Category Archives: Deep Thoughts

Reality Distortion Through The Lens Of The Local News Broadcast

In (“Is Street Photography A Violation Of Privacy, Or Ethics?“), I touched on the topic of how local news has immense influence on our perception of security and safety in modern society. Maybe I’m not giving people enough credit, but it seems to me most are suffering from a severe case of reality distortion, a result of seeing the world through the lens of the local news broadcast, or cable news, or any other ratings-driven news outlet.

As the saying goes, “If it bleeds, it leads.”

It’s not enough to inform people, that’s a quaint idea from a bygone era. News has to grab your attention, then scare the shit out of you. Rinse and repeat. Have you ever really stopped to think about what we label as “news”? When you watch your local news broadcast, especially if you live in or near a major city, the first 10 minutes is almost always awash in stories of shootouts, murders, armed robberies, fires, and car accidents. Meanwhile, the rest of us in the viewing area, in other words, everyone (99.9%+) not affected by these (yes) isolated events, get to “learn” about them because somehow this will teach us something, or help us in some way. Really? I mean, why do we accept that these types of stories are “news”? They are the same violent stories every day, on autorepeat. Is this a public service?

I believe this daily reinforcement of all that is bad in society, without proper context and understanding that these are the exceptions, not the norms, is harmful to our collective mental health. At the very least, it plays into our fears and anxieties, making us believe the world is a more dangerous place than it actually is. And in turn, this impacts the policies we support, the politicians we vote for, and so on.

For anyone who regularly questions societal norms, it is obvious much of what we call “news” in 2014 is nothing more than a spectator sport, and a violent one at that. It’s not that you can’t find real news or journalistic value in your local half-hour news broadcast, but most of the stories reported during the first half of the program are not representative of the city or town the broadcast originates from. Even in the most violent areas of a city, people go about their daily lives, working, providing for their families, and they are not consumed with crime and violence every step of the way. I’m not making light of the crime that does occur in these locations, and the innocent people it effects, I’m simply trying to put things in proper context and perspective. Even in the most dangerous locations, most people are decent, law-abiding human beings, and in any of these neighborhoods, you can find people doing good deeds and making a difference for their community. But that’s not a compelling enough story, and it ain’t gonna pay the bills, so instead, let’s hear about the 100th murder this year, because that’s serving the greater public good, right?

Also posted in Humans Being, TV Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , |

The Introvert’s Guide To Street Photography, Dealing With Fear

Okay, maybe that was a bit too audacious a title. Because this isn’t really a guide, as much as it’s an honest assessment of my social awkwardness in the process of embracing street photography. And notice I said “dealing” with fear. I find you never really get over fear, at least I don’t, but you learn how to deal with it, and put it in its proper place.

I’m not really a people person, and I’m most definitely an introvert. I’m not a person drawn to social situations. In fact, I actively avoid them. But I’ve always been an observer. I’m endlessly fascinated by people, what they do, what they think, how they interact, and I think this is why I’m so drawn to city life in general. Even though I’m an introvert, the fact that people fascinate me is why it makes perfect sense that I got into photography, because it’s yet another way to observe the human condition.

But there’s just one problem, until recently, I mostly avoided photographing people. So how can an introvert start photographing the human condition? (light bulb moment) Ah ha! Street photography! It’s kind of interesting actually, and it is something I find amusing, that it seems even some of the most outgoing people are intimidated by the idea of photographing strangers on the street, yet here I am, Mr. Anti-Social out on the streets, doing just that. And I’m not going to tell you that I’m somehow immune from intimidation, but for someone like me, who is very much social phobic, but who nonetheless wants to photograph people, the street suddenly doesn’t seem so intimidating, especially if I’m ever to fulfill the need to observe and capture the human condition.

But don’t get me wrong, it took me years to get to this point. And even now, I need to talk myself into it. I need to psych myself up. I don’t know if I’ll ever be fully comfortable with it, but maybe being somewhat trepidatious is actually a good thing, as long as it doesn’t completely shut me down and stop me from doing what I love doing (once I’m doing it).

So if you want to get out there on the streets and get those candid shots, I don’t have a formula for you to follow. I don’t have a 7-step plan for how to psych yourself up. I don’t have a magic set of words that will put you in the right mindset. You really do just have to stop thinking, then stand up, then grab your camera, and head to the nearest town center or city and start taking photos. There’s no other way to get there other than to just start doing it. It will be intimidating, it will be awkward, and in fact, you might just face a confrontation or two, but you will also experience a natural high, and a fulfilling satisfaction of doing what you want to do, even when you weren’t sure you could.

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The ‘Pop Culture Decade’ Died In The 1990s

This journey could just as easily begin in the 1920s, or 1940s, but I think starting with the 1950s is sufficient to illustrate my point. And to avoid confusion, this article is written entirely from the perspective of American pop culture. But I have a hunch that the same phenomenon that killed the “pop culture decade” has swept around the globe, immune from regional pop culture variations.

The 1950s saw mass adoption of a new technology, the television, and this new medium would fuel the pop culture decades to follow. The 50s was also the decade responsible for rock ‘n roll, blue jeans and poodle skirt fashion, and it gave birth to the star of Elvis Presley. This particular decade has been highly romanticized in later pop culture decades starting in the 1970s and reaching its pinnacle in the 1980s with movies like “Back to the Future.” You know a 1950s reference when you see it. Whether it be slicked back hair or the chrome kitchen set, this pop culture decade is deep-seated in our collective pop culture brains, even if the decade we visualize is in reality shaped by rose-colored references from future decades.

When we think 1960s, we think change, revolution, social upheaval (followed by greater social acceptance). If the 1950s was your conservative (sometimes bigoted) uncle, the 1960s was your rambunctious (and drugged out) cousin. The decade of assassinations (President John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr.) was also the decade of the British Invasion (The Beetles, The Rolling Stones, The Who). While all decades take pop culture cues from music, it was the 1960s where music had its biggest effect on pop culture and the greater culture at large. The rock ‘n roll music that began a decade earlier was joined in the 1960s by its rising sibling, pop music. The “teenager” clothed in the conservatism of the 1950s, grew out his hair and rebelled in the 1960s. When you think this decade you think sub-culture. When you think the 1960s, you think peace signs, hippies, VW bugs, and  tie-dye t-shirts.

Pop culture in the 1970s was directly influenced by the social change of the 1960s. In television, the 70s began a trend of more controversial, socially conscious programming with TV shows like “All in the Family.” Seventies television also contained much sexual innuendo with shows like “Charlie’s Angels” and “Three’s Company.” And 70s television saw a rise in programming centered on minority families like “Good Times,” and “Sanford and Son.” In music, the 70s was all about experimentation with styles ranging from jazz/rock fusion to darker, heavier, and harder-edged sounds from the likes of “Black Sabbath” and “Led Zeppelin.” But the 70s also produced soft pop from groups like “The Carpenters” and long-form progressive rock from bands like “Genesis.” The 1970s gave rise to the familiar half-hour, fast-paced, local news program, and the influence this format has had on society cannot be overstated. The unofficial mantra “If it bleeds it leads” of this style of news reporting has had a profound effect on the way people perceive the world, what they consider important, and how safe (or unsafe) they think this human experiment is. When you think the 1970s, you think earth tones and oil embargoes. The 1970s woke up the few remaining hold outs, still caught up in a post-war slumber. The 1970s was far removed from the quiet and safe confines of the 1950s.

Ah, the 1980s, the decade of my childhood. I was 4-years old when the decade began, a teenager when it ended. The 1980s saw the second British Invasion, with new wave, and a heavy reliance on synthesizer-based pop. The 1980s also rang in the era of self-absorption and Wall Street greed, two things that we still can’t shake nearly 30 years later. The decade of the personal computer was also the decade of big hair. Whether it was hair metal bands, or teenage girls testing gravity and the limits of hair products. And like the 1960s, the 1980s saw its share of iconic pop artists like Madonna and Michael Jackson. And of course, any mention of 1980s pop culture must include MTV. Launched in 1981, MTV had a major impact on the music industry and how music is marketed, and the 1980s was all about marketing. From My Little Pony, Care Bears, and of course the Cabbage Patch Kids, consumerism was not only alive and well in the 1980s, it was raised to a whole new level of gratuitousness. Everything was big in the 1980s. When you think this decade you think loud, you think bombastic, you think colorful and you think neon, ripped jeans, the perm, and the mullet.

So now we’ve reached the 1990s, and it all seemed so promising at the beginning of that decade, with the grunge music scene rebelling against the excesses of the 80s. It matters not if you liked it, because it’s simply undeniable that “the Seattle sound” was a defining moment at the beginning of the last decade of the 20th century. Unfortunately, it really was the last defining moment for the 90s. Oh sure, the 1990s saw the rise of the world wide web, and the tech bubble that followed, and obviously the impact of technology and the internet is profound, but when it comes to music, television, fashion, the 1990s killed the pop culture decade. Post 1990s, decades are no longer defined by an aesthetic or a zeitgeist. Don’t believe me? Well consider this example:

Adam Sandler - The Wedding Singer (1998)

Adam Sandler – The Wedding Singer (1998)

Think of the movie “The Wedding Singer.” This comedy gold flick was released in 1998, starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore. It was a period comedy, taking place 13 years earlier in 1985. Think about that. This movie was released 16 years ago, and when it was released, it depicted a timeframe 13 years before that, utilizing an unmistakable 80s aesthetic that was completely foreign only a little over a decade later. More time has passed since this movie’s release than the difference in time between it’s release and the period it depicted. Why does this matter? While I realize this is a comedy, using over-the-top fashion and pop culture references for comedic effect, that also makes it the perfect microcosm of the greater point I’m trying to make here. Could we have a 2014 “Wedding Singer” movie depicting 13 years earlier, the year 2001? What would be the defining visual aesthetic of 2001? How would it be set apart from the aesthetic of 2014? See what I’m getting at? Sure, social media and smart phones are a big deal in the time that has passed since 2001, but that really doesn’t give us a defining visual aesthetic. It seems we reached a kind of odd pop culture malaise that began in the 1990s, a homogenization, if you will. What is the zeitgeist of the first decade of the 21st century? Will there ever be one?

While music, fashion, and technology do continue to evolve, I believe we have lost the ability to isolate any defining aesthetic for the decades that follow the 1990s. We are no longer able to recite obvious, relatable, and universal pop culture references when talking about the current decade or the first decade of the 21st century. In fact, we never even settled on a universal name for either of these two decades.

So what do you think? Hit up the comments section below with your thoughts.

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Curmudgeon Agency

There are people who are ill-tempered for no particularly well-thought-out reason. They simply react poorly to seemingly innocuous circumstances or events. It seems these people are curmudgeons for no other reason than to make it perfectly clear they have agency as a human being. And it’s certainly a good idea to assert yourself and to make it known you have thoughts and feelings too, but overreacting to a benign situation for the sake of expressing your individualism is counter-productive at best.

As this relates to street photography, I’m talking about the person who reacts negatively either verbally or physically to their picture being taken. And certainly that’s their prerogative (at least the verbal part), but people seem to think they have some special right no one else possesses when out in public.

For better or for worse, we live in a surveillance society, and at the same time, nearly everyone has a camera. There is no presumed privacy on the street, or in a park. What is it exactly that people fear about the photograph? These same people do not live in fear that their likeness could be captured by accident with someone’s smart phone camera. They don’t think twice about walking down a city street where the number of security cameras can measure into the dozens. But raise your camera up, and snap a shot, and suddenly you’ve taken away their agency? Most people who react badly in these situations couldn’t begin to tell you why, they just react.

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Do You Ever Just Look At The Sun And Think?

The Sun by NASA Goddard Space Flight CenterDriving home from work yesterday, it was probably only the second time I had to deal with sun glare on my way home since the switch to Daylight Savings Time. There simply hasn’t been a lot of brilliant sunny days lately, but yesterday the sun was in full force on my drive home. And because it was within 30 minutes of setting, it was low on the horizon, and yes, it was large (that phenomena is an entire blog post to itself).

And I was struck, as I have been many times in the past, by the thought of what the sun really is. Because of course, the  sun is not just this bright source of light in the sky, witnessed since birth, and taken for granted equally as long. The sun is enormous and colossal, and it’s mass consists of all but a small fraction of the mass of the entire solar system! It is literally a violent and sometimes unpredictable hydrogen and helium fireball, for which life as we know it is entirely dependent. How about that for a humbling thought!

Do you ever look past the light it shines, the warmth it embraces us with, and think about how utterly foreign this bright and giant orb in the sky really is? The sun is both the most familiar and the most foreign thing in nature that we experience, and yet if not for the sun, that experience would not exist, because we would not exist.

Do you ever just look at the sun and think?

photo by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center via Flickr

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