Category Archives: words

How the media bungled ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’

Man with large old-fashioned megaphone

(Image courtesy of Vancouver Public Library Historical Photographs)

Pop (music) quiz.

Do you know how many radio stations there are in the U.S.?

15,330

OK, tough one. Maybe this is easy.

Do you know how many radio stations in the U.S. announced they would stop playing “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” this year?

What do you think? A dozen? Dozens? A hundred? Hundreds?

Try this number:

Four.

Yes, four — at least as far as all the media accounts I scoured.

  • WDOK in Cleveland
  • KOSI in Denver
  • KOIT in San Francisco
  • WHIT in Madison

Those are all I could find under multiple articles with overreaching headlines like “More radio stations ban ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside amid #MeToo controversy,” “Even more radio stations have banned ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside,’ but listeners are fighting back,” and “Backlash as more radio stations ban ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside over lyrics.”

Oh yeah, at least two of those stations have put the song back in rotation. But let’s not let facts get in the way.

Facts sure didn’t get in the way of so-called regular media and the social media machine as articles and commenters shouted about “several radio stations” (four is “several”?), “radio stations across the country” (geographically correct, but disingenuous) and the whopper “radio stations everywhere” banning the seemingly creepy (yet slightly less so in the context of the times it was written) holiday standard.

I don’t really have a horse in the race of whether or not to play it — Do I like it? Not really. Would I tell others not to listen to it? Not my thing, but whatever. — but the bigger problem here is the hype and the lack of context spread, or how a few became several that became radio stations everywhere.

These are political times, and the idea — real, inflated or imagined — of “politically correct” types banning the song plays toward interests and agendas that want to a) feed culture wars and b) distract you from things that are actually going wrong that might impact actual human lives, to keep you from knowing or caring.

Yet it’s really sad how easily so many media outlets bought something impacting 0.00026 percent of U.S. radio stations (yes, I know, Canadian stations did, but USians don’t generally care) and turned it into a huge, nefarious network of an imagined anti-fun movement of cultural policing. (And hey, if somebody finds that dozens or hundreds of stations banned it in the U.S., I’m happy to update and correct this post.)

“The hardest thing to kill is an idea,” one of my history professors liked to say, and it now extends to narratives that take over social media. He imparted that wisdom before Facebook could easily be manipulated into apparent truth and launch a thousand memes. So of course those oversimplified narratives fully fed the Facebook Outrage Machine, which is perhaps the most fuel-efficient construct ever, able to run long distances on very little substance.

Then came the memes making fun of the “bans” (by four U.S. radio stations), and making fun of those making fun of the “bans” (by four U.S. radio stations) and on and on until the truth, the scope of the actual news, became irrelevant.

Think about whether you shared one of those links or, if not, how many of your friends (or “friends”) shared them, and whether you liked or commented on them.

Now think about that, and think about how easy it is for the news and alleged trends to be manipulated.

Baby, it’s cold outside the walls of media literacy.

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‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is a kind of magic

Queen on stage as portrayed in Bohemian Rhapsody

(Twenty-First Century Fox promotional photo)

Going into “Bohemian Rhapsody,” I knew to expect great music — Queen is one of the best bands ever, after all — but ultimately the story and the performances make this a movie that will rock you.

In retrospect, the ascension of a bunch of musical misfits who created norms-defying songs and led by a strange-looking frontman really is an underdog story. So many of us either caught Queen’s ascension at the time or afterwards that going back to the beginning and realizing/remembering just how unusual this band and its music was becomes instructive.

The talk of Rami Malik deserving an Oscar nomination as Freddie Mercury is legit. Since I don’t pay much attention to entertainment news, it really did take me half the movie to realize it was the same guy from “Mr. Robot.” Malik is asked to show us a Freddie who is at turns confident and lonely, hot and cold, and coming to grasp with his sexuality and its place in a more constrained society, and he delivers magnificently.

But I was additionally pleased the movie didn’t make this all about Mercury and sell short the contributions of his bandmates. The rest of the band, who look strikingly like their real-world selves (especially Gwilym Lee as Brian May, but also Ben Hardy as Roger Taylor and Joe Mazello as John Deacon), show a range of emotion and real chemistry to bring us even further into the tale. That the movie includes May’s vision for the stomp-clap of “We Will Rock You” and Deacon presenting his disco-influenced bass riff that became “Another One Bites the Dust” are fabulous bits that really flesh out the band’s collaborative talents — and makes the times when a misguided Mercury pushes back on the band’s family feeling even more compelling.

Lucy Boynton as Mary Austin has both some heartbreaking scenes as Mercury’s wife who realizes he is gay well before he accepts it but also heartwarming parts as somebody who sticks by him even as his life strays the wrong direction under manipulative manager Paul Prenter (Allen Leech). Even seemingly smaller roles like Mercury’s family and his eventual partner Jim Hutton (Aaron McCusker) allow the performers to show genuine humanity and decency many such movies wouldn’t bother to provide.

One could quibble with the historical accuracy, or lack thereof, of parts of the film. From the formation of the band through when Mercury actually received his AIDS diagnosis, the filmmakers take some liberties with facts and timelines. This should probably bother me (and my history degree) more than it does, but a biopic is not a documentary. The reworking parts of the backstory come in service to creating a more powerful story, and the film is such a fun ride that I won’t get hung up on it. This is a Hollywood tale, after all, which is both based on a real band and a wonderful bit of escapism.

If you’re a Queen fan, it goes without saying you should see this movie. But even if you aren’t, the music and the story and the performances are all so engrossing, enjoyable and entertaining that it’s likely you’ll leave the theater as a Queen fan. It really is a kind of magic.

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#heweb18: solving the mermaid’s dilemma

A mermaid performs in a Dive Bar aquarium

It’s perhaps an apt metaphor that one of our favorite stops during the recent HighEdWeb Conference in Sacramento (aka #heweb18) was the nightly mermaid shows at a place called Dive Bar. Because, in a way, higher ed communicators find themselves in the mermaid’s dilemma.

The folk tale that also served as the basis for the Disney blockbuster “The Little Mermaid” features the mermaid Ariel falling in love with a human, but facing a difficult decision: If she remains true to who she is, as a sea-dwelling mermaid, she has no future with the man she loves. If she could adapt human form, she could never go back to her mermaid lifestyle.

We feel like that in the higher ed digital community sometimes. We try to stay true to ourselves and what we know our best practices, but something we find ourselves trying to please others in ways that go against our own core values.

We can gain enough expertise to speak at a conference full of brilliant humans, only to be treated like paupers on our own campuses. Through education, training, sharing ideas, innovation and trial and error, we gain expertise that allows us to generate success for our institutions and our audiences. But then HiPPOs and various others with no knowledge of these acquired best practices dismiss our expertise and make requests we know are not good for our institutions: Post this flyer on social media, put this dense mission statement prominently on the website, write this story that we’ve said no to others in the past and now will have to write 10 more in the future.

But the thing about the mermaid’s dilemma, and folks tails in general, is that it assumes a false dichotomy: We can either be this thing or that thing. We make the same mistake in higher ed: We can either do things our way or their way. But that’s overly simplistic. Generally fairy tales work themselves out with some kind of deux ex machina or some kind of magic. nd you know what: We work in positions where we can make magic happen.

As it turns out, closing keynote Sir Ken Robinson gave us the keys for getting past our mermaid’s dilemma. He spoke of the three Cs that aren’t used enough in educating children but which can better prepare them for the future: curiosity, creativity and collaboration.

Curiosity: Yes, we think we have the answers, but have we, in fact, asked the questions? One facet of curiosity is that we need to get outside ourselves (or get over ourselves) and learn more about what those asking things of us truly want. Another facet of curiosity is always looking for a better way and trying new things to move our institutions — and the industry — forward.

Creativity: This is where the magic happens. Whether it’s in writing, video, photography or other content creation; coding; design; implementation of technology; or any other part of digital communications, we put our minds, our hands and our teams to work to solve problems, even the ones that seem difficult if not impossible.

Collaboration: The idea that, in higher ed, we only have our way or their way is self-destructive. That administrator or dean or faculty member whose requests might rub you the wrong way wants the same thing you do: to recruit great students, provide them with opportunities and pave the way toward fruitful futures. We might disagree on the methods, but we want the same outcome. This is an opportunity for you to cultivate your curiosity (learn more about their viewpoints, problems and needs), instill your creativity (find clever and effective ways to solve their problems) and collaboration (remember that you’re on the same team, and to go out and build those teams. And #heweb18 shows how many of us collaborate with other campuses by sharing expertise, ideas and advice.

To those I would add a fourth C: Care. This came up in multiple presentations and contexts. We do what we do because we care about our institutions and our students. But speakers also kept promoting self-care: about finding the right work-life rhythm, about finding ways to recharge and refresh our bodies and minds and about realizing that if we’re not happy and energized, we can’t bring the best to our institutions and our students.

For those of us blessed to work in higher education, it isn’t a question of doing things in the way we’re comfortable with or abandoning what we’ve always known to please others. It’s a question of how we can make our choices work for everybody at the table, and ultimately work for our students. It’s hard work but it’s also a kind of magic.

And to attend a conference where we constantly learn new and exciting things, see mermaids swimming in giant aquariums atop bars and attend the awesome annual #karaokeplane where hundreds of people — both from the conference and locals — come together for an uplifting  evening of improvised entertainment … well, it’s enough to make you believe that magic can happen.

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The Frank Turner experience: part concert, part therapy

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Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls rocking in concert

Seeing Frank Turner live is as much of a group therapy session as it is a(n excellent) concert.

Frank’s catalogue includes beautiful, poignant song about broken people trying to mend themselves. His words have found many of us at the right time in the right place with the right message. For me, songs like “Recovery,” “The Next Storm” and “Get Better” all lifted my spirits and my thoughts when I really needed it. And looking around the crowd that enjoyed Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls’ show last night at the State Theater in Ithaca, I was far from alone. Many people were shouting his lyrics back cathartically, while others wore their emotion on their faces, these songs washing over them and making them feel cleansed.

He’s been through a lot himself, known as a man who got where he is by a rather ridiculous work ethic couple with being a charismatic everyman. It comes across in his songs, his shows and, if you want a nice read, his autobiography “The Road Beneath My Feet.” Frank is a rock star, to be sure, but this nervous, angular, foul-mouthed Englishman really feels like one of us.

Frank tells audiences his shows have two rules: “Don’t be an asshole” and “If you know the words, sing.” If you don’t know the words, he says, you can dance. But he also urged the crowd to dance during various songs, so much of the crowd was singing and dancing.

He started with a slow song, the title track off his new album “Be More Kind,” which thematically set the theme for the night. Frank and the band picked things up with “1933,” one of a few tracks on the new record castigating fascists and racists (as any good punk rocker would) and by the time the crowd was sing “we can get better/because we’re not dead yet” from “Get Better,” the show was in full gear.

A smattering of people had their smartphones out taking a lot of pictures and recording, although it seemed like less than an average show. Frank and the Sleeping Souls provide a very immersive concert experience, best not viewed through a tiny lense. Take a few photos to remember the experience, sure — I usually do mine during the first few songs, then put my phone away — but realize this a live and dynamic thing you should enjoy in the moment. In “Don’t Worry,” the first track on his new album, Frank even has a few lines that seem to address the need to spend less time with technology and be more human:

Don’t let your heart get hardened into stone
Or lose yourself in looking at your phone
So many so-called friends
And still you feel alone
You should spend more time with the do’s than with the don’ts

This was an evening about doing and feeling and singing and dancing. Frank inserted a three-song solo acoustic set, which included “Smiling at Strangers on Trains,” a reworking of an old song from his previous band, Million Dead. Then he asked the crowd up front to make a circle and a mosh pit broke out (I was more concerned about my glasses than my body, but we all made it through).

The band closed the set with “Photosynthesis” (the show-closer for some previous tours). During the break before the last chorus, Frank said we had a chance to take this feeling, this positivity forward, that on Monday morning we could go to work or school and choose not to be assholes, to make compassion in fashion again and to simply be more kind. It sounds cheesy to say, but it was actually quite inspirational.

His four-song encore included one last fast dancing song, “Four Simple Words,” before he closed with “Polaroid Picture,” a song about making memories last. He asked the crowd to put their arms on each other’s shoulders, and soon strangers on both sides of me stretched out their arms and smiled. So we were one big, sweaty, happy wave of people swaying side to side together, one more indelible memory during a song about just such a feeling.

The best art is about transformative experiences. For many of us fans, that’s what Frank Turner’s songs mean to our life. Last night felt that way too, where even a solo like me was dancing with hundreds of strangers turned friends. How many of us got up this morning and went to work or school and decide to be more kind as a result? We’ll never know for sure. But what if we did?

 

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A made-up holiday I can get behind.

Stack of

I moved offices recently (an improvement, though I don’t remember how many offices I’ve had for this gig) and am almost done moving/unpacking/filing old documents and such.

Today’s discovery was wonderful in itself — and I didn’t even realize at the time how great it was. Unpacking revealed a bunch of resumes from former interns. These SUNY Oswego graduates have gone on to success since, whether working in social media or higher ed or marketing or communications, but really what came rushing back were how helpful and willing to learn and awesome they all were.

So I took to Facebook, where I’m still connected with so many of them, and decided to tag the ones whose resumes I’d found, and as many other former interns as I could remember who have graduated, as a nice way to say I was thinking of them, and proud.

Old resumes and a thank you + praise of former interns

After posting that (and constantly remembering and adding more former students), I learned it was National Intern Day. I generally roll my eyes at all these made-up holidays, but the timing here was exquisite. But the best surprise was yet to come.

Years ago, one of my interns contacted me during his search wondering if he was cut out for this business. I remembered a particularly good story he wrote and how hard he worked, so I gave him a pep talk and encouragement. It’s the kind of thing I recall from time to time as I see him continue to climb the ladder in college athletic communication. His response was the kind of thing that makes any job worthwhile:

Thanks for the love Tim. I still remember your pep talk that you gave when I was trying to find my place in the job world after college. Those encouraging words when I was down on my luck is one of the sole reasons for my success (such as it is). Your belief in me helped give me the strength I needed to persevere. Not even I realized that day what the message did for me and I hope you know how just your positive words and belief in me and my work has helped get me to where i am.

Wow. What a reminder that a little bit of encouragement and some kind words go a long way. He honestly owes a lot of his success to his own talent and diligence, but to know that I could play any role is beyond gratifying.

So my advice, I’ve you’ve had interns or student workers or others you’ve tried to help along the way, is to consider reaching out to them, letting them know that you’re thinking of them and telling them you’re proud. You don’t need to do it on National Internship Day, but just do it when you can.

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Anthony Bourdain’s end was a tragedy, but his life was a triumph

(Courtesy of WikiMedia Commons)

Like so many others, I was shocked to open my computer on Friday morning to the stunning news that Anthony Bourdain — the intelligent and irreverent, charming and charismatic chef/author/wanderer — had taken his own life. It has led to discussion of suicide and mental illness, which is always important, but I can’t help but also think of the beloved Bourdain as such an unlikely and uplifting success story.

The man that his friend and CNN co-worker Anderson Cooper aptly described as “one of this country’s greatest storytellers” was, despite his immense talent and work ethic, a very unlikely star.

He worked his way up from dishwasher to star chef in the course of two decades. While he earned his degree from the Culinary Institute of America, he did not follow a path of privilege so much as the old-fashion practice of learning the business from the inside out. He also picked up a drug habit that could have derailed his journey many times but instead deferred to one more obstacle to overcome as he rose to the coveted role of head chef of Manhattan’s beloved Brasserie Les Halles.

But who knew that behind the chef’s hat sat the mind of a tremendous storyteller? It took an impish and impulsive gambit — sending an essay on the inner workings of NYC kitchens that The New Yorker published in 1997 as “Don’t Eat Before Reading This” — to begin to unwrap his successful second act. In 2000, he became an author, and a bestselling one at that, with Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly.

And then, in his mid-40s, Bourdain’s quick wit, tremendous people skills and unquenchable curiosity about food and cultures became a marriage made in TV heaven. Starting with “A Cook’s Tour” on the Food Network, Bourdain evolved his storytelling knack and ability to get anybody to open up and share their cultures further with the successful and surprisingly sublime “No Reservations” on The Travel Channel. To watch Bourdain’s effortless charisma and ability to connect, it’s easy to see why CNN decided to work with him, and change the direction of their network programming, with the launch of the series “Parts Unknown” in 2013. It won awards and yet another legion of fans for Bourdain, but for him it was never about just earning fame and fortune.

Bourdain described “Parts Unknown” as “a series of … standalone essays that generally try to focus on the subject of food and where it comes from, but not always.” It was wickedly funny serial storytelling, bound by a sense of place on any given episode … and yet much more. Appropriate given his background, Bourdain was a champion of the underdog and of marginalized people. Food was how he connected with them, but empathy was how he attained their stories.

As he mentioned in an interview with Cooper, he never ever refused a meal offered to him in his travels, no matter how gross or unappealing or not-so-fresh it might have appeared (the worst thing that could happen, he joked, could probably be cured by antibiotics). This is such an important lesson for all of us — he treated cultures, peoples and food with great respect, realizing the way to the hearts of his hosts was through his own stomach. If a person accepts your food, he accepts you on every level.

For all of Anthony’s famed gift of gab, this was the real bedrock of his shows. He may have been profane, hard-drinking and sarcastic, but he did not see humans as greater or lesser, only as fellow humans.

“I still feel I have the best job in the world,” he told CNN a few years ago, “and it’s still fun.” He seemingly had everything to live for — it’s no stretch to spin the old cliche to say men (and women) wanted to be him, and women (and some men) wanted to be with him, because he was so magnetic and magnanimous. For all the travel, logistics and occasional dangerous food, it really did look like a job any one of us would want. That he had a young daughter that gave him a sense of purpose seems like icing on the cake.

Except that seeming to have it all ultimately would mean nothing to him.

I wrap this up with lines from my favorite book of poetry, Edwin Arlington Robinson’s Spoon River Anthology. The elegy for Richard Cory, the successful and most envied man in town, ends with a twist that has become sadly recognizable in our modern society:

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,

Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,

“Good-morning,” and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich—yes, richer than a king—
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything

To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

 

We’ll never truly know what went through Anthony Bourdain’s head in those last lost moments. But we’re learning what a tremendous impact he’s had on his fans, followers and the friends he made so easily. Godspeed, Tony, and thank you for feeding our bodies and our minds.

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RIP Chris Cornell. Say hello to heaven.

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Pained yet poised. Cracked yet composed. Forceful yet never forced. For many people of my age, we can remember the first time we heard the voice of Chris Cornell, coming from our radios sounding like nothing else. Ultimately: Stunning.

But even that was not as stunning as the news this morning that the former Soundgarden lead singer, a man who helped change the face and tone of music, is dead at a young 52.

David Bowie and Prince were huge losses to the musical, and mainstream, world. But the death of Chris Cornell feels like losing a friend who helped you through some low times.

Often I would crank up Soundgarden’s Down on the Upside (my personal fave) and let their modern rock that channeled classic blues drown out whatever inadequacies I felt at the time. The lyrics from “Burden in My Hand” — “fear is strong and love’s for everyone who isn’t me” — was a signature lament during about a decade of young adulthood as I struggled with self-loathing and anxiety. In Chris, I had a channel for the thoughts I could not formulate, a partner to help me collect myself to overcome.

David Bowie and Prince were superstars, celebrities on another plane. Chris was somebody who could walk into your corner bar and throw back a few drinks as unobtrusively as his quick background “Singles” cameo.

After Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” became a smash hit, Soundgarden could have just recorded a love ballad or two, or a safe pop record, and cruised into retirement with enough money to spend freely … and to also buy the Sonics and bring them back to Seattle. They had hit albums, singles that sold well enough (without selling out their sound) and millions of fans. And inspired dozens, perhaps hundreds, of other bands.

And then they broke up 20 years ago, the creative tensions that helped forge such heavy and edgy music too much to stay together. My brother used to live in Seattle and said it was huge news there at the time, even as so much of the world had moved on to whatever new sound was the flavor of the month.

The man voted Guitar World’s “Greatest Rock Singer” kept on creating, singing and playing — first solo, then bringing together Audioslave for a good run, then eventually reconciling with Soundgarden, even if their 2012 album King Animal seems more like a footnote compared to the sweep of their work two decades earlier.

But his work from the brief 1991 collective Temple of the Dog, honoring former roommate and Mother Love Bone singer Andrew Wood, is what stays with me as a fitting epitaph:

I never wanted
To write these words down for you
With the pages of phrases
Of things we’ll never do
So I blow out the candle, and
I put you to bed
Since you can’t say to me
Now how the dogs broke your bone
There’s just one thing left to be said
Say hello to heaven

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