Category Archives: outrage culture

Why Superhero Secret Identities Are More Relevant Than Ever

Superman

You don’t have to be a lifelong fan of superheroes to know the role that secret identities play in their over-arching narrative. It’s one of those story elements that often goes hand-in-hand with a hero’s journey. Part of becoming a hero involves forging an identity and, more often than not, this identity can’t function alongside the one they start with.

It’s a story that has roots in the early days of modern superhero comics. It wasn’t just a common plot point. It was practically a given. It was as necessary as capes, colorful costumes, and punishing masked criminals.

From a practical standpoint, having a secret identity has some legitimate merit. There are things Bruce Wayne can do as Batman that he cannot do and vice versa. The same goes for Superman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, and many other iconic heroes. In “Batman Begins,” Bruce Wayne set the stage for his secret identity by crafting Batman as a symbol, one that conveyed an idea that went beyond the person in the costume.

In recalling that scene, I think that idea was more prophetic than Christopher Nolan initially intended. When I look at how secret identities have come to define many characters, I believe they’re more important today than they have been in any other era.

I don’t just say that as a long-time fan of superhero comics who has used his knowledge of the genre to explore serious issues. I believe that we, as a society, are entering uncharted territory when it comes to how we manage our identities. The influence of the internet, social media, and an increasingly connected world is more powerful than any fictional hero. It’s already finding its way into superhero media.

This topic became especially relevant for Superman fans because back in late 2019, the release of “Superman #18” officially revealed Superman’s identity as Clark Kent. Now, it wasn’t not the first time Superman’s identity has been exposed, but this time it wasn’t a gimmick. Now, Superman had to learn how to be Superman without a secret identity.

Over the past decade, the value and vulnerabilities of secret identities have been under fire. One of the most jarring moments of the original “Iron Man” movie was the very end when Tony Stark didn’t attempt to hide the fact he was Iron Man. For those not familiar with the comics, it might not have seemed like a big issue. Trust me, it was a major shift.

While Tony Stark debuted as Iron Man in 1963, his identity didn’t become public until the early 2000s. That’s nearly four decades of him operating with a secret identity. In the context of his journey, this was not a trivial decision.

What happened to Spider-Man at the end of “Spider-Man: Far From Home” was even more jarring. While his secret identity has been revealed many times in the comics, it’s almost always retconned. Like Batman and Superman, he has to have a secret identity. He has to have a civilian life that’s separate from his superhero life.

There’s even a notable episode of “Superman: The Animated Series” in which Superman flat out admits that he’d go crazy if he couldn’t be Clark Kent. Think about that for a second. Superman, one of the most powerful and iconic superheroes of all time, admits that can’t handle a life without a secret identity. This is someone who can handle Lex Luthor, Darksied, and Brainiac. If he can’t handle it, then what hope do we have?

That question might not have been too relevant 20 years ago. Before the age of smartphones, broadband internet, and social media, a superhero might have been able to get away with having their identity exposed. You could say the same for anyone who happened to have a dirty secret or a double life. Whether it was an affair or a secret hobby, you didn’t have to work that hard to keep it secret.

Back then, not everyone had a fully-functional camera in their pocket or a means of sharing their media on a mass scale. Even if someone did manage to take a compromising picture or video, it wouldn’t be a huge revelation unless it was published by a major news source and even then there was no guarantee it would have staying power, especially if other major stories broke at the same time.

Now, anyone with a smartphone and an internet connection can capture compromising footage of anyone and share it with the world in seconds. In the world of superheroes, it makes keeping an identity harder than ever. Spider-Man found that out the hard way at the end of “Spider-Man: Far From Home.” Ordinary people and major celebrities are finding that out as well in the real world.

The internet and social media has created an unusual, yet potent system that skews the dynamics of having an identity, secret or otherwise. On one hand, it’s easier than ever to create an anonymous persona on the internet. With that persona, people are unbound by the propriety of real-world interaction.

It’s part of why the comments section of any website or social media feed is full of deplorable rhetoric that highlights the worst in people. Ordinary people can use the anonymity of the internet to say thing they would never say to another human being face-to-face. At the same time, celebrities and people of influence have the opposite problem.

In this hyper-connected world, every word and every action is permanently archived and subject to greater scrutiny. Every mistake or misstep is amplified and blown out of proportion. Every bit of subtext and nuance is completely lost in the various biases and agendas of the public. In essence, public figures have little to no control of their identity. They are very much at the mercy of how others perceive them.

That kind of scrutiny can have benefits and drawbacks. You could argue that the added scrutiny of social media has held celebrities and people of influence to a higher standard. They can no longer operate in the shadows with impunity. Dirty secrets will come out. Bad behavior will be documented. The O.J. Simpsons and Bill Cosbys of yesteryear could not get away with their deplorable behavior in today’s environment.

That may be a good thing on some levels, but it comes at a cost and not just for those who have had their lives ruined by the internet. In a world where anonymous identities are easily created and valued identities are easily ruined, how can anyone hope to maintain a balanced perspective? Whether you’re an accomplished celebrity or just some random blogger, don’t you still need a persona that feels true?

For people who are stuck in difficult situations, such as those belonging to racial, religious, or LGBTQ minorities, having that secret identity might be the only one that feels true or genuine. If that gets exposed, then those individuals could be in legitimate danger. There are parts of the world who will punish these individuals in ways far more serious than online trolling.

In the past, these kinds of people didn’t have an outlet or a means of connecting with others who share their struggles. They either had to organize in secret or set up their own communities, which often meant making themselves real-life targets. The ability to create an identity, secret or otherwise, can be a powerful mechanism for helping people forge an identity that feels true to who they are.

To some extent, superheroes embody the importance of these identities. They can’t do what they do without them. They can’t remain connected to the people and the world they’re trying to protect if they’re always in costume, trying to maintain this persona they’ve created. Without it, they become disconnected and overwhelmed. As a result, they can’t be the heroes they need to be.

For people in the real world, having these identities is more important than ever. You don’t have to be a superhero to appreciate their value, but as our world becomes more connected, it’s become a lot easier to understand why Spider-Man and Batman work so hard to preserve their secret identities.

The fact they still struggle, despite having super-powers and billions of dollars, is a testament to just how difficult it can be. As the world becomes increasingly connected and increasingly tribal, it’s only going to get harder.

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Filed under Current Events, Marvel, media issues, outrage culture, political correctness, politics, psychology, Spider-Man, superhero comics, superhero movies

How A Female 007 Can Succeed Or Fail

We live in a strange era of popular culture. While trends and tastes are always changing, I can’t recall a time when they’ve changed in such varying ways. Superhero movies went from being a niche genre to the biggest box office draw in history. Beloved children’s movies are becoming live-action remakes. Horror movies are even starting to reinvent themselves.

One trend that has garnered more controversy than most has to do with a certain kind of remake. Specifically, it involves remakes that attempt to swap the gender, race, or some other characteristic of an iconic character. The first major franchise to try this was “Ghostbusters” in 2016 and to say that this was controversial would be like calling a tornado laced with cow shit a light breeze.

Now, I’ve tried to stay out of the discussions involving gender-swapping or race-swapping because it’s rarely productive. I’ve never seen those discussions produce anything other than frothing hatred, regardless of whether it’s online or in person. With the COVID-19 pandemic finally waning and movie theaters opening back up, I’m content to just go into movies with an open mind and hope for the best.

However, I don’t see this trend ending anytime soon. Even though “Ghostbusterstanked at the box office, I suspect Hollywood will keep trying to push the envelope, if only to garner attention and clicks. The prevailing sentiment seems to be that the old ways of crafting characters, villains, and stories just isn’t viable anymore. They need to shake things up and do things differently.

I can already sense certain people banging their heads against the wall or groaning in dismay, lamenting over the idea that Disney may one day make an “Indiana Jones” reboot featuring a black transgender double-amputee woman as the new Dr. Jones. I understand that dread. At the same time, I think there is room for innovation. It’s just a matter of not destroying what makes stories, franchises, and iconic characters great.

One franchise that is poised for a new direction that may either reinvigorate or regress it completely is the James Bond franchise. In terms of franchises in need of a boost, I think Bond needs one more than most. The last entry, “Spectre,” was somewhat of a downgrade compared to the billion-dollar box office that “Skyfall” achieved. On top of that, Daniel Craig has made clear that he wishes to move on from the character.

For a while, the big controversy was the rumor that Idris Elba would take over as the new James Bond. While Elba eventually debunked that rumor, it still ignited a glut of angry debates over the future of the franchise that only got worse when issues of racism entered the conversation. Now, if recent rumors surrounding the development of the next Bond movie, “No Time To Die,” are true, those debates will only intensify.

While the details haven’t been confirmed, the plot of the upcoming movie includes Lashana Lynch playing a black, female agent who may or may not be Bond’s replacement. Not surprisingly, this has generated plenty of uproar and it will only intensify if these details prove accurate. While I don’t have any strong feelings about Ms. Lynch playing 007, I suspect the controversy it garners will extend beyond the movie.

After what happened with “Ghostbusters,” there’s certainly cause for concern. Aside from losing money, that movie damaged both a franchise and a concept. It showed just how badly things can go when a franchise attempts to reinvent itself in a way that panders to political sensibilities while undercutting the very things that made that franchise great.

I don’t think James Bond is in a position to endure that kind of setback. It doesn’t have the same status as “Star Wars” and occupies a genre that is difficult to adapt to a world where internet trolls are a more pressing threat than Russian spies. At the same time, I believe the James Bond franchise is in a better position than “Ghostbusters” or “Star Wars” to succeed in a way others haven’t.

Make no mistake. The odds of the next Bond movie succeeding are stacked against it. If this movie tries too hard to be too progressive, then it won’t just ruin the story. It’ll set the franchise back for years. If it succeeds, however, it could reinvent the franchise in a way that will appeal to a new generation who never had to worry about Soviet sleeper agents.

Without knowing the details of the plot, it’s difficult to know how it will pan out. However, I believe there’s a right way to do a remake that attracts a new audience while not alienating long-time fans. Unfortunately, there are always fewer right ways to do things than wrong ways. What follows is my idea on how this new era of James Bond can succeed and how it may ultimately fail.


How A Female 007 Can Succeed

Female James Bond: 10 Actresses We Think Should Play 007

This is, by far, the most important aspect of the upcoming movie. If 007 is going to be a black woman played by Lashana Lynch, then this part has to work. I understand that’s a tall order. Some may say it’s impossible. I respectfully disagree. I believe that there’s no reason 007 can’t be someone of a different race or gender. It’s just a matter of building that story around that of James Bond.

Please note that I differentiate between 007 and James Bond. While I realize the two titles often go hand-in-hand, I don’t think they’re dependent on one another. James Bond can still be the same womanizing, martini-loving super spy he’s always been without the title of 007. In fact, he’s been disavowed and fired from his role on more than one occasion in more than one movie.

Titles like 007 change hands all the time in the world of James Bond. It wouldn’t completely undermine the spirit of James Bond for someone else to wield that title in some capacity, even if they’re black and female. It’s just a matter of building a proper story around it.

If the plot rumors are to be believed, James Bond is still alive in this movie. However, he has since retired from MI-6. That opens the door for someone else to take on the title of 007 and that’s where Ms. Lynch’s character comes in. Due to this connection, their paths eventually cross and the story evolves from there.

I believe this story can work, but only if both James Bond and Ms. Lynch’s character complement one another. By that, I mean they have to be true equals in terms of skill, grit, and charisma. Ms. Lynch can’t just be another female agent who occasionally clashes with Q and Moneypenny. She has to share Bond’s bravado, recklessness, and cunning.

That gives her and Bond a reason to work together. It also compounds the threats, danger, and volatility of the conflict. They don’t have to be best friends and they don’t have to try to seduce one another. They just have to demonstrate that they need each other. They make each other better at what they do. One need not outshine the other.

How they achieve this depends on the plot. It certainly won’t be easy and I definitely have my doubts that it can be done. I don’t think it’s impossible, though. If those involved find a way, then it could be a bold new direction for the James Bond franchise. There will always be room for James Bond, but having a new 007 in the mix could open up many possibility.


How A Female 007 Can Fail

There are almost too many ways for me to list how this idea can fail. Like I said earlier, making a bold concept work is difficult. Failing spectacularly is easy. For James Bond, it’s just a matter of how that failure plays out. I think the biggest risk may come from this movie not learning the same lessons as the “Ghostbusters” remake.

Chief among those lessons is maintaining the spirit of the original. James Bond is a womanizing, martini-loving embodiment of raw masculinity. Trying to make him something other than that or trying to make him the antagonist will completely derail both the story and long-time fans. Even if Ms. Lynch’s character is done well, it won’t matter whatsoever if James Bond isn’t James Bond.

Even if James Bond’s character remains intact, Ms. Lynch’s character could also derail the movie just as much. If she’s going to wield the title of 007, she can’t just be some flat character with no distinct personality traits. Being black and female, there will be a temptation to make her either too much like Bond or too different.

If she’s too competent, then she could get lumped with the infamous Mary Sue label that plagued Rey in “Star Wars.” If she’s just as reckless and promiscuous as Bond, then she’s not her own character. She’s just a black, female James Bond and nothing more. It may seem like an either/or scenario, but I believe there’s plenty of room to disguinish her. I’m just not convinced that the lessons of “Ghostbusters” have sunk in.

Even if both Ms. Lynch’s character and James Bond are intact, there’s still the matter of the overall story. That could easily get lost in the effort to make Ms. Lynch a convincing 007 that fans will embrace. If the villain or threat is unoriginal or predictable, then even quality characterization won’t help the movie succeed.


Like superhero movies, James Bond movies often succeed on the strength of their villains. Times have changed since the Cold War. The biggest threats of today aren’t what they were in the mid-20th Century when James Bond established himself as the ultimate spy. Recent movies, going back to “Casino Royale,” have noted that Bond is a relic of a bygone era. That doesn’t mean he can’t have a place in the 21st century.

At the moment, if I had to bet money on the success or failure of this movie, I would bet on it failing. I wouldn’t bet everything, but I believe the odds are stacked against it. Between the outrage culture that constantly rages on the internet and the growing cynicism surrounding remakes and reboots, there are so many forces working against this movie besides just making it entertaining.

However, James Bond is one of those rare franchises that has endured for decades. It has found ways of reinventing itself before. If ever there was a franchise that could raise to the challenge, it’s this one. Time will tell, but it’ll take more than gadgets, martinis, and sex appeal beat the odds.

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Filed under gender issues, movies, outrage culture, political correctness, politics, sex in media, sex in society

Being Blessed Vs. Being Lucky: The (Major) Difference And Why It Matters

Picture, for a moment, the following scenario.

You’re at a prestigious awards ceremony. The nature of the ceremony and the award aren’t important. The only factor that matters is the awards are granted to only a few individuals who have achieved feats that few human beings have achieved. It’s an honor just to be nominated, but an even bigger honor to win.

With that in mind, imagine two different winners for two different feats. The first winner comes up onto the stage, accepts their award, and gives a heartfelt speech that’s something along the lines of this.

“Thank you so much for this incredible honor. It was a long, hard road to get to this point, but I’ve been so blessed with wondrous gifts and amazing support. To them and to the higher power that blessed me, I am eternally grateful!”

Chances are you’ve heard a speech like that before. We hear it all the time with athletes, celebrities, and major public figures. They achieve something spectacular and their first inclination is to say they are blessed. They don’t always thank a god for it, but it’s such a common refrain that most come to expect it. Some even joke about it.

That being said, try to imagine your reaction for the second winner. They come out on stage with the same immense joy as the previous winner. They also give a heartfelt speech of their own, but it goes like this.

“Thank you so much for this incredible honor. It was a long, hard road to get to this point, but I was just really lucky to be born with talent and amazing support. I like to think I’ve made the most of it. This award is just part of it. For that, I am so proud of myself and those who helped me!”

I doubt a celebrity has given an acceptance speech like this before. If they did, chances are it would either be a joke or an elaborate act of trolling, which some celebrities are known to do. For the sake of this little thought experiment, imagine the person was sincere. How would you feel about them? Would be different than the first?

I crafted this scenario as a way of illustrating the difference between being blessed and being lucky. These terms tend to get used interchangeably. In common language, they’re somewhat synonymous. Even though dictionary definitions have some key distinctions, the standard usage of these words carries a particular meaning.

Part of that meaning stems from the general discomfort we feel about the universe being so chaotic and meaningless. We’re wired to seek patterns and surmise order. It doesn’t even matter if the patterns or order is real or an outright trick. When people can make sense of the world, we’re better able to function. It’s a big reason why humans have been able to adapt and survive with such success.

The ideas being lucky and being blessed reflect opposite sentiments of a similar principle. We see luck as a fluke. There’s no meaning behind it. It just happens randomly and without any defined goal.

A kid is randomly born with talent that makes them a great athlete.

A person randomly picks the winning numbers to win a big lottery prize.

A person just happens to be in the right place at the right time to meet the love of their life.

None of these situations are inherently right or wrong. That’s part of what makes it so distressing on some levels. The people who benefit from luck do nothing to deserve or warrant their good fortune. It goes against that innate sense of fairness that most sensible human beings have wired into their brains.

Being blessed, on the other hand, carries a very different connotation. To be blessed implies that some person, deity, or sentient force chose to grant someone such benefits. It’s not random. It’s part of a larger plan. It may not seem like one on the surface. It may even be an outright illusion. That ultimately doesn’t matter. The semblance of a plan is enough.

To be blessed also carried with it a sense of humility. Someone who just says they’re lucky doesn’t come off as moral or gracious. Even if they’re entirely ambivalent about it, they won’t inspire respect or admiration for acknowledging their luck. If they say they’re blessed, though, it changes the context.

A person who is blessed with talent means their achievements have a greater meaning.

A person who is blessed with picking winning lotto numbers means their good fortune is part of some larger plan.

A person who is blessed with meeting the love of their live means their love is somehow pre-ordained by fate.

The difference lies within the meaning. Being blessed conveys influence from a source greater than the person receiving the blessing. To show gratitude to that force is to accept that it’s not just about you. There’s a larger plan and you’re just part of it. That sounds humble, but at the same time, it detracts from the true extent of an achievement.

Luck or no luck, it takes effort and dedication to achieve something of value. Whether it’s an award for world’s largest nose ring or setting a record for most pop tarts consumed in a day, an accomplishment still requires work. Even lottery winners have to go out of their way to pick the numbers, get the ticket, and claim their prize.

To call that process a blessing is to dehumanize the actions involved. It undercuts the countless other factors in play. Some are entirely controllable. A champion of any sport usually has talent, determination, and a willingness to refine their skill. Others are simply beyond their control, from the conditions of an event to just the general randomness of a particular moment.

To assume these factors as part of some over-arching plan is to assume there’s a governing force that consciously cares about these random happenings. Whether that force is a deity or some idea of conscious fate, people will consciously devalue their own worth to believe they’re part of something greater. It might not be real, but that’s beside the point.

It helps us wrap our brains around incredible achievements and improbable events. It shows in how people can resent those who are just deemed lucky. Again, just look at lottery winners. Those who have enjoyed that rare level of luck can attest that they are generally looked down upon by those who gained their fortune in other ways.

This isn’t to imply that the whole concept of being blessed is inherently wrong. There may actually be a higher governing power behind certain peoples’ fortunes, be it an all-powerful deity or the shape-shifting lizard men of the Illuminati. There’s no evidence of it now, but as believers and conspiracy theorists will often point out, absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence.

That said, I believe the dehumanizing aspect of blessings over luck does more harm than good in the long run. Humility is an admirable trait, but there are better ways to encourage it that don’t involve assigning some arbitrary meaning to random events. In addition, saying someone or something is blessed has some indirect implications that are even less desirable than a random universe.

If one person is blessed, then that implies other people were deemed undeserving.

If one moment is blessed, then those that came before it are nothing more than prelude, no matter how much they meant to those involved.

If a people or society are blessed, then that basically declares that everyone else is somehow beneath them and that mentality rarely brings out the best in people.

Human beings are capable of remarkable feats. Many of those feats don’t require a higher power or some conscious force. They simply require an opportunity and a willingness to strive for something greater. Granted, opportunities can be random and there’s only so much anyone can do to control the luck they get. However, I submit that gives it even more meaning in the grand scheme of things.

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Filed under human nature, outrage culture, philosophy, politics

Jack’s World: How Megamind Subverts Expectations Perfectly (And Why Other Attempts Keep Failing)

The following is a video from my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. It’s a video about subverting expectations, but in a way that I hope won’t every fan of Star Wars or Game of Thones. A lot has been made of this narrative trope. It has gained a bad reputation and for good reason. However, I still feel it has merit and, as it just so happens, there’s one underrated movie that has show just how great it can be.

That movie is “Megamind,” a movie I’ve praised before and will likely praise again. This incredible animated gem once again shows it was ahead of its time in that it demonstrates how to properly subvert expectations. I hope this video makes the case that this tactic can still be done and done well. Enjoy!

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Filed under movies, outrage culture, Star Wars, superhero comics, superhero movies, YouTube

Why We Should Teach The Uglier Parts Of History (And Why Avoiding It Is Pointless)

Tulsa Race Massacre Sidelined Legacy of Black Wealth in Greenwood - WSJ

I am an American.

I am proud to be an American.

There’s no other country I’d want to be born in.

I say all while also acknowledging that America isn’t perfect. I’ve taken plenty of history classes, both in high school and in college. I’ve also sought out information about America’s past and the facts are clear. The United States of America does have some undeniably dark moments in its history. Some could be classified as outright atrocities.

It’s not wrong to state that those events happened and they were awful. In fact, I believe it’s critical for any country, nation, or community of any kind to admit their past failures and flaws. We cannot learn, grow, or improve as a society if we ignore those less favorable parts of our history. If we only ever know the good stuff, then we have no reason to improve and that only breeds complacency, arrogance, and stagnation. That’s something the world needs less of.

This brings me the controversy surrounding critical race theory. I know that just uttering that phrase in passing these days is sure to draw ire from certain crowds, some more so than others. In general, I try to avoid touching on topics like this when the outrage machine is still going full-throttle. Even when I do discuss something controversial, like abortion, I try to focus on the bigger picture.

Now, the specifics of critical race theory are too vast for me to get into. I’m certainly no expert, nor would I ever claim to be. I encourage people to investigate it themselves on Wikipedia. However, do not seek sources from the likes of PragerU, the Heritage Foundation, or any information source that claims to espouse the “truth” about Critical Race Theory.

They’re just right-wing propaganda pushers who are lying to you on behalf of their donors. They are not credible on this matter.

While I don’t see Critical Race Theory as being completely neutral either, it does have some relative themes. It gives greater scrutiny to how racism and past racist policies in America have had lasting effects on minority communities, even after the progress made during the civil rights movement.

That’s not an unreasonable approach to studying the past and present. After all, it’s undeniable that racism and its past effects still exist. If you deny that, then you’re just denying reality outright. Certain aspects of racism can’t be resolved by simply passing a law or enacting a certain policy. People and societies are just too complex.

Now, the way in which Critical Race Theory scrutinizes these issues isn’t perfect. In terms of analyzing and making sense of history, I think it doesn’t paint the clearest picture in terms of America’s racist past and how that past affects the present.

That said, I support it being taught or, at the very least, explored within a school. I think this is something we should teach kids and young people about in order to get them thinking about history, race, and the society in which they live. At the same time, I also think it exposes a critical element with respect to appreciating history and its many lessons.

The reason I’m bringing it up now is two-fold. Firstly, I think those protesting it are absurd and their reasons for criticizing critical race theory are equally absurd. Some are going so far as to try and ban it. Instead, they favor a more “patriotic” education for school age children. I put “patriotic” in quotes because there’s nothing patriotic about it. It’s just pure propaganda, plain and simple.

A true patriot doesn’t need propaganda to be proud of their country.

A true patriot loves their country, despite their flaws. Just like you do with someone you love, you don’t ignore those flaws and use them as motivation to be better.

The second reason I’m bringing it up has less to do with the political rhetoric surrounding Critical Race Theory. It’s being framed as though this is somehow redefining the story of America. It’s seen as somehow diminishing America’s greatness and ideals. Those who are blindly patriotic or excessively nationalistic are going to have a problem with that.

Now, blind and excessive nationalisms is a problem all its own. I won’t get into that, but I do feel that it highlights another important point about protesting new forms of study. In essence, those complaining about Critical Race Theory are working against their own agenda. They seem to forget that the internet still exists.

It doesn’t matter if efforts to ban Critical Race Theory succeed. It doesn’t matter if every American textbook removes all mentions of slavery, Jim Crow, Japanese internment camps, or atrocities committed against Native Americans. That information is still out there. It’s on the internet and it’s easy for anyone with an internet connection to find.

In fact, by outright banning or opposing certain studies of history, it may only raise greater interest in it. Like it or not, people are going to get curious. Tell kids and teenagers that they should never learn about Critical Race Theory is only going to make them more curious. So long as they still have an internet connection, they will find that information.

That’s exactly why I’m in favor of teaching history that explores, analyzes, and dares to extrapolate from the uglier parts of history. It can do more than educate. It can also help us come to terms with our flaws and inspire us to be better.

A good example of this is the recent relevance of the Tulsa Race Massacre. There’s no getting around it. This event was a horrendous moment in American history and one that reveals just how ugly racism got in this country. Growing up, I never learned about this event. Most people probably never would’ve learned about it, had it not re-entered the news amidst recent pushes for racial justice.

This moment in history was awful. There’s no getting around that. Even if you’re an American who wasn’t alive during this event, we should still acknowledge it. We should still learn from it. That’s how we’ll get better. The past has so many painful lessons and we’ll never learn those lessons if we try to gloss over them.

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Filed under Current Events, history, outrage culture, political correctness, politics

Dear America: Let’s NOT Have Another Satanic Panic

I’m a proud American. I love my country and I celebrate its highest ideals. I also believe most Americans are good, decent people who cherish these values as well. I don’t deny its flaws, nor do I deny its mistakes in the past, as well as the present. I genuinely want America to be the best it can be.

That’s why I’d like to make a plea to America and all my fellow Americans at the moment.

Please, for the love of whatever deity you believe it, let’s not have another Satanic Panic.

This isn’t just about politics, although there are some distressing links. This isn’t just about culture, even though the imagery is certainly present. This is me, a proud American, urging his fellow Americans to not give into the temptation to start blaming demons and devils for their problems.

It’s not just absurd and idiotic. We’ve done it before. I’ve written about it. The lives of innocent people were ruined because of it. On top of it all, none of it turned out to be true.

There was no reason for the panic. There were no Satanic cults secretly torturing or abusing children. It was all made up. It was basically Christian Conservative fan fiction that people took too seriously. Much like the character of the devil they fear has no basis in Christian theology. It’s just a boogie man for adults.

None of it amounted to anything other than baseless fear and ruined lives in the 1980s. Now, it seems too many people have forgotten what a huge waste of time that was because concern about Satanic cults abusing children are back and more political than ever.

Much of that is because of a bullshit conspiracy theory that I won’t name or link to. You probably know who I’m referring to. They’re the one that thinks Tom Hanks is part of a Satan worshipping cabal. As it just so happens, this same cabal includes everyone who leans right politically absolutely hates.

If they’re to the right of Ronald Regan, they’re a Satan Worshipper.

If they didn’t vote republican in the last four elections, they’re a Satan Worshipper.

If they support position that doesn’t involve cutting taxes, ignoring racist policies, or overfunding the military, they’re a Satan Worshipper.

I’ve been avoiding this absurd, asinine, infuriating excuse for a conspiracy theory for years. It’s just too stupid to take seriously, let alone discuss in an honest, balanced way. However, thanks to the recent outrage surrounding Lil Nas X and his homoerotic, Satan-centered music video, I worry another panic is brewing.

Much of it is coming from the same part of the political spectrum as it did in the 1980s. This time, however, isn’t just a bunch of Christian conservatives with too much time and money on their hands. People who don’t even identify as religious are buying into this crap.

It’s not just about theology anymore. It all comes back to this age old belief that there’s a group of objectively evil supervillains who are causing all the problems in the world. Satan worshippers who eat children and deal in human trafficking is as evil as you can get. There’s nothing complicated or nuance about it. It’s the ultimate good versus evil match-up.

Except, and I cannot stress this enough, it isn’t real.

That evil conspiracy doesn’t exist. I could cite any amount of evidence, but I know that won’t convince those who ardently cling to it, even after its many predictions end up being wrong. Instead, I’m just going to point out one simple issue.

For any conspiracy of any level to function in any capacity, it requires that those involved are completely obedient, always keep their secrets, and never make mistakes. Since these conspiracies involve people and people, in general, are imperfect beings, they’re not just difficult to maintain. They’re impossible.

Human beings can’t keep secrets.

They can’t avoid simple mistakes.

When it comes to something as evil as Satan worship and child sacrifice, you’re just can’t keep that sort of thing a secret. Also, people that evil generally struggle to organize. It’s why most serial killers act alone. That kind of evil is an aberration. Building a conspiracy around that is like trying to herd a thousand cats all strung out on crack.

I’d sincerely hoped that after the events of the last election, the talk of evil Satan worshippers and conspiracies around them would die down. Sadly, I think Lil Nas X revealed there’s still a contingent of people out there who think the evil Satanic cabal is still out to get them.

That’s why I’m making this plea. My fellow Americans, this is not the way to a better tomorrow. Fighting invisible evil enemies will only ever succeed in making real enemies, both in our minds and among our fellow Americans. No good can ever come from something like that in the long run.

Moreover, believing and obsessing over a conspiracy of Satan worshippers acts as both a distraction and a delusion. Fighting something that isn’t there only keeps you from fighting actual problems involving actual people who are doing real harm, but not in the name of Satan.

It’s easy to think that there’s some centralized force of evil in the world. It makes the cause of all our problems seem tangible. It makes you feel like you’re a soldier on the front line of an epic battle, fighting alongside others who are every bit as committed as you. Unfortunately, this mindset is both dangerous and counterproductive.

There are real problems with America and the world. However, those problems don’t come from Satan, demons, or some secret cabal of lizard people. They come from other people. They come from your fellow humans, as well as your fellow Americans.

It’s complicated and messy. Just winning an epic battle against evil isn’t an option. We have to put in the work. We have to take responsibility. We have to operate in the real world with real people who have real issues. That’s how we do the most good for ourselves and our fellow Americans.

Once again, I urge everyone reading this to learn the lessons of the past and embrace the challenges of the present. Let’s hold off on another panic. Satan isn’t conspiring against us or our country or our fellow citizens. The cabal isn’t real, the conspiracy is fake, and Tom Hanks is a national treasure. If you really want to fight true evil, start by doing good by your fellow citizen.

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Why Non-Religious Cults Are Becoming (Almost) As Dangerous

Most religious people are not dangerous or ignorant, nor are most of the priests, rabbis, mullahs, and monks who lead them. I want to make that clear early on. I know I’ve been very critical of religion in the past and I stand by much of those criticism. However, I do not want to give the impression that it makes sincere adherents unworthy of respect.

I have religious people in my family. They are good, decent people and their religious beliefs means a lot to them. I do not want to denigrate that in any way.

That said, extreme religious cults are dangerous. They are worthy of criticism and, in some cases, outright scorn. People have died because of these cults, including innocent children. If we’re going to be a better people now and in the future, we need to be vigilant of these dangerous cults. Otherwise, more people will suffer.

How we go about that is beyond my expertise. There are organizations with people far more qualified to pursue that effort, such as Cult Escape and Dare To Doubt. I urge others to support those efforts, regardless of your religious affiliation. There are a lot of people out there trapped in these cults who need help.

However, there has been another troubling trend in recent years that may complicate that effort. It involves cults that aren’t necessarily religious, in nature. Some have religious elements, but also mix in politics and conspiracy theories. The goals and methods aren’t always the same, but the outcome is similar.

People get sucked into an ideology.

They get caught up in a trend that evokes strong emotions within them.

They connect with like-minded people who reinforce and reaffirm their beliefs.

They start attacking or shunning outsiders or anyone they don’t agree with.

They stop doubting their beliefs and are openly scorned if they dare raise questions, making it next to impossible to leave.

It’s a common story that many endure, but now it’s happening without the religious angle. Now, people are falling into cults that offer little in terms of theology, but still descend into a toxic mix of groupthink, hero worship, and self-delusion.

You have organizations like Nxivm, which billed itself as a self-help program that sucked people in and reshaped their thinking at the hands of a sociopath leader.

You have charismatic public personalities like Jordan Peterson and Tony Robbins, who may not set out to create cult-like movements, but still create a community wrought with cult-like behaviors.

Then, there’s Q-Anon.

Believe me, I do not want to go into details about that. I’m afraid to even post any links. I do not want someone to get sucked into that ultra-toxic rabbit hole, which has led to real-world violence and torn families apart.

These are serious issues that affect real people, as well as their families. Thanks to the world-wide reach of the internet and clunky nature of social media, it’s a lot easier to fall in with the wrong digital crowd. You don’t have to be religious. You just have to be willing to buy into a certain ideology or narrative. No miracles are necessary.

That is dangerous and I suspect it’s going to get worse in the coming years, especially as mainstream religion continues to decline. Will it be as dangerous as the religious cults of old? Well, that depends on a number of factors. At the moment, even the worst non-religious cults have major shortcomings.

Religious cults can, by definition, hide behind the guise of religion. That comes with plenty of benefits, including the kind that allows them to avoid paying taxes. Religion also has legal protections, as evidenced by the constant push for “religious freedom.”

Non-religious cults don’t have the same advantages. In fact, it’s not unreasonable to say that these types of cults couldn’t even exist without the internet or the widespread connectivity of modern media. They also don’t have the overall structure that many religious organizations have. That means they’ll only be able to do so much.

On top of that, the nature of the internet makes it a lot harder for cults to keep their members in line. At any point, an adherent could get curious and start looking up opposing views that could cast doubt on their beliefs. There’s only so much a cult can do to control a person from behind a computer screen.

Even with those limitations, they’ve still done plenty of damage. They’re likely to do plenty more and we should be very concerned about that. The world is already a chaotic place. Extreme religious cults have already done plenty to add to that chaos. The last thing we need is for non-religious cults to do the same.

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Censorship Vs. Accountability: Know The Difference

I hate talking about censorship.

I hate talking about “cancel culture,” a term I think has all the wrong connotations for all the wrong reasons.

I am a proud American and I believe in free speech to the utmost. I will gladly fight for that freedom and support those who do.

I say all that because, in wake of the terrible events at the Capitol recently, there has been a lot of whining from certain people. I won’t name names. I’ll just note that they’re whining and ranting about censorship and cancel culture. Watch the news for more than five minutes and you’ll know who they are.

Now, I don’t want to go on an extended rant about why censorship is different from not being allowed to post on your favorite social media site. Make no mistake. There is a difference. There’s actually a lengthy legal framework behind what constitutes censorship in a purely legal sense.

I’m not a lawyer, nor am I smart enough to break down the various complexities about censorship, cancel culture, and the various cases attributed to both. I doubt any point I make will change anyone’s mind, especially if they’ve been affected by perceived censoring from either side. Even so, I still think a point is worth being made.

In watching this debate, I’ve noticed something that’s both peculiar and revealing about this issue. Whenever there’s a case of alleged censorship or cancel culture, those who bemoan it only complain when it’s used against them.

For instance, say your favorite politician who you vote for and vocally support was kicked off Twitter, Facebook, and all major social media platforms for rhetoric that incited violence and spreads damaging disinformation. Chances are, you’re going to defend them more than you would if that politician was someone you vocally opposed.

Yes, I realize this is not a subtle example. It still gets the point across.

Those same people might not raise an eyebrow if there was a case of an gay couple who denied service at a bakery. They might also be perfectly fine with laws on the books that actually ban atheists from holding public office. Those are both actual cases of discrimination, but it’s happening against people who they don’t agree with, politically. As such, they don’t care or actively support it.

On the other side of that coin, the same people who celebrate certain politicians from getting kicked off social media will loudly support boycotts and bans from certain individuals speaking on campuses. They’ll also whine about a certain scene in a TV show or certain media depictions of minorities.

The absurdity is the same. The only difference is the target and the political affiliation of those complaining about it. It’s just tribalism at its most basic. You support and make excuses for the people and things you support. You protest those you think are against you. There’s no logic to it. It’s all based on who you support or hate.

With respect to those who actually do get censored, there’s also another side of that coin. While I am a vocal proponent of free speech, I also believe in accountability, especially for people in positions of power. It’s one thing for me to say something stupid on social media. It’s quite another for someone who is an elected official.

Those words carry a lot more weight. When someone in that position encourages anger, outrage, and protest, it can lead to real world actions. We saw that at the Capitol. Real people suffered and died because of those actions. In that case, there are consequences.

When you incite violence against others, that’s not free speech. That’s a crime. When your words lead to tangible harm and destruction, that’s something that you are accountable for. It’s not censorship. It’s not cancel culture. It’s just accountability, plain and simple.

If you can’t understand that, then you don’t understand free speech and what it really means. Now, with respect to tech companies removing certain voices or having a bias, that’s another issue. It’s complicated and requires more nuance than simple whining.

However, when it comes to powerful people just wanting to use social media to exercise their power, that’s different. Powerful people must be held to a higher standard. If not, then people far less powerful will pay the price and we can’t have any kind of freedom in a society like that.

Also, blurring female nipples is still bullshit censorship. Can we at least agree on that?

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Young Adults Are Making Better Decisions About Their Sex Lives While Older Adults Still Complain About Them

It’s a tale as old as time and no, I’m not referring to “Beauty and the Beast.”

Younger generations clash with older generations. The older people are appalled at how the youth are conducting themselves. They see them doing things and behaving in ways that they never would’ve imagined in their youth. It’s not new. In fact, it’s been happening since ancient times in some form or another.

It’s especially pronounced when sex enters the equation. Older people don’t like thinking about their kids having sex and young people don’t like thinking about their grandparents having sex. We know it happens. There are over 7 billion humans on this planet. It happens a lot. It just makes us both very uncomfortable.

From discomfort comes assumptions and from assumptions come irrational fears. It’s not always overt, but it’s present in popular perceptions. Personally, I’ve never heard someone over the age of 60 claim that young people today are far more responsible in managing their sexual behavior. I doubt anyone in that age group could say that with a straight face.

However, that’s not what actual, verifiable data says. According to recent research in Psychological Science, young people today are more responsible than ever when it comes to making decisions about their sex lives.

Psychological Science: Young Adults Make Rational Sexual Decisions

We examined risky sexual choice under the lens of rational decision-making. Participants (N = 257) completed a novel sexual-choice task in which they selected from among hypothetical sexual partners varying in physical attractiveness and in the probability that one would contract a sexually transmitted infection (STI) from a one-time sexual encounter with them. We found that nearly all participants evaluated the sexual-choice alternatives in a coherent fashion consistent with utility-based theories of rational choice. In subsequent analyses, we classified participants’ responses according to whether their sexual preferences were based on maximizing attractiveness or minimizing the risk of STIs. Finally, we established an association between sexual choice in our task and reported real-world sexual risk-taking.

It doesn’t just stop with responsible choices, either. There has been a relatively consistent trend over the past 40 years. Sexual activity, as a whole, has been going down, so much so that it’s a demographic concern. That has corresponded with a decline in teen pregnancy, abortion, and unwanted pregnancy.

These are all good things for society for the most part. There are some legitimate concerns that a lack of physical and emotional intimacy could be detrimental on these young people, but with respect to the rampant promiscuity that older generations often complain about, the reality just isn’t as titillating.

That’s not to say there aren’t irresponsible young people in this world. There certainly are. I’ve known quite a few. Most people have. It’s just not this big, decadent trend. Cable news and popular media love to paint young people as these strange, tradition-hating deviants who seek to destroy our most precious institutions. They are simply wrong.

They’re also trying to sell you a bullshit narrative to get ratings, but that’s another story.

Even in matters not exclusive to sex, older generations still try to find ways to criticize these crazy young people. It’s become more popular in recent years to call anyone under 30 a cohort of over-confident narcissists. Some go so far as to say there’s a narcissism epidemic.

Research says young people today are more narcissistic than ever

‘Somebody high in self-esteem values individual achievement, but they also value their relationships and caring for others,’ she says. ‘Narcissists are missing that piece about valuing, caring and their relationships, so they tend to lack empathy, they have poor relationship skills. That’s one of the biggest differences, those communal and caring traits tend to be high in most people with self-esteem but not among those who are high in narcissism.’

Again, this is a flawed and incomplete narrative. It’s also incompatible with with the notion that young people are somehow more decadent sexually. Among the key traits of narcissism is promiscuity and it’s not just related to the sexual kind.

It’s hard to be narcissistic and responsible for the same reason it’s hard to be relaxed and enraged. The human psyche just doesn’t work like that. Society, as a whole, doesn’t work like that either. It can’t. If young people really were as decadent and narcissistic as old people thought, then our civilization never would’ve made it this far.

I know I’ve brought up flawed assumptions about young people and their sex lives before. I doubt old people will stop complaining about the deviant, decadent behaviors of young people anytime soon, even if a mountain of data says they’re better-behaved than their predecessors.

The reason I bring it up now is because this is one of those years when we should all re-assess our perspectives. The grim events of this past year have affected everybody, young and old. It’s affected our society, our emotions, and our sex lives. A lot will change as a result of this year. Generations afterwards will feel it.

As someone who will one day become old and cranky, I hope to maintain a healthy perspective regardless of what happens. I don’t doubt that when I get to a certain age, I’ll see young people behaving in ways that I find shocking. Some of those shocking ways might involve their sex lives. If I ever have kids, that’s going to concern me.

At the same time, I imagine that part of me will envy those young people for having the time, energy, and passions to behave in such ways. On some levels, I think many older people share those feelings. Their youth is a memory. The days of breaking traditions and upsetting their elders is long gone because they’re not elder. It’s just part of life.

We can’t avoid it, at least not yet. I don’t know what kind of state the world will be in by the time I turn 60. I just know I’ll have plenty to complain about. The fact that young people are bucking those complaints gives me hope that it’ll be better than any false perception.

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Why Liars, Cheaters, And Hypocrites Get Away With It

We all deal with them.

We all encounter them.

We all despise them on some levels.

Call them any vulgar insult you want. It’s perfectly warranted, but it doesn’t change what they do. The liars, cheaters, and hypocrites of this world will keep doing it. They’ll keep lying to your face, cheating you out of money, and breaking promises or precedents without a second thought.

I know it’s a depressing thought. It has become a lot more in our collective faces in recent years, given how political rhetoric has become so heated. Both sides argue with one another. They each lie or cheat to varying degrees. They jump at the chance to call the other out on it, but nothing really changes.

They keep on lying and people who align with their politics buy into it, even when they know it’s a lie. It’s frustrating. I argue it’s gotten even more infuriating in recent years. It does, however, raise an important question.

Why do people who lie, cheat, and break promises keep getting away with it?

It’s a valid question. Nobody likes being lied to. Even kids know on some level how wrong it is. So, why does it keep happening and why does nobody seem to pay a price? Well, the very nature of those questions already answer that to some extent.

In short, people keep getting away with it because they never get punished, pay a price, or face any consequences for their dishonesty.

It’s not a very comforting answer, I know. It’s probably just as infuriating as being lied to. That doesn’t make it any less true.

Think about it. What price does someone really pay for lying? Sure, there’s the accompanying guilt that comes with it, but for some people, that’s not much of a price. You don’t have to be a psychopath incapable of guilt to lie. You just have to be capable of enduring the momentary discomfort that comes with it.

That’s not much of a price for certain people, especially when there’s money to be made and power to be gained. Granted, certain liars and hypocrites will lose credibility with certain people. Lie too much to one person and they won’t trust you, let alone be inclined to do you any favors.

On a larger scale, though, that’s less of an issue. Add mass media and the internet to the mix and it’s basically an afterthought. Right now, anyone can tweet or post some completely dishonest information to any number of major sites.

They could claim a certain politician beat up a child.

They could claim that a certain celebrity sexually assaulted someone.

They could claim that the theory of evolution is a plot by the Illuminati to keep people from finding out about the shape-shifting lizard people that secretly run our government.

That last one is a real conspiracy theory that some people actually believe, by the way. I wish I had made up something that absurd.

Some of these lies may incur lawsuits or blocks, but again, is that really much of a price? Some people can afford frivolous lawsuits. Many don’t care if certain people block them. Even when major websites try to clamp down on it, that only seems to fuel the liars.

That’s another critical element as to why it keeps happening. Not only do liars, cheats, and hypocrites pay little to no price for their dishonesty. In some cases, they’re rewarded. In some cases, the reward is huge.

We may hate hypocrites and liars, but so long as they have something to gain and little to lose, not much will stop them. If they have no sense of guilt or shame, as many politicians and CEOs often do, they have every incentive to do what they do. There’s just too much money and power to be gained.

On top of that, there are some people who want to believe in their lies. Everyone has their own reason for doing so. It often boils down to the lies being more appealing than the truth or reinforcing some position they already have. Whatever their reason, they keep give even more incentives to those willing to exploit that inclination.

I say this not to be dire, although I don’t deny the election last month is a motivating factor. I offer this as a means of adding perspective to those frustrated by the dishonesty and hypocrisy that seems so prevalent, no matter where you look.

There’s a reason it’s there and is a painfully valid reason. As long as the liars, cheaters, and hypocrites we despise keep gaining so much and losing so little, they will continue with their deplorable behavior. They have no reason not to. It’s just the nature of our flawed world.

We can only do so much to make it less flawed. One way you can help is to keep voting, even if it’s just for the least dishonest candidate. It’s not a perfect fix, but it’s a start.

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