Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Smart Entertainment, anyone?

One of the things that I find genuinely inspiring about the campaign run by Barack Obama is that he really does treat us as adults. He acts as if voters are smart people, able to handle difficult and complex issues and sort through a complicated truth. (His speech on race was probably the best example, but really, just in general, the level of disingenuousness in his campaign is simply so much lower than any politician in recent memory, it's almost awe-inspiring...)

And the real test, coming in 6 days, is whether it will work or not. If he wins, of course, it won't just be because he treated us as if we were smart - more likely it will be because we want a change and our economy is in the toilet, swirling around with our truly putrid international reputation. But an Obama victory will be an undeniable boon to those of us who have tried to build our own careers on the idea that we can treat our audience -- our voters, our consumers -- as if they are smart. I've always wondered how it could be otherwise, given that we are our audience, after all -- but one more sign that we can do this and succeed is always a welcome thing.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

No Problem

When, exactly, did "No Problem" replace "You're welcome" as the standard response to "Thank you?" Did it? Or is it just with me? Because guess what? I don't like it.

When I thank you, sincerely, for something -- even if it's just some small, insignificant favor I've asked of you, I don't assume that it was a problem for you to fulfill my request. When you say "no problem," it makes me think, "well, why would it have been?"

Telling me "You're welcome" tells me that I am welcome, that I am worthy, that I am okay in your book. I like that. It makes me feel good.

Telling me "no problem" tells me that I am lucky you didn't think it was a problem, that you had to think about my request, that you fulfilled it with some hesitation and possibly even resentment. It makes me feel bad.

So cut it out. Please.

Monday, October 20, 2008

What An Audience Wants

I don't much care for the Boston Red Sox. I grew up a Yankee-hater, and so was forced to root for them a couple of times, most notably and frustratingly in 1978 (Bucky Dent, pop fly), but I couldn't really bring myself to throw myself into their legendary suffering with any real passion. After all, I had my own suffering to tend to...

By the time the Yankees hired Joe Torre and I'd gotten out of my childhood, my own Yankee-hating softened, so much so that when the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry heated up again, I was pulling for my home town Yankees now. No love for the Red Sox. Not now, nor ever.

And so I was rather pleased, last Thursday night, to flip on the TV and see that the Tampa Bay Rays were ahead, 5-0, in the seventh inning of Game 5 of their Championship Series, poised to close out the series 4 games to 1. I watched enough for the Rays to score a couple more runs off the Red Sox' truly hateful closer, the brilliantly intense frat boy Jonathan Papelbom, and then, with a rather confident and self-satisfied explanation to my baseball-not-understanding wife that the networks will be pretty displeased with the resulting Phillies-Rays World Series, I flipped the TV off. As I dozed off, I thought of my poor Dad, now inexplicably a Red Sox fan (explicable, really, because he lives in Maine now, but still inexplicable to those of us who think loyalty should outweigh geographical happenstance), and how it must be maddening to him to see the Sox go down without more of a fight... but for the most part, I just thought of how potentially boring the World Series would in fact be. But I would have said I was happy about it.

Until I woke up. And went out to the front door and got the paper, scanning for a final score. For a moment, I was surprised not to see some photo of Tampa Bay Rays jumping on each other, but then I saw it, the news stunning and inevitable and somehow right: Boston 8, Tampa Bay 7.

Boston had come back.

And I grinned. Smiled. Shook my head in a kind of wonder and joy that they'd done it. Why? Not because I wanted the Red Sox to win, no, far from it -- but because of one very simple fact:

It made a better story.

And that's why this election scares me right now. We - we Americans - we audience members - we crave, more than anything else, more than a good explanation of our financial meltdowns, more than a health care plan, more than ending illogical wars - we crave a good story.

And what's a better story right now? That Obama wins going away? Or that scrappy old warrior John McCain, left for dead so many times, makes one last stirring comeback? Pulls off the upset of the young century?

I don't deny that the overall narrative of Obama winning is just as good a story (and after all, the Rays did win the Series, but it took a full Seven games) -- but right now, in the immediate 24-7 culture that craves a good story all the time, I think what we need and want is a good comeback story, and looking at McCain the last few days, I get the sense he's got one in him.

Just don't turn off the set.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

For Those Of You Feeling Over Confident, Go Talk To:

1. the 1951 Brooklyn Dodgers.

2. Thomas E. Dewey

3. Napoleon at Waterloo

4. the 2007 New York Mets

5. the 2004 New York Yankees. (Up 3 games to none, up a run with Rivera on the mound in the 9th inning of Game 4. If you think that isn't more in the bank than a 10 point lead with three weeks to go...)

6. the 1980 Soviet Hockey team

7. the 1972 US Men's Olympic Basketball team

8. The British Army, c. 1775

9. Goliath