Category Archives: Diversity

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

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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 Style.com 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 Style.com 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:

Physical
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.

Demeanor
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.

More Women, Please

The Bechdel Test has been on my mind recently. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a simple little ditty you can sing in your sleep, namely:


1. The story/movie/whatever has two named women characters
2. Who have a conversation (meaning that they both talk to each other)
3. About something, not a man.

Anything. Shoes. Genetic manipulation of sapling DNA. Clouds of choking dust. The freaking wall color. Anything. (For a list of movies, see BechdelTest.com)


As they say in some commentaries, this is neither a guarantee of a balanced story nor of a story that has women as compelling or powerful characters. However, it’s a start, you know? It’s a start.

Because, when you apply the opposite rule, you get like 100% of movies and 100% of books ever written, except maybe Thelma and Louise (which I haven’t seen, so I’m just making things up, because I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie or read a book that did not have two male characters having a conversation about not women).

Romantic comedies are particularly bad at this, I’ve noticed. There actually are women characters in romcoms, but they don’t often bother to discuss anything other than the problem getting or having a relationship with a man. Unless it’s a lesbian comedy, of which I can think of like one independent film. Maybe two. Which is sad.

I think one of the problems is that there’s not a lot of competition on this front yet, despite the whole women’s movement. There’s not a lot of content out there yet that goes the other way. Because I believe that to obtain balance, we need to have content available that shows the other side of the spectrum, dramatically. Books and movies that minimize the male voice as much as possible.

Why? Well, because in my personal world, I work with women. I work with a lot of women. I live with women. Believe it or not, I respect my friends and co-workers who are women. And I rarely, if ever, discuss men with them. Seriously.

So, if they say you should write about what you know, I really should be writing about women running multi-billion-dollar Fortune 500 companies. I should be writing about girls who build things out of cardboard and duct tape. I should be writing about women who create cooking and entertainment shows on YouTube and become famous.

Because that’s life today. I’m just kind of sad that our fiction in many ways hasn’t caught up to the reality of the world of fact around us.

I’d also like to see more women in video games. And no, I’m not talking about cheesecakey women who fight with big guns, have bigger guns hiding under their clothes, and look like they should be posing for a glamour shot on a nerd’s shelf. I’m talking about women like in The Walking Dead video game, who try to navigate the zombie apocalypse. I’m talking about Mass Effect, where my Commander Shepherd can be female, has women on her team, and hardly ever talks about anything other than the mission.

So, if you’re like me and you want to see more of this stuff, buy it. Promote it. Talk about it. Because it’s all about us. We’ve got to make our voices heard, every day.

Wow. Soap box. Step off, dude…

Back to your not-so-regularly scheduled commentary…