Sunday, December 3, 2017

Go Bold Or Go Home!

Today you either have to be bombastic or meek - there is no middle ground.

Something has changed dramatically over the last decade, and it seems that we have failed to notice it because it has been such a gradual change. And this fundamentally has changed how we express ourselves in the public domain.  Today, you can be either outrageous and say whatever you think, or you have to shut up and keep your thoughts to yourself.  There is no middle ground.

I first noticed this trend in the 1990s.  I would say something on a website or discussion group that might generate controversy, and before I knew it I was receiving emails from people I hadn't heard from in years or had never heard from at all. I realized that the internet was not the intimate discussion group it appeared to be, but rather a public chalkboard the entire world could read. You say one wrong thing and it's all over for you.

That is, unless all you say is wrong things.  At the same time people are being castigated for political incorrectness on the internet, others were becoming famous for it.  For some people, one wrong comment would end their career, social life, and marriage.  For others a string of such horrible comments made their career - or made them President.

In this regard president Trump is not an anomaly but the end result of this pattern.  He tweets and twitters and comments and says outrageous things and the more outrageous things he says, the more popular he is.  He is literally the first teflon president.  Indeed, he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue, as he boasts, and no one would say a word.  And the reason he gets away with this is that he is unapologetic for his comments and just digs himself in deeper whenever he gets into trouble.

Others are less certain of their own views, and play the apology game. When called out on ill behavior or inappropriate comments, they immediately fall all over themselves apologizing for the errors in their ways and lawyer up for the inevitable lawsuit.

During the recent hysteria regarding sexual harassment, many people have been called out for actions they have taken in the distant past, some of which are indeed atrocious.  Others, less so.  People who sexually harass or intimidate subordinates, or worse yet rape them, should be called to task for their actions. Of less importance are people who are cupping buttocks or breasts for 5 to 10 seconds at a time during a photo opportunity.  While also inappropriate, those actions hardly raise to the level of brutal rape. Yet the media treats them as equivalent events.

But what seems incongruous is that the people who are committing the worst acts seem to be the least apologetic.  President Trump is on record for saying that he likes to grab women by the pussy - a word which the media feels they have to blank out for being obscene.  He's unapologetic about these remarks, and indeed claims the entire tape was faked - that somehow his voice was impersonated, and the entire tape assembled in some grand conspiracy against him.  This seems to be the new norm - do something outrageous and then claim it was all faked up.  Judge Roy Moore is following a page from this playbook.

Meanwhile, others who have committed far less grievous sins are doing the talkshow apology tour and a mea culpa and praying for the forgiveness of the public -  forgiveness which will not be forthcoming.  By owning up to your malfeasance, you are admitting to it, and thus at the mercy of the whims of public opinion.  On the other hand, if you just go in for strict denial - or double down on your bet by saying harassment is fun and the way things should be - then you come out clean as a whistle in the end.  Never compromise, never vacillate, never accommodate - that seems to be the new norm on the internet.  The most popular YouTube stars are the ones who say the most outrageous things.

And in modern public relations, the old model of mea culpa seems to be falling by the wayside. Admitting to your defects and transgressions seems only to amplify them.  In our modern era, the best thing you could do is to double down, fail to compromise, and boast of your malfeasance, as if it were a personal accomplishment.

The Al Franken situation is a case in point.  Franken, known as "that comedian from Saturday Night Live - you know, the unfunny one" was quite adept at saying and doing stupid things long before he became Senator.  And that is one reason I never thought he would make a good Senator.  His schitck was gay jokes - he once told an interviewer that he was glad a gay man was beaten to death.  He also did a skit on SNL as "Franken and Davis" where his partner, Davis "comes out" to him on live television, and Franken, of course, castigates him - all in the name of an humorless and uncomfortable joke.  To say this guy "has issues" is to understate.  But on a scale of one to Roy Moore, he probably is a five.
"He recalled writing a skit called "Seamen on Broadway" that was rejected from the Hasty Pudding show "by some preppie so they could take some other preppie's skit." Franken started to smile again, but his tone was serious, too serious. "It's not preppies, cause I'm a preppie myself. I just don't like homosexuals. If you ask me, they're all homosexuals in the Pudding. Hey, I was glad when that Pudding homosexual got killed in Philadelphia." The smile became so broad it pushed his eyes shut. He couldn't stand it any longer. "Put that in, put that in," Franken laughed, leaning over the desk. "I'd love to see that in The Crimson.""
Oh, brave new world, to have Democrats such as this.

So let me make it clear, I am no fan of Al Franken,  Not only is he not funny, which is the cardinal sin among comedians (all those sketches after "Weekend Update" which made you turn off the TV and go to bed, were his works) he is also not qualified to be in the august body that is the Senate.  And neither is Roy Moore.   But on the other hand, I get a little suspicious when a rough-and-tough Army Ranger breaks out into tears when she says that Al Franken "cupped her breast" for 5-10 seconds in a photo op.  I wonder how she will deal with the Taliban, Al Queada, or ISIS after that experience?  It seems we are getting a little carried away with this sort of thing.  And no, you can't be "intimidated" by a second-rate former writer for SNL who really wasn't that funny.  I mean, we aren't talking about Kevin Spacey here, right?

But the upshot is, Al Franken will end up stepping down and Roy Moore will end up getting elected.  And let's be clear about his - Roy Moore was having sex with underage girls, which is far worse than grabbing the tits of an adult female.  Both are wrong, one is wronger than the other.  The wronger guy will prevail in today's climate.   Does this make sense?

We are also seeing this attitude predominate in the financial sector.   People are doing wrong things and not being apologetic about it, but bombastic - and often getting away with it - up to a point.  Uber was notoriously belligerent in many different respects.   Not only did they try to bully the taxi regulators in dozens of countries, they bullied their own employees as well as sexually harassed them.  Other "tech" companies are following a similar pattern, with a no-holds-barred and take-no-prisoners approach to business dealings.

But in the long run, belligerents, dictators, and tyrants always fall.  We are seeing this in the tech sector as these "new paradigm" companies whose business model was basically bullying and fraud, are taken to task, one by one, either by regulators or the market.   And in terms of celebrities and politicians, it also seems some sort of reckoning has come.  The only concern is that those least culpable will be held most accountable, while the real malfeasants escape unscathed.

The real victim here, though, I think is the middle-ground.  Companies that do honest business providing a product or service at a reasonable price at a reasonable profit, are being run over by these new belligerent companies that don't play by the rules.  Similarly, in politics, the vast majority of Americans are middle-of-the-road in their opinions, but are increasingly being asked to choose between one of  two belligerent extremes on the Left or Right.   Nazism or Communism - those are the two choices we are presented with, and somehow Democracy seems only for sissies.