I’m A Person, Not A Sale

*Press the rewind button*

I am in college. I am younger, less experienced, and more naive about the world. I am looking for something that I can call a professional position before I even graduate, because I’m tired of the restaurant job I’m doing to make ends meet so that I can be a full time student. I have an old teacher from my home town use this and try to explain the concept of selling this private long distance calling service to others. My dad likes the idea. We buy in (since when do you pay someone to be employed? These are things that you learn in life). We try it together for a month. We bail quickly after making back our initial investment.

*Press the fast forward button*

A friend tries to get me sold on the idea of selling Melaleuca products. I remember this type of  experience from my undergrad days with the long-distance calling thing. I politely decline. They push. I eventually agree to go to a meeting, knowing in advance that I’m going to say no (I had learned from past experience, but not quite enough). When I say no, the friend becomes irritated with me.

*Press the fast forward button again*

I have just moved to the city in which I currently live (for another week and a half, at least) for grad school. I’m filling my car up at the gas station, when the guy at the pump across from me strikes up polite conversation with some small talk (that happens in the Southeast…you get used to it). Within four sentences he is asking me if I like to make money. Having learned from past experiences (see above), I can smell what he’s doing, and I shut him down quickly, pay for my fuel, and leave.

*Return to present, where we re-join a work day already in progress*

I stop by a colleague’s room to say hello. We chat for a few moments about my coming move. She hands me a business card for a nutritional program that she has tried, and with which she has become so enamored that she is now trying to sell. I’m polite enough to keep my mouth shut and only adopt a glazed look in my eyes. I toss the business card quickly upon leaving her room.

I really, really, really have an issue with this stuff, and I’m so glad that I learned quickly that it’s either all-consuming, or a dead end. I’m no salesperson, because I don’t like seeing people as sales targets. They’re people, not objects. Thus, for me it was a dead-end.

I know people who make their living with this stuff, and I see it consume them, because a huge percentage of conversations that they have with others end up as a pushy attempt to sell their product. Soon, you stop believing that they have any legitimate interest in talking to you at all, but are rather either selling something, or trying to maintain a relationship in order to sell something later.

My attitude about this is that people can find this stuff out there if they want it, whether it’s natural household cleaners or long-distance services (I guess some people still use landlines?). The more you push your product onto me, the less likely I am to even consider purchasing what you’re selling. If I am your friend, then I expect you to see me as a person, not a potential sale.

That is why the business world as it currently exists de-humanizes all of us, because it is no longer your friend owning a business that you can go visit when you want to buy hardware or a good meal. This is your “friend” coming to you to harass you into buying something. This approach reduces our value as people to what we are willing to pay, and there’s certainly enough of that mindset already in our country.

I’m a person, not a potential sale. It would be groovy if we all saw each other in that way.


The Nature of a Hero: Behind the Scenes

Those most interesting conversations always seem to happen over coffee when you least expect them.

A friend of mine and I were talking about acting, and the way in which actors can become absorbed in roles to the point of the character beginning to take over. During my undergrad, my training in acting was strongly oriented toward the method-acting school of thought. I’ve experienced the very thin line while acting in which the character truly begins to come to life, and I know that sort of frightening moment when you’re balancing between keeping control yourself instead of permitting the character to take control. Those are the moments in which the performance in the most alive, but also the moments that I honestly believe are the reason that many actors I’ve known and worked with…at least ones that follow this school of acting…sort of aren’t well. Ideally, that’s why actors take breaks…sometimes long breaks…between roles. I haven’t acted in two years after my last serious role, and I remember having to take a long amount of time off after several consecutive roles during college.

Our conversation turned toward the canon of Batman films, and the tragic circumstances of Heath Ledger’s untimely demise following the filming of The Dark Knight. We talked about the discussion that circulated about how the darkly insane character that he performed so astoundingly in that film may have held too much sway over him.

Specifically in the context of super-hero films, this discussion leads to an interesting thought. The most important thing in a story is the through-line, or the overall plot arc. We talked about how difficult it would be to act a role like the Joker, but how it would be so important to do it well, because of the importance of the redemptive message contained within the film as a whole. In that way, the actor portraying the villain is embodying the nature of a hero by being self-sacrificial in order that the greater good may be told…a real-life example of how a hero places his own good below those he or she is serving.

I think that’s one of those opportunities that all of us have to be a hero, and why the inspiration of super-hero mythology is so important to us as a culture.

Special Edition: The “Lucky Seven Challenge”

For your weekend reading pleasure, I’m doing something that I don’t usually do. This is a meme in which I was tagged by fellow-author and blogger Michelle Davidson Argyle. The deal with this is that she tagged several writers to do the following: select page 7, line 7 from your current work-in-progress, and then post the next 7 lines of dialogue.

You’d think that would be fun and easy, but I pulled up my manuscript on the iPad that evening and found the selected passage, and it would have been…well, awkward. So I re-visited it this morning, only to find that the canonical soft-copy on the desktop version of Pages calculates page numbers differently than the iPad version of Pages. This time it would be…well, not awkward, but…

In any case, I’m bending the rules a bit, but here’s something from page 7 of the work-in-progress:

“I was going to give the lady’s purse back. That was my whole point. But it scared the hell out of me that I did that. So I just ran. Left him screaming in the alley.” 

“I think anyone would have done the same thing.” 

“Yeah, well…I haven’t done any super-heroing since.” 

Excerpt Copyright © 2012 by David Brown, all rights reserved. 

Interested? I hope so! I’m still 100 + pages away from finishing the project, so I should get back to work on that. Happy Saturday, and thanks, Michelle, for tagging me in this!

I Don’t Like Facebook, But I’m Not Suspicious

Susan Cain called it the “extrovert ideal.” Those of us who are introverts know it well: the fact that more boisterous and talkative people than ourselves rule the professional and social landscapes around us, and look upon as perhaps being not well because we are…different.

And, no, before you misread that, I’m getting some sort of martyr complex or assuming a victim mentality. I’m simply saying that a disproportionate amount of extroverts seem to call the shots in prominent spheres of influence. Actually, I’m not even saying that…Cain is.

I thought of that when I read this hypothesis that those who shy away from having Facebook profiles may be antisocial or “suspicious,” because two recent attackers who made the news had avoided social media profiles. This is such a wildly nonsensical statement that I have difficulty justifying it with a response…and none of the responses that I can formulate off-the-cuff would be free of inappropriate language.

I’ll just say this: not wanting to have your entire life public, or even a large part of your life public, does not make you a sociopath. It likely just makes you an introvert. I’m an introvert. I have many friends who are. We’re not sociopaths. We just re-charge our batteries by having alone-time. That may be different from how you re-charge your batteries, but different doesn’t equal wrong.

Also, for those of us who are more tech-savvy, Facebook is the lowest-common-denominator, a poorly designed site that has devolved into a dysfunctional monster that vacuums up our data with complete disregard for any form of privacy. Many of us eschew Facebook profiles…either delete them or use them sparingly…for that reason. That doesn’t make us sociopaths, that means that we disagree with how this particular monster makes use of our information.

What concerns me more, however, is the cultural impulse that drives the desire to do what everyone else is doing. This apparently leads some employers to think that not having a Facebook profile means that you have something to hide, and to consider you a risk. Beyond the complete non-sequitur of thinking that one may not be a fit employee because they choose to act differently in a particular area…because they don’t conform to the extrovert ideal…there is something that concerns me more, here.

And that is, that Facebook now has us exactly where it wants us.

This particular social network has become so ubiquitous as to be the social norm for everyone. Because it monetizes your personal information as its business model, it wants everyone’s information, because that means more money for the company. So, it has succeeded in applying the social pressure on everyone to make them think that they have to have a profile on the site if they want to be considered normal.

To quote the title of a book I once saw, “normal is just a setting on your dryer.” I say, forget normal. Forget the monster that wants your information. I maintain a Facebook account because it remains the only way to reach certain friends, but I will delete my personal profile at my first opportunity. That doesn’t make me antisocial or a sociopath. It’s a choice of lifestyle. I would point out that many of us who dislike Facebook still make regular use of other social networks.

So, don’t let society pressure you into being normal. And, if they accuse of being a sociopath or some sort of nutcase, then feel bad for them. The extrovert majority, like the Fresh Prince’s parents, just don’t understand.

A Review of “The Dark Knight Rises”

Here’s the thing: I’m a purist when it comes to my superheroes. It’s one thing to radically evolve a hero that originated in a film franchise…I sort of figure that anything’s fair game, there. When you’re adapting a hero from a literary history to the screen, however (yes, I count comic books as literature), then I think that remaining largely true to at least the essence of the book, as well as to most of its specifics, is paramount. In other words, I consider the books to be canonical.

So, when a director can take some liberties with a general story arc, weaving it in such a manner from beginning to end that it remains completely true to the original character while viewing him through the lens of a daringly original story arc over the course of three films, in such a way that I’m perfectly willing to accept the trilogy of films as canonical in it’s own right…that’s quite an accomplishment.

And that is something that Christopher Nolan has done in all three of his films, The Dark Knight Rises being no exception. And, by the way, I’m giving some spoilers here.

This third film in the franchise continues Nolan’s exploration of a hero that, let’s face it, isn’t psychologically healthy. Throughout his comic book history, the Batman has walked the thin line between hero and anti-hero. While ultimately choosing the self-sacrificial path of the hero, he uses methods that are questionable and that flirt with vigilantism. Yet, he is a character of rigid ethics, and has set lines across which he will not step…although he occasionally comes pretty close. This is the second consecutive film in which he has encountered a villain that brings him to that edge, and we hear this overtly in this film (when Batman returns Bane’s line, “then you’ll have my permission to die”). Batman isn’t willing to kill his opponent, but isn’t taking the extra effort to prevent his demise, like we saw him do with the Joker.

For anyone who followed the Knightfall story arc from circa 1993, the scene in which Bane “breaks” Batman is nearly picture-perfect from the comic book frame. This event follows a series of poor choices, as Bruce Wayne adopts the Batman persona again after several years of  being a recluse (following his taking the blame for Harvey Dent’s death), and after ignoring the advice of Alfred, who encourages him that the city needs Bruce Wayne’s knowledge and resources, not Batman’s vigilantism.

If one were to attempt to pinpoint a theme for this film, I would say that it is lies, and that, however noble the intention in which they are told, they always return with a destructive force.  Batman’s and Commissioner Gordon’s lies about Harvey Dent come back in a destructive way to the entire city when Bane forces them into the light. Alfred’s lie about Rachel’s choosing Bruce tears he and Bruce apart (with a poignant and beautifully-acted scene in which Alfred recounts his love for Bruce since he first heard his cries “echo off these walls”). In fact, one could say that relying on a lie to protect one’s loved ones is not the choice consistent with the nature of a hero. Bruce’s answer, at least initially, is to continue his self-destructive path, a path of true heroism driven by the questionable motive of welcoming his end, in a way that proves a Pyrrhic victory for the city of Gotham in the end.

The acting throughout this film is incredible. I can’t actually recall a single performance that was less than excellent. Nolan has done a beautiful job rendering one of Batman’s most evil and imposing villains (Bane identifies himself as “the devil,” and as a “necessary evil”), arguably his most threatening arch-nemesis after the Joker. I wondered at Anne Hathaway being cast as Catwoman, but this is the first time I’ve seen Catwoman as her spunky self appear on the screen, both visually as well as deeply as a character. Catwoman is Batman’s mirror image, after all…a villain who walks the thin line of being a hero. This film does Catwoman justice, just as it does every other single major character that appears, with the possible exception of John Blake…and I’ll simply refer that to the aforementioned liberties taken with the mythology and let you decide on that.

As expected, the action sequences are breathtakingly real and well-paced, never overwhelming but completely absorbing. And, of course, Batman gets a new vehicle for this film because…well, because that’s just the way is has to be…and the film’s designers continue their realistic, paramilitary design work that sold me immediately from the first movie forward.

Ultimately, this movie about the Batman as a symbol, and the recurring through-line is that Batman as a symbol is much larger than Bruce Wayne, and that it must be for the good of the city which is what Bruce Wayne always places above his own good. Thus, anyone can be Batman, because it is Batman in which the city needs to believe. This concept is illumined by multiple characters throughout the movie, and, if you haven’t seen it yet, we’ll just say that it’s a great lead-in for another film (*cough* Nightwing *cough*).

This film is a thorough and psychologically intriguing view on Batman that pleases both long-time fans and those who haven’t been interested yet. At nearly three hours, it’s long, but I didn’t want it to end when those three hours were over. Even if you’re just interested in a summer blockbuster, this is worth your while…and I bet you love the character of the Batman as much as the rest of us do when it’s over.