Tag Archives: editorial

The Death of Neutrality in Trump’s America

When I started DrewChialAuthor.com my goal was to promote my horror fiction. Somewhere along the way I found writing advice pulled in more eyes than scary stories, so I adjusted the focus of the site and I saw a lot of new faces in my Twitter feed. Many of these profiles were in line with my midwestern liberal beliefs and many were hashtag-conservative. I thought it was neat that a shared passion for writing extended over ideological borders.

I figured if I stayed on topic I could make myself accessible to everyone. It didn’t matter whether readers were from a red state or a blue state, whether they were centrists or out on the fringe, all were welcome. My brand was Switzerland.

I was an advocate for storytellers: whether they were the next Marquis de Sade writing orgiastic odysseys to offend the oligarchy or the next Tom Clancy writing patriotic page turners for puritans, I didn’t care.

I was a good little brand builder. I gave advice on structure, beating writer’s block, and building an online platform. I was safe for work. I didn’t use profanity (outside of fiction) and I didn’t take politically polarizing positions. This felt suffocating when I had a strong opinion on major news events. Continue reading The Death of Neutrality in Trump’s America

Why I had to Unplug through this Summer of Static

The information age is both a blessing and a curse for writers.

The tools we use to find our audiences can also drain our creative energy. The twin punch combo of the 24-hour news cycle and social media can knock us out. It’s part of the reason I took a break from blogging, posting on Facebook, and tweeting.

If the internet is a series of tubes it felt like they were all carrying, to quote W.P. Mayhew from Barton Fink, a “raging river of manure.”

This election cycle has dialed the national discussion up to eleven. Everyone is pounding on their keyboards with the caps lock on, but let’s put a pin in that politically polarizing conversation and acknowledge how draining the news can be even when Trump isn’t stealing headlines. Continue reading Why I had to Unplug through this Summer of Static

The Anti-Clickbait Movement and the Return of Long Form Writing

Fishing for another click
Fishing for another click

Depressed by the rise in Clickbait, One Blogger Does Something to Restore Readers’ Faith in Humanity

Bloggers have it tough, working long hours, paying to play, for an audience that may never stay. The world sees our failure as the punchline to an elaborate joke. As far as they’re concerned, our words are selfies for snobs, journals masquerading as journalism, vanity press that wouldn’t exist without the internet.

Scroll through your Facebook feed, compare the choices to what we’re offering. If readers have to pick between our editorial on net neutrality and a report on the death of The Walking Dead’s lead, it’s hard to compete (Andrew Lincoln is alive and well, but that article will be accurate eventually). Sure, we might have important information on OK Cupid’s psychological manipulation plan, but there’s a report going around that Orange is the New Black has been cancelled again.

There’s new footage of a goat/sheep hybrid. This ‘Geep’ is too cute to be ignored. What are we offering that’s so much more enlightening?

While these eye catching links score the page views our latest efforts becomes old news.

When the person next to us is reading clickbait, it’s hard to imagine they’ll ever read one of our long form articles. They may find the experience more rewarding, but they know it’ll be time consuming. While we offer food for thought, they’re choosing junk food instead.

Plenty of bloggers have come down with a case of viral envy. Seeing our friends post lackluster links, we start ‘share shaming’, combing through articles like ‘Things You Never Noticed About Famous Movies’ for factual accuracy.

Spoofing BuzzFeed's logo to make a point
Spoofing BuzzFeed’s logo to make a point

How this Blogger handles Sour Grapes Over Clickbait is Genius

People enjoy reading lists, but do they ever recognize the authorship? They like the format, but would they ever pay for a book written by a contributor? These sites are tailored for turnover. After churning out top ten lists, where can a BuzzFeed freelancer go from there? How many agents are knocking down their door?

People keep telling me there’s no money in long form writing, but how many of these clickbait contributors are rolling in it? How many of them have a long term plan? It’s hard to imagine there’s job security in what they do. The format is so easy to replicate the satirical UpWorthy Generator could replace the headlines on Upworthy proper.

We bloggers, aspiring to be authors, keep telling ourselves that we’re the tortoise and these viral writers are the hare. They’re beating us in traffic but we have a far better chance of getting to our destination. We just have to keep inching along without the instant gratification of watching our stats surge.

We love Memes, but Viral Content Might Be Making Us Sick

In his book The Shallows, Nicholas G. Carr says all this constant skimming is affecting the way we think. Exposure to the internet changes how our minds work offline. The neuroplasticity of our brains shifts, increasing our appetite for entertainment, reducing our attention spans, making it tough to embrace a mere moment of silence.

We’re hungry for information, but only in bite sized little chunks.

Clickbaiters are at the forefront of exploiting this phenomenon. Their science is in composing titles our curiosity can’t help but click on (i.e. everything in bold in this article). Each page view generates revenue. UpWorthy writes 25 headlines for everything they share, meticulously placing hooks readers can’t ignore.

While UpWorthy’s headlines inflate their videos to epic proportions, other sites resort to outright fabrications. If the internet teaches us anything, it’s that the common denominator can always get a little lower.

3 Click Bait

There’s a New Condition that Causes Sufferers to Confuse Lying with Satire

There’s a gullibility test going around Facebook. The way it works is one of your friends posts a link to an article with a headline that’s too amazing to be true, like:

CONFIRMED: HPV Vaccine Linked to Dementia
Neil deGrasse Tyson: Sixth Extinction Event Will Happen in Our Lifetime
Woody Harrelson Shot and Killed Outside of Vegas Nightclub

Here’s where this becomes a test: do you do a quick Google search for more information, see if the New York times has weighed in on these developments, or do you just hit ‘share’ to inform your friends?

If you hit ‘share’ you should look up, it says ‘GULLIBLE’ on the ceiling.

One of the biggest culprits of this technique is EmpireNews.net. Every article on their home page looks like a scoop, big developments every major news outlets are trailing behind on. The headlines are crazy, but not too far outside the realm of reason.

EmpireNews.net bills itself as “a satirical entertainment website.” Like The Onion without the irony, exaggeration, or social commentary.

Here’s some examples of their “jokes”:

Jimmy Fallon Fired From The ‘Tonight Show’ After Feud With NBC Executives; Will Jay Leno Return?
‘Ghost Adventures’ Star Gets Fired, Reveals Disappointing Truth About Paranormal Television Series
Facebook Announces New Design Changes, Massive Overhaul Coming In October

These are works of fiction, but unlike entries from The Onion they’re too banal to be satirical.

The idea of Jimmy Fallon feuding with NBC Executives isn’t ironic. TV personalities posture for raises all the time. There’s no real mockery. A satirical headline would’ve read:

Conan O’Brien Fired From ‘The Conan O’Brien Show’ After Feud with TBS; Jay Leno to Take Over Title Role.

It would feature a Photoshopped picture of Leno sporting Conan’s iconic red hair, and it would’ve come out over a year ago, when it would’ve been timely. Empire’s title is designed to upset Fallon’s fans, tricking his viewers into sharing the bad news with their friends.

Faking TV show cancellations, celebrity arrests or deaths, is a cheap way to find success. It get’s clicks, but those clicks don’t guarantee engagement. At the time of this writing none of the articles on EmpireNews’s main page feature a single comment. Either no one has anything to say, or the admins delete anything critical of what they’re doing.

Empire News is looking for contributors. Nowhere on their hiring page do they mention humor. Part of me wants to apply, submitting the dictionary definition of ‘satire’ as my writing sample.

4 Click Bait

Long form Journalism is making a comeback, You’ll Never Guess Where

If you visit BuzzFeed’s main page, you’ll find something funny. Above the trending titles, footage of celebrity fisticuffs, and videos of kittens, is news. At the time of this writing, the ceasefire in Gaza is the top headline. Next to that is a thorough article on Uganda striking down its Anti-Homosexuality act.

While local newspapers are doing everything they can to turn themselves into printed versions of websites, BuzzFeed is dabbling in 2,000 + word articles. Two years ago BuzzFeed hired former SPIN and Details editor Steve Kandell to edit their long form content. Kandell’s goal was to produce sharable editorials, after all it’s the title that gets the click, but he realizes that it’s the depth that gets the engagement.

I knew none of this when I started this piece. I assumed BuzzFeed was the big bad and traditional media was picking up its habits. A little research, spun my thesis on its head.

My friends in local news outlets tell stories about editors begging for more top ten lists, drooling at the prospect of getting BuzzFeed’s traffic.

Traditional media is destroying traditional media by confusing reduction with adaptation. By shifting their efforts to quick consumption, they abandon topics worth sharing. By curating someone else’s content they diminish the value of their own. While CNN fills their main page with videos of puppies, in a desperate attempt to beat BuzzFeed at their own game, BuzzFeed is dabbling in real news.

This is something to keep in mind whenever someone tells you, “There’s no room for real writing in a post-BuzzFeed world.”

BuzzFeed doesn’t seem to think so.

Long form writing isn’t a dated practice, it’s a niche, one in need of writers willing to embrace it.

Bloggers, if you can’t fit your thesis into 500 words, go longer. Complete your thought. Your intriguing headline deserves an equally compelling closing argument. It’s easier to get readers to click on your page than to follow it. Show them that you have what it takes to go the distance.

Phase 2 of Facebook’s Emotional Manipulation Study

The following is a work of satire. I’m leading with this disclaimer, because many of these examples of Facebook’s attempts at mind control sound a little too believable.

Facebook's emotional experiments give user mixed messages
Facebook’s emotional experiments give user mixed messages

Phase 2 of Facebook’s Emotional Manipulation Study

This week, Phase 1 of Facebook’s emotional manipulation experiments came to light. Having altered their Data user policy to include “research,” Facebook performed a study to test its influence on users’ psychology.

Positioning positive posts in the first test group’s feeds, the social network manipulated users to make merry messages of their own. Satiating some in sullen cynicism, they found these users were prone to mope and moan. Inspirational influencers led to delighted updaters, while pensive peers led to cocky contributors.

In his article Digital Market Manipulation, Ryan Calo believes companies “will increasingly be able to trigger irrationality or vulnerability in consumers.”

Like the copywriter in the Film Roger Dodger says, “You can’t sell a product without first making people feel bad… you convince them that your product is the only thing that can fill the void.”

There’s speculation Facebook implemented these studies to appease its shareholders. These suspicions would make sense, had evidence of Facebook’s second study not surfaced. It turns out these early experiments were the tip of the iceberg.

Phase 2 Experiments:

The Relationship Status Randomizer

Toying with eagle eyed ex lovers and potential stalkers, Facebook implemented the relationship status randomizer, listing married users as single, turning their private phone numbers to public, then posting “Feeling lonely” as their status on the hour every hour.

The Bogus Baby Broadcaster

Since baby announcements get the most engagement, Facebook posted pregnancy news on behalf of couples who weren’t expecting, pulling random ultrasounds from Google image search. The Bogus Baby Broadcaster asked family friends to vote on children’s names. The most popular choices were: Link McFly Skywalker, for boys, and Buffy Ripley Croft, for girls.

Open House Mode

Taking advantage of their Oculus Rift acquisition, Facebook started mapping real spaces for Virtual Reality. Rift owners have reported early access to a feature called Open House Mode. Stitching architecture together from users’ pictures, Open House Mode allowed beta testers to go on virtual tours of their friends’ homes. Rendering intimate living spaces, complete with exteriors from Google Street View, Open House Mode points out structural vulnerabilities like flimsy locks and windows that can be pushed open. When pressed for comment, Facebook’s lawyers said this feature was for users who wanted to throw surprise parties for one another.

Facebook's new mind control features are its best ever
Facebook’s new mind control features are its best ever

The Celebrity Death Generator

Attempting to stir up grief, Facebook filled users feeds with links that falsely reported celebrity deaths. A candlelit vigil, for actor Steve Buscemi, caused a twenty block traffic jam in downtown Atlantic City. The show runners for Boardwalk Empire had already hired Digital Domain to create a CGI stand-in, by the time the real Buscemi appeared on set, hungover, but still breathing.

Bladder Triggers

Promoting posts containing the words “hand soap, linen towels,” and “quilted tissue,” Facebook found an uptick in geotags to ‘home thrones.’ Once users were in their bathrooms, Facebook blasted them with footage of kayakers going over waterfalls, three story fountains, and animated gifs of lemonade flowing from bottles. This drew criticism from the American Society of Plumbing Engineers, fearing the effects a mass flushing incident will have on the nation’s sewer systems.

Samurai Shaming

Manufacturing outrage, Facebook posted updates as ESPN, tricking users into believing the Washington Redskins were changing their names to the Washington Yellowskins, replacing their native American logo with that of a crude cartoonish Samurai. Soon after, the hashtag #YesAllShoguns started trending.

Penicillin Petition

A petition to ban penicillin emerged, after Facebook made an article linking the antibiotic to childhood obesity trend. Medical authorities flooded the net to refute the claim, taking over the conversation in a matter of hours, but not soon enough to prevent media personality Jenny Mccarthy from endorsing the original findings. In the aftermath of the incident, Orange County has reported an outbreak of typhoid fever.

The Title Lengthening System

Some users awoke to find the phrase, “You Won’t Believe What Happens Next” tacked onto every link in their newsfeed, others saw, “… is the worst kind of discrimination.” Some reported seeing each link wrapped in the phrase “What… did is genius.” Everyone exposed to this title lengthening system reported feeling disturbed by the trend, as if they were the only ones noticing it happening.

Phantom Zuckerbergs

Businesses, sports teams, and families reported finding phantom images of Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s Chief Executive Officer, in their photos. In each image, Zuckerberg appears to be interacting with people, bringing his hands in for a team building seminar, hitting a beer bong at a keger, even wrapping his arms around someone else’s grandmother. Those who noticed the phantom CEO, said he appeared immediately after they uploaded their pictures, as if he’d been there all along. One group experimented with the feature, pointing to a camp fire in mock horror, posting the photo, they found Zuckerberg emerging from the fire.

Facebook’s Milgram Experiment

Members of the psychoanalytic community were horrified when the social network conducted it’s own interpretation of the infamous Milgram Experiment.

Testing blind obedience, the Milgram Experiment urged subjects’ to commit actions at the expense of their conscience. Subjects took on the role of a teacher administrating electric shocks to a learner, an actor who was in no real danger. Every time the learner failed to answer a question, a man in a lab coat would instruct the teacher to hit them with shock treatment. Ignoring the actor’s cries, this authority figure would tell the teacher to up the voltage. The goal was to see how many of the subjects would protest, halting the experiment before the lethal jolt was given.

Facebook introduced a virtual version of this experiment. Believing they were administering electric shocks to prison inmates, users became executioners by way of an application. The app gave users a video stream of both a researcher, commanding them to move forward, and a prisoner writhing in agony.

Stanley Milgram found that 65 percent of his participants administered the lethal dose. Facebook, on the other hand, had a 100 percent success rate. In fact, the only user to report distress, was a man in Texas, claiming to be “bummed out” when the app disappeared from the service.

Conclusion

As social networks become more prevalent in our virtual lives their effects will be felt in the real world. If the cost of connecting means surrendering control of our bowels, most of us will pay it. If the price of admission is submitting to a full body scan, most of us will jump right in. We’ll accept, that if Facebook wants us to be happy, we’ll be happy, and if we’re sad, it’s because Facebook willed us to be. The social network works in mysterious ways.

We’re just guinea pigs, hitting ‘Like’ to get more food pellets, wandering through this maze of messages, looking for meaning. The all seeing eye of Zuckerberg watches us share pictures of our plates on first dates, engage in political debates, and when we think our cameras are off, he watches us masturbate.

Ours is not to question his reasoning, but to trust in his plan. We must open our minds and accept his influence.

Is Facebook toying with your emotions
Is Facebook toying with your emotions?

Check out my April Fool’s post Facebook Buys DrewChial.com and my article on how The Facebook Bait and Switch is already effecting authors.

The Trouble With Seeing Everything through the Same Lens

Lens

On analyzing the motives for murder

Some trigger warnings are in order. I’ll be talking about sexism in the entertainment industry, masculinity, and spree shootings. What do these things have in common? They’re the subject of an article that’s been getting a lot of blowback. Their connection is debatable, but it’s one worth examining.

Usually I don’t weigh in on these types of controversies, but I felt I had to, because I almost wrote the exact same article.

The Article in Question

Prone to seek out citations to confirm my suspicions, I cast off information that challenges my opinions. Trying to come to an understanding, my biases often win. When tragedy happens, it’s in my nature to make assumptions. I cast blame before the contributing factors are confirmed. My emotions don’t have time to wait for all the facts to come in.

That’s why when I read the article In a final videotaped message, a sad reflection of the sexist stories we so often see on screen, by Ann Hornaday, in the Washington Post, I felt like I could’ve written it myself. The story links the actions of Elliot Rodger, the Isla Vista shooter, to the presentation of women on the big screen.

Like Hornaday, I believe “a sexist movie monoculture can be toxic for women and men alike.” Still, I can’t help but feel that linking the male underdog, who always gets the girl, to the actions of a killer is an oversimplification. Downplaying other contributing factors, Hornaday limits her observations to the domain of film criticism.

Her exploration of gender roles on screen comes with citations, it’s in her wheelhouse, it’s well informed, but her thoughts on Rodger’s motivations are speculations written with the tone of conclusions. She doesn’t ignore his mental illness, but she disregards his life experience, as if his worldview was only informed by what he saw on screen.

2. Holding Camera High

I Made A Similar Connection

After some of the facts on the shooting came out, I started writing about how movies warp our sense of romance, leading to unrealistic expectations. So many coming-of-age flicks make it feel like there’s a manic-pixie-dream-girl on her way to save every man from his own cynicism. This makes viewers feel like there should be someone for everyone all the time, like isolation is uncommon, like introversion is a bad thing.

Our culture glorifies young couples, slapping their skin on every screen, sex has gone from an expression to an expectation. My early draft pointed the finger at everything from indie movies to Axe body spray advertisements (Lynx for those of you who aren’t in the U.S.).

I speculated that our need to shoehorn romance into everything warped Rodger’s expectations, but my theory didn’t sit well with me. My brash writing style made it sound all encompassing, like my insight allowed me to see the piece of the puzzle lost on the 24-hour news cycle. Then Elliot’s message board ravings came to light. The kid thought he was leading an uprising. When he tried to make a case that refusing sex causes suffering akin to a crime, I realized I had no clue what was going through his mind.

There wasn’t one convenient factor to encapsulate his motives. I realized, I’m not a forensic psychologist. Even if I had a strong hunch, I couldn’t pretend to know what made him tick. I was doing a disservice to my argument by associating him with it.

This is what happens when I rush to diagnose a cause by observing a handful of symptoms, as more evidence surfaces my authority is undermined by the autopsy. Reality could care less about my subjectivity. Just because I see everything through the lens of my expertise, doesn’t mean the truth will bend to it.

I don’t want to sweep Hornaday’s arguments on the “Celluloid Ceiling” under the rug. The entertainment industry is overdue for a reckoning. In blockbusters, female characters are used to motivate their male counterparts, they’re always in need of rescue, like Rachel Dawes in Batman Begins, or they’re killed to motivate the hero’s mission, like Rachel Dawes in The Dark Knight, or they’re there to seduce the hero as part of a deception, like every woman with a speaking role in The Dark Knight Rises (hey, Nolan brothers, I love you, but you’ve got to write better parts for women).

A lifetime of seeing the same vigilante tropes are bound to leave an impression, but men are not so impressionable that we all go out and try to be Batman. These power fantasies have an impact on our mindsets, but the effects are insidious, they’re cumulative, and hard to quantify. Hornaday’s theory is still missing the crucial link to connect these movies to Rodger’s actions.

3. Eye in the Viewfinder

Don’t let Your Experience Blind You

Our extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. We need to show our data. That way, if we’re proven wrong, at least it makes sense how we mistook correlation for causation. When we speculate, we ought to admit that’s what we’re doing. Without a compelling argument, it just seems like we’re inserting our topic into a conversation where it doesn’t belong.

Hornaday saw her field all over Rodger, linking his tone in his YouTube manifestos to Christian Bale’s performance as Patrick Bateman in American Psycho.

Compare that observation to the article Elliot Rodger and America’s ongoing masculinity crisis by Lisa Hickey, for The Good Men Project. Using math, Hickey looked into the last 70 mass shootings to figure out what they all had in common. Of the shooters, 69 were men, many of whom had patterns in their lives prior to their breakdowns.

In 26 of the shootings the shooter had been fired from his job. 68% of workplace shootings happened before the recession, declining to 20% after 2003. It’s Hickey’s belief, that disgruntled employees felt less isolated in a down economy. Surrounded by peers in the same position, they were less likely to retaliate with a shooting. Society pushed these men to see themselves as breadwinners, but when society was in shambles their gender role didn’t prove as fatal.

Hickey believes our limited definition of masculinity lowers men’s self worth, preventing them from seeking help, or developing real coping skills. It could be a contributing factor to why some become shooters.

If Hornaday believes that movies shape the definition of what it means to be a man, this article adds weight to her argument. It does this with statistics, not just an interpretation of the killer’s last video statement.

As journalists and bloggers, the worst thing we can do is come to the right conclusion for the wrong reason, to present ourselves as delegates for a subject, only to communicate it with bad logic. Letting our tongues slip, our tone creates a negative reaction toward our positive points. Shooting from the hip, we lose converts in the crossfire. Going over the top, we undermine our arguments.

4. Holding Camera Out

Check Yourself before You Wreck Your Reputation

Before you write that article on a current event, ask yourself: is your expertise applicable? How much of a stretch is your angle? Is your subject really there or have you projected it on? Are you adding or subtracting from the conversation? Does the situation apply to your central issue, or has your topic turned into a blue car, where once you buy one you see them everywhere?

Would your piece benefit from recent examples to evoke your reader’s emotion, or should a little abstraction spare them some pain?

Hornaday’s article had great points that weren’t fully realized. I don’t think her piece deserved the backlash it got, which I fear would’ve happened without Elliot Rodger’s name tacked on, simply because it was an article on sexism in the entertainment industry written by a woman.

She posed questions worth asking. I implore her to ask them again, but with a better argument. The framing of Rodger’s video manifesto isn’t enough to sell me on the notion that he believed he was in a movie.

Not to say that that hunch is without merit. There are studies on how dramatic mediums can effect our perception of reality.

Jaye Derrick and Shira Gabriel of the University of Buffalo, and Kurt Hugenberg of Miami University coined the Social Surrogacy Hypothesis. Their research found that television displaces social interaction, tricking lonely viewers into thinking they’re friends with the characters, this made them less likely to seek meaningful relationships or admit to feelings of loneliness.

5. Lens longshot

Name Behaviors not Names

Hornaday’s article proposed a theory that read like a conclusion, and director Judd Apatow and actor Seth Rogen thought she was pinning the blame on them. This is where her article could’ve benefited with generalities that focused on the behavior of male characters, rather than point the finger at a specific actor. Sure, Seth Rogen benefits from male privilege, but he doesn’t preach misogyny to a chauvinist choir, his characters always get the girl, but they never hate her.

On Twitter, Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow’s responses read like they believed Hornaday made a direct correlation between their films and Rodger’s sexist entitlement. This raises a question of editorial etiquette.

By leading with a photo of Rogen promoting his newest film Neighbors, the article makes this implication, which is unfortunate. It takes focus away from a broader systemic problem: Hollywood is dominated by men, men who write what they know, and what they know rarely covers the experiences of women. This is why female characters are so often seen through the eyes of male leads. This turns girls into goals, when better writing would give every character a goal of their own.

The underrepresentation of women on the big screen contributes to an empathy gap in men. It might have been a part of Elliot Rodger’s problem. I’ve written about how male writers can help to correct this, but really, women need to be equally represented in the writing room. That’s something predominately male producers need to hear, something we should all be asking for.

I believe entertainment has a broader impact on our culture. It may not drive our actions, but it contributes to our self perception. Rather than shy away from this conversation, I urge Hornaday to find more support for her conclusions, drawing them out in a longer form (maybe an ongoing series on the subject). I’d invite her to include television, cable news, and advertisements in the conversation. If she does, I’d be interested to see what she finds.

Fred Phelps: An Ironic Legacy

This post comes with a trigger warning. Discussing a hate group and their leader, I had to chronicle what they’ve done. For those of you who come to my blog seeking writing advice, short fiction, and memoir entries, an article on Fred Phelps might seem off topic. I’ve met the man on two occasions, and as a commentator on trolls, cyber bullies, and internet culture, I felt compelled to weigh in.

(Thanks to Achilles Sangster for providing many of the photos featured throughout, check out his blog here)

Fred Phelps: An Ironic Legacy

No, this wasn’t Photoshopped. Back in 2001, I met Fred Phelps
No, this wasn’t Photoshopped. Back in 2001, I met Fred Phelps (photo by Achilles Sangster)

In America, 17 States now allow same-sex marriage. The constitutionality of gay marriage bans are being challenged. Media pundits, who once built followings on anti-gay rhetoric, are losing their sponsorship. Efforts to deny service to gay people under the guise of “preserving religious freedom” are being vetoed left and right.

There are many heroes in this new era of civil rights: plaintiffs who brought unjust laws to the supreme court, students who formed GLBT groups, actors, musicians, and sports figures who outed themselves. Still, few have swayed the court of public opinion as much as one man.

Reverend Fred Phelps, the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, the group responsible for the infamous God Hates Fags demonstrations.

13 years after my first encounter with Fred Phelps, so much has changed. 2 years ago, my home state of Minnesota shot down a gay marriage ban. Last fall, our first same sex marriage ceremonies happened.

We made this progress, despite the best efforts of people like Phelps, or perhaps because of them.

Continue reading Fred Phelps: An Ironic Legacy

I Wrote A Bad Article

Has this ever happened to you? You felt like posting a controversial opinion online, but feared the fallout from your followers. You could’ve let the whole thing go, but you wanted to say something, so you came at it from an awkward angle. You chose to be confusing instead of controversial. The greater your social media presence, the more eyes of judgement are upon you, so you vague-booked. You blogged ambiguously. You committed crimes against clarity. You reached out with oven mitts on, because you were afraid of getting burned.

I’m just as guilty of these lies of omission. This is my confession.

Tie in Mouth Cover

I Wrote A Bad Article

I had a sensational headline with a hook that guaranteed it would go viral, but for all my promises of heated debate, I’d written a tepid article. Expecting their triggers to be set off, the reader would find themselves shrugging. For all my big bold print and explanation points, my title was misleading. It was edgy in tone, but not in content. Rather than go to bat for my cause, I played it safe. Rather than tip the scales, I barely weighed in on the subject.

In my mind, coworkers were reading over my shoulder. Dating prospects were crossing me off lists. Relatives were filling up on conversations for next Thanksgiving. I saw my social media followers scattering. This wasn’t my usual platitudes with attitude. It wasn’t inspiring, it was alienating. I found myself revising more than I was writing.

My literary voice cracked. My writing persona got stage fright. I bit my tongue, I choked on it. I wasn’t about to showcase my untested material. I wasn’t about to go dropping any microphones.

Afraid to let my controversial idea slip, I reported the controversy. Sighting polarizing extremes, I said there were two sides to every story. Then I implied they both had equal validity. I was a shepherd, shaming my readers toward the center. I walked my flock down the middle of the road, because I thought it was safer there.

It turned out my muse had centrist views.

My position didn’t support the facts. My neutrality was a non-reality. I tiptoed around the issue, and lied about the topography. I built a straw man, not to misrepresent the opposition, but to obscure their identity. Careful not to name names, I went after their behavior, and ignored the cause of it. I condemned easy targets like I was the only one brave enough to do it. I was a voice in a choir of condescension, pretending to be the most outspoken. Meanwhile, a grave injustice passed by unchallenged.

I tried to convince myself that it wasn’t the message that mattered, it was the wordplay. My readers wanted wit, not truth in jest. Piling on pointless alliteration, I spruced up the form to conceal the function. I turned prose into poetry. I distorted a clear picture into an abstract painting.

Rather than acknowledge the opposition’s argument, I addressed the logical fallacies in how they presented it. I didn’t go high or low, I took the off road. I sidestepped the issue. Rather than attack a dangerous claim, I lashed out at how it was said, putting semantics before substance. My fallacy was thinking that pointing out the opposition’s deceptions proved them wrong.

I was afraid to make a statement until the court of popular opinion had rendered a verdict. I wanted to take a stand, but I was afraid I’d be crushed beneath the bandwagon. Those big wheels keep on turning. They have to pass before Captain Hindsight can say something.

As I typed, I saw the rebuttal editorials forming. I saw the trolls frothing. I didn’t feel like curating the comment section. I didn’t feel like I owed everyone an explanation. I wanted to speak my piece, not have a conversation.

I saw myself seated at the misfit table at the next wedding. I saw my classmates avoiding me at the next reunion. I saw future in-laws, armed with confrontation ammunition.

While other causes are finally coming out of the closet, my lobby isn’t exactly making a lot of friends. Our delegates come across as elitists. They’re not winning hearts and minds so much as getting the rest of us condemned. When speakers list different groups to celebrate a diversity of opinion, we’re rarely mentioned.

I couldn’t find a mouthpiece to hide behind, a source to quote that said exactly what I was thinking. So I laundered my opinion through a complicated analogy, hoping that no one would see my words for the story. Afraid to talk politics and religion at the dinner table, I peppered them into a different conversation. I made ambiguous allusions, so I could get off on a technicality. I made noncommittal statements in case I needed to shrug off my beliefs.

I wrote a bad article. It compromised the truth in the interest of fairness. It compromised my journalistic etiquette by being politically correct. It committed a wrong by not fully addressing another wrong. It omitted evidence in the interest of balance. It looked down on the reader from the middle ground. It turns out the half way point between the truth and a lie, is still a lie.

I’m a liar liar, and I burn my pants in penance.

Panicked