Always use the word “disgruntled” or “bitter.”
Never talk about a teacher smiling, unless he or she has received an award, in which case you should note that the educator is exceptional and not typical of the profession.
Remind constituents that most teachers bolt for their cars at the end of the day. Don’t talk about the ones who show up long before sunrise or stay well after the final bell has rung.
Be sure to mention that teachers have three months off. Never say that they spend that time taking classes to make themselves better teachers and working a second — or third — job to make up the difference between their salaries and those of other professions requiring similar training.
It’s also best not to mention that the average teacher’s grading and lesson planning during the school year cancels out most of those three “vacation” months. Nobody wants to hear about that anyway.
In your speeches, be sure to talk about how most teachers are members of unions, and that unions exist solely to get more money for their members. Avoid any mention of how teachers’ unions fight for smaller class sizes to benefit children and for creative curriculums to combat the steady encroachment of standardized testing.
Similarly, remember that teaching is easy. Who couldn’t stand in front of a room five days a week, read aloud from a book, and hand out worksheets? What teachers in their right minds would spend time crafting a powerful lesson about human rights, or leading a class to discover the beauty of poetry, or working with students after school to master the intricacies of calculus?
Don’t hesitate to mention that technology has made teachers’ lives much easier: Calculating grades can be done with the push of a button. But the time teachers spend educating kids on how to use technology responsibly, or tracking down cyber bullies, or consoling students whose boyfriends or girlfriends have just broken up with them by text message … well, that just goes with the job.
Remember that teachers don’t work on snow days but instead hang around the house in their pajamas, playing on Facebook and watching movies at taxpayers’ expense. They certainly don’t spend any of that time reconfiguring lessons to ensure that learning targets are still met. Teachers might also be responsible for spreading water on roads in the middle of the night to ensure a day off, so of course it’s fair that they work extra in the summer to make up for any time they’ve missed.
Your list of typical educators should include teachers who spend most of the day in the lounge, eating free food from the cafeteria; teachers who belittle and embarrass students; and teachers who never, ever give a kid a break.
Absent from this list should be teachers who call home to check on students when they don’t show up to school; teachers who spend money out of their own pockets to buy lunch, clothing, and even Christmas and birthday gifts for students; and teachers who counsel and seek extra help for young people who write about cutting, killing or medicating themselves.
If you must reference teachers who have the nerve to say that socioeconomic factors impact student achievement, be sure to follow up with a quote from an expert — defined as somebody who graduated from any school in the last 70 years — who talks about how it’s a poor craftsman who blames the tools and how a superior teacher can, in just 45 minutes a day, overcome all barriers created by social and financial inequalities that have lasted for generations.
And never, ever, give credence to the belief that a student’s academic performance has anything to do with the emphasis his or her parents place on education. Because, remember, students won’t keep you in office. Parents will.
Biting the hand that votes is bad for business.
* This column owes its genesis and structure to Binyavanga Wainaina’s 2005 essay,”How to Write About Africa.” Google it.
@cschillig on Twitter
I saw a picture in the newspaper recently of a man wearing a bear suit, dancing with some folks at an area business.
It wasn’t a Yogi Bear or Baloo the Bear or Berenstain Bear suit, either. Just some generic bear with really big bear eyes and head. It was a little grisly, I have to tell you.
As a kid, I hated when people dressed in big, fuzzy costumes. Mickey and Donald might be all cuteness and light when animated, but make them into papier mâché heads here in the real, three-dimensional world and they are trés creepy.
I think my costumed fear factor stems from an episode of the television show “Emergency,” where rescue workers responded to a distress call at an amusement park and found a costumed employee suffering from heat stroke. He was passed out on the sidewalk with his white, clammy head protruding like an albino balloon from inside a furry costume. It might even have been a bear costume.
(Apropos of nothing, I had an “Emergency” lunchbox in grade school. It was one of those weighty metal kinds that you could smash other kids’ faces with on the bus, not the wimpy plastic garbage they mass-produce these days. My mom still has the lunchbox. She keeps Christmas cookie cutters in it and probably has no idea how many blunt force head traumas it inflicted. Ho ho ho.)
Anyway, my suit squeamishness doesn’t mean that I can’t see the possibilities inherent in owning my own bear costume. You might think a grown man would have little use for such a suit, but you’d be wrong.
For one thing, you could wear it when answering the door. Imagine the look on the faces of unsuspecting Jehovah’s Witnesses when they go to hand a pamphlet to a 6-foot-tall Ursus americanus, especially if said bear handed them a pamphlet in return. Maybe one that said, “Only you can prevent forest fires.”
Then there are the endless possibilities around the neighborhood. I’d mow the lawn in my bear costume, just waiting to see if neighbors would poke their heads out of windows or doors for a better look. Then I could shake my bear tookus in their general direction or do an exit stage left, a la Snagglepuss. Even though he was a mountain lion and not a bear.
I don’t think it violates any ordinances to wash a car or paint a fence while wearing a bear costume, so I expect the police would have little to say. Probably the most they could pin on me would be “inciting panic,” but I bet I could fight that in court. Get myself a good mountain-man attorney, like Grizzly Adams, to plead my case.
Yes, a bear costume would be just the thing to spruce up humdrum daily living. I could show up for work in my bear costume, go out to eat in my bear costume, and even sleep in my bear costume. Some poor thief would be scared straight if he broke into the house and found himself attacked by a bear. All those gun nuts enthusiasts could forget their Castle Doctrines and just invest in animal suits. Save a ton of lives. And because we live in the capitalist capital of the world, if all those other activities get stale, I could always rent myself out to parties and bar mitzvahs as Chris the Dancing Bear, sashaying and prancing around rooms with little shame because a) I’m making money and b) I’m completely disguised.
Of course, too much sashaying and prancing could cause overheating, and that may require a visit from paramedics.
If I’m not careful, my picture could end up on some kid’s lunchbox, smashing the snot out of unwashed ruffians on the schoolbus.
There are worse legacies, I guess.
@cschillig on Twitter
Originally published on Feb. 27, 2014, in The Alliance Review.
If you’re a kid who’s ever been told that texting will rot your brain or pop music is immoral or video games are turning you into a zombie, you need to read “Bad for You.”
If you’re a parent, teacher, minister or some other well-meaning adult who’s ever told kids that texting will rot their brains or pop music is immoral or video games are turning them into zombies, you need to read “Bad for You.”
Subtitled “Exposing the War on Fun,” the book, by Kevin C. Pyle and Scott Cunningham, looks at popular fads and new technologies throughout history and exposes some depressing similarities in the way some people respond.
For instance, the book quotes one sarcastic critic as saying that, as a result of a popular new form of entertainment, “There is now very little danger that Americans will resort to the vice of thinking.” Is he referring to heavy metal music? Xbox One? The Flappy Bird app? None of the above. Writing in the 1920s, he was expressing concerns over radio and, separately, “incredibly frightful” jazz music.
One by one, Pyle and Cunningham examine hiccups in the social psyche down through the centuries, including printing presses (a pundit in 1494 noted that paper was less permanent than parchment), telephones (which allow children talk to undesirables against their parents’ wishes), Elvis Presley (derided as “deplorable” by that paragon of virtue, Frank Sinatra), Dungeons and Dragons (believed to cause an increased risk of suicide), and Harry Potter books (feared by some to promote witchcraft).
Text-messaging is examined in depth. As a teacher who believed that goofy abbreviations and jargon used in “text speak” would somehow worm their way into students’ more formal writing, I was abashed to learn how wrong I was. According to some researchers, kids who use “textisms” often have a better understanding of spelling and grammar — and larger vocabularies, to boot.
Rather than being corrupted by “IMHO” and “ICYMI” (google ‘em), kids can easily “code switch” between different registers of language — in this case, between informal text messages and more formal school essays.
To which I can only say: OMG.
But it’s not until the end of the book that Pyle and Cunningham really win me over. In a chapter called “Bad for You: Thinking,” they examine American schools. The section covers the history of education in the U.S. and how schools were influenced by the efficiency movement or “factory model” popular during the Industrial Revolution.
One result of this model is the discovery that workers are more productive with periodic breaks, which led to the idea of recess in public schools. Today, however, recess is under fire as a waste of time, eliminated or reduced in 40 percent of American schools to allow children more time to prepare for standardized tests.
Also cut in favor of standardized-test prep is access to the arts, history, and music.
Standardized testing, which measures convergent thinking (the ability to select one correct answer), is practically a relic in today’s high-tech world. What is needed, experts argue, is more emphasis on divergent thinking (the ability to find more than one answer or solution to a problem), something that can be aided by the very activities being trimmed from the school day — including recess.
“Bad for You: Exposing the War on Fun” is written for kids but can be just as rewarding for adults. A word of warning: It’s laid out like a comic book, another form of fun that has come under fire in the past. In the first chapter, the authors look at the hysteria over comic books in the 1940s and ’50s, when a U.S. Senate subcommittee was convened to study their insidious effects and comics were burned by concerned parents.
As a comics-obsessed kid in grade school, I can remember teachers who wrinkled their noses at my preferred choice of literature, immune to my belief, even then, that comics were teaching me more vocabulary and reading skills than anything in their classrooms.
I don’t remember if my teachers ever told me that comics were rotting my brain, immoral, or turning me into a zombie. If they did, I wish that Pyle and Cunningham’s “Bad for You: Exposing the War on Fun!” had been around to set them straight.
Chris Schillig, who is still a self-diagnosed comic-book addict, can be reached at
chris.schillig@yahoo or @cschillig on Twitter.
Originally published Feb. 13, 2014, in The Alliance Review.
All language is metaphorical, and the language of love is no exception.
Red and pink, especially in February, make most of us think of love. Those two colors dominate Valentine’s Day cards, candy boxes and other items designed to separate us from our money. But why?
Red is the color of the heart, I suppose, and the heart is the organ most closely associated with love. Well, it’s the organ most closely associated with love that can be named in a family newspaper, anyway.
But red is also the color of blood, and blood isn’t all that romantic unless you have a vampire fetish. Which is far more common than you might think, if the Internet is to believed. (And who doesn’t believe the Internet?)
But, Chris, you say, red is also the color of roses, and what is more romantic — or expensive — than a dozen of those crimson beauties, their petals open like an inviting pair of ruby lips?
This brings me to my point. Well, to one of my points, anyway. What is so inherently romantic about a rose? Who was it who decided that this particular flower was joined so intimately with our belief in love?
Scottish poet Robert Burns — “Bobby” to his friends — famously wrote, “O my Luve’s like a red, red rose/That’s newly sprung in June,” but the rose/love connection goes back much farther than the 18th century. It stretches all the way back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, who equated the flower with the goddess of love.
But roses have thorns, and thorns cut and scratch and poke. Roses also die. Now, depending on your significant other, maybe your love cuts and scratches and pokes, too. And if your relationships aren’t all that stable (or if they cut and scratch and poke too much), some of them likely die. Not literally, of course, unless you’re a graduate of the Hannibal Lecter School of Lovemaking.
Still, a beautiful, sharp object with a limited shelf life doesn’t sound all that romantic to me, so I’m introducing a new metaphor for love.
From now on, my love is like a mossy rock.
Think about it. A rock is strong and stable. Rocks are found in all climates and cultures; so, like love, they’re universal.
Moss is a living thing, far more hardy than a rose, so it better represents a stable relationship. It is green, representing life. Moss also grows on a rock, the way two partners grow on one another. After all, the nail biting or nose picking that seems so weird in the early days of a relationship becomes rather endearing in later years.
So this year, I’m bypassing the expensive roses and candies and cards to give my wife a gift straight from the heart — a new metaphor for love created especially for her. That’s right, she’s getting a mossy rock.
If you want to beat my time and give a similar gift, borrowing my explanation the way Christian stole the words of Cyrano de Bergerac to woo the beautiful Roxane, go ahead. You’d be smart to do it this year, though. By next Valentine’s Day, I expect the cost of rocks and moss to triple because of the demand. I’m nothing if not a believer in capitalism.
However, in these early days of the rose/rock transition, don’t be surprised if your special someone is less than thrilled to receive a stone in lieu of flowers. It took millennia for the rose to win its place in our hearts, so I expect it might take, oh, two or three years for my more-fitting metaphor to replace it.
In the meantime, though, expect that your love might take your gift of a rock for granite … er, granted.
Ouch. Love hurts.
cschillig on Twitter
Based on the media explosion last Thursday, I knew one of two things had happened: either the world ended or the Browns hired a new head coach.
Thankfully for the world — and for ratings of Cleveland-area TV stations — it was the latter. The only reason I checked the newsbreak at all was to see if Browns management had decided to hire my wife.
A few days before, she’d thrown her hat into the ring by announcing she could probably be as effective a head coach for the franchise as anybody else. I don’t know if that’s technically true, but it feels right.
This is the point at which I have to admit how woefully ignorant I am of all aspects of football. I don’t know how many players belong on the field, the names of positions beyond quarterback, or any rules for scoring.
About all I comprehend is that it’s a game where people behave counter to their instincts. In the real world, when big, burly men descend upon you with an intent to tackle, hurt and maim, you sprint the other way. In football, you run toward the danger.
I played football once at recess when I was around 10. Somebody threw me the ball, yelled “Run!” and I did — in the opposite direction. I was never asked to play again.
I’ve probably watched fewer than a dozen games of professional football in my life, and those only when I am sandwiched between well-meaning relatives on musty basement sofas who assume, as many people do, that everybody born with a Y chromosome must automatically love the sport.
Even the Super Bowl I watch with only one eye, and not because I lost the other one in a horrifying childhood Three Stooges imitation, either. I basically don’t care, halftime wardrobe malfunctions notwithstanding. Is watching the Super Bowl for the commercials the same as reading Playboy for the articles?
These days, my indifference toward the sport is augmented by the squeamish knowledge of how repeated head trauma affects many players later in life. Where are the millions of screaming fans when a former player struggles to remember his grandchildren’s names, is led to the bathroom by a devoted spouse, or dies decades too early? Even passionate football fans may feel a little like Romans, cheering while Christians are fed to lions.
Incidentally, I don’t begrudge anybody a hobby or a passion. I have enough of them myself. But I don’t automatically assume that others share it. I’ve never forced somebody to read a Batman comic book and then rolled my eyes and questioned their sanity when they didn’t like it. But something similar to that happens whenever I admit I don’t follow football.
That said, I have no idea who the former Browns coach was or who the new coach is. I saw some soundbites of the newbie saying all the usual things: So glad to be part of this tradition … building on what’s come before … looking forward to the season … yadda yadda yadda.
He sounds like a nice guy. I imagine he’s slightly more qualified than my wife, at least on paper. Still, she has some innovative ideas, like modifying the uniforms to orange, brown and pink; using the eeny, meeny, miny, moe method to decide who plays what position; and changing Super Bowl rings for each team member (the woman aims high) to Pandora charms.
I don’t know, frankly, if the new guy can measure up to such out-of-the-box thinking. The good news is that she’ll have another chance next year, when odds are that management will lower the axe again and a new round of interviews will begin.
Maybe by then, fans will be ready for players in fuschia helmets. If that happens, we’ll know the world really has ended.
cschillig on Twitter
Originally published Jan. 30, 2014, in The Alliance Review.
Did you know there was once a fourth Rice Krispies elf?
His name was Pow! (exclamation point mandatory) and he joined Snap! Crackle! and Pop! for two television commercials in the 1950s. In a recent article for Smithsonian.com, a Kellogg’s spokesman explains to writer K. Annabelle Smith that Pow! was never intended to be an ongoing character, but rather a guest-elf of sorts.
This minor deity in the animated pitchmen pantheon got me thinking about other erased or marginal characters in long-running concerns, whether they were TV shows or comic books or commercials.
Does anybody remember:
Castor Oyl — brother to Olive, the string-beaned girlfriend of Popeye the Sailor. When most of us think of Popeye, we imagine the classic cartoons of the 1930s and 1940s. But Popeye made his first appearance in the “Thimble Theatre” comic strip in 1929, after the strip had been in existence for 10 years with Castor as the main character.
These days, Castor is a pop-culture relic, although he did have a role in the “Popeye” movie starring Robin Williams and, more recently, appeared in new Popeye comic book adventures. Yet I doubt most people could identify him today. (Visit my blog, http://blogs.dixcdn.com/leftofcybercenter/ for a visual.)
John Doggett and Monica Reyes — These two characters replaced FBI special agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) on seasons eight and nine of “The X-Files,” also known as “X-Files: The Seasons Nobody Talks About.” Played by Robert Patrick and Annabeth Gish, respectively, Doggett and Reyes faded into obscurity when Duchovny and Anderson returned for the series’ swan song and two successful films. Patrick’s biggest claim to cinematic fame remains his portrayal of the T-1000 Terminator that bedeviled Ah-nold in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.”
Mycroft Holmes — the older, smarter, fatter and lazier brother of Sherlock Holmes. Writer Arthur Conan Doyle used or mentioned him only a handful of times in four novels and 56 short stories about the famous detective. He is said to exert great influence over decisions of state, but otherwise just sits around the Diogenes Club, smoking and eating. There are worse ways to live, I suppose.
Chuck Cunningham — Ritchie’s older brother on “Happy Days.” At some point in the second season, he was written out of the series, never to return, and the Cunninghams went from having three kids to only two. His disappearance has even inspired a term, “Chuck Cunningham Syndrome,” used for any characters unceremoniously erased from continuity.
Uncle O’Grimacey — In the world of McDonald’s advertising, O’Grimacey is the uncle of Grimace, the purple, milkshake-loving companion of Ronald. Unlike his nephew, O’Grimacey is green, befitting his role as head huckster for Shamrock Shakes. He last appeared in the mid-1980s and has presumably retired to a small cottage in Ireland.
An Internet search for “McDonald’s characters” will reveal dozens of oddities, such as the Griddler, Iam Hungry and CosMc, an alien who spoke in surfer lingo. I believe all the McDonald’s characters, with the exception of the head clown, have been quietly phased out, relics of a more innocent time when it was acceptable to use cartoon characters to coax children to eat fattening, processed foods.
Word has it the McDonaldland gang rode off into the sunset on the back of Joe Camel, guided by the Budweiser frogs.
Let’s hope they all say hello to Pop!, Chuck, Castor and all the other retirees in the Forgotten Hallows Retirement Center out in Obscuria, Oregon.
Send any other obscure
pop-culture characters to
email@example.com or @cschillig on Twitter.
Originally published Jan. 23, 2014, in The Alliance Review.
Commentary 17 Jan 2014 01:12 am
Today’s word, class, is empathy.
Empathy is the ability to understand the needs and feelings of other people, to “get” where they’re “coming from,” even when we don’t necessarily share their situation or background.
In 1959, writer John Howard Griffin, who was white, posed as a person of color and traveled through the racially segregated south. His experiences formed the basis for a book, “Black Like Me.” The experiment built empathy.
In the late ’90s, columnist and social critic Barbara Ehrenreich attempted to live off money earned in a series of minimum-wage jobs as, among other things, a waitress and sales clerk. Her failure is obvious in the title of her 2001 book, “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America.” Empathy-building, again.
This idea of empathy has been rattling around in my mind since I heard a snippet on National Public Radio recently: that more than half the members of Congress are, for the first time, worth more than $1 million.
The median net worth of Congress — in other words, with as many lawmakers above this figure as below — is $1,008,767, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
I contrast this with a statistic from last September, when the New York Times reported that a typical American family — family, mind you — “in the middle of the income distribution” had a net worth of $66,000.
Of course, when we look at the extremes of impoverished families, the disparities between what can only be described as lavish Congressional lifestyles and the experiences of millions of Americans are even greater. It’s not a gap, it’s a chasm. Meaning it’s fair to ask: Where is the empathy?
Can lawmakers who saw an 11.6 percent increase in their median net worth from 2011 to 2012 sympathize with the plight of a young widow who must shuffle children from after-school programs to relatives in order to work two jobs just to pay the rent? Do they understand the monumental debt a 20-year-old incurs to attend a state college? Have they ever lived paycheck to paycheck, as too many Americans do, and tossed a coin to decide whether to pay the utilities or put gas in the car?
The short answer is yes, some of them can. One need not experience a situation directly to empathize with it.
Lawmakers do not have to live on the street to understand homelessness, nor must they work minimum-wage jobs to see how hard it is to make ends meet. Although if any did, they might find their priorities radically shifting.
I’m not disputing that some members of Congress come from hardscrabble pasts and may have paid their way through school by waiting tables or taken public transportation once upon a time. But with the exception of a few whose bad investments give them a negative net worth, Congress as a whole is beyond the stage in life where members are worried about their next meal or where they’re going to sleep tonight.
(I doubt those few members in a financial pickle are poor the way the average American defines “poverty.” As a comedian once pointed out, there’s O.J. Simpson poor and then there’s M.C. Hammer poor. A few Congress members may be the former, but they’re definitely not the latter.)
What the Congressional factoid underscores is something Americans have known for a long time: We are a nation governed by elected officials who are economically well off, a privileged elitism that binds Democrats and Republicans more closely than their differences divide them. Getting elected and re-elected takes money, and who is better at raising money and knowing people who know how to raise money than people who already have money?
Regardless of how lawmakers wound up as members of the elite 1 percent club, one thing is for certain: They certainly have done little in office to justify their taxpayer-funded paychecks. The 113th Congress, after all, is widely mocked as the least effective in the nation’s history, having passed a paltry 65 laws. Gridlock can account for much of that inactivity (the flesh was willing, but the spirit was weak — to invert the adage), but not all of it. These are people who just don’t play well with others.
Maybe they were all too busy watching their investments and banking their money to attend to the job at hand. Based on this end-of-year financial check-up, it’s a strategy that paid off — for them.
cschillig on Twitter
Commentary 03 Jan 2014 07:46 pm
At the dawn of 2014, some thoughts about resolutions.
A teacher almost always learns more from his students than students learn from him.
I was reminded of this a few weeks ago when I had students write about and discuss New Year’s resolutions. Amid good comments about the dubious wisdom of waiting for a new year to make significant life changes and the symbolic boost one receives from a fresh flip of the calendar came a truly terrific suggestion.
Lori, a freshman, said she doesn’t make resolutions. Instead, she keeps a decorated box of affirmations. Every day or so, she writes down her successes, compliments she has received and nice things that people have done for her. Then, at the end of the year — or whenever she needs a boost — she opens the box and reads the comments.
What a cool idea. I can’t see myself decorating a box for the purpose, but I can — and will — create a computer file where I will duplicate Lori’s idea. That way, on those occasions when I feel that I’m not making any headway or “whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul” (to quote Herman Melville), I can open it and see comments that prove otherwise.
Last year, I announced in this space that I was becoming a vegetarian. I kept my resolution for an entire year, but barring an 11th-hour change of heart, I will have returned to meat by way of a juicy pork roast at 12:01 a.m. on New Year’s Day.
My decision to eschew — as opposed to “chew” — meat was largely environmental. In November 2012, I wrote, “According to the EPA, a single dairy cow drops 120 pounds of wet manure daily, which equals the waste produced by 20-40 people. When managed properly, animal manure can produce electricity and ethanol, but when it’s not, it pollutes our water supply.”
I’m still concerned about how society’s reliance on meat affects the environment (to say nothing of conditions under which many animals are raised), so my return to omnivorism will be limited to only a few times a week, as opposed to every meal.
Several factors drove my decision. First, my wife, who started this lifestyle change with me, abandoned it in August, lured away by the siren call of sirloin burgers at Carnation Days in the Park. Since then, our meals have been somewhat schizophrenic — expensive, challenging to prepare and time-consuming.
Secondly, I became a “junk-food” vegetarian, relying too much on prepackaged products and bread — lots and lots of bread. As a consequence, I gained 15 pounds, which affects my running and my general health.
So it’s back to judiciously selected cuts of meat and a more regular exercise regime. A tip of the old skillet to those lifetime vegetarians for a diet that I cannot currently continue.
Finally, I’m taking inspiration this holiday from Ben Franklin and his plan to arrive at perfection.
In his autobiography, the so-called “wisest American” explained his method for moral improvement. First, he identified 13 virtues — temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity and humility. Next, he determined to focus each week on a different virtue, marking in a notebook the times he had failed to, say, “Eat not to Dulness” and “Drink not to Elevation” (his definition of “temperance”).
The following week he would move on to “silence,” and the week after to “order,” so that he “could go thro’ a Course compleat in Thirteen Weeks, and four Courses in a Year,” and thereby improve himself immensely.
While I admire Ben’s industry (number 6 on his list), I don’t have his resolution (number 4). Instead, I’m going to focus on silence. According to Franklin, it requires one to “speak not but what may benefit others or yourself. Avoid trifling conversation.” Whenever I successfully bite my tongue, I can make a note in my affirmation file.
Of course, I exempt myself from this silence every Thursday, so come back next week when I endeavor to keep my foot out of mouth but still make some sort of point, usually about somebody or something that annoys me.
Happy New Year’s.
@cschillig on Twitter
Originally published Jan. 2, 2013, in The Alliance Review.
It’s slightly out of date after today’s reinstatement of Phil Robertson, but here’s my column for the week.
So, a big, furry guy from “Duck Dynasty” made some controversial comments and got himself suspended from his TV show, and now people are taking sides.
I have never seen an episode of “Duck Dynasty.” Until about a month ago, I had no idea it was even a live-action TV show. When people talked about it, I assumed they were referring to a Disney cartoon with Uncle Scrooge, Donald and his three nephews.
My consciousness was raised (or lowered) one day when I was walking through Walmart and saw the bearded Ducks, all of whom look like refugees from a Grateful Dead concert, staring out at me from a rack of T-shirts.
Further enlightenment came when one of my adult students showed me a copy of the “Duck Dynasty” Christmas CD. I haven’t heard it, but I imagine it’s on par with the offerings of William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, both of whom traded on their success in a television franchise of an earlier decade to record albums that range from pedestrian to horrific.
All of which means that I wasn’t really too impacted one way or another when Phil Robertson (I had to look up his name), the leader of the Duck flock, expressed his disapproval of homosexuality and his belief that blacks were happy in the Jim Crow south. Nor was I too surprised when A&E, the network that airs the show, suspended him indefinitely. Now his family is saying the show can’t go on without him, which means that a program I’ve never watched, starring people that I don’t care one whit about, may end.
I repeat: Yawn.
Some people are saying that Robertson’s freedom of speech has been impinged, which is, of course, hogwash. He wasn’t censored by the government. Nobody told him he couldn’t speak his mind. His network merely chose not to associate itself with his opinions and severed the relationship, either temporarily or permanently. Freedom of speech does not equate with freedom from consequences.
The cynic in me wonders if this whole incident isn’t playing out in a predetermined way to benefit both A&E and Robertson. After all, you couldn’t buy the publicity both sides received over the last week or so. Given the manipulative formula of reality TV, where episodes are edited to magnify conflict and create heroes and villains, is it such a stretch to ponder how much of this “controversy” is scripted?
It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Robertson apologizes, not for his comments (which appeal to a conservative demographic and are, therefore, valuable) but for the strident and blunt way he presented them; and then if A&E reinstates him, along with some tepid mea culpa of its own. When the show returns, even more viewers will tune in to see what Robertson says next. If it’s a ploy, it’s a brilliant one.
(I’m writing this on Saturday, so if all this comes to pass before my column sees print, I’m quitting my day job and going to work for the Psychic Hotline.)
Really, though, why do so many Americans care so much what celebrities think? Just because somebody’s job involves having a camera pointed at them for a significant amount of time each week doesn’t make his opinions more informed and important than the nation’s working class stiffs.
What Robertson has to say about gays, blacks and religion is merely one person’s opinion. He’s entitled to it, of course, just as others are entitled to share their views. It’s a free country, after all.
Now when Donald Duck or Scrooge McDuck speak up about gay rights or racial equality, I’ll pay more attention. That’s the only duck dynasty that interests me.
Originally published Dec. 26, 2013, in The Alliance Review.
Friends who know I am not religious will sometimes ask if I’m offended by the term “Merry Christmas.”
That’s ridiculous. It’s not ridiculous that they ask, mind you, but that anybody would take offense to an expression — any expression — that wishes happiness to another.
This War Against Christmas that certain segments of the media (Fox News, I’m talking to you) accuse liberals of waging is really just a political version of the TV weather scam.
You know what I’m talking about: Television executives have realized that talking up the weather is great for ratings, which means that every flurry and icy patch merits its own scrolling alert along the bottom of our screens, accompanied by an announcement to stay tuned for school closings.
In the old days, when we determined weather by sticking our heads out the window and looking up, we didn’t need constant warnings to be cautious and that road conditions could change at any time. We just figured it out.
The same thing with “Merry Christmas” vs. “Happy Holidays.” Somewhere, some broadcasters and politicians recognized that talking about taking Christ out of Christmas — and secular society’s decision to wish “Season’s Greetings” to honor the diversity of beliefs among constituents — was good for ratings, and that people would stay tuned for long, circuitous arguments and/or rants about the topic. Some of us will even vote for particular candidates if they espouse a strong enough view of America as a Christian nation around the holidays, despite whatever shenanigans they are up to the rest of the year.
But in the old days, we could hear “Merry Christmas,” “Season’s Greetings,” “Happy Holidays,” “Happy Hanukkah” or “Happy Kwanzaa” and recognize it was merely a speaker’s way of sharing his or her own joy, not a personal attack. We didn’t need any conservatives or liberals to translate for us, and we didn’t need to bristle and announce ourselves as Christians or Jews or atheists or space aliens or whatever. We just smiled and said, “Thanks, same to you.”
There, isn’t that easy?
On a related note, people sometimes ask me why I bother to celebrate Christmas at all, as I am not a believer in the “reason for the season.” This is also a fair question.
The bottom line is that much of what passes for Christmas these days is not, in point of fact, religious. Even fixing Jesus’ birthday as Dec. 25 has more to do with early Christianity’s attempts to attach itself to a pagan celebration of the sun than to any historical record. Our modern mythology of Santa, Rudolph, elves, talking snowmen and the like demonstrates that religious and non-religious elements of the holiday have made an uneasy peace, mixing and mingling over the years like ingredients in a pot of stew. (The most repulsive example of this cross-pollination are those painted images of Santa kneeling before the manger.)
I wonder how so many people square their bloated consumer Christmas (complete with running over their fellow men with shopping carts to get to a big deal) with recent comments from Pope Francis warning against excessive capitalism. Shopping until we drop doesn’t seem particularly spiritual to me, but what does an old pagan know?
Our reasons to celebrate are multi-faceted then. Some see Christmas as a monument to the birth of a person who came to redeem humanity, some as a gift-grab, others as an excuse to hum “Frosty the Snowman” under their breath, and still others as a season to brighten an otherwise dark and dreary time of year. That last is my “reason for the season,” along with being happy for my friends and family who find a deeper reason. While some may decry my choices as sad and superficial, they suffice for me.
All of which is a long-winded way of saying that I don’t take offense to Merry Christmas or Season’s Greetings or even Happy Festivus (for the rest of us). Anytime somebody reaches beyond themselves to extend sincere wishes, that’s cause for happiness in my book.
So whatever you celebrate, enjoy.
cschillig at Twitter
Originally published Dec. 19, 2013, in The Alliance Review.