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Faux Outrage

Literally the most important blog in the universe since 2010.

Monthly Archives: June 2011

Since everyone, myself included, seems to have survived the publication of Part One of That Should Be A Thing!, I am unafraid in my quest to bring you today’s installment, henceforth known as Part Two.

The only difference is that this time, mercifully, there will be no poetry section.

For those just joining us, That Should Be A Thing! is, as I laid out in Part One, a discussion and analysis of “awkward social situations that I believe are common enough (and awkward enough) to warrant some kind of culture-wide understanding.”

Last time we fleshed out Open Door Policies, behaviors I believe we ought to exhibit (or refrain from) while entering a doorway.

It is my hope that you will take this suggestion as seriously as the last set.  Which is to say, I hope you skim it and then roll your eyes and then sigh and then yawn and then close your browser and unexcitedly move on with your life, completely unaffected.

That Should Be A Thing!

Part II: Parallel Universal

Problem: Determining whether it is socially appropriate, all elements considered, while walking on a sidewalk, to attempt to assist a driver struggling to parallel park his/her vehicle.

Rule: Yes, it is always acceptable and appropriate while walking, to stop and assist a driver attempting to parallel park.

Explanation: This is, quite simply, the right thing to do.

So far as I can tell, what is preventing folks from helping others park in difficult situations are the somewhat vague notions that (a) people generally want to be left alone and (b) even if they do not want to be left alone, it is insulting or embarrassing to assist a person if they do not actually need the help.

I’d prefer not to live in a world where these are our default assumptions about the people we encounter.

(I will, of course, continue living in that world, but I’d prefer not to.)

Regarding (a): “Folks want to be left alone.”

Some people demand to be left alone.  Some people would rather live permanently inside their own head than sit with a stranger for ten minutes on a park bench.  Or talk about the weather with a fellow milk-and-avocado buyer in line at the grocery store.  Some people.  And yet the reality is that for most of us, an imperfect, good-natured interaction with a stranger or random passer-by is an immediate improvement to an otherwise forgettable day.  So why not try to be that stranger?

Regarding (b): “It’s weird to help a person if they don’t need it.”

I blame our increasingly-isolated society for this theory.  Yet, as a bit of a 21st century digital boy myself, I sympathize with the anxiety (annexiety?) associated with the thought of assisting the perfectly capable.  But let’s be honest with ourselves: this is a morally questionable position to take.

If you witness someone trip over a stone and struggle to stand up, you would (or should!) help them, even if you reasonably assume that they eventually could get to their feet by themselves, right?

If someone is struggling and we have it in our power to diminish their suffering — especially if the cost (time, money, effort, etc.) to us is low (which it is in the case of our helping someone parallel park) — it seems that we ought to help, regardless of whether the person could eventually fix their own problem.  So, why should anything change when the party being assisted is surrounded by a couple thousand pounds of steel?

The next time you’re wandering around town and you see a poor soul struggling to fit their SUV in between a RAV and a hard place, consider guiding them home.  It won’t take you much time and hey, maybe it’ll make their day a little less horrible.

And then, once they’ve settled into their spot, you can finally smile and passive-aggressively point out of the irony of their prominently placed “GO GREEN” bumper sticker.

Exceptions:

  1. Truck displaying truck nuts
  2. Visible gun rack
  3. Invisible gun rack
  4. Confederate flag decal
  5. Gun rack shaped like confederate flag
  6. License plate ‘FKURSLF’
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Semi-Relevant Poem Section:

Nowadays,
it is not uncommon
to see a sign that reads:

If You See Something,
Say Something
.

This is one of the
crazier suggestions
of all time

I see
so much
so maybe
I should be
saying more?

Non-poem Section:

This is the first part of the possibly-one-part series, That Should Be A Thing!  What follows is a list of awkward social situations that I believe are common enough (and awkward enough) to warrant some kind of culture-wide understanding.

The reason I’ve used heading “That should be a thing!” is because these are the words I invariably barf out whenever I’ve decided that there is a simple, universalizable behavior that could be associated with a particular set of facts that would benefit society as a whole.

If you are moved by these suggestions, and if you are inspired like I am to make your day-to-day interactions with humanity even a fraction more palpable (palpabler?), please consider modifying your behavior in these ultra-specific ways.  In addition, if you are ever the passive party in the yet-to-be-mentioned circumstances, recognize and be heartened by any party who successfully follows through with these suggestions.

Unfortunately, unless everyone that you will ever encounter reads — and agrees with! — this entry, I may fall a little short in my quest to completely alter the course of human history.

That Should Be A Thing!

Part I: Open Door Policies

Doors are crazy.

They have many purposes (purpii?), but the two most crucial are polar opposites.

  1. Doors allow people to get IN
  2. Doors allow people to get OUT

Most of the time, this isn’t a problem.

Other times, it is.

And then there are those situations that are secretly not problems at all, but I nevertheless view as serious quandaries and determine with gusto that something ought to be done.

So here I am, seeing something and saying something.

Are You Going First or Number 2?

Problem: Determining bathroom doorway priority between simultaneously arriving entering and exiting parties.

Rule: When two people — one attempting to leave and one arriving to do their, uh, duty —  find themselves face-to-face in a bathroom doorway, regardless of who has opened the door, priority should always be given to the person entering the bathroom.

Explanation: It is important that this scenario is discussed because I believe the determinative, most crucial characteristic of either party garners very little attention during this interaction: one of these hypothetical people has to go to the bathroom.  One person is seeking relief and the other has just finished relieving themselves.

Priority is typically based on a long string of social rules and unspoken hierarchies, but in this scenario, as two parties mirror each other, strafing froward-and-back-and-left-and-then-right-and-then-right-and-then-left, only one thing matters.  Sure, one party needs to leave, but the other needs to go.

It doesn’t matter who gets to the door first or which way the door swings.

Let the pee-ple go!

Exceptions:

  1. Creepy, single-serve bathroom
  2. Priority defaults to any person allowed to pre-board an airplane
  3. Exiting person has power to fire you

The “No-Hold” Unbarred

Problem: Determining situations where the kindness of holding a door open is outweighed by inconvenience to trailing party targeted by good deed.

Rule: If the trailing party is so far back that they will feel compelled to placate you by quickening their pace in order to enter the doorway, it is proper to not hold the door, even if the the trailing party will arrive before the door has fully re-shut.

Explanation: Before I begin, let me get this initial point out of the way: Holding the door is a nice gesture.  I am not against holding the door for people.  It is worthy of a “thank you” and a “you’re welcome” and an occasional, knowing smile.

By default, you should hold the door all the time, for anyone and everyone.

Period.

Exclamation point.

That said, this would-be favor actually becomes an inconvenience if the person behind you feels the need to quicken their pace in order to do you a favor (that is, keep you from waiting in the doorway).

When the trailing member of the duo is forced to giddy up, the result is that two people have earnestly tried — and failed! — to do the other a favor.  Each intends to perform a kind act, but neither actually benefits emotionally from the transaction.

The door-opener (openor?) fails because they have unnecessarily compelled the door-openee to alter their comfortable walking pace, while the door-openee fails because they have communicated their anxiety to the door-opener.

Nobody wins.

I recognize the tendency to feel slighted when a stranger fails to use “common courtesy” as well as the pressure to “do the right thing” in every social situation, but I think we can agree that there are times when holding the door is neither courtesy (common or otherwise) nor the right thing.

Exceptions:

  1. You have already made eye-contact with the person
  2. Priority defaults to any person allowed to pre-board an airplane
  3. Trailing person has the power to fire you

So there you have it.

Spread the word!

Make the world a more tolerable place!

Questioning the integrity of reality television is not exactly cutting-edge behavior.

Characters and contestants are hand-picked by producers based on their potential for lowest common denominator viewing.  We know.  Footage is edited and remastered with music in order to create an inauthentic emotional experience for consumers.  We know.  Reality show “stars” often operate in a way that will bring them the most attention, antithetical to any agreed upon definition of “reality.”

Yup, it’s all true.

But I have a different kind of bone to pick with Undercover Boss, a show that an estimated 4.5 million people* eyeballed last Sunday night.

For the uninitiated: Undercover Boss is a reality series based on a reasonably compelling premise.  A chief executive, playing the role of The Face of an otherwise faceless corporation (and also of The Man), temporarily joins the ranks of some low-level employees in his (yes, his) company.

Each show is a classic fish out of water situation, much to the viewer’s delight.  A covert high-level exec forced to take out the trash!  Watch as he struggles to replace the coffee filter and fiddles with a vacuum cleaner!

The show ends, of course, with a Big Reveal to the employees.

“Rocky McGreenjeans is actually the CEO of the company, not some schlub trying to get a job repairing refrigerators!”

Here he is, with a fancy suit-tie combo as proof!  He’s even wearing a gold watch and sitting behind a desk!  Behold!

“Oh my god!” the starry-eyed female truck driver explodes.

“No way!” cries the humble maintenance man, eyes wide with equal parts surprise and concern.

It’s showtime.

The Man clears his throat and excitedly admits that he learned more from the employees he worked with than he ever could have imagined.  He admires their courage.  He wants them to feel appreciated.  He wants them to know he understands.  He implements one of their suggestions (“Company-wide recycling!”).  He gives them a prize for being so wonderful (“Football tickets for your beautiful boys!”).

The crowd goes wild.

Jeans are worn, empathy is felt, lessons are learned.

End scene.

[cut to commercial]

Everyone is happy.

Everyone, it seems, except for me.

In the end, I consider Undercover Boss to be a great show, but only because I feel that the actual lessons learned are the opposite of what is literally communicated.

All of the deceptive editing, unnatural character selection, and all-eyes-on-me winking behavior by the covert CEO result in a beautiful creation, a delightful unintentional parody where Rich Guy, whose aim is to swoop in and save his lowly grunts from the substandard work that they perform on his behalf, accidentally exposes himself as a hopelessly unaware aristocrat.

If you ignore the delicious subtext, the show is painful to watch.  The disconnect between the well-meaning, aloof CEO and his overburdened employees seems to be a perfect metaphor for what has become of the American worker.  It’s not heartening to learn that CEO’s are shocked to find that American workers — their American workers! — are overworked and underpaid.

Welcome to the new economy.

This is my recommendation for what the show description should read on your TV’s channel guide:

Crocodile tears from CEO’s of enormous corporations as they take a short-term interest in the plight of a handful of underappreciated employees motivated primarily by the positive PR generated.

Lessons from Undercover Boss

$5,000 is a small price to pay for primetime PR

In the last episode of the show that I saw, the CEO of Synagro gave a female employee he had been bowled over by $5,000 for all of her hard work and effort.  $5,000.  In 2006 (five years ago), a different CEO of Synagro took home over $1,000,000 (not counting the 41,000+ shares of stock, of course).  That CEO made about $3,000/day that year.  Things may have changed since 2006, but I tend to doubt the current CEO earns less loot.

Of course, the $5,000 won’t come out of the CEO’s pocket, and yes it is “better than nothing,” but it seems like an oddly small payment for a woman who was misled by the head of her company and used as an unwilling pawn in a nationwide PR campaign.

Leading up to the $5,000 exchange, the company’s lead executive engages on an hour-long journey designed to make his company endearing to the public.  We watch as he tries his darnedest to perform the simplest tasks of his employees.  We learn how empathetic he is towards the common man, how easily — like the politician he turns out to be — he commiserates with the plight of the American worker.  We learn that this company, Synagro, seems like a good place to work and filled with people who care deeply about each other and the environment.

I’d pay $5,000 to the woman who helped convey that message to millions, wouldn’t you?

Corporate executives are as out-of-touch as we assume

I’m sure most of the execs who are the subject of Undercover Boss are genuinely nice people.  But I also think it’s fair to say that these rich guys are adorably ignorant when it comes to what American workers are required to endure on a regular basis.

I know we are supposed to be heartened when a CEO sits down with a low-level employee and is shocked to learn that the employee can’t afford to buy glasses because “vision” isn’t included in the company’s insurance plan, but I’m not.  I know that when an employee explains to his undercover CEO that he misses his family, but has to work long hours in order to pay for his kids to go to college after his wife was laid off, we are supposed to think, “The CEO gets it!  He understands now!”  but I don’t.

What’s remarkable is that these stories aren’t remarkable at all.  This is the economy as designed in whole or in part by these very same titans of industry.  Providing some temporary aid for 3 of 5000 of your employees is an interesting way to completely miss the point.

Sadly, my guess is that a vast majority of the shows viewers miss the point, too.

Workers, not CEO’s, deserve our reverence

I promise not to get into a debate about tax policy, but it’s quite difficult to watch Undercover Boss without at least briefly considering the possibility that a vast majority of the CEO’s fortunes come as a result of underpaid employees doing, you know, “the actual work.”

I don’t mean to diminish the work of brilliant businessmen who develop a company’s vision and spot market inefficiencies, etc., but there is something particularly unnerving about a rich CEO tee-heeing his way through the life of a laborer.

Life should not depend on a lottery ticket

The employees in the show who are recognized as key contributors to the company are truly blessed.  Their good deeds and ideas are caught on camera.  In many cases, after speaking with the unmasked CEO, they, with tears in their eyes, explain how wonderful it feels to finally be appreciated.  Their ideas are implemented.  They get a bonus or other benefits.  Generally speaking, they get a good deal (or at least a deal better than the one they were getting a day earlier).

But this is not how life should work.

We should not rely on nor expect that a benevolent angel will swoop down from the heavens to save us from our common-though-painful circumstances.  The workers portrayed in Undercover Boss, if not filmed for the show, would still be toiling away, unappreciated and underpaid, still unable to see their families, or pay their bills, or afford healthcare, or go to college, etc.

These workers are the lucky ones.

They are the ones who were saved.

What about everyone else?

* For the purposes of television ratings, “people” are defined as “viewers aged 18-49.”

Catholic Church-goers are often reminded of the Seven Deadly Sins, while parishioners of the Church of Baseball wax poetic about written (and especially unwritten) rules.  Even our neighborhood pools come equipped with strong suggestions about our equestrian tendencies (no horseplay!) and mental instabilities (jump off the deep end!).

We are surrounded by rules.

There is no escape.

And yet, the realization that there are too many dos, don’ts, oughts, shalls, and shan’ts has not prevented me from coming up with my own list of life recommendations.  I hesitate to bring up this list, except it has come to my attention that I have broken — in half — one of my most fundamental rules.

You see, in my most recent blog post, I committed — in bold typeface no less! — a mortal sin.  And though it was a sin so small that no one but me would ever notice or care, it was large enough in my own mind that I feel compelled to apologize right away.

The rule…

Never argue something is “overrated”

I’ve had this rule for a number of years, yet still decided to state firmly and without irony, “Apples are overrated.”

I’m sorry.  I won’t do it again.

Why?

Well, what do we mean when we say something is overrated?

The word itself roughly means “to appraise too highly,” which does not seem too controversial.  Fair enough.  But more often than not, when we say something is “overrated,” we are not using the word in the objective, literal sense — where a too-high tangible amount is ascribed to the object in question — but as a way to dismissively cast judgment without room for negotiation.

I will explain — using a hypothetical!

The Hypothetical: Let’s say you are at a party.  And let’s say that at this party, there is music.  And let’s say that at this party where there is music, a particular song begins to reverberate through the available speakers.  And let’s say that song is “We Didn’t Start The Fire” by Billy Joel.

Your friend (you have a friend in this hypothetical!) turns to you and says,

“You know what, Billy Joel is overrated!”

Why This Is Problematic: In order for something to be “overrated,” going back to the dictionary definition, two things need to be true:

  1. the subject must be appraised; and
  2. the appraisal must be higher than the subject’s real value

Unfortunately, there is no scale that measures the social value of Billy Joel, at least not any particular measurement that you and your friend have agreed upon.  In other words, your friend is saying,

“I think Billy Joel deserves less praise than my perception of the amount of praise bestowed upon him by society.”

In the end, “Billy Joel is overrated” falls under a category that I like to call (starting…now) a silver bullet non-argument because it is based wholly on a comparison between two unknowable variables:

  1. an internal unknowable perception (how your friend believes Billy Joel is valued by society); and
  2. an external unknowable fact (how Billy Joel is actually valued by society).

And as a result, despite the fact that both elements of the “argument” are unknowable, the listener/arguee has no grounds for counter-argument because each of the elements is completely contained within the mind of the speaker/arguer.

The inherent flaws of the claim being made are only exposed when the listener begins to deconstruct either element.  No mater how the listener responds, the arguer has an escape hatch.

Counter-Argument #1
Argument element deconstructed: Internal Unknowable Fact
Counter: “Perhaps you think Billy Joel is more heralded than he is.”
Escape hatch:  “Still, he’s more heralded than I believe he deserves.  Therefore, he is overrated.”

Counter-Argument #2
Argument element deconstucted: External Unknowable Fact
Counter:  “Perhaps Billy Joel is not actually well-liked.”
Escape hatch: “Still, I believe he is liked too much.  Therefore, he is overrated.”

Counter-Argument #3
Argument element deconstructed: Internal/External
Counter: “Perhaps you should check out this website, Faux Outrage, where the credibility of the word ‘overrated’ is put into question.”
Escape hatch: “That website seems to be written by a crazy person.”

Anyway, as it turns out, this argument is actually moot.

Everybody knows that Billy Joel rocks exactly as hard as he is given credit.

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