Sunday, February 16, 2014

So...Jeff Orr = Thug?

The news cycle is becoming ridiculous. I don't say that with some grand scepter or design to enforce change so that everyone bends to my will and does things a "better" way. Evil supervillain I'm not. But I can illustrate my point. Let's look at the story with Marcus Smart shall we?

For those of you who don't know, Marcus Smart is a 19 year old college basketball player from Ohio State, who upon entering the crowd during a recent game, shoved a fan. According to a sportscaster, Smart told his coach that the fan had called him the N word.. Understandably, the internet was set ablaze, from athletes weighing in on how the youngster should have conducted himself, to others who were arguing if you use the N word against a black man, he should be able to make you pay, no matter the context.

Meanwhile, in an attempt to save face with fans and the NCAA, Ohio State decided to suspend Marcus Smart, and issued a press release saying as much. The sleeping volcano erupted as the townspeople of the internet all begin to react to this perceived slight anew. Racism, the black people cried. Fairness, the not black people cried. As flaming conversations fell around them, mankind began to consume itself in sheer anger. And still, no one asked any questions. At least not any truly pertinent ones.

Questions like, what kind of person is Marcus Smart? What's been happening with him lately? More importantly, has Marcus Smart shown himself to be angry before? Why would he be angry enough to push a fan? One more very important question: in today's world, if a non-white fan calls a black player the N word, within earshot of others, why did no one else step forward and at the very least corroborate his story? So no one stood up and said, hey man, that's messed up. Okay, I can believe that. But no one, not even one fan heard a man call another man a slur? I know it's a loud arena, but I have a hard time believing that.

The news cycle doesn't reward asking questions, for pretty obvious reasons. If you're among the first to throw an news story/opinion out, more people will turn to you for the story, and the more people who look to you for the story, no matter how wrong it may later prove to be, the more you can be paid. That's how the news works. We all know it. The news is what it is because we made it that way. The news gives us what we want. It's our fault collectively. As I said at the outset, I'm not going to pretend that I'm above it all, that the world is full of idiots who are beneath me. I'm right in the midst of it, and I'm as guilty as anyone else.

After it was all said and done, ESPN ran a story about how the fan is saying he said "a piece of crap" or some such, and honestly, part of me wants to believe that fan. Sure he has reasons and motivation to lie, but no one heard what happened. At least no one has come forward to say they have. There were at least two people in the same area as Smart, and they haven't said if they heard anything. But again, who asked?

As far as Marcus Smart's reaction, of the best things to happen to sports was the Malice in the Palace. Say what you will about Metta World Peace, but at the end of the day, he is a grown man, and he reacted like a grown man would to having a bottle thrown at him. There's a difference between sitting at home, yelling at a television and sitting in an arena yelling at a real people. Real people have feelings, and if you don't want to respect them, that's okay, just know that those real people with real feelings have real fists and might just give you a real good reason to shut up. I know, I know, the brawl in Detroit marred the image of the NBA for years after. So much so that the Pacers didn't even play in Detroit for another three years. It was a terriblly brutal example of the fact that NBA players, while they may be marketed as products, aren't products, they're people.

When I get angry at my laptop, I call it the N word. Loudly. A few times, I've smacked it around. That's because my laptop is a product, not a person. You can't treat people who play sports, professional or amateur, as if they are products. That's just the way it works. You mistreat a person, that person has a choice. There's been a lot of talk about college athletes having more to lose than fans, and frankly, I think that speaks to the sad state that college athletics is in, but fans need to have something to lose. If I told you that for fifty bucks, you can go and yell at 19 year olds all you wanted, throw things at them, and generally take all of your problems in life and yell them out with no consequences, why wouldn't you?  This is what happens in college arenas around the world. It sounds terrible. Which begs the question: why is this acceptable?

For those who say the fans are just wrapped up into the passion of the game, I say this: remember when Richard Sherman, someone who actually PLAYS in the game got passionate during an interview with Erin Andrews? What did we say about him?  He's a thug, right? Why is Richard Sherman a thug, but Texas Tech fan Jeff Orr isn't? Both are college alumni. Both care about a sports team. What's the difference between the two?

Look, at the end of the day, Marcus Smart will go on to be an NBA player, Richard Sherman still has a Superbowl ring and Jeff Orr...well, he's a white male. How many more advantages can he have?

Saturday, February 08, 2014

I No Longer Respect the Grammys

It's been a while, I know. There. That's all I'll acknowledge of the hiatus that happened. Let's all just move forward yeah?

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis won a Grammy for best rap album. Wait...stop...I don't want to start like this.

The Grammy's are, in my mind at least, the last bastion of artistic credibility. I had this conversation during a round of screen golf and the general consensus is that I am a) expecting too much from the Grammy's and b) racist/homophobic. At least that's what I was told.

This threw me for a bit of a loop. As a person who is proud of my heritage (I'm black and I'm proud) I tend to forget that my overzealous defense of my particular view point can actually lead to reverse racism. Maybe I disliked the Macklemore and Ryan Lewis nomination and win because it didn't highlight what I've felt is largely the only music genre that originated with Black Americans that still largely remains ours. This is a thought that's tormented me, ever since I decided to change the name of this blog from Deep Thoughts and Other Assorted Candies to The Words of A Full Time Knee Grow. Am I so adamant in my blackness, that I forget that others have equal rights?

After some thought, I feel this is completely and utterly ridiculous. My pride in my heritage doesn't damage anyone else, just as their pride doesn't damage me. I've never begrudged anyone who felt the need to tell me about how they were from Irish heritage, and I've listened to numerous "My people were just as oppressed as your people because we were (insert nationality here) and we got called dark and were treated as less than human". While, as you can clearly tell, I maintain my normal air of cynicism, I don't disbelieve or feel as if a claim of oppression weakens what happened to my ancestors. I simply accept what I've been told, and if you feel as if your ancestors were oppressed too, then let's commiserate together. If me taking pride in my heritage and who I am bothers you, I don't feel as if that's something I did. You have the problem. You dislike my pride and as much as I hate to tell you this, you can't force me to stop feeling proud in the way that my ancestors not only struggled to gain freedom, but didn't let the oppression they were suffering completely define who they would be, nor did they let that same suffering define or shape the legacy they left to their children and their children's children.

Which brings me to the former point: I expect too much from the Grammy's as an award. I think this might be true. Ever since OK Computer, despite its not being what we'd expect from catchy mainstream alt-rock won a Grammy and was nominated for album of the year, I've had this illusion (for lack of a better word) in my mind that the Grammy's weren't about who sold the most, or who was the most popular, but about who presented the art form that most helped and moved forward his or her genre, or music in general. Oh sure, I was willing to admit there'd be a general nod to the most popular artist or the one who sold the most music by giving them a nomination, but ultimately the best artistic endeavor would win, undoubtedly.

Then Macklemore and Ryan Lewis won a Grammy. (See? Fits much more nicely here) Do I think that Macklemore and Ryan Lewis' album wasn't good? No. I found it pretty entertaining, and had it been merely nominated, I would have no complaints. But in my mind, in the world that exists in between my ears, wining Best Rap Album equates to "The album that from an artistic standpoint did the MOST for it's genre, more than any other album nominated. Here's where I feel as if this is where the contention lies. I don't feel as if it     did that. In fact, I dare say, all it did was not do what hip hop has done best ever since its inception.

Hip hop has always been an art form of defiance. From the early days of Sugarhill Gang or Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, hip hop has been a rebellious and defiant reminder that it would not conform to whatever it was you felt it should. When millions were beginning to just understand the power of the N-word (not negro, the OTHER N-word) hip hop was spitting it into the faces of the people who refused to acknowledge its existence. Hip hop culture extended from a section of the population who were expected to lay down and die: the unwashed, uneducated masses who would never contribute anything into the world, who were meant to be servants, either of food or waste disposal. An entire subsection of urban culture who were not told but shown that no one ultimately would care about them or for them. Hip hop as a growling defiant response to every politician who would ranter pander for a vote than care for the constituents that had no voice, hip hop was the voice of thousands who had no choice but to repurpose what was given them and contribute to the human experience a living culture, a constant art form that has persisted even to this day.

Hip hop doesn't know color or creed, nationality or race. It is the voice of the people. In this regard, I applaud Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. They spoke out for a largely oppressed section of people. the LGBT community, and they used hip hop to do it. Largely this is unheard of in the world of rap, the music that hip hop spawned. By and large, rap lives in a world where being gay is undesirable, and this is expressed in the largely homophobic expressions hurled at  one's enemies.

But this is not the first time that hip hop has championed the cause of an oppressed people, or even that of the LGBT community  Granted many rappers still use gay slurs as a way to denigrate their detractors (that one's aimed at you Eminem, Rap God or not.) but hip hop being used to open our eyes to the plight of the oppressed isn't new. If Macklemore and Ryan Lewis won a Grammy only for this, I suppose I could understand and even accept it. However, what has happened feels far less like a feel good story.

Macklemore beat out Kanye West's flawed album Yeezzus (yes I do mean it when I said flawed. I really enjoyed it as an album. But let's not kid ourselves MBDTF it's not.) Jay-Z's Magna Carta/Holy Grail and Kendrick Lamar's Good Kid, m.A.A.d City. Oh whatever Drake did. Yeah. That passing mention is all Drake's album deserved. I honestly feel that was the popular album mention that got nominated but should never win anything. Yeah. Sorry Drake fans.

Jay-Z not winning? Meh. I can understand that. Magna Carta was amazing, but this is a man with a Grammy, a listing on Forbes and a wife named Beyonce. Jay's won so much at life already. What else could anything or anyone actually give him? But Kendrick...oh Kendrick. Your album was amazing so much so that most of us could forgive how long it took for you to make it. More importantly, just as he did with Section 80, Kendrick didn't just give us 10 songs. He gave us an ALBUM with a tied in theme and actual artistic merit. Add to this the fact that each of the songs have boundless meaning and are artistically what hip hop should be and well...we all see where I'm going.

The only consolation I have available to me is that Kendrick will probably be rapping and creating art for many more years. Who knows, the longer that Jay-Z keeps defying the hip hop gods and producing relevant music, the longer the average career of the hip hop star will last. But to tell me that artistically, the album that helped the entire genre of hip hop more was The Heist and not good kid m.A.A.d city is just egregious. This isn't me being an unrelenting fan boy of Kendrick Lamar, which I'm sure most of you will accuse me of. This is me being a fan of hip hop, one who is both proud of what it has become and ashamed of its vices. Kendrick Lamar represents an artist, who within the confines of the genre has managed to redefine it and has done so on its own terms. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, however politically correct their rap may have been didn't do anything to expand upon the genre. Kendrick is using the traditional tropes of hip hop, the bravado, the rebelliousness and even the complete political incorrectness it has as a genre, and turning it completlely on its ear. Years from now, Grammy awards aside, who will we remember as being more genre defining?

The Grammy's aren't concerned anymore with artistic merit, at least not in the genre of hip hop. All they care about is their image and appeasing the perceived masses. This saddens me more than I care to admit. With that in mind, where can anyone turn to for a truthful assessment of any music? They all fall to capitalism eventually.

The Grammy's used to care about artistic merit. Now all it cares about is popularity, sales and ingratiating itself to hipsters and liberals. (Wow...that sounds extremely Fox News)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Flying and Reading Minds

Would you rather fly or be able to read minds? This rather binary question is supposedly a guide to understanding whether you are “left brain” or “right brain”. I’ve never really understood how the answer to this question can tell anyone that, but it’s so widely accepted, it must be right. Right? I’ve always thought it was an unfair choice.

Who doesn’t want to do both? Flying would be amazing (with a windshield of course) and reading people’s minds speaks to a very human desire to understand one another. Ironically enough, we can do both of those things now, and often we don’t exercise that ability.

“Wait…did he say we can read each other’s minds?” That’s right. I did say that. And to an extent, I’m kind of right. We have to the ability to communicate with each other. Communication is more than just sharing what we mean with other people. It’s also how we find out what other people mean. The problem is many of us don’t take advantage of every avenue of communication in a few key areas.

For example: thanks to Will Smith, we’ve all heard that 60% of what you say isn’t what you say because of nonverbal communication. If we know this much, we’re off to a dynamic start. However, how many times have we seen the confusion that just misunderstanding a tone of voice can cause? Or assumed that a person who was truthful wasn’t because they wouldn’t maintain eye contact? Even something as simple as a handshake can lead to misunderstood intentions simply due to the way we shake hands. Why are there so many misunderstandings around simple things?

Simply put, it comes from our own lack of knowledge of nonverbal communication. We expect nonverbal communication to have the same formulaic laws and rules as language, which is understandable. We’re taught at a young age that language is communication. Before we learn language, we only really have a few tools to expression, namely, crying, smiling, laughing or simply remaining silent.

This isn’t a denunciation of language by any means. But it seems that we forget the most important rule of nonverbal communication once we learn verbal communication:  nonverbal communication doesn’t have a set of universal rules to govern it. I’ve always felt this was primarily due to the fact that nonverbal communication encompasses more than just intentional communication.

We rarely say or write things that we didn’t mean to write. We formulate sentences before we share them. By the time our words have entered into the common area, they’ve been especially created for the purpose of presenting a specific thought from us to others. While some people may think more about their word choice than others, it still doesn’t negate the fact that we all put some amount of thought into what we say. How we say it may be another matter altogether. But that’s not where the problems lie.

The problem lies in the fact that we know that nonverbal communication isn’t “thought out” and that in most cases it’s almost impossible to control all aspects of it. Often, we mistakenly think since people don’t actively control nonverbal communication, that it all must mean the same thing in each and every person, which unfortunately is just not true. While some things, such as pupil dilation or the electrical impulses that can be measured through the skin, are completely beyond our control, the majority of nonverbal communication has no set meaning from person to person.  We’ve all had someone ask us what “that look” meant. 

Here’s the takeaway: communication is a way to share meaning, in some cases it may be systemic, but in others it may have no rhyme or reason about it. So instead of assuming, take the time to really understand what meaning is trying to be conveyed.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Being Mediocre Is Easy. Being Great Is Not.

I’ve been here before. It all feels oddly familiar, since I have done the same thing multiple times. It’s the bane of my existence, and my greatest flaw. But where am I? I am trapped in the desire to remain mediocre.
Wait what? The desire to remain mediocre? Why would anyone want to stay mediocre? Don’t we all want to reach our potential? Of course we do. I know I personally want to be the best I can be. However, being the best I can be is, well, hard.

That’s right. It’s hard. It’s not easy. I don’t get to fall asleep at 50% and wake up at 100%. I have to work my way through each and every failure and every setback. Every painful moment of it and guess what? It’s hard. It’s very hard.

The perfect example is my own personal health. As anyone who knows me, follows me on Twitter, connected to me on Facebook or on Foursquare can tell you, I work out. My fitocracy account (Adjective_J if you’re curious) is a testament to that fact. My workouts are not light. In fact, my workouts are pretty much my own personal attempts to push myself beyond what I’m comfortable with every single time I walk into the gym. I’ve actually passed out in the gym three times. Some people would tell me that I need to be far more moderate in my workout endeavors. I would respond the same way Leonidas did in 300, with kick in the chest into a deep well as I yelled, “Madness? THIS IS MY WORKOUT!!”
Lately, though I’ve been far less Leonidas and far more Ephialtes (you know, the guy who sold the Spartans out). I’ve given in to the Persian principles of oversleeping my morning workout and eating the richest foods. Side note: Little Caesar’s five dollar large pizza is surprisingly tasty. Also, it is the devil. The result? Two weeks with moderate workouts, and a noticeable increase in a gut that was previously on the decline.

And here I am. Again. The fight is hard. The odds seem insurmountable. I know I’ll never be amazingly thin. I know that the chances of me looking like my body goal (a young Dwayne Johnson, you know before he turned into a muscle bound monstrosity with two percent body fat) are slim, in fact far slimmer than I will even hope to be. However, the odds shouldn’t matter.  All that matters is when I walk out of the gym after leaving everything I had inside, I feel good about myself. About my life. About who I am. In those moments, I’m not a man who quits. I’m not a man who gives up. I’m a man who perseveres. I’m a man who has drive, the motivation to be great.
The key, for me at least, is realizing what an easy life leads to. It leads to diabetes, being overweight, unfulfilled and most importantly, it leads to me not being able to look at myself in the mirror with pride.

The same is true of any endeavor in life. At the end of the day, you won’t be able to look yourself in the eye if you know that you took the easy way through life. Life isn’t meant to be easy. Fight for what you want. If it gets hard take pride in knowing that you are alive.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Does Time Really Equal Money?

Fun fact: the saying "time is money" is attributed to the late Benjamin Franklin, inventor, elder statesman, ambassador and the face of one hundred dollar bills in America. However, as much as Mr. Franklin (or Benji depending on what era of rap you've last heard) accomplished, I take issue with this statement. Time and money, while sharing some characteristics are most definitely not equal.

Money and time are alike in that both can be spent, either wisely or foolishly. They are both commodities that many of us would love to have more of. However, there is one major difference between time and money, a difference that really sets them both firmly in separate leagues. Money can be saved. Time, however, cannot be. As much as we like to talk about time saving devices (the internet, the cell phone, text messages, etc.) the truth of the matter is, even if we used time saving devices every day, at the end of the day, we have as much as we would have if we hadn't used any. Time has to be spent. Money however does not.

I know that this seems like I'm splitting hairs, but we have to spend our time. Most of the "time saving" techniques aren't so much saving time as freeing up what we have to spend our time doing. E-mail removes the time we would spend waiting for correspondence, as does texts, cellphones, and fax machines. Remember what research was like before the internet? I have a vague recollection of giant buildings filled with books, and a decimal system invented by some guy named Dewey that only made sense if you were named Dewey as well. (that I do remeber the .700's were the fine arts, and that's where the comic book collections could be found) Research is now as simple as typing what you want to know into Google (or some other search engine that works almost as well but not quite as well) and sifting through the top ten answers to your query.

Why are we so obsessed with time? Well, clearly it's because we have a finite supply of it. Side note: there's not a finite supply of money. Or at least I don't think there is. If you disagree, Bill Gates is actively working every day to prove you wrong. Our short supply of time ensures that what we choose to do with it reveals much about ourselves. There was a time when that type of knowledge wasn't commonplace. But now, in our era of social networking and increased personal sharing? Now we all know what we do speaks volumes about us.

Why else would there be so many people actively living lifestyles that proclaim their viewpoints? If you go to the gym at noon, you'll see the young professional, walking into the gym in wingtips or heels and a bag full of workout clothes. He or she is telling everyone that they're in control of their career, of their bodies, and of their lives. Swivel a bit to the left, and you'll see the extremely muscular young man in the cut-off T-shirt sipping water and stretching. What is his time use telling you?

How we spend our time says a lot about us. Who we spend our time with, what we spend our time doing, and ultimately, how we allot the time we've all been given. The real question then is, what does the time you spend say about you?