Mom always said nobody likes a complainer. (She also said no one likes a tattletale, but that didn't seem to stop my sister.) So why would a complainer be liked more than a bragger or a humblebragger?

It has to do with authenticity and honesty. Like it or not, at least the complainer is being honest. "I'm so tired." "It's too hot outside." "My feet hurt." We may get tired of their constant griping, but at least they're being honest about their feelings.

And the bragger is being honest too, in their own way. "I get hit on constantly." "Check out my new car." "I love my expensive new shoes." We definitely get tired of the bragger, who can't stop yammering about their good fortune. But again, they're not lying, they're just full of themselves.

It's the humblebragger who's doing themselves more harm than good. "I'm so tired of being hit on all the time." "It's too hot to drive my new convertible." "My Jimmy Choos hurt my feet."

In the end, the Harvard researchers conclude that if you want to make yourself look good, you're better off complaining than bragging. But if you have to brag, at least don't humblebrag.

"Faced with the choice to (honestly) brag or (deceptively) humblebrag, would-be self-promoters should choose the former — and at least reap the rewards of seeming sincere."

Translation: Seriously, no one likes you when you do that.

I grew up in the days when image and reputation ruled everything, when people cared what the neighbors thought, and families with "reputations to uphold" tried to make everyone believe they didn't have any problems.

That's all changed, thanks to social media.

While it has forced us all to live more transparent and honest lives, it's also made us more narcissistic and self-centered. But there's a smidgen of humility left in most of us, given that people try to disguise their overt bragging as just another burden to carry through life.

At least that's what I think. I get tired of being right all the time.



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 Amazon.com
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