The Garbage (Recycling Bin) of Politics

By Thursday, October 30, 2014 0 6

Two weeks ago, I was doing the usual: indifferently placing large volumes of political ads into the recycling bin.  As I tossed these lovely brochures, I suddenly felt sorry for them.  I thought about all the people that spent time creating them; there were volunteers, meetings, arguments, expense reports.  But here, at what should be the climax of the ads’ purpose, the sole reason for their creation, the targeted voter did not read them.  I barely even glanced at them as I threw them into the recycling.

I walked away but I kept thinking about the ads.  I wondered if I was wrong.  I wondered if they had anything to say.  How can I conclude they are trash if I never read them? A few hours later, when I couldn’t take the curiosity anymore, I went dumpster diving.  I grabbed the ads out of the trash, saving them from futile doom.  I was going to read them, damn it.  All of them.  From that day through Election Day.

This is how I ended up an enormous pile of garbage…

Things They Forgot to Mention, blog, photo, politics

As of today, six days from Election Day, I have received 61 political ads in the mail.  61 in two weeks, which averages out to five per mail day and the vast majority of these are repeats of the same two or three messages.  We still have five mail days to go.  Oh what bounties will my mailman bring?!

Did I read them, you ask? Oh yes, I read them.  I read all over them.  I tried really hard to learn from the ads but what I learned most of all was that my initial conclusion was correct: they should be placed unread into the recycling bin.  I learned that none of the messages are 100% truth.  They are all just weak conclusions drawn from traits/events/statements purposely taken out of context.  I also learned that although there are words, charts, and bolded phrases all over them, the ads are almost entirely empty.  They pretty much say nothing at all.

The campaign strategy is clear (I’m sure there are dissertations written about its effectiveness), and the strategy is quite effective.  Here it is:

Step One:

State your message as often as possible.  Make modest changes to the language so that it appears to be new material.  Say it clearly and say it obsessively, so the reader has no choice but to memorize it.

Step Two:

Martha Stewart it up with shiny paper, fancy font, obscure citations, and reeeeeally stretch the statistics.

Step Three:

The reader will subconsciously commit the ghost of the message to memory.  Once the message is memorized, it will begin to seem like truth to the reader, and then the strategy is complete.

It’s true.  Once you hear something enough, once it’s engrained into your memory, it’s hard not to see it as reality.  Basic human psychology, folks.  They do it because it works.  Still, I find going after our automatic memory response is lazy and unfair; we can’t help but absorb the messages.  After all, we are only cavegirls, grooorgh!

The challenge for campaign strategists is how to capture our highly limited attention spans.  It is precisely our limited attention that is the entire reason for the simplify and robo-repeat strategy.  It makes perfect sense.  I know I’m not the only one that indifferently places the ads into the recycling bin, so they have to somehow get my attention in the few seconds they have with me.  So they use catchy language, quick summaries, and leading images to tell their story in seconds.  There is no other way to reach us.

The leading images are one of my favorite parts of the ads.  Here is a small sample of the alarmist languages and images used:

Things They Forgot to Mention, blog, photo, politics

I particularly enjoy the unflattering photos of opponents, which are usually depictions of them mid-sentence.  I mean, which one of the below photos do you think came from her opponent?
Things They Forgot to Mention, blog, photo, politicsThe message I get is loud and clear: that girl be cray-cray, tryin’ to steal all my money, uh uh.

In general, the ads are incredibly predictable in their storytelling and I find them to be insulting to our intelligence.  I can always guess the moral of the story, which is always: “Candidate X wants to murder your mom and imprison all the kittens!”  The ads also ask a lot of questions with really obvious answers.  For example, I found myself thinking the following:

Sure, I like children being safe.

No, I don’t like giving all my money away.

Yes, I DO like my freedom.

No, I don’t want to ruin all hope for a decent future!

Of COURSE I don’t want ISIS/Ebola making us all die!!

Don’t you DARE question my patriotism! GOD BLESS AH-MERICA!!!!

I think it is how shamelessly full of holes the arguments in the ads are that irked me the most.  They are mostly illogical conditional formulas like, if A is B and B is C, then C is an America hater!  After each ad I thought, “Well, that sounds like a bunch of horsesh*t…”  Not a single one felt genuine.  Not one of the 61 ads gave me a better impression of who the candidate really was or what the proposition really meant.  Each one left me needing to decode the statements on my own time through outside research.

The weird thing is we all know there is no truth in political ads; it is discussed publicly, but still the strategy of robo-repeat continues and we continue to fall for it.  The weirder thing is this strategy only exists because we created it.  Very few of us are actually involved in the political process.  VERY few.  How many of us actually do outside research? How many of us sit down and thoroughly read the pros and cons to propositions? Who among us actually does background research on judges or school superintendents? Go ahead, raise your hands…

The real moral of the story is that we have no one to blame for this garbage strategy but ourselves.  At the end of the day, we created this reality.  We created it by only giving the political process — the privilege of being able to vote — the few seconds between picking up the ads and throwing them away.  I think we’ve forgotten that voting is when we get to influence, it DOES matter.  It should be our most involved part, the most important part, not all our wanking that follows later.  So, as long as we are indifferent to the privilege of voting, those we elect will yell weird, empty stuff at us on their way to the trash (recycling bin).

Things They Forgot to Mention:

As long as we aren’t really interested in elections, we can expect to be given an enormous pile of garbage every other November.  Double entendre intended.

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Eating Cereal Isn’t Hard

By Thursday, October 16, 2014 2 7

I heard a report on NPR that said cereal consumption is on a decline and has been since 1996.  The reason was particularly special: we are eating less cereal because it takes too much time.  Instead we opt for alternatives like fast-food breakfast sandwiches or Go-Gurt® (for when you’re on the go with yogurt, Go-Gurt®!).  Here is a quote from the report I found regrettably true:

This exhausting ritual — pouring cereal into the bowl, pouring milk into the bowl, eating it — takes too much time.

The report goes on to say that since cereal requires using a bowl and a spoon that you have to clean, it has become too much work.  In other words: cereal is too time consuming and we don’t have that time to consume it.  I would guess that eating cereal, including the dish washing, is a five minute task so this means we don’t have those five minutes anymore.  Why not? Where did those five minutes go?

I am guilty of this.  I admit now in front of the world wide web that for years I ate my cereal while driving to work since I did not “have the time” to eat at home.  Yes, I ate cereal while driving a vehicle…on a freeway.  Don’t worry, I drove with my knee so I could eat my cereal while gazing out the window at the Pacific Ocean.  It was a win-win, minus the whole danger thing.

I have been thinking about being busy for a while.  No matter what I’m doing, I’m busy and have been for years.  We all have been.  The default answer to the question: “How are you?” is always: “Well, I’ve been busy…”  That’s what we all say.  Listen for it and you’ll hear it everywhere, you’ll hear it coming from you.  The conversation will go from there, both parties secretly comparing levels of busy.

We are all always busy, but the question I ask is: why are we so busy? Why is that our preferred mode? Why do we work so hard to keep it that way? Why do we think running from place to place without time to eat cereal means that we’ve made it?

In U.S. culture, being busy is something to be proud of, a symbol of success.  If you aren’t busy you aren’t accomplishing.  So we rush through our lives and abbreviate everything, even our experiences, into soundbites.  We don’t linger anymore, we don’t savor.  Our lives become as peripheral as a status post, outlines of real experience.  But we can point to it, check it off of a list, and therefore we think it counts.

I watched a TED Talk by Carl Honoré discussing the glorification of busy and he struck a chord by saying:

Slow is a dirty word.  It’s a word for lazy, slacker, for being somebody who gives up.

He’s right.  If someone, when asked “how are you?”, actually said they hadn’t been up to much, had free time, and sat on grassy knolls a lot, that wouldn’t go over well.  That person would be seen as wasting their time and ultimately their life.  Multi-tasking, resume building, a full calendar; that makes a well-lived life.

Honoré thinks our obsession with busy lies in how our culture defines time as “a finite resource…always draining away, you either use it or lose it.”  If we have that outlook on time, it makes sense that we race against something that is disappearing on us.  Every minute is one and done, so we cram in as much as we can and call it carpe diem.

I argue we stop carpe-ing that diem, at least in the way we carpe today.  I argue we do things that can’t be summed up because the entirety of sitting on a grassy knoll can’t be a soundbite.  Unless you manage to phrase it how they did in this hilarious/super deep moment from the movie, I ♥ Huckabees:

Doing nothing can mean doing everything.  How very New Age of me.

I think if we daydream, if we do nothing, if we do whatever makes our minds quiet, then we can really live our lives.  In a study on the resting brain, neuroscientists found “when we are resting, the brain is anything but idle and…downtime is essential to mental processes that affirm our identities, develop our understanding of human behavior and instill a code of ethics.”  Take that to your boss when you request a vacation.

Obviously there is a line between being slow and being lazy, but I’m not talking about lazy.  I’m talking about the opposite of lazy.  I think wasting time can be described as going through your day without being fully aware of what is happening around and in you.  Your time is wasted by focusing only on to-do lists and juggling acts, forgetting that it’s a beautiful day and it’s beautiful you’re even alive.  The fact is if we don’t have time for something, it means we value other things more than it.  I think about that in my life, the things I choose to not do and what I replace them with.  I wonder if the tradeoff is worth it…

I’m thinking about giving up being busy.  I could find a different answer to the question: “How are you?”  I want to describe my life with more detail.  I also want to live with more detail.  I want to highlight things other than how busy I am because that doesn’t describe me.  I’m going to sit on a grassy knoll, eat a bowl of cereal, and tell you all about it.

Things They Forgot to Mention, blog, photo, grassy knoll


Things They Forgot to Mention:

Being busy doesn’t necessarily mean I’ve carpe-d my diem.  Something as simple as having time for cereal can carpe much better.

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Saran Wrap Sucks

By Thursday, October 9, 2014 5 7

I am not good with saran wrap.  I know I’m supposed to capitalize saran wrap, but I do not care to give it the respect of a proper noun.  There is nothing proper about it.  I also know that I should call it by the generic phrase “plastic wrap”, but I just can’t.  It is saran wrap to me and saran wrap sucks.  I can’t control it, I don’t understand it, and I don’t trust it.  How can I control something I can’t see?!  Nope, saran wrap is no good.

Cutting it is a challenge for me.  One section always refuses to sever and instead stretches, resulting in an irritating salt water taffy scenario.  I know about applying pressure while cutting. I know about the nifty side tab thing that is supposed to facilitate in the roll out. I know all the tricks, and yet cutting saran wrap continues to suck for me.

When I do manage to cut a piece, the situation unravels from there.  The saran wrap will fold in on itself, most likely as a means of self-defense, making it impossible to recreate a flat and useful structure.  Or worse, the saran wrap starts to attack.  It wraps itself around my hand like a boa constrictor, cutting off air and rendering my fingers inoperable.  I end up balling up my failure in a tantrum and starting over.

A few months ago, I started taking pictures of my ongoing war and here is a sampling of my strife:

Things They Forgot to Mention, blog, photo, saran wrap

Things They Forgot to Mention:

I may win the battle, but saran wrap always wins the war.

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