It was election night in 1976, and the President’s National Campaign staff was gathered in ballrooms and suites at the Shoreham hotel in Washington, awaiting the results. Mike, one of the most upbeat and respected members of my field team had just, at a moment when the room had suddenly fallen quiet, quietly uttered those words.
They filled the room.
Those words come to mind, this morning, as I look out on the virtual battlefield that America seems to have become (and may yet become quite real, tonight and in the days to come). The stakes to which Mike was referring now seem so distant, so innocent in comparison, almost naive in their articulation.
The two parties weren’t separated by the steaming, molten chasm that separates them – separates us – today.
The rhetoric, in retrospect, was far more respectful and positive as parties touted the benefits, power and assurances of positive results in the achievement of what were much more goals-in-common.
This past year…this past administration…has been rife with the shouting-down of opposition, of frightening citizens with Cassandraic hyperbole and threats of the end of an “America” that has become Balkanized by spectacular self-interest as reflected in our leadership and laws, by the fear and panicked anger of vast segments of our population who sense looming an end to a way of life and are now seeking someone or something to blame for it other than the relentless inevitability of cultural and technological evolution.
Evolutions for which our educational systems have not prepared our citizens; the taking care of which it is no secret that our country is not committed to taking care.
I am eminently trepidatious about today, tonight and the future.
Although, stepping back; I perceive, below the sturm und drang of political party rhetoric, an inexorable forward cultural enlightenment taking place.
I can only speak from my perspective; though since Marriage Equality became reality in the US (and may it ever remain so), I have sensed and seen an enlightened cultural evolution seeming to manifest more and more rapidly among the aspirational generations.
After Marriage Equality, it seems the dominoes began to fall with increasing rapidity, and theretofore peripheral issues and people began to surface and speak and be heard. Transgender, transexual, nonbinary, genderqueer: what seems an ever-increasing spectrum of pronouns and titles for us to keep abreast as individuals self-identify, appear and add ever more facets and colors to our societies.
It’s wonderfully exciting to see all this taking place.
At the same time, the Gen X’s, Millennial and post-Millennial generations (Gen Y, Gen Next, iGen, Gen Z…) seem to me to share a powerful and pervasive ethos of a higher integrity and openness perhaps than those who came before. These generations seem, in my experience, adamant in support of diversity, equality, transparency in business and politics (watch out, Dinosaurs!) and above all a commitment to the planet and the people on it…far more than any generations that preceded.
They almost seem predisposed to vocal activism. (Perhaps a generalization, as are so many such assessments, but in this case I think far more apt than most.)
Concurrently, the power of movements born of these Thinkers has already altered the fabric of our society.
Scores, hundreds more movements and responses to societal and human rights wrongs do not go unaddressed. And my sense is that the pressure will only increase and continue.
Another few years and I think we may yet see a profound revamping of our political systems. Whatever happens, today… If we do sink, should we hit the feared nadir, I believe could possibly be the Last Time. On the brighter possibility; if the voters do turn aside the tide of hate, today; it may very will be the beginning of aggressively reformed society: reformed by the coming of age of a majority of New Thinkers who truly want the world to be a better place.
And they are willing to put themselves on the line for it.
And, by the way, how about The Pope! Gay people “…have a right to a family.” Muse on that for awhile.
So, yes. I am worried about today. But, the tearful, anxious, impassioned faces of young people on all platforms is heartening to me with what may happen today, and will happen tomorrow. With that, I remain hopeful; and if we are defeated, I am in hopes it will be this one, last time.
The clean-up will be immense; it will be cleaned up.
The first printing of “IMEx – In My Experience | Secrets of making ‘em cheer, weep … and sometimes write checks” has sold out. In the works is the Field Edition. Exact same book, just ⅓ smaller, much lighter and easier to take into the field, class or office. Coming soon. Copies can be reserved, now at firstname.lastname@example.org
A tell-all… about making ‘em weep and cheer all over the world…an anecdotal compendium of discoveries and mistakes, experiences with sheiks and what it often takes to create resonant experiences…across borders and cultures, with generationally and internationally disparate teams of Creative and Production Professionals, for all sorts of Clients, Briefs and Circumstances.
“IMEx …” is a comprehensive gathering of select writings on and around the umbrella subject of creating theatrical, ceremonial, installed or one-off shows and great spectacle that can connect with audiences on a personal – even intimate – level…irrespective of the size of the show; 30 to 300,000…
This book can be read, enjoyed and studied as an entertaining Masterclass Textbook, informative memoir or a collection of adoptable ideas for team building and enhancing productivity in the realms of creating Experience..
The Reviews so far…
You want one? Okay then…!
Here’s the book, and here’s how to obtain your very own copy.
Between now and the Official Reading and Book Launch event on October 29 in San Francisco, “IMEx…” can be yours for US$75; which covers printing and shipping, domestically. That’s $1.40 per ounce of brilliance!
(International shipping is more expensive, and we can work that out with international orders.)
To order: Venmo (@Kile-Ozier) or Zelle (347-268-2953) payment to me along with a mailing address. I can be reached by email at Kile@kileozier.com with questions or if you seek Bank Wire Transfer information. Unless otherwise directed, I will inscribe something personal (but not embarrassing) inside the front cover for you.
The virus does not care about our sense of entitlement to roam free, what we may believe we “deserve” or to what we think we have a “right.”
The virus wants only one thing; and that is our death; to feed on us until there is nothing left to consume, then on to the next host.
If we don’t like it; then we are free to not vote for the virus. The virus does not care.
The spectacular failure of the United States in dealing with this virus sits on more than just the shoulders of our self-interested administration. We now know – to no one’s surprise – that those in power have seen this pandemic as a political opportunity from the outset: placing our lives as expendable in the greater picture of their popularity and profit.
Though, these are not the only complicit.
Business and political leadership and “journalist” mouthpieces have – from mere weeks into the pandemic – been calling “when can we reopen the economy…??” Implying from the outset that this is about the economy before being about people. While most of the country began immediately to worry about feeding their families and keeping them warm and protected; the networks were giving advice on 401K’s and recommending buying laptops for the kids to study at home…broadcasting from well-appointed NYC apartments and green-lawned Connecticut homes.
Throughout the civilized world (which seems, de facto, to no longer include the USA), citizens complained about being quarantined for weeks and months…but they did it. They complied with medical and government directive in order to shut down the disease as much and as quickly as possible. In doing so, many discovered how much more they could accomplish without the commute, the increase in time with families or their own thoughts (though being alone with one’s thoughts can make some uncomfortable).
Except here in the US. Here, we argue with fact, we argue with evidence that does not fit our wishes, we assert “rights” about which the virus gives not a <redacted>. Thus, we die.
We coin catchy phrases such as “The New Normal” and ask Are We There Yet? “When can we get back to normal?”
When can we get back to normal?
When will we reopen the Economy?
When can I stop being responsible for my actions?
Within weeks of inception, high-profile companies in various industries began to issue “White papers” full of expert opinions on how it’s all going to look when this crisis has passed; when it’s “probably” going to end and to intimate that we’re talking months and “maybe” a year. All this conjecture is based on…nothing factual. This is opinion and fantasy (well, to be fair, some of these presumptive soothsayers – storytelling colleagues of my own industries – actually create and sell fantasy, so what else might we expect?) presented as knowledge.
Succumbing to public and political pressure: Disney opens, then closes; restaurants open, then close; beaches open, then close; people gather, then die. As though demanding to breathe among crowds makes the inhaled air safe “because it is my RIGHT!”
Springtime gatherings are pushed to summer, as though those few months are going to see magical disappearance of this organic menace. Finally, the cancellations. All the big stuff is now (optimistically) postponed to 2021…and y’all, that is optimistic.
Personally, I find the opening of theme parks during this pandemic – especially as it rages through the US – as egregiously irresponsible. Disney’s opening is taken as a signal to the entire country that it’s okay to get together…”Disney’s doing it, so we can do it…meet me at the <name of local thing> and we’ll <fill in group activity that will result in dropping adherence to social distancing guidelines and ultimately kill more people>.
Whether or not you went to Pandemic Disney and adhered to social distancing policies; we know that is not the case for every park guest, all day. And we know that the example that sets gives thousands if not millions throughout the US a sense of false security and “This Thing Being Almost Over.”
It’s not almost over.
NO one knows, can know or can have the solution until this virus is understood fully and a vaccine is tested and available. This is another year, minimum. Min. I. Mum. To presume to predict how it’s all going to look while all the parts are still freely moving is a little foolish and a lot delusional.
Friends and countrybeings; there IS no going back; NO “Normal” to which we might return…and no “Normal” to which we might find our way. It is vastly irresponsible of our press and politicians to have pushed that delusional concept upon us…
Ain’t no cavalry comin’. Best to find a way to accept this.
Perhaps we might stop Predicting and spend this energy on Observing.
Maybe we could STFU, stop pushing for and demanding what is not possible, stop deluding ourselves and begin simply observing the world around us – and our possible places in it…
This is organic. Unresponsive to physics and politics; unphased by our desire, our wants or needs. It will take its own time to unfold, to be addressed and until a new reality manifests. Until that reality is evident, until there is a vaccine, all we can do is observe. Observe and consider options; but make plans? I think not.
I see limitless potential in embracing the absence of knowledge.
I offer that we could be spending this time in observation and self-examination: who am I, what do I bring to the table, what are my values, what do I value, who do I value, what is my value? What might I do to support myself and what is my responsibility to community…and how might I fulfill that?
Everyone has something to discover, to teach, to share.
Certainly, the vast numbers who have been working in now-and-newly-handicapped industries – theatre, entertainment, theme parks, restaurants, leisure, recreation, exercise eminent among them – need immediate support, security and assurance during this “temporary” hiatus. We must find ways to help our comrades, colleagues, peers and neighbors; it’s going to get worse before it gets better.
That said, it might be wise to see “temporary” in the context of the cosmic smackdown taking place.
We are not talking days and weeks: rather, we are looking at months and quite likely years before anyone can actually relax and mingle.
I see vast opportunity in this forced evolution toward a New Reality.
The opportunity I see before me, now, is to contribute to the evolution of themed and theatrical experience in ways that circumvent the Pre-Vaccine effects on societal interaction of COVID-19.
Until there is a vaccine – and, then, even beyond – the structure of ticketed and destination experience must evolve without diluting the power inherent in the well-crafted story.
I see for me a pathway from creating massive spectacle imbued with a profound sense of intimacy and shared personal experience to that of creating intimate, small-group experience with a powerful sense and experience of magnitude and scale. The path lies directly before us and it starts right here.
In the absence of mass gatherings in theatres, stadia, deserts, harbors, theme parks and open spaces – with the virtual disappearance of spontaneous hugs and handshakes and most sorts of physical contact; we of the human sort will resultantly, inherently yearn all the more for the pheromonal interaction, the sense of true, physical nearness, of touch…even without touching.
Experiences are all the more compelling when they are shared in the moment. That immediacy, that reality is what must be preserved through all of this. It must be neither sacrificed nor lost, something of which we must not lose sight.
This can be done. With our commitment; it shall be done.
I see the possibility of creating multilateral storytelling experiences with unique approaches to narrative arcs that can yield breathtaking, shared denouement. Multidirectional storytelling can yield a Confluent Closing Moment: a profound moment that can possibly be even more deeply-felt, given an experience of the story from disparate perspectives all the way to the end…
I believe this can be accomplished; profitably and sans dilution of experience. In fact, I further believe that something better than has existed before, something far more intimate and compelling, while still manifested in physically-shared space, can, will and must be created.
I look forward to exploring these possibilities through this transition to our Imminent New Reality.
Now, about this Imminent New Reality.
In order for us to be prepared to successfully (and profitably) address, realize and embrace the potential inherent in the myriad-faceted, evolutionary movement taking place on our planet and in our worlds, especially in the spheres of creative and storytelling experience; we must bring representatives of all the the vast and disparately-backgrounded, skilled and talented to the same table.
This means that every age group, every skill set, every talent, every demographic that can be included in the ideation, creative and production processes must be respected. Brought together at the outset to be involved and contributing as each step unfolds.
We can and must create an atmosphere of Dynamic, Ongoing Charrette, where the veteran engineer of 30 years in the industry is seen and heard with the same level of respect as the aspirational young artist just through the door. Programmers, engineers, designers of costume, set, lighting and game sit alongside writers, creative directors, producers and directors; all seeing one another as equals.
Creating this dynamic, creating and populating this table is key and crucial to our success in rethinking and creating the future of Experience.
We must all hear one another fully and be prepared to learn from each other, we must be eager to share without hesitation or holding back; to listen without preconception.
Allow me to say that, again; we must learn to listen without preconception.
We must find ourselves able to concurrently teach and learn in order to both know and learn from history as we create a New Now and What Will Lie Ahead.
We must see that nothing is lost and that all possibilities are considered as we encircle the magic fire of creativity and build new experience. It sounds utopian, as it is utopian. Building creative Hives, where passion can count as much as experience and all is balanced as processes unfold, is a surefire way forward. IMHO.
“A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for…?”
– Robert Browning
…Through The Portal ofMentorship.
There is, has been and will continue to be much talk from multiple business quarters on “Mentorship.” As mentioned previously this space, I believe the concept of Mentorship is due for an update. (See, “A Culture of Mentorship”.)
Heretofore, as was the case when many of us entered the world of business, back in the ‘XX’s; mentorship was seen and defined as linear and pretty much one-way…Elder to Apprentice.
The rEvolutionary fact is that the world has changed, the cycles of the world have increased in rapidity and complexity and the demographic definition of “generation” has balkanized such that the modern historical concepts of Mentor and Mentorship are virtually out of date, antiquated, relevant only as an evolutionary jumping off point.
“Find a Mentor.” “Be a Mentor.” “I want to be a Mentor.” These sorts of mindsets are functions of an outdated concept of how Mentorship can best work. This is especially salient in the vast and ever-changing landscape of our global, gig economy; of consultants and freelancers and contractors-by-project and the universal geographical and physical movement inherent in many areas of business and commerce; especially those through which I wander.
Mentorship is Hive, 360-degrees; we are all Mentors and Mentees, best-served by appreciating and embracing this fact. Each and all of us have experience, knowledge and perspective to share, unilaterally; just as there is plenty we can learn from each new kid that joins the team.
This means that every person on a team or in a company learns and accepts the responsibility to keep an eye out for everyone else in the room, on the team or with the project.
See a question on someone’s face…reach out. “…got somethin’ I can help you with?”
Be open and welcoming, create the foundation for openness as each new person joins the team and remain open and spontaneously available as much as possible to answer the random question (or ask the random question) as it arises.
Listen first. Always listen first. This empowers the other person and informs both the follow-up questions one might ask as well as the specific information one might share in response…and the style in which that information will be shared. It’s the most constructive way to set the stage and maintain a healthy give-and-take relationship.
Remember; we are not teaching, we are sharing experience. The “way we’ve always done it” is exceptional/anecdotal history; virtually nothing is the “only way” something might be done.
If we’ve listened first, perhaps asked what might seem a logical solution from the POV of the asker; chances are we’re being handed in that question the foundation for the best, most relevant response.
I see an opportunity, too, to work with clients in helping to create and nurture a culture of mentorship within their organization or company as part of the work in my industries…and certainly within each and every project team I gather and lead or of which I am a part.
Seriously, big money can be saved, here. There is no need to pay tens or hundreds of thousands to an expensive, outside consultant when there are open, experienced and adventurous minds available inside our industries who embrace the concept of collaborative mentorship cultures simply as part of the work.
The creative and production arts and crafts are historically apprentice-oriented, collaborative and welcoming. Let’s evolve that to suit our Now and Future world.
A note on AR& VR.
I embrace Augmented Reality and Virtual Worlds – and am just discovering the wonders of Fortnite™, myself. These technologies and applications are vastly expanding possibility for awe-inspiring, shared and individual experience. At the same time, imho, these are not substitute for the physically-shared, multi-pheromonal experience. Human contact – or at least humans in shared space – is an irreplaceable factor that I believe we must strive to avoid losing. That is where I come from on this piece.
We are being presented with an opportunity to radically evolve the way in which we do business; specifically, the methodologies and formats through which we gather, manage and inspire teams to create and collaborate. So much of How We Do Things is amalgam, leftover from ages before – from Bronze to the Pre-digital – and I believe this cumbersome communications is about to become exponentially streamlined.
The use of remote communication technology has grown – albeit at the pace of a glacier – since Disney first put Video Phones in Tomorrowland. Now, with the world well into the calm waters of the pandemic-induced Global Pause, I see an opportunity to rethink, deconstruct and reconfigure how we work and work together from a perspective of global community.
We can embrace this Moment, wipe the board clean, restart and come out the other end with enhanced creative product, smoother-running processes, stronger communication amongst disparate subgroups and the successive and parallel components of a given process…
…AND save massive amounts of money on Commercial Real Estate and concrete infrastructure!
Were it up to me…
First, some background.
Long ago (and not so far away), at an early SATE conference in Orlando, I shared the stage with the illustrious and iconic, TEA Life Achievement Awardee and visionary producer of Spectacle, Yves Pépin, in a one-on-one talk show formatted conversation about his creative process and the nature of Spectacle. In discussing his approach to concept and development, he shared that his first step is always to go where the show is going to take place.
Even if the site isn’t yet developed or venue not yet constructed, Yves goes to the location before sunset to sit quietly to experience the sunset and the night as he “…lets the area speak…” to him.
In my experience, being onsite before beginning creative concepting and development is crucial to the process. Built or not; there is virtually always something intangible that is communicated and transferred to the Inner Muses through ambience, noises and sounds, smells and light, simply being in The Place where it’s going to happen.
Built, however, this first visit is even more crucial as, in addition to the inspirational qualities above, the realities of a place can inspire vast and disparate concepts or action out of simple juxtaposition. The placement of doors, the relationship to adjacent architectural or geological features, the height of the ceilings or domes, the actual architectural or visible infrastructural features can inspire actions or show elements that may not otherwise materialize.
IMHO, a concept created after the Creators have been to the site stands a far better chance of being best presented and most wonderfully unique to that site.
Further and concomitantly, the more team members who have seen the site before the show is written, the more cost effective that visit becomes with respect to the design, writing and entire production process of the actual show.
If the engineers, set and lighting designers, choreographers, composers and the rest of the team have seen the performance space beforehand; then they, too, can benefit from that inspiration while, at the same time, those responsible for materializing the show will see both obstacles and solutions in the aforementioned architecture and infrastructural features.
This all pays off in shorter time lines, less revision, stronger collaboration.
The reality, unfortunately, is that in practice all of this is a luxury; as it usually involves travel and gathering the team from several locations.
Gathering the Team & Remote collaboration.
More and more, Human Resources for a given project are gathered from various parts of the world for a given project. It is not unusual to have, on one project team, special talent located in each of Amsterdam, Hyderabad, Los Angeles, San Francisco, St. Louis, Chicago, London and Dallas (an example from recent experience).
This is accepted and can work quite well; with one crucial Achilles’ Heel. That being that the absence of personal relationships, of personal experiences of each member of the team with the others, can undermine the potential collaborative chemistry of the team, render the relationships stilted or impersonal, and infuse a transactional nature to the give-and-take of the collaboration.
However, if a team has previously worked together or has gathered at the outset of the project for a day or two of download and charrette/ideation; the subsequent remote collaboration will be far smoother and productive with the existence of the resulting familiarity and “Pheromonal Connection” amongst the team.
This philosophy and methodology is articulated by example in “The Pheromonal Element to Collaboration” from August 2018. Two days of uninterrupted, intense creative collaboration preceded three weeks of what was exciting and successful productivity in the development of a Permanent installation for the world-famous <name withheld to protect our firstborn>.
In my experience, when I am Directing Creative for a project in the UAE or China; the difference in energy, tone, quality of communication and time it takes to achieve creative milestones between teams with which I am familiar and teams for whom I am merely a Face on a Screen is vast. However, once I have physically met the team in person, physically shaken a hand, had a meal, met their kids, asked and responded to basic questions and become a familiar being; once we’ve been in a room for hours of exploring possibility – the quality of everything ramps right up.
So. Here’s what I am pitching in this new, Zoom-friendly era.
Perhaps gather the team, onsite, at the very beginning. The agenda for First Meeting, then, is the walkthrough of the venue / location, a foundational ideation session and general organizing, calendar, timeline and individual and team responsibilities for the project…along with initial concept ideation.
From that moment onward, the quality of the work will be higher, the tone more upbeat and productive, the team will prove more cohesive, happier, more flexible and, frankly, more personally committed to the project. They will have a sense of team that might otherwise be intangible, nonexistent.
How to pay for this?
1) Shrink the office. I would offer that “home office” staff can be virtually skeletal. A few executive offices and a large, fully-wired conference room is really pretty much all that is needed as fulcrum. Most everyone else can work remotely; from full-time employees to PTAN (Part-time as needed) to short- and long-term contract professionals, consultants, et cetera.
2) Underwrite work-related expenses for remote workers. Cutting back on physical plant will free up massive amounts of capital and overhead expense such that even this underwriting of internet connection, necessary devices and printers will still fall far short of what it would take to maintain office space. That also guarantees quality of internet and communications connections.
For less money. N’est-çe pas?
This option looks to lead to significantly lower percentages for overhead while offering stronger support for resources even before prices rise or inflate.
We’re a Gig Economy; let’s evolve that.
Popular throughout the Milky Way and Andromeda Galaxies,
I’m not the first person to suggest that our culture will have come to look and be radically different at the other end of this Pause. New ways of doing things will become the norm and much that may previously have been perceived as distancing or obstructive may now be seen as facilitative and powerful.
Watching us, I see the possibility for vast systems of accepted SOP’s (Standard Operating Procedures) to finally fade into history as our culture accelerates to catch up with technological possibility.
It’s a Forced Evolution and, IMHO, a welcome one.
Already we’ve seen the memes poking fun at all those jobs that have heretofore been colloquially classified as “…not conducive to being done remotely or at home.”
Lo and behold; it turns out that these things more often than not can be done remotely; efficiently and effectively.
For the many who used to resist video meetings, these virtual forums now have become almost the only way to meet; a forced familiarity that I see evolving into comfort as people are seeing familiar faces they have come to miss in only a matter of weeks…and as the ease of operating these apps and platforms is realized and embraced.
So, here’s what I’m seeing…and maybe predicting…
I see a lot of good coming out of this “stay-at-home / lockdown” period through which we are going.
People are discovering their actual need for human contact…for nurturing through human communication and interaction. Staying home in what may at the outset have seemed like a welcome oasis of peace and self nurturing has become for many – after a mere few weeks – a prison of isolation.
So people dance for one another, they sing, they create and are sharing…themselves.
Screens as Portals.
For so many for so long – especially in particular demographics, screens have been held and characterized as soulless and obstructive; virtual barriers to personal contact, impersonal sappers of energy and life. I think, though, that this has begun to subtly transform from screens being perceived as impediments to being treated as the portals they are; exponentially accelerated at this moment of crisis.
The nuance is that, given burgeoning ubiquity and flexibility of these bright surfaces, the humanity on the other side of the screen is more readily being seen and appreciated with nothing having really changed but our individual, personal perception through the medium.
No longer are things considered to be on-screen so much as being through the screens.
Does that make sense?
You may have seen the Rotterdam Philharmonic performing Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” with each musician playing from home in synch with each other to create something that became, ultimately, profoundly moving.
This group-video technique that not so long ago may have been seen more as Gimmick is now, newly, revealed to offer a deeper, personal & emotional connection: with no alteration to the medium, only the context.
The barrier has gone; the people are the experience. Screens perceived as hard barrier is set to evolve into them being embraced as the windows of opportunity that they are.
First and foremost; I sense that people are (re)discovering our innate need for human contact. What may have seemed an oasis of alone time at the front end has become, in short order, a period of people’s seeking and finding ways and reasons to reach out and connect with with one another.
With that, what is happening, now, seems to be a heightened perception of others – other people – as individuals; separate and apart from genetic, philosophical, even political differences. Within this exponentially-growing phenomenon are people presenting themselves in video released to the world as samples and examples of their most intimate selves: we see people dancing, singing, sharing hobbies and interests, offering anecdotes and personal coping mechanisms without a political word being spoken.
Seems an auspicious beginning; perhaps a reawakening. Irrespective of disparate political perspectives; anyone can do something nice for a neighbor…and we’re doing that. It’s happening.
Along with all this personal sharing seems to be an appreciation for just how easy it is to do or say something comforting or nice; the ease with which a simple gesture can be made to enhance the life of another person and the willingness of myriad individuals to reach out and join others in ad hoc acts of positivity.
If you see someone, say something…
Just today, at the local Smith’s grocery store (I have escaped to the Mountains of Utah to ride this out with My Guy; physical proximity and ready access to loving arms is a tremendous stress-reliever), as I passed-by an employee restocking one of the deli cases. I gave her a nod and said, “Hey, thanks for working on the front lines. I appreciate being able to come here and get groceries. YOU…are appreciated.”
Stopped her cold.
She said that is the first time anyone has said anything like that to her…or to anyone in the store, as far as she knows. We talked (from a distance!) about her grandchildren, wearing masks, stress and acknowledgement, what’s next. Good encounter.
A few moments later and a few yards away, I was chatting up the ladies behind the cheese counter (from a distance) when my new friend came over just to repeat to me how much my comment had meant to her. The two asked the one what she was talking about and in no time there was a cacophony of “You’re awesome!” “No, YOU’RE Awesome!!” “Keep smiling!” “I will if you will!”
We all parted company in great spirits.
This took nothing.
We’ve Been Here, Before
In retrospect: the magnitude of AIDS deaths can be hung on a government and a President (Reagan, lest we forget) who not only did not care; but those in power would laugh and joke behind not-always-closed doors that “…those people deserve it…”
This time, it’s really not so different.
We have a government that does not care about the wellbeing of vast numbers of citizens, multiplied by the breathtaking ignorance and incompetence that festers, grows and infects the chambers, hallways and offices of governance and power that used to draw respect from most of the world.
Many survivors of the plague of the ’80’s and since remember and continue to deal with the residue and effects of that plague. Though I speak for no one but myself; I’d offer that many of us can share our experiences of how we dealt – and continue to deal with – the cruel and invisible randomness of such a fatal thing.
Out of AIDS in the ’80’s came a new community.
I hope to be a part of a nation that finds resonant and powerful, evolved community out of this crisis.
What I like most about what I do is the finding of ways to captivate an audience with a story they believe that they already know…to engage them in Rediscovery.
Rediscovery, as I define and strive to create it, is an experience more subtly profound, nuanced; running deeper than recall or remembering. Most simply; Rediscovery is created through sublime Evocation, while memory is stirred by Articulate Reminder: two very different things.
This is why I so eagerly embrace opportunities that come my way for writing, staging and telling of oft-told stories: taking cultural legends, myths, traditional folk tales that are multiple generations old and weaving them into ceremonies, theatrical shows or presentations for multigenerational audiences. Finding ways to give an Old Story new resonance with today’s aspirational, global citizens while maintaining the integrity sought by the elder parts of a given audience is the welcome creative challenge for the entire team.
Burnishing the patina of an old story and helping it evolve to emerge in unexpected ways, taking a more circuitous path toward denouement such that the reward of recognition takes on greater, more expansive power and release: these are the challenges that, as they become realized, excite and empower the creative teams long before audiences get to experience them.
That is the process that compels and fulfills me.
Gathering a creative production team of artists, designers, technicians, engineers, composers, choreographers, logisticians, cultural experts and anthropologists, even the occasional dramaturg, and studying the kernel of the story is where this energy begins for me.
Exploring together the possibilities of a story; creating a backstory or peripheral bit that can be obliquely expressed, deepening the connection by subtly opening an emotional door in the heart of each audience member…these are the little mysteries that, as solved, become the compelling beats of a well-told story.
This is how I’ve come to create terms such as Successive Revelation, Subliminal Engagement, Comfortable Disorientation… Give the story to the audience in such a way that it becomes personal to each individual member out there; evoking imagery and motivation, hinting at possibility, crafting the unfolding of the story in such a way that each person is psychically seeking, virtually leaning forward and reaching out for the next revelation, the next step, with breathless, sotto-voce gasps of recognition as conclusion nears…
This has to be Built with a team that is willing to go there with me; willing to not know how we’re going to tell this story when we first gather. As I share for the first time the vision I have for a given show, spectacle or experience; what gives me the most pleasure is to see professional eyes around the table light up with inspiration as the initial concept is shared. Seeds of ideas are planted in those who will ultimately create dimension and bring the story to life. Personal investment is made on the part of each player and the dynamic that begins at the front will yield idea after passionately collaborative idea as the process unfolds.
Essentially, every story I tell has had to become personal to me, or I cannot make it personal to the audience.
So, yes; sometimes there may be a bit of weeping.
This is me, after all.
After all these years at the Fair, I’m glad to know that I have not (yet?) become jaded. I consider myself lucky to have this healthy, compassionate inner child; to carry within me this unfiltered heart…as it is this heart through which I find each disparate Pathway to Story.
Simply put: when I can move myself, I can move you. Thus, that’s my method.
For this wet-eyed trait, I do take no small ration of good-natured ribbing from colleagues and crew who work often with me; though, when the voice shakes a bit in the telling of the tale and tears hint at appearance, we know we’re on track.
It’s a dependable barometer.
IMHO; We can show people images of something happy and make them smile or even cheer at the recognized, remembered event or moment. We can show people pictures of very sad things and give them a sense of sadness.
We can show them images of places they’ve been, things they’ve done, people they’ve known and elicit fond, happy or wistful memories…creating an excellent and memorable show experience.
Yet we can ease all the way into their heads, plumb the protected or even forgotten depths such that they are no longer seeing through their eyes but are rediscovering something precious and wonderful within themselves.
We can take them to another plane of experience…and when that is accomplished, as this shared experience becomes uniquely personal, the House, Arena or Stadium becomes filled with a different sort of silence.
Palpable silence, almost velvet-like, as each person in the audience privately experiences this thing that belongs only to themselves.
Just for a moment. A shared, intimate Moment all the more powerful in that throughout the space each are having their own, unique experience, en masse.
Taking an audience to that place keeps my own heart alive, my muse nimble, myself fulfilled. It is the pursuit and sharing of that Moment that keeps me inspired…and keeps me working!
Anecdote: Some years ago, I created and delivered a 13-city tour of a full theatrical production for a well known University development campaign. Believe me, this alumni body knows everything about their school and could call it up and quote it at will. Crafting an Experience that took these men and women all the way back to Discovery was no small feat.
As I characterize it, “…we raised over $1 billion and left rooms full of weeping millionaires in our wake…” An apt enough description (though they weren’t actually all millionaires nor did all of them weep).
For our closing celebration, before the team disbanded and went on to other projects, I wrote an epic poem of commemoration; the final stanza of which strives to articulate that Moment when we truly have a trusting audience in our intimate grasp. I think it may apply to any and all of us who do what we do.
“But there was a moment, in every city
When what we did went to profound from pretty.
When guests became silent, when hearts skipped a beat,
When each person settled more into the seat.
The air in the room became quieter, still;
And breath was abated as hearts took the thrill.
That’s when we touched them, that’s when we knew
We’d delivered completely on our Mission, true.
No one will ever accomplish again
What we have given to those where we’ve been…”
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In my Experience, one of the best ways to get the best work out of the best people is to engage early. A journey of a thousand ideas begins with a single conversation. The time to begin to involve one’s Team – even one’s prospective Team – is at the very beginning…IMHO.
I know that my own Muse lives deep within me and works in mysterious ways; sharing inspiration and ideas on her schedule and with her unique styles. (Mine is definitely a She: I don’t know how I know but I just know.) With that, when I have the first meeting with a prospective client or on a possible project; I listen with focus as the vision is expressed.
The idea machine kicks right into gear.
I take that knowledge and virtually hand it off to her. Sometimes, she comes right back – even during that meeting – with concept possibilities; sometimes it takes a few days or even weeks…which can be indulged, given enough time before deadline. Ideas start dropping into my creative inbox, I examine and explore them and a concept begins to come together for me.
Most often, as I’m “looking the other way,” and working on something else; in my subconscious, the Other Thing percolates. Simmering there, it becomes a repository of possibility, a subtle filter through which I see and experience day-to-day without the pressure to apply or do anything with the oblique input.
Then, one day, boom. There it is!
Concurrent with the coming together of my first senses of the overall experience I will seek to create, I also often recognize just whom among the vast constellation of creative and technical professionals I’ve come to know are likely to be most well-suited or of greatest potential for contribution to and collaboration on this particular project.
So, I call ‘em and share where I am.
Long before the time comes when we’ll be needing to gather and work, I find that planting the seeds of concept early offers that same, subliminal dynamic for the other professional craft and tech people I’ll be wanting to have join me in making this happen. A brief conversation at this very early outset of a project or show, simply planting seeds of ideas, offers a subtle and profound power to the interim time before the work actually starts.
The seeds planted each grow in disparate ways; nurtured and affected by the mind in which they’ve been planted. I suppose it’s similar to planting flowers in a row. Each bloom is just that much different; having had a little different light, a little different water, been pollinated differently or having had a chrysalis attached at some point…and it’s not ’til all the blooms have been gathered that the facets and textures of the bouquet are able to be grasped and appreciated as more than the sum total of the parts.
N’est-çe pas? (Is this metaphor too flowery?)
Just as these planted Seeds of Concept grow differently within the composer, the set and lighting designers, the costumer, the choreographer…any of the concomitant participants…sometimes the concept itself evolves through outside influence; calendar, budget, client relationships, whatever.
The point is that when we gather to flesh out the actual Experience, everyone at the table has differently generated ideas to share; ideas about which each are excited, ideas grown peacefully and under far less pressure than might otherwise exist were I to have waited ’til it was Time to Start to brief and begin.
Knowing where an idea began and seeing where it may have arrived by the time we meet offers myriad new possibilities for where it can be taken. History informs trajectory; and I believe the projects and shows I’ve managed in this way have reflected The Work of the Muses in unforeseeable ways.
Early conversation with each of one’s prospective, principal team members pays way off at showtime. While I am familiar with many a producer who resists taking such time at the outset; in my own experience, it takes less time overall and can yield far more interesting and compelling results when the Muse is treated with due respect.
So, I’m just sayin’, taking the time up front to share my own ideas of where a vision can be taken has, in my experience, come back to me and to the project tenfold.
Don’t wait til the answers and solutions are defined and needed; spread the inspiration wide and have so much more to work with when it comes back.
It works for me…IMHO.
There is a political organization by the name of EMILY’s List. “EMILY” stands for Early Money Is Like Yeast. In the currency of creativity and ideas; I would liken this methodology to the philosophy of that group.
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Well, first of all, I found that I suddenly had a lot more time on my hands and noticed that I was clearing my ToDo list magnificently faster.
So, there’s that.
More to the point, though, are the many offline conversations that my announced and executed departure inspired. Positive, congenial conversations with friends and colleagues ensued; exploring the ramifications and net effects of eschewing (I just wanted to use that word) FaceBook were born of the stepping away.
So here’s The Thing.
FB remains the Town Square; where one of the largest conversations is happening. The effect of leaving is, as acknowledged in my post on the subject, minimal to the point of nonexistence.
I abhor the Politics of Zuckerberg and the blatant disregard for – indeed, the veritable undermining of – the Truth this man represents and practices with his platform. Departure from FB doesn’t affect that. What it does do is silence one’s own voice.
Boycotting Chick-fil-A, for example, can make a difference; raising the issues and enlightening the enlighten-able. Spreading the word and sharing information in support of such causes and campaigns is done with powerful effectiveness on FB. That’s where the vast majority of conversations are happening.
In fact, one can even campaign for regulation of FaceBook on FaceBook. I want to see FB evolve and take responsibility for the information with which it profits by sharing.
I want to see FB assure the veracity of posters and to Flag the Bots, so that people know they are reading propaganda generated by non-humans. I want FB to authenticate.
FB charges that they are not publishers, this is not journalism. But, IMHO, that is precisely and effectively what it is. We’re in a new world since the revolution of the printing press, and FB is a de facto news source of vast numbers of citizens. Responsibility is inherent in that.
So, wherefore return to FB?
What comes to mind is a conversation I had with a colleague of mine in Dubai, shortly after her arrival from having worked on the Sochi Olympic Ceremonies. This was during the horrific wave of Putin’s Thugs ambushing, kidnapping, torturing and often videotaping gays in Russia, then distributing those videos online; all under the tacit approval and turned-away eye of the Putin regime.
At the time, I was all about walking off the job in protest. What my colleague shared with me was the transformational effect that simply working side-by-side with the regular citizens of Russia; the surprised response to simple anecdotes shared about Life in America of which the Russian citizenry had no idea.
“You mean, one can just put all his belongings in a car and drive from New York to Los Angeles and live there; moving house without a permit from the government…?”
Yes. This was news. Startling news to them.
More recently, similar personal and professional anecdotes shed light on effective transformations, personal-experience-by-personal-experience, in places such as Saudi Arabia.
Women in KSA didn’t obtain the right to drive cars because people refused to work in Saudi Arabia or the United Nations intervened. No, they won this right because they knew that women drive cars all over the world. How did they know? Social Media; YouTube, Twitter, FaceBook: they met women who drive.
Perhaps, then, I can support the engendering of the difference I seek to make by simply and calmly Being Present. The Zen of this, what can render it most effective, is the tone and intent of the participation.
How might I do that?
I can commit to speaking my truth and listening, by not engaging in diss, ridicule, calling out or attacking those with whom I don’t agree (even if I think they might be idiots; that’s for me to process and relinquish. Cue: “Let it Go!”).
Living by example. Engaging with Presence. Speaking my truth, my rationale, my Point of View without denigrating those who may not agree. Letting my truth stand, articulate, to be embraced or not on its own merits.
That seems a potentially effective way to nurture change and evolution.
Besides…I missed the puppy videos. A man needs what a man needs.
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In a speech on Friday night at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the actor and comedian Sacha Baron Cohen attacked Facebook and other social media platforms for enabling the proliferation of hate speech and misinformation. Link to Speech Video
The speech was striking in its sincerity – Baron Cohen appeared as himself, rather than “in character” as one of his satirical personas – and its blistering tone.
Describing Facebook as “the greatest propaganda machine in history”, Baron Cohen argued that the company, which does not vet political ads for truthfulness, would have allowed Hitler to run propaganda on its platform.
“Thank you, ADL, for this recognition and your work in fighting racism, hate and bigotry. And to be clear, when I say “racism, hate and bigotry” I’m not referring to the names of Stephen Miller’s Labradoodles.
Now, I realize that some of you may be thinking, what the hell is a comedian doing speaking at a conference like this! I certainly am. I’ve spent most of the past two decades in character. In fact, this is the first time that I have ever stood up and given a speech as my least popular character, Sacha Baron Cohen. And I have to confess, it is terrifying.
I realize that my presence here may also be unexpected for another reason. At times, some critics have said my comedy risks reinforcing old stereotypes.
The truth is, I’ve been passionate about challenging bigotry and intolerance throughout my life. As a teenager in the UK, I marched against the fascist National Front and to abolish apartheid. As an undergraduate, I traveled around America and wrote my thesis about the civil rights movement, with the help of the archives of the ADL. And as a comedian, I’ve tried to use my characters to get people to let down their guard and reveal what they actually believe, including their own prejudice.
Now, I’m not going to claim that everything I’ve done has been for a higher purpose.
Yes, some of my comedy, OK probably half my comedy, has been absolutely juvenile and the other half completely puerile. I admit, there was nothing particularly enlightening about me – as Borat from Kazakhstan, the first fake news journalist – running through a conference of mortgage brokers when I was completely naked.
But when Borat was able to get an entire bar in Arizona to sing “Throw the Jew down the well,” it did reveal people’s indifference to antisemitism. When – as Bruno, the gay fashion reporter from Austria – I started kissing a man in a cage fight in Arkansas, nearly starting a riot, it showed the violent potential of homophobia. And when – disguised as an ultra-woke developer – I proposed building a mosque in one rural community, prompting a resident to proudly admit, “I am racist, against Muslims” – it showed the acceptance of Islamophobia.
That’s why I appreciate the opportunity to be here with you. Today around the world, demagogues appeal to our worst instincts. Conspiracy theories once confined to the fringe are going mainstream. It’s as if the Age of Reason – the era of evidential argument – is ending, and now knowledge is delegitimized and scientific consensus is dismissed. Democracy, which depends on shared truths, is in retreat, and autocracy, which depends on shared lies, is on the march. Hate crimes are surging, as are murderous attacks on religious and ethnic minorities.
What do all these dangerous trends have in common? I’m just a comedian and an actor, not a scholar. But one thing is pretty clear to me. All this hate and violence is being facilitated by a handful of internet companies that amount to the greatest propaganda machine in history.
The greatest propaganda machine in history.
Think about it. Facebook, YouTube and Google, Twitter and others – they reach billions of people. The algorithms these platforms depend on deliberately amplify the type of content that keeps users engaged – stories that appeal to our baser instincts and that trigger outrage and fear. It’s why YouTube recommended videos by the conspiracist Alex Jones billions of times.
It’s why fake news outperforms real news, because studies show that lies spread faster than truth. And it’s no surprise that the greatest propaganda machine in history has spread the oldest conspiracy theory in history – the lie that Jews are somehow dangerous.
As one headline put it, “Just Think What Goebbels Could Have Done with Facebook.”
On the internet, everything can appear equally legitimate. Breitbart resembles the BBC. The fictitious Protocols of the Elders of Zion look as valid as an ADL report. And the rantings of a lunatic seem as credible as the findings of a Nobel prize winner. We have lost, it seems, a shared sense of the basic facts upon which democracy depends.
When I, as the wannabe gangsta Ali G, asked the astronaut Buzz Aldrin “what woz it like to walk on de sun?” the joke worked, because we, the audience, shared the same facts. If you believe the moon landing was a hoax, the joke was not funny.
When Borat got that bar in Arizona to agree that “Jews control everybody’s money and never give it back,” the joke worked because the audience shared the fact that the depiction of Jews as miserly is a conspiracy theory originating in the Middle Ages.
But when, thanks to social media, conspiracies take hold, it’s easier for hate groups to recruit, easier for foreign intelligence agencies to interfere in our elections, and easier for a country like Myanmar to commit genocide against the Rohingya.
It’s actually quite shocking how easy it is to turn conspiracy thinking into violence. In my last show Who is America?, I found an educated, normal guy who had held down a good job, but who, on social media, repeated many of the conspiracy theories that President Trump, using Twitter, has spread more than 1,700 times to his 67 million followers. The president even tweeted that he was considering designating Antifa – anti-fascists who march against the far right – as a terror organization.
So, disguised as an Israel anti-terrorism expert, Colonel Erran Morad, I told my interviewee that, at the Women’s March in San Francisco, Antifa were plotting to put hormones into babies’ diapers in order to “make them transgender”. And he believed it.
I instructed him to plant small devices on three innocent people at the march and explained that when he pushed a button, he’d trigger an explosion that would kill them all. They weren’t real explosives, of course, but he thought they were. I wanted to see – would he actually do it?
The answer was yes. He pushed the button and thought he had actually killed three human beings.
Voltaire was right: “Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.” And social media lets authoritarians push absurdities to billions of people.
In their defense, these social media companies have taken some steps to reduce hate and conspiracies on their platforms, but these steps have been mostly superficial.
I’m speaking up today because I believe that our pluralistic democracies are on a precipice and that the next 12 months, and the role of social media, could be determinant. British voters will go to the polls while online conspiracists promote the despicable theory of “great replacement” that white Christians are being deliberately replaced by Muslim immigrants. Americans will vote for president while trolls and bots perpetuate the disgusting lie of a “Hispanic invasion”. And after years of YouTube videos calling climate change a “hoax”, the United States is on track, a year from now, to formally withdraw from the Paris accords. A sewer of bigotry and vile conspiracy theories that threatens democracy and our planet – this cannot possibly be what the creators of the internet had in mind.
I believe it’s time for a fundamental rethink of social media and how it spreads hate, conspiracies and lies. Last month, however, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook delivered a major speech that, not surprisingly, warned against new laws and regulations on companies like his. Well, some of these arguments are simply absurd. Let’s count the ways.
First, Zuckerberg tried to portray this whole issue as “choices … around free expression”. That is ludicrous. This is not about limiting anyone’s free speech. This is about giving people, including some of the most reprehensible people on earth, the biggest platform in history to reach a third of the planet. Freedom of speech is not freedom of reach. Sadly, there will always be racists, misogynists, antisemites and child abusers.
But I think we could all agree that we should not be giving bigots and pedophiles a free platform to amplify their views and target their victims.
Second, Zuckerberg claimed that new limits on what’s posted on social media would be to “pull back on free expression”. This is utter nonsense. The first amendment says that “Congress shall make no law” abridging freedom of speech, however, this does not apply to private businesses like Facebook. We’re not asking these companies to determine the boundaries of free speech across society. We just want them to be responsible on their platforms.
If a neo-Nazi comes goose-stepping into a restaurant and starts threatening other customers and saying he wants kill Jews, would the owner of the restaurant be required to serve him an elegant eight-course meal? Of course not! The restaurant owner has every legal right and a moral obligation to kick the Nazi out, and so do these internet companies.
Third, Zuckerberg seemed to equate regulation of companies like his to the actions of “the most repressive societies”. Incredible. This, from one of the six people who decide what information so much of the world sees. Zuckerberg at Facebook, SundarPichai at Google, at its parent company Alphabet, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Brin’s ex-sister-in-law, Susan Wojcicki at YouTube and Jack Dorsey at Twitter.
The Silicon Six – all billionaires, all Americans – who care more about boosting their share price than about protecting democracy. This is ideological imperialism – six unelected individuals in Silicon Valley imposing their vision on the rest of the world, unaccountable to any government and acting like they’re above the reach of law. It’s like we’re living in the Roman Empire, and Mark Zuckerberg is Caesar. At least that would explain his haircut.
Here’s an idea. Instead of letting the Silicon Six decide the fate of the world, let our elected representatives, voted for by the people, of every democracy in the world, have at least some say.
Fourth, Zuckerberg speaks of welcoming a “diversity of ideas”, and last year he gave us an example. He said that he found posts denying the Holocaust “deeply offensive”, but he didn’t think Facebook should take them down “because I think there are things that different people get wrong”. At this very moment, there are still Holocaust deniers on Facebook, and Google still takes you to the most repulsive Holocaust denial sites with a simple click. One of the heads of Google once told me, incredibly, that these sites just show “both sides” of the issue. This is madness.
To quote Edward R Murrow, one “cannot accept that there are, on every story, two equal and logical sides to an argument”. We have millions of pieces of evidence for the Holocaust – it is an historical fact. And denying it is not some random opinion. Those who deny the Holocaust aim to encourage another one.
Still, Zuckerberg says that “people should decide what is credible, not tech companies.” But at a time when two-thirds of millennials say they haven’t even heard of Auschwitz, how are they supposed to know what’s “credible”? How are they supposed to know that the lie is a lie?
There is such a thing as objective truth. Facts do exist. And if these internet companies really want to make a difference, they should hire enough monitors to actually monitor, work closely with groups like the ADL, insist on facts and purge these lies and conspiracies from their platforms.
Fifth, when discussing the difficulty of removing content, Zuckerberg asked “where do you draw the line?” Yes, drawing the line can be difficult. But here’s what he’s really saying: removing more of these lies and conspiracies is just too expensive.
These are the richest companies in the world, and they have the best engineers in the world. They could fix these problems if they wanted to. Twitter could deploy an algorithm to remove more white supremacist hate speech, but they reportedly haven’t because it would eject some very prominent politicians from their platform. Maybe that’s not a bad thing! The truth is, these companies won’t fundamentally change because their entire business model relies on generating more engagement, and nothing generates more engagement than lies, fear and outrage.
It’s time to finally call these companies what they really are – the largest publishers in history. And here’s an idea for them: abide by basic standards and practices just like newspapers, magazines and TV news do every day. We have standards and practices in television and the movies; there are certain things we cannot say or do. In England, I was told that Ali G could not curse when he appeared before 9pm.
Here in the US, the Motion Picture Association of America regulates and rates what we see. I’ve had scenes in my movies cut or reduced to abide by those standards. If there are standards and practices for what cinemas and television channels can show, then surely companies that publish material to billions of people should have to abide by basic standards and practices too.
Take the issue of political ads. Fortunately, Twitter finally banned them, and Google is making changes, too. But if you pay them, Facebook will run any “political” ad you want, even if it’s a lie. And they’ll even help you micro-target those lies to their users for maximum effect. Under this twisted logic, if Facebook were around in the 1930s, it would have allowed Hitler to post 30-second ads on his “solution” to the “Jewish problem”. So here’s a good standard and practice: Facebook, start factchecking political ads before you run them, stop micro-targeted lies immediately, and when the ads are false, give back the money and don’t publish them.
Here’s another good practice: slow down. Every single post doesn’t need to be published immediately. Oscar Wilde once said that “we live in an age when unnecessary things are our only necessities.” But is having every thought or video posted instantly online, even if it is racist or criminal or murderous, really a necessity? Of course not!
The shooter who massacred Muslims in New Zealand live-streamed his atrocity on Facebook where it then spread across the internet and was viewed likely millions of times. It was a snuff film, brought to you by social media. Why can’t we have more of a delay so this trauma-inducing filth can be caught and stopped before it’s posted in the first place?
Finally, Zuckerberg said that social media companies should “live up to their responsibilities”, but he’s totally silent about what should happen when they don’t. By now it’s pretty clear, they cannot be trusted to regulate themselves. As with the Industrial Revolution, it’s time for regulation and legislation to curb the greed of these hi-tech robber barons.
In every other industry, a company can be held liable when their product is defective. When engines explode or seatbelts malfunction, car companies recall tens of thousands of vehicles, at a cost of billions of dollars. It only seems fair to say to Facebook, YouTube and Twitter: your product is defective, you are obliged to fix it, no matter how much it costs and no matter how many moderators you need to employ.
In every other industry, you can be sued for the harm you cause. Publishers can be sued for libel, people can be sued for defamation. I’ve been sued many times! I’m being sued right now by someone whose name I won’t mention because he might sue me again! But social media companies are largely protected from liability for the content their users post – no matter how indecent it is – by Section 230 of, get ready for it, the Communications Decency Act. Absurd!
Fortunately, internet companies can now be held responsible for pedophiles who use their sites to target children. I say, let’s also hold these companies responsible for those who use their sites to advocate for the mass murder of children because of their race or religion. And maybe fines are not enough. Maybe it’s time to tell Mark Zuckerberg and the CEOs of these companies: you already allowed one foreign power to interfere in our elections, you already facilitated one genocide in Myanmar, do it again and you go to jail.
In the end, it all comes down to what kind of world we want. In his speech, Zuckerberg said that one of his main goals is to “uphold as wide a definition of freedom of expression as possible”. Yet our freedoms are not only an end in themselves, they’re also the means to another end – as you say here in the US, the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But today these rights are threatened by hate, conspiracies and lies.
Allow me to leave you with a suggestion for a different aim for society. The ultimate aim of society should be to make sure that people are not targeted, not harassed and not murdered because of who they are, where they come from, who they love or how they pray.
If we make that our aim – if we prioritize truth over lies, tolerance over prejudice, empathy over indifference and experts over ignoramuses – then maybe, just maybe, we can stop the greatest propaganda machine in history, we can save democracy, we can still have a place for free speech and free expression, and, most importantly, my jokes will still work.
I believe that Now is the time for us, as American Citizens – as Global Citizens, to see that action is taken to regulate, curb and cease the wanton proliferation of culture-corrupting propaganda on and of these social media platforms. Accountability must be applied, integrity must be restored and a world of fact-based journalism must be newly-created.
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