Cut Off At The Salad Bar: Dave Copeland’s Blog

I’ve been blogging since May 2002 — not one of the first, but well before all the cool kids tried it, made it a craze, then gave up on it. The best way to describe this portion of my writing life is part personal notebook where I test ideas and pieces of drafts I’m working on, part self-promotion, and part random ranting.

 

Frequently addressed topics include journalism, teaching and higher educations, writing, cooking, drinking (or, more specifically, not drinking, running, reading and life in general. Comments are appreciated but monitored before they appear on this site. All views expressed on “Cut Off At The Salad Bar” are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of any of his past, present or future employers.

Do We Need A Men’s Rights Movement?

Posted August 2nd, 2013 in Men Being Men
Creative Commons illustration.

Creative Commons illustration.

Interesting op-ed piece in Wednesday’s Boston Globe: “The broken dialogue on men’s rights” by Cathy Young explores the idea that “it’s males in modern Western society who are under siege and whose rights need defending” and that feminists, while preaching gender-equality, refuse to take up “any pro-equality advocacy that would support men in male-female disputes, acknowledge that women can mistreat men, or undermine female advantage.”

She continues:

To many, the very notion of “men’s issues” or men’s rights seems laughable. But consider: If women were dying in 90 percent of workplace fatalities and three out of four suicides, would we not see such numbers as troubling—and as legitimate women’s issues? Yet, reversed, the disparities go unnoticed.

Unlike racial profiling of minorities, the disproportionate targeting of males by law enforcement gets no attention (women account for more than a third of illegal drug use but fewer than 15 percent of arrests). And, while men are often presumed dangerous to children, actual female molesters tend to get lenient treatment.

Attempts to restrict abortion are decried as patriarchal control over female reproduction, yet there is virtually no recognition of ways in which current policies treat paternity as a public resource. Men coerced into unwilling fatherhood (through deception about birth control or even, however rarely, such extreme methods as use of stored semen from a condom) must still pay child support. Even those tricked into supporting children they didn’t father find little recourse. On the flip side, divorced fathers often feel they are treated more as wallets than as parents.

Even when imbalances that disadvantage men or boys — such as male academic underachievement — become the subject of concern, such concerns are often viewed with suspicion as potential attacks on women.

It’s good that Young wrote this piece. It’s good that when any woman acknowledges the issue. When men write about it, they tend to come off as the jaded misogynists who populate the men’s rights forum on Reddit.

Surprise, Surprise: In Netflix Series, Jenji Kohan Still Hates Men [REVIEW]

Posted July 25th, 2013 in Television
In "Oranges Is The New Black," Jenji Kohan has created a world where women's prison is more like summer camp, and anything resembling an identifiable male character is nonexistent.

In “Oranges Is The New Black,” Jenji Kohan has created a world where women’s prison is more like summer camp, and anything resembling an identifiable male character is nonexistent.

Let’s assume you can suspend disbelief long enough to accept Jenji Kohan’s portrayal of prison as summer camp in “Orange Is The New Black,” the Netflix original series that most television critics have been slobbering over since all 13 episodes in the first season were released on July 11. There remains a slew of problems much like the ones that plagued Kohan’s “Weeds” and made the last few seasons nearly unwatchable.

Jenji Kohan

Jenji Kohan

There’s Kohan’s tendency to write Sorkin-like dialogue that seems a little too perfect, as if what the characters say is what she would hope she would say in the exact same situation (in episode six, two African-American women expertly dice white stereotypes, pulling out jokes that would be a stretch in the (presumably) white, upper middle class suburb that Kohan lives in than the urban ghetto the two characters come from. There’s Kohan’s tendency to play out whatever unresolved mommy issues she has through her lead character.

And casting seems tough for these Netflix originals. Once you get a name like Kohan or Spacey attached to it, your budget is pretty much shot. For this series, Kohan has cast “American Pie” alums (and former “Where are they now?” candidates) Natasha Lyonne and Jason Biggs. Biggs essentially plays the grown-up version of the hopelessly under-sexed and neurotic Jim he portrayed in that series. And Laura Prepon, best known as Donna from “That Seventies Show,” is cast in a key role despite displaying no growth as an actor since that teen sitcom was canceled in 2006.

But the worst offense of “Orange Is The New Black” is Kohan’s portrayal of men. Much as she did in “Weeds,” Kohan portrays men as bumbling fools (think Councilman Doug in weeds) or as sadistic perverts (George “Pornstache” Mendez in OITNB).

When Kohan wants us to like a male character, she writes them as overly sympathetic yet tragically flawed creatures. We loved Andy is “Weeds,” despite his inability to get his shit together or over his crush on Nancy Botwin. We’re allowed to sort of like Sam Healey, the head of correction officers played by Michael J. Harney, forgiving him for his ongoing lesbian witch hunt in much the same way we’d forgive an elderly grandparent who cracks unenlightened (i.e. racist) jokes.

In OITNB, the only truly likable male character is John Bennett (Matt McGory) whose character flaws include a relationship with an inmate and, when that doesn’t do enough to make him weak, Kohan throws a mid-season reveal of his below-knee amputation which he somehow managed to hide through six episodes.

Jason Biggs is as well-dressed as he is pathetic and annoying in "Orange Is The New Black" on Netflix.

Jason Biggs is as well-dressed as he is pathetic and annoying in “Orange Is The New Black” on Netflix.

But no character is more annoying and more an embodiment of all of pop culture’s awful male stereotypes than Larry Bloom, as played by Biggs. Bloom is the befuddled, whoa-is-me fiancee to lead character Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling). Bloom has to constantly be reminded that being in prison is much tougher than being engaged to someone who is in prison, and for those viewers hoping for a full reprieve of his “American Pie” role, there is a cringe-inducing scene of Biggs masturbating. Biggs sucks at his job (he’s a freelance journalist), and his personality is crushed by his overbearing and stereotypically-Jewish parents (who don’t, surprise, surprise, like the non-Jewish Piper).

He’s jealous when he finds out Piper’s former lover is in the same prison as her, yet lies to Piper when he can tell her that she was indeed the one who implicated Piper and got her the 15-month stretch for a loosely-described drug running crime more than a decade earlier. The best episodes of OITNB are the ones where Bloom is noticeably absent. There is nothing else in the series that compares to the ability of Biggs to suck the life out of a scene when he shows up in the prison visiting room or we flash to the Manhattan apartment that is remarkably opulent considering that the couple, once Piper is sent to jail, has nothing that resembles a steady income.

And yet, despite all of the above, I found myself hooked, bingeing an episode or two at a time to make it through the first season (and I’m willing to watch a second season). Maybe it’s an exercise that kept me watching “Weeds” long after Nancy Botwin’s narcism went from being a quirky character point to being an all-encompassing show structure. maybe I’m just waiting for something really awful to happen to the despicable characters Kohan creates. I want Larry Bloom to get what he deserves, and I can;t help but sense that smug Piper Chapman will go from being delightfully obtuse to being as evil as Nancy Botwin.

Unfortunately, Kohan loves her characters, so I suspect I’ll be left waiting.

The Difficult Men Behind Our Favorite Difficult Men On Television [BOOK REVIEW]

Posted July 22nd, 2013 in Books, Reviews, Television

41sY82yBy2L._SY346_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_

Difficult Men:

Behind The Scenes of a Creative Revolution, From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad

By Brett Martin

Penguin, 320 Pages

In Difficult Men, Brett Martin makes the argument that we’re in the midst of a third Golden Age of television, thanks in large part to the cable networks that have been churning out a steady stream of scripted, high-quality, one-hour dramas since HBO first aired The Sopranos in 1999. These shows have broken traditional screenwriting rules, showing that audiences will stick around for deep character development and root for an anti-hero who, in most cases, proves to be a male and difficult (think about your guilt rooting for Tony Soprano or Walter White and you start to get the feel).

But the real difficult men in Difficult Men are the story show runners: David Chase, David Simon, matthew Weiner and others. After all, it was David Chase personifying his own mother issues in Tony Soprano and it was David, not Tony, who said things like “Go look at Albert Camus’s Myth of Sisyphus. Life seems to have no purpose, but we have to go on behaving as though it does. We have to go on behaving toward each other like people who would try to love.”

Brett Martin’s in-depth histories of The Sopranos, The Wire, Breaking Bad and others revolves around the creators, writers and most often, show runners. He oscillates from admiring fanboy (Breaking bad’s Vince Gilligan) to envious though respectful critic (Mad Men’s Matthew Weiner).

The book is a must-read for anyone who has watched more than one of the six or so shows Marton chronicles in depth, and you’re sure to be the most annoying person in the room when season six of Mad Men premieres, armed with trivia like Jon Hamm once having been roommates with Paul Rudd or Matthew Weiner asking an interviewer to not mention he was smoking, since his parents didn’t know he smoked, when he was 44. But there is a deeper story there and the book, which gives all the credit to the new rules of cable television while taking jabs at the networks, is as much about the business of television as it is about the art of television.

There is a chance you have already read portions of Difficult Men. The book’s release was coincidentally timed perfectly with the death of James Gandolfini, leading to it being excerpted by several outlets. And while the book pays rightful homage to The Sopranos, it’s nice to see Martin skip the Boardwalk Empire hype almost entirely and dig into shows that may have been lesser known, as evidenced by their ratings (The Wire, Deadwoodbut have had a bigger role in the rise of the anti-hero obsession. Martin also does a commendable job of showing how the decline of Hollywood, which has churned out sequels, plotless narratives loaded with special effects and not much else, and other “safe” projects, has helped fuel the cultural revolution on Sunday night (even if people like Chase, who still considers himself a sellout for working in tekevision, will never be comfortable with TV trumping film).

David Chase, who has never forgiven himself for becoming famous as a television - as opposed to a film - auteur.

David Chase, who has never forgiven himself for becoming famous as a television – as opposed to a film – auteur.

“American movie audiences now just don’t seem to be very interested in any kind of ambiguity or any kind of real complexity of character or narrative,” said Steven Soderbergh, an indie film star who sought solace and creative freedom on television. “I think those qualities are now being seen on television and that people who want to see stories that have those kinds of qualities are watching television.”

Like most books about men, Difficult Men has to include the obligatory apology to women: Martin notes that these tormented, middle-aged, male characters became our standard Sunday night fare because television is controlled by middle-aged men (being tormented optional). And he’s quick to note that shows like The Sopranos, Mad Men and Breaking Bad get a full hour treatment while shows with strong female ledes, like Sex In The City and Weeds, only get a half hour and usually get a lighter, more comedic treatment.

And, of course, therein lies the problem with the book. For all the time Martin spends chronicling the quirky personalities of show runners and the drama they create in their writers’ rooms, Martin comes up short in showing why the characters they created come up short in resonating with so many men and women. He doesn’t dare suggest the conversation about pop culture’s emasculation of men that started with the 1999 release of Fight Club and cut abruptly short with the bombing of the World Trade Center in 2001, continued with more subtle overtones during the past decade. Men who probably look and act like Ray Romano and work in a place like Jim Halpert’s Office were given quiet permission to root for their own, suppressed, inner demon, be it the womanizing McNulty on The Wire or the elegant yet vicious orator and barkeep Al Swearengen on Deadwood.

The Good Life [VIGNETTE]

Posted July 19th, 2013 in Work Like A Man

tumblr_mnh3w68UCa1s2qxvxo1_500The fat old guy is retired now, doing okay but still wishing he had bought that land down in Costa Rica. He’s smoking a cigar with an 80-gauge ring, the kind of monster that looks more like a bowel movement than a tobacco product. He doesn’t like that 63 cents of every dollar he spent on the stogie is going to the government and he doesn’t like that local ordinances prohibit him from having a glass of Scotch as he puffs away and tells the younger men around him what is wrong with the world.

“It’s all gone to shit, just no one realizes it yet,” he says. “I’m okay, I’m happy, I’ve had a good life. But I worry about you guys.”

The guy that owns the cigar lounge is in his mid-thirties and it’s his first go at being a small business owner. “Now that I’ve been doing this, I know why businesses are all so corrupt,” he said. “There’s no other way to do it.”

He doesn’t expect to retire. “It would be nice, but…” In fact, most men I know under the age of 40 don’t expect to retire, or, if they do, it won’t be the Golden Years their parents had envisioned on golf courses, bus tours of the Pacific Northwest and spoiling grandchildren.

There’s a real estate broke rand a financial planner; they seem to be doing okay, but they have nothing better to do than escape the heat and bitch about all that is wrong with the world. They’re the kind of guys who equate cigar-smoking with the good life, yet they dress like shit and eat nasty takeout from the deli around the corner. The underemployed kid is furiously pecking away at a Macbook, trying to make a go of it as a freelance graphic designer. He has no clients and no formal training, but what freelancer does these days?

Men are twice as likely as women to work more than 50 hours per week, and they account for 93% of workplace fatalities. At the same time, the Great Recession has been particularly cruel to men, hitting male-dominated fields like manufacturing. Today, men are two times as likely as women to be homeless. All of this may explain why men, on average, die five years earlier than women and are four times more likely to commit suicide.

Two Asian kids are the youngest and most successful guys in the room: they’re in their late twenties and they live off of the income from rental properties they bought shortly after arriving in the U.S. for college. They dropped out of school and are completely Americanized, immersed in their smartphones and oblivious to the conversation taking place around them.

With a life like that, the dream doesn’t really seem to be worth living.

There’s A Better Way To Stop The Presses

Posted July 17th, 2013 in pop culture

r1188cover-306x-1374073020Have any of the people in a tizzie about a decision by Rolling Stone to put the surviving Boston Marathon bombing suspect on its cover actually read the story?

If they had, they might see that it’s really nothing more than what we have been reading for three months. Janet Reitman’s article is impressive in length only; otherwise, it’s interviews with the same usual suspects media outlets started digging up on April 19 when the FBI released surveillance photos of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, who was killed in a shootout with police, rewrites of the hundreds of stories that have already been published and – the only original reporting Reitman did – a trip to federal court to see Tsarnaev in person in an otherwise non-newsworthy hearing. Reitman’s piece is fawning, but ultimately it comes off as an over-written version of the same story we get whenever something awful and unexpected happens:

“Well, he seemed like such a nice guy,” neighbors said. More at 11.

In other words, there was no need for this to be a cover story. It broke no new ground, yet, to make something where there wasn’t anything, the magazine’s editors plastered the sympathetic selfie they had yoked from Tsarnaev’s Facebook page and wrote a headline that suggest his decline into terrorism may not have been entirely his fault.

How A Popular, Promising Student Was Failed By His Family, Fell Into Radical Islam and Became a Monster

Promising student? This is a kid who was failing out of a college that isn’t exactly known for its stringent academic standards. Well, even Rolling Stone is allowed to embellish here and there.

The joke ends up being the people who are getting all bent out of shape, organizing boycot of Rolling Stone’s dwindling stable of advertisers and using their own First Amendment rights to call talk radio shows and vent about how the free speech rights of Reitman and the rest of Rolling Stone’s editorial staff. Those are the people that have made a magazine that is long past its age of being relevant something people are talking about once again.

Sports Reporters And The Stockholm Syndrome

Posted July 9th, 2013 in Sports

I would like to make a donation to “recycling” but I’m not sure who to make the check out to.

At least two local radio stations — WEEI and WBZ – and the Boston Globe have used the phrase “donating the material for recycling purposes” or, simply, “donated to recycling”  to describe what the New England Patriots would be doing with the Aaron Hernandez jerseys fans turned in over the weekend and ground up in a brilliant P.R. move by the team. Is it coincidence? Something owner Bob Kraft said in his comments with a small group of hand-picked reporters on Monday? Or, perhaps the most likely reason, it was somewhere in the P.R. materials distributed to reporters (for the record, I can’t find the phrase in the publicly-accessible press releases on the Patriot’s Website).

Creative Commons photo.

Creative Commons photo.

Good reporters learn on day one or two that they serve the reader, and that means using simple and direct language. People don’t “pass away.” They “die.” Good P.R. people are taught to always be looking for angles to make things look better than they are, as they serve the client, not the newspaper’s readers. it’s a constant struggle, but it gets very =dangerous when the sports reporters play into the spin.

In this case, “the team recycled the ground up material from the jerseys.” If you really feel the need to embellish, I may let you get away with as much as “the team disposed of the ground up material properly.” But let’s make it perfectly clear that the jerseys, as far as the team were concerned, were worthless. You don’t get a tax deduction when you separate your bottles and paper products from your regular trash.

Yet the cushy word choice may be the least of the sports reporters’ transgressions in handling the Hernandez coverage (this is what happens when you have people trained to cover third down conversions and QB ratings trying to cover murder cases). As best I can tell, none of the reporters at yesterday’s conference asked the important “how” question when Kraft flatly admitted he and the organization had been “duped” by Hernandez, who stands accused of murder. As in, what protocols were in place? how could you be duped when other teams passed on Hernandez because of the readily available red flags? And how will the team prevent a similar incident from happening in the future?

This happens with a lot of beat reporters, particularly sports beat reporters. They don’t ask the tough questions for fear of losing their place at the front of the pecking order. They grovel for praise from powerful men like Bob Kraft, thinking that an endorsement from him to their merits as a reporter is somehow better than that of a season ticket holder left in the dark about what the hell is going on with the investment they made in the team.

I’ve known a lot of good sports reporters during my time in newsrooms. But I also have known a lot of sports reporters who never got over the hero worship that made them fall in love with the game when they were eight or nine years old. It leads to a kind of sad Stockholm syndrome where people end up doing a lot of hand wringing when someone like Jerry Sandusky is outed as a pedophile or when a Hernandez gets accused of one murder and linked to a few more.

It’s also why Stephen Harris can write a story on Friday about the Bruins trading Tyler Seguin that had a lead like this: ”

For months, well-placed sources have been predicting that Tyler Seguin’s days with the Bruins were numbered, not just because of his soft, underachieving performance on the ice but largely because of his immature lifestyle choices.

You’ve known about this for months, and yet you’re just reporting it now, on the sleepy Friday of a holiday weekend? You’re just reporting it when Seguin is safely out of time and your future interactions will be limited to the one or two times a year the Bruins will play Dallas? Harris wrote this to try an prove that he knew all along the Seguin was in trouble, but it makes him come off as a jackass that forgot he should be writing for his readers. Who was he trying to protect? His well-placed sources (who still seem to be protected since he never names them)? Himself, from that uncomfortable run-in with Seguin if he had written that line before the problem child was traded?

You need to be able to ask the tough questions and report the uncomfortable stories if you give a shit about the people who read your copy. If they get it, they’ll understand you’re doing your job and trying to give them a chance to explain their side of the story. And if they cut you off and stop talking to you, fuck them. Someone else will talk and you don’t, last we checked, work for the teams you cover.

“Lean In” Isn’t About Women: It’s About Relationships

Posted July 8th, 2013 in Work Like A Man

41TknOCIZWL._SY346_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_The much needed, Sheryl Sandberg-inspired conversation for women to “lean in” at work too often ignores the fact that such a push requires men to lean out.

As reported in today’s New York Times, the portrait painted by Sandberg is nice and cozy in theory, but not so clean-cut in practice. Sandberg, according to the newspaper, tells women “to seek out leadership positions, throw themselves at their careers, find a partner who helps with child care and supports their ambition, and negotiate for raises and promotions” (emphasis added).

It’s actually all good advice for anyone who wants to succeed at work, regardless of your gender. But finding a partner who supports that ambition can be difficult (and I mean really supports it; too many studies have shown that career-minded women in dual-income marriages still end up with the majority of responsibilities in maintaining the home and rearing the kids). Rightly or wrongly, men still, by-and-large, tie their identities to their career. And a woman who asks to work from home on Fridays (like the woman profiled by the Times) or insists on being home for family dinners (like Sandberg), probably gets a different reaction than her male equivalent:

When I think of my male friends and their careers, they’re not quite leaning in and they’re not quite leaning out. Mostly, they’re sagging. Like me, they’re trying to juggle a decent job with getting the kids’ teeth brushed twice a day (when possible). Almost no father I know is trying to max out his career. One friend is working as a consultant from his lovely house in the countryside. He could have run a big institution at the top of his profession, he says, but then he’d never be home.

 

The “lean in” debate also ignores the fact that most women didn’t have the life of privilege that Sandberg had to get a top-notch education and the access to contacts and internships that led to a high-profile (and highly lucrative) career. Most women work (and return to work after having kids) because they have to, particularly in a recession that has been particularly cruel to male breadwinners. If money were no object, just one in four women with children under 18 would choose to continue to work full time. In other words, many women are more content spending time on Facebook (if it means more time with their family) than running Facebook. And just 37 percent of women (and 44 percent of men) say they want a job with more responsibilities.

Sandberg is writing for that 25 percent, and making those women who are not in that 25 percent (either by choice or because they don’t have the income for the drivers and nannies and the support of their partner) because they have made the same “choice” that she did.

And, of course, our technology isn’t doing women or men when it comes to balancing work and play and family. In college I read a 1910 essay by Aleister Crowley suggesting that technological progress would lead to a point where work would be minimal and most everyone would get to enjoy a life of leisure, as well as better, more fulfilling relationships with their families. But Crowley was most-likely envisioning labor-reducing machinery and automation, not smartphones and Angry Birds.

If only he had been right: technology keeps us always on and, by extension, always working. It eats into our leisure, even as that leisure becomes more expensive and less accessible (the exact opposite of the scenario Crowley hoped for). The other part of this debate is that a sagging economy, job-growth uncertainty and the long-established idea of “keeping up with the Joneses” makes it unrealistic for most families to live off of one income. The days of Dad coming home after a long day at work to a wife waiting with a cocktail ended sometime around the time Don Draper taught his daughter Sally how to mix a Tom Collins.

AMC photo.

AMC photo.

I don’t profess to have all the answers; I am merely pointing out what is missing from the debate. Too often when we talk about gender in the workplace or use the hackneyed “work-life balance” phrase, we look at it as a women’s issue or a men’s issue when, in reality, it’s a relationship issue. Is your relationship secure enough that you can tell your spouse you need to throw yourself at work full-time and then some for the next several months, years or decades? And can the other partner (and in this case, i mean the man), deal with the gentle-ribbing from his friends, and the not-so-general perception from society, that inevitably comes (again, rightly or wrongly) for men who put their families and their wives careers ahead of their own?

We need a much bigger culture shift than a best-selling book with a catchy title to make the “lean in” concept work for both men and women.

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