Tuesday, April 07, 2009

BLOGGING FOR FUN AND PROFIT AND DUMMIES

This Blog got it’s first job offer last week. Two years of blood and sweat and primary career sacrifice finally paid off with the arrival of a nice letter from an obviously just as nice woman in England, very generous writing contract already drawn and attached. The British just do this stuff right, don’t they? No need for multiple meetings and mulling of other options. They simply sense Quality and have the Solicitor pop a letter in the Post.

This is how Byron and Shelley got hired.

Anyway, she’s a regular reader of “The Legion” and commended me for my intelligence (“Thank you”), the quality of my writing (“You’re too kind”) my sophistication (“Practically my middle name”) and most of all, my maturity (“Uh, …are we reading the same blog here?”).

She got quite chatty, now that I was suitably complimented, and detailed her business, which is supplying scrupulously researched and thoughtful essays on topics on which I felt I had some knowledge at $40/page and 50% of Gross receipts. A sum I have to admit is much higher than what I’ve received from any of you Plebes coming here on a daily basis for all the Insight and Wisdom you’ve been carting away for Free!

My interest was piqued and I quickly perused the attached contract and support documents – realizing my writing skills would be well rewarded by people without the brains or initiative to get a University degree, but still in desperate need of earning course credits. I’d supply the intelligence and diligence they were lacking – and hopefully never end up in the ER where they were interning after Graduation.     

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Supplying work University students can falsely claim as their own is apparently a big business. A simple Google search will turn up literally thousands of sites, some charging as little as 5 bucks a page for post graduate Calculus and Atomic science term papers -- implying that my essay on such a topic would be sold a lot more than once.

This would additionally imply that a lot of people are tacking diplomas on their walls that they might not even know how to read. And when you think about it, that means I could be contributing to another coroner who can’t tell the difference between an abused child and one who died of natural causes, a financial advisor who doesn’t know a toxic asset when it crosses his desk or the next College team suddenly able to field enough players to win a Bowl game.

Sort of explains the current mess the world’s in, doesn’t it?

My first instinct was to bin the nice lady’s letter. Nobody tracks integrity much anymore, but I’ve always taken some pride in the fact that I don’t lie, cheat or steal – traits that have often made it hard for me to explain how I’ve managed to have a career in the Canadian film business.

And then I read a study that hit the newspapers yesterday saying that the vast majority of University freshmen are hideously ill-prepared for that level of education. Many don’t have anywhere near the abilities to read, write or do arithmetic that their High School Diplomas say they do. Most rely heavily on sites like Wikipedia for reliable information and almost all “expect to be rewarded without the requisite effort”.

Now, I’m not gonna go off on a “Damn Kids! Get off my lawn!” rant here. Because I’ve started noticing that we all seem a little less interested in putting in the effort required.

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When the film version of Frank Miller’s graphic novel “300” was released, I read some cultural essayist decrying it for one reason or another and recommending Steven Pressfield’s “Gates of Fire” as the definitive historical version of the Battle of Thermopylae.

Now, Pressfield’s “The War of Art” is absolutely required reading by anyone intending to make a living in any creative field and I’d loved his novel “The Legend of Bagger Vance”. But I didn’t know he also had such a vaunted academic pedigree. When I read several other reviews of the film that also referenced Pressfield’s historical acumen, I went out and bought his book.

But you only needed to get as far into its pages as the Thespian General telling his troops to “Just go out there and have fun”, about as theatrical  (as in that kind of Thespian) an in-joke as there is, to realize “Gates of Fire” was a helluva good novel that made no pretense to being the height of historical accuracy. 

So, how come so many journalists and columnists and critics and bloggers all said it was?

Because they hadn’t read the book.

And they were all getting their original source information from that first guy.

And about half of them have written or will write a column dumping on Wikipedia for being unreliable.

It’s incredibly easy to put something out there these days and have it accepted as fact. Why? Because unless you’re some Conservative blogger out to disprove the stance of a Liberal pundit or vice versa, nobody calls you on your Bullshit anymore. Because nobody really checks.

Or maybe thinks checking is even important.

In my post-“Beastmaster” days, having learned how to stage battle scenes with about 8 guys and a wardrobe budget that never got into triple digits, I toyed with writing a film about Hannibal. And I read quite a few real academic studies on the Punic Wars.

It’s a little known fact that the First Punic war was triggered when Heiro II of Syracuse depicted the Carthaginian King as having an undersized set of genitals on five clay amphorae of wine intercepted by the Carthaginian Navy after one of Heiro’s ships wrecked off the African coast.

Now…

That’s complete horseshit.

But while you were reading it, Google was linking those phrases for some kid at NYU one credit short of his political science degree.

And if the teaching assistant assessing his paper because the Professor is on sabbatical bicycling the Loire Valley, doesn’t know anything about the Punic Wars, much less cares, that student gets his degree and goes to work for the State Department.

That’s how easy it is.

We all “expect success without the requisite effort”.

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It’s why thousands of people entrusted all their assets to Bernie Madoff, why so many Canadian artistes who have never made a film anybody will pay to see used last week’s Genie Awards as a soapbox to demand more public funding – and maybe why food doesn’t get inspected properly, helicopters with faulty parts fall out of the sky and the kid at the coffee place never gets your order right.

None of the people involved in these things either knew what they were doing or followed the lead of folks who were even less qualified than they were.

We’re getting dumber.

And that means we’re getting easier to fool and more likely to be used. Be that by a politician, a theologian, a demented environmentalist – or a screenwriter looking to make some quick money on the side.

As my Cowboy Grandfather used to say, “Everybody wants to get to heaven. Nobody wants to die.” And if we’re unwilling to do our own homework or demand a level of accountability from others and ourselves -- and the people placed in the positions to help us got there on falsified credentials as well, then we’re all in danger of going over a cliff.

The Barbarians really are at the gates. Only this time – they’re us.

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4 comments:

DAVID said...

That was one of the funniest and most brilliant things I've ever read. I've thought before that you should have your own column, and now it looks possible that you could go from viral to syndicated.

Brandon Laraby said...

Holy shit. Yes. Absolutely, yes. I love that quote as well. "Everybody wants to get to Heaven. Nobody wants to die."

Brilliant.

Now excuse me, I've gotta get back to work (darn scripts don't write themselves)... :P

Trevor B. Cunningham said...

As the late Dr. Hunter S. Thompson said "Welcome to The New Dumb". He's turning out to be a prophetic author instead of a merely amusing one. Good post.

JA Goneaux said...

Well, we are getting dumber, but we are also getting lazier, which is probably the same thing, when you think of it.

I judge it by my subway ride every morning.

Some of us read real books. (Call me a pretentious nerd, but I just finished Sir Richard Burton's "Pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina". Now there's a reality show I'd watch: get an infidel into the Holy Places...)

Many (MANY) fewer read real newspapers, i.e., Stars, Globes, Posts. If it is newsprint, its the freebies. And I don't remember the last time I saw anyone reading a Sun.

And I don't see anyone doing crosswords anymore either, its !#$!@ suduku.

I honestly don't know how much more dumb we can get. But it is a scary thought, isn't it?