One Cause At a Time – Archive

An Archive of Chicago Now One Cause at a Time Posts

Posts Tagged ‘politics

Book Review: SOCIAL WARMING and the Effects of Social Media

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[DISCLOSURE: A complimentary copy was provided for review purposes. All links are non-affiliate links, and all opinions are my own]

Over the past five years, social media usage has shifted away from communications and marketing and into darker areas. Two years ago, P.W. Singer’s Likewar: The Weaponization of Social Media outlined how social media has been used to drive dissension and division. However, Charles Arthur outlines how social media networks have facilitated this process in Social Warming: The Dangerous and Polarizing Effects of Social Media from Oneworld Publications.

In his book, Charles Arthur describes “social warming” as a gradual process that occurs over time and usually happens (in his words)

“…when interactions between people who used to be geographically separated and infrequently exposed to each other’s views are more frequently brought together, and kept in orbit around topics that will engage them and create addictive experiences”

Social Warming, p 4.

With social networks becoming increasingly accessible (and mobile devices/smartphones becoming more available), there are greater opportunities for network algorithms to amplify “engaging” posts. This amplification of posts encourages users to log in more frequently and for longer periods of time. Since this process is unregulated and unrestricted, users become gradually more accepting – and less critical – of social media content.

Throughout Social Warming, Charles Arthur highlights key examples of how unchecked social media activity has adversely influenced social media user behavior. For example, he sites social media’s over-reliance on algorithms to promote “engaging” content without context as a factor in swaying political and social thought. Arthur also notes how “scissor statements” (things said to deliberately spike controversy and division) have often driven further dissension. Social Warming also highlights how a lack of foresight and critical thinking on the part of social media networks drove a wide variety of political and social upheavals, with one chapter dedicated to issues around COVID-19 misinformation and conspiracy theory.

Although making similar arguments to the previously mentioned Likewar, Charles Arthur focuses on how the leadership and procedures within social media networks have frequently abdicated responsibility through relying heavily on algorithms, developing a laissez-faire attitude towards monitoring, and focusing exclusively on user growth. Arthur makes various concrete, practical recommendations for social media network leadership towards the end of Social Warming.

Like many other people, I saw social media as a unique way of connecting people across communities. As a professional, I worked to help smaller organizations and nonprofits (as well as larger brands) use social media in a healthy, ethical way. Although it is easy to make social media the ultimate cause of dissension and division, Charles Arthur’s Social Warming: The Dangerous and Polarizing Effects of Social Media makes a very strong case for that belief.

And thankfully, provides some solutions. Highly Recommended.

Please feel free to continue the conversation on our Facebook page, or leave a comment below.

And as always, thanks for reading!


Written by gordondym

September 7, 2021 at 8:08 pm

Surviving the Metra Lollapalooza COVID Express

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Lollapalooza officially ends today, and I am personally grateful for a variety of reasons. After all, I was around when Lollapalooza started as a touring show that was merely corporate-sponsored pandering led by a spoiled, entitled musician whose then-latest hit served as a paean to shoplifting. However, coming home from a friend’s showing at the Fulton Street Collective meant taking the Metra Rock Island line home…and dealing with a throng of young Lollapalooza attendees who were…

Well, I live tweeted it, and here’s a timeline for your reading pleasure. And yes, you can offer thoughts and prayers as I express what happened without sounding ageist or entitled.

Saturday, 9:15 pm – I arrive at the Metra LaSalle Street station. The waiting area is filled with mostly adults. It’s quiet, and the 10:00 pm train appears to be on time. Sitting down, I relax and look forward to a relatively peaceful ride home.

Saturday, 9:30 pm – Heading outside, I enjoy the cooler air of a summer evening in Chicago. Nothing seems to be going wrong except for a possible delay in the train’s arrival.

Saturday, 9:40 pm – The first of the Lollapalooza crowd begins showing up, and soon they’re dominating the platform. As you can see by the photos above, none of them are wearing masks. Within fifteen minutes, I decide to double-mask for my own safety.

Saturday, 10:04 pmAs two trains finally arrive, Metra employees encourage a single line to check passes before boarding the train. Lollapalooza attendees force their way through, ignoring directions and waving cell phones in people’s faces. As I board the car, I sit in one of the front most seats.

Four minutes later, I perform a rough headcount: the car contains approximately 30 people, only six (including myself) are over 35. Only four people (including myself) are wearing masks. As public transportation, Metra falls under the federal mask mandate.

Saturday, 10:11 pm – I’m reminded of the irony of attending Raks Inferno on Friday night: the troupe (and home venue Newport Theater) held a limited capacity, vax-only show that turned away two people. Afterwards, on the way home, a throng of Lollapalooza-based motorcyclists defied traffic laws and performed wheelies only seen in high-end action movies. (And which never end well)

I say this because I tweeted that Mayor Lightfoot should have canceled Lollapalooza. After all, reentry should have been more cautious, and businesses should not take precedence over public health…but I digress.

(Yes, my Tweeting takes on a slightly sarcastic tone, but it was my way of documenting what was happening, as well as allowing myself some self-soothing. But I felt it worth discussing in light of current COVID-19 trends in Chicago and the state of Illinois)

Saturday, 10:16 pmTwo Metra employees enter our car and announce that if anyone is getting off at a stop in Beverly (my home neighborhood since I became Mom’s caregiver), we need to move “two cars up”. Ten of us rise and walk through two cars. We ask if it’s the Beverly car…and we’re told it’s the next car up.

Barnard Park, Chicago
Barnard Park – Photo by Gordon Dymowski

We moved through five Metra cars (almost the entire length of the train) in order for the doors to open for us to get off. Although the number of people in each car dwindled, many of them were from Lollapalooza and did not wear masks. None of the Lollapalooza crowd looked sober, and one drunkenly told me I was “fired” and offered a fist bump. I refused. We eventually made it to the front car, and sitting down, simply waited for my stop.

Saturday, 10:29 pmAs the Metra train began its end run towards home, I felt concerned about that evening’s sleep and ruminated on my past. In my past career in social services, I’ve worked in a variety of rough situations (including a St. Louis-area office in the basement of an infamous housing development). I never felt as uncomfortable (or threatened with illness) as I did on that train ride.

Saturday, 10:37 pmAs my train gets closer to my home station, I realize that I smell something a bit…odd, and look at the seats in front of me. Three young women are talking, and one of them is vaping. (I am unsure if this is allowed on Metra trains, but say nothing).

At the stop before mine, two of the women depart the train. The last one – the woman who was vaping – looks at me and says blankly, “I’m lonely.” I keep silent and get up as we approach my stop.

Saturday 11:00 pmAfter successfully disembarking from the train and arriving home, I chose to update Twitter with a note of gratitude. The next morning, I managed to provide a follow-up Tweet. All was relatively well.

Although this essay may seem rather over-the-top, there have been genuine concerns about Lollapalooza becoming a superspreader event like a recent festival in the Netherlands. With COVID rates increasing in the city, the Mayor’s press for further vaccinations is a smart move…but holding Lollapalooza was ill-advised. Metra shares part of the responsibility for not rigorously enforcing the rules…

But holding Lollapalooza in the first place was a bad move. In not canceling the show, Mayor Lightfoot demonstrated a greater concern for corporate and business interests than the welfare of the city. She’s scheduled to provide a COVID update on Monday at 10:00 am at City Hall. Don’t be surprised if the evades questions about why she let Lollapalooza go on.

The answer’s obvious.

If you have questions or comments, please leave them below or join the conversation on our Facebook page.

And as always, thanks for reading.

Written by gordondym

August 1, 2021 at 8:48 pm

Capitol Building: It Was An Insurrection, Not a Protest

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I’m typing this at 5:09 pm on January 6th, frustrated because I had other plans (including a celebratory Sherlock Holmes birthday post, but I’ll write that next week). After starting the afternoon watching Congress certify election results, as events unfolded, I came to a sad conclusion: What’s happening at the Capitol Building is not a protest – it’s an insurrection.

What happened at the Capitol Building was never about a “peaceful transfer of power”; it was a President’s last grasp about holding onto power at any cost. Even if doing so meant encouraging open rebellion and encouraging alt-right organizations to storm the Capitol. (Thankfully, the election certification certificates were removed and taken to a safe place).

What happened at the Capitol Building was not about “expressing the will of the people”; it was about how 13 Senators and 106 Representatives made a decision to knowingly support divisive policies. As the day went on, they were arrogant enough to decry the violence while never acknowledging their complicity in sabotaging the will of the people.

What happened at the Capitol Building was never about having personal rights “infringed” thanks to COVID-19 based lockdowns; it was precisely about imposing their rights over others. It wasn’t just that their candidate lost, but that people who were not them (nor, in some cases, shared their skin color) come out to express their voice.

What happened at the Capitol Building today was not about “expressing an opinion”; it was about ensuring dominance through fear. Nazi and Confederate flags were raised within the Capitol. Participants sat in congressional audiences, stole items, and the police just…let them. As of this writing, no charges have been filed.

What happened at the Capitol Building was not a case of “both sides are wrong”. One side wishes to focus on asserting justice and consideration for everyone; the other side hung a noose in front of the Capitol Building. Instead of learning the lessons from racial incidents over the past four years, they chose to demonize and antagonize. (Notice how last year’s Black Lives Matter protests had heavy police presence, but very little police enforcement at the Capitol Building this time around).

What happened at the Capitol Building is not something that “we’re better than.” Our overall history, including the policies of the last four years, has proven that wrong. This administration has separated children from families, demonized immigrants, engaged in destructive domestic policies, brought us to the brink of war, and mismanaged a pandemic resulting in over 300,000 Americans dying from COVID-19 on a daily basis. We’ve lost the moral high ground to a President who never had one.

I spent most of today angry, worried, concerned. Many of my friends have been affected by the President’s policies, and some have even experienced direct threats. As this country is hoping to heal and move forward, this was a pathetic attempt to scare our country into compliance. The people who stormed the Capitol Building engaged in a domestic terrorist attack, hoping to have as devastating an effect as those behind the 9/11 attacks.

This wasn’t just about “we disagree with our government”, it was “we want to destroy our government”.

In short, it wasn’t a protest at the Capitol Building, it was an insurrection.

Let’s call it what it is.

The sooner we do, the sooner we get through this.

Written by gordondym

January 6, 2021 at 5:30 pm

Raks Inferno Online Fundraiser for Fair Fight on November 27

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Late in October, we stated that voting on election day would not be the end of our current turmoil. Two Senate seats in Georgia have led to runoff elections, and now the Trump campaign is demanding another recount. With voter suppression efforts against marginalized communities in the United States, many seek On November 27th, you have the opportunity to support voting rights and enjoy an evening of art, dance, and music via Facebook Live.

This Friday, Raks Inferno (a project of Raks Geek) will hold a fundraiser for Fair Fight, the organization started by Stacy Abrams to promote fair elections in Georgia and around the country, encourage voter participation in elections, and educate voters about elections and their voting rights. Fair Fight registered 800,000 (mostly young, BiPOC) voters in Georgia, and winning those two Senate seats is a first step towards undoing the damage of the past four years.  Those wishing to attend the Raks Inferno Saves Democracy fundraiser for Fair Fight can RSVP via Facebook and the show will be streamed via Facebook Live.  (Donation information can be found via their event page).

Featuring a variety of bellydancers, fire spinners, and circus acts from throughout the world, Raks Geek has held multiple fundraisers for a variety of causes over the past four years. Comprised of both performers of color and LGTBQ+ members, Raks Geek/Inferno has been consistently vocal in advocating around issues such as immigration, LGTBQ+ rights, and medical debt. Although the current COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the loss of performance spaces for artists (including the Newport Theater), the troupe has streamed their performances to reach a wider audience.

Voting matters. Art matters. This election has proven that there are those who would silence the will of marginalized voters.

Make a difference by attending Raks Inferno this Friday night on Facebook, and by donating generously.

Please leave comments below or join the conversation on our Facebook page. Contact us via email if you have private questions or concerns.

As always, thanks for reading!


Written by gordondym

November 22, 2020 at 12:56 pm

Election Day Isn’t The End of It

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If you’re like me, you’ve already opted for mail-in or early voting rather than head into the lines of Election Day. We all know the stakes: we’re living in the midst of a pandemic with our government slowly, but surely, descending into fascism. It’s easy to believe that once November 3rd passes, Election Day will be the transition to better, more optimistic times.

But it’s not the case. Actually, November 4th is when the work really begins.

We’ve seen this administration dismantle the post office while laying the seeds for a potential “voter fraud” scenario. Municipalities in other states have limited drop boxes for ballots. We’ve seen this administration push through candidates who were barely qualified in order to “rubber stamp” any decisions. As Election Day results are being counted, the administration and its supporters will push for a definite “result” despite federal regulations outlining the procedure.

That’s when the fight really begins.

Over the past four years, our nation has experienced the aftereffects of this administration’s policy. Separating children from their families at the border and putting them in cages as an immigration strategy.  Over nine million cases of COVID-19 and 232,000 deaths at the time of this blog post. Threats to end health care for millions in this country. This is an administration that will not go gentle into that good night…and voters will need to act after Election Day.

This isn’t 2017 when wearing a “pussy hat” or attending a rally is “just enough”. It means contacting legislators and maintaining pressure. It means truly believing that democracy is not a spectator sport, but that we need to coalesce as a community to push back. After all, very little has changed in this federal administration’s approach since this John Oliver piece in 2017:

There are those who believe in voting for a third-party candidate because “both sides” are somehow flawed. You know, the “hipper-than-thou” attitude that makes everyone else part of the problem and that misquotes George Carlin’s attitude on voting. There’s only one response I can give to those individuals:

Suck it up, buttercup. 

This is no longer a case of “lesser-of-two-evils”; it’s a case of one halfway decent individual versus corruption incarnate. You may disagree or try to pull the “both sides” argument, but voting makes a difference. (It’s the reason why, in Illinois, Bruce Rauner was a one-term governor who’s now living in luxury in Florida). It means not just selecting new representational leadership, but holding them accountable. 

(And by “holding accountable”, I don’t mean just “trolling them on Twitter”. It means ensuring that they execute the will of the people voting for them).

So after Election Day is over, when the election judges have returned home after a long, hard day’s work…take a deep breath. Relax. Get a good night’s sleep, if you can. But don’t forget that we still need to keep contacting our representatives, keep putting pressure on leaders at every level of government. It’s not easy. It’s not simple. But our democracy is worth it.

It also means treating our neighbors and colleagues with consideration. I will end this post on a positive note with some wise, enlightened comments from one of my wisest colleagues/friends:

…Listen to the underrepresented people in your community. Listen without making them cater to you. For all its issues, Twitter is actually a great place for listening in on conversations between people in marginalized groups that don’t cater to outsiders. Follow a few dozen POC in different groups, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ folks, whatever group you don’t have such candid, in-person conversations with, and a few that you think you do – your perspective will change.

Then, use your new awareness. Boost voices who have been talking about these issues for years. Don’t take over – share their (credited) work with people who used to not understand, as you once didn’t understand. Help others learn as well.


Written by gordondym

October 28, 2020 at 7:35 am

Why Voting In the 2020 Elections Matter

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(Special thanks to Dawn Xiana Moon of Raks Geek for permission to use her Instagram post).

With early voting in Illinois starting in the wake of Super Tuesday, the results of the Illinois Primary – along with the 2020 elections – appear to be a foregone conclusion. Selecting the “obvious” choice or abstaining from voting in the 2020 elections to avoid “choosing between two evils” may appear to be the most rational options.

They’re not. Voting in the 2020 elections is more important than ever.

Cynicism is an easy pose because it avoids any sense of responsibility. Our election system may be imperfect, but it is better than the alternative.

(Besides, the last time we had an “obvious” winner was the 2016 presidential elections. With our country gradually sliding towards fascism, we cannot afford to take that chance).

But rather than pontificate about the importance of elections, a recent Instagram post from Dawn Xiana Moon of Raks Geek articulates this message – as well as her perspective – more than I can.



Written by gordondym

March 4, 2020 at 7:06 pm

Women in Tech: A Conversation with SPR

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Recently, philanthropist Melinda Gates pledged $50 million towards “inclusive tech hubs” through Pivotal Venture’s “Gender Equality in Tech Cities” initiative. The initiative seeks to increase the power and influence of women in tech through greater education and hiring, and the UIC College of Engineering received an initial grant for its computer science program in an effort to eliminate gender disparities in the tech field. In a city where there are numerous efforts in Chicago to drive inclusion and diversity in technology, provide software development training for young women curious about technology, foster professional networking for women in tech, and increase awareness around diversity and inclusion issues (with an upcoming performance for International Rescue on February 14th), we wanted to explore the implications for Chicago’s tech community.

We recently spoke with two representatives from SPR, a Chicago-based firm that has consulted with businesses around technology needs for almost fifty years. We spoke with Executive Director Litha Ramirez, who leads their Experience Strategy and Design Group, as well as Chief Technology Officer Matt Mead, who spearheads company efforts like SPR’s Women’s Q & A series for the company and its partners and the Women in Chicago Tech Happy Hours. Both of them agree that Melinda Gates’ initial effort is a great start towards not only fostering more women in tech but also fostering a greater sense of diversity and inclusion.

A quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. comes to mind: “None of us are free until we are all free”.

Although this investment is a great move to improve the number of women in tech, neither Litha nor Matt believe that this is a cure-all. With two other potential candidate cities to receive funding, Melinda Gates’/Pivotal Ventures’ effort should serve as a motivation towards engagement than a “one-shot” remedy to address gender disparities in the tech field. (With other, smaller organizations working towards driving gender and other inclusion into the tech field, Litha remarked that Chicago has multiple resources and that this funding is like an additional “one inch of icing on the cake”.) Matt described Melinda Gates’/Pivotal Ventures’ action as a “public proclamation”, engaging and mobilizing some organizations towards action and placing pressure on other local organizations to increase their involvement and potential funding. Either way, Melinda Gates’/Pivotal Ventures’ announcement of fostering inclusive tech hubs and greater percentages of women in tech fosters greater attention towards the issue and potentially greater funding and action/activism in Chicago.

Although women comprise slightly more than 30% of tech startup founders, they also have a much higher dropout rate for women in tech than their male counterparts. However, part of this can be alleviated through policy and workplace programs for working mothers and family leave. However, this initiative provides a great opportunity to engage the latest generation of women in the tech field. Setting up

Both Litha and Matt remarked that Chicago has the largest tech scene (and the biggest market) outside of both coasts. With its relatively subdued presence and minimal hype, Chicago is primed to foster more successful startups with greater opportunities for growth and a better sense of balance. (In other words, “the clay hasn’t been put into the kiln”). Chicago also has a more geographically and racially diverse city, with communities that are “hungry” for learning, services, and greater grassroots engagement. The overall idea is that building opportunities to drive collaboration and cooperation can be empowering to many professionals (not just women in tech), and provide stronger teams and more effective solutions.

But the Melinda Gates/Pivotal Ventures initiative to foster women in tech should not be seen as the sole solution but as a critical first step. Just like Netsquared Chicago started a conversation that continues and flourishes around technology for nonprofits (and full disclosure – I am a former Netsquared organizer), this action should be seen as a rallying cry for both the Chicago tech scene and the greater public. Both Litha Ramirez and Matt Mead of SPR emphasized that the Melinda Gates/Pivotal Ventures initiative should serve to kickstart a mix of the right investments to make fostering programs that foster diversity and inclusion both sustainable and profitable.

And fostering the inclusion of women in tech is a key start.

Please leave your comments below or join the conversation on our Facebook page, or email us directly.

As always, thanks for reading!

Written by gordondym

February 9, 2020 at 4:26 am

Book Review: LIKEWAR – The Weaponization of Social Media

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Once upon a time, social media was seen as an online ‘town square’ enabling a diverse array of opinions. Soon, it became a way for marginalized individuals and groups to have their voices heard. Now, in the age of Trump, ISIS, and “Russian bots”, social media has become a weapon for sowing dissension and division. If you’re seeking a thorough examination of how this happened, Likewar: The Weaponization of Social Media by P.W. Singer and Emerson Brooking is an indispensable guide for learning how this happened and provides great historical insight into the forces that shape our current online landscape.

If you’re looking for a breezy, easy-to-understand guide to social media and online warfare, Likewar is not that book. Singer and Brooking provide a dense, thorough examination of how social media and online communication have morphed into an abstract battlefield. Starting with Trump’s first Tweet in 2009, Likewar provides a great overview of how many entities have adopted the principles of digital marketing and social media engagement (like controlling the narrative) to engage users.

But more damning is the central idea that many social media algorithms, with their emphasis on “likes”, provide an opportunity to make false information “viral”, allowing it to remain within a conversation and create an ideological echo chamber for the user. One of the points that Singer and Brookings make in their book is that these strategies are not created by hackers experienced in technology…but people with marketing strategy and insight into online engagement. Think of it as the dark side of “clickbait” and “viral memes” – online information designed not just to engage, but to sow dissension amongst users.

Individuals and groups are using these techniques to enable others to fight in a new kind of social media-based warfare, and Likewar provides a field guide to how these conflicts are waged.

In light of the recent federal shutdown, Likewar provides not only a strong historical context but an almost uncanny prescience. We are already seeing some of these tactics used by the right around the Covington Catholic incident. Consider online conversations about Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-NY) comments about algorithms despite some research backing her claims. With the Department of Homeland Security issuing a directive in response to DNS attacks, we are seeing a rise in Internet-based strategy and warfare. Knowing the changing landscape can help many individuals and organizations adopt and prepare…

Consider Likewar: The Weaponization of Social Media your must-read book of 2019. Informative, insightful, yet also cautionary.

Please feel free to leave comments below or join the conversation on our Facebook page. If you wish to contact me privately, please reach out via this contact form.

And as always, thanks for reading!

Written by gordondym

January 24, 2019 at 11:03 am

This Is Not Normal

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Back in November 2016, John Oliver hosted an episode of Last Week Tonight focusing on the election of Donald Trump. Towards the end of the episode, John Oliver gave his viewers some apt advice: with the relative chaos of the election, people would learn to adopt that chaos as being the “status quo”. Oliver advised her viewers, whether it be written on a sticky note or tattooed in an awkward place, to remind himself constantly that

This is not normal.

In the past year and a half, this country has seen a revolving door policy when it comes to White House staff (and several other positions still remain unfilled). Our leadership has demonstrated a love of totalitarian leadership, an obsession with public image and random social media declarations, and an overall contempt for the office and institutions that have been paramount in this country, and many (like me) have to remind ourselves that…

This is not normal.

My heart often breaks when I’m dealing with my mother and her struggles with government bureaucracy. Multiple phone calls which lead to frustrating missed connections. Dealing with Medicare, Medicaid, and SNAP benefits being lost and miraculously regained. I try to remain stoic when my mom half-says, half-sobs, “I think they’re really trying to kill me,” and I try to remember that “No one should ever have to hear this from their parent” and that …

This is not normal.

Fighting off what one friend calls the “brain weasels of depression” and working through issues of self-esteem because I’m one of those 20% of people in intergenerational households as well as part of the “sandwich generation” of caregivers (Since I don’t have children, I don’t quite qualify). Wanting to be more available to my friends and colleagues but unable due to time and personal commitments. Lightly resenting well-intentioned people who believe that I am “being strong” and that what I’m doing is “noble”, but also aware that those people would, behind closed doors, mock this video while defending a television personality’s overt racism, and realizing…

This is not normal

Like many others, I’ve had to take stock of my relationships. I’ve had to let go of friends who feel that I’m not “doing enough” professionally – or in my efforts to care for Mom. Dealing with people who not only support the toxic, dysfunctional results of our government but who will easily and comfortably fall into the familiar footfalls of fascism. Having – and accepting – the uneasy feeling that many of my female friends – and some friends of color – will never feel totally safe or comfortable around me. Not because I’m not “one of them”, but because too many of “them” have done wrong. And part of me wants to complain:

This is not normal!

Accepting that the time for civility is over – so often, I’ve been one of the “if only we can get them to empathize” and realizing…that’s privilege. The other side would rather be cruel and cowardly from behind the keyboard rather than face the reality of our current political climate. Mourning the fact that there no longer the safety of seemingly “neutral” ground, and that current times call for the courage and willingness to face social and political malevolence head on and declare…

This is not normal.

Realizing that much of my life includes finding the energy to resist drifting into apathy…to stay active. To use my anger and frustration as fuel for moving forward. Pushing myself forward, giving myself time and self-care and staying compassionate towards others. Supporting and letting friends support me while removing toxic relationships. Staying optimistic yet realistic about what may happen in the future. Grateful for my current relationships while wishing they could be deeper, more connected. Mourning a past sense of connectedness and feeling like some wounds are too deep to ever heal. And realizing…

This is not normal…but it’s becoming normal.

And I don’t want this to ever become normal. 

Written by gordondym

June 19, 2018 at 1:31 pm

Roseanne, Samantha Bee, and Free Speech

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Like many of you, I have been following news about Roseanne and Samantha Bee getting in trouble for making comments on Twitter. One made flat-out racist comments; the other used a questionable word. The result has been a lively, passionate discussion about free speech on Twitter. (As well as a correlating number of flat-out troll reactions). But I can bring a unique perspective: I have watched both women on television. I have seen Full Frontal With Samantha Bee, as well as most of the episodes of the Roseanne revamp, and their Twitter activities – in one case, gracefully, in another, sadly – reflects the tone and tenor of their work.

Let’s look at Samantha Bee’s infamous use of the “C-word” – let’s be honest: she’s used it on her show before and it’s been appropriately bleeped out. Remove it from this (or any other context), and she manages to make a serious point. (To be even more specific: how Ivanka could celebrate her being a mother when her father’s policies are encouraging the separation of children from their families at the border). Could she have made the same point without using that word? Of course. But Samantha Bee was exercising her right to free speech…and she is embracing the consequences.


Several sponsors have dropped out from her show. Samantha Bee has apologized for her statement in public (and on Twitter) multiple times. But at a time when criticizing the current Presidential administration is openly avoided (especially by the mainstream media) and key issues are often ignored or dismissed, turning Samantha Bee into a scapegoat seems hardly appropriate or worthwhile. (And an irrelevant side note: Samantha Bee once guest-starred on an episode of Law & Order that featured a television personality, inappropriate behavior, and prescription drugs. You should be able to catch it on Ion Television Wednesday mornings).

But when we discuss Roseanne’s tweet, in which she claims that an African-American leader is the result of interspecies breeding (to put it mildly)…there’s no way you can separate what she said from any larger point. (In other words, Roseanne’s tweet was merely posted as a mild insult in itself). And Roseanne’s post-tweet behavior – quitting Twitter, then blaming it on Ambien (resulting in the drug company disavowing racism as a side effect) and doubling down on her sense of outrage and wish to have her show uncanceled isn’t just immature…it’s part of her overall pattern of avoiding responsibility.0530-ctm-roseannecanceled-duthiers-1579923-640x360

I should know – I grew up during the first iteration of her sitcom.

I rarely, if ever, watched it – after all, many people in my family were like the Conners, and that’s not a compliment. (When her series finale was on the air, I ignored it in favor of the Doctor Who TV Movie, and then the Chicago Bulls playoff after that. I do not regret my choices). Whether it was fighting with producer Matt Williams, her short-lived marriage to Tom Arnold, or even her claims to a less-than-pleasant past, Roseanne has tended to engage in a similar pattern of behavior:

  • Make outrageous statements and claims, leading to public criticism
  • Provide a weak-willed apology that provides some rationalization/justification for her behavior, and
  • Continue to portray herself as the victim without any willingness to make positive change

And that’s before some of her more recent history of making outrageous claims, including calling a former Presidential candidate the “c-word”.

First, there’s an appropriate way to apologize, which writer John Scalzi outlines in his blog. But more importantly, this has implications for how issues of “free speech” are changing. After all, when we have a President making outrageous claims on Twitter and a media climate that focuses more on that than actual policy issues, does the First Amendment still hold sway?Flip_Flop_Social_Media_Icons_by_EffBomb

Yes, it does, because freedom of speech does not mean freedom from criticism or freedom from consequences.
For example, I can honestly state that after watching Samantha Bee and Roseanne’s new show…Samantha Bee takes huge chances when examining key political issues from a woman-centric perspective. However, having seen most of Roseanne’s reboot  I can honestly say that Roseanne’s show is a poorly-written, pandering pile of garbage that only serves as self-created fan fiction to assuage a fragile ego.

Seriously – plots have taken sudden twists (for example, Becky lies about her age in order to sell an egg for money…but turns out to be infertile. Two episodes have ended with variations on “you’re weird, but we love you anyway.”) One episode even suggested that living in a disaster area is a good thing because FEMA money would save them. (Let’s also include tone-deafness, especially amidst reports that Puerto Rico’s death toll has been sorely underestimated). But the pilot episode, where Roseanne’s sister calls her out on bullying and Roseanne’s response is “…Because I know what’s best for everybody”) sets the tone. In short, the Roseanne revival serves as a last-ditch effort for an aging star to maintain relevancy rather than find a new outlet.

Having said all that, I fully expect there to be criticism either in the comments below or via our Facebook page. Some will even “troll” me via my Twitter account with all the usual right-wing catchphrases to indicate how much lesser I am than they are…but that’s the power of the First Amendment: the President can’t call for a television show to be canceled (as he has with Samantha Bee) or provide “state-sanctioned” approval (like Roseanne). And even I have been trolled on Twitter by a PR agency who objected to a claim that buying Twitter followers was a “false tactic”.  But that’s the truth of free speech on social media – responses are immediate, and there are frequent consequences. It takes courage and dignity to face those consequences professionally.

Roseanne has publicly stated that she has felt “thrown under a bus”. But the great thing about free speech is that we can see that she did it to herself. And she’s reluctant to face the consequences.

But Samantha Bee? Handling it like a professional.

Written by gordondym

June 4, 2018 at 10:40 am