Life as an Extreme Sport

Counting the Coverage: The Daily Show and Dicks*

For the past week plus, there have been rumblings in the blogosphere that Jon Stewart has not done enough to mock, slam, satirize, or otherwise shame New York Rep. Anthony Weiner, and the charge is two-fold: Stewart won’t because Weiner is a Democrat, and Stewart won’t because they were, for a time, college roommates, and have remained friends.

The charge that Stewart isn’t as hard on Democrats largely and unsurprisingly comes from conservative commentators (feel free to read “FOX News and fans” here); Stewart and The Daily Show shot to prominence in a post-9/11 world, and a lot of viewers (and/or detractors) didn’t have the experience of Clinton years for context. And it can be a bit hard to compare administrations against one another – it’s rare that political situations are ever similar enough that an apples to apples comparison can be done. (And this would be one of the reasons you literally get apple to apple comparisons on The Daily Show – it’s easier to show Rand Paul being a hypocrite and why than it is to try to show contrasting clips across different administrations.)

But for good or bad (and/or “reasons I moved out of New York state”), the Weiner “scandal” is something that has an almost direct one-to-one correlation: NY Rep. Chris Lee, Republican, who resigned in February after emails and a shirtless photo were sent to a woman in response to a Craigslist dating advertisement.

Now, clearly these situations are not precisely parallel. While Lee and Weiner are both married men, Weiner (so far) has not been caught trying to lie about his identity or do more than send photos that were in bad (or at least juvenile) taste**. Lee, on the other hand, a self-described “classy guy”, lied about being a divorced lobbyist (and his age and other such things). He was looking for more, and the young lady involved wasn’t interested in liars. A quick Google search confirmed her suspicions; one eMail to Gawker later and Cuomo was holding a special election in Western New York.

So, not identical, but really damn close. Clearly the best thing to do, then, is to directly compare the coverage of these two events on The Daily Show. Now, Lee resigned Wednesday the 9th of February, which I believe was a dark week for The Daily Show. There is, of course, a problem here with a news cycle moving quickly, but surely something of such magnitude would be mentioned, right? After all, it’s a Republican resigning over a sex scandal, and given how “easy” Stewart has been on Weiner this past week and change, it’s inevitable that the Chris Lee resignation would be stretched out over several days.

Or, well. One.

Segment.

On February 15th. That was interrupted by John Oliver’s need to discuss the Harry Baals government center in Indiana. You can view it here.

Note the similarities: jokes about the fitness of the representative, R.Kelly-esque R&B music with Stewart grooving in his chair. There’s even John Oliver involvement. But it was an entire “scandal” covered in approximately 2.5 minutes, highlighting the fact that Lee got lucky – he resigned the same day the Egyptian Revolution started. Lucky guy – the media was largely distracted.

Do I really need to compare the time dedicated to Weiner versus Lee, at this point? No, but I will anyhow.

The “event” begins on the night of May 27th, a Friday. While The Daily Show doesn’t film on Friday, rather coincidentally, they were dark that final week of May, as well. This means a lot of material to come back to on Monday – eerily similar to the Chris Lee scandal. The Daily Show even begins coverage on May 31st, a Tuesday. And this is how it breaks down:
May 3st, Tuesday: 6 minutes, 51 seconds
June 1st, Wednesday: 2 minutes, 59 seconds
June 2nd, Thursday: 4 minutes, 10 seconds, as well as an additional 2 minutes, 57 seconds and 2 minutes, 22 seconds.
June 6th, Monday: 4 minutes, 4 seconds
And for the most recent episode, Tuesday the 7th of June, we have:
5 minutes, 55 seconds
2 minutes, 49 seconds
4 minutes, 46 seconds

And that is not including several Moments of Zen.

Now, math has never been my strong suit, and even less so at nearly 6am. Nonetheless, it would seem that math is rather firmly on the side of “Weiner’s received far more coverage than Lee”, even though Weiner is actually a friend.

Any way you try to slice it, Stewart has given more time and attention and mocking disbelief to his friend than he did a Republican representative in nearly the same situation. 34 more minutes of time, just to be exceedingly precise.

*Metaphorical or otherwise.

**Have you met the internet? Let me introduce you to it, where everyone under the age of 35 has done at least one stupid thing involving it, and many, many people have done many stupid things involving body parts typically best only seen through the haze of beer and dim light.

Attempting Goals – Weekly Schedule

The problem (okay, a problem – there are more than one) with parasthesia is it doesn’t give you much warning. One minute, your hands are working fie, and the next minute you’re marveling at your ability to both save the mug and spill iced coffee in your freezer, down front and back of the fridge door, all over the floor, and of course, all over yourself.

It’s hot, so at least the shower – although sooner than anticipated – was not unexpected.

Anyhow, there was a point there, and I think it went something like this: sometimes, you’re in the middle of living life and something happens to change everything. You either sigh, clean up the mess as best you can, and then go back to living best you can, or you sit in the middle of the kitchen floor and cry over spilled coffee and milk. Both are valid choices, but either way, you have to clean up the spilled coffee and milk.

Which is related, in ways that make sense to me, and might to you if you’ve seen things for a while, to the fact that a writer (and producer – would not want to shirk credits) I quite like and admire, Paula Yoo, happens to be on Twitter; she also blogs. Now, first of all, read her blog – she’s funny, she has adorable cats, and you will learn a lot. But, secondly and more relevant for this post, she just set up a new blog schedule, and I am shamelessly stealing it, with a few modifications. So this will be my schedule, with inspiration from Ms. Yoo:

Music Monday
As I’m making an effort to get back into writing, I’m finding myself listening to music again. Music is really interesting on several fronts, but I’m particularly interested in how we physiologically react to music, from having an influence on energy levels and heart rate to chemical changes within our brain.

Most of the time it’ll probably just be something like “so when I’m polishing an essay, did you know I listen to the Buffy Once More With Feeling soundtrack on repeat?”

Tuna Tuesday!
I have two adorable cats, and if they had their way, I would spend every waking moment worshiping them. While they slept, I would spend all my time explaining to you, via pictures and Venn diagrams, how they are The Best Kitties Ever. As a favour to everyone, I shall try to keep cute cat stories limited to Tuesdays. (Yes, Paula’s doing hers on Thursdays. To my ear, “Tuna Tuesday” is a more pleasant alliterative.)

Writing Wednesday
I’ve gotten extremely off-track with my writing in the past two years – once upon a time I blogged at four different blogs several times a day (you know, in the good old days of being paid to do that kind of thing). A lot of things happened that encouraged me to silence my voice, and I’m trying to find it again. Thoughts on the process on Wednesday. (Or you know, less serious crap and more fun stuff that I’m learning from obsessively studying writers under the Twitter microscope, reading, discussing in the writer’s group I’m a part of, or just general accountability towards my own goals.)

Pop Culture Thursday
Unlike Ms. Yoo, I am not a TV professional. I am, however, a pretty big pop culture geek – and it’s about time I got back into writing like it. My pop culture writing is what got me first noticed in the blogging world lo those many years ago, when I was actually recapping Grey’s Anatomy for the now-defunct Metroblogging Seattle. My irritation at House, MD became a bit legendary.

Foodie Friday
As long-time readers know (if any of you are left), I am a foodie from a family of foodies. I love to eat, I love to cook, I love to read about cooking and recipes and the whole nine yards; I even studied food ethics for a while. I think I follow more writers than chefs on Twitter – but not by much. Friday’s will be for recipes, restaurants, and …I cannot think of another alliterative. I’ll blame the time on that one.

Anyhow, it’s a bit of an ambitious goal to go from essentially not writing for two-plus years to writing daily and blogging at least five days a week – but hey, it’s a goal, and it even feels relatively sane and achievable, so far as goals go. And of course, the best thing is, I can write more if I so desire – it’s just that this makes sure that “less” doesn’t go below a certain number. So, starting Monday the 30th of May, we shall see.

Performance Details & Review – Company

When a performance is an all-star cast, it’s difficult to structure the review. When the performance includes Neil Patrick Harris and Christina Hendricks stripping to their skivvies in a delicious act of “service ALL the fans,” thoughts of a performance review go right out the window, as one is entirely too busy giving thanks. However, one would be remiss to not give it a try, both for posterity – and pity for those unable to witness such an all-star performance, skivvied or otherwise.

For those unfamiliar with Company, it is a non-linear Sondheim story that follows the life of Bobby (Neil Patrick Harris). Bobby is turning 35, and via vignettes unconnected in time and often separated by song, Bobby discusses love, marriage, and living with his friends.
Continue reading

Splice and Slippery Slopes

In the six years since I started taking coursework, TAing, teaching, and eventually working in the field of bioethics, there has been one constant: the slippery slope fallacy will set me off ranting every time. In fact, as a TA and a teacher, it is one of the first things that I discuss in a classroom: why I will not abide slippery slope arguments, and just how sloppy that thinking can be.

So imagine my surprise to see a presentation of the slippery slope argument that not only was not sloppily presented, but was in fact one of the better arguments for it – and in a horror movie no less.

Yes, I saw Splice last weekend, and I was quite taken with the movie as a whole. As most reviews of the actual plot will tell you, the movie went strangely sideways in it’s last 20 minutes, and came to a somewhat more typical horror moving conclusion than the majority of the movie indicated (although in it’s defense, the final scene was quite deliciously back to the sort of psychological/thoughtful horror that most of the movie was).

What is the plot of Splice? Quite simply, that two rockstar molecular geneticists (I know, I know) decided to take their research on splicing critters together to the next level, and they created a human hybrid, a chimera of assorted animals. The result is Dren, a creature that starts off working on pushing every button in neotany-is-cute land before maturing into a startlingly beautiful, exotic adult. Roger Ebert was as taken with the movie as I was, and I recommend his review for a more thorough movie analysis. What I want to discuss here is why, ultimately, this movie presented an almost believable defense of the slippery slope argument.

The main male character, Clive (named in homage of Colin Clive and played with an intensely dark brilliance by Adrien Brody), disagrees with partner (Sarah Polley) Elsa’s desire to forge ahead with their gene splicing experiments to create a human hybrid. He argues that it’s wrong, it’s unethical, and it’s against the law so they could get into a lot of trouble. This is about all the actual dialog of the movie adds to the direct debate of human hybrids – there’s no actual discussion of why it is unethical, only Elsa’s clear ambition to do first what both characters agree will eventually happen somewhere by someone. Elsa supports her decision to create the hybrid by arguing that it could help create a multitude of cures for diseases (via some sort of protein marker, another hand-waved area of the movie), and that she and Clive should do this to do good. Enter Dren.

So far, so good – and pretty standard. It’s later in the movie where the slippery slope comes into play. Clive does something that won’t be specified here due to it’s somewhat spoilery nature, and he and Elsa get into a fight. Utlimately, he tells her that his unethical and immoral behaviour is a direct result of their creating Dren: by creating Dren, they rewrote and removed the rules that they used to govern themselves and their lives, and a world without rules was a crazy and immoral place. (I am, of course, paraphrasing in an effort to at least slightly obscure the plot.)

Now, this is interesting – not the idea that doing one small thing, like creating animal hybrids, will create some big travesty through a slippery slope that you keep sliding down, thinking that “just one more thing” won’t be so bad (after all, the basic premise of the slippery slope argument is that making change A will cause disaster X because it will be easier to take incremental steps to get to disaster X, as we become inured to each change or step). Instead, Clive argues that removing the boundaries that are created by the rules we as civil creatures agree to follow, there is nothing with which to judge right and wrong. In a way, the very idea of the slippery slope is reframed into something that I suspect would be more at home in the world of a virtue ethicist than mine. Can we judge what is right and what is wrong when we blur or erase the boundaries that we set up? How do you tell one or the other when there is no sign post to measure with?

Clive and Elsa step beyond the measuring post that their particular scientific community sets up as a moral guideline and as a way to evaluate and judge behaviour. Once they step beyond this line, they have nothing with which to establish their morals against – they’ve already gone beyond.

Is this the most convincing argument in the world? As briefly and tantalizingly presented as it was in Splice, no. While we might not have visible signposts once we step beyond the last line that should not be crossed (how many more ways can I mix this metaphor?), we still do have memory of what the previous signposts were and what they allowed and banned and why. However, I can just as easily see a movie more dedicated to exploring these issues and how we both establish and maintain our moral identity, offering a convincing argument towards this idea of destroying all the rules and having nothing left to live by. I’d like to see that movie, if only because I think it would create a lot of deep food for thought.

pushpins

There are moments in memory where, when looking back, you see these little pushpins of moments that changed life. Sometimes they’re good moments, and sometimes they’re bad. One of the first of these pushpins in my academic life was a class I took my first quarter at the University of Washington, called Buffy as Archtype: Rethinking Human Nature in the Buffyverse.

I hadn’t wanted to take the class, truth be told. Buffy? Oh, please. (Yes, hold your laughter.) I had no interest in Buffy. Friends who were huge fans had tried to make me watch the show for years at that point, and I humoured them, and would be shown this or that favourite episode, and I would roll my eyes and continue to pass on the whole thing. Because of course, the problem with showing someone your favourite episode is their utter lack of context for why it’s your favourite; to me, it was people I didn’t know behaving senselessly. I had no background, and I really didn’t care.

But the academic adviser for CHID would not be deterred. I needed another class, and she needed a body – especially a body that did know her mythology and her Joseph Campbell. Besides, it was a CHID class, and would let me meet my fellow department-mates, and get to know people. It was sound argument, and I acquiesced. This was probably one of the two best decisions I ever made at UW.

The Buffy class did several things for me. First and most obviously, it introduced me to Buffy and the wider Whedonverse. I used Netflix to rent the series from the beginning, because if there’s one thing I hate, it’s not knowing – and watching just an episode here and there for class wasn’t doing it for me. I had to know the characters, I had to know the back story, I had to know the why’s. And what I discovered was a story of a female hero, friendship, strength, and even the value of weakness and the virtue of relying on your friends – all things I needed just then, as I was going through my divorce. Buffy kept me company at night, after work and schoolwork, and it helped me reshape my world to one where I could be that strong, too.

But the class had another major influence on me: it showed me that critical academic theory in a pop culture framework was possible. I don’t mean those light philosophy books and whatever popular TV show at the moment sort of things, but actual critical theory, Zizek-style (if you will). Perhaps even more importantly, it showed me the power of pop culture in teaching complex theories, something that has gone on to inform the basis of my own pedagogical style. It’s not coincidence or even passing brilliance on my part, that I illustrate my own lectures and courses with clips from The Daily Show, relevant movies, newscasts, and whatever else catches my eye and is appropriate. It is a direct callback to this class, which showed me the power of pop culture to form a concrete basis to then connect more tenuous academic concepts to.

In typical CHID tradition, one of the co-facilitators of the course was another CHID student, Jennifer K. Stuller. Jen was really amazing (and kind of intimidating) from the get-go. She herself was a great model of the sort of funny, warm, brilliant, strong female academic I wanted to be, an embodiment of the strong female hero that she was so fascinated with, and that formed the basis of her CHID thesis. (I would feel tongue-tied and shy around her, although if she ever noticed this, she was kind enough to not say.) It’s also formed the basis of her first book, Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors: Superwomen in Modern Mythology, which is available now, and something I really think everyone should buy. Moreso if you have daughters, because women need strong role models – the fictional ones Jen talks about in her book, and the ones like Jen herself.