Sunday, September 16, 2012

Changing the Radio

A commercial from my youth stuck with me through the years.  It didn’t resonate with me through poignant humor, over indulgent sexuality, or even for the product it was selling.  Instead, this particular commercial lodged itself in my memory through shock value and a message that is incredibly applicable to today’s society.  The punch line of the commercial - “John didn’t like the song on the radio, so he killed a little girl.”

For those of you who never had the opportunity to see this commercial, let me set the scene.  A young man drives down a typical suburban street jamming to the radio.  The mood is bright and happy.  Everything is fantastic.  The guy decides to change the channel, and as he looks down at the knob, a little girl runs out in front of his car.

Sad, I know.  

If I remember right, there might have been a series of commercials like this.  Or, maybe my brain has just been running with the idea, creating its own series of commercials that  could have worked.

“Ricky wanted the air conditioner on, so he killed a young boy.”

“Gerald decided to spit his gum in the wrapper, so he drove over an old lady.”

“Sarah couldn’t wait to get home to taste her french fries, so she murdered a father of three.”

The implied rationale is that driving contains a certain amount of danger; pay attention while doing it.  More often than not, the old commercial pops into my mind while driving through my neighborhood.  We have a nice running loop frequently populated by fitness enthusiasts, little kids on bikes, and parents with strollers.  The nicer the weather, the more people you will see.  Unfortunately, it is the people you don’t see you have to worry about.  I make sure to keep my eyes peeled.

In today’s tech heavy society, the idea of being aware while driving is even more pertinent.  The distractions of today are extremely commonplace.

“Harold wanted to dial his mom on his phone, so he ran over a pregnant woman.”

“Jillian wanted to text “;-)” to her best friend, so she killed a little boy who just turned three.”

“Brian was interested in whether or not it would rain, so he crushed a jogger pushing a stroller.”

The stark juxtaposition of two contrasting desires shocked me as a young person and shocks me still as an adult.  We are never 100% certain of the results of our actions, nor can we imagine the infinite possibilities stemming from any one of our decision.  Of course, remaining aware of our surroundings, acting responsibly, and being safe, reduces the changes of situations like these from arising.  

Please don’t assume I am perfect.  Despite the haunting memory of the commercial hanging over my head, I still have lapses in sound judgement.  As much as I loathe myself for doing so, I will occasionally pen a text or fumble for directions as I drive.  Usually, I realize what I am doing halfway through and reprimand myself for it. 

I have plenty of hypocritical moments when I see others staring intently at their phones as they drive.  I scold them internally, aware of my hypocrisy, hoping that I won’t make the same error in judgement again.  Maybe I won’t.  I hope not.   I have no desire to be in a commercial.

If you are unsure of whether or not your actions are dangerous, paint them in the stark contrasts provided by the commercial.  Is your email as important as the life of a child?  A family?  An old lady?  Anyone at all?  If it is truly urgent, pull off the road.  Find a gas station, a strip mall, a restaurant parking lot, where you can stop your car and take care of your business.  Otherwise you risk making the terrible choices illustrated above.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Whole Nother Perspective

Nother.  I honestly have no idea to spell this “word.”  Is it nuther?  Or would it be nother, as its origins would suggest.  Maybe knother with a silent k?  For the longest time, I regarded this word with contempt, annoyed at what I considered an unnecessary mutation of our perfect English.  Wow.  How arrogant and pretentious was I?

I have long been one of those people who quietly laughs on the inside at pre-American Revolutionary movies in which the American colonists speak with perfectly formed American dialects, albeit minus such fine words as nother, a’int, or y’all.  The colonists were first, second, or third generation European immigrants, generally residing in homogenous clusters in which accent mixing rarely happened.  A significant portion of the population was English born or raised and surely sounded no different than their evil  Red Coated counterparts.

Hopefully the Brits discovered camouflage. 
Well, at some point during the last 236 years our languages diverged.  We don’t drive lorries, take trips to the loo, or snog our loved ones.  We eat our biscuits with gravy and not tea.  Our chips come in bags instead of accompanied by deep fried cod.  Frankly, I think those Brits sound crazy.

While living in London in 2003, I had the opportunity to make friends with some of our stage crew.  Every now and again, they would rip off a sentence sounding mostly of gibberish, full of dropped consonants and unimaginable slang; we would have to remind our English compatriots to speak English and not British, otherwise there was no way to understand them.

All of our languages evolve as culture grows and changes.  As much as we look at our younger generations with mild amusement for introducing text-speak into conversation, filling our ears with such gems as “tots,” “loled,” or “brb,” they are providing us with a window to the future of American English.  As our world continually shrinks thanks to technological innovation, our cherished language will open its doors to even more intrusion from outside sources.  

I remember the ebonics craze from a few years ago when the Oakland School Board decided to teach Standard American English by using African American Vernacular English (commonly referred to as ebonics) to bridge the gap between the dialect used at home and the one regarded by educational institutions as correct.  The technique is no different than using English to help a high school student learn German, French, Latin, Spanish, etc.  We have to create a bridge between the established knowledge and that which we wish to teach.

Now, let me provide a whole nother example.  My own distaste for improper language usage has evolved as well into something more than tolerance (which frequent readers know is a term I dislike).  Using terms such as nother, tumped, a’int, y’all, fixin to, or contained in text speech, or any other slang based terminology, does not reflect on the speaker’s intelligence.  These words are merely familiar to the person’s experience.  They use these words because they encounter them frequently.

My time in London didn’t grow my vocabulary, but it did alter the way I pronounced a few words - sorry and strawberry being the most notable.  Sorry altered from s-are-ree to s-or-ree and strawberry somehow became - straw-brerry.  I only spent four months immersed in British English and remained surrounded by Americans speaking American English, yet it still impacts my speaking skills nearly a decade later.  Imagine only hearing one slang dialect for the first five or six years of your life.  Does slang usage reflect upon intelligence?  I think not.

Funny enough, in writing this, I discovered that Merriam-Webster includes nother as a word in its lexicon (although spell-check doesn’t seem to agree).  This year, the dictionary standard expanded its catalogue to include other commonly used terms - man cave, sexting, mashup, bucket list, and underwater (referring to mortgages).  

Our language constantly evolves.  Usually we evolve right along with it, not ever realizing we have done so.  So, the next time you hear someone use a word you have never heard, before jumping in to correct them, consider adding it to your own list of favorites.  You may find yourself evolving ahead of the curve.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

A Turd with a Bow

As the road to November 6 stretches on and on and on . . . and on, we find ourselves under constant bombardment by both sides.  Hate and negativity proliferate the airwaves, striving to direct a campaign weary populace towards one candidate or another.  Somehow, through the deluge of spun facts, slight distortions, and outright untruths, our voting population is supposed to pick the party that will lead us down a path to a better America.  Best of luck to us all.

Emotion will win the election, not facts.  Campaign strategists know this and exploit it at every opportunity.  Their job really has two simple aims - 
  1. Energize the base with fiery rhetoric designed to enflame their emotional attachment to the party brand.
  2. Paint opposing pictures of the two parties/candidates using an unequal mixture of fact and emotion to generate a gut reaction in the independent population

This week’s Republican National Convention provided a prime example of both, as I am sure the Democratic National Convention will.  Networks treated viewers to both the Republican All-Stars, standing at the bully pulpit to preach their conservative agenda mixed with the anti-Obama fear-mongering, and the Democratic talking heads (depending on the network), who offered the opposing ideology.  This week, the Democrats will present the yin to the Republicans yang, completing the circle of full cycle campaign rhetoric.

Most people have difficulty expressing their political opinion in a calm and focused discussion.  Usually it breaks down into emotional responses instead of intellectual ones.  This is the way the parties prefer it.  They want us thinking with our stomach rather than our brain.  If the only reason we vote for a specific candidate is the way we feel about them (or the other guy) instead of reasoning through the facts about each of their policies, then the campaign managers have earned their paychecks.  They don’t want thoughtful voters, they want panicked lemmings.

They way I hear it, from all media sources, not just the ones labeled as biased, from the messages in campaign ads, from the candidates themselves, from their PACs and Super-PACs, is that I have a choice.  My choice is limited to one disaster or another.  I can choose between two different economic dooms, two different types of destruction, two different kinds of American apocolypse.

Basically, I am getting a turd with a bow on it, but I get to choose the least offending bow.

Is this the kind of way we should be making our decisions?  Do you want the greatest country in the world run by a man placed there because you were scared of the alternative?  I certainly don’t.  I want this country to head in a direction crafted by thoughtful choice instead of fearful negativity.  Emotion is easy, but thinking will yield greater results.

Consider the facts.  Instead of reacting emotionally to a speech, an ad, or the chopped up soundbites loved by the media, do some research.  Cobble together your own realty-based impression of the candidates and the parties and use your brain to decide who you will vote for, not your stomach.  This is the only way to sort through the maelstrom of partial facts and misinformation thrown at us everyday.

Remember that you are an American.  You have your own voice.  You are allowed to be an independent thinker free of social pressures.  Wade past your emotional responses and find the issues important to you, then think about them.

It is this way that we can ensure America’s greatness.  Otherwise, regardless of the man we choose, or the party we put in power, we are guaranteed an America as the result of emotion tugging campaign managers instead of an America built by the thoughtful will of its citizens.