Monday, February 3, 2014

I've moved.

Check out my new site:

This blog will remain up as an archive.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Track Tales Tuesday: Dream Catcher

I discovered Set It Off on the most recent entry in their “Punk Goes…” series, Christmas. Their contribution to the compilation was “This Christmas (I’ll Burn It To The Ground)," a soaring, operatic telling of Santa skipping out on the holiday. I’ll admit it took me awhile to adapt to the style. Pop punk bands don’t typically have that level of musical pageantry. It’s an approach that sets Set It Off apart.

Every one of their songs sounds like an epic, sweeping narrative, and “Dream Catcher” is no different, as the band attempts to teach us how to be one of the titular people. The track begins with a bit of exposition that anyone who‘s wanted their life to be more than it is can identify with:
“I’ve been sitting here for hours
As I wish for this to start
I set my standards high in hopes
They will not fall apart”
When you’re stuck in one place in that doesn’t satisfy you, your mind races to find ways that could bring that satisfaction. Your wishes turn into a new set of standards because you realize that the ones you’ve been living with have brought you here. The problem is, you’re still afraid of failing again, so you aim higher and higher until you have no idea how to make anything happen.  You want it so badly, you just don’t know how to get there.

Rather than filling in that gap with their story of success, presumably in an attempt to appeal to a broader audience, the band seems to jumps ahead in the narrative:
“It’s almost like I fell asleep
My doubts have seemed to fade
Because I’ve opened up my eyes to see
I’m right where I plan to be
Suddenly, there's no wishing to be somewhere else anymore. He’s where he plans to be because he opened his eyes. Clearly he means he’s come to understand something, but what is it? How did he come to understand it? Why do we need to understand it? These are the questions the song answers as it moves forward by teasing the first half of the chorus:
“Cast your net, cast it out
And I hope to god you’ll scream and shout
It’s everything you want and maybe more”
Alright, so we’re getting a bit of the how. Own your dreams and standards. Make them real by doing more than giving them lip service, proclaim them from the rooftops so everyone hears. Tell them that it’s not just something you’re saying, it’s something you actually want to do. The band explains why you should do this with the next verse:
“Anyone can dream through the night
But only some can dream with eyes wide
There lies the fight inside
It resides in everyone
They will proclaim you a fool
And it reminds you to do
Anything and everything to prove them a liar”
This reinforcement is what separates the achievers from everyone else. It’s how to win the fight that everyone else has lost. The first step is to realize it’s internal—a struggle with yourself to find the motivation. Then the insults of the naysayers will be fuel for your fire of determination rather than chains weighing you down. Victory within yourself is summed up in the final line of the chorus:
 “Cast your net, cast it out
And I hope to god you’ll scream and shout
It’s everything you want and maybe more
Does it seem out of reach?
Hit the ground and run with both your feet
Here’s a lesson that I hope to teach
Believe, you’ll be a Dream Catcher”
Believing is more than giving lip service to something. Just because you say you accept something as true, doesn’t mean you actually do. True belief affects your entire life, how you live every day. It’s strong enough to overcome any fear. Why? Because it manifests in physical events. The only way to truly win the internal struggle is to move beyond affirmation to action.

I realize the last paragraph may seem like a religious statement, but it’s not, and that misconception is why it’s especially important to consider what you believe in. Do you believe in things that are external to you or do you believe in yourself? Both beliefs will affect what you do every day with the latter causing you to take steps toward your dreams. Set It Off explains it best in their final verse:
“Cry out loud and take the stage
And don’t let skeptics slow your pace
With every forward step you’ll take
Their breath away
Their breath away
Believe, believe they’ll spite your words
And some will say it seems absurd
But devour the critics, dismiss the cynics
And mark my words, they’ll regret it when”
(The rest of the song's lyrics are a repetition of the chorus.) 

True belief in the self manifests in real things happening. The only danger presented to these things is people’s repetition of non-actual words. Sure, statements and words occur, but what is their physical nature? There is none, and that’s the difference here. That’s the lesson that Set It Off hopes to teach. Actions trump words, and if you truly believe in yourself, you'll do something instead of talking about it.

The final line of the chorus can now be seen in its true form—a double entendre:

Believe you’ll be a Dream Catcher. Believe that it is possible and act on it.
Believe and you will be a Dream Catcher.  If you truly believe in yourself and act on it, you will achieve what you dream.

It’s a stunning beautiful artistic statement that can only truly be understood by hearing the song itself. Delivery makes so much of a difference here. That fact more than anything points to the talent and artistry of Set It Off, of what they've done to catch their dream.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Track Tales Tuesday: So Positive

There are some bands that I listen and don't understand why they aren't bigger. Their music is catchy. Their lyrics are identifiable. Their brand/style is unique. It's the perfect combination of elements that makes an act popular and iconic. Down With Webster is one of those bands.

The first time I heard Down With Webster's "Time To Win Vol. 1" I was blown away. It's a celebratory combination of classic rock and hip hop that hasn't quite been done before. The lyrics, as the album title would suggest, are about succeeding and partying. The songs mix rap verses with anthemic choruses, of both the crowd chant-along and riff-heavy rock variety. There's even a sample/modern update of Eddie Money's "Rich Girl." In short, there's a lot of talent and a lot of smart decisions on it.

When I hear an album like that, I'm impressed and inspired, and groups like Down With Webster become a personal passion, a poorly kept secret from the rest of the world that I imagine hipsters would ironically scoff at. I play their songs on repeat incessantly. I memorize their lyrics, rap along with their verses, and make one of their hooks my ringtone, all the while wondering why the band hasn't blown up yet. Then they release a song or album that unintentionally answers the question I started with

For Down With Webster, that album is "Time To Win Vol. 2." While many of the songs on it could probably stand sufficiently as my answer, "So Positive" particularly rises above the rest. The closing track of the album, it's a mission statement of sorts, revealing the psychology behind the band and their approach to their lives. That approach, while being what makes me them so spectacularly appealing to me, is likely what distances them from the rest of the world. Quite frankly, it's too positive (and mature and rational).

The first half of the hook perhaps best captures what I mean:
I'm so, I'm so positive
and I know that I'll be alright, now
I'm so, I'm so positive
and I know that I'll be alright, now
It's not just about being "positive." A lot of popular songs claim that perspective. It's what the partying and "fun" are supposedly all about, enjoying life while you can. Here, the second line shows us there's a lot more going on. The surety of singing that they'll be alright is rare in our culture. The rest of the song shows us how they arrive at that demeanor (and just how different it is from most people).

The first verse frames the song's focus:
The grass is greener on the other guy's lawn
but I'll mow mine now til' it looks right
I'm lookin' at my glass and it looks half empty,
I'm still gonna chug that shit tonight
Wanna go places, tryin to pack
But I'm stuck in my basement, tryin to rap
Fell down once, but I'm climbing back
and I can see my dreams in a shiny plaque
Sometimes dreams play hard to get
You can't believe in those promises
When you out for the bread and condiments
cause' you can't pay your bills with compliments
I know where I'm going, I just wanna get there
Gotta lot of shoes, and I'm runnin' in my best pair
But my mind's on the next pair
and where I'm gonna be next year
What's so incredible about this verse is in the first four lines conventional sayings are turned on their head in order to render them impotent. You only know if the other guy's grass is greener than yours if you're trying to compare. You only know if your glass is half empty if you're worried about how much you have. What should you be focused on? The verse builds beautifully to show us it's about where you want to be with your life, not living by comparison or based on how much you have. That approach is where the band's positivity comes from and where they diverge from the culture at large.

This perspective becomes more explicit in the next verse:
I'm not thinkin' bout the words that I can't write,
I'm singing all the words in my head
I'm not thinkin' bout the girls that I can't get,
I'm thinkin' bout the girl in my bed
I'm not worried that I'm going with the crowd,
I'm too busy worryin' about going it alone
I'm not thinking bout the lineup at the club now,
I'm thinkin' bout how I'm getting home
It's not about thinking about what you don't have. It's about thinking about what you do have. A focus on yourself is slipped in here too with the dichotomy of going with the crowd versus going alone. Most popular songs would encourage you to go with the crowd.

The final verse is split into two, each delivered by one of the band's three vocalists, and adds the final piece necessary to understanding and holding this perspective:
Cause' life ain't a movie role
and you didn't write the script
So there's no way that you could know
what you're getting out of it
And the love is the truth you know
the money is counterfeit
Put it all on a million to one
I'm likin' the sound of it, yeah 
I'm not a superhero, and that's all I can say
cause' when the times get tough, the tough don't fly away
It's almost over now, but back in the beginnin'
we had nothing to lose, it was time we started winnin'
Escape the underground, suns out, star shine
Not that we're all stars, just that our stars align
And you can do it too, and hold your own hand
Just keep on doing you, follow your own plan!
The only way to describe these lines is reality-centric. Each starts out by denying the conventional way people try to envision their lives--characters and events that can't possible exist. They then continue by stating what facing reality force you to do--accept that you don't control the world and can't quit and hide when that lack of control presents you with difficult situations. And just like we saw with The Good Fight's "A Perfect Storm of Self-Satisfaction," each vocalist culminates his parts by turning his focus away from money and to himself and his dreams/plan.

The hook is repeated to close out the song, and now I want to highlight the second half of it that I neglected before:
I don't mind, I've been going through this my whole life
And I know I can't fly, but I close my eyes and I try
I don't mind, I've been going through this my whole life
And I know I can't fly, but I close my eyes and I try
Positivity is learning what your life is and limits are, dreaming about how you want it and yourself to be, and then pushing yourself to change it and yourself.  Down With Webster is incredible because their music is infused with this positivity. Their songs are about making life better, truly enjoying themselves, and celebrating what they have. Unfortunately, their perspective means they'll probably never reach the level of popularity they deserve.

It doesn't matter though. I'm so positive that it's awesome to be down with them.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Track Tales Tuesday: A Perfect Storm of Self-Satisfaction

Cause even though we don’t have a thing
We live like fucking kings
On "The Perfect Storm of Self-Satisfaction," the second song off their debut EP, The Good Fight attacks the commonly held idea that money defines your worth. They contrast "sales reports" and "dollar signs" with "self-satisfaction" simultaneously reveal and undermine why "being punk" is so often associated with "being poor."

The song opens:
I’ve been wading through this sea of gray
For over 3 years now
And the only place it’s got me
Is in over my head with their constant judgment
Cause I know that
My yearly figures are a joke to them
So I figure
That I’m just no good for nothing
The "sea of gray" is the opposite of self-satisfaction. It's what I wrote about in last Tuesday's Track Tales when I discussed wasting away at a job (and a subject you'll see me take on in another coming project). It's a common metaphor, the color in life being removed by following the plan given to you by other people. The result is no different here. If you follow someone else's plan, you're never going to be able to measure up to their standards because their plan is meant to help them succeed, not you.

The commonly held standard in our culture's plan is your "yearly figures." Most people accept that your salary, and what you buy with it, defines your worth. Since the singer isn't being successful by that standard (his yearly figures are low) and he's accepting that plan, he has no choice but to concede that he's "no good for nothing."

This line of logic, while correct, rests precariously on one premise like a block tower near the end of a Jenga game. The band is aware of this and pulls it out in true pop-punk style--swiftly and aggressively. After some succinct screaming over a a breakdown, the second verse gets all punky (but not brewster):
So don’t tell me what I’m worth
Like I’m just some fucking sales report
Cause no man, you won’t
Break me down so easily
Cause I’m not concerned with you dollar signs
Or meeting times, you see
My pockets may be empty
But I feel complete
Cause I refuse to break my neck
And waste away for a goddamn paycheck
So you can take what you want from me
But you’ll never take my dignity 
This is the attitude most commonly associated with punk. Fuck the man. Fuck money. I won't buy into the bullshit. Except, there's something more here. While most punk equally flirts with nihilism or hedonism, The Good Fight is simply saying that they have a higher value than money--their dignity. That sea of gray was them wasting away for the sole reason of earning money, and they decided it wasn't worth it anymore because it made them feel undignified.

Why are some kids in a band (presumably most people would call The Good Fight's members that, I don't know how old they actually are) concerned about dignity? Shouldn't they be concerned with surviving, with eating, with paying rent? Dignity is for kings, right? How arrogant are they? These objections and characterizations, this "tradition," is exactly what the band takes on in the chorus, which culminates in the last two lines that are repeated at the end of this song (and were used to start this blog entry):
It’s a perfect storm of self-satisfaction
They’re breaking at my walls and
They dare me to follow their tradition
But the life I lead,
It leaves no room
For the stupid bullshit that they buy into
Cause even though we don’t have a thing
We live like fucking kings 
Yes, dignity is for kings. Yes, the band members are concerned with survival. Here's the difference between their perspective and the tradition they're flouting though: their highest value is themselves, not wealth. Back in the days of feudal kingdoms serfs certainly didn't have the opportunity to have dignity. They had to "waste away" and "break their neck" not for a paycheck but the good graces of their lord (a social ladder that extended all the way up to the king and queen). So if that tradition is followed, then yes, the band members are being arrogant for thinking they can "live like fucking kings."

Except pop punk isn't about arrogance, and neither is this track. They're both about self-satisfaction. The difference between arrogance and self-satisfaction is what the genre and this song is about--and is what makes what The Good Fight has done here, both musically and lyrically, a superior example of pop punk. It's not about chasing money. It's about living your life in a way that makes you satisfied. And no, you don't need money to live (money is a tool for living). What you need is that feeling of surety that comes with a sense of purpose that the band repeats over the bridge:
We know what we’re fighting for
And it’s something that’s worth dying for 
Find your something and fight for it and you'll live like a king (provided that you understand that a king's most valuable possession was his dignity, not his wealth).

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Track Tales Tuesday: So Much More To Give

Currently I'm sitting in a company's office (I won't say which one) at a desk plopped in a hallway literally doing nothing. People are whizzing by me frequently, presumably scurrying about to complete important tasks. Of course, other people are standing around talking about irrelevant things. 

I've heard numerous conversations about the playoff football games this past weekend. Someone mentioned that he worked on King of the Nerds (believe me, I almost started an inquisition to find out who it was exactly). It's a swirl of pointless prattle and purposeless prancing that provides me with the perfect place to pontificate about the past like City Lights sings on their track "So Much More To Give:"
As I look back on all the events of last year
I wonder what the hell was I thinking
And I've got so much more to give
And I'm not giving up just yet
What the hell am I thinking? Today feels like a remnant of last year, of the mud I was stuck in, unable to move due to fear, indecision, and confusion. To be honest, I'm still confused, and that's the feeling City Lights captures so well. They're a band that is sure of their identity, it just seems like they are unsure of how to assert it in the world. It's why they continue:
Please tell me
I'm not just wasting time
Just wasting time
I'm not sure who in this office is wasting time, nor do I really care. I just know I've been here for two and a half hours and I've been given one direction that took literally a minute to complete. I understand people are in meetings. Yes, it's nice not to be micromanaged. The opposite isn't really enjoyable either. It's a waste of my time, leaving me aimless to confront my fears.
If I run my farthest, do you think I'd be okay?
Leaving it all behind and changing my name
Or should I stay and face my fears
Nothing has made me feel more useless in the last three years than (most of) the jobs I've held. Most of the time at them has been spent at desks, twiddling my thumbs, waiting to be told what to do. I've tried asking for stuff to do. I've tried coming up with stuff to do. None of it gains me any traction. Instead, I'm here writing this blog post. I'm tremendously enjoying the process even though there's a pit in my stomach. What if writing meandering introspective posts is all I'm good for? Is it even possible to get paid for it? If so, how? I can't figure it out, yet still, everyone scurries about around me. It leaves me feeling:
The world moves so quickly when I can't pick up the pace
I just keep telling myself, slow and steady wins the race
The only conclusion I can come to is that most people burn out quickly. They plow full steam ahead into something and fall on their face. The other alternative is that they do everything half-heartedly, not really investing, just going through the motions, eventually causing themselves to cease caring like a toy when its batteries run out of juice. Either way, the result is the same--a face plant or bruised limbs due to a collapse.

I know because I've been there. I've jumped into something I had no idea about and failed miserably. I've pushed buttons like a monkey at a job, counting the seconds on the clock. Both times I ended up feeling like a fool and hating myself. Those experiences give me the resolve echoed by the song's closing lyrics however. They're what motivate me to never experience that again.
I'm stuck in a rat race
But I won't let myself fall down anymore
No I won't let myself fall down anymore
Won't let myself fall down anymore

Friday, January 3, 2014

Digesting Community 501/502

Last night saw Dan Harmon's return to Community and Community's return to television. Upon their arrival, the line between what makes a television show good or bad became a little clearer. Harmon may have a derisive personality, but his skills as a writer and showrunner can't and shouldn't be denied. He has an ingenious writing process. His actors, crew, and fans are rabidly loyal. His episodes, well, they're streets ahead all the others.
Even if we just look at Harmon's approach to episodes 501 and 502 of Community, we're forced to acknowledge how creative, and honest, of a thinker he is. The mess of Season 4 seemed impossible to clean up and bring back the show he started and loved, so he didn't clean it up. He admitted that he contributed to that mess with his work in Seasons 2 and 3 and started over. That's right. Last night wasn't really the fifth season premiere of Community. It was the pilot of Community 2.0. And here are the five most important things you need to know about it.

5. The Dean is still a one-note character.

Arguably the only thing that was right in Season 4 was also prominent and annoying--the Dean's obsession with Jeff. Maybe the showrunners focused on it so heavily because they knew it was the only part of Community they "got." Maybe they genuinely thought it was that funny. Either way, the Dean's love of Jeff has always been a part of the fabric of the show and it still is.
In 501, it was once again a major plot point, explaining why the Dean was so eager and quick to hire Jeff as a teacher. In episode 502, it returned to a more tolerable level. The gag of the Dean attempting to learn Excel was clever and inserted into the story at the perfect points. Maybe you could argue the Dean trying to learn something is him attempting to improve himself. I'd reply that he did it at Jeff's behest and used it to try and get Jeff's attention. With Jeff critiquing how bad of a Dean the Dean is, maybe the series finale (or movie) will see Winger taking over as Dean. Great, now I'm saying the D-word as much as the character.
God Dean it.

4. The meta-ness is calibrated properly again.

If there's one defining characteristic about Community, it might be how meta it is. Usually through the character of Abed, the show takes shots at itself and its place in storytelling and television. When properly approached, the writers tell you what they're doing while they're doing it, letting you in on the process. In a way this technique supplements Harmon's theme. We, the audience, are part of the community of Community. In Season 4, we weren't. We were outside observers, just like with most shows. It didn't make the show bad, just different than what we were used to, and ironically off-putting to a large contingent of fans.
Well, that meta-approach that is off-putting to everyone else in the world has returned to "normal." In episode 501, Abed not only compared their repilot to Scrubs Season 9, a Scrubs S9 Zach Braff voice-over was included near the end of the episode. Additionally, Donald Glover's imminent departure and recent bouts with sadness were worked into the episode. The funniest meta-joke of the night may have been Troy's contribution when all the characters described how their lives weren't awesome post-Greendale, "I'm much sadder than the rest of you. I'll figure out why later." Talk about commenting on real life. In episode 502, Jonathan Banks' Buzz played off of his character from Breaking Bad, using intimidating tactics on the students and intimating that hits should or had been executed on them. Also like Mike, Buzz was shown to have a noble reason for how his actions and became one of the gang to start Season 5.

3. Episodic characters arcs are back.

What makes Harmon's writing so strong is that his "formula" helps him craft precise episodic arcs for each of his characters. He understands that fundamentally things at the end of a story must be different from the beginning and that each episode of a television series is a story. That knowledge is why each episode of Community during his tenure was new and exciting. It wasn't just a retread of all the weeks before. In Season 4, the episodes were those retreads. Most of the episodes, though containing different trappings, felt like a repeats. Thankfully, Harmon has started the character growth again.
"Repilot" and "Introduction to Teaching" mainly focused on the growth of Jeff Winger, and that's alright because he's the main character and there was a lot of legwork to do for the retooled premise. They had to show why Jeff would become a teacher rather than a lawyer, not just plot-wise but psychologically. They had to show why he would care about teaching. If these two whys weren't established, the new premise wouldn't be, as Abed likes to say, "earned." Other characters earned their way into the new season too. Abed's growth was jumpstarted with a Nick-Cage-centric plot mechanic and Buzz learned that students weren't the enemy. Shirley had a tiny bit of growth, and I'm sure we'll see Britta become more complex again soon.

2. Jonathan Banks is the prefect replacement for Chevy Chase

The departure of Chevy Chase at the end of Season 4 left the a hole in the group. Besides Shirley, the rest of the group was young and hip in their own ways. (Ok, so maybe Britta isn't hip, though I would argue she's the most hipstery.) There needed to be someone from an older generation who was a bit burnt out about how the world had changed. Chase was right in the reasons for his departure. Pierce had ceased being that voice, instead being used for throwaway racist and sexist one-liners.
The addition of Banks is a stroke of sheer genius, especially coming off of his Breaking Bad role. Buzz is the same as Mike and different from Pierce in all the right ways. He's rough and abrasive enough to still cause tension in the group, but his kindheartedness shines through more than Pierce's ever did, integrating him into the group more easily. He also started as Jeff's friend because he's a teacher, so he straddles the teacher-student line better than Pierce ever did. Remember how early in Season 1 Pierce was the first person Jeff connected with? I'd expect more of that dynamic from Banks and McHale.
Of course, maybe I was the only one who laughed at a lot of Banks' line delivery in Breaking Bad, so I'm inordinately excited about his inclusion here. If we want to go the appropriate meta-route, Breaking Bad's Vince Gillian is guest-starring this season and the perfect direction for his rumored Better Call Saul spinoff would be comedic considering the acting stable of Bob Odenkirk, Bill Burr, and Lavell Crawford. Could there be in-jokes about Buzz actually being Mike? Please, Harmon, make this happen.

1. This is Season 1 Community, not 2, 3, or 4.

Actually, it's not technically any of those seasons. It's, as I wrote earlier, a whole new show that's based on Community (if Harmon weren't running it they'd be forced to include "Based on Community Created by Dan Harmon" in the opening credits). Jeff is a teacher. The study group is the Save Greendale Group. Pierce has been replaced by Buzz. It's Community 2.0.
Still, thematically and tonally it's most similar to Community S1. This story is about how helping other people is the most important thing in life, not individual journeys of self-discovery that subvert our understanding of the world alongside the characters'. In this light, Buzz's 502 arc is easy to understand. He went from seeing students as the enemy to working with them. Jeff and Abed's stories on the other hand are a bit more complex, and revealing of Community's (1.0 and 2.0) and Harmon's underlying philosophy that shapes its themes. (Though if you really want to understand how Harmon thinks, all you have to do is read this analysis of one of his own episodes.)
The group's first blow-off course of the year is "Nicolas Cage: Good or Bad?", a subject that immensely appeals to Abed. The problem is that he can't derive an answer and has a Cage style freak out of his own. The subsequent conversation Shirley has with Abed wherein she essentially counsels him pushes the show's focus forward.
Abed: This (film) was my religion. I thought the meaning of people was somewhere in here, then I looked inside Nicolas Cage and I found a secret. People are random and pointless.
Shirley: Well, in my religion, the whole point is that you can't understand every little thing and, you know, there's a world for people that remind you that you're not god and invite you to try a little harder.
Abed: Prophets, messiahs, Kung Fu Pandas, so Nicolas Cage is Jesus?
Shirley: Uh, no, but he clearly works in mysterious ways, and maybe that's just his job.
Abed: And that's why critics can call him a genius or an idiot and be right no matter what.
Shirley: A demon to some and an angel to others.
The answer to the question Abed has been asking, according to Shirley and the show, is that there is no answer. Different people will think of Cage in different ways. And what direction does that turn Shirley in, and thus must turn Abed? To the people that remind you it's not possible to know but to try a little harder anyway. Ignoring the Sisyphusian contradiction of exerting effort at something that is pointless, Abed learns here that people are random and pointless and that's ok.
What could he have learned instead? That the answer of Cage being good or bad is never going to be the same for everyone, but it is clear and definitive for Abed himself. Maybe Abed's assessment of Cage will change from movie to movie depending on the value he is trying to get out of Cage's performance, but it will still have a defined and comprehensible value to it. This scene isn't making that point though. It's telling Abed to stop finding truth and start finding other people.
Why does the show turn away from truth? The answer to that question, and yes there is a definitive answer, is found in the scene where Jeff realizes he has something to teach.
Garrett: Mr. Winger, how did you do that?
Jeff: Do what?
Garrett: You won an argument against Annie Edison.
Jeff: You don't argue with Annie, Garrett. You let her argue with herself until she loses.
Ski Cap: You can win by not arguing?
Jeff: Yes, Ski Cap, anyone that tries to argue has already lost because they pick an argument to lose. I mean, that's why I never lost a case. Prosecutors beat themselves because they--they draw a circle around something called "the truth." And they say that everything outside it is a lie.
Here Jeff is subtly and implicitly teaching his students that there is no truth and if you accept one, you are setting yourself up to lose. It hearkens back to Jeff's line from the original Pilot.
I discovered at a very early age that if I talk long enough, I can make anything right or wrong. So either I'm god or truth is relative. In either case, booyah!
This idea, that truth is relative, is what Jeff has been meant to be teaching the other characters all along. (Alternately, in his dark moments he swings back toward acting like he is god.) In return, they are meant to be teaching him the value of other people to give him something to believe in--just as Shirley did for Abed in this episode. This conflict, God-Complex vs Relative Truth, is the basic conflict of Community. It is was gradually slipped out of the show over Seasons 2 and 3 and disappeared altogether in Season 5. Now that Harmon has returned, he's reinstalling it. That in itself makes it interesting to see where the series will go from here.
Though I don't think a regression to a Season 1 approach is the way for Harmon and the group he's created to Save Greendale, it should be a clever, hilarious, and unique ride either way.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Covering Cover Letters


Thank you, as always, for stopping by The Midside, the place where I hold a critical lens up to life and the world. Whatever's happening to me personally or in the culture at large becomes fodder for analysis. Today the topic straddles both those realms--cover letters.

Generally, I'm able to write well in any form. Cover letters are the exception to that rule. I loathe them. That feeling isn't an exaggeration. Every time I sit down to write one, my mind goes blank like Cody Banks trying to talk to a girl. Despite possessing a Masters degree and experience in a multitude of jobs, I can't think of one thing relevant to the specific position to which I'm submitting an application. Instead of the usual swirl of words and ideas that are in my head mid-composition, my stomach is filled with anxiety and dread. Nothing I've done seems impressive. If I emphasize my history, won't I be transparently embellishing or, worse, lying? What employer would want an employee like that?

The most ridiculous part is that when I taught Business Writing at Clemson University the syllabus included a section on cover letters. I know the form. The issue isn't technical. It's content. As I think back upon the different majors of the students I taught, I wonder if skill type is the issue. If you're an accountant or engineer, can't you just list your credentials and the jobs/projects you've worked on? Writing is a skill that everyone seems to thinks they have when very few actually do--but how do you prove you're one of the able people in four short paragraphs? Then there's the meta-concern of a cover letter essentially being a work sample for a writer. If you're an accountant or engineer, a poorly written cover letter doesn't necessarily disqualify you. If you're a writer it does, immediately, perhaps even with one sentence or word.

As we enter this new year, I hope you'll consider me as one of your favorite writers. I have some exciting plans that I'd love for you to see and be a part of. You know where to find my Twitter, Facebook, and The Midside. If you'd like to let me know about any areas I can improve on or expand to or you just want to give me a compliment, please don't hesitate to contact me.

Kind respects,
Justin M. Lesniewski