A cursory Google search tends to disprove mass emails, hoaxes, and canards, but for some people, reality is way too biased to be of use.
I got one of those e-mails the other day. You know which ones I’m talking about. The mass forward kind from that one guy on your e-mail list who seems to hit forward almost as a Pavlovian reaction to news of doom and gloom which may or may not be government induced. He felt compelled to inform me that NASA, apparently, issued an acid rain warning because of a dark circle around the Moon. It sounded pretty astonishing so I did what I usually do when I get one of these e-mails, I ran a Google search, and low and behold, the first result — not the tenth, not the second, the first result — said: “Acid Rain hoax”. The link was to one of my favorite sites, Snopes.com, the internet clearing house for sorting through e-mail cons, pranks and fabrications. In the old days, the wild-west days of 2002, before I knew about Snopes, I sometimes had to spend up to a grueling four minutes to disprove a hoax e-mail with a Google search. But now, with the help of Snopes, an inquiring mind can do it in under 60 seconds. Snopes is the Sgt. Joe Friday of the internet, it gives you “just the facts, ma’am”. (BTW, Sgt. Friday never actually said those words on Dragnet. It’s a bit of an urban legend. Wanna know how I know that? Snopes.)
So, the big question remains: Why? Why do I still get these mass forwards? Why do I have to listen to regurgitated e-legends from the same people, years after I told them about where to find the evidence disproving their tall tales?
The answer was provided to me by one of these, no doubt forward-happy, netizens just a few days ago as I was perusing the comment section of Huffington Post. The subject had to do with the “Birther” phenomenon, a movement that keeps Snopes quite busy nowadays. When someone on the HufPo board brought up evidence presented on Snopes that disproved any birther claims, one commenter — let’s just call him Mr. Birther — declared Snopes a “Liberal Plant Site.”
I found that response absolutely fascinating, given that Snopes spends the same effort disproving lies about Sarah Palin and George Bush as it does with Barack Obama. They present independently verifiable facts and evidence to their claims. But what happens when independently verifiable facts come up against an ideology? In this case, how does Mr. Birther disprove a simple fact? Well, by calling it not a “fact” but a “liberal plant.” Easy. Case closed. Hit forward and it’s done.
Take this disconnect and ad a 24/7 news channel feeding into it, then a couple of radio hosts echoing it and you end up with a country where a good chunk of the population is living in a parallax view, where “facts” and “evidence” on one side are mere talking points to rebuff for the other side. To them, freedom means the ability to declare that 2+2=5, if 5 means they’re right. And anyone who says otherwise is just a liberal plant, including the media.
It’s a thought I need to wrap my head around. The knee jerk reaction of forwarding an e-mail of dubious validity on one side, might be met on my side with a knee jerk reaction to send someone a link from Snopes to shed light on its claims, but in both cases this seems to be a useless exercise amounting to nothing more than political agitation. As Stephen Colbert said “reality has always had a liberal bias” — and some people cannot be bothered by anything that’s so biased.
UPDATE: The original name of my blog, Intermittent Reinforcement, has changed since the date of this post, but I feel the concepts behind it still apply.
Since someone asked about the name of my blog…
“Every time I think I’m out, they pull me right back in.” complains Michael Corleone in the Godfather Part III. For a lot of aspirants in Hollywood, this is a somewhat familiar feeling, except that they don’t want to get out, they want to get inside. During the struggle, it often feels that you just had your last shot at the game, you just played your last chip, and this tournament is about to come to a halt for you.
And this is usually when the call comes in. “So-and-so liked your script over at fill-in-the-blank company.” Now the roller coaster is back on again. In psychology they call it “intermittent reinforcement”, when the reward for a specific action is received at intermittent and unpredictable intervals — it’s the most effective way to hook someone on performing a specific action. Other than being a very effective dog training tool, it’s also how Las Vegas makes most of its money. If you sat in front of a slot machine and it never gave you a dime, you’d stop playing pretty fast. And if it gave you a dime every tenth try, you’d probably figure out the math after thirty tries or so — free money has a way of turning people into math wizards. But instead, every slot machine is programmed to give out certain random amounts of money at random intervals, sometimes often, sometimes seldom, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot — but always less than what it takes in. The slot machine is intermittent reinforcement at its purest form.
Hollywood is nowhere near as pure, but for many people, it works on the same principle.
That’s it for now, but I will be back soon to write some more. Not sure when yet. Maybe soon, maybe not so soon, maybe I’ll write a little, maybe a lot…
I know I said this blog would be more about the movie biz, but I happen to believe that everything in Hollywood is all about politics and everything in Washington is all about theater. And the one man who probably understands this more than most is Barack Obama.
There have been countless articles written about the 2008 election along with a crop of books from both left and right wing pundits dissecting Obama’s rise to power. I had my own theory, a hypothesis that continues to strengthen over time; I think to understand Obama’s strategies and motivations one needs to look no further than Robert Green’s bestselling book, The 48 Laws of Power. In this seemingly mischievous tome published in 2000, Green dissects the history of power and leadership through the centuries into 48 lessons everyone in a management position would be well advised to learn. The book itself has garnered some controversy as well as a big following among not only the upwardly mobile of the corporate world, but famously among the hip-hop community on both the east and west coasts. I happen to be an unabashed fan of this book for its insight into the psyche of leaders, and their followers. It’s also no secret that I’m a supporter of Mr. Obama, for his progressive politics, and for his mastery of the game of power.
Of course I have no way of knowing whether Obama has actually read this book–though I would be surprised if he didn’t–but I do know that he fully understands and utilizes the principles outlined in it, and does so with expertise.
Take for example his choice of holding his convention acceptance speech at Invesco Field Stadium. The pundits at the time questioned this choice as overtly lavish and his opponents famously joked about the “Greek column sets” built for the event. What they didn’t understand is that Obama was simply following Law 37: Create Compelling Spectacles. As Robert Green puts it: “Striking imagery and grand symbolic gestures create an aura of power – everyone responds to them.” And in the end, the voters did. How about the time when the candidate gave a speech in Berlin. Once again, the talking heads on the right disparaged this step as an over reach; “Who does Obama think he is?” was their battle cry of the day. My answer was: “Someone who understands Law 34: Be Royal in Your Own Fashion – Act Like a King to be Treated Like One“. By giving that speech Obama allowed us a vision of a president respected around the world, and by doing so he dared voters to make that vision a reality. Of course none of this would work without mastering Law 28: Enter Action with Boldness, Law 29: Plan All the Way to the End, Law 26: Keep Your Hands Clean, etc.. And there is no denying that Obama took full advantage of Law 27: Play on People’s Need to Believe to Create a Cult Like Following. This I would say is one of the more controversial laws in Green’s book. At first glance it probably comes across as a cynical or even diabolical tactic. It would be easier for me to distance myself from it if I wasn’t typing this blog on my Apple iMac while I’m listening to my Apple iPod with my iPhone in my pocket. It seems Steve Jobs is a big believer of Law 27 as well. Whether we like that law or not, the simple fact is, there is a reason why they don’t call the man Senator Obama anymore.
Now that he is President, some of the criticism against him comes from the left. Pundits and bloggers are now questioning whether Mr. Obama is delivering on the “change” he has campaigned on. Despite his undeniable legislative accomplishments, many people on the left feel that he’s not changing enough, not changing it fast enough, not being drastic enough. Apparently these pundits on our side haven’t read The 48 Laws either. If they had they would’ve eventually found Law 45: Preach the Need for Change but Never Reform Too Much at Once. In this chapter Green goes on to say: “Everyone understands the need for change in the abstract, but on the day-to-day level, people are creatures of habit. Too much innovation is traumatic and will eventually lead to revolt.” As with all these Laws, Green devotes a whole chapter to breaking this theory down with a number of examples from throughout history, incorporating the wisdom of the likes of Sun Tzu and Machiavelli to underline his point.
Do I agree with everything Mr. Obama is doing? Not really. I didn’t like the particular way he dismissed legalizing Marijuana, I didn’t like the compromise on offshore drilling, especially the way he left himself wide open to a hit like the BP spill, I don’t like not having a Public Option in the health care bill and the list goes on. In other words, in no way do I think Barack Obama is perfect. No. That would be a violation of Law 46: Never Appear Too Perfect.
The man knows what he is doing is all I’m saying. I continue to be fascinated by the case study he provides into this game. It’s essentially the same game I see played out on a daily basis in Hollywood. After all, the last time I heard a person declare himself the “King of the World” here, someone ended up giving him a billion dollars.