It’s Not Fandom That’s Toxic

It’s Not Fandom That’s Toxic

There has been a lot of pixels spent explaining to all and sundry that geek culture, such as it is, is ‘toxic’. Or that elements of it are. And this is often accompanied with a certain level of finger pointing, self-flagellation, and promises to be better. I even wrote about it in the wake of Kelly Marie Tran’s leaving of Instagram over this toxic culture.

But it hit me last night that it isn’t geek culture that’s toxic. Or, that isn’t a feature exclusive to geek culture.

It’s all of it. The whole damn culture is toxic. There isn’t one area that we can avoid the contamination, not one safe space in the culture as a whole. I look around, and I see the commercials with lines like ‘get the rewards you deserve’, and it all becomes clear.

We, as a whole, got used to the idea that we exist to be pandered to. From credit cards telling us to ‘get the rewards we deserve’ to mortgage providers selling instant approval (or declination, but let’s not mention that) to apps that forward portions of your check so you don’t have to learn to budget. All of these are symptoms of a culture that is poised to devour itself.

I look at these things, and all I see is a desire to be rewarded for doing things that are not reward-worthy, and a deeper desire for immediate gratification regardless of cost. We are told we ‘deserve’ a reward for using this or that credit card. The reward is they let you buy something you actually can’t afford, and you pay them for the privilege. You don’t deserve rewards for that. We are constantly bombarded with the word ‘deserve’. We deserve service, cash back, to be first, to be exclusive, to be young, to have all the things. We don’t, actually. We deserve to be allowed to live our lives as we see fit without being forced to comply with someone else’s beliefs. We deserve the right to pursue happiness, so long as that pursuit doesn’t infringe upon another’s pursuit of the same. We deserve the right to life. We deserve equality of opportunity (equality of outcome is amongst the vilest of evils, and we never deserve that). We deserve only what can be said to be deserved by all, at birth, regardless of station. Double cash back isn’t on that list.

State of Trump’s Union

State of Trump’s Union

He shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.

— Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution  

Doesn’t say how.

Or where.  

In fact, from Thomas Jefferson through to Woodrow Wilson, 1801 – 1913, the State of the Union was delivered by letter – Jefferson being of the opinion that to summon Congress to hear the President was too akin to the monarchal Speech From The Throne. So Wilson going back to summoning Congress makes sense…

So there is vast, if old, precedent to not delivering the SOTU before Congress. So Pelosi scores no points by ‘canceling’ the address.

What she has done, and I hope Trump dunks on her for it, is allow him to deliver the speech wherever the hell he wants. For example, in front of ten thousand supporters at a stadium somewhere. With no opportunity for Schumer & Pelosi to repeat their dismal rebuttal act from last week’s national address about border security.

This is a gift, delivered and wrapped by an opposition that is coming apart at the seams. Take it, make the most of it, and never look back.

No one ever lost by allowing their enemies to be foolish, and make avoidable mistakes.

Shutdown Theater

Shutdown Theater

Without going into causes, the government shutdown has been a fascinating example of why we need to reform the system, possibly by firing with prejudice everyone in the current system.

First, if the essential functions of government can continue with around 380,000 workers (out of about 2.1 million total federal employees) laid off, then are those jobs really needed? It would seem that is a legitimate question, and one that supervisors and agency heads should be asking. As we increase automation, and see more and more jobs at risk because a machine can do it faster, longer, and more accurately, there is no reason to assume federal workers are somehow supposed to be exempt from that risk. I understand that new craft beer labels need approving, I just wonder at the necessity of all 380,000 furloughed positions.

Second, when it comes to the 400,000 or so workers who are not being paid, that needs to be fixed. Yes, keep the non-essential workers on furlough (and again, review their actual necessity), but pay the workers who are on the job. To do otherwise is un-American. To compound the issue, we are paying Congress, who is not addressing the issues at the root of the shutdown. If we can’t pay the workforce, we shouldn’t pay the people responsible for the problem either (President Trump doesn’t, by his own choice, draw a federal paycheck). Out of 20 Illinois Congressional members (18 in the House, 2 in the Senate), only one is refusing to be paid during the shutdown; Brad Schneider (D) of the 10th District. One. To be fair, of the 535 members of Congress, about 70 are refusing or donating their checks to charity. Pay the people working. Seriously.

But back to the first point. Do we really need these people? Does the IRS really need 36,000 people to handle refunds? Especially as more are filed electronically each year? Last year, according to eFile.com, 135,883,000 returns were processed, 126,040,000 of those electronically. That is 92% of all returns! People don’t need to handle those – they can be processed completely electronically. Yes, if a flag is triggered, then a human needs to review it, and yes, that leaves 15,491,000 returns to process by hand (while 135.8M were processed in 2018, 141.5M were sent in). I suspect there are scanners available to speed that up.

Of course, it is the government, and efficiency is not prized.

But it needs to be. The bloating of the bureaucracy continues to be an issue, and we, the people who have to deal with this bloat in so very many ways, need to rise up and say ‘enough’. If a functioning government exists without 380,000 employees present, then those 380,000 employees are probably not needed. At all. They should have their positions reviewed, and if they are not necessary (and we should be very narrow in what is ‘necessary’), then they should be let go. Full stop. With a reported average salary in 2014 of $84,153 (before benefits are applied), cutting loose those 380,000 would save the taxpayers $31,978,140,000 per year ($45,574,920,000 with benefits). How much more could $45 billion do injected into the US economy?

So, Congress, pay the people working, look seriously into firing the ones not, and stop paying yourselves first. You are supposed to be servants, not self-aggrandizing masters. Get it right for a change.

Brands And Social Commentary

Brands And Social Commentary

When is publicity bad for a brand?

Despite the old saw of their being no such thing as bad press, there is indeed such a thing, and knowing how to avoid it is increasingly paramount in today’s hot-take-driven media landscape.

But Gillette is discovering, as others have before, that taking a social commentary position has consequences. For the record, I stopped using cartridge razors back in 2013, and have only used double edged safety razors since (I use the Merkur Safety Razorand these blades), so my comments on the Gillette ad are not driven by any relationship to the company or it’s products.

Gillette is facing backlash over their ‘toxic masculinity’ ad, and that was something they could have avoided. Their parent company, Procter & Gamble, has seen their stock dip post-release. And there is a lot of chatter about switching away from Gillette products, which are a bit less than 50% of the shaving market.

So why do it? That is the question that a brand needs to answer before making a statement that can damage your market. Sometimes controversy is good – especially if you land early on the winning side. Bold statements can drive customers to you, as you show confidence and vision on an issue. This can also backfire, if you choose a position that is opposed to your customer base, or appears to be an attack on them (some analysis of the Gillette ad suggests that the tone is scolding or one of talking down to the customer).

My advice to the small business brand manager or brand decision makers is to avoid commentary on social issues at all costs. And if you feel the need, be sure to be aspirational, positive, and pick a safe topic. You won’t offend anyone by standing up for equality, but might if you choose a more fringe aspect of your issue.

The core function of business is to move a product, and make a profit. Taking social positions is not the function of a business, and has all too often caused harm. Gillette won’t be going anywhere, a 1 person shop just might.

Anger Derails Progress

Anger Derails Progress

Once upon a time, not so long ago, things seemed to be moving the ‘right’ direction. We were ending discrimination as a society, people were raised, exposed to, and expected to see the person not the wrapper. It seemed, to me at least, that we were finally working on that whole ‘content of character not color of skin’ thing, and making real progress.

Then…something…happened. Now, we have the most overt racism (and other discriminations) of any time in my life. We have people calling the police because there is a black person doing…nothing really. Existing. Yes, there is sometimes more to the story (the condo entry is a good example), but too often it looks like the idea that acting in an overly racist manner is back to being acceptable. I pull up short of calling people racist for one very good reason.

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