Tell Me Something Good (or bad), Tell Me That You Like It (or not)

Feedback, constructive criticism, critical evaluation –we can choose to call this activity any number of things, knowing one thing is certain: We all need its presence in our lives. Going through life without feedback is like trying to eat your dinner with no utensils –you may eventually get the job done yet not without a lot of unnecessary extra effort and a hell of a mess to clean up afterwards.

As a professor of Communication Studies, essentially I get paid to provide feedback and offer others critical analysis of their work–it’s my job. Over the years I have gained a reputation of being extremely straightforward in this regard. That is simply who I am, a very straightforward guy living a very straightforward life.  I attempt to instill in the minds of all my students that this straightforwardness is not driven by me wanting to be a dick or possessing some diabolical intent, rather it is driven by pure and positive motivation: I want my students to improve –and beating around the bush will simply not get the job done.

Of course I do utilize what I call the “critique sandwich” in my courses, as all critiques MUST begin and end with something positive and encouraging.

When I was recently requested by one of our college deans and head of research, Keith Wurtz, to be the faculty representative for his professional evaluation, I was eager to find out why.

When I asked him, he stated, much to my delight, “Because I know you will not hold anything back and you will be completely honest. I want to improve.”

Nice. That I will. And believe you me…it’s going to be a real challenge to find an area of weakness with that guy -he is good.

Wisdom seeks feedback. Excellence is always looking to improve. True professionals not only appreciate evaluations, they seek them out.

For many years I did not appreciate being evaluated and critiqued. In hindsight, I realize this was the result of my personal immaturity and insecurity. I am not a “woulda-shoulda-coulda” guy, yet I would be remiss not to observe that my growth as a professional and a person was at times stunted due to my resistance to feedback by people who knew better than I.

Pride. Thank the universe it tends to simmer with age. Today I love both good feedback and a big challenge.

Thus when my creative and very talented partner-in-life Rene’ asked me to pitch her screenplay, “Silence Broken,” to different production companies at the “Pitch SlamFest” in Century City last Saturday, I jumped at the chance -yet not without first asking her why she wanted me to do it.

“Cause Jimmy, you could sell snowballs to Eskimos. And you are cute.”

He smiled. Yet inwardly he knew she just didn’t want to do it. It is nerve wracking to say the least.

So off I went to pitch a total chick-flick-on-steroids (or would it be excessive estrogen?) screenplay full well knowing that part of this pitch included being personally evaluated on how well you pitched and where you could stand improvement.

I must say that being critiqued was my favorite part of the day.  The great thing about critiques is we have the freedom to do whatever we wish with them. Good and helpful feedback is the result of a myriad of factors; WHO is critiquing probably being the most influential factor of all. I wanted to hear what these typically younger females had to say as I am usually on the other end of the critiquing equation.

As I pitched a novel/screenplay written by a woman for women -a screenplay/novel that gay men have found way over the estrogen top- the question I would repeatedly be asked as they stared across at this macho shmuck was, “What motivated you to write this?” With a perplexed look on their face to be sure.

“I did not write it. I am pimping, err pitching it for my partner who wrote the novel and my son who wrote and butched up the screenplay,” I answered as they smiled. “I wouldn’t even go see it myself,” I joked.

My first pitch was rough. 50 years on the planet and I was doing something I had never done before, which I LOVE. The representative, Tracy, from Beachfront Pictures, was really sweet and very straightforward in her feedback.

“Don’t call it a chick flick as it demeans the value of the novel.”photo copy

“You must lead by stating it is a novel that is currently being shopped.”

“You have to address what is the driving appeal and storyline in the first act.”

Ok. So I did all that. I listened.

After a couple of pitches and some additional helpful feedback, I had it down. Thus when I got to my third pitch, Crystal from Electric City Entertainment responded with, “Oh my God…that was the perfect pitch!” And, of course, with the follow up question, “What made you write this novel?”

I then came clean and told her I am not a novelist rather a Communication Studies professor commissioned to try and sell this screenplay -we laughed. It appeared she genuinely liked me and the story (I can read bullshit, and trust me, there was plenty of it that day) and provided the feedback that very small production companies -like their own- find period pieces with “low context” plots (meaning there is a lot of splaining to do in many acts) too expensive not to mention that a good “B” level, 18 year-old main protagonist, that has to carry the movie, nearly impossible to find. Bullshit? Probably. If so, she was very good at it.

So after 7 or 8 pitches with several companies taking down my contact information, Rene’ and I got into Jimmy’s mid-life mobile and headed back to Awesometown with very realistic expectations knowing this was not about actually selling something, just the experience of pitching.

As we drove and lamented how tired we both were and could not wait for a nice nap, we both realized, at a level never before experienced, the value of truly and genuinely listening to what credible and credentialed sources have to say about us and our work.

I suppose when you finally know who you are it is not all that threatening.

Some things really do get better with age. And I prefer to eat at the banquet of life with a knife and fork.

“Heckler”: This Could Get Interesting

I am far from a film critic. In fact, the only two areas I feel completely qualified to critique are speaking and parenting; I am not perfect in either I just know the subject matter really well. In regards to film I know what I like and I know what I don’t like—yet I am absolutely unqualified to adequately explain why, as I have no training or knowledge of the filmmaking process. I know I tend to like character driven movies (The Big Lebowski, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Next, The Truman Show) over plot driven movies (The Matrix….yuck), as I would rather watch interesting people doing nothing particularly interesting over watching uninteresting people doing something interesting; which probably explains why I could watch Steve Buscemi eat cereal for 90 minutes.

But that’s just me. Interesting and strange people strangely interest me. (Why do I feel a Doors song coming on?)

Thus when I was inspired today to write my thoughts on the documentary, “Heckler” which can be found on Netflix, I feared being a bit presumptuous.  Again, I am not a film critic and have no foundation to critique an art form about which I know so little.  Yet, frequently, perhaps as the result of my position, I am asked my opinion of certain films, books, or, in this case, a documentary. And, I rationalize, documentaries are an entirely different type of film making rendering them much more critique-able. So, in the spirit of sharing with each other something interesting, here ya go.  I think you might find this one doc interesting as well.

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Ironically, “Heckler,” produced and directed by Jaime Kennedy (Malibu’s Most Wanted) is a doc about both the hecklers of stand up comedians and, secondly, the nature of critics in general. Essentially, the first half of the documentary is about the evil and subversive nature of hecklers and how all comedians disdain their very existence. We watch poor stand up comedians complain about their strenuous and back-breaking vocations for about an hour as they explain their loathing of hecklers.  The second half of the documentary is about critics in general and how our society has evolved into a culture of opinionated and entitled audiences. Consumers of media today (which would include all of us) are evolving into a collection of vocal and mean-spirited critics who are wholly unqualified to be so.

As someone once told me long ago as I was in the middle of a lovely critical rant, “they never built a monument for a critic.” I get it.

Overall, I really enjoyed this documentary if, for nothing else, the raw footage of hecklers in audiences and the live verbal -and frequently physical encounters- during live shows. It reminds viewers how the live stand-up comedy scene has changed into an often cruel and biting environment. As a budding sociologist, it also lends insight into group behaviors, ethics and social expectations. In addition, if you like interesting people like Joe Rogan, Nick Swardson, Craig Ferguson, Jon Lovitz, and Dave Attell among many others, they all share some interesting opinions, even if they all sound a tad whiny -interesting whiny however.

In regards to the second half of the film, I must say that I agree with the premise, as too many unqualified, untrained people have a medium now to voice their criticism over something (you’re reading one right now).  In addition, the documentary poignantly addresses that people not only now have the means to share their opinions, but also how cruel and hateful their ignorant opinions can be.

It was that great critic Socrates who first pointed out that the only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing. The problem with the critics is they think they know something. And then talk as if they do.

The tension I found in the documentary is some of the great hypocrisy of these entertainers. When you have Bill Maher complaining that all performers are by nature sensitive people and today the critics are so mean and insensitive…really? Bill Maher? Is he not one of the meanest and most insensitive comics of all? I do find him smart and entertaining though he is doing NOTHING to promote a culture of civil and kind dialogue.

In my experience with stand up comedy, it seems that often the comic is the instigator of the heckling environment. It was not that long ago that I was standing outside a comedy show and a woman who was in the audience was outside crying because the comic picked on her so badly.

“What the hell did I ever do to him?” she sobbed.

Civility must always be a two way street.

Kennedy, the film’s producer, reads some of the awful -and quite funny- reviews for his “Malibu’s Most Wanted” movie and interviews people after his live shows that did not think he was funny. These people, who you would guess could barely write their own name, have the balls to look him in the eye and explain (even occasionally using verbs and some words with more than one syllable) why he is not funny and should not be in show business.

That Socrates guy may have been on to something when he philosophized that the only true evil is ignorance. Maybe by “evil” Socrates really meant chutzpah.

So if you want to see a bunch of interesting people talk about some interesting stuff with some very interesting footage, pull up a strange and interesting chair and enjoy “Hecklers.” Then tell me what you think.

This could get interesting.

 

 

If Buzzed Driving is Drunk Driving, What is Drunk Driving? or, Last Night I Purchased A Breathalyzer On Amazon. I Swear I Don’t Have A Problem. I Swear. Really.

Last Friday evening I was out with some friends at Buca di Beppo in Encino. During the course of our two hour meal together, I consumed 2, yes, honest to FCBE, only 2 Sam Adams pale ales -albeit 16 oz. drafts. However, whenever I consume ANY alcohol and have to drive more than a mile or so from my house (Encino is about 30 miles away) I never feel good about it for fear of Big Brother. Yes, I felt absolutely fine, coherent and alert, as if all that alcohol was just sponged up by the bowls of pasta just consumed.

Yet today we live in an age of bullshit.  Now PLEASE let me be clear, drunk driving IS a problem and unlike many of the other chickenshit traffic infractions I fume about regularly, we NEED police to deal with this issue. However (here it comes, the “in tension” part and where the bullshit comes in) we are not going to solve the problem of drunk driving simply by redefining “drunk” whenever some pressure groups get in bed with some lawmakers. In fact, redefining any terms in order to increase the number of offenders does not solve problems -it only creates the illusion of a much bigger and widespread problem.

Some history:

New York was the first state in the union to outlaw “inebriated” driving back in the 1910’s.  The law stated you could not drive drunk yet had no objective standard by which to measure inebriation. In the 1930’s the National Safety Council working with the American Medical Association agreed together and concluded that a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .15 was the marker for inebriation. This .15 stood for nearly 5 decades until the 1980’s when pressure groups, namely Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD), convinced lawmakers to lower the BAC to .10. This stood for a time until there was federal pressure on all states to lower it once again, this time to .08, the current threshold, or risk losing highway federal funding. Today there is talk this .08 may be lowered to .05. Which effectively means we have brought back prohibition insofar as operating a vehicle is concerned.

The problem was never the BAC limits, rather the lack of enforcement of existing law. What could have happened in the evolution of the human body that it remained sober until a BAC of .15 was reached for nearly half a century and today we are “drunk” at nearly half that amount? When did we all become such lightweights?

blood-alcohol-chart

Groups such as MADD and SADD seem to LOVE to pad their stats for some strange reason. I know personally a family who lost their son to a drunk driver and are now members of MADD -as MADD came to their side in assistance and claimed him as another victim of intoxicated driving. Yet the young man who was killed was also drunk and was likely the erratic driver and cause of the accident. That is akin to suggesting the ground was responsible for killing the man willingly jumping off the building.

So what is the bullshit?

Consider me a BADD…Blogger Against Drunk Driving -yet I want to solve the problem NOT redefine it.  For example, if I set out to prove our nation has an obesity epidemic, the path of least resistance is to redefine “obesity” and argue a lower BMI is truly obese; nothing in reality changes except the definition. So whether it be problems such as obesity, addiction, or sexual crimes, if we can successfully redefine these terms and what they mean in order to increase the number of offenders, we can successfully move forward our agenda, whatever that may be (hint: it is usually green and you can spend it) . Want to catch more drunk drivers? Make a “drunk” .01 or higher…even if all they had was rum cake for dessert.

Ironically I arrived home Friday evening and waited for Rene’. When she finally arrived she told me she was held up because she had run into a DUI checkpoint and had to wait over half an hour.  She said she was interrogated, a flashlight in her eyes as she fumbled through her purse (flashlight shown in there as well) filled with tampons and personal items trying to find her license, all the while the officer accusing her of not having one. Of course she finally found it and the jack-booted-entrapping-thug kindly let her go (please read my sarcasm here), though not without instilling fear, intimidation and embarrassment. Yes, I know some say that if they check 2,000 drivers and catch even 1 “drunk” it is worth it. Is it really? We could stop all kinds of social ills by becoming a police state, though is that really what we want? Perhaps we can create laws forcing people to stay home and lock their doors 24/7. All problems solved.

Since we live in this age of bullshit, I must play the bullshitters at their own game so that evening I spent a hundred bucks on a fuel celled breathalyzer. I rarely have anything at all to drink when I know I have to drive, yet on those rare occasions I do have a couple or must drive unexpectedly, I figure $100 is nothing compared to the 10 g’s or more it would cost to get caught driving “drunk” -which tomorrow might mean inhaling rubbing alcohol vapors.

So I endured the online shame of this purchase as I perused sites belittling the “types” of people (read: alcoholics) who would buy one of these things. Yet I did not create the rules, for better or worse, bullshit or not, I must abide by them. Which, I suppose, means I can do crack and drive as they have no measureable means to detect it. Hmmmmm….

9 Months and 50 Blogs Later: A State of The Blog Address

blogging-insideThe term “blogging” still feels very linguistically-challenged to me; a term accidentally generated from the contraction of the words “web log” back in the late 1990’s. It’s a weird word that just as easily could have come from the contraction of the words “bloat” and “soggy.” It sounds more like a medical condition than a web term, as in, “I think I contracted blogs last night.”

Somewhat surprisingly, I will still occasionally get the question, “So what is a blog?” I generally respond with something to the effect of just someone’s ideas, organized and placed on the internet for the world to see. WordPress, a website dedicated to assisting people with creating blogs and hosting websites such as this one, has over 60 million bloggers alone. Speaking of conditions, blogging is spreading like the plague.

I guess a lot of people like to infect their thoughts to the world.blogging1-300x255

The reason I started blogging was the encouragement of those around me who wanted to read some of my thoughts in a more formal and extended manner. I do not do this, nor ever plan to do this, for money, notoriety or personal gain (though I suppose I would not be opposed to the idea if presented…we all have to pay the mortgage); rather I do this because I really enjoy it. I love to read and write and if people can learn/enjoy/critique my ideas, and I from you—all the better. This is a true labor of love…and now that I am nearing my 50th blog entry after about 9 months of blogging, I have made some definite observations—thus, my state of the blog address.

To begin, as most of you know, I am the type of person who loves to float ideas, critique, and evaluate…everything. I really want to thank all of you for reading my blog and particularly those who respond to it with counter or correlating ideas to make conversations like this possible. We all are pressed for time so I know carving out a few minutes to read is never easy. So THANK YOU! Now onward we go with my 6 observations…

Most people are very reluctant to respond directly to this website. I cannot tell you how many times someone has texted me, run into me, even called me to say something about a blog entry. I strongly encourage them to respond on the site so others can read their thoughts though it reluctant-worker-13159705rarely happens. Lazy? No, or else they would not exert the energy to text, call, or “face to face” me. I am still trying to figure out why this is. We have all heard of stage fright, perhaps this is “blog fright.” And speaking of making comments…

Many of the comments on a particular blog are far more eloquent, thoughtful and poignant than the blog entry itself!  For those of you who take the time to really present your arguments, I am floored by the collection of wisdom of many of jimmysintension blog readers. I would argue that Dominick’s comments on my latest blog concerning Miley Cyrus’ ass shaking are far more interesting than anything I wrote. The point? Thank you for your comments and I encourage you all to read them if you have the chance. Now speaking of comments I may respond to or not….

I will never argue religious doctrine or dogma on this blog. If you reply to a blog article citing the koran, bible, Baghavad Gita, Ghandi or Tom Cruise for support, have at it my peeps though know you will likely not hear back from me. Why? Once you enter a book of faith into an argument you have effectively ended any further dialogue. If this were an Islamic blog the Koran would be great to quote. If this were a Christian blog with all Christian readers, the bible would be great to quote. But it is not. We have a VERY diverse readership with different faiths and non-faiths. Good arguments apply to everyone in the room with the logic we all share, not just a select few.  There is a big difference between promoting a faith and selling it on its own merits versus using it as a source to back up a secular argument. My bible citing readers…what if one kept using the koran to back up their arguments? You could not argue because you do believe in it.

dogmaI am huge fan of faith, I really am.  I encourage that type of important dialogue in your houses of faith, not here, or any medium that has a commitment to philosophical diversity and pluralism. To be frank, when one wants to use religious doctrine to back up a point of view, most of just gasp, roll our eyes and shut our mouths. Why? Because we know there is now no common ground on which to proceed. Any non-adherent to that faith system is effectively ousted out of the argument.

The following is a comment from a reader of my blog, Jessica, who disagreed with someone’s theological comment and I encouraged her to respond to the person on the blog itself:

“I honestly would, if it wasn’t a conversation I have in circles with my parents daily… It’s one of those things that the threshold is too high so it’s unreachable.”

I gotcha Jessica. And it is evident someone has had my critical thinking course! Some people like to take their unleashed dogmas on too many damned walks.

For better or worse, sensational and pop culture topics tend to generate the highest “ratings.” WordPress, my web host, keeps site statistics and tracks views. On any given day the blog has about 75 hits, some days far more (the top was 339) and some a bit less. Overall, as of this writing, the site has had 13,087 views.  If I blog on something pop culturish, like a Miley Cyrus or a Seth pop-cultureMacfarlane, the numbers are far higher than if I blog about the justice system or the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. Of course this does not surprise me and will not likely effect what I blog about as I only argue about what interests me anyway.

I have learned the great importance of repetition in life. If you want to be good at something, or at the very least, better at something, you must do it often and over and over and over again. This is true in nearly any endeavor in life whether athletics, academics or writing. It takes time to discover your voice and is only found through repetition. Some of you have commented to me (again, usually via any medium except this blog) that they have discovered a nice rhythm to my writing. This rhythm can only be discovered through time and repetition. The legendary coach John Wooden claimed: The importance of repetition until automaticity cannot be overstated. Repetition is the key to learning.

As a result of this blog, I intend to begin a Jimmy’s Intension podcast soon. That way, you logopodcastcan download me and listen to my bullshit on the way to work! Like the intention of this blog, I intend to cross-fit all of this into my teaching…thus said podcast may be a bit more “lecturey”—yet, again, the rhythm, voice and style of the podcast will change in time with repetition. I would imagine the first few will suck; I can guarantee it. It would be so great if all of us could begin any new endeavor in the second year and skip the first…it would be nice. I intend to be able to take live callers and recording times will be posted on this blog. I am hoping many of you engage and do not suffer from “pod fright.”

There it is. My current State of the Blog. I hope you get infected.