Can Underdogs Save the World?

I’ve been thinking about this blog post… for months now. What would I say, what would I write? It seemed that everywhere I turned, the subject of peer influence versus ethics has been causing waves in our communities, in our media, in our everyday lives, yet it’s not being connected in the way I see it all connecting.

Police killings going uncharged as homicides

Lenders providing loans to people with unverified incomes

Lack of enforcement on California drought conservation restrictions

Physicians providing unneeded care for profit

Domestic abuse still going strong after all these years

Hollywood’s inability to see that ethnicity is a sensitive topic among historically marginalized groups

Government employees who are afraid to become another Edward Snowden if they speak out against abuses

When was the last time you saw something unethical and stood up to stop it?

If you did not, then the reason, most likely, wasn’t because you’re an ‘evil’ person intending hurt to others. Most likely you’re a normal person who is just following the crowd, fearing to let someone down, maybe fearing to let a lot of people down.

To quote Yoda, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” And with this platitude, Yoda pretty much sums up the major problems in our collective societies today. But where does this fear come from? It comes from our peers, their expectations of us, their opinions of us, and our own preconceived prejudices of what we should be afraid of.

I’m a Gen-Xer. I grew up in the 1980’s with a firm background in the study of peer pressure. I was never sold drugs or alcohol (until I was old enough). People offered me drugs, but they easily and politely took no for an answer. In fact, I found that I got more pressured to drink later in life than I did to get stoned in college, and nobody ever offered me anything more illegal than pot. Maybe I’m unusual, maybe not, but there’s one thing that I got offered in droves: advice on how to avoid peer pressure. “Say No to DRUGS!” went the campaign. It was plastered all over my high school, we had to attend special events where we learned the dangers of peer pressure. In the end, I realized they were just creating an atmosphere of expectation, that if our peers were saying no to drugs, that those ‘good’ peers would apply enough peer pressure to others that the rate of drug use would decline but my peers and I weren’t really moved by the films and the testimonials. I knew that drugs were bad for me, but there was no emotional connection. I could see prominent members of society snorting coke in movies. Smoking happened everywhere then, and drinking was never mentioned as a drug. The campaign seemed to be politically motivated and designed to prop up Reagan’s war on drugs.

Today we have plenty of meth and crack in the U.S., and the Say No to Drugs campaign had lackluster results. It had to. The people telling me to say no were not my peers, nor were they peers to millions of other youngsters. Instead, we listened to our parents and the people around us. Their perspectives were, shall I say, various.

The Say No to Drugs campaign was very much a ‘think for yourself’ campaign. It tried to get people to bypass peer pressure, but I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here and say that it would have been better had it tried to use peer pressure as a positive influence, and to constructive a positive culture of health. But the government has issues with people thinking for themselves. It is almost always free thinkers point out the flaws in our systems and bring down prominent ‘successful’ individuals who arrived in their positions unethically, or who use unethical means to get results.

In our modern myths, heroes almost always have to contend with massive amounts of peer pressure. The entire genre of ‘underdog’ stories is based on this concept, and it’s present in our most prominent franchises. The X-Men, Captain America, Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, Elsa the Ice Queen, Frodo Baggins, Batman, Arrow, Shrek, and Katniss Everdeen are all subject to extraordinary amounts of societal pressure to just give up and not stand up for what they know is right.

It would be easy to look at these successful (in some cases) heroes and say that because we have them in our collective mythologies that standing up for ethical behavior is the thing we encourage in people, but the reason these stories are so successful and engrossing is because they are so unique, because fighting the flow is hard. These heroes have to give up substantial freedoms and potential futures to do the right thing. Katniss pretty much commits an entire country to war, and sees most of her community bombed to ashes. Frodo barely makes it to Mount Doom, then basically gives up on life. Luke Skywalker probably comes out the best–I think he ends up a wandering Jedi or some such (I’m really looking forward to The Force Awakens). Captain America wants to stand up for the rights of supers who want to protect their families from retribution by hiding their identities, and ends up watching his friends die in the resulting Civil War.

The risks of taking a stand aren’t lost on normal humans without super powers. Edward Snowden is only now being redeemed by U.S. courts, and whistle blowers in general get the short stick, being unable to find a job and often face bankruptcy after they leave the companies that have wronged society. Courage is rarely rewarded in today’s world.

But surely, shouldn’t police officers (paragons of virtue, dedicated to the public welfare!) stand up for what is right even when it’s difficult? Frank Serpico is one of the very very few. Has anyone else stood up like he did forty years ago? I haven’t noticed anyone particular, and police shootings of people in suspicious circumstances go largely ignored, especially when the person shot was black. State legislatures are reluctant to buy and use body cameras, even though they apparently are really helpful, and potentially could help good cops to reinforce good decisions just as they would point out bad cops who make poor ones. Because of this lack of oversight and systemic problems, abused communities have started taking action, thus the riots in Baltimore, Oakland, and Ferguson in recent years. There will be more to come unless our police forces take serious stock of their own houses and start behaving like the people we need them to be.

Even health providers are taking advantage of their positions of power (see link above) to suggest unnecessary surgeries and tests that serve mainly to line pockets of providers, not to actually improve the quality of life of the people they have pledged to serve.

In the end all of this bad behavior comes down to peer pressure. Pressure to feed cases to other doctors who then feed cases back to you. Pressure to not rock the boat when some officers are taking bribes, or when they are roughing up captives. Pressure to stay silent when circumventing the law in the hope of catching an elusive bogeyman terrorist. Pressure to make movies like we did last year, because making one that was racially sensitive is just too expensive, and might not be as funny to the general public. Pressure to underwrite a loan or a deal even when the repayment is likely to fail, because you need to make loan volume this month.

This peer pressure has a particularly dark side that can eventually result in police states: dictatorships like Nazi Germany or the U.S.S.R. where human rights go out the window in favor of doing what is right for the state and the leaders, in the name of not rocking the boat. For every hundred-thousand followers, there might be one Oskar Schindler (maybe), and that is not near enough.

This is something that has irritated me for a long time, and one of the reasons I left Christianity behind. I’m not going to go into my personal choice here, but atheism (not recognizing or following any god) appealed to me because it was my way of saying that I would not succumb to the pressure to believe something that no one can prove exists.

Religions are particularly peer-pressurey (new word, coined here first!). In the Middle East, atheists face a steep climb out of obscurity, even though their obvious non-religious behaviors are tolerated openly. But that’s not where it ends, is it? Christians, Mormons, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and a host of sects and mini religions out there all try to prop up themselves by putting others down.

What weapon do they use in that battle? Peer pressure, mostly. Some are more violent, true. Those occasions make the news, but the day-to-day influences from media and friends are what really cements the deal. “God bless you,” said when you sneeze. “One nation under God,” in our pledge of allegiance (I’m more than happy to pledge allegiance to do my best to serve my country and the people in it, but not to someone else’s mythical god). Kids required to go to churches where they are subject to more training and pressure.

These tools are endemic in our society, and they are starting to come into the light, but people are still making excuses for them, like the police officers whose cultures have highly imbalanced policing policies that unjustly target black communities.

The world around us is full of ideas, and the people around us are full of advice. Some of that peer-pressurey advice is so culturally accepted that it’s nearly invisible unless you’re consciously looking for it.

There is a way to overcome these issues, but it’s not by eschewing peer pressure. You cannot become an ‘atheist to society’ you cannot help fix problems in lending or policing or health care by dis-believing in them. They exist, they need solutions, and more importantly, they need a positive, caring, compassionate culture.

Building a culture of compassion–essentially a network of peer pressure around treating people well and doing what is right, rewarding people who stand up for injustice–is the only way out of this funk we find ourselves in lately.

Fortunately, there are some companies, both for-profit and non-profit, that are making this a priority. Find out who they are and vote with your cash.

For governments, it’s tougher. Most governments make lots of talk about how ethical they are, but like the U.S. Marines, when push comes to shove, it’s very difficult for a junior officer or enlisted soldier to take a stand against injustice, abuse of power, or poor decision making. They’re trained to take orders, not to challenge, not to think for themselves. Police agencies inherit many of these ideas, because they get lots of recruits from the military, and have similar training policies. How do you combat this in government, police, and military agencies? That’s a tougher question. The leadership needs to come from the top. Mr. President, I’m looking at you, but not just you, I’m also looking at police commissioners, generals, and mayors. The president has taken a stand to allow gays into the military and to build better health care incentives in the Affordable Care Act, but we need lower-level leaders to pick up this baton and carry it even further.

I’m also looking at the public. Can we support leaders in government who have admitted to failure and let them try something new? Can we let them try to build a culture of compassion? Would they even try? I don’t know, but I feel like it’s what we desperately need today.

We need to make peer pressure work for us, not against us.

How to Find Films Exciting Again

When was the last time you went to a film where you genuinely had no idea was going to happen?

When was the last time you remember actually experiencing films, or do you feel like you’re just watching the same old thing over and over?

Go on, think about it. I can wait.

* * *

Okay, back now? That’s right, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? When I was a kid, I got to do this pretty often, because a great friend of mine invited me into the wild and wacky world of Chinese kung fu films, where I saw acrobatic feats I had no idea were possible and learned that writers and directors sometimes do kill every single hero by the final frame of the movie. Another friend introduced me to samurai films and I learned that action could be tense and silent, and death could come with a single swing of a blade.

Needless to say, those films turned my notions of storytelling upside down and made me wonder again, like when I was a kid. What’s going to happen next? What might happen next?

It’s sad when I go to a movie now and I pretty much know what the next steps in the narrative will be. Hollywood films particularly fall prey to this debilitating problem. They pay so much attention to audience surveys and to what people say they want, they forget that sometimes audiences just want to be surprised, and they want to feel. They want all the feels, in fact.

This is why Hollywood films get a bad rap. I know, it’s a guilty pleasure, watching another action movie where you know the main character isn’t really in any danger, and only his friends are going to take any sort of substantial damage. Where nothing really changes at the end of the film, and hope shines again like a light in the darkness…

I get it. I like them too. Sometimes. But here’s the deal. Sometimes, I want more. I want to be surprised, I want to make a new kind of memory, to examine the dark side of life, the little mustache twirling maniac in my mind cackling with glee, or the little boy crying with anger and sadness.

It’s okay. I think. I’m not crazier than you are, am I? But where do we find that type of experience?

I recommend film festivals. You can also visit your local library or e-book retailer, but for a quick dramatic shot in the eyes, local (or distant) film festivals deliver some spectacular content, and you’ll be able to share the experience with others.

I’m about to engage in some unabashed film exploration in about two weeks at the SDAFF Spring Showcase in San Diego, California. Come on down and join me and the Pacific Arts Movement team for a great time. Or find a festival near you. You don’t have to attend Sundance or Cannes to have a great time, and many times you’ll have better access to filmmakers at the smaller festivals.

Right now, I’m at WonderCon in Anaheim, CA. These actors and showrunners giving talks and signing autographs at big events like WonderCon and Comic-Con will sometimes roll their tanned and waxed meatsuits out to film festivals because they’re working on smaller independent features. You never know who you’ll end up meeting.

When you go, try something you wouldn’t ordinarily try. Experiment. You never know what you’ll find. The experience might be a little bit scary, but that’s what makes it memorable.

Spring Showcase April 16-25, 2015

How to Change the Internet in One Easy Clickbait Step

There are two types of internet out there today. There are Quiet Sites and there are Screaming Sites. You probably know which I mean. Quiet Sites have articles, maybe a few links, maybe one or two pictures, some links to Facebook and Twitter, and a copyright notice. No biggie, they say their peace and they let you go about your business.

Then there are the Screaming Sites. These sites have mined the actual behaviors of users and concluded that we (the general public) really want the following:

Clickbait headlines

Clickbait images

More clickbait on the sites with purported content

Small, easily disgestable content blurbs


Pop-up hover ads

Video content cut from old television and movies

Happy images of the champions of the human condition

Fortunately, those sites know exactly what we want, and they know how long we read, how many follow clicks we provide, and how many advertising impressions we are likely to endure in our quest for that one tidbit of new information.

So, my advice to you if you want to change the internet is to watch your own habits and to be very careful where you go. If a site delivers a lackluster article full of fluff that makes you feel unfulfilled after reading it, get out of there fast! Chances are, all the other articles linked from that site will deliver the same thrill of almost getting what you want.

Don’t do it. Be strong. Vote with your time. Demand better writing and better content. Together, we can change the world!



Simple Investing – Index Funds

Recent statistics from a Wells Fargo survey indicated that talking about finance is more daunting than talking about death, religion, politics, or taxes.* So, let me make you even uncomfortable for a few paragraphs!

I invest in stocks and I invest in index tracking funds. I love stocks, but the index trackers are what keep me sane and happy.

I can see your eyes glazing over now! Stop that. Focus. Come back to me. That’s right. It’s all going to be okay (and brief).

I’ve made some great investments: Pixar, Marvel, Netflix, Monster Beverage. Those investmens are sexy, and fun, and really helpful to my bottom line, but it’s not where I make most of my investment returns. They’re great to talk about with friends, but I always try to hold myself back, because those are just the winners.

Instead, when people ask me about investments in my personal life, I generally start with the one piece of advice that has served me well over the years. If they don’t want to fall head-over-heels in love with individual stock investing like me, then I recommend simply buying an index fund that tracks broad market indexes like the S&P500, the S&P 1500, or the Russell 2000. Heck, even though I love stock investing, this is exactly what I do with most of my family’s retirement money.

I also recommend they buy automatically and/or regularly in their 401(k), 403(b), IRA, Roth, or whatever tax-advantaged account they have. This allows them to make savings a habit.

Index investing accomplishes three very important things:

Immediate Diversity

Broad market indexes, like the well known S&P500, tend to have more stocks in them than most mutual funds, and more stocks than an individual investor can buy on their own. The purchases allow you to own fractional (often very small) percentages of those companies. This allows you to basically ride the success or failure of the entire economy, or large segments of it, not just a few companies.

Low Fees

Mutual funds offer diversity, and sometimes they offer charismatic Wall Street talking heads to entertain you. Very few actually track and advertise their achievements against broad market indexes. Many charge high fees. What’s high? To me, anything over about 0.5% feels really high, because I’m used to index investing. Indexes are based on computer models that reallocate money to track the published indexes. No human management really necessary. They just program a trading computer and forget it, so you can get pretty low fees compared to funds that pay salaries to managers.

Indexes Usually Beat Managed Funds

There’s some comedy to be had here, but unfortunately, it’s at the expense of investors who are paying money so they can have the privelege of underperforming. Funds that use human managers are trying to beat a group of stocks automatically generated using a simple formula (yes, that’s all indexes really are).

The reasons why are complex, but studies show the results are pretty clear. Indexes beat funds most of the time, by a few percentage points.

Now, this isn’t true of all mutual funds, and you may notice that some of the comparisons in the sample articles above are more dire than others. This is because the time period you choose to use to measure success or failure is arbitrary, and has a large effect on the results. Still, nobody should have a one year, or even a three year investment time horizon, unless they’re near the very end of their life span.

That means, over the long term, those 1% fees, taxes on trades, and short-term investment swaps combine to make it very difficult for a human fund manager to win, on a large scale, against the market.

Next time, I’ll talk about risk. Isn’t investing risky? Totally. So’s walking down the street. It’s all about how we manage risk, and what the alternatives are.


Disclosure: I work at Wells Fargo, but these opinions are mine, and not those of Wells Fargo. Also, please note that I provide this advice as a fellow investor, and someone preparing for my own retirement, and not as a financial advisor. I and my family own shares of S&P500 and Russell 2000 index tracking funds. Investing is never a guarantee. You can lose money.


Flat Earth, the Matrix, and the Right to Sex

I love the first Matrix movie, but I’ve been bothered by the second and third Matrix installments for years now. I really wanted to like them, much like I really wanted to like Chapters 1-3 of Star Wars.* However, I didn’t piece together what bothered me about them until today. It has to do with lacking the theme of overcoming a hard-held belief, the theme that was so central to the first Matrix.

Many people hold beliefs that defy logic, which is innocuous most of the time, like the belief in a flat Earth, which is hilarious, and doesn’t particularly hurt anybody. However, some beliefs directly endanger others, and at times those beliefs are used as an excuse for why people behave like reprehensible monsters. On a grand scale, the belief that one skin color is somehow better than another has caused the deaths of generations of human beings. On a smaller scale, the recent killing in Santa Barbara because a man believed that somehow women owed him sex allegedly drove him to commit multiple homicide. Whether or not this plays out to be the whole story doesn’t matter, the point is we easily believe this is true because we’ve seen it time and time again.

In The Matrix, Morpheus manages to free Neo from the prison of his own mind, literally overturning everything Neo thought he knew about the world. This analogy extends to any belief system that anyone has cast off, ever. Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the right of white men to control the U.S. government, Manifest Destiny, homophobia, etc.

For me, one Matrix was the Christian church, which I severed ties with in my early twenties, but I expect everyone has something they believed in at one time that today they wish had never been a part of their lives. An abusive lover. A horrible job. I doubt anyone’s life is so perfect they can’t think of an example right now.

So, to me, Morpheus is the real hero of the Matrix movies, because he seems to be the only person who actually manages to help free any of the people embedded in the Matrix. Yet he is hated by some of his friends, hunted, and generally unappreciated by the government he works for.

Neo, for his part, never frees another person, and only manages to run around having fights in the second and third movies. To his credit, he is trying to free everyone at the very end (I think), but I still don’t really know what happened there, so I didn’t find it fulfilling. Besides, he wasn’t working with anyone who actually wanted to get free, he was trying to do it to them, which is so very different, and not the way I hoped the story would play out at all.

That theme, of helping someone overcome a belief they know is wrong, a belief they struggled against unconsciously all their lives, was lost, and it is something I believe we need to hold onto as a society. Even though we sometimes grate at its creaky functioning, the U.S. government is designed to allow us to overturn our previously held beliefs by rewriting laws, by encouraging a change in representation, by allowing our constitution to be updated as required. It’s part of what makes us a free society.

So today, I write this in thanks and great respect for those who died for the freedom to change our beliefs, and in memory of those who worked to change our beliefs to become a more equitable society. On Memorial Day, 2014.


* Go J.J. Abrams! You can do it! I believe in you.

6 Things Not to Say to an Atheist

I just encountered Diversity Inc’s “What NOT to say” series, and since they tended to focus on the more popular diverse groups, I thought I would give a shout to my atheist sisters and brothers. “Shout.” Hell yeah. Oh, and my style is a little rougher than theirs. Enjoy!

American atheists and non-believers are generally disliked and distrusted. Pew reports 48% of Americans feel the fact that our ranks are swelling in the United States is a bad thing. This seems to tweak the evangelical whites the most. The number of people who mark straight-up-atheist has risen to 3%. The aggregate block of people who are atheist, agnostic, and I-don’t-care has risen to around 19.6%.

So, who are the targets of all this agony and antagonism? Who should we not trust? Who are we atheists? We don’t share skin color, barcodes on our necks, piercings, the way our hair smells, or by the way we discipline our kids. We can hide in any crowd. We don’t have a defined symbol, either.

Some ‘unaffiliated’ folks even go to church, synagogue, or mosque. I was one of these, although I got over it. They do this not because they believe, but to make the people in their lives happy. This is because many atheists, agnostics, and nothing-in-particulars are in the closet, for reasons of their own, or on a journey away from their childhood belief system.

Some atheists meditate, some believe in aliens, others are agnostic, but they definitely don’t subscribe to the standard religious practices or organizations.

On the other hand, atheist statistics worldwide can be misleading. Some atheists, particularly in places where the government frowns on religion, are actually believers in a variety of faiths, but are not comfortable disclosing their beliefs. This list is not for them, not exactly, anyhow. They’re a complex group, and I recommend caution, particularly if you visit them in a country that has limited religious freedoms. These phrases will likely make them uncomfortable for a whole host of reasons, as will direct questions about religious freedom, but that’s another story altogether.

So, here’s my list of things that make atheist’s teeth itch and their eyeballs boil. (Yes, I have personally heard all of these things.)

“So, you don’t believe in right and wrong?” — Of course we do. We are not psychopaths. Not all of us, anyhow. We have been taught right and wrong. Often times, we have had to supplant the teachings of the churches we attended because they failed to reflect the beliefs that we feel in our hearts are right. If my religious text says I should “stone all insert-diverse-group-here” and I consider how it’s suggesting I stone a good person who I love, well…

Atheists often look beyond religion for moral guidance.

“He/She/They are in a better place.” — To an atheist, life and death are serious business. To us, this phrase trivializes both a person’s life and death. We don’t fantasize we’ll come back in some afterlife. So, when the people we love die, we’re sad. We want to deal with our pain. It’s hard. We accept that. We accept that death is a part of life. Or maybe we don’t and we buy cybernetic organs so we can give living forever a shot. Either way, we don’t imagine souls go floating away after people die.

Telling an atheist their loved one is in heaven now is like telling kids it’s okay they don’t have enough to eat because their mother has walked them across Detroit to buy smack and hasn’t fed them in a week. Not to worry! Someday they’ll all be presidents of the world and Snickers and Jelly Bellies will come flying out of their butt whenever they fart.

Actually, it feels more demeaning than that, because it takes advantage of a bad situation and makes it all about pushing religion on the atheist during an emotional crisis.

“You should come to church with me.” — ROFL. No.

Also–awkward! Please keep in mind: discussing religion is okay, even at work. In fact, it probably should be discussed more. Pushing it on people is not okay, though, and yes, this is pushing.

Even in personal life, it’s likely to get the inviter knocked down the friend-ladder. However, given the feelings of most Americans about atheists, that’s probably okay on both sides.

“I’ll pray for you.” — To an atheist, this is like telling us you’ve written to Santa Claus on our behalf, and asked Batman to come save us when we’re in trouble with the evil Siberian goat-men. Sometimes, it’s used to indicate disapproval for our choices, for example, it’s often said after the laughter dies down from, “You should go to church with me.”

“Aren’t you afraid to burn in hell?” — Ah, the favorite of door-to-door evangelists. This is actually a threat. To an atheist, this threat sounds like the speaker’s going to come back and make it happen. Crazy people say things like this. Crazy people who know where I live. *Close door, dial 9-1-1.*

“Everything happens for a reason.” — This one’s my personal favorite because of its frequency and the strange and humorous reasons people find to pull it out, so I saved it for last.

This phrase often follows on the heels of a huge natural catastrophe, but it could just as easily follow the death of a dog, or when a man decides to kill his entire family because he mixed drugs with alcohol after a bad day neutering cats.

This stuff is serious. When bad things happen, atheists kind of freak out when someone says there’s a “reason” for it. When it’s humans doing it, yes, sometimes there is a human reason. Sometimes we can label the whys and wherefores. But those reasons are often crazy reasons, not good reasons. Reasons of psychopaths and CEOs. Those reasons don’t make the way we feel about those events better. Often the reasons question the very fabric of our society and whether we as humans can survive until next Saturday.

When it’s a typhoon that flattens a city and kills tens of thousands of people? Atheists really struggle to see a reason in that. We’re okay assuming it’s a random act of nature. We’re also okay saying, hey, people shouldn’t have built homes below the waterline and then failed to keep up work on the dikes holding back the ocean. But again–bad reasons. Not comforting.

This phrase makes it sound like the reason the storm came and killed those people is because they were called to heaven or they had all committed some grave sin. Really? All of them? The kids? The dogs? The old people? The cops fighting for justice? The woman who just left her abusive husband? No. Atheists are probably more comfortable, or at least accepting of, a universe that is just weird and fairly random. That’s life.


I hope these tips help smooth out some of the rough edges as folks learn to deal with the trustworthy and friendly atheist next door.

Harlen Bayha

The Motivational Technologist

Women of Color – Fashion’s Forgotten

I stumbled upon my wife’s Fall 2014 edition of at breakfast today. Why they would put out a “Fall” edition in April is beyond me, but that’s the fashion world, I guess. That kind of illogic may also explain why I can’t buy a decent coat in the late winter, and why I can’t find a cozy warm sweatshirt in the summer, even in San Diego, where it’s 60-80F (16-27C), pretty much year round.

Still, there’s online shopping. And for a guy, that’s enough. For a guy, there seem to be plenty of clothes available, and plenty of model diversity. For a woman though…

I counted 150 women in the first half of the massive magazine. Maybe some of those women were duplicated (they all looked the same to me), but I tried to eliminate duplications at least on the same two page spread.

Of those women, I counted a mere 12 women of color. That’s under 10%. I’m being generous here, too. Four of them had headshots only, and were buried at the bottom of a page together like they were outcasts.

I’m also lumping all women of color together, I’m talking about anyone who looked vaguely non-white.

One of the ads actually had a single Caucasian woman and two women of color standing together, as if to say, “Hey, we’re trying!” Well. I do appreciate that one designer. Thanks. Sort of. The rainbow coalition thing is a little awkward, and feels like a 90’s Benneton ad. Can’t designers just hire a more diverse set of women? They don’t all have to be piled into every ad.

I was prompted  to do my little counting exercise after watching this perceptive TED Talk by Cameron Russell from 2012. I wanted to see if things have changed at all in the industry over the last few months. I didn’t have much hope. Apparently “little exercise” is exactly what the industry has done with promoting diversity.

This is shameful. I really wonder who these people are making these model hiring decisions. In the movies, they’re depicted as bossy gay men or bossy old women, but I think the reality is far more disturbing. These executives are likely racists, probably white, probably men, and probably straight. Ninety percent of the women I saw in that magazine had the following characteristics:

Young – to the point of being disturbing. Seriously, pedophiles need to work in other industries, like maybe oil refining or cardboard manufacturing. Something to keep them away from young people.
Skinny – bony knees seem to be favored. I wonder how they can sell these clothes to women who have healthy BMIs, let alone average Americans? They must have no idea how the clothes might look on themselves from these photos.
White – while 90% were Caucasian, they were all also extremely pale. Tans are so 80’s, apparently, and these runway models looked very New York. Seasonal Affective Disorder anyone? Vitamin D might help.

Stark – most seemed pissed off to be looking at the camera.
Sad – action shots seem to be old-school. The new stuff feels very clinical, with the women holding their arms to their sides, dejected, like they are waiting for a bus because they lost the keys to their bike lock. Oh, and a bully stole their backpack.
Bored – I can understand this, it’s not exactly a thought-provoking job, and I figure many of them are just as intelligent as other people, they just don’t get to exercise those brain cells much at work.

Makeup & Hair
The blatant racism annoys me the most, but the hair and makeup designs seemed the most spooky to me, because everyone looked like clones from Orphan Black (though none seemed as talented or sexy as Tatiana Maslany). Some single-page ads deliberately tried to get women who appeared identical, and made the more-so. Most of the ads used predefined looks that the makeup and hair artists probably pressed on with stamps, and the end result stripped away any individuality the women had, making them all look the same, within these basic categories:
Perfect skin girl – by far the most popular look for younger models, skin nearly white as paper, all pigmentation variations, blemishes, and imperfections removed, to the point of her looking like a blown-up plastic bag. Hair often long, straight, and stern.
Strung-out woman – the modern equivalent of sex kitten, this effect adds bags around the eyes and frazzled hair, making the woman look like she was just beaten by her abusive boyfriend and kicked out of the house because she smoked all his meth.
Vampire woman – this is a merger of the two common designs above. Perfect skin woman with slightly darker lips, who looks strung out because she hasn’t had enough O-negative in the last week.

Look, I understand they want to sell their clothes, but this type of treatment of people just isn’t healthy for the industry or our world culture. Both the United States and Europe have become a mishmash of cultures, looks, desires, and business styles. While corporate systems work hard to come to grips with the new reality, it seems like the fashion industry is content to live in the 1950’s.

The sad thing is, all they have to do is invite more people into the fold. It’s kind of easy. Which makes the reluctance to change all the more annoying.

Building Common Ground

I had a great experience tonight at the Teradata Apex Awards, sitting at a table with a Canadian and three Koreans, all marketers, and it reminded me of the importance of bridging the gaps between people.

When the Korean folks sat down, I had the feeling they felt a bit intimidated by the whole event, and they probably felt a little out of place, although their English skills were 99% better than my skills in any non-English language. There must have been 500 people, and the tables were primarily full of US business representatives, although there were some people from other countries. As an introvert, I can relate, regardless of whether I can speak the language or not.

We introduced each other and immediately started talking shop, because we’re marketers, right? Customer-centric this, data-driven analysis that, and we used that common ground to rebound into Dennis Rodman’s contraversial trip to North Korea, the sadness of the Malaysian airline crash this weekend, our Canadian buddy’s travels to Kathmandu and the Everest basecamp. We even discussed the customer-centric philosophy of Wells Fargo (where I work).

Still, there wasn’t so much common ground there. Politics is fine and all, but we really didn’t have an emotional connection to much except a common appreciation of the sad separation of North and South Korea.

So, I turned the conversation to Starcraft, because I’m a nerd, and that’s where I go, you know? That’s a bit of a risk… but an educated one. If you don’t know, Starcraft is a popular video game worldwide, and many South Koreans play and watch with a vim and vigor that’s normally reserved for South American football fans. I happen to be a fan of the sport myself, and so was the Hyundai representative. It helped to get us excited about something cool and fun. We also talked about the awesome films Oldboy and Five Fingers of Death, and the tendency of Chinese film production companies to use Korean directors.

We had an animated, fun discussion, and it all came from finding our common ground. Our common games, work, and stories all made that possible in a way that gave us an immediate connection. This is the kind of cultural connection that our world needs more of if we’re to move peacefully into the next century, and it makes me happy to see that it’s possible, and easier than ever with the proliferation of the internet and global cinema and video game distribution.

I believe this is necessary, even if it’s Dennis Rodman and a young dictator. Because in the end, every one of us will find the need in our lives to bridge a gap with some common ground, any common ground, to feel comfortable, and to share our experiences and our needs with other people who have no idea what we want or feel.

You gotta start somewhere, right? So, challenge for the day: get out there and make some connections with other people. Let them know what you love, and learn what they love. You never know. Those connections could last a lifetime, or change the course of history.

Harlen Bayha's blog of bloggable bloginess