“Bullshit is everywhere.”

Jon Stewart bowed out of The Daily Show last night with a meditation on the single most pervasive reality of life in the United States in 2015: The relentless, unending cascade of bullshit that rains down on us every day from every media outlet we monitor and every mobile device we own.

The ubiquity of bullshit is almost impossible to overstate. Of course, it pervades every one of the 5,000 marketing messages that are aimed at each of us every single day but that’s just the tip of an enormous iceberg. In fact, the “news” we watch is every bit as phony as the ads. My favorite example is this classic clip from The Today Show. There’s nothing particularly noteworthy about Michelle Kosinski’s dishonesty here except for the fact that she managed to get caught.

Like Paddy Chayefsky’s Howard Beale, Stewart reminds us that we are ultimately responsible for accepting the bullshit to which we’re exposed. Beale’s famous prescription was getting people to proclaim, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more.” Stewart, on the other hand, is a bit more concise and elegant: “If you smell something, say something.”

Whichever formulation you prefer, the basic idea is the same. Bullshit loses its power when we acknowledge it instead of ignoring it. Is this the right approach for you? Ask your doctor.

The Most Meta Tweet Ever?

This tweet from Chuck Woolery, self-described “Hollywood Conservative” and game show host extraordinaire, might be one of the most meta things I’ve ever seen.

Of course, it’s difficult to know exactly what someone means when they’re trying to talk philosophy in 140 characters or less so I don’t want to make any assumptions here. It’s possible that Chuck might have been referring to a classic Bertrand Russell quote (one that I coincidentally posted on Facebook yesterday):

One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision.

That’s a similar sentiment but not exactly the same as what Chuck tweeted. But given Russell’s political outlook, I’m guessing that he is probably not one of Chuck’s intellectual heroes. It’s not unreasonable, then, to consider other possible interpretations.

One plausible option is that Chuck was nodding to the Dunning-Kruger effect, a certain kind of cognitive bias that gets hijacked from time to time into online political discussions.

If that’s the case, then you don’t need any help from me in analyzing this. (though an appreciation of irony would certainly help). The tweet simply speaks for itself.

Let This Be Our Last Battlefield

On January 10, 1969, in one of my favorite episodes, the original Star Trek TV series obliquely tackled the subject of racism. In the intervening forty six years, I’m not sure that anyone has nailed the arrogance and inherent irrationality of racial bias as clearly or as effectively.

Whenever I see someone like Charles Murray pontificating about race on television or when I read any of the vapid diatribes—dripping in thinly veiled racism (or, frequently, not so thinly veiled racism)—that appear regularly in conservative media, Frank Gorshin’s pitch perfect performance pops into my mind. His performance is over-the-top but, when you think about it, no more so than Louis Gomert or half the writers at National Review.

Three Things That Everyone Missed in Mad Men S7E12

As Mad Men approaches the end of its extraordinary run, each episode gets combed over in excruciating detail in a search for meaning and significance. The detail of the scrutiny isn’t really surprising. Mad Men is, after all, the greatest TV drama of all time.

What is surprising, though, is how three potentially important developments from last week’s episode managed to somehow slip under almost everyone’s radar. I could be off-base with any or all of these but each one seemed fraught with significance to me:

It was a “Don Draper” pitch that pushed Don over the edge. Reading over recaps of last week’s episode, several bloggers mentioned that Don was “distracted” at the Miller meeting. It seemed clear to me that something much more pointed was going on. When Bill Phillips of Donnelly Research began his presentation, what I heard was clearly reminiscent of the old Don Draper at his peak. Listening (in effect) to himself spurred today’s Don to a conclusion: His profession was unworthy and his professional success was meaningless. Don reached his point of no return, provoked by the echo of a classic Don Draper-styled pitch.

Roger is the guy falling from a window in the opening credits. The inestimable Sandra Colombo gets credit for this one. In Sunday’s episode, Roger told Peggy about an experience when he was in the Navy. He had a chance to go swimming after being stuck on a boat for several days in 100 degree weather. The problem was that he had to jump from someplace that was several stories above the water… and he was afraid of heights. When Peggy asked him how he got himself to jump, he explained that someone pushed him. It’s not difficult to see that as a foreshadowing something more meaningful to come.

The hitchhiker was a young Dick Whitman. This is the most obvious, most overlooked clue of all. Take a good look at this screen grab of Don and the young hitchhiker:

Hitchhiker

Unless, I’m seeing things (a possibility that isn’t entirely out of the question), that looks an awful lot like Jon Hamm lurking underneath that mess of uncombed hair. If that’s the case, then Don’s ensuing road trip with this young man is destined to be the hinge on which the entire Mad Men story swings. It will provide Don with ample time to discover what his younger self knew that he has forgotten. And he’ll have a chance to integrate his unsettling past with his increasingly uncertain future. Call me an optimist but I’d like to think that there’s redemption waiting out there for Don and that perhaps it might be the young Dick Whitman who points him in the right direction.

Like everyone else, I’m eager to see how Matthew Weiner works everything out in the end. But as I watched last week’s episode it seemed to me that he left some fairly obvious clues. It turned out, though, that they were all roundly ignored in the media… if they were really there at all.

One of my favorite projects ever

Two years ago, as Florida was gearing up for election season, I got a call from my friend Steve Barnes who was then chairman of Seminole County’s Democratic Party. Steve knew that I’d done media work in the past and asked if I’d give him a hand putting together an ad for Florida’s 29th congressional district, one of three districts in Seminole. I’d have jumped at any chance to work with Steve but, for a variety of reasons, this opportunity was particularly appealing.

Steve’s original idea was to create some kind of A Clockwork Orange takeoff. While that was an intriguing idea in a number of ways, I thought we should aim for something a little more… mainstream. Eventually, we decided on a format based on the original Law & Order. I think it’s fair to say that we both liked the idea but neither of us loved it. One afternoon, I got a call from Steve with a tweak that put the spot over the top. The ad was always going to be about the closing of Longwood Elementary, a huge issue in the district that transcended partisan politics. What was appealing about the Law & Order approach was that it allowed the “prosecutor” to make a rapid series of dramatic points that reflected how parents and kids felt about what had happened. Steve’s idea was simple and brilliant: “Let’s make the prosecutor a kid!”

The rest, as they say, is history. We were able to find an incredible collection of young actors, most of whom had never acted on camera before. We got the whole thing shot in a couple of hours and it turned out even better than we’d hoped. The young man who played the “prosecutor” was the only cast member who’d ever acted before… and his experience showed. When the ad was unveiled on YouTube, it created so much buzz that it got featured on a couple of the local news shows and several local political web sites.

I always feel fortunate when I can look back on a project and, after the passage of time, still feel that it turned out well. That was certainly the case here but, as is so often the case with projects that yield exceptional results, this one was a genuinely collaborative effort. But more important than that, it was a blast!