Jason Biggs, Challenger and coping with tragedy through humor

You may have heard Jason Biggs, associated with either American Pie by people my age or Orange is the New Black by those a little younger, got in a bit of trouble for a tweet about the Malaysia Airlines downing.

Biggs joked, “Anyone wanna buy my Malaysian Airlines frequent flier miles?”

Bad taste? Compare with a punchline everyone of my generation knew:

Need Another Seven Astronauts.

Remember the joke? It was viral before “viral” was a big thing. We had no Internet, but this joke and many more somehow spread after the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger in 1986 killed seven astronauts, including teacher Christa McAuliffe.

That was how we coped. A sense of humor has long been our psychic defense against a tragedy we cannot prevent.

So what’s changed? Why is Biggs so vilified?

Is it because these jokes were always tasteless, and it’s only with today’s social media tools that the response can come so quickly? Or are we more sensitive these days.

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PolitiFact’s PunditFact scorecard: Give it an F

PolitiFact is a wonderful operation, but like any other analytical tool, it has its limits. The new PunditFact scorecards for the TV networks acknowledge those limits and simultaneously pretend they don’t exist.

Here’s how those contradictory forces play out:

1. Oh, don’t use these scorecards for comparing networks, they say. It’s unfair because CBS has less content than the others and because we aren’t checking every single statement.

2. By the way, CNN is faring the best at 18 percent.

The only way to do well on these scorecards is to come up with questionable things that turn out to be true. If it’s obviously true, PolitiFact won’t (and shouldn’t) bother to check it.

PolitiFact understands that. So why release a number that means nothing?


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Classic rock: Inside the numbers

From FiveThirtyEight:

Led Zeppelin is classic rock. So are Mötley Crüe and Ozzy Osbourne. But what about U2 or Nirvana? As a child of the 1990s, I never doubted that any of these bands were classic rock, even though it may be shocking for many to hear. And then I heard Green Day’s “American Idiot” on a classic rock station a few weeks ago, and I was shocked.

Welcome to the club. When I grew up, “classic rock” was just “rock,” and the stations would play the newest Aerosmith or Rush alongside the older stuff. When the rockers declined, the playlists just froze in place through the late 80s.

Then came the changes. As Bowling for Soup once sang, “When did Mötley Crüe become classic rock?”

Back to FiveThirtyEight:

It was my first time hearing a band I grew up with referred to as “classic rock.” Almost anyone who listens to music over a long enough period of time probably experiences this moment — my colleagues related some of their own, like hearing R.E.M. or Guns N’ Roses on a classic rock station — but it made me wonder, what precisely is classic rock?

That’s a good question. What exactly unites R.E.M. and GnR other than existing in MTV’s heyday?

As it turns out, a massive amount of data collection and analysis, and some algorithms, go into figuring out the answer to that very question.

And that’s where the piece gets interesting, even if it doesn’t tell me why D.C. radio stations play so much Foreigner.

via Why Classic Rock Isn’t What It Used To Be | FiveThirtyEight.

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The lines of legitimate debate: Climate change edition

Not quite as clever as John Oliver doing the “representative” climate change debate with 97 people vs. 3. But still an interesting pushback against the idea that “both sides” need to be represented when the two “sides” are clearly not equal.

News shows don’t put on a flat-earther whenever they show a map. They don’t get an opposing opinion from a young-Earth creationist when a new dinosaur fossil is found. They don’t interview an astrologer when a new exoplanet is discovered. So why put on a climate change denier when we’re talking about our planet heating up?

via Crackpottery: BBC journalists told to stop interviewing science deniers..

The funny thing is that you could certainly have a good debate about climate change without the denialists. How serious is the problem? How do we combat it? These are not easy questions, and there are more than “two sides” even without the crackpots and politicians.

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Liberal arts: Still not dead

Andrew Sullivan highlights a couple of words in defense of studying English and other liberal arts, first from the hiring point of view and then from a more general “hey, maybe people should know how to think” point of view, such as a writer who “wishes certain political reporters had studied the liberal arts rather than communications.”

via What Do You Do With A BA In English? « The Dish.

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Rik Mayall, the people’s poet

The death of Rik Mayall is profoundly sad news for those of us who grew up as fans of The Young Ones and were always sorry that they only ever made 12 episodes. I was actually planning to start a movement to have the guys reunite for a short series called The Old Ones, in which Rick, Vyvyan, Neil and Mike were thrown together in a retirement home.

I believe it’s proper English comedy etiquette to mourn such a loss by keeping a sense of humor about it. With that in mind, here’s a classic moment from The Young Ones:

I feel sorry for you, you zeroes. You nobodies. What’s going to live on after you die. I’ll tell you — nothing! That’s what!

This house will become a shrine! And punks and skins and Rastas will all gather ’round and hold their hands in sorrow for their fallen leader! And all the grownups will say, “But why are the kids crying?’ And the kids will say, ‘Haven’t you heard? Rick is dead! The people’s poet is dead!”

Then one particularly sensitive and articulate teenager will say, “Why kids? Do you understand nothing? How can Rick be dead when we still have his poems?!”

Then another kid will say …

Couldn’t say it any better myself.

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Sex, nerds, entitlement, rape and getting better

I thought about writing an “open letter” to mass shooter Elliot Rodger in response to his manifesto of suffering women’s rejection. Perhaps even borrowing the “It gets better” line that we saw in a gay advocacy series of videos, telling Rodger (far too late) and others who have felt his pain that better times often lie ahead.

But it’s difficult to write, to put it mildly. It deals with thorny issues of sexuality, and I’m not sure people close to me would want me to delve backwards into my years of feeling sorry for myself over unrequited crushes, multiple years between relationships, and bad decisions I made because I feared being lonely forever. Nor could I make the claim that “it gets better” for everyone just because it did for me.

Then I stumbled into a brilliant, provocative piece by Jeopardy champion Arthur Chu: Your Princess Is in Another Castle: Misogyny, Entitlement, and Nerds – The Daily Beast.

Chu takes down some sacred cows, particularly if you’re a fan of Ayn Rand or 80s movies. You may never look at Revenge of the Nerds the same way. If you don’t already look at Rand’s works as toilet paper, you may be convinced. I’ve never liked The Big Bang Theory, so I feel vindicated on that front.

And he gets into this:

How much longer are we going to be in denial that there’s a thing called “rape culture” and we ought to do something about it?

No, not the straw man that all men are constantly plotting rape, but that we live in an entitlement culture where guys think they need to be having sex with girls in order to be happy and fulfilled. That in a culture that constantly celebrates the narrative of guys trying hard, overcoming challenges, concocting clever ruses and automatically getting a woman thrown at them as a prize as a result, there will always be some guy who crosses the line into committing a violent crime to get what he “deserves,” or get vengeance for being denied it.

Some things about sexuality are just unfair. I remember sitting at lunch tables at Duke, listening to guys talk about their latest conquests and what a pain in the ass it was to get them out of bed in the morning. I never understood why women — smart women — would go to keg parties, drink and hook up, knowing all the while they were going to regret it.

And that hookup culture runs the risk of nasty rape arguments such as the one Duke is having now. (The lacrosse scandal, the PowerPoint rating athletes’ sexual prowess, the porn star freshman, and now this — what IS it about my alma mater? Why doesn’t this stuff happen at Ohio State?) The rules of drunk hookups made no sense to me at the time and still don’t, even as Duke and others attempt to define “drunk” as “unable to consent.”

But I’ve learned what Chu says here. Men, even and perhaps especially nerdy men, have to grow up. The world doesn’t owe you a girlfriend just because you think you’re a nice, smart guy. I may still question why my female friends were willing participants in a game that was rigged against them, but I can’t complain that they’ve opted for that instead of a relationship with the 20-year-old me. Hey, I had issues.

It got better for me. It might have gotten better for Elliot Rodger had he waited around long enough to take the chip off his shoulder.

And yet nothing’s guaranteed. Gay or straight, nerd or jock, you may have a long wait. All you can do is fill your life with anything else, especially kindness. And TV shows that aren’t The Big Bang Theory.

And as a society, we all need to stop thinking we’re owed something.

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