You’re probably familiar with the rather over-used cliche of technology-impaired adults being at the mercy of youth. The pre-teen rolling her eyes as she tries to teach her mother to text, the intern showing the executive yet again how to log in to Outlook. Mind you, there are plenty of us who are quite capable of more sophisticated tasks (especially now that we’ve figured out there’s a youTube tutorial on doing just about anything).
But it is generally true that the younger generation is more comfortable with technology – they don’t know a world without portable computers & smart phones. (It’s hysterical watching toddlers treat a television like a mobile device, trying to change channels by swiping their hands across the screen. And while I’m not sure how I feel about all these devices for young kids, boy, do I appreciate those iPads when I’m on a plane with young kids!)
I have learned quite a bit from my sons, whether it’s the proper use of ‘twitter’ vs. ‘tweet’ (one is a noun, one is a verb), or how to reboot our cable/internet connection when it goes down at least once a day. My 17-year-old son runs his own youTube channel and is pretty savvy (he’d seen Gangnam Style before it hit 100,000 views!); when I was wondering whether my own youTube videos were doing well, he kindly reassured me by saying, “Well, Mom, anything over 100 views is viral for old people.”
My boys were the ones who turned me on to “Cards Against Humanity” (an off-color, totally inappropriate and hysterically funny variation on category games like “Apples To Apples”). This self-described ‘party game for horrible people’ was launched via Kickstarter, a crowd-funding platform. Notice, I can now use terms like ‘crowd-funding’ and ‘platform’ and sort of sound like I know what they mean!, but in case you’re wondering, crowd-funding is basically a cross between layaway, Renaissance art patronage, and PBS pledge week. Artists and inventors finance projects by soliciting backers, who pledge varying amounts of money in return for ‘rewards’, varying from a copy of a CD or game to a custom-designed song, video, or food item. And you can find all sorts of projects – indie films, steampunk-themed cupcake sprinkles, graphic novels, medieval guitar music, and more.
I’m jumping in, producing an album of ‘greatest hits’ from my weekly songs, and hoping to prove that people over 30 can play in this new playground too, including those of us who grew up without computers, who remember the first ‘car-phones’ that were the size of suitcases, and who actually know the meaning of an “E ticket’ ride at Disneyland.
So I invite you to try out Kickstarter, or IndieGoGo or other similar sites, to see work by inventive people of all ages. (Or at least by a bunch of youngsters plus one feisty 55-year-old who can’t lie about her age because her kids will rat her out.) The project pitches themselves are often very entertaining, and at least in the case of mine, you can amuse yourself by imagining the double dose of hate mail I’m likely to get from my title.
Check it out here.
The Oscars weren’t even over before the internet was buzzing with critical comments about celebrities’ appearance & wardrobe, and with critical comments about those critical comments. Can’t they just enjoy their intimate little industry awards ceremony (televised to millions and millions of watchers) in peace?
When celebrities and politicians put themselves in the public eye, they’re fair game, since they achieved their status through public attention. I do agree that it’s not nice to hit below the belt (although when Joan Rivers does it, it’s pretty entertaining). But it is perfectly appropriate to criticize public figures for the choices they make, whether it’s to dress like a swan, complete with an egg purse (no one will ever top Bjork’s outfit!), or to disregard the one name you’re supposed to introduce (which has already launched apps that will ‘John Travolta’ your name into something unintelligible).
Likewise, when politicians say or do ridiculous things, it is understandable when we mock them, whether it’s John Oliver’s iconic ‘Carlos Danger’ dance when he was subbing on The Daily Show, or all the humor that was prompted by Sarah Palin’s insistence that she could see Russia from her house. (Although even Ms. Palin could be overshadowed by some neighborhoods – during the ’08 election, I had been a runner-up in a Palin impersonation contest, and thus was invited to come in costume to the Castro, San Francisco’s colorful gay neighborhood, to introduce a local news feature on Halloween. I walked several blocks in a red suit & her signature hairstyle and glasses, carrying a larger-than-lifesized stuffed fake moosehead, and no one even stopped to look at me. But I digress . . . )
So sure, sometimes I feel a twinge of guilt at making fun of politicians in these weekly songs. But hey, I can take it as well as dish it out – I know that by posting my videos on youTube, I will get insulted and called a variety of names (which are usually spelled wrong). And if politicians like Ted Cruz do things like urging their supporters to pray for more anti-gay discrimination laws, or insist that if people listen to Ted Nugent, it’s Obama’s fault, then they can’t expect me to resist material like that!
If you’re as old as I am, or a devotee of topical comedy songs, you might be familiar with Tom Lehrer’s song, “Pollution,” in which tourists were advised, when visiting the US, “don’t drink the water and don’t breathe the air.” Which was making fun of the traditional advice to American tourists visiting other countries, advice which is still given regarding many destinations. (And rightly so in some cases – apparently journalists covering the Winter Olympics in Sochi received notes in their hotel rooms warning them not to drink the tap water or put it on their faces because it ‘contained something bad’ and was a dark yellow color. Some news anchors compared it to the color of beer, although as Jon Stewart pointed it, it looked more like ‘the result of beer.’ But I digress . . . )
No matter what we experience overseas, we expect safe water here in the US, so when it turns into gray sludge (like in North Carolina’s recent coal-ash spill) or smells like licorice (West Virginia’s chemical spill), it attracts quite a bit of attention. We are used to trusting our senses – if it looks or smells funny, we aren’t reassured by public health officials saying the water is fine (just not for pregnant women). Apparently regulations in those areas were so lax, no one had any idea that the pipes or storage tanks were going to fail. Sure, we can have a civilized debate over the best ways to regulate toxic chemical storage – but when several counties in two different states have either gray sludge or licorice water coming out of their faucets, we know something is definitely wrong! So I guess it’s time for a new song about tainted water . . .
When Shirley Temple Black passed away last week, it reminded us how important entertainment had been to American during the Depression. It’s easy to mock statements about that impact – “Gosh, I have no job, no food, and I’m about to get evicted from my tenement, but I don’t care as long as I can watch a curly-haired moppet sing & dance!” – but good songwriting does have the power to connect with our emotions. (Which are not always positive – after my boyfriend dumped me on my 22nd birthday, I wrote a country revenge ballad titled “You Broke My Heart, So Now I Want To Break Your Legs” . . . but I digress.)
There does seem to be a correlation between economic woes and music. The Depression was the heyday of big silly musicals, but it also led to classic songs like “Brother Can You Spare A Dime,” and even the dippy cheerfulness of “We’re In The Money” starts with an incredibly ironic celebration of finding – gasp – a quarter! During the uproar of the 60s, the folk revival turned to protest songs (as embodied by Pete Seeger, another recent loss to the music world). That was also the birth of tongue-in-cheek comedy, including The Smothers Brothers. (If you haven’t heard their rendition of “John Henry” or “Streets of Laredo,” you’re in for a treat!, thanks to youTube.)
So with partisanship and income inequality at all-time highs today, you’d think we’d see yet another form of hard-times-inspired entertainment. Of course, trends are hard to see from within, so it will be a few years before we know whether this era is defined by bubbly escapism (“Gangnam Style,” anyone?), innocuous boy bands like One Direction, or a series of revenge songs penned by Taylor Swift about her various celebrity breakups. However, in the meantime I’ll offer my own contribution to protest songs, 2014-style . . . “The $10.10 Blues.”
My father loved to give advice in pithy brief sound-bites, like “Neither a borrower or a lender be,” “If you break your leg, don’t come running to me,” and “Moderation in all things, including moderation.” One of our favorites was when he helped us do story problems in math, and we could count on him to say RTFQ (for “Read the F-ing Question”). And of course, he frequently admonished us to stick to the facts and refrain from exaggerating, particularly when it came to why we couldn’t help with the dishes (“I have 9 hours of homework!”) or what a fight was about (“she’s been bugging me for 3 days straight!”)
Adults are supposed to be role models for kids, so one would assume that grownups with a public platform would be very careful about exaggerating (particularly since the internet makes it way too easy to blow holes in tall tales). But in the latest media frenzy, another of my dad’s aphorisms would come in handy, which is the PT Barnum quote, “Nobody ever lost a dollar by underestimating the taste of the American public.” That’s right, Fox News has joined in the latest ludicrous attack on Girl Scouts.
In case you missed it, the Girl Scouts national office recently tweeted a link to an article about nominees for Woman Of The Year,” and the long list of accomplished women included Wendy Davis and Kathleen Sibelius. Conservative news-ish site Breitbart seized on the story, which prompted pro-life groups to erupt in outrage, leading Fox News ancor Megyn Kelly to convene a panel on why the Girl Scouts would endorse known abortionist Wendy Davis. Before you could say “Trefoil Shortbread,” conservative organizations had launched “Cookie-cott 2014,” a national boycott based on the idea that cookie sales would fund an evil agenda to turn every girl into a lesbian vegan homicidal atheist.
Okay, I’m exaggerating too – but just a little. (And exaggeration in the service of humor is at least more entertaining!) This tempest in a cookie-box has prompted some ridiculous accusations and hysterical over-reactions, which just make the boycotters look silly. Fortunately the backlash may even increase cookie sales – I know I’m buying a few extra boxes (although I don’t need much excuse – disclaimer, I was a Girl Scout for 5 years and have always struggled with my Thin Mints addiction!)
Sure, I envy rich people – most of us do, if we’re honest. But usually I don’t begrudge them their wealth – I can admire their accomplishments, aspire to be like them, or just enjoy the fact that if it weren’t for rich people giving parties & hiring bands, most musicians I know would be even more under-employed. (What’s the difference between a musician and a savings bond? The savings bond eventually matures and makes money. Cue rim-shot.)
Of course, there have always been those hideous examples of gross over-consumption or bad behavior that can give wealth a bad rap. (You know, the CEOs with gold-plated toilet seats in their private bathrooms, the jewel-encrusted socialite who owes her maid back pay, the wealth congresspeople who vote to pay themselves hundreds of thousands in farm subsidies.) Other rich people can be counted on to put them in their place with a throaty “How vulgar,” like Cyd Charisse’s character’s reaction to seeing a ‘talking picture’ at a party in Singing In The Rain. (I once played at a very expensive country club, where one of the drunken members was trying to make suggestive remarks to me – at least as far as one could understand his slurring. I was trying to put him off politely, not wanting to be rude to a client, but a lovely silver-haired dowager heard him and told him in no uncertain terms to do something anatomically impossible to himself. That’s the kind of rich person I want to be! . . . but I digress)
These days, of course, income inequality is all the rage – probably because income inequality is at levels not seen since the Gilded Age. Naturally, one might expect the very richest people to feel a bit under siege, but they don’t help themselves when they make public comments about unemployment insurance just encouraging people to be lazy, or feeling just like Jews in Nazi Germany. (Note of advice to Tom Perkins – unless you’re Jewish and have relatives who are Holocaust survivors, that is not a very good idea. Nor is it smart to defend your remarks while bragging about a $380,000 watch that is ‘worth a 6-pack of Rolexes.)
But I’m not jealous of Tom Perkins – in fact, I’m grateful to him for inspiring my next song (which is my way of saying to him what that kind dowager said to the boor who was bothering me . . . )
Yes, folks, once again it’s time for a male politician to introduce us to an outlandish character, in the course of either sending indiscreet texts or making tone-deaf remarks about women. And for the record, I am NOT taking Mike Huckabee’s remarks out of context – I know he was saying that he believes Democrats are the ones ‘making women believe they are helpless without Uncle Sugar providing them a prescription for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government.’ You know, because the Democrats’ real war on women is forcing us to make our own decisions and denying us mandatory transvaginal ultrasounds . . . ? (Not to mention an apparently confused idea of exactly what birth control pills do . . . )
At any rate, it was yet another example of why men of either party should stay away from sex – from talking about it, from texting about it, and certainly from making up middle-school-worthy aliases. Fortunately, I was raised by a feminist mother (which had some disadvantages – I was never allowed to have a Barbie because my mom disapproved of the unrealistic body image expectations generated by a doll whose real life measurements would be 39-21-33, who would be 6′ and weigh 100 lbs. . . . . . but I digress). Anyway, as an unpopular late-blooming geeky high school sophomore (whose real life measurements at the time were approximately 24-24-24), I came in for a fair amount of name-calling and teasing. One day I complained to my mother about the football captain in my physics class who constantly leered at me, “Hey, Mayer – your place or mine?” and made his buddies erupt in raucous laughter. (Remember, this was way before anyone had heard of ‘sexual harassment’ – it was only a couple of years after girls were finally allowed to wear pants at my school!) Mom suggested I try joking back (reminding me of the scene in A Tree Grows In Brooklyn where Francie is ostracized by the other girls at her first job until she laughs at something . . . like I said, I was a geek!) So the next day, when he re-used the same joke for the 47th time (and confirmed that he was a jock and no scholar-athlete), I retorted, “How about my place tonight and yours tomorrow, if you’re man enough?” His friends laughed, he turned beet red, and that was the end of the teasing. And I learned a valuable lesson!
In other words, Mike Huckabee just wrote my next song for me . . .
No, this isn’t dating advice (although if the title piqued your interest, at least maybe you’ll read the article . . . much along the same lines as my advice to a friend writing a dissertation she hoped she’d eventually publish as a book, to whom I suggested the title “Heroic Themes In 18th Century French Literature, or Thinner Thighs In Thirty Days.” But I digress . . . )
The Republican Party is trying to reach out to women in order to overcome a growing gender gap. Which is admirable – some of my best friends are Republicans, and they are saddened by their party’s recent tilt to the far right. There are plenty of women who want fiscally conservative candidates but also don’t want the government interfering in reproductive rights, who want small government but also want strong public education and a compassionate safety net, who believe same-sex marriage is not just morally right but pro-business (more weddings!). So they were looking forward to the so-called ‘rebranding’ efforts the GOP leaders have been trumpeting lately.
But apparently that rebranding was simply advising candidates to temper their tone, not to change any policies, where politicians were advised to show women their ‘sensitivity.’ You know, like the experiment my kids devised to see whether our dog responded more to tone of voice or actual words – you could say anything insulting or confusing in a sweet voice and the dog just wagged her taill happily. Not that I am claiming the GOP is treating us like dogs (well, actually I sort of am . . . which reminds me of that climactic argument scene in “When Harry Met Sally,” when Harry compares their differing views of the length of time since their ill-fated tryst to dog years, infuriating Sally who yells, “So which one of us is the dog?”) Republican leaders do seem to think that it’s enough to pat us on the heads and speak soothingly, and we won’t notice that they are continuing to promote the kinds of policies and views that have driven women voters away in droves.
And there seems to be a new plague of ‘Akinitis,’ ridiculous comments by male politicians about women and sex. (Remember “the female body has ways to shut that thing down”?) The latest offenders aren’t even political outliers like Todd Akin – the chair of the House Judiciary Committee has claimed that a bill banning funding for abortion is a ‘jobs creation bill’ because of all the goods & services that will be required for the future unborn children. (None of which the GOP plans to help pay for – to paraphrase Barney Frank, sometimes it feels like the current House believes the value of life begins at conception and ends at birth . . . . ) And there’s a state senator in Virginia who was quoted saying there really wasn’t any such thing as marital rape, since “she’s in a nightie.” (What about those of us who sleep in t-shirts or pj’s – does that exempt us?)
So in the interest of bipartisan cooperation, here’s a little musical advice for the current House leadership in how to appeal to women voters . . .
Just in case you haven’t seen Avenue Q or studied German, Schadenfreude means “enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others,” which makes it sound like sadism or bullying. But combine it with hubris – in case you haven’t studied Greek or read op-ed pieces about Anthony Weiner, hubris is “extreme pride, arrogance and overconfidence.” So when someone displaying great hubris has a spectacular public failure, one could make a pretty good case for ‘justifiable schadenfreude.’
For example, have you ever enjoyed the delicious satisfaction of seeing a driver pulled over for speeding who a few miles earlier cut you off? Or isn’t it fun to hear someone telling a clearly fabricated story get tripped up by a question he or she can’t answer? It’s not that we are relishing the pain of other people, but occasionally it is sure nice to see someone get caught (often referred to as ‘hoisted by one’s own petard,’ which is a Shakespearean phrase meaning lifted by one’s own explosive device, and that makes me seem kind of mean, but ‘getting one’s just deserts’ makes it look like I’ve misspelled a bakery title . . . but I digress).
Anyway, Chris Christie may have had nothing directly to do with ‘Bridge-gate,’ as the flap over the GW Bridge closure has come to be known. And maybe it doesn’t strain credulity that several senior members of his staff planned an enormous revenge plan without consulting or informing him. However, despite his press conference performance as a mild-mannered clueless mayor sad about being lied to and betrayed, he does have a bit of a track record for being vindictive and combative. Plus in the past few months he’d made any number of disparaging, sarcastic remarks about the reporters and state legislators looking into the whole thing. So is it any wonder that plenty of people are taking just a little, teeny tiny bit of joy in his discomfort?
Incidentally, it looked for awhile like Christie had achieved the impossible – creating bipartisan agreement, since both Republicans and Democrats were criticizing him. But apparently most Republicans got the GOP memo on the subject, so they’re now all talking about the left-wing media witch hunt, and why aren’t we as critical of Obama not knowing about the IRS conspiracy to cover-up the security situation in Benghazi to distract from the health care website rollout, or something along those lines.
So now that we’re back to ‘business as usual,’ I’m indulging in comedians’ favorite form of ‘justifiable schadenfreude,’ which is finding comic relief in a politician’s self-imposed difficulties:
We’ve all been guilty of it – the inside-out logic of deliberate self-delusion, to try to convince ourselves of something we really wish were true, such as
- “I’ll get there on time as long as I hit every light and there’s no traffic”
- “I can quit drinking/smoking/bingewatching Downton Abbey whenever I want”
- “If you eat leftover dessert standing up, it doesn’t have any calories”
- “How can global warming be real if it’s snowing?”
So I’d like to give the GOP the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their objection to extending longterm unemployment benefits, spearheaded by Senator Rand Paul. His explanation is one of the all-time classic inside-out rationalizations, “Extending benefits does a disservice to the unemployed.” See, they’d be out looking for a job, even though there are 3 unemployed people for every available job, except that $200 weekly check is making them way too comfy, and so they’ll be grateful for the kick in the pants they need to go out and get a job that doesn’t exist.
And let’s assume their objection is also out of concern for the economy – even though most economists say that every dollar in unemploment benefits adds more than a dollar to the economy (because unemployed people will spend the money on frivolous items like food, housing and utilities), and even though the shutdown last fall cost just about the same as extending benefits would. It’s just that in Rand Paul land, up means down, and numbers work backwards. (Either that, or he’s too busy footnoting every single word he says, so that we mean liberals won’t accuse him of plagiarizing again.)
In that spirit, I’m only likening Paul to a certain Seussian green-skinned character because they’re both so cuddly and cute!