Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Village Secrecy Creates Angry Citizens

The citizens of a nearby village, we'll call it Anytown, are about to vote on a very hot topic: whether or not to save a crumbling relic that was the original high school. For several years, a committee attempted to raise money to buy it from the school district and rehab it into a community center. They haven't been successful. That should have said something to the committee but it forged on, pushing the village board for support.

A neighboring town broadcasts its board meetings on local cable.  While the discussions are hardly on par with a new episode of NCIS, most citizens are interested in the new businesses that come to town, what the mayor has planned for the 4th of July celebration, and how the budget looks. Citizens feel knowledgeable when they go into the voting booth. They know exactly who stands for what because everything is in the open.

Anytown does not televise its meetings.  The mayor claims there's no money in the budget for it. I suppose those in charge fear what the citizens might hear in an unguarded or heated discussion moment. Certainly if their citizenry had known about any consideration to fund the building rehab, the board would have heard an outcry two years ago. Anytown could have saved itself a lot of expense.

The voters made their position clear when they did not attend the fundraisers or donate to the committee. Low participation was a visible demonstration of the lack of support.  Sometimes silence says more than an entire speech. 

Now Anytown is holding informational meetings and the politicians see how angry the voters are. Apparently the village board members were taken by surprise; something that would not have happened if Anytown broadcast its meetings.  It's all about communication and, in this case, important ears haven't been listening. It could be a costly mistake in more ways than one.  This is an election year.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

F You! Profanity in Modern Communication

Swearing - good or bad?  I guess that depends on context, where it occurs, and how often.

How much profanity is too much? Like accents, a little can go a long way.  This technique was demonstrated in the film version of The Hunt for Red October. Two characters spoke Russian for several lines and the viewer read subtitles. Then the dialogue switched: the viewer heard English but knew the two characters were still speaking Russian.  A writer can heavily use profanity initially to demonstrate one aspect of a character and then doesn't need to include it in every sentence thereafter. The reader gets the idea.

We are bombarded with varying forms of communication and differing degrees of swearing within it. Nothing is bleeped in much of social media; there is extensive bleeping in broadcast television. What one country considers unacceptable, another finds perfectly normal. Just watch BBC America and you will see what I mean. 

Profanity use impacts writers on two levels: whether or not it is an acceptable form of expression for the character/situation and whether or not another word would be better. A writing instructor once said that profanity was lazy writing by someone who couldn't be bothered to figure out another way to state the case. I don't know that I totally agree with that but I can think of several instances where the F-word was used and real people in that situation would probably have uttered a different expletive.

I dropped my first "F" bomb in Help Wanted. I did not use it casually and thought long and hard before including it in the dialogue. However, in that situation, for that character, no other word would suffice. None of my fans have objected so I guess it was appropriate.

Another author experienced the opposite. Her book was so heavily peppered with profanity that her editor protested and strongly encouraged her to rethink her approach. After removing many of the profane words, she still occasionally hears objections. 

As communicators, no matter the format, writers must decide what will involve or what will repel a reader. Involved readers will buy our product in the future; repelled ones - probably not. When it comes to profanity, writers walk a tightrope between acceptability and rejection.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Never-Ending Campaigns Are a Bore

Unless you live under a rock, you are aware that New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, has had a tough couple of weeks. The media spends a lot of time on "Bridgegate" analyzing every last nuance of each email and speech. 

Would Christie have received all the attention if pundits had not already anointed him as a presidential candidate? I doubt it. He would have been just another politician with some issues.

I really hate the way we handle election campaigns in this country. For one thing, they never end. Congress runs for reelection every two years. That means that Congress is constantly campaigning. President Obama finished his acceptance speech and one media organization was already talking about candidates for 2016. 

The whole campaign process is like the boy who cried wolf. With every candidate attempting to frighten us into voting for them, any real message is lost in a cacophony of sound bites all telling us that X party candidate will surely bring ruin to the country or the county or the city. The ads are all the same and so is the message. Take any commercial or brochure and substitute one candidate's name for another. No problem, right?  No one is going to say or do anything that isn't viewed as mainstream or popular. Frankly, the whole thing is boring.

Thank goodness for remote controls and recycle bins. The moment a campaign ad appears on the screen or in the mailbox, we can click away from it or throw it away.  Now if there was something we could do to block all those campaign robo calls, we'd be all set.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Dads in the Kitchen: A Changing Culture

Have you seen the commercial in which the little boy has just arrived home from school and chats with his father about his tough day? Dad gives him a bowl of pudding and the child, after learning with astonishment that he has to go back the next day, orders a double.  It's a cute ad but the child's cuteness is not what attracted my attention.  I realized, with some surprise, that it was Dad, not Mom, who welcomed the boy home and it was Dad who served up the afternoon snack.  I presume it was also Dad who made the pudding.

This commercial reflects a reality that is becoming commonplace for a variety of reasons.  During the recession in which thousands of upper level middle managers were laid off, it was often Mom's paycheck that kept the family afloat. Moms earn less as a rule (that's a blog topic in itself) so their salaries are not as much of a drain on the bottom line. In addition, women often do not define themselves by their work. They may enjoy their work immensely and be very good at it, but they often think of themselves first as a mother. If the boss doesn't fear you, he may be less apt to fire you. 

Then there is the simple fact that some men are better cooks and housekeepers than their spouses. They may prefer to stay home and their wives may prefer to work.  Another scenario is that what we see is one half of a same-sex marriage.

Whatever the back story, apparently our culture has altered enough that commercials are finally reflecting what has been commonplace for several years: Dad is serving up the pudding. Regardless of what the writers had in mind when they wrote this particular ad, it's nice to see. Dads are just as important to a kid as moms, regardless of the role they play. I love my mom dearly but this ad makes me wish that I had had the benefit of coming home to my dad once in awhile.