Saturday, January 30, 2010

Media and Mealtime

I've been in the habit of referring to certain media (especially fictional films) as "candy." Upon further reflection (over-analysis), I realized that the term "candy film" is a misnomer. Given that I am normally not referring to mass media, of which I am constructively critical when I do, the use of a junk food analogy is incorrect. Therefore, what I used to call "candy films" will now more accurately be called "snack films."

To continue the mealtime metaphor, media can be constructed for the purpose of snacktime or dinnertime. It is not the volume or density of a given work that ultimately determines its literary significance, but its ability to fit the role for which it was intended. As with food for the body, media provides a full range of nutritional options for the mind. So it follows, in our contemporary fast-food age, that it is also more convenient and cheaper to feed the mind junk than health (same flaw, different industry).

"Dinner media" (or supper, if you prefer) would constitute the densest, most challenging content for regular consumption. It is the meat of a person's intellectual diet. Not only does it showcase images that are difficult to bear, but it offers strong advice for success in life. It deals with the network of twisted justification and manipulation that constitutes the struggles of the higher self. It is hard on both the mind and the spirit, with the aim of strengthening.

Dinner-media is necessary for growth, but I am finding that this seems to be the only form of media acceptable to those who profess the need for Liberal Arts. I agree that all people eventually need this meat in their diets. However, as with physical starvation, one whose mind is starving should be cautioned against launching headlong into regular dinner-media, which would actually have a negative effect despite its level of nutrition. This is a question of capacities, which can be expanded over time through the use of smaller meals. With time, any "savage" can be sophisticated to the high arts—with time.

"Lunch media" probably describes most of the media in circulation. It is not meant to be challenging, but sustaining. Its purpose is to remind people of things they already know and values they already possess. If it ever stirs anger, that anger is directed at the villain, who represents what the viewer hates. It relies on safe, agreeable ethics like not lying, not stealing, and not murdering—or a general sense of honor among criminals. It does not discuss dilemmas of when-and-if exceptions to these ethics might be made, nor does it delve into the spiritual questions of why a person would break these rules despite warning. It is for the mind, but not the spirit.

If I have a concern with media at this level, it would mostly revolve around the fact that it is too prevalent. If one is only presented what he already knows, then no growth is possible. That being said, if non-media factors (from a family tragedy to a great mentor) have the effect of stirring one's soul, then well-developed media which speaks to his purpose can be motivational—a launching pad for great things.

"Breakfast media" is simpler in nature still, mostly serving as children's media. The characters are not complex, but embody either hero or villain with minimal grey areas. While it might deal with political issues, its coverage of any subject is foundational (like breakfast), but not substantial (like lunch). As breakfast of the mind, this media is more about teaching the forms of media than it is about sharpening understanding or growing wisdom about life. Since many people are starved for variety in forms of media, it is important that such foundational media be available to everyone not just children.

Finally, this brings me back to "snack media," which can, in spirit, be like any of the above levels of media. The difference is in its scope and substance, which it is usually lacking. Snack-media can posit a deep question of the soul—but usually only one—and does not provide a path to the answer, merely the question. It can present a thought nugget that clarifies a personal philosophy, but it does not explore it, or provide a path to explore. It can cast light on forms many times revealing flaws, but it is not substantial enough to provide a solution.

Snack-media can be great when it is properly used, but by definition, it is devoid of much depth. It is media to get you through to the next meal, an appetizer before the main course. Without a certain measure of discussion, willingly pulled from other sources in response, snack-media can become junk media. It is very easy to cheat in your intellectual diet with a snack.

Dinner-Media: Schindler's List - Story of Holocaust profiteer, Oscar Schindler.
Lunch-Media: Pirates of the Caribbean - Action film about a pirate curse.
Breakfast-Media: Monster's, Inc. - Children's movie about bureaucracy.
Snack-Media: Sunshine - Sci-fi film about a mission to re-ignite the Sun.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Origin [of Truth in Fiction]

[Reposted from Original post date: 9/20/08]

Why truth in fiction? It sounds like a bit of a contradiction in terms. Is it even possible to have truth in a story that is inherently false? I now believe it is, but the thought had never crossed my mind until recently. And even so, it was a long time in the making...

I've always been the analytical sort, passionate about determining why one film is better than other. This concept came about from three specific sources, which were connected by a principle I uncovered one day. I can't say how they came about chronologically, but one was a quote from a talk show, another a documentary, and the third, a TV Series. The principle was that in all things, we should seek to create value (that means value to others, not just ourselves), rather than seek to make money. Money is not the only thing of value, but anything of value can be traded for money.

I have tried to find the source of the quote, but cannot remember what talk show or what guest said it. I do, however, remember the gist of the conversation. I believe it was Oscar season, and the guest was talking (or perhaps complaining) about the old-school way that the Academy chooses movies to be nominated. From his point of view, he thought that the movies that made the most money should be the movies that won the awards.

I immediately felt there was something wrong with the statement, but wasn't quite sure what. For a while, I wrote it off, saying that the money was the reward for those movies, but GOOD movies needed to win awards to get noticed. Eventually, I thought it through, and came to the realization that entertaining films (such as summer blockbusters) make a lot of money by promoting an adequate film to a broad audience for one big weekend, while artistic films (i.e.: the Best Picture Oscar films) create a culturally relevant, valuable, film that makes its money over time by winning one fan at a time.

"The Lost Tomb of Jesus," was a TV documentary which sought answers to the question of whether Jesus' remains might actually have been found (contrary to scripture). Having been raised a christian, this was unsettling for me at the time. But what struck me was how irrelevant it seemed, whether Jesus actually rose from the dead. That was when I realized that the truth of the Gospel story was not necessarily in historical accuracy, but in the impact the story had on culture: it has given hope and purpose to people for 2000 years. It spread one "fan" at a time for a very long time.

The final piece came when I watched through David Chase's "The Sopranos." For those who haven't seen it, The Sopranos is unlike any organized crime story I've ever seen (though I don't profess to be an expert on the subject). It follows the life of fictitious New Jersey mobster, Tony Soprano, who, though very successful in his "trade," is having a sort of midlife crisis. He begins seeing a psychiatrist to deal with his stressful life. For those of you who are thinking of a particular movie along the same lines, bear with me.

Now, I find that most mob stories take sides. They either paint mobsters as honorable, men of respect, and law enforcement as insufficient or clueless; or they paint mobsters as thugs and murderers, destined to foolishly fall into the hands of keen detectives. From the very beginning, "The Sopranos" seemed to me to be what life in the mob would really be like. Though I've never been in the mob, or read anything about the mob, I was sold on its "accuracy." Why? Because it was truthful on a deeper level. Tony Soprano could have just as easily been a corporate manager, struggling with fairness and ethics in a legal business, or he could have been a dad struggling to keep his kids in line despite a messed up world. David Chase chose to create a mob story, and all the violence and sexual content speaks to the truth of the story. It neither glorified, nor patently criticized organized crime. And though no story is perfect, I believe "The Sopranos" presents one of the greatest examples of Truth in Fiction, and will, therefore, stand the test of time.

How does this all tie together? It goes like this: William Shakespeare took many, if not all, his stories from mythology. Those who've studied Greek and Roman myths know that the various gods and godesses fought and loved, betrayed and conspired amongst themselves. These tales portrayed interactions: those that work, those that don't, and why. Like may scriptures, including the Holy Bible, the stories always presented the consequences. The consequences of the feud between the Capulets and the Montagues was that their children, Romeo and Juliet, died tragically. "All are punished," quotes the Prince.

The point is this: we can't let short-sighted economists destroy the value of our art for the sake of making more money faster. To make money quickly, they must appeal to what most people want to hear right now, but most people are selfish right now, so the consequences of appealing to people's selfishness is that you enable them to be more selfish because you provide justification ("everybody's doing it"). Stories that portray the consequences of selfishness are inherently less popular, but because they are truthful, they remain relevant for longer AND they influence culture in a POSITIVE direction.

Fewer films made with quality will produce more value, and thus, more money than big business Hollywood over the long haul.
    "The Lost Tomb of Jesus" is recommended because it is well-made and the logic is sound. However, due to the insufficient evidence inherent to archeology and the natural tendency of people to form biased assumptions to fill in the gaps, I can't say this proves anything. The value of this documentary is in its ability to challenge your beliefs, whether you ultimately agree or not.
    "The Sopranos" is worth watching because of its reality. Viewer discretion is certainly advised.
   "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare" is one of many compilations and series of Shakespeare's work, all of which are worth reading. His works are among the Great Books of the Western World.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

It's Not Fair!

It's not fair! How many have heard that phrase uttered by people in America? It seems to me that the frequency of that careless phrase is increasing, spurred on, perhaps, by politicians and others who stand to gain by telling you they can make it fair. I could say that life's not fair, and offer you no more wisdom than that, but there is more to the story of fairness.

It's not fair that we are so sheltered in this country, that we think anything less than easy is a crime against nature. It's not fair that we have cars that run or public transit or bicycles with more than one gear. It's not fair that our taxis are gas-powered rather than pedal-powered. It's not fair that gasoline is so cheap in this country (and that's the truth).

It's not fair that we eat three meals a day, only to waste much of what we don't finish. It's not fair that we have shelter, heat, and electricity. That things like free wi-fi and continental breakfasts are standard in hotels. For that matter, it's not fair that we have clean beds in rooms with locks on the doors, much less hotels with all their ammenities.

It's not fair that we have properly trained doctors and the best healthcare in the world. Oh, I know it's free in other countries, but that's not better just easier. It's not fair that we have modern hospitals with cable TV and room service, however bad we might complain the food is.

It's not fair that we are free to live our individual lives, practice our religion or no religion, read what we wish to read and say what we wish to say. It's not fair that we are free to take advantage of opportunity, and it's really not fair that we are to scared to live free.

Think of how blessed you are, and consider supporting a program like The MORE Project.

FEATURED MEDIA: "City of God" is the story of a young Brazilian man, growing up in the darker, crime-filled slums of Rio de Janeiro. A dense movie, it is sure to make you think outside your comforts.
The MORE Project is a cause to help the children and single mothers living in those slums. Among other things it builds housing and trains young men how to be fathers.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Experience Life

Much is learned in spirit despite the best efforts of practical theory to be all-inclusive. Knowledge is great, but until you build a house (or make a movie, or run a company) you really don't know how to do it. I'm talking about experience and the wisdom that is only earned through experience. No one ever accomplishes anything great with low expectations, though high expectations and lofty goals often mean failure.

One immutable principle of life is that one cannot succeed without failure. It seems counter-intuitive, but it's true. Study the lives of successful people and you will inevitably stumble upon a mountain of previous failures. Of course, if one never studies successful people—or has no mentor or proper role model—that person would necessarily come to the conclusion that success is luck. I mean, it must be luck if we mere mortals are mired in struggles and failure—unable to move forward—while a select few rise to the top?

When you hear that an Olympic skier broke both her legs during a bad spill in training for the games, what do you think? She's finished? When you find out she is back on the same slopes as soon as she can walk again, what do you think? Idiot? Or do you think "Champion"? If you are anything like me, raised on laughing at videos of people hurting themselves, you probably think the former. I know I used to, and consequently I was terrified to stretch myself on the slopes.

The mass mantras of today have us sold on the idea that what we should be learning from mistakes is to fear them. Which, in the days of the Apollo program with billions of dollars on the line, used to be a vital response. But not any more. Today, with the internet, social networking, and any number of consumer electronics, a person can be a media mogul for a few hundred dollars. It only takes the willingness to fail until you find your niche.

So how about it, are you willing to give your spirit a stir? Live a little, put yourself and your weaknesses on display.

Sure beats the walking dead.

FEATURED MEDIA: "The Pursuit of Happyness" is based on the true story of Chris Gardner, whose failure as a salesman led to him raising his young son on the streets. Instead of giving up on his dream, Chris pursues a stockbroker internship by day, while sleeping in a homeless shelter at night. The film's director, Gabriele Muccino, is quoted as saying, "To understand the American Dream, you have to be a foreigner."

Sunday, January 17, 2010

"Brainwashing: Seven Ways to Reinvent Yourself."

“Years ago, when you were about four years old, the system set out to persuade you of something that isn’t true."
- Seth Godin

Seth Godin is a phenomenal writer and thinker. He has written a number of books related to current society, especially with regard to our social media culture. ChangeThis has published his new "manifesto" entitled, "Brainwashing: Seven Ways to Reinvent Yourself."

Seth's manifesto echoes what FITmedia stands for. Happiness is found in chasing your purpose, and the energy to succeed at it comes from happiness. No one has to be stuck, but some people need to see things a different way, or see different things entirely.

Download the PDF file here.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Technology and Trash Compactors [Updated]

[updated Jan 11, 2011]

Sci-fi has a special place in my heart. I was raised on Star Wars, so I guess that makes me a geek. But isn't it just fun to see the imaginings of the future, and ponder whether it will really be that way? Well, can it?

Robots of all kinds populate the universes of sci-fi stories, from mechanical Swiss army knives like Star Wars' R2-D2, to neurotic, useless androids like Douglas Adams' Marvin from Hitchhiker's Guide; and from personable trash compactors like Pixar's WALL-E, to human-simulants like Star Trek: NG's Data that have all the personality of a trash compactor. Robots fill numerous roles in stories, they are characters or props, friends or enemies, humanoid or mechanoid.

One thing seems to be a constant through all this: robots are immortal. I've seen them be destroyed, of course, but I've never seen them age. Now you might think, "Well, they're robots!" Good point, but do you own any piece of technology that is immortal?

WALL-E has been at his job (unaided by humans) for 700 years. Marvin and Bender (Futurama) both get left in time, to be recovered more than a millenium later. Will we ever create technology that outlives the pyramids?

Somehow, I think it is impossible. Even if technology didn't have the lifespan of a gerbil, most becomes obsolete before a child learns to use it (which is at 3 years, in my experience). As long as technology continues to improve, it will continue to generate obsolesense and waste. The wasted products can only be reused to the degree that they still operate, and only be recycled to the degree that they are made of quality components.

But then, if they really are made of quality components, wouldn't they tend to operate for a longer period of time? Longer? Yes. Forever? Not so much. I don't endorse slowing the progress of technology coersively, but I would encourage those in the market for progressive technology to consider how much waste "forever" will produce if we continue to treat non-consumable products as if they were biodegradable. For a wonderful illustration, I encourage you to watch WALL-E, even if you don't have kids.

I will say that there is nothing inherently wrong with "buy'n large" culture, provided that we can squeeze every ounce of value out of the products we consume. People make their living through the production and sale of goods and services. It is accurate to say that the more we buy, the better the economy gets, but this is not the whole truth. The truth is that when you pay for a product, you also pay for its waste. So when a given product is "used up" its remains represent the volume of trash that you bought and wasted money on. Therefore, an economy that is based upon a high volume of purchases, but not upon high value products, is actually degenerating.

Ideally, "buy'n large" economies should focus on producing and marketing items that have zero waste. Even with the sale of information, it is difficult to say that this is possible because it depends so much on the individual's ability and will to extract the value. One man's junk is another man's treasure, after all. Perhaps the best way to encourage prosperity in a consumer culture is to focus on producing food—the ultimate consumable.

Our bodies have a built-in trash compactor: our systems absorb all useful nutrients from our digested food, and whatever we can't use gets excreted in a reduced form—and even a biodegradable one. If science is to benefit us in the future, it seems to me that it ought to invest its time in making better food, not better robots.

What would be the point if our technology outlives us?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Story of FITmedia

FITmedia is an organizational philosophy based upon three components of sustainability: freedom, integrity, and truth. Simply stated, how well the pieces fit, is how fit the pieces are. Imagine a jigsaw puzzle that has been left out in the rain. If the pieces are water-logged, then it is very difficult for them to work together in harmony, each piece's "baggage" needing more space that the adjacent piece can give.

In organizations, this can be seen by its effect on the three elements of man: body, mind, and soul (or one's economic, political, and spiritual life). Materially speaking, this unnatural "baggage" leads to unfair excesses and deficiencies based upon each person's strength of force, which in turn effects that person's economic state. In the political realm (by its broadest, organizational sense), it is a person's clout, rank, or manipulative ability that reigns. Spiritually, the most charismatic leads by imposing his warped world view on those who are "lost."

However, to be "FIT" is to be free from arbitrary constraint, acting with integrity, and informed by the truth of what constitutes integrity. The more the individuals of a society are FIT, the more the society itself will be in a state of fitness. When each person knows his or her specific fit or purpose, the organization both avoids redundant activities and gaps in what needs to be done, therefore increasing effectiveness and economy. Politically, a FIT organization advances only individuals who demonstrate a hunger to learn and a will to improve within their sphere of influence. Spiritually (or as a matter of the heart), those who fill their FIT are respected as sources of wisdom and mentorship.

This whole process is dependent upon the correct information being distributed within the organization, and it is media through which information is distributed. It is the responsibility of those who are FIT to expose others to the media that will repair their thinking, or indeed, get them thinking at all. Often it is not a matter of the media being "correct" but of the media being challenging. Enough challenges to a person's thinking will sharpen the mind, and ultimately reveal the truth.
"Such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks, and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing. The sun needs no inscription to distinguish him from darkness."
- Thomas Paine