Josh Weinstein, the longtime Simpsons showrunner, recently tweeted some of the rules of the Simpsons writer’s room that made the show (at least in the ’90s), arguably the best written in television history. One stuck out to me:

Never shoot down another idea. Don’t like it? Pitch a better one

After years of blindly accepting and even defending toxic behavior among friends and coworkers, I’m perpetually looking to find patterns of behavior and compatibility I like, and behavior I’ve come to learn I don’t like. One pattern I’ve discovered as I’ve gotten older is the perpetual naysayer. Both professionally and creatively, I’ve worked with several people who are great at finding the flaws and smugly dismissing ideas. When asked for a better idea, they either shrug their shoulders or propose something well out of the realm of possibility, because that’s how it should be in a perfect world.

If someone is able to take an idea and pitch alternatives, or discover potential dealbreaking flaws in an idea that need to be addressed, that’s one thing. But if someone mocks an idea, points out why it won’t work, and leaves it at that, over time, that person becomes impossible to work with. There’s a difference between being a Cassandra and being a perpetual naysayer.

I’ve come to realize this is a personality type. If someone does this, they don’t do it here and there—they approach every idea this way, no matter how strong or weak it is. And over time, they alienate all their professional and creative collaborators.

That’s not to say this person is wrong when they point out flaws. There can be great, informed, thoroughly researched reasons why an idea is wrong. Some of the smartest people I’ve ever known are like this. Some of them speak with such authority that it’s easy to get suckered into their point of view. But the people I’ve worked with who fit this mold have never reached their potential, because no one likes working with this kind of person. And when that kind of person doesn’t get the kind of work their intelligence deserves, they’ve tended get resentful, which leads to them turning to their perpetual naysayer tendencies even more. It becomes the world’s fault for not respecting their intelligence.

I used to respect this personality type; I fancied myself as something of an intellectual crank, and appreciated others who somewhat fit that mold. As I’ve learned to focus on more positive qualities of my life, and being nicer to myself, I realized how much these personalities bring me down, and stymie me from accomplishing what I need to accomplish. Going forward, when I identify someone with this personality type, I now know not let them into my inner circle. I wish I’d learned that sooner.

Last year I made the choice to stop drinking alcohol. It wasn’t a situation where I had to stop to save my life. I just didn’t feel the need to drink anymore. I barely eat sugar anymore at this point in my life. I quit smoking 6 years ago after I had some health issues and realized that only smoking when I was drinking wasn’t worth it. Most of the bad habits that can drive others to the brink of madness, and most of my own toxic behaviors from my younger days, I’ve either cut out of my life or have done a lot of work to cut out of my life.

There’s one glaring exception: I can’t stop watching sports. I don’t even know how to begin.

Continue Reading Why Do I Still Give A Sh*t About Sports?

I will sing the praises of Caddyshack until the end of time. It’s one of my all-time favorite comedy movies. I say that not thinking it’s a particularly laugh out loud comedy.

That strikes some people as odd, as Caddyshack‘s reputation is more based on its jokiness than its quality. When I talk up Caddyshack to friends in my age range, the general consensus is that it’s dad comedy, not nearly as funny as it was in 1980, sloppy, and overrated. I very rarely laugh when I rewatch Caddyshack. But I smile watching it more than nearly any other movie I’ve ever seen. I don’t think Caddyshack is a particularly funny movie. I think it’s a great movie.

I have two reasons for feeling this way, and two reasons alone: Chevy Chase and Rodney Dangerfield.

Chevy Chase

Chevy Chase, notoriously an asshole, has rarely held a job in his life for more than a couple of years (Community was actually the exception). He was the breakaway star of the first season and a half of Saturday Night Live, but with the exception of Foul Play, the 1978 movie that received mixed reviews, he had languished in the four years in between leaving SNL and Caddyshack. His turn in Caddyshack, however, may be his masterstroke.

The late 1970s/early 1980s was the beginning of the “snobs vs. slobs” era of comedies that has become a running trope ever since. It began with Animal House, a movie that’s often considered a rival to Caddyshack as the definitive comedy of its era. I’d argue that no performance or character embodied the class divide of its era better than Ty Webb.

Ty comes from the snobs. He was traumatized by that world. Most of Chase’s schtick as Ty is contexualized with the shadow of Vietnam:

Ty: I brought most of that stuff back from Vietnam.
Lacey: You were in the war?
Ty: Uh…no….Homo. Much better now though.

Whether or not Ty actually went to Vietnam is somewhat ambiguous here. But he’s likely joking; he was likely drafted in Vietnam. His behaviors (which are consistent with PTSD), resentment of the ruling class he was born into, and his general distrust of authority, were reactions America as a culture experienced in the wake of Vietnam. Chevy Chase’s usual subtle, physical silliness is tinged with sadness and mourning in Caddshack more than any other role he performed.

Rodney Dangerfield

By 1980s, Jews were allowed in most respectable country clubs in the countries. But it took until the late 1970s to accomplish this, and country clubs weren’t happy about it. In fact, there were many scandals, bombshell newspaper articles, lawsuits, and legislation aimed at allowing Jews in country clubs. The effects of this predujice were felt long after 1980, arguably continuing to this day.

My grandfather was a state politician in Massachusetts in the 70s. At the time, Jews were not allowed into the Brookline Country Club. My grandfather told me the story of forcing the club to allow Jews in by threatening to revoke their liquor license.

Suffice to say, even the clubs that had to let Jews in were not happy about it. There was a lot of pressures on Jews to behave in line with country club values. And Jews in country clubs felt this. Dangerfield’s Al Czervik recognized this tension in his very first line of significance in the movie to his Asian caddy “Wang”:

I hear this place is restricted, Wang, so don’t tell ’em you’re Jewish, okay?

This line sets the framework for what Czervik is facing. And every move he makes after that in the movie is designed to absolutely obliterate every expectation of what he is supposed to be.

The dining room scene in Caddyshack became one of the movies most iconic moments, and introduction of Dangerfield to the zeitgest of pop culture:

From a pure funny point of view, the jokes don’t really hold up. If you show that clip to anyone these days, it appears dated and schticky at hell. But for what they mean in the context of the story, a Jew in a country club openly trouncing every expectation, owning his boorish, out of place sensibilities and doubling down on them when facing a repressed, culture that resisted every level of inclusivity, it’s a rebellious move. A slob among the snobs. Impossible to deal with.

This all culminates in the climactic golf scene at the end. The gopher scene. The “hey everybody, we’re all getting laid” scene. But my favorite scene in the movie is the set up to the climax, when Webb and Czervik, both in with the snob camp, align themselves with the slobs once and for all:”

Judge Smails: Can I have a word with you? In private.
Ty: Sure thing, Judge.
Judge Smails: Your father and I prepped together, went to war together, played golf together. We built this Club, he and I! Let’s face it. Some people simply do not belong. Let’s not…cave in too easy. What do you say, Ty?
[Ty and Judge Smails laugh]
Ty: Let’s make it $40,000.
Czervik: Great!
Ty: My dad…never liked you.

This is class warfare through golf, gophers, girls, and general horseplay. It’s a defining generational statement of its era. And it shakes me to the bone every time I watch it. Even if I don’t laugh a lot.

Recently, I was discussing the recent Joss Whedon revelations with my weekly writing group. While we were universally outraged at his behavior (but not exactly surprised), we differed on how much we could still appreciate, watch and consider his work a part of our lives. One friend said he will absolutely not watch any work of art made by anyone who was accused of bullying or abusive behavior, in addition to not supported art made blatantly by people committing heinous crimes. This included Hitchcock, David O. Russell, and Tarantino.

I made the point that everyone sets different standards for what they consider acceptable and that acceptability is a complex, nuanced issue. My friend rejected that notion, saying that there was no room for nuance until we reset our standards for acceptability.

I am completely on board with resetting the goalposts for what constitutes acceptable behavior in the entertainment industry. Yet, the concept of there being “no room for nuance” still haunts me. Taken out of that context and applied to how we communicate as a culture, I can see this permeate communication across the board. Social media has reduced our thinking (at least in my circles) to curt oversimplifications, clickbait-y headlines to articles no one actually reads, and an emphasis on being loud over being right.

None of this is new information to anyone who spends as much time on social media as I have over the past decade-plus. But no one has really thought of a solution.

One of my resolutions for 2021 was to spend less time on social media. I’ve more or less accomplished that goal. But good lord, I miss the healthy conversations that online communication could garner when it wasn’t overrun by trolls and edgelords.

So this blog, a relaunch of a blog with the same dumb name that I launched in 2007 and abandoned around 2010, attempts to return to the kind of long-form, detailed analysis of pop culture, politics, cultural ethics, and how all those areas relate. I aim to use this blog to replace my snarky Tweets and status updates, no matter how witty and “well-branded” they may be.

Feel free to fire away with thoughts, comments, disagreements, and any kind of non-toxic communication in replies to wherever this article is posted. I will attempt to foster a culture of nuance and detail while maintaining my passion for treating people humanely. I hope you do too.