Can a corporation be insane?

nbc-broken-peacock“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
– Albert Einstein

Like any kid growing up in the Midwest, I had big dreams. And while my brother had dreams of being a cop or a stuntman or hockey player, I always knew I wanted to be something different. Something BIGGER. In no particular order I wanted to be:

  • A rock star (I always had the temperament just lacked the discipline to develop a skill)
  • An actor (After seeing Henry Winkler in Heroes, I was sold)
  • A writer (Reading John Steinbeck’s The Pearl and John Irving’s The Hotel New Hampshire changed my life…what does that say about me)
  • An A&R guy for Columbia or Atlantic Records or Warner Brothers (John Hammond was a hero)
  • For a brief period, a corporate executive (Until I discovered weed and realized I lacked the pedigree, and grades, to get into an Ivy League school)
  • A film editor (I would argue a good editor is more important than a good director)
  • An NBC employee (Two generations of kids were raised on NBC programming)
  • A restaurateur

I knew I couldn’t do all those things, but I knew one place I could potentially do all those things, New York City.  NYC is known for housing many industries, legal and not, and three of the larger legal employment arena’s are Finance, Restaurants and Media. About ten years ago, I moved here with two duffel bags of clothes, one suit and about 500 dollars. It sounds like a cliche’ but it’s the truth. Within two weeks I had landed a temp job at a company called Georgeson Shareholder working in one of the most arcane subdivisions of financial services (proxy solicitation) that it hardly bears defining. That temp job led to permanent employment as an Account Manager there doing a job I simply could not wrap my head around.

Eventually, my misery led to ultimate frustration so I simply quit. I quit without having another job prospect but knowing I could fall back on my skills as a waiter or bartender in the short term. Two days later I landed a job at a place called Tupelo Grill, located right across from Madison Square Garden. Of all the restaurant jobs in my day, this one was the best. Only open Monday through Friday and as long as there was something going on at the Garden, you made amazing money and you were done by 10pm. As far as a stop gap job goes, there was none better.  Two years in NYC and I had already conquered two of the three industries it is known for, Financial Services and Restaurants. I set my sights on Media.

As luck would have it, just as I was getting bored with Tupelo Grill, an old friend asked me if I wanted to work at NBC. He didn’t glorify the position at all and told me straight up what it was. It didn’t matter to me; I had always wanted to work at NBC and figured I could springboard from whatever department it was. I knew all I needed was access and then my insane talents would take me to where I wanted to be. I immediately began planning my career trajectory and jumped at the chance for the job at NBC, in the ass end of television.

When I was hired, their prime time dominance was slipping and my goal was to get to the Programming Department, either here in NYC or in LA, I didn’t care. They needed fresh blood, they needed creativity, and they needed ME! Luckily for them, they already had the chrome dome midget mind of Jeff Zucker who promptly fired programming head Kevin Riley to make room for, not me but, the silver spooned idiot child Ben Silverman. And thus began a complete and total dismantling of what was once a creative and ratings juggernaut.

Zucker and Silverman spearheaded the NBC descent into the cellar of television ratings and programming that remains unparalleled in television history. An accomplishment…of sorts. I would argue that these two knuckleheads were dyslexic because they seemed to have reversed the idea of “shoot for the stars” and as opposed to going UP in the sky with good programming they were going DOWN towards the earth’s core with shitty programming. In any other industry, a performance as disastrous as Zucker’s would have been met with almost immediate termination and yet somehow he remained through the Comcast acquisition. My suspicious mind tells me that Zucker held onto his job because he had pictures of either Jeff Immelt and/or Bob Wright with a pre-op tranny in Bangkok. I can’t prove that…yet.

So Comcast acquired NBCUniversal and the best part about that was the spin. They tried to pitch it as a “merger”. Now I didn’t go to an Ivy League school like the upper echelon of GE, Comcast and NBC, but it seems to me when a company purchases 51% of a company, that is an acquisition and not a merger, but what do I know? Comcast has since purchased the remaining 49% so it would seem to be a acquisition now.

Not surprisingly, after an acquimerger of this size comes a changing of the guard. And new head honcho Steve Burke grabbed the bull by the horns and did his best to instill confidence among the rank and file, like me. He assured all of us that he would make the right moves to restore NBC’s luster, to create shows and products across all networks we could all be proud of and believe in. He didn’t mince words, he said it would take time and money and he seemed ready and willing to make the tough decisions. And for about ten months he did all of that and came to define leadership. He cleaned the executive suites and replaced them with either people loyal to him or, seemingly, competent people. Perhaps the smartest thing Burke did was push out Zucker and his minions (Silverman had already been neutered and replaced with talented but rendered impotent Jeff Gaspin). While Gaspin and Silverman held the title, it was no secret that Zucker drove the bus. Burke didn’t then, and doesn’t now, appear to suffer from the same degree of narcissism or micro-management as Jeff Zucker, which points to his leadership.

Once the Zucker mess had been sorted out, Burke brought in former Fox and Showtime head Robert Greenblatt to replace Jeff Gaspin and head up what had become the very definition of epically inept, the NBC Programming Department. Greenblatt was an interesting choice because he has a mix of programming moxy which includes both shite and blue chip television work (Melrose Place, The X-Files at Fox and Weeds and Dexter while at Showtime), a successful run on Broadway as a producer (9 to 5) and a seemingly solid commitment to return NBC to dominance. By all accounts across the board, a solid, if interesting, choice.

To date, dominance has not been any part of the NBC brand. If you follow these things, you’ve been left scratching your head wondering what the hell is going on here. Trust me, we all are. Seriously. Sure, last fall we did well. For some retarded reason people watch The Voice and we had Sunday Night Football, so that makes sense. But the scripted shows were, and continue to be, simply awful. Animal Practice, 1600 Penn, Do No Harm, the continued spiral of Smash, the failed Dane Cook comedy and honestly, the list is too long to mention.

If you think about it, Greenblatt and Silverman (Gaspin didn’t really do anything) have proven only moderately more successful than me, and I haven’t programmed ANYTHING!

Is Must See TV dead? Yep. It should be. What NBC should do is hold a funeral for it, bury it so we can all move past it. I’m not kidding either. Create a spectacular show where all the stars gather together and have a New Orleans style funeral for Must See TV. If we were to do this, we could let that era go and so could the critics and the public, instead of holding out hope that NBC can regain those years and those programs. It’s time to properly celebrate their existence and MOVE FORWARD. And what better way to do that then to celebrate the Must See TV life?

I still believe in NBC and while I have a modicum of pride about working here, it is rapidly disappearing. However, I don’t feel that hitting the panic switch and doing a corporate shuffle is the right thing. People want to see stability and if you keep replacing the head of programming, no clear network vision will ever be defined. And while the other networks may think Greenblatt is the anti-Christ because he came from cable, he’s not. He understands vision and diversity but for some reason, he’s not sticking with it. My guess is he is too accommodating coupled with the heavy influence of Creative Corporatism.

Some thoughts:

  • Getting rid of Jay Leno is a no brainer and having Jimmy Fallon replace him is also a no brainer, but not now. Leno has to go but the mishandling of this is just imbecilic.
  • Yes, Matt Lauer has to go. Sorry Matt, your number is up. People fear change but you can’t let fear dictate any progress.
  • NBC Spin department, stop the bullshit, OK? Even a six year old knows moving “Smash” to Saturday is NOT a strategic move but really a move towards extinction.
  • Create shows with a defined arc. No need for a show to run 8 seasons if it doesn’t NEED to.
  • NBC Programming, take chances. “Hannibal”, really? Come on. Stop dumbing down the shows. The public can take some intelligence.
  • Writers and show runners are not brands, they are creative people. Diversify your creative pool for God’s sake. And if you feel you already do, do it MORE!
  • Stop relying on the same agents and managers for pitches and shows. There is a SHIT TON of creativity out there for you to harness. Go with your gut. Fight for vision.

Sure, I’ve accomplished one of my childhood goals by getting a job at NBC, albeit at the ass end, and even with my rapidly disappearing pride, I hold out hope. I hold out hope that NBC can do better and hold out hope we will be able to show that. But the way forward is not constantly looking in the rear view mirror.

I don’t pretend to know the intricacies of programming because, well, I don’t work there…yet. And as I write this thinking back to when I was hired it’s funny because even after all these years, NBC still needs fresh blood, they still need creativity, and they still need ME…but my gut tells me they think they have all the answers already.

If corporations are, by law, people, then NBC is surely insane.

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Zero Dark Thirty

ohb-lobby-cia-memorial-wall-219

Good art has the ability to transcend beliefs and capture emotions. Once in a lifetime a work of art comes along and is able to do just that as well as define a moment in time. Zero Dark Thirty is such a movie. Now, I won’t extol the virtues of this movie because this isn’t a movie review. But I will say:

  • This is the best movie of the year. Make no mistake. I don’t suspect it will be recognized as such because it is too politically charged.
  • How Jason Clark got overlooked for an Oscar nomination is a sin. I suspect this had more to do with the actions of the character more than the performance. Rest assured, this is a performance people will pick apart for years.
  • Anyone kicking up dirt about the torture scenes would be missing the point. It’s a dramatic device used to move the story forward and convey the screenwriter and directors personal philosophy. In other words, it’s art. Did those things take place? Yep. No one denies that. Are the scenes an accurate description? It’s not relevant, it’s a movie.
  • It tells the story we need to hear as Americans. Is it 100% factual? No, it’s a movie. Are there elements of truth? Yes.
  • If you don’t see this movie, you are missing a defining work of art with every artist involved operating at the top of their game.
  • Art should connect with you emotionally and personally and this movie does both.

There is a scene in the movie where the Jennifer Ehle character of Jessica goes to Camp Chapman, a key CIA facility in Afghanistan, to interview a high ranking Al-Qaeda operative in the hopes of getting him to flip and give up Osama Bin Laden.  The scene ends with an explosion. That happened.

On December 30, 2009 seven CIA operatives were killed at Camp Chapman in Afghanistan when a man, who was considered trusted enough by base security not to be searched on arrival at the gate, detonated a suicide bomb in the camp. Some of the names of those killed are:

Elizabeth Hanson
Harold Brown
Scott Roberson
Jeremy Wise
Dane Paresi

Harold Brown hired me in January of 2001 to work for a company called Shareholder.com. At the time I lived in San Francisco and the company was headquartered in Maynard, MA. After a couple of phone interviews and an interview with the San Francisco office Sales Manager, Harold made me a job offer. I accepted.

I flew into Providence, Rhode Island on a Sunday night to begin three weeks of training at the Maynard, MA headquarters.

Over the next three weeks in Maynard and one week in San Francisco, I got to know Harold Brown pretty well. Some of the things I remember about Harold were:

  • He loved country music.
  • His passionate explanation to me of the importance of Dale Earnhardt and why he mattered in NASCAR (and his ability to laugh at my “Isn’t NASCAR just rednecks turning left?” joke)
  • Harold was honest and a genuine God rearing republican.
  • He was a married father of three who loved his family as much as he loved his God and country.
  • Harold was fearless and a natural born leader.
  • He was a man who had faults and was neither ashamed to acknowledge them or embarrassed by them.
  • Harold was always willing to actively listen and engage in a dialog even if his mind was made up.
  • He had a terrific sense of humor and a laugh that was loud and infectious.
  • Harold loved structure.

Easily my favorite personal moment with Harold involved us driving to meet my San Francisco counterpart when she flew out to Maynard one week after I did. He picked me up at the hotel and we immediately got to talking about music. At the time there was a bunch of hubbub about Marilyn Manson being a devil worshiper or something inane like that. Before we got too involved, I had to stop this, so I said “Harold, you and everyone who talks about Marilyn Manson is missing the point. It’s bad music. Done. That is it, nothing more than that. It is musically, artistically and culturally insignificant. It simply doesn’t matter and the more you talk about it, the more credence you give it.”

He thought about it and started again and I interrupted him, “Stop it. It doesn’t matter. There is no value in discussing it. If you simply ignore him and the music, it will end up where it belongs. Nowhere.”

We sat in silence for a minute before he started again. And once again I interrupted him, “Harold, seriously, stop. Wait a minute, do you like the song?” The Harold Brown smile I had come to know over the  past week crept up on his face. I laughed and said “So like it, who cares? It’s a song not a belief system.” But we were apparently not done with our discussion.

Harold shuffled around looking for the song again (seriously, I have no idea what it was) so he could explain what he liked about that damn Marilyn Manson song. He eventually found it and we went back and forth. Harold had an uncanny ability to get me to see and appreciate his perspective, even if I disagreed. On that trip to the airport, I learned a lot about Harold. What resonated the most was his passion and just how genuine and real he was. Not one ounce of pretense. Harold and I were different, wildly different, but I know that didn’t lessen any of the respect or like he had for me or I for him.

About six months after I had started Harold left Shareholder.com to go do something with the National Guard and what it was escapes me but I do recall him wrestling with his decision. About six months after that, I left and moved to Los Angeles. Over the years, I would think of Harold and wonder what path he took, especially after 9/11. I found out in late December 2010 when I did a Google search and discovered he was killed the year before in the Camp Chapman attack. On that day, while I did not know the other six, I can say with complete certainty, we lost one of the good ones.

Did Harold Brown do or participate in things I may find questionable? More than likely. But I feel a little better knowing that he was one of the guys doing them.

I’m learning that if you live long enough, history begins to impact you. For me, the goal should be to impact history.
Harold Brown impacted history.

1600 Penn

1600-penn-3

Quality is not an act, it is a habit.
–  Aristotle

If quality is a habit, “1600 Penn” shows us that NBC seems to have considered quality a bad habit. The stinking pile of dung that was tossed onto the masses last week with “1600 Penn” proves NBC has either renounced quality entirely or is hell bent on destroying the very idea all together. “1600 Penn” is so staggeringly bad it makes “The Big Bang Theory” seem like sitcom Tolstoy. I sat through 44 minutes of the most mind numbingly inane television I have seen in years and watching two complete episodes of this show makes me think it could replace water-boarding as a coercive interrogation device.

Bill Pullman plays Dale Gilchrest, a father of four children who also happens to be President of the United States. Scientologist Jenna Elfman plays the first lady, Book of Mormon alumni, and co-creator of the show, Josh Gad plays buffoonish first son Skip. Skip comes across as the retarded red headed step child of Chris Farley’s “Tommy Boy”, sans the charm and affability of Farley. Martha MacIsaac plays bookish first daughter Becca and the rest of the cast is rounded out by a hackneyed version of a sitcom family and seemingly competent side players. This show is so bad that it is almost as though the dark lord himself, Satan, pitched this idea in an attempt to further push the population down the rabbit hole of mediocrity.

The first two episodes revolve around the bookish Becca telling her father that she has become pregnant after a reckless one night stand. Hilarity does not ensue. In all fairness, this is a pretty solid premise for comedy and in more skillful hands, it may have even been funny. In “1600 Penn” it’s just formulaic tripe. To describe those scenes in any way would take me back to a place I am incapable of going, just trust me, they’re awful. However, the scenes between Pullman and MacIsaac are engaging; in fact, those scenes are the only good thing about the show. Sadly, that accounts for maybe 90 seconds of 44 minutes over the two episodes. The remaining 42 minutes and 30 seconds are filled with pedantic writing and performing, with Josh Gad’s Skip leading the idiot brigade.

It would be easy to blame the three creators, Josh Gad, Jason Winer and Jon Lovett, for this show. But this show is so dreadful that to hold only three people accountable would be intellectually impossible. The lions share of shit heaved onto, into and around this show has got to come from NBC programming “notes”. If history is any indication, this degree of banality has NBC programming octopus prints all over it.  So, the plausibility that three seemingly talented people could be solely responsible for such simplistic dreck is beyond any scope of comprehension. Now that doesn’t excuse the creators because, in the final analysis, the decision to say “no” or “We’re not doing that” rests with them and in failing to exercise that, that makes them ultimately responsible.

I recently wrote about something I call Creative Corporatism and “1600 Penn” serves as a text book example of this idea. As the name implies, it is the concept of Corporatism directing creativity. Hollywood, and television in particular, has a long history of meddling with shows to “make them better” and sometimes it works, like when the note was given to add a female character to “The Seinfeld Chronicles’”. But when those notes fail or seem to serve any purpose, as they seem to have here, well, then it just becomes a shit show. Literally. Corporate shills have one responsibility, nay two, and those are to serve the shareholder and to keep their job; they don’t have a responsibility to create formidable and compelling television. Sure, we all want that, but sadly, I am not convinced they do.

Maybe I am wrong about “1600 Penn” and it will turn out to be a huge hit. I don’t know, but based on the 44 minutes I saw, “1600 Penn” is a giant turd on the face of American television and should be cancelled post haste.

Music Industry’s Obi Wan Kenobi

obie

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I love music. Today’s commute consisted of Gordon Lightfoot and mid 80’s LA rockers Broken Homes, how’s that for a blend? For me, music has provided me with more than a soundtrack to my life, it’s given me almost as much joy as a kiss from a puppy (good God, did I really just write that?). It is one of the more powerful mediums of artistic expression because of its’ capacity to reach and impact so many…when done well.

Excluding my personal feelings on the state of music today, the business that surrounds it has been in a tailspin down a rabbit hole for about 14 years now. More alarming to me is the bevy of young and developing artists who still feel that being on a major label is the crown jewel. It’s a level playing field for the majority of artists these days, especially musicians. If you fancy yourself a musician, an insider, a music “biz” professional(?) or just a fan and you are not reading Bob Lefsetz, you are doing your self a grave disservice. Come to think of it, if you are in any sort of creative pursuit, you should be reading Lefsetz because you can extrapolate some serious jedi advice (and opinions) from The Lefsetz Letter.

Here are some recent highlights from my personal creative Obi Wan Kenobi:

Network news was killed by cable news which was killed by the Net. People want the latest on demand. And you’re dropping an album every year or so? And the radio is eking out the music track by track, if you’re lucky? In today’s world you want to be in the public eye constantly. I’m not saying you should make less music, just that you shouldn’t see it as an album.
http://tinyurl.com/3wtry4

From radio to newspapers to movies it’s old world thinking, a circle jerk trying to perpetuate something that’s dead. The sooner old media dies, the clearer the landscape will be. Radio is not coming back. Newspapers will not survive in print, and most won’t survive at all. And while we’re at it, CDs are history and physical books are goners. The fact that something still exists does not mean it isn’t over. If you’re discussing piracy, the death of the CD, singles and streaming, you’re wasting your breath. The modern music world is not like Congress, there’s no consensus amongst an elite. Instead modernity is an endless rushing river controlled by nobody. If you’re doubling down on old media, you’re probably investing in the PC business and feature phones.
http://tinyurl.com/a6c8cmd

So if you think lining up trophies, diplomas from the best schools and your parents’ network of friends, is the key to success, you’re sorely mistaken.
It all comes down to you.
http://tinyurl.com/98abq6j

And know that if you’re down the food chain you’ve got to earn entrance. Knocking on the door is not enough, it’s closed to you. How can you open it? If you think persistence is the key, you’re reading too many self-help books. What do you have that the person above you needs? A record exec is only interested in your music if it can make him money. Instantly. If it can’t, if you just want kudos and encouragement, stay away. Money is always a good entrance point. But few have it. You’ve got to find your entrance point.
http://tinyurl.com/a9385pn

There’s great music today, there is in every period, but why were the sixties and seventies such a fertile era, why did we get not only the Beatles and the Stones, but the entire British Invasion, the San Francisco Sound and the great acts of FM radio?
http://tinyurl.com/burwk2n

Lay it out there. Then not only is it behind you, you garner respect from those who care, for being forthcoming, for being honest.
Dishonesty is for politicians. But dishonesty has crept into not only the musicians, but the music itself. The biggest records of all time have been honest, whether it be “Jagged Little Pill” or any random Eminem album.
http://tinyurl.com/aclj6uh

Everybody can play the lottery, but almost no one wins.
Almost no one wins making music. The odds are incredibly long. And if you think luck is key, you’re never going to win. You make your own luck. Through hard work!
So good luck.
Know that no one wants to hear your music other than you and your relatives. It’s ultimately got to be so good that people find you, as opposed to the opposite. Are you really that good?
http://tinyurl.com/a8a2u2l

There is some tough love in there, but make no mistake, it is love. Bob Lefsetz paid his dues working in the industry, so he’s not some flunky banging out an opinion in his parents basement. And he’s not always right. And you won’t always like it. It’s just his opinion. Depending on your age, you may agree more often than not. And if you don’t like what he has to say, let him know. I can assure you he reads every email, he won’t necessarily reply, but he will read it. He reads all his emails and the emails he posts is like a who’s who of music industry professionals (Seymour Stein, Irving Azoff, Jimmy Iovine, etc).

All of this may seem like a Lefsetz love letter, I can assure you its not. OK, maybe a little cuz I made the Obi Wan Kenobi reference (and I don’t even give a shit about “Star Wars”) but I don’t know the guy and gain nothing by helping get his message out. I’m just spreading the word because I continue to be amazed by people that I meet, both in the business and musicians, who have no idea who he is and that, to me, is unacceptable. I have yet to find someone writing as honestly about this stuff as he does. And honesty means something these days.

And for the love of God, don’t send him your stuff.
Cheers!
Keith

BOB LEFSETZ

Jakarta is Coming

Kill_Your_TV_by_HandsettBattery“So, if consumers are like roaches, then marketers must forever be dreaming up new concoctions for industrial-strength Raid.”
Naomi Klein

BRIEF HISTORY
You may be asking what does “Jakarta is Coming” mean. Well, here is the Coors Lite history. Prior to the the military coup in Chile in the early 1970’s, this phrase started being posted around Santiago, Chile. The message was meant to alert Chileans that something akin to the coup that took place a few years before in Indonesia was working its way, via multinational corporations and the CIA, to Chile. On September 11, 1973 the government of the democratically elected socialist Salvador Allende was overthrown by a military junta led by General Augusto Pinochet. What followed was an economic full nelson, led by Milton Friedman, which gave corporations operating in Chile huge profits and led to a societal bloodbath, sanctioned by the CIA.

CORPORATISM
Corporatism, or corporativism, has more than one meaning. It may refer to political, or social organization that involves association of the people of society into corporate groups, such as agricultural, business, ethnic, labour, military, patronage, or scientific affiliations, on the basis of common interests. (1)

We all know that here in the United States, the majority of all media, excluding terrestrial and satellite radio, is controlled by six companies: Time Warner, Walt Disney, Viacom, News Corporation, CBS (Spun off from Viacom) and NBCUniversal (Part of Comcast). (2) Taking that into consideration, the majority of mass media available for consumption here in the United States is provided by six huge corporations.

As recently as 1983, more than 50 corporations controlled the vast majority of media disseminated in the United States. In 1996, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was signed into law by then President Bill Clinton. The first comprehensive overhaul to the Telecommunications Act in over sixty years and containing the contentious Title 3, which allowed for media cross ownership. (3) Building off that, and in keeping with the shroud of secrecy for which the George W. Bush era is known, in 2003 the FCC under Michael Powell set about to re-evaluate media ownership rules. I know this shit is boring, almost done. And in June of that year, the FCC voted 3-2 and  “approved new media ownership laws that removed many of the restrictions previously imposed to limit ownership of media within a local area. The changes were not, as is customarily done, made available to the public for a comment period.” (4) Upon appeal, it was overturned by the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (the Supreme Court turned down an appeal by the FCC). In 2007, under Chairman Kevin Martin, the FCC relaxed some media ownership rules.

CREATIVE CORPORATISM
Creative Corporatism takes the core of corporatism, an “association of the people of society into corporate groups…on the basis of common interests.”(1) in this case of media, profit and influence. Creative Corporatism is the idea that creative and news outlets are being manipulated and cajoled by the interests and agenda’s of the corporations.

Now, more than at any time in media history, almost whatever you consume through whatever vehicle you choose is controlled by one of the “big six”. And what actually makes it to air or to press is being controlled by a group of people that, combined, is probably less than a few hundred. This includes your news directors, your newspaper editors, your web content folks, your television and film development and programming decision makers.

Network television still serves as the benchmark of media and has all but abandoned its educational, creative or societal responsibility. The network news programs do virtually everything they can to package important news into their allotted format and ideology, typically less than a couple minutes and it usually leans either hard right or hard left. The scripted shows networks continue to push on us are, for the most part, so bad and unimaginative that I am not even sure a word has been created yet to describe it.

Unscripted programming, also known as reality television, is…is…ya know, I’m at a loss to describe it. When Pete Rose gets a reality show (on TLC, The Learning Channel) and the news that Kim Kardashian is pregnant with Kanye West’s child trumps coverage on the pending “fiscal cliff” one really has to wonder not only where programming people have their heads placed but also where we as a culture have our heads. “At the end of the day, corporations exist to make money”(5) and I guess that explains the proliferation of mind numbing unscripted shows like the Pete Rose show or the endless supply of those damn Kardashians. These shows are cheap to produce and should one become successful, it means black ink on the bottom line. Corporate profitability and innocuousness are more of a programming green-light than actual creativity.

Look, I am not some hoity toity pretentious person who ignores television or watches only “off the grid” programming. I like my share of crap. I’m a sucker for ID Discovery, I have an unparallelled affection for re-enactment actors, one of my favorite movies is “Airplane” but I have to wonder if a comprehensive unscripted show (re: boring) like PBS’ An American Family from 1973 or a movie like “Network” would be produced today. There is a place for crap on television and it should be there but one has to wonder what is going on and when will it stop.

Historically speaking, Hollywood isn’t known for breaking new ground or being a MENSA think tank. I get it. But when news programming is so shallow it is akin to the reporting found in Highlights Magazine or a sitcom narrative and its corresponding punchlines are even more banal and predictable than is typical of the genre and a studios movie release schedule is either a re-boot of already mediocre material or a comic book, you have to wonder what’s going on. “When you control what Americans watch, hear and read you gain a great deal of control over what they think.  They don’t call it ‘programming’ for nothing.”(2)

Corporatism has been reaching its tentacles into the creative sphere for years now through a number of avenues such as MBA’s, network and studio acquisitions, product placement and placing a tighter control on costs. In and of themselves, these are not necessarily bad things. What makes them awful is that along with them comes a bevy of voices that aim to influence, control and ultimately crush creativity, which is Creative Corporatism. Now, I’m not trying to expound some far left or Marxist idea that in order to be creative, you must be true to your art and ignore any and all outside influence. Personally, I don’t believe that. I believe there should always be room for a discussion and for compromise, especially if your goal as an artist or creator is to be heard or seen. But when the ideas and principles of the corporation influence, determine and drive the content of our media, all of our media, that is Creative Corporatism. And that is wrong.

Jakarta isn’t coming, it’s here.

I have deliberately left out new media and most cable outlets, which I believe offer better alternatives across the board, but sadly, everyone still looks to the big networks for guidance. Both the Internet and cable television offer some truly fascinating and original voices in creativity. But for how long? Most cable outlets are owned by the big six and the Internet…well, as Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Comcast and Microsoft continue to reach their tentacles further and further into the web, it’s simply a matter of time before there will be six companies c0ntrolling what we view on the web too.

Sources
1 – http://tinyurl.com/6zg48
2 – http://tinyurl.com/369zr6
3 – http://tinyurl.com/a4ocm4n
4- http://tinyurl.com/cl8h7e7
5 – http://tinyurl.com/9j3f54e

I lived in a town called Newtown. Connecticut.

no-words

“The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.”
-Thomas Merton

First things first, there are no words. There is simply nothing that can begin to describe the horror that took place yesterday at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. My love, thoughts and prayers are with every person impacted. Which is to say my love, thoughts and prayers are with every single human being because, from where I sit, if you can’t feel the pain of this you’re simply not human.

I, along with probably 97% of the blogosphere, am going to now try and attempt to write about the tragedy that took place yesterday in Connecticut.

In a past life, I had spent the better part of ten years living in and around Newtown. I know the area. I used to know the people and I doubt they have changed too much. So, the newscasters and press people who describe it as bucolic are correct. Trust me, it is rare day that I find myself completely agreeing with anyone in mass media.

You don’t know this because you are reading it but I’ve just spent the past ten minutes starring at this blank sheet trying to describe Newtown…and I can’t. Right now the only thing I can think about are things I would rather not think about. My memories of Newtown are simply shattered and my feelings are off center. I remain hopeful that my memories will return and my fondness for that area will be even stronger as I know I will be blessed watching the residents of Newtown, and the surrounding towns, come together and show the rest of the world that, over time, love and a true sense of brotherhood and community can heal even the most inexplicable horror.

There have been a handful of things that have happened in my lifetime that have had a profound impact on me and it pains me to add this one to an already painful list. But lest this turn into some sort of self-aggrandizing piece, let me say emphatically, I don’t play into this. I don’t live there. I don’t have children. I don’t know anyone who lost a child. But that in no way means I am devoid of empathy. I believe we’re all connected somehow, someway and the absolute horror that took place and what must be going through the minds of the parents of those children, both those that died and those that lived, usurps anything about me…or about you. At times I feel it has become an American tradition to personalize every tragedy, let’s not do it here. At least not today or tomorrow. Not for awhile. Say a prayer, light a candle, take a moment of silence, do whatever you feel is appropriate for those families and that community that have been impacted by this heinous act.

If this atrocity doesn’t spark real and definitive gun control reform at best, and debate at least, then I become ever more frightened for the future of our nation.

Here are some facts worth noting:

  • The United States ranks first in gun ownership across the globe. Roughly 88% of all Americans own a gun. (1)
  • The United States ranks fifth in the world for homicides by gun. (1)
  • During the 2010 election cycle, the NRA spent more than $7.2 million on independent expenditures at the federal level on messages advocating for or against political candidates. (2)
  • American children are twelve times more likely to die from gun injuries than are youngsters in other industrialized nations. (3)
  • There is a loophole in The Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act that allows unlicensed gun dealers to sell guns without doing a background check. This loophole accounts for 40% of all gun sales. (4)
  • According to ATF reports, in 2010 there were 5,459,240 new firearms manufactured in the United States, nearly all (95 percent) for the U.S. market.   An additional 3,252,404 firearms were imported to the United States. (5)
  • In 2010 the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) ran 16,454,951 background checks for firearms purchases.  Only a small number of these purchases 78,211 or 0.48 percentwere denied.(5)

There are very simple and proactive things we can do to work towards better gun control (close that damn loophole in the Brady Bill for one…WTF?) that won’t get the National Rifle Association all in a snit. But look, one can go on and on with statistics and, in all fairness, I could be met by someone with an opposing view and their own statistics but that’s not the point. Whether you are way right or way left, whether you are for or against guns, let me ask you this: If the senseless slaughter of 20 children and having the innocence ripped away from an incalculable number of other children is not enough to open a thoughtful and forward thinking discourse about REAL gun control, exactly what does it take?

Again, my love, thoughts and prayers are with every person impacted. Which is to say my love, thoughts and prayers are with every single human being because, from where I sit, if you can’t feel the pain of this you’re simply not human.

– Keith

NOTE: I think it is worth noting that as of 10:15am December 15, the NRA has no comment on what took place.
That seems neither American nor human to me.

Sources
1- Guardian UK, 22 July, 2012.
2- http://tinyurl.com/cvbb5ja
3- http://tinyurl.com/bv5yswn (PDF file)
4- http://tinyurl.com/7j3rap6   (PDF file)
5- http://tinyurl.com/8n2fowy

One person, one vote.

Today is election day here in the states and I voted. But look, let me make this emphatically clear, I believe the president has already been chosen. I am sadly aware that my vote pretty much means shit. Not only as part of the electoral process but also because of the state I live in. It’s not a swing state, it almost always votes democratic. Fine by me. If we learned anything from the 2000 debacle it is that our vote is more less useless.

I tend to follow the Bill Hicks ideology on the presidency. If you don’t know who Bill Hicks is, you should. By the way, he was a comedian, not some conspiracy zealot or anti government nut job. Actually, he was kinda those too, but he made his living as a comedian, and easily the best comedian of my generation. Click here to listen to him explain the US Presidency.

So why vote?
I chose to vote because I am a human being. Whatever my personal feelings are towards the process, I know that people right now are fighting for AND DYING for this freedom. I have a responsibility to my fellow human beings regardless of what I believe. And to know people are willing to put their life on the line for a freedom I take for granted, that completely eradicates my personal view. Besides, what kind of asshole would that make me to so brazenly disregard something people right now are literally dying to get? So, in spite of my personal feelings about the process, I voted. I voted today not for a presidential candidate, I voted today for the people around the world who can’t. I voted today for the people who are currently fighting for democracy. And if I being honest, I voted today because it was right across the street.

Do I think our vote will one day count again for something? Yes, I do. It may not be in my lifetime, but I am a firm believer in our system and despite its current corrupt nature, I believe it will always be better than anything else.

So, if you haven’t already, please vote. If you can’t vote because you think the system is shit, then vote for the people who can’t vote and don’t have the freedom to say the system is shit.

Darkest Before the Dawn?

“So we cheated and we lied
And we tested
And we never failed to fail
It was the easiest thing to do.”
“Southern Cross”
– Crosby, Still and Nash

The other night the girlwife and I went to go see CSN at the Beacon Theater. I had wanted to see them since 1984 and since they’re not getting any younger (neither am I) I figured it was time. And they were good. Not great. They played what I wanted to hear. It was also nice being some of the youngest people at a concert for a change. But let’s face it, these guys are in their mid to late 60’s and, well, the years they’ve lived have taken their toll. But they can still harmonize, they have an amazing catalog of songs and Stephen Stills is a killer guitar player.

But I left really impressed with their commitment to the hippie ideas. Even after all these years, they’re not afraid to let their political freak flag fly. On the night we went, CSN had someone in the lobby handing out “Free Bradly Manning” post cards. Admittedly, I walked right by. I didn’t recognize the name and you may not either. He’s the guy who released all of those military files to Wiki Leaks a few years ago.

Mid-way through the first set, Graham Nash announced they were doing a new song. Nash then told us it was a song about Manning and how he is being treated while awaiting trial. Someone in the audience bellowed “WHO CARES?”.

Well, all of us should. If what my cursory search about his incarcerated treatment is in any way true “In early April (2011), 295 academics (most of them American legal scholars) signed a letter arguing that the treatment was a violation of the United States Constitution.” , then this is exactly the type of shit we should be caring about. If we are the lone democratic superpower, what does it say about us as a country if we treat our own citizens so poorly, especially given that our entire legal system (even the military one) is built on the “innocent until proven guilty” ideal? What does this say about our government? What does it say about us as humans? Right about now someone might say “Whadda ya think he deserves, backrubs and steak?” No. I don’t think that at all. I think he should be held accountable…and treated fairly. As a human being. I don’t think he should be stripped of all basic human rights under the guise of “suicide watch”.

Do I think Bradly Manning is a scumbag? It doesn’t matter what I think. What matters is how we treat him. Does he deserve to be treated HUMANELY? Of course. And the cynic in me says that he, more than anyone, deserves fair treatment because the eyes of the world are on us and our treatment of him.

Almost as alarming as his treatment is the lack of media coverage. The news media should serve to keep the government in check and from what I can tell, the news media has been co-opted by Washington and Wall Street and has ceased doing that. That is not to say some media outlets do not report this stuff, they do. Here in the states, it is usually way left media and blogs, both of which are not widely read. Elsewhere in the world, it is more traditional media. But who in the states is really watching Al Jezeera or reading The Guardian? Comedian David Cross once said “Why do I have to read newspapers from outside my country to find out what’s going on in my country?”

I understand that people have very strong feelings about this guy. I do too. While I agree with him releasing the information and I agree with the care in which Julian Assange took with the data. Like it or not, and most people do not, Assange is doing what traditional media should be doing. Reporting facts and not opinion. Ultimately, I have very real doubts about Manning’s motivation. He is not Daniel Ellsberg, the guy who released The Pentagon Papers (which helped stop the Vietnam War). The main difference, for me, is that I believe Ellsberg truly had the countries best intentions at heart. Ellsberg was part of the Vietnam build up so he knew what he was talking about because he helped create it. From what little I know, Manning was an enlisted IT/Communications guy who, for whatever reason, had incredible clearance and just comes across as a disgruntled punk.

There is also something more thoughtful, more planned about a middle aged father sneaking into the RAND Corporation on weekends, with his kids, and copying reams of classified information versus a twenty-something hitting “send”. One requires a great deal of planning and thought and one requires limited motor skills.

This is not to say the information Manning released shouldn’t be available. It should. Without a doubt. As citizens it is our right to know. Whether we choose to exercise that right is a different argument. Did the information cost American lives? Yes, but I submit, no more or less than the actual war would have without their release. Did it put Americans in harms way? Yea, probably, but I would argue no more and no less than any soldiers superior officer or some private enforcers boss. Ultimately, what Manning did proved to have little effect on much of anything. Unfortunaltely, it did not yield the same results as Ellsberg. We’re still there, our soldiers and others are still dying. For me, it begs the question if Ellsberg’s secretary had released the Pentagon Papers, would it have had the same effect? Conversely, if a four star general had given this information to Wiki Leaks, would he be on trial?

I believe the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will be noted in history as epic fuck ups. Not as a result of any of our soldiers or military. This mess lands, rests and lives on one mans shoulders, George W. Bush. George W. Bush and his brethren of “intellectual idiots” who spent 8 years bullying and running amuck over our civil liberties, padding the wallets of the wealthy and pretty much giving the finger to the world community.

If Bush’s goal was to kill native Iraqi’s and Afghans and then screw the soldiers who return home, mission accomplished. If his goal was to invade those countries and act like a drunken frat boy on a Friday night, mission accomplished. If he goal was to spread democracy, crush Al Queda and push out the Taliban. Epic failure. For a great read about the war in Afghanistan and its inevitable conclusion, read this Rolling Stone article. For a great read about our treatment of returning soldiers read this NYTimes article.

So, to the lady who bellowed “Who cares?” I do. Crosby, Stills and Nash do. And you should to. How we treat each other is one of the defining principles of us as a people and as a nation. It was also one of the guiding lights of the hippie movement that gave us Crosby, Stills and Nash. We don’t always get it right, personally, professionally or with our government, but it doesn’t mean we stop trying.

“And we never failed to fail, it was the easiest thing to do”
It’s easier to paint Bradly Manning as a villain and treat him like a piece of shit. It’s easier to make him the scapegoat. It’s harder to understand the failings of our system that led us to this place. It’s harder to stand up for an alleged treasonous soldier being mistreated. When we take the easy way out we fail, and to fail is easy. To succeed takes work.

Bradly Manning should be tried and if found guilty, punished. That does not mean he should be tortured beforehand. We fail as a society when we mistreat people that are in our care. We fail as humans when we allow that to happen.

Hello Goodbye/Goodbye Hello

“Well, you said,
He’s better off dead
You think that I might have heard a word
but I was much too young
and much too cool for words
Look at me now”
“Rock and Roll Ghost”
-The Replacements

I’m getting older now and most of the time I don’t mind it. The body can ache a little more, creak a little more; I’m a little more grey, a little softer in the middle and, thankfully, a little softer on the inside. I’ve found that as I age, I tend to look back and say “I wish I had done that differently”, “I wish I had handled that better”, “I wish I had treated that person more kindly”. And, if you are anything like me, you pray for the day when maybe, just maybe, you’ll have the opportunity to correct it or apologize for it.

But then you find out that they’re dead.

About a month ago, some weird stuff started happening around the apartment I share with my girlfriend. My glasses (yea, another part of getting older) were chewed up, which is easily attributed to one of the two moronic dogs we have, BUT more interestingly, they were folded nicely and put on the bench in our entry way. Without the benefit of opposing thumbs, I’m not entirely sure the dogs could’ve done that.

About one week later, my wallet went missing. Once again, neatly placed on the same bench were my two debit cards and my MetroCard (albeit with a couple of tooth marks in them). The wallet turned up chewed to bejesus in our bed, which again is one of the two morons. Certainly odd to me and I was left scratching my head, but no big deal.

Now, I’m typically not one to believe in all of that sort of ghosty stuff. I believe more than I don’t but…And we do live in an old factory, so it is possible (well, probable) that someone died there but…And it would make sense that given my messy nature, if we were being haunted, it would be by a tidy ghost. It was freaky, but it only happened those two times.

I dated a girl wayyy back when. Back when The Replacements were still together, R.E.M. was still an independent band and MTV played music videos. And we dated for about 14 months, told ourselves we were in love and then we broke up. I don’t know the circumstances under which we broke up, it’s been well over 20 years now. I recall it being bad and painful. But in hindsight, I think it was bad because she broke up with me. I have rejection issues I suppose.

I saw this girl twice in the ensuing years and neither time did she see me. I just turned and walked away. And to be honest, I did have much to apologize to her for, but ego and shame always got the better of me. As time wore on, I began to realize any apology I made would have been self serving. I would have been the only one with the weight lifted. What was done was done and I had, over time, learned to forgive myself. And believed that by living a more honest life, I could come to terms with the shitty stuff. But in the back of my head, I never really have been able to forgive myself on that one.

Throughout the years, I would promise myself if I ever had the chance I would find a way to apologize. And sometimes I would close my eyes and throw that apology out to the universe hoping she picked up on it (yea, I know hippy dippy shit, but I did do it). And then along came the internet and periodically I would look her up. Never did any cyber stalking or anything like that, just a quick Google search.

About six months ago, a quick search led me to her name in reference to the company I work for. So I looked her up and low and behold, there she was in our company directory. And she worked in a department where I had friends. But I never found the time to ask them if they knew her. Actually, I probably didn’t wanna know if they knew her. And as soon as I found out we worked at the same company, I put it away. Maybe if we continued at the same place our paths would cross. I’m fairly certain they would have.

A few days after the glasses and wallet incidents, I went to Florida to visit my parents and my aunt and uncle. When I came back, I, for whatever reason, did a search for her again on Google. And to my shock, I saw an obituary from her hometown newspaper. Surely, this wasn’t her. Sadly, it was. She  had died suddenly. The obituary didn’t state the reason why. So, I reached out to the friends I knew who I thought may have worked with her and low and behold, one of them knew her well and worked with her very closely. They told me she died of a stroke of some sort. I was floored. It just didn’t make any sense to me. But then, life has often left me confused.

So, she’s dead. And it affected me. Immediately after learning she had passed, I went outside to smoke. As I stood outside having a cigarette, shaking with my eyes growing a little misty, I once again threw an apology out to the universe. I wanted her to know I was sorry. And if you have made it this far, you’ll probably wanna know what it is I feel I need to apologize for? That’s between us.

She passed on September 10. The date that my glasses were chewed and left on the bench? September 10. The wallet incident the next week. An odd coincidence to be sure. Something tells me she may have heard my apology this time. We haven’t encountered any odd tidying up around the house lately.

Goodbye __________.
I’m sorry.
Love,
Keith