The Onion that made me cry

There’s a lot more important stuff to be steamed about, but I am still disappointed with The Onion. A couple of weeks ago they stumbled across some imaginary PC line by tweeting something unfunny and rude about Quvenzhané Wallis, thus activating another cycle on the mass media outrage machine. Followed by a public apology, as is prescribed in such cases.

The satirical intent of the The Onion ought to be clear to us all by now, and I’m pretty sure that the tweet about young Miss Wallis was not an actual editorial position. I don’t feel that makes the joke any less repugnant, but I don’t understand why this particular stinker warranted an apology. Was it the use of the now-fashionably intolerable C-word? The Onion‘s articles are thoroughly peppered with naughty language. What about making a child or, worse yet, a black girl child the subject of fun? Also a regular feature on The Onion: there have been jokes about the president’s daughters that didn’t get the same reaction. Just a general lack of taste? Maybe, but nobody reads The Onion for its good taste.

In fact quite the opposite. If, for example, you don’t think a deranged despot lording over malnourished children is funny, then you might not think there is anything funny about North Korea. But the regime’s delusional self-righteousness in the face of its obvious incompetence and cruelty is pretty absurd and worthy of ridicule. To a (much) lesser extent our fawning over a child actress improbably nominated for an Academy Award is just as self-serving. When she turns sixteen or thereabout, if anyone still cares, the entertainment media and its consumers will be in her business about being too skinny, or too fat, or too sexy for her age, or just generally acting like a teenager. We will chew her up and spit her out at our leisure. This grace period we feel entitled to give her is no less capricious than the occasional generosity the Kims might show toward one of their wretched citizens.

The implications of The Onion‘s apology are that they will have to show contrition for every failure to self-censor, every time we don’t quite get the joke, and every time we wrongly expect something high-minded from a website that posts headlines like “God Worried He Fucked Up His Children.” For every hit-the-nail-right-on-the-head article they write plenty of bombs. We’ll have to accept the bad with the good, or there won’t be any good.

Author’s note: As usual this is not a very timely post but it takes me a while to ruminate over the meanings of such things. Actually, I wonder if the contemporary media might benefit from a little deliberate reflection instead of being an outlet for reaction.


I use Twitter at work. And by “use” I mean maybe a couple of times a month I transmit bits of news with a link to a longer version on our website. Believe it or not, we have nearly a thousand followers. And I can’t discern a single benefit of using it. A quick check of our web analytics shows that Twitter referred exactly two visitors to our website in the past year.

In fact, I concluded this afternoon that I simply do not understand Twitter. I do not understand how people use information on Twitter, or if they use it all. I do not understand how hashtags work or how to find anything on Twitter. I suspect it is nothing more than a cheap form of entertainment.

Away from work I use it hardly at all. I may be ambivalent about Facebook but I am positively disinterested in Twitter. The few friends I follow don’t use much either and the tweets of my unfamiliars hold no appeal for me.


I am going to try to use it a little more, for educational purposes, to see if this curmudgeonly screed is correct or if I’m just completely ignorant. I’ll report back in a month.

State of the blog

It seems I have not written much since our trip to Europe. After long, busy trips like that, it takes a while to get my journal typed up, and the photos uploaded and captioned. I was ready to take a little break when I finished with that, but I’ve barely been back to writing and I don’t know why.

I’ve been at this for a while, so it’s fun to go back and read older posts. When I started blogging (on LiveJournal) it was more of a “I did this today” kind of thing. I bet that’s how most people start out. The last few years, as I’ve become a better writer, the posts have become more like essays.

I’ve delegated some of the functions of this blog to other technologies. I rate movies on Netflix, for example, which helps them recommend movies to me; therefore I’ve become lazier about writing about movies.

I’ve also stopped writing about politics. A year or two ago, I toyed with idea of making this blog more focused and involved in online political discussion. But I realized that the Web is already clogged with people carelessly spouting off their opinions and not listening to anyone else. I doubt I have much to add.

Facebook provides a more sequestered platform for the routine updates that once populated this space, and are more likely to be read by my friends. Also, I’ve learned the hard way to shy away from committing my immediate thoughts and feelings to the open spaces of the World Wide Web.

Trying to coordinate these various specialized platforms—making the website a hub for my online content—involves much more work than I was putting into this site four years ago. I used to focus my labors on the layout and design; now I have to fuss with the function.

In many ways WordPress 3.0 is a very good blogging platform. The developers focus on the core functions of writing and organizing of posts and comments, and that stuff works really well. The rest depends on plug-ins and themes to extend function and design, some of which is a little too wonky and technical for me. I have mostly failed at these efforts. (WordPress’s new system of modifying themes is particularly difficult). The result is a less interesting-looking site with dwindling content.

I’m not sure if I’m complaining or just self-critiquing. I’ve heard blogging is being made obsolete by more proprietary social media. I don’t think it has to be so. There’s always a place for the individual creative voice. It might be time to get back to some of the basics, to make it fun again.

Big breasts and market research

On my Facebook home page, there are these ads asking me to rate pictures of beautiful women with enormous breasts. This begs a few questions. First, do all guys get these ads? I didn’t put anything in my profile indicating my breast size preferences.

Second, if all the women in the pictures are gorgeous and stacked, aren’t they likely to receive more or less the same ratings? I can’t imagine what insights could be gleaned after thousands of ratings of “four and a half out of five stars.”

Third, for which sinister commercial purposes could this information be used? Maybe it’s an inverted form of social engineering: instead of trying to figure out and then sell me what I’m mostly likely to buy, the advertisers believe I will buy anything if it is offered by a chick whose cup size is perfectly calibrated to my tastes. I imagine myself sitting and clicking in a ta-ta induced stupor, buying whatever a luscious pair of gravity-defying melons command me to buy.

There must be a lesson here, but a babe with a sweater-stretching rack is blocking my view of it.

Cognitive dissonance at work

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at this news release from the Secretary of the Interior. It heralds the entrance of the Interior Department into the “YouTube, Facebook, Flickr, and Twitter Age.” However, the Department of the Interior, as of this afternoon at least, is still blocking employees from accessing YouTube, Facebook, and other social networking sites from government computers (Twitter has been temporarily unblocked this month so we can communicate during the airing of “The National Parks” on PBS). The National Park Service’s Facebook site, mentioned in the article, is likely maintained by employees from their homes on their own time.

Online social networks

I’ve been involved in some discussion within our agency about how to use online social networking (the shorthand for it is usually Facebook, but it could be YouTube, Flickr, craigslist or whatever). On one hand, something really bothers me about the government belatedly oozing into what people have been doing just fine without it. On the other hand, online social networking could be a powerful tool for engaging (a popular buzzword) the public. To what end nobody can really explain to me. All I hear is “we have to go where the people are.” Go and do what? Nobody knows yet but it ought to be good.

I use Facebook a little bit (at home), for no other reason than most of my friends are on it. E-mail wasn’t helping me keep up anymore. But I find Facebook to be shallow and proprietary. Fine, I’ve taken some movie quizzes and had a sheep thrown at me. But I can’t communicate into or out of it, so if a friend isn’t using it I’ll have to keep up with him some other way (back to e-mail anyway). If I understand their business model, in return for free use of the site they are putting all that personal information to use somehow.

Also, I maintain this blog at some personal expense of effort (and a little of money). Facebook allows you to import blog entries but they seem to discourage it and it seems to not work all that well anyway. I’d like to be able to share my writings and photos with my friends without signing them over to some business.

In the future, online social networking ought to transcend proprietary sites like Facebook by being more portable and by respecting the users’ ownership of their information.

These new-fangled gadgets

I’m half-listening to Frontline as I clean my kitchen. It’s about teenagers and how they use the Internet to socialize. They use it to a degree I can’t comprehend. I’m happy to e-mail my friends and write in this blog. I have accounts on Facebook and MySpace which I don’t bother with much. I’ve used the occasional dating website in the past. And that’s about it for my online social life.

Every generation goes through this. In the ’20s it was cars; in the ’50s rock and roll. The paranoid parents and shrill public officials decrying the terrors of the Internet remind me of the people who thought Elvis was the devil.

Amazon recently released a portable digital book that you can download literature onto. I don’t think it will fly. If they are anything like me, people who read books like books. I can’t read on a computer screen at length. The people who do get their written words electronically probably don’t read anything as long as a book, right?

Lately I’ve been wondering what I’ll be like as an old man. My grandkids (and I’ll likely be very old before I have any) would roll their eyes and say, “He watches movies and reads magazines. He listens to Rage Against the Machine and The B-52s. He walks. And he still won’t get a USB port installed in his skull. Stubborn old geezer.” I think I’ll just tell the brats right off that I can’t relate and if they can’t accept that then they can go virtually fuck themselves. Damn whippersnappers.