Tag Archives: idle ranting

What’s the Opposite of Precocious?

I am a sophomore at Nathan Hale High School in Seattle, Washington. I have friends from all walks of life and believe that I would be perfect for your panel. I do not play any sports, although I had a brief stint with the lacrosse team my freshman year. I am a big fan of the entertainment industry. I have very diverse tastes in TV, movies, books, theater, and music. I cannot say no to quality entertainment, whatever the genre. I am obsessed and fascinated by pop culture, and I love reading the newspaper and magazines.

That’s the beginning of an essay I wrote in 1997. I was 15, and applying to be a ‘teen correspondent’ at USA Today.

The world of teenagers is very different from how it was in the fifties and sixties. Most males are concerned only with sex and drugs. Females seem mostly concerned about how to avoid them.

Of course, there are the few lonely souls who dare to be different, but they are labeled as ‘weirdos’ or ‘faggots’ and are generally ignored. To be popular and successful as a teenager, one must be willing to conform to what the media and their peers tell them.

The only thing more incredible than the thudding artlessness of these passages is that fact that I got the job. Based solely on the ‘strength’ of this essay, I was one of USA Today’s go-to teens for more than two years. Shit’s still on my resume.

The essay is one of hundreds of files my parents excavated  from my old hard drive and sent to me a few years ago. They all have the original names, but I’m starting to think I should just label them Cringe_1, Cringe_2 and onward to mortifying infinity. There’s one called ‘White_Racial_Identity.doc’ that I’m thinking about deleting without opening.

In this age of single parents and families in which both parents are working, the role of mother and father begin to mean less and less. Oftentimes parents would like to be home with their kids, but can’t, because they have to work a double shift so the aforementioned children can keep ordering pizzas and watching cable.

It only gets worse from there.

Maybe the worst thing about modern technology isn’t the triviality, or the ubiquitousness, but the permanence. If this essay wasn’t saved on a 15-year-old hard drive, I never would have read it again. I could have lived the rest of my life believing, on the rare occasions when I recall this period, that it was good , that I expressed something true, that I was worthy of pontificating upward from hotel room doorsteps for two years. This essay would have remained, undisturbed, a worthwhile general rather than an embarrassing particular.

We forget the extent to which we construct our childhood from input more diverse than its actual events. History, movies, retold stories, aborted friendships, it all gets folded into the way you think you had it when you were a kid. These pictures and texts from my childhood seem like some sort of alternate reality to my ‘real’ upbringing, the one I keep in my head. It’s easy to forget that it’s actually the other way around.

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Business Jargon: Think Inside the Box

I bonded with a client on the phone the other day. She was telling me about a collaboration program they were launching with other departments, and she said something like ‘we’re trying to discover all the synergies—‘

There was a long pause. ‘I’m sorry. I fucking hate the word ‘synergy’, she said.

If I had a pet project, I think it would be to write a history of management jargon. It’s amazing how terms like ‘synergy’ and ‘value-added’ creep into our vocabularies in spite of having meanings that are poorly defined at best and utterly commonsensical at worst.

Tyler Cowen says we resort to jargon to maintain consensus:

My speculation: People disagree in corporations, often virulently, or they would disagree if enough real debates were allowed to reach the surface.  The use of broad generalities, in rhetoric, masks such potential disagreements and helps maintain corporate order and authority.  Since it is hard to oppose fluffy generalities in any very specific way, a common strategy is to stack everyone’s opinion or points into an incoherent whole.  Disagreement is then less likely to become a focal point within the corporation and warring coalitions are less likely to form.

I agree with this, but I think the real purpose of management jargon is revealed in the fact that it never lasts very long. This year’s ‘low-hanging fruit’ is last year’s ‘blue-sky thinking’.

Corporations are under pressure to always be dynamic. They have to constantly expand, constantly evolve. This makes them uniquely susceptible to fads of language and paradigm. ‘Look for the blue ocean’ pulls a company to a slightly more productive equilibrium. Next year, ‘synergy’ pulls them to another one. Each paradigm resolves what it is capable of resolving, and reveals new problems for the next one.

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Leave Fat People Alone

Yeah so I probably come off as a total dick in my last post.

I actually find the stigma against overweight people repellent, especially the way fat-phobic comments come packaged in this utterly styrofoam concern about health.

I’ve been in situations where friends or acquaintances have pointed out obese people on the street to mock them (‘Her poor shoes!’), and I doubt that me saying ‘Actually, I know her. She eats super-healthy, swims twice a week and has cholesterol levels below yours.’ would make them reconsider.

Obese people are stigmatized for the same reason everyone else is: Because they don’t fit our norm of attractiveness. The health thing is just a disguise for primary school-level neener-neenering.

The problem, of course, is that being obese actually is bad for your health, at least generally. The obese woman you’re mocking on the street does, statistically, have a higher chance of heart disease, cancer and osteoperosis than the skinny woman walking the other direction.

The overweight community often wants to downplay this, arguing that its perfectly possible to be healthy and overweight at the same time. It probably is, but it’s not the case that Western countries are growing in size alone. We’re getting fatter, and we’re getting sicker.

None of this, however, is a justification for being shitty to fat people.

The obese woman you’re laughing at probably does, in fact, eat too much and exercise too little. But neither of those things are themselves stigmatized. You don’t point and laugh at someone of normal size who orders two Big Macs for lunch. You don’t mock your friends who never go to the gym or bike to work.

We only care how much someone eats or exercises if its visible on the outside. It’s the display of their unhealth that we find unforgivable, not its content.

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