Category Archives: Sethiquette

Bus time can be peaceful, but not usually.

INTERVIEWING SOLO

So a personal irritation of mine arises when comedy talk show hosts ask what I call joke-ended questions of their guests, thus leaving their conversation partners looking silly as there’s not much for them to say. If they answer the question seriously, they look dense as they seem to be missing the joke. But, if they try to add to the comedy of the question, they often look like they’re milking a line of humour that was complete at the question mark.

Consider, for instance, Jon Stewart’s recent interview with Harrison Ford (which was on my television last night). After spending his pre-interview comedy time pleading mockingly with his favourite whipping President, George W. Bush, to be a guest on his show (promising him a free McRib burger as a reward), Stewart asked Han Solo if he thought the entreatment would work.

What was Indiana Jones supposed to say to that? If he responded “No” he’s stating the McObvious, but if he went with “Yes” he would seem like he was trying to add to a joke that appeared to me to be pretty much done. Thus, it seemed that Jon Stewart was not really asking Harrison Ford a question, but instead was simply offering another punchline with a question-impersonating lilt on the end of it.

But, wait, let’s hear Harrison’s response:

“No,” he said with an assertive chuckle at the possibility of George Bush guest appearing on Jon’s show, “not a chance.”

Not bad. Somehow he delivered the straight line without sounding humourless.

“Do you think,” apparently delighted Stewart painfully followed up, “I need to throw in a McHappy Meal toy?”

Again, we were spending Bladerunner’s time on the pre-interview monologue, and I didn’t see where Harrison could go with it, and yet, amazingly, Dr. Jack Ryan didn’t look as phased as I would be.

“You have to just be a much nicer guy,” Harrison said with another chuckle (which left his host in hysterics). “So it’s not going to happen: no, it’s not in you.”

Both Jon Stewart and I loved this reply! Somehow, Harrison Ford had found a way out of the question-joke by not taking it on directly, and instead mocking the question right back for its ridiculousness. Mr. Stewart, are you really going to laugh at George Bush for not coming on a show that has made its career on mocking him and then ask Harrison Ford if he thinks the failed president will come on the show for a burger and toy? Fine, then the wily actor will join the joke by telling you why George Bush isn’t coming on your show.

But perhaps this was a fluke. Surely, Jon Stewart would get him with the next question-joke.

The McDonalds-based interview continued and Harrison Ford admitted that his 9-year-old son thinks the McHappy meal toys are dreadful.

Jon Stewart was intrigued because his 4 and 6 year-olds still love the toys.

“Between the age of 6 and 9,” he asked everyone’s favourite action hero, “when does that toy go from being the greatest thing that has occurred in life, that we must go through monsoons, over mountains by foot to get to, to ‘Ahh, it’s a piece of bleep: I’m not interested’?”

Perhaps this one wasn’t a pure question-joke, as it contained a reasonable inquiry for another parent, I supposed, but still it felt to me that there wasn’t too much room left for The Fugitive.

But, hold on.

“Well, I don’t know about your parenting skills,” Harrison said to another explosive laugh from J.S., “but I would suggest that somebody should have got to this maybe a little earlier. Have you ever bought ‘em a toy? Then they would see the difference…”

Wow! Don’t get these quotes wrong, Harrison seemed to like and appreciate Jon Stewart, but nevertheless, he brilliantly sidestepped the host’s standard attempts to make his guest the straight man to his continuing monologue. Instead, Harrison Ford absorbed the punchline-questions and punched them right back.

You go, Solo!

SELF-AGGRANDALISM I: Never Let Them See You Care

In the face of difficult questions, the most talented egos use impeccable sleights of language to rebrand their behaviours to seem heroic. This series is dedicated to those rhetorician-magicians.

SELF-AGGRANDALISM SERIES:

I: NEVER LET THEM SEE YOU CARE (you are here)

II: IF YOUR CRITICS DON’T BELIEVE IN YOU, NO ONE WILL

III: WINNING MEANS NEVER HAVING TO SAY YOU’RE SORRY

IV: POET KNOWS BEST

V: HUMILTY IS AS HUMILTY DOES

VI: HOW TO AVOID QUESTIONS AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE

VII: IF YOU CAN’T BULLY ‘EM, ACCUSE ‘EM


This is the story of an elite piece of artistic advertising by the swoosh-makers at Nike. But first:

THE BACK STORY:

As you likely know, Lebron “King” James (or “LBJ”) is one of the top two or three basketball players in the NBA. He’s been a superstar in his profession since, seven years ago, he transitioned from high school to play for his home state Cleveland Cavaliers in the world’s best basketball league.

From the start, he was not just a great individual scorer, but also possessed incredible vision and passing ability for someone who had skills enough that he could have ignored his teammates. And, just to add flavour to his abundance of greatness, he’s a rather handsome fellow, who contains a high level of charisma.

Strangely, though, somehow this year he has become, in the eyes of many observers, an NBA villain. You see, at the end of last season, his contractual obligation to the team that drafted him had expired, and he could sign with any new team that could afford him; unfortunately for Lebron, his decision, and the way he presented it, irked a few people.

Going in, it was estimated that several major factors would weigh in Lebron’s choice:

(A) his loyalty to his original team and fans, whom he had nearly (but not yet) brought a championship;

(B) his loyalty to his bank account—perhaps he would offer himself up to the highest bidder; and/or

(C) his pursuit of a championship—perhaps he would sell his services to the team he felt would give him the best chance of acquiring trophies.

Two years before making his decision, the King was already contemplating out loud his future options, which drew criticism from NBA legend, “Sir” Charles Barkley, who claimed that—until his contract with Cleveland was complete—that team deserved his full attention.

LBJ’s response was slightly less charming that his usual: instead of taking on Barkley’s point, James instead simply critiqued the man, himself:

“He is stupid,” said the then 23 year-old.

In defence of this slightly useless response, he had probably never before in his career encountered criticism, and so he had little idea of the proper way to deal with it.

This tendency to believe that he could do no wrong may have also influenced the royal star as he approached his decision before this season as to where he would play. The finalists, he assured us, still included Cleveland, but also, amazingly, the Miami Heat where another of the league’s top three players, Dwayne Wade, had already set up camp along with recently acquired free agent superstar, Chris Bosh. So, if LBJ signed there, too, the team would be stacked with talent not usually seen outside of an all-star game.

Some of us thought the idea of three superstars colluding to form one superpower team for the sake of winning a championship was somehow missing the point of the accomplishment. Winning the league’s top honour seems meaningful to me because great players are pitted against great players in a grand struggle for supremacy, but if you get there by putting all the best players on one team, that seems like a less difficult matter, and so therefore makes winning “a championship” a less valuable prize.

Indeed, the afore-insulted “stupid” Charles Barkley noted that he, Michael Jordan, and Magic Johnson would not have signed up for the same team in their era: they preferred to play against each other.

Nevertheless, most accepted Lebron’s right to choose his team. However, some still resented how he did it. Instead of making his choice and then—for curtesy’s sake—letting the runners up know, he staged a one-hour primetime television “reveal” interview in which he would announce his “decision” to the world that he would be… inspirational music, please… defecting to the Miami Heat.

He explained proudly, you see, that he was taking less money to give himself the best possible chance of winning (although, don’t worry too much for poor James: the endorsements acquired in his new situation should make up the difference pretty quickly).

It’s funny to me how in the sports world the selfish pursuit of winning (i.e. pursuing winning for oneself at the expense of one’s former teammates and fans) is somehow considered noble. I don’t really get why greed for glory is any more beautiful than greed for money. They’re both just about providing Lebron James with a happier life.

Regardless, as the now dubbed “Big Three,” Lebron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwayne Wade showed themselves off in a lavish welcome to winning party at Miami’s home rink, Charles Barkley was once again shaking his head. He argued that James’ television announcement again showed disrespect for the King’s ex-team, who Barkley said deserved to be told of his decision privately before James started dating his new city.

The snubbed city agreed with Barkley’s assessment and burned various Lebron products in effigy, while their majority owner, Dan Gilbert, wrote to the fans:

“You simply don’t deserve this kind of cowardly betrayal. … I PERSONALLY GUARANTEE THAT THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS WILL WIN AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP BEFORE THE SELF-TITLED FORMER ‘KING’ WINS ONE. You can take it to the bank… This shocking act of disloyalty from our home grown ‘chosen one’ sends the exact opposite lesson of what we would want our children to learn. And ‘who’ we would want them to grow-up to become.”

Wow! That was a bit much (for instance, I’m not sure exactly how James’ decision was cowardly, nor why career-commitment to one’s first employer is the prime measure of a role model), but I can understand the guy who’s losing the most by Lebron’s decision wanting to rally his fans to stay loyal with a firey retalliation.

But wait! Lebron James actually felt bad about leaving Cleveland.

“I never wanted to leave Cleveland,” he explained. “My heart will always be around that area. But I also felt like this is the greatest challenge for me, is to move on.”

Sorry, to be a nag, Lebron, but, um didn’t you say that you were going to Miami because it gave you the best chance at victory? Yeah, I think that was you who said: “I feel like this is going to give me the best opportunity to win. And to win for multiple years. Not only just to win in the regular season, or just to win five games in a row or three games in a row. I want to be able to win championships, and I feel like I can compete down there.”

So, wouldn’t the bigger “challenge” (that you seem so interested in) have been to stay with the team who wouldn’t given you the biggest chance at perpetual league dominance?

So, all of this is to set up—for those who weren’t previously in the Lebron loop—Mr. James’ new Nike commercial, which responds eloquently to all of the hurtful criticism he’s received for his defection.

THE ART:

Let’s watch, and then we’ll come back to me for comments.

Note: when Lebron says hello to “Chuck,” he’s winking at the above-mentioned Lebron-critic, Charles Barkley.

Wow, I must say: that was very good work, Nike writing staff.

As you have hopefully just enjoyed, Mr. James takes us through a series of earnest rhetorical Lebron-spoken questions. “Asks” he:

What should I do? Should I admit that I’ve made mistakes?Should I remind you that I’ve done this before? Should I give you a history lesson? What should I do? Should I tell you how much fun we had? Should I really believe I ruined my legacy? What should I do? What should I do? What should I do? Should I have my tattoo removed? Want to see my shiny new shoes? Should I just sell shoes? My shiny new shoes. Or should I tell you I’m not a role model? (Hi Chuck.) Seriously, what should I do? Should I tell you I’m a championship chaser? That I did it for the money? Rings? Should I be who you want me to be? Should I accept my role as a villain? Maybe I should just disappear? Should I stop listening to my friends? They’re my friends. Should I try acting? Should I make you laugh Or should we just clear the deck and start over? What should I do? Should I be who you want me to be?

Along with being an impressive and entertaing commercial, it magically tricks the viewer into filling in the blanks of Lebron “Nike” James’ argument. This is as clever as any great piece of incomprehensible art that asks the viewer to fill in the substance of the message.

PATRON: Excuse me, I’m not sure what this large blue triangle is meant to say. You can you give me any insights?

ARTIST: It means whatever it means to you.

PATRON: Oh, I see. I guess it kind of reminds of my struggles with geometry in school, and how I felt like I couldn’t make it fit together.

ARTIST: Beautiful! Exactly!

Lebron’s not going to tell us why he left Cleveland—maybe it was for the money (and if we’re big fans of money, we’ll settle on that answer and be satisfied); maybe it was because he’s a “championship chaser” (wow, that’s very poetic, and again implies some honour in his departure). Regardless, what exactly did we expect of Lebron James? He never claimed to be our role model. He’s just a man made of flesh and ego like of the rest of us. Indeed, as he repeats this question throughout the soliloquy, the fact that there is no obvious answer seems to imply that there is no obvious flaw in his behaviours.

Most brilliant, ghostwritten-James seems to be indicating that, in the end, he doesn’t really care what we think of him. He’s gotta be him. If winning championships for his family and friends is wrong, then he doesn’t wanna be right.

We can dress him up in a villain costume (as they do in the commercial) if we want, but he’s still gotta be himself.

I especially like that, in spite of his implied ghostwritten insistence that he doesn’t care what we think of him, when he asks, “Should I not have listened to my friends?” he can’t help making an argumentative answer, “They’re my friends.” But, other than on that one point, he doesn’t care what we think!

It’s a wonderful script that we can all learn a lot from: there’s really no point in continuing to dislike Lebron—it’s not going to bother him in the slightest. In fact, his rogue lack of interest in our opinions should make us kinda like him.

Oh, but wait! Wasn’t the whole thing a shoe commercial? Which means it’s meant to sell shoes. So… Nike of Lebron does, in fact, care what we think of Lebron James. They were using reverse shoe psychology on us! Those clever Just Doers.


SELF-AGGRANDALISM SERIES:

I: NEVER LET THEM SEE YOU CARE (you were just here)

II: IF YOUR CRITICS DON’T BELIEVE IN YOU, NO ONE WILL

III: WINNING MEANS NEVER HAVING TO SAY YOU’RE SORRY

IV: POET KNOWS BEST

V: HUMILTY IS AS HUMILTY DOES

VI: HOW TO AVOID QUESTIONS AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE

VII: IF YOU CAN’T BULLY ‘EM, ACCUSE ‘EM

THE BUS STOP!

In the interest of full disclosure—and Seth-promotion—the spirt of this rant, and other works of Sethiquette, is now available in my book, How to Cure Yourself of Narcissism.


In opposition to my recent rants (SPACE ON BUS; SPACE ON BRAIN & MY FIRST LINEUP) regarding bus passenger selfishness, I challenge me to consider this incident:

After finishing work in the late evening on Sunday, I landed outside on the street with my usual walk-and-look-for-the-bus plan. The walk would be a simple 15 minute trek to the nearest Skytrain that would take me home, but if, on this walk, I happened to pass a bus stop at the same time as bus, I would happily hop aboard to save myself up to 10 minutes of commute.

When, then, I spotted a bus dropping off a passenger at a stop that was just 50 yards ahead of me, I decided to make a run for the oversized van (in case it was slowed down by more exiting passengers), but my sprint was not a desperate one since I was content with my leg-powered transporation.

As I ran, the passenger that was just jettisoned from the vehicle spotted my approach, and so pointed at the bus to ask if I was aiming for it. I nodded, and so, with no thought of why she should care about a stranger’s goals, she knocked on the outside of the bus to indicate a passenger was coming. To honour her effort, I sped up my pace, but the bus pressed forward just as I arrived.

I was not wounded by the loss since (A) I didn’t feel the driver was obligated to the knocking-instructions of a former passenger and (B) I was still content walking. But I was touched by the efforts and concern of the stranger, who, in turn, shook her head with disgust at the departing bus.

I assured her I was content walking, but I thanked her for her kindness – not many would look out for a stranger like that. This did not cheer her up, but it did me.

MY FIRST LINEUP

In the interest of full disclosure—and Seth-promotion—the spirt of this rant, and other works of Sethiquette, is now available in my book, How to Cure Yourself of Narcissism.



Given my previous rant (see SPACE ON BUS: SPACE ON BRAIN) about the need for a bus passenger training school, it seems only fair that I give a sample of what our consideration-challenged friends could learn there.

I suggest we start the training with a lecture on how to correctly enter a transit vehicle: students of Bus School will discover that, before boarding any such bus or train, one lets the exiting passengers go first. (“It’s like they have a green light, while yours is red.”) This, bussing professors will explain, allows us to avoid a passenger clog of people going in two directions. To facilitate this complicated maneuver, learners will be taught to line up slightly to the side of the entry doors until their opposites have completed their exodus.

Special emphasis will then be impressed upon the students that:

“When you see passengers waiting efficiently by the side of the doorway in this manner, they are not meaning to move out of your way so that you can jump the queue and board the bus first for the best seat. (When you do that, it angers and destroys your fellow travelers’ faith in the system, and reduces their own compliance with passenger protocol.)”

If such training stops just one one anarchist transit-user from queue-jumping to collect the last good seat on the bus, it will easily pay for itself in gaskets not blown by the rest of us.

SPACE ON BUS: SPACE ON BRAIN

In the interest of full disclosure—and Seth-promotion—the spirt of this rant, and other works of Sethiquette, is now available in my book, How to Cure Yourself of Narcissism.


This is a classic rant that probably needs no repetition, but I can’t help myself. On the bus once again last night, when a large crowd began to fill it, patrons at the front of the entering group did not go all the way to the back. The result was the standard passenger-dam at the front and middle of the vehicle.

I can appreciate, in such circumstances, that the back of the bus will naturally be less packed than the front. Passengers fill the back first, after all, and so it feels awkward to get up close and cozy with strangers for an as-of-yet only theoretical need for room. Instead standard stranger-spacing etiquette feels like it should apply.

But when the crowd begins to run out of room at the front of the corridor, there is an understanding between new friends there that near-hugging is allowed because otherwise one of you would not fit on the coach.

And, as I surveyed from the well-packed middle section of the vehicular hallway, I noticed as ever that the back of the bus was not simply spaced reasonably according to stranger-convention; instead, there was a walk-in closet’s worth of room—and even an empty seat!

You see, somewhere along the aisle to the back, a traveller or two simply stopped (like a pair of escalator-standers) and blocked the following masse. This was no simple etiquette of spacing: it was emptiness of awareness. The travelers preferred the centre of the carriage (perhaps because it was closer to the exit doors), which is all swell and good (if, that is, you don’t enjoy the bus’s hind quarters, then feel free to seek refuge in the middle), but, for passengers’ sake!, make room in the aisle for those who would move into the glorious space behind you.

And yet, on every crowded bus, there are always those who are profoundly unobservant of (or simply unconcerned with) the needs of their fellow bus-goers. It is time they be taught a lesson: I propose remedial transit-traveller finishing school for these breachers of consideration. They must be taught that with great transit comes comes great responsibility.

Perfect. Problem solved. I feel better.


While we wait, see MY FIRST LINEUP for a proposed first lesson at Bus Passenger Training School.

ESCALATOR STANDING: AN INVESTIGATIVE RANT

In the interest of full disclosure—and Seth-promotion—the spirt of this rant, and other works of Sethiquette, is now available in my book, How to Cure Yourself of Narcissism.


Anyone who’s had the good fortune to share an escalator with me is likely familiar with this rant: and so, for their nostalgia and everyone else’s first-time enjoyment, I would like to officially announce:

I reverse-heart escalator-standers.

Why would a healthy individual interrupt their day (in which, I’m told, time is precious) to wait for a slow machine to carry them to their destination, when the device offers the option to move at double its speed by simply walking?


Note of rant sanctuary: If an escalator-stander has a health condition (sore knees, sore heart, maybe escatripaphobia), or is simply tired and not in the mood to climb moving stairs, they are excused from the ire of this rant.

Note of excommunication from rant sanctuary: The tired stander will be returned to the rant’s scope, however, if they are one of a pair of standers, who—instead of standing one after the other to allow safe passage of those behind—block both lanes of escalator travel so that those who would prefer to kill calories (instead of time) cannot proceed.


My primary objection is to those who stand because of what I can only surmise is habit: I watch 20 year-olds arrive at the escalator and, without apparently pausing to ask, “Do we feel like adding a tiny bit of exercise to our diet?” they stop and stare ahead. I suppose they could have a good reason for the slow-down: maybe it’s their first time on an escalator, and so they want to savour the experience; or perhaps they’re trying to conserve calories: why waste energy that they could store for later?

But I think the most reasonable explanation for why most people stop on an escalator without considering walking is that they are in some sort of trance, a temporary off-button that has suddenly made time not matter to them.

I spend most of my escalator time en route to catching Skytrains, which arrive approximately every five minutes, and so, if I’m forced to I slow down just enough (often because of an escalator-standing-blockade), I often narrowly miss a just-arriving train, thus causing me to get to my destination five minutes later. It’s rare that my hope is to be five minutes later for anything. Yes, Alabama, I realize that we shouldn’t “rush and rush until life’s no fun,” but, if it’s easy, and you happen to be in a hurry, why not step up?

For instance, I’m convinced that the people standing on the escalator to go to the movies would like to get into the ticket-buying lineup as soon as possible to secure goods seats, and yet—with knees capable of speedily climbing to the back of the theatre—they inexplicably freeze the moment their feet hit the escalator.

Indeed, I have been late with friends to a movie, and have felt the “Kumbaya” of our mutual rush only to arrive at an escalator to witness the sudden suspension of my companions’ movement as though the matter is out of their feet’s hands: the escalator, after all, speeds up for no one—what are they supposed to do?

This behaviour seems so irrational to me that I must find a cause to blame. Perhaps it is the fault of our oft-described “sedentary” modern western society and our tendency to avoid unnecessary movement? But I suspect something more sinister: I suspect it is our brains that are sedentary, and that it simply doesn’t occur to people to keep moving on a machine that will get them there eventually.

Evidence for this hypothesis can be found in the aforemocked people who stand two-by-two on the escalator such that they become a obstruction for any would-be non-lazy-people behind them. Surely, if it even occurred to them that someone might like to get by, they wouldn’t be so selfish as to stand in the way, would they?

If I’m right that people stand on escalators because they never thought to use the steps for climbing, then I have replaced one baffling question with another: why the heck wouldn’t it occur to them? I can understand the inclination to let the vehicle do all the moving in the case of cars or buses, but to stop, without thinking, on a device that offers you the option of safely doubling your speed of travel is, to me, a kin to riding one’s bike and discovering a slight decline and so deciding to stop pedaling so as to allow gravity to do all the work for you. If you’re tired, or in the mood to relax and look around, then you have my warmest blessings, but if you stop your exercise simply because you see no point in doing otherwise then I don’t get it.

Similarly, I guess if the sun’s bugging your eyes, then there’s no need to walk to a shadier spot: after all, the earth will eventually transport you out of the sun’s gaze. So, yeah, just sit there and wait.

All poignant exaggeration-sarcasm aside, clearly escaltor-standing is a mystery that I’m not able to solve here, but, if you are a career escalator-stander with no health reasons to justify this habit, I’d like to make a tiny suggestion: try escalator-walking just once. You may be surprised to discover that motorized-inclines aren’t as daunting as they look from the bottom.

If, however, you still see no point in walk-riding when you could just ride, I request that you at least not stand in the way of those who would choose to stroll freely. Stay in your lane, and nobody gets glared at on my way by.


P.S. If I were artistically inclined, I would create a cartoon of a couple standing on an escalator with no one in front of them, a crowd behind them, and a thought bubble above them that simply states, “Where does all the time go?”

P.P.S. Even brillianter, I refer you below to Becel’s heart health commercial, the most profound advert in television history. It deals with the mystery of the escalator stander with grace and impeccable honesty.