Friday, April 2, 2010

You Are What You Read

I received some very good news recently. News I had been looking forward to for a year. I was informed that my free subscription to Business Week had run out. That’s a huge monkey off my back.

When I first started my job, a job I’ve grown to hate very much, a big wig with the company said the best source for information on our business is Business Week and said he reads it religiously. Right then, Farrah secured us a free one-year subscription and I committed to reading every issue, cover to cover.

Well, the year is over (and so is my job) and while there has been some growth (like Billy Madison, “I can understand nine words in that [magazine] now”), more accurate is the fact that every issue has been a slog to get through with most of the info flying over my head. After a few months, I shelved the “cover-to-cover” goal, but did continue to read any article that interested me, seemed to pertain to my job, or that I thought I could comprehend, which amounted to a good 3/4s of it.

What became clear to me was not only what I was reading, but why. For instance, anything dealing with entertainment or branding of products I know and use was a no-brainer. As most people do, I read and liked the stuff I already had some base knowledge of. I followed articles on tech companies like Google or Apple, but more from an outsider’s perspective which makes sense. Though my job is in software, I’ve never fully grasped it, felt like a part of the culture, or been interested in it, outside of a passing understanding.

Think about that. While my dedication to my job is high, my capacity to really “get it” and grow within it is limited, just like my capacity to retain and understand the articles pertaining to this industry. I also found that I would read the articles that didn’t interest me that much if they were short, but skip them if they were too long, which probably says a lot about my own stamina and energy level.

Just as telling were the articles I would skip. Anything regarding banking was out. I’d need a Biz Week for Dummies if I was going to figure all of that stuff out. Other than the high level understanding that the banking industry is in trouble and the prime reason for the current recession, ask me to explain it to someone and I couldn’t. I could maybe regurgitate something I heard on the news, but would I truly understand it in my bones? Sadly, no. I’m just not built that way, as evidenced by my reading habits.

Funny enough, I would also skip most articles pertaining to business in India. Why? Because I just have a perception, though I’ve never been there, that the place is dirty and unappealing. I tend to avoid movies filmed in those locations for the same reason. So, my perception of a culture that doesn’t interest me influences my capacity to even learn about that country or enjoy it. Ironically, I did eventually perk up to articles pertaining to the bankruptcy of Dubai, but that was AFTER seeing it on the "Amazing Race".

This speaks to not only what we learn and why, but how. Package Dubai in a show I like to watch and I’ll pay attention. Make a movie about it with people in robes and the smell of dirt and sweat steaming off the screen and I just turn away. If something interests you, you’ll get it. If it doesn’t, it won’t unless it comes in the right packaging.

Packaging is a big issue, I’ve learned. I’ve started reading Fast Company, another business related magazine. The difference is that FC is bright and colorful with large fonts and eye-grabbing graphics (I’m a big believer in Color Theory). If BW is the Wall Street Journal, FC is USA Today. FC also skews younger with more articles on technology, entrepreneurs, and celebrities. BW rarely has any of that. BW leans more Wall Street and FC leans more Silicon Valley.

In contemplating the “you are what you read” idea, I’ve realized how true it is and how it extends to anything and everything we ingest. For instance, I believe the last 3 or 4 books I’ve read had something to do with either music or movies. I am often recommended sales-related books and often shrug it off because it feels too much like homework. The same can be said for religious books. I’m not a scriptorian, never have been. It just doesn’t interest me. As a result, I don’t spend a lot of time reading scriptures or church themed books pertaining to religion, again too much like homework. But, how many Christians do we know that could read nothing but the Bible on a daily basis forever and be perfectly happy with it? Based on my argument, that person would have more interest in Christianity than I would and it’s probably true. The proof is in the behavior. I’ll go to church every week (or work every day), but don’t expect me to spend my precious free-time on it. As my reading habits go, so go my behaviors.

So, think about what you read and what that says about you. If you don’t read much, that’s a big message. If you only read gossip magazines, that is too. If you like to read, but are picky about what you read (like me), then there’s another one. My point is, we don’t do much unless we’re urgently motivated by internal or external forces. What and when we choose to read and why is the prime evidence of that. And, our abilities to learn are often tied to more than the subject matter.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Best Docs of the Decade

10. New York Doll

A film very close to my heart as it combines two of the dominant pieces of my genetic make-up – music and Mormonism. It’s the story of Arthur Kane, former bass player for the revolutionary punk band the New York Dolls, and how he went from cross-dressing rock icon, to broke drug addict, to Mormon temple worker. It’s a story you probably thought never would or could exist, and yet here it is. It’s proof that the message of the gospel has the potential to touch just about anyone that’s open and ready. That’s miraculous to skeptics like me that begin to question whether it’s possible.

9. Capturing The Friedmans

It’s the story of possible child molestation taking place by an educated man (and his son?) at his home in an uppercrust suburban neighborhood. I say possible because the film takes the risky angle of not completely answering the question of guilt versus innocence. Did they do it? The film doesn’t tell you, you’ll have to work it out for yourself. The puzzle is wonderfully challenging. The fact this family has no qualms airing all their dirty laundry in front of the camera doesn’t hurt. Side note: the project began as a feature on NYC’s most popular party clown. While getting to know him, this story comes spilling out. Crazy.

8. For The Bible Tells Me So

What if the modern interpretation of how the Bible views homosexuality is wrong? What if there are other ways to look at the subject from a religious perspective? Not to mention, the science behind homosexuality (as opposed to the predominant religious view that it’s a choice). Are we ready to face that? This is a crucial argument for looking at tradition another way. Change your way of thinking and you may find some truth lying in areas you wouldn’t have guessed. Given the heightened urgency Christian churches are placing on this issue (especially my own), it’s worth everyone’s time to see the issue from another perspective.

7. The Ramones – End of the Century

The best music doc of the decade covers the story of, arguably, the first and most important punk band in history. The film removes the rose colored glasses and laudatory tones of normal rock docs to showcase the internal tensions and drama that plagued the Ramones since the beginning and, ultimately, stalled their careers. Each member, Joey, Johnny, Marky and Dee Dee get equal time with each one’s story being told in full. Sometimes, those stories bump into each other or one corrupts another. So goes the life of a band over time. The fact that 3 of the four members are gone now and all within a short span of time, makes it all extra poignant.

6. Outrage

Every few months, some ultra-conservative politician seems to get caught in the act of homosexual activity. And chances are good that guy has a voting record that has fought to keep basic human rights away from gays and lesbians. So, the camera gets turned on them. What congressmen and senators are in the closet? How have they voted? The film makes the statement that if these closeted government employees are going to fight so hard to keep homosexuals as second class citizens in order to further their political careers, then they deserve to be outted and labeled as the hypocrites they are. It sounds sensationalistic, but it’s just good investigative journalism.

5. The King of Kong

The great American narrative played out over a game of Donkey Kong. Steve is a guy with an average life and a lot of regrets. He figures he can alter his station if he can score the world record in Donkey Kong. Standing in his way is the arrogant Bill, who has held the record for years and will stop at nothing to maintain it. Good vs. Evil battle it out at the arcade. It’s an age-old premise fought on a new battlefield. Will fairness prevail? Find out for yourself.

4. Bigger Stronger Faster

An inside look on the effects of steroids in sports, both good and bad, and how they have not only changed the games, but contributed to the American need to always be the best. Again, greed plays a big part (the biggest, actually) and corruption from the top down mounts unabated. For instance, anyone remember Pres. George W. Bush’s address where he said it was imperative to get steroids out of baseball for the sake of children and fair play? Ironic that just a couple years before he was the owner and president of the Texas Rangers, a team with 4 known ‘roid users. He conveniently ignored the issue then, we assume, because it benefited him. It’s all a big scam. Everything. Everywhere. Prepare to lose your faith in just about everything.

3. Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room

Maybe the most culturally and politically important film of the last 10 years. It pulls back the curtains on the inside scandal that brought Enron to the ground and shines a bright, unflattering light on those that made it happen. You realize while watching it that corporate America and, by extension, the financial system, are run by a bunch of greedy nerds with Napolean complexes. They can’t knock another team down by nailing a 3-pointer, but they can do it with a balance sheet. It’s all a big boys club where the rules, what little there are, are bent or ignored. It’s my opinion that these criminals deserve the death penalty. Taking someone’s livelihood is almost the same as taking someone’s life. The saddest part, the corruption continues to this day and probably always will.

2. Murderball

This is the fascinating story of a bunch of paraplegics that play full contact rugby in their souped up wheelchairs. These guys are nuts, tougher than you and me with half the appendages. The film covers all the bases. How did they get that way? How do they feel about it? How do they have sex? How do they live? What motivates them? What are their prospects? And they don’t entertain sympathy. Don’t feel sorry for them and don’t get in their way.

1. Spellbound

It’s as gripping and full of tension as any tied sporting event with one second left on the clock. Becoming invested in these childrens lives and then seeing them have to perform under pressure is one of the most emotionally taxing experiences you’ll have at any movie. The kids are bright, smart, awkward, nerdy, driven, funny, everything a child should be. And they have this skill that makes them special, maybe gives them some place in this world and some self-esteem that they work very hard at. And it all comes down to that moment with so much on the line. You’ll be yelling the next letter at your TV screen and cheering when they get it right.