Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The face of tragedy

On Wednesday morning in Virginia, a TV reporter and cameraman were shot dead, and their interview subject shot in the back, during a live telecast. The suspect, who was caught on camera and even filmed his ambush himself, was a disgruntled former employee of the station who allegedly held grudges against both of the people he killed. He then committed suicide, but not before posting about the killings (and sharing his horrible footage) on social media.

As a journalist myself, I skew toward the idea that if something is known, that it should get reported — and that if video footage exists, it should be available (though I understand if edited versions suit wider audiences better). Often after tragedies, people with very good hearts often don’t want to hear about the killer, or see anything that reminds them of the crime. I understand why. News is not always pleasant, and sometimes is not even in the same universe as something you want to witness. But it’s still news.

My stomach for news is probably steelier than most people’s. After all my years in the biz, it takes a lot to truly rattle me.

These videos did.

Not because they were journalists (though Alison Parker and Adam Ward remind me of many friends and colleagues), or because I in any way trivialize any other bloodshed. It had a little to do with watching the footage and realizing how quickly life can end at the barrel of a gun in even the most bucolic circumstances. Knowing that two of the three people in the light newscast are about to die, and the third about to be injured and undoubtedly traumatized for life, is pretty hard to take. Seeing the same ambush from the killer’s vantage is even more sinister.

But mostly, what burned into my cortex was seeing Parker’s reaction as she was shot. It’s caught in the news footage for just a split-second, but trust me, that’s enough. She goes from a cheerful mid-sentence smile to a wide-eyed look of confusion, shock and terror in an instant, likely never processing what happened before it took its full, fatal toll. It’s not just an expression of, “I’m shot,” but also, “Why the — ”

As if we weren’t already wondering the same thing with so many shootings happening lately. It’s one thing to know this is happening and mourn the victims. It’s another level to see it unfold live, putting the most horrified face of all to the hell of such a crime. To know that this shock has been on all too many innocent faces.

Twelve hours after watching the video once, I haven’t been able to get her expression out of my mind. I might never.

Take my word for it. Please.

And for those you who have a beef of some sort — it’s not worth it. Get help. Problems get solved. Grudges do nothing. Violence solves nothing.

Take my word for it. Please.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The hipster in me (isn't a hipster)

Gregg Gorse asks this question (or at least, he did in 2014, but it’s new to me in 2015):

Why does being Hipster often have negative connotations? I feel like, to some, being Hipster can mean being a breaker of cultural norms. Breaking these norms comes through pursuing difference. In that way, you could say a Hipster is an individual who seeks out cultural variance. Someone who goes against the grain. Doesn’t jump on the bandwagon. Surfs on a lonely tidal wave. You get the picture. If Hipster can be viewed as a label for somebody who strives to be different, then Hipsters must be pretty unique. Being unique isn’t that bad of a thing.

Simple: Because hipsters are not unique. They have a label, a look, an attitude and enough checklist fodder to fill entire books across multiple literary genres. In other words, the exact opposite of surfing a lonely tidal wave.

This is not an indictment of hipsters; in fact, I share many hipster tendencies. As a child, I wore thick glasses, sipped my grandfather’s cheap beer, wore skinny jeans and rode a single-speed bicycle. As a teenager, I eschewed Nirvana CDs in favor of vinyl records from the 1980s. All through that era, I lived in what is now a gentrified neighborhood, while wearing a lot of secondhand clothes adorned with retro logos and concerts I never attended. Today I have a retro-styled record player and own an iPhone and a Mac laptop that I often take to coffeehouses. I care for the environment and sometimes shop at Whole Foods. I was deep into most of this long before it was cool to say, “before it was cool.”

But no one would ever mistake me for a hipster. Hipster style makes me look square, even if in many cases its adherents make (or otherwise just have) more money than I do. (Most hipsters deny their hipsterdom, so again, cred.)

I love my hipster friends, assuming I have any left now. But let’s not pretend being a hipster is some brave or noble stance, any more than my clean-shaven face is a brave and noble rebellion against beards. Hipsterdom does not make people unique. Other things might. But not that.

A truly grain-going-againster doesn’t have a term, because they are busy being themselves, and thus aren’t morphing themselves into clones of their friends. They’re hard to pin down. And I, at least, find that super-interesting.

Fifteen years ago, hipsters were much less common. Does that mean people weren’t seeking outsidership in 2000? Of course not. It just took a different form then, maybe in nu-metal/rap-rock (or whatever other lamestream trend was hot at the time; I didn’t pay attention). It’s mainly an aesthetic difference. But someone who was truly their own person then is probably the same person now.

The one thing that is justified to dislike about hipsters is that some are exclusionary, which is against the outcast code (to the extent that there is one). Some hipsters (though not most) can be every bit as snooty, snobbish and elitist as the country-club crowd in a 1980s class-warfare comedy. How appropriately ironic.

You wouldn’t understand.

Pretense on the plane

(NOTE: This might be a first. I wrote and published the blog below before noticing that the article I'm writing about was from 2014. So I double-checked and found I had written a blog about this same article when it was new. And that blog was as good, if not better, than this one. This duplicity happens pretty often, but usually I notice before I make the effort to write up a blog. I blame social media, because Slate reshared this article during a week in which I was traveling. Many blogs on which I'm currently working are old things I'm finding that way. That's probably worth an entry of its own. Anyway, here it is.)

Slate: Stop dressing like a slob when you're traveling

This article contains the following line:

Now, before I’m accused of elitism ...

So you know it's good.

J. Bryan Lowder isn't necessarily wrong in a basic sense. You should try to look right for whatever situation you're in. But like with most situations, there is no one-size-fits-all approach for travel. Much depends on where you're going, how you're getting there, how long it takes, your chosen look and comfort zone, whether you overslept your alarm, etc.

When I flew this past Monday, and I wore a black collared polo shirt, a brand-new pair of subtly patterned khaki-ish shorts and newish, clean white athletic shoes. It was a solid balance of respectability, function (long walks at DFW) and awareness of my destination (Louisiana in August). I wasn't going to impress in the boardroom I wasn't going to, but neither was I setting off any just-fell-out-of-the-dorm-bed alarms. From my perspective, my dress fulfills his wishes: I'm happy, geared up for my destination/itinerary and look (and feel) good. Also — and this is a big one — I try to be nice to people in any case.

But I wonder if Lowder would look at me and think I'm part of the problem. Because he has higher (or at least dressier) standards than I do. Everyone has different ideas of what proper dress constitutes (and a person's parameters can shift over time), and someone with a business-traveler mentality has a long look down. 

For the most part, people have reasons for looking the way they do when they travel, whether that reason is, "This is how I feel I look best" or, "I rushed to make this flight at all costs." This is why I don't judge anyone. 

Not for that, anyway. The only fashion statement I'll criticize is pretense.