Tuesday, April 20, 2010

It's more of a preference, you see, than so much of a more/manners issue

Every morning I boot up my Twitter stream because, like this guy I know named Ed, I trust human editors who happen to be people I've deliberately chosen to follow, to let me know what I need to know.

In fact, I usually hear on Twitter today the news major media brings me tomorrow. I'm pretty sure journalists are trolling Twitter for inspiration, too. Or trawling. Depending upon the motives.

My motive is definitely to be inspired and informed. I love knowing what has caught people's attention and what has held it. The cultural geographer in me finds Twitter an awesome insight into our culture, mindset, interests, motives, and more.

I have a lot of different intentions behind using Twitter and the Tweets I send out. Mostly I send out links to interesting things I've read or stuff I think you should know, RTs from people I esteem and who said something I found worthwhile, or germane thoughts about twitversations or current events. I've used it for customer service. Chatting. Research. And the occasional outburst about lizards that resemble small alligators in my house. (True story. Yesterday.)

I use it to try to add value to the people in my stream. I use it to find value from the people in my stream. It's an amazing give and take, that Twitter.

What I don't use it for is to diss people.

Quick qualifier: I have dissed specific events -- such as the time Bank of America lost my money and would not give it back, or when FEMA did not respond to my hurricane claim in a timely way. However, I did so purposefully and as it happens, to reach their customer service since I had no luck any other way. These conversations on Twitter ended up bringing a resolution, actually. They also served a secondary purpose: alerted other consumers to my story with this company.

However, a large contingent of Tweeps do use it to diss people and I shudder every time I open Twitter to see "I hate people who..." tweets.

You know what? I hate it when people hate people.

Okay, really. I want a point of clarity here. Language and word choice does matter, and words can hurt.

In point of fact, and clarity, most of the things you hate about someone are really more to do with you. Seriously. Studies say. Studies do not say that you are always right and when you feel annoyed someone else is always wrong.

I'm sort of amazed, actually, by the amount of hubris I see these days. We've got this entitlement issue that "if it bugs me it's horrid and must be stopped."

In point of fact, most of this is more of a personal preference (about you) versus a societal more (about the other person).

Let's take the most frequent call to hate: people who talk on cell phones.

I don't prefer when people talk on their cell phones at the store. I really don't prefer it when they do so loudly.

But I don't hate those people and I acknowledge their right to use the phone as they need, including voice level, just as I hope they extend the same courtesy and understanding to me when I shop oh say with my kids and my Loud Admonishing Mom voice.

I wish folks would say prefer to hate. I wish there was more "I don't prefer it when..." and less "I hate people who..." I'd even be more comfortable with, "I hate it when..." although I really prefer less hate.

It's a real 'love the sinner even if you don't prefer the sin' deal. Dig?

The idea is to discuss the action, not the person. Because truthfully, you don't know the person, or even what's behind the action.

For in-store calls -- I try to imagine this person is shopping for a homebound neighbor and needs to make sure she gets the exact right thing.

For coffeehouse cell chatterers -- I try to imagine this person is having work done on his home and as a work-from-home person, needs space to keep earning a living.

I try to imagine that possibly this is out of character for this person. I try to imagine that although this is a regular behavior, the person doesn't mean harm, and anyway, gave $200 to Walk for the Cure.

I try to imagine something that humanizes the person and so, even while the behavior might annoy me, I can exhale and let it go. More importantly, I can see the other person as a human being with a complicated life that I don't know or understand and I can extend understanding that benefits that person and me. Because now I am over it and not hating anyone, or any group of people.

Also, I just exercised my imagination and who doesn't need to do that more often.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Using porn as a guide for The Talk: criminal, stupid, or brilliant?

This morning, on my walk, I listened to an NPR story about a father, his two daughters, and Internet pornography.

I'll include a few salient quotes from the article, but I highly suggest you read the entire piece (it's a short easy read).

"[Crystal] Buckner says her daughter had told the counselor that late one night at her father's house, he'd shown his daughters pornography on a computer.
"When he called them over, it was a live webcam of a woman by herself and Daddy was typing to her what to do," Buckner says.

The live webcam action was followed by exhibitions of other online video pornography. The pornography was all adult. The girls reported that their father, Crystal's former husband, Jack A. Buckner II, said he was showing them the pornography because sex was something they needed to know about."
As parents, we can all relate to the general concept of "whew, that was a mistake" along with "not the best approach." We all err as parents, and our children have to deal with the fact that we are mere humans. The idea is to do our best to mitigate and minimize our mistakes, learn from them, and more importantly, think it through especially in big moments like this.

As parents, I seriously doubt we can relate to a father thinking a live Internet porn show, in which he was participating, is a good way to educate two young daughters about sex.
"Jack Buckner II declined to comment about the case. His current wife, Jennifer Buckner, told NPR the exhibition was a one-time occurrence. She said her husband knew the next day he'd made a mistake attempting to educate his young daughters by using computer pornography."
Good.

Still.

It leads to questions: with such a colossal lack of judgement, what else has he done? And what was impairing his judgment on this occasion? Was it an impulse? Was he engaged in Internet porn, and upon being discovered by his daughters, impulsively decided to turn this into a Teaching Moment? Or did he plan it? Was it a cover up? In short, what in the world...?

I have an eight year old. She is very curious, especially about the human body, particularly about differences between male and female human bodies. She has asked questions, but I have learned to ask her what she wants to know before launching into something way beyond what she needs, and past what she can process.

She has also walked in while I am watching a show I consider "not suitable for children." In my case, this means a crime solving television program that contains what I think of as violence or scary parts that could frighten or worry a child. I pause the show. If she asks a question, I try to answer on a practicality, with mention it's a grown-up program and fake.

I believe in honesty with kids, but with that huge, weighty caveat: as is age-appropriate.

Under no circumstances do I think live action Internet porn qualifies.

I realize I am a very Thinky Mom and have probably written an entire script prior to opening my mouth, but I also feel confident most parents will agree with me on this: that was a tremendously stupid thing for that dad to do.

The father, Jack Buckner, has full custody of the girls. The porn incident came to light, though, when their biological mother took them to see a therapist because the eight year old had been acting out.
"Crystal Buckner was waiting in a therapist's office last summer for her 8-year-old daughter to finish a session. The child had been having behavior problems — anger, acting out. At the end of this session, the therapist came in looking grim.

"The counselor put the kids in one room and called me into her office and said, 'Crystal, you need to sit down,' " Buckner recalls. Buckner's other daughters were there for counseling, too.

Buckner says her daughter had told the counselor that late one night at her father's house, he'd shown his daughters pornography on a computer.

. . .

The girls kept it secret for months, but the 8-year-old eventually told her therapist — and after informing Crystal Buckner, that therapist called child protective services in northern Texas."
This is the point at which it gets very tricky.

I strongly believe the therapist was right to call child protective services and ask them to investigate. A father who will show his daughters live Internet porn, in which he was participating, needs to be checked out. That action is too far past reasonable parental judgment.

I confess my perspective is subjective. However, in this case, letting CPS make the call of "okay" or "actionable" was wise and right.

But what do you think, and why?

As it happens, CPS did decide it warranted investigation. They referred it to Randall County District Attorney James Farren.
"It is not illegal to possess adult pornography," he says. "It is not illegal to look at adult pornography regardless of how we may feel about it morally or philosophically."

But Farren wanted to prosecute the father. The Texas penal code allows prosecution of anyone who sells or shows harmful material to a minor. And the law stipulates that pornography is considered harmful. The law was written in 1973, but it came with one important caveat, Farren says: It doesn't allow prosecution when the child was accompanied by a consenting parent or guardian.

In this case, not only was the minor accompanied by a parent during the exhibition, but the parent was the exhibitor. Nevertheless, Farren says he was willing to take his chances with a West Texas jury anyway. But there was a hitch.

"If the judge is made aware of that, I won't even get to a jury," he says. "He'll give me an instructed verdict."
I agree with this: it was stupid, and bad enough to warrant CPS investigation to ensure the three girls were not in danger, but I do not think it was criminally stupid. Buckner needs some education, and support to make a better choice in how to educate his daughters about sexual topics.

However, he does not need to be prosecuted. Far better, I think, to provide access to parenting tips and help. Most importantly, I think the government needs to respect parental decisions and privacy. District attorneys need to understand, as frustrating as it can be, that stupid, poor choices, and even acting like a jerk and creep are not per se against the law. Moreover, that doesn't per se mean the law needs to be changed, as DA Farren would like.
District Attorney Farren knows that in conservative West Texas, people are wary of aggressive government intrusion into matters that could be seen as private.

But he says his constituents are disgusted by the case, and so is he.
I'm disgusted too, but let's be clear: what disgusts me doesn't mean illegal, and it also doesn't mean someone ought to be in jail. Not only is that not always the most constructive response, it may not even be the right one.
George Dix, a law professor at the University of Texas, is less enthusiastic about the state's putting itself in the middle of this situation.

"It may be impossible to define with precision what a parent should be permitted ... to provide to a child in the course of 'the talk,' " he says.

Dix says cases like this one speak to the issue of parental intent: Was the father really trying to educate the girls, or was it sinister? Educational intent is also a defense under Texas law. This can be a tricky area for a prosecutor to wander around in.
I don't think prosecutors need to be wandering around in this quite so much. We need to be cautious about letting moral outrage overtake our comprehension of legally criminal. This was poor judgment, but were the girls in imminent danger, permanent harm?

That's the current question as DA Farren pursues another line of prosecution.
Farren is unhappy with the language in the Texas penal code. So he has charged the father with a different crime — child endangerment, a felony punishable by up to two years in prison. To get a conviction, Farren will have to prove the father put his daughters in "imminent danger of mental impairment" by showing them pornography. It may be a long shot, the D.A. says, but he's going to try.
Does this father belong in jail, with a conviction?

The girls' mother at the least doesn't believe he deserves to be the custodial parent any longer and has sued for a change in custody.

Without knowing either of the parents, more information, how the initial arrangement came to be and why, or any other relevant details, it's hard to say whether a custody change would be best.

It's hard to even know whether there is more to the story, or whether the father has a history of situations like this.

On the merits we do know, though, it seems to me that there is little to support a sinister intent, and therefore, the DA needs to let this one go...and find a more constructive solution.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Erykah Badu and Neal McDonough and Me: Two ends of the media sexuality spectrum and one end of the mom spectrum

Recently, Erykah Badu, without a permit, stripped completely bare for a video shoot. She traipsed through Dealey Plaza in Dallas dropping articles of clothing as she went. By the time she reached the spot where President Kennedy was assassinated, she was naked. A shot noise sounded, and she crumpled to the ground, with blue letters spelling "groupthink" flowing from her head like blood.

Badu has offered a lot of artistic integrity philosophical explanations for why the video required her to strip in a public place with no warning to the tourists and public there.

Playing the artistic integrity card is supposed to be the quickest end point of any controversy or argument over an artist doing something the general public finds offensive. Boo. Hiss. That's lame logic and doesn't truly address the issue at hand: the artist inflicted something offensive on an unsuspecting and unwelcoming public.

And the general public did find Badu's spontaneous strip act offensive. When news crews interviewed the people who were there, most were appalled. They were troubled that she had done this, with no notice, and largely focused on the fact that children were there and this is a very adult situation that left parents in a challenging and unenviable position.

Tourists came to see the landmark honoring President Kennedy, and in addition got an eyeful of a stripping woman.

Certainly as parents we encounter challenging public situations we have to explain and deal with for our children. My daughters and I have discussed people spanking kids, adults arguing, customers being rude to cashiers, bad drivers, littering, and more that we've seen in public.

But we've never had to discuss why a lady strips naked in a public outdoor venue and I have to confess, I'm more than a little glad because at heart, it makes me very uncomfortable.

I know some artists have as their goal "make people uncomfortable, shake them up, make them open their minds" but I'll be truthful and say I find this BS. When I'm discomfited, I shut down, as, I expect, many people do.

Granted, sometimes, that is the right artistic path. But usually, in my opinion, it's a lazy cop out. Or, worse, deep disrespect.

Badu had many other choices to film her video: there's an excellent film studio in the Dallas area at Las Colinas-she could have used a set; there's amazing things you can do with film editing and overlays-even I can do it on my home Mac; she could have found a more private location, secured a permit, or warned the public.

But she didn't. So, in short, she was discourteous of that space as their space, too.

That's probably what I would have told my kids, actually.

I also would have told them she had other choices.

Neal McDonough is a good example of a successful actor who makes other choices. McDonough, an award winning actor (you may know him as Lt. Hawk from Star Trek First Contact), refuses to have a sexual encounter that is graphic for any acting role, any show. In fact, he has walked away from plum roles exhibiting not his skin, but the courage of his convictions. He says that, by his principles and religion, a graphic sex scene is a betrayal of his vows to his family.

I hear that.

In a world where we think nudity, graphic sex, and violence are a necessary to art -- largely media such as movies and, more and more, television -- I'm concerned about how often we ask others, ourselves, actors, and artists to release their inhibitions, principles, and compromise their ethics. And we make this a condition of success.

I don't intend to imply any form of censorship, and certainly do not think that Badu should be banned from stripping for a video.

I'm just wondering: why is that the norm? the standard?

It may be real life, but so much of it is gratuitous, and thus, artistically unnecessary, a distraction from the true art, even.

At the end of the day, Badu's desire to be graphic and McDonough's desire to remain faithful, even in playacting, are not truly two ends of the spectrum. They are actually both at the same end: being true to themselves within their art.

I can respect that, tremendously.

It becomes an issue for me, however, when it invades my life, in a deliberate attempt to shock my morals. Right away I smell the disrespect -- this is someone who finds my principles ridiculous in some way.

That's why I find Badu's actions reprehensible and McDonough's admirable -- not because one fits my morals better than the other or is a shining example to hold up to my kids, but because one doesn't respect my space. At all. And it doesn't want to.

What do you think?