Thursday, May 23, 2013

Onion Leadership “Not Taking it Seriously,” Former Staffer Warns.

            It wasn’t easy to find him. I had heard rumors of a disillusioned Onion employee willing to deal insider gossip, but it took weeks of phone calls and emails to track him down. Finally, after a few cryptic tweets, I was directed to a popular neighborhood bar in a large city. He arrived on a fixed gear bicycle, with mustache handlebars and electrical tape obscuring the brand name. As the bicycle leaned against our table, he told his sordid tale over the aluminum brim of a PBR.
            “In the old days, like ’07 or ’08, I’m sure it was a great place to be. They were all real serious about it. . . really into the irony. But now, it’s like they just want to be funny.”
            That’s the gist of his tale. Once a grassroots publication distributed for free, The Onion earnestly probed the ironic foibles of American culture. It was precisely this love of tradecraft which drew my young source to the company. However, after several months on the job, it became clear that his employer had lost its passion.
            “All the time it was like, ‘We’ve got this thing that needs published, and it’s got to be funny. So, irony is nice, but we need something from you now.’”
            These accusations come from a man with a credible history. Raised by a wealthy family near an Ivy League school, he refused to use his education fund to “play the game.” Rather, he took the money and relocated to an emerging urban neighborhood where he felt he could best fight the prevailing systems of societal injustice on the back of his two-wheeled transportation. The Onion job seemed like the perfect opportunity to ironically reveal the lies of “the machine.” However, the young crusader was crushed when he discovered that it was all, quite literally, one big joke.
            I hoped he would provide some insight. Perhaps he had a vision for restoring passionate irony to the media institution. But, with the chime of his iPhone, he was gone, off to another bar meeting to sip PBR while  fighting the growing intellectual void of that is our culture.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

The Ferocious Mentor

I recently spent a few weeks' worth of bedtime stories reading Rudyard Kipling's classic, The Jungle Book, to my son. In it a young human boy, Mowgli, is separated from his parents during a tiger attack, and is raised by jungle animals. Among these beasts, Mowlgi has two designated mentors, Baloo the Bear and Bagheera the Panther. These two are charged with teaching Mowgli the necessary laws and skills to not only survive, but thrive, in the jungle.

As I read the story to my son, I became uncomfortable with the way Mowgli was treated by Baloo and Bagheera. Occasionally they were unkind, scathing, even physically abusive. Yet, they always did these things for the stated purpose of preparing Mowgli to survive the harsh realities of the world in which he lived. I began to think about this relationship and my experience with mentorship. I've had a number of would-be "mentors" in my life. Often, these were individuals who would praise my giftedness in an attempt to secure greater commitment to a specific ministry or cause. That isn't mentoring. However, I have also encountered those rare individuals with the talent and courage to rip open my soul with one question and cause me to face realities in myself I would rather have ignored. They pushed me to go places and do things that made me uncomfortable and fearful. Yet, despite all of the ferocity they unleashed on my developing character, they reserved a good deal for my support, protection, and edification. Much like Baloo and Bagheera, they often behaved in ways I initially believed unkind, even hurtful, but remained by my side, guiding me through the experience and leading me to a place where I was more acquainted with Truth and better equipped to mature in life and ministry.

Baloo and Bagheera have taught me that, while a mentor should be caring and attentive, he must also sometimes be ferocious, for he doesn't aim to raise up a "man cub" who ekes out a living, but one that thrives and lives victoriously in this, often brutal, world.

This post is part of Evangelical Seminary's Leadership Synchroblog.

Friday, March 27, 2009

One of the Great Dilemmas of Life

On a recent Facebook quiz (where else does one encounter probing questions about life?) I was presented with the following option: Pirate or Ninja? This is one of those questions that every adult in the western world must eventually answer for themselves, but let me aid you in your quest by taking you down the road that eventually put me at ease with this issue.

Let's look at the two based on their merits. Ninja's have a number of positive qualities on their side. First, is toys. Ninja's have a wide array of amazingly awesome weapons at their disposal, which have equally amazing names: nunchuk, katana, star. Their uniform, although resembling an adult form of footsie pajamas, is also appealing. Who doesn't want to be clad in black, slinking across a midnight rooftop to assasinate a foe? The uniformity of the ninja uniform adds safety. There is no way of knowing which ninja killed your father. Finally, the ninja has mystery. No one knows who the ninja is or where he lives. In an odd way, this makes the dream somewhat attainable. Anyone of us could be a ninja in our free time and no one would know.

Pirates also have toys. Most importantly, they have a ship and all the enjoyment that comes with sailing and the sea (including canons!). Add to that the cutlass, dagger, and pistol and the pirate has a toy chest that rivals the ninja. The pirate uniform is the opposite of the ninja, but equally appealing in its own way. It isn't really fair to call it a uniform, because pirates really just wear whatever they wake up in. It lacks conformity, but is incredibly easy to wear and maintain. Even if we exclude the Dread Pirate Roberts, pirates also have an air of mystery surrounding them. Who wouldn't want the high seas to tremble with the rumors of their cruelty? The problem with pirate mystery is that it never ends well. Eventually the pirate is caught, imprisoned, hung, or otherwise publicly shamed. The pirate life isn't easily accessible. Unlike the ninja, you can't just be a pirate on the weekends, it requires more of an intense commitment.

So, both pirate and ninja have some positive qualities, and both are very appealing (that is what makes the decision so hard), but ultimately I think this great dilemma comes down to a question of lifestyle vs. capability. Ninja's are highly capable, thus their reputation, but you never see them charging into battle with their beard on fire or ending the day with a beer and a wench. Ninja's don't seem to have any fun. Pirates do have fun. In fact, I would argue that pirates are fun. Theirs is a life of leisure on the high seas, punctuated by breif moments of intense battle. The problem with pirates is that they aren't very capable. While the ninja trains for battle, the pirate lounges between battles, and therefore has to pick his fights carefully and often flees from his most challenging foes.

At the end of the day, I have to choose the pirate. Mostly because of the lifestyle, but also because of the fame. Ninja's are really cool, but they all look alike. I can't imagine how frustrating it must be for them to assasinate the local shogun, but then have all the credit taken by some kid down the street who sits around eating wonton all day. Ninja's are anonymous. Name one. Now name a pirate. Name three. True, the deeds of the ninja live long after his death, but the name of the pirate lives along with those deeds. That is why, when faced with the question Pirate or Ninja? I must always respond "Pirate."

Friday, February 27, 2009


I was talking to Proteinstar about starting some sort of riff competition on the blogs. You get a random subject and have 24 hours to post on it. I'm also working on an article/paper on the Twilight series and can't quite seem to get the words out, so I thought "now is the time to riff." Here is it is, my random thoughts on why Twilight is so appealing to teens.

On the surface, the popularity of Twilight might be surprising. Few vampire tales gain much more than a cult following, and one that crosses into mainstream culture is almost unheard of. The real appeal of Twilight is that it isn't actually about vampires. It is about a teenage girl and her feelings of loneliness, inadequecy, and mediocrity balanced with her desire for independence and a place to belong. This is a theme that resonates with every teenage girl in the western world because it is about them. But Meyer (the author) didn't stop at connecting with teenage girls on their level, she made all of their wildest dreams come true. When Bella (the main character) moves to a new, smaller, high school she suddenly finds that she actually is everything that she always thought she wasn't. She is set upon by a number of boys looking to make her their own, including Edward, the hottest guy in school. At first Bella finds this hard to believe, as Meyer's writing, perfectly designed for the teenage girl, demonstrates:

Of course he wasn't interested in me, I thought angrily, my eyes stinging. . . I wasn't interesting. And he was. Interesting. . . and brilliant. . . and mysterious. . . and perfect. . . and beautiful. . . and possibly able to lift full-sized vans with one hand.
After he miraculously saves her from a car accident, Bella begins to suspect that there is more to Edward than meets the eye. She soon finds out that she is correct, and that her lonely, inadequate, mediocre self has attracted something more amazing than she ever could have imagined. A vampire. As we will discuss later Edward's "family," the Cullens, also provide a safe and loving community where Bella finds meaning and belonging. Another desperate desire of teenagers today.
The actual romance with Edward is pure teen gold. The two meet and fall hopelessly in love in a matter of weeks. Their relationship has relatively few internal hardships beyond Edward's desire to drink Bella's blood. This is also appealing to teenagers. Edward is the ultimate bad boy, one can hardly imagine someone more dangerous for Bella to get involved with, but she alone is enough of an incentive for him to behave. Edward even takes extra steps to ensure that he will not overcome with desire when near Bella. What girl doesn't want to be the one to turn the bad boy good?
Meyer's grasp of this "Girl World" that so many teens live in has led some to suggest that she hasn't matured much beyond the level of a teenager herself. In fact, Meyer drew from her own experiences in high school and college when writing the books. This, along with the romantic aspects of the story, may be why so many adult women have become fans of the series.

Ok, I think that's enough for me to keep moving along. Sorry that I didn't have something more interesting to riff on (the intellectual relationship between zombies and jazz would be fun. . . bonus points for quoting Nietzsche), but this is my life. If my prof likes the paper it might get published in a local youth culture journal. I'll keep you posted.

PS. I spelled Nietzsche right on the first try!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Philosophizing and the State of the Perpetually Worthless.

When Jesus talked about Hell he used the word "Gehena," which was actually the formal name for a garbage dump just outside of Jerusalem that was perpetually on fire. when you think about this, it is possible that Hell isn't some remote geographic region, but is actually located near a land of great wealth. Where would the piles of smoldering refuse come from if not from a place constantly creating new and wonderful things, thus rendering old things worthless? Gehena itself was located outside of the regional center of culture and religion. If the concept is true, then perhaps Hell doesn't specifically have any geographic boundaries at all, it is merely a state of worthlessness. Your keys, for example, are valuable to you, but if you lose them they suddenly lose thier value. You may search for them, because they still have the potential to be valuable, but as long as they remain lost they are not. It doesn't matter where they are lost at. They could be under your couch, in your jacket, or as far away as the city dump, as long as they are lost they are in Gehena, the land of the perpetually worthless. Their geographic location matters little, but their status in relation to the land of great wealth does. Because they are lost they are in Gehena. Hell could actually be described as the State of the Perpetually Worthless.

That was the straight forward part. Stick with me for a quantum leap of logic (also, prepare to be offended). This past weekend Protienstar had some family visit from Rhode Island. On their trip, they briefly got off of the highway in New Jersey and got lost because they were in Jersey and didn't know where they were. I would argue the opposite. I think that they were in New Jersey because they were lost (don't get ahead of me now!). What is New Jersey other than a vaguely described state located between lands of great wealth, New York, the shore, and Philadelphia (ok, Philly's a stretch)? Who among us hasn't heard some grand tale of being lost in New Jersey? Could it be, that New Jersey isn't so much described geographically for what it is, but for what it isn't when related to the lands of great wealth? Think about it. When people get lost in New Jersey they do so because they have left or avoided a regional center for culture and entertainment. They have rendered themselves worthless to the places that matter in the world and are condemned to fester in Gehena. So the next time you find yourself on some shell of a road, trying to find your way home from the beach, remember, you aren't lost because you are in New Jersey. You are in New Jersey because you are lost.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Coming Out

It didn't take long did it? His first week in office was barely over before the media was declaring that Obama's "honeymoon" was over. Now we're finding out that some of his political appointees are in fact politicians (the shock) and have engaged in all of the unsavory activities that politicians seem drawn to, like not paying taxes. Some people seem generally distraught by this, some outraged, some overjoyed. "The Chosen One" has turned out to be imperfect after all (so much for living life according to Oprah).

I had to run a check in to our district office before lunch today, so I bailed out of the office around 11, got halfway to my car before realizing that I didn't actually have the check. Had to turn around and go back. That got me thinking. Why did this happen? I couldn't very well blame the check, because it was exactly where I had left it. I couldn't blame my car, becuase it really wasn't involved in any meaningful way. Couldn't blame coworkers, I was the only one around. Couldn't find a way to chuck it on the layout of the building. I did have to pee really bad, but that's because I drank way too much water after working out today. I probably spent a good twenty minutes thinking about how this happened when I finally though, "Holy s--t! Barack Obama's not perfect!" This really liberated my worldview. If the leader of the free world, and the hope for every generation until the end of time, isn't perfect than maybe I'm not either. Could this be? It took me a few hours to come to grips with the thought, but now I'm at ease with the fact and am ready to come out publicly. People of the world, I am not perfect. Not only am I not perfect, but I am challenging you to embrace this imperfection. Join me in publicly declaring your imperfection to the world!

PS. My church is bringing back revival meetings to be more outreach oriented. How retarded is that?

Sunday, February 01, 2009

What I'm Not Watching.

The "Super" Bowl. Why? Because I really fail to see what is so "super" about it. I don't know why. Watching fat guys smash into each other at top speed should rate high on my list of entertainment options, and I actually find football to be exciting. However, I also find football to be largely unintelligent and mildly homosexual (ask me about my "tights and twirling" rule). Instead, Roverine and I went to see Slumdog Millionaire and I think we'll watch a video or something. Slumdog was really good, you should check it out. Bollywood seems willing to push the visual envelope a little more than most US films. American films do this, but it's an all or nothing thing like 300. So anyway, I am taking a few breaks to check the score so I'm not a complete cultural idiot. I'm also taping it to watch the commercials later. I think that's the end of my thoughts for now.