I think ideally politics is a way of executing policies, which is a way of achieving goals, which are important because of values. And I think that underlying values are what is important in a relationship. There are at least three broadly coherent ways I can see people establishing a long term relationship across the political divide.
1). They aren't actually very political. There are a lot of people who don't vote, and who don't care, and/or who don't talk about politics or political stuff. My wife and I disagree vehemently on whether you should put raisins in cinnamon buns, but it didn't come up until we'd been dating for years and as long as we're on a low-carb diet and not running a bakery, it's not going to affect our relationship. But in the weeks leading up to the recent federal election, we talked about who were planning on voting for on a pretty regular basis. The Sanders voter who didn't find out his girlfriend voted for Trump until after a few months must not have talked politics very often.
2). They view politics as a team sport. This is the classic media view; it's no surprise that the classic R/D relationship was Carville and Matalin; they were both strategists, the unique breed of political animal who is only interested in policy as much as it affected the ballot box. They may as well have been ad execs for Nike and Adidas or Coke and Pepsi. And it's maybe unsurprising that the people who view politics as a team sport are either those who aren't affected by it (because of their privilege) or who just don't notice the effect (perhaps the "take your government hands off my Medicare" low-information folks.)
3). They have very specific, single-issue views. A progressive who is a PETA member hyperfocused on animal rights could plausibly find happiness with a conservative who views politics entirely through an anti-abortion lens, for instance, as long as they never move on to discussing other topics.
I think there used to be room for general moderates who shared the same basic values but differed somewhat on priorities or goals and were juuuust on the other side of any given policy from each other. Carbon taxes reduce greenhouse gas emissions but are also economically regressive, and two honest people could be opposed to both climate change and inequality but disagree on which is more important. (Pro tip: If you combine a carbon tax with a small means-based rebate or a large flat rebate, it's no longer regressive.) I think the media largely still thinks this exists.
The thing that has increasingly happened, though, is that conservatives - especially the Republicans -- have adopted as their policy "the opposite of what the Democrats want, updated daily". As Brad DeLong put it, Obama came into office with Mitt Romney's health care policy, John McCain's climate policy and George H.W. Bush's foreign policy, and was lockstep opposed by the Republicans. In an environment like that, where policy isn't about accomplishing goals or even expressing values, I don't know how you can have a relationship across the divide, where one side of the divide is a chasm of nihilism whose only coherent, lasting value is opposing the other side.
The "rolling coal" folks are maybe the ideal example. Like, everybody used to believe that pollution was bad; some people thought that a certain level of pollution was acceptable because of the economic benefits, or because they didn't want to change the way they lived, or because they didn't like government interference. I don't think those are good arguments necessarily, but at least they're coherent. The "rolling coal" folks are actually expressing their support of pollution; they're going out of their way to cause it, entirely because it pisses liberals off.
I can understand two people having a relationship where they share value A and value B but one thinks A is more important and the other thinks B is more important. I can even understand two people sharing A and thinking it's important, and disagreeing on B but not thinking it's as important. But how do you have a long term relationship with someone whose guiding political value is "fuck you"?
Incoming state Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) wasted no time filling the top slot on the Judicial Proceedings Committee, tapping the panel’s No. 2, Sen. William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery), as the new chairman.
Ferguson’s decision, announced Wednesday evening, came just one day after the current JPR chairman, Sen. Robert A. Zirkin (D-Baltimore County), revealed that he plans to resign before the start of the General Assembly session next month.
The timing and venue of Ferguson’s announcement were fortuitous — Smith had a long-scheduled “welcome home” fundraiser set for Wednesday night at the Civic Center in downtown Silver Spring, following his recent return from an eight-month deployment to Afghanistan with the Naval Reserves.
Ferguson told the crowd that when he learned Zirkin was stepping down, “there was only one name that came to mind about replacing him — and that was Sen. Will Smith.”
The news of Smith’s elevation was the highlight of an emotional and star-studded evening that featured tributes to the 37-year-old lawmaker from some of the state’s most powerful politicians — and an impressive turnout of A list State House lobbyists and community leaders.
Smith represents a dramatic departure from Zirkin at the helm of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, ideologically and stylistically. He’s perceptibly more liberal than Zirkin on several key issues that come before the panel, and while he hasn’t been tested in such a lofty leadership role, he is considered one of the nicest lawmakers in Annapolis.
Smith’s rise to JPR chairman marks one of the fastest political ascensions in recent State House history. He was elected to the House of Delegates in 2014, appointed to fill a vacancy in the Senate in late 2016, became Judicial Proceedings vice chairman at the beginning of this year, and now is about to become chairman.
Ferguson said he bonded with Smith at the beginning of this year when he became vice chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee and the two sat next to each other on the Senate floor. Ferguson said he immediately felt Smith’s loss when Smith was deployed to Afghanistan with a couple of weeks left in this year’s legislative session.
“Just in the few days that Will was away, the place changed,” he said. “You felt something different. And in the Senate, you know that’s the sign of a real leader.”
Also there to offer public praise for Smith were U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D), state Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D), state Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D), and Takoma Park Mayor Kate Stewart. U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D) was also scheduled to speak, but he was tied up on Capitol Hill with impeachment hearings and appeared toward the end of Smith’s fundraiser.
Stewart, like many people in the audience during private conversations, recalled the first time she met Smith when he was volunteering for local community organizations. Van Hollen recounted his visit with Smith in Afghanistan earlier this year, when they rode together in a helicopter.
Franchot called Smith “one of the shining lights in Annapolis” and “a breath of fresh air at JPR.” Frosh — himself a former Judicial Proceedings chairman — teased that Smith would one day hold the JPR gavel, seconds before Ferguson made the formal announcement.
“Lawyers are in short supply in Annapolis and good lawyers are in even shorter supply,” Frosh observed.
Despite all the accolades, Smith was modest and introspective, saying he wanted to enlist in the military right after the 9-11 terrorist attacks, when he was a sophomore in college, but was persuaded by his parents to wait. He wound up becoming a commissioned Naval Intelligence officer while attending law school.
Smith said that being overseas over the last several months made him think about the responsibilities that officeholders possess.
“When you go abroad and serve, you think a lot about why you’re serving,” he said, adding that, apart from being away from his wife and small daughter, being in Afghanistan underscored that “your time in office is short.”
Smith did not talk about his agenda as the new Judicial Proceedings chairman. Chances are, like many of the newly ascending Senate leaders, he’ll have to prepare on the fly.
Ferguson said he admires Smith because “he works to improve the lives of families. It’s what motivates him every day.”
This is FANTASTIC news. Zirkin was our single biggest obstacle when I was working on immigrant rights at the state level; he used his role to prevent any legislation he didn't like from making it to the floor. Smith has been a consistent ally.
I've struggled with this kind of thing myself. I'm the child of hoarders, married to a child of people who spent fairly freely, living in a consumer age. I've gone through so many phases, so first, be aware that you don't have to get this "right" forever. I do think though, if shopping is for you about the pleasure of shopping/acquiring, and not about actual points of need, then it's a good time to look at that.
Here's some of the thinking that has helped me at various points:
- calculate your real hourly wage and calculate the cost in your life hours. (This calculation stopped me eating at restaurants/doing takeout often, especially with a family of five.)
- Figure out how many of X thing you need total. I worked in women's magazines which resulted in at one point me having a bin full of nail polish, which was...disgustingly wasteful. One thing I love about Marie Kondo's method is that you gather all the X things from everywhere and put them in a pile and look at them. I decided that in my life, the maximum number of shades of nail polish I need in my life at any given time (in my new industry) is...5. I currently have 8 thanks to gifts, but I won't buy any more until I'm back at 5.
- The One Product To Change Your Life does happen, but less often than you think. For me, upping the quality of my shoes has been life changing (I grew up in bargain-basement sneakers), but it also means I don't buy them as often because I don't have 4 pairs that give me blisters in the cupboard, never mind that they last longer. But sweaters, I buy cosily used at the thrift shop.
- Declutter regularly. Do not tolerate things at the backs of closets that don't get touched for over a year...this will teach you a lot, right away, about what is really happening to the things you're buying.
- Don't shop. This will depend on where you live, but I have substituted a habit of shopping as visual/artistic input with actual attendance at galleries and museums and shows and I have seen so many amazing things now. I also go for nature walks. Similarly, now that my social media is my own again, I mostly follow artists, writers, and photographers on Instagram, not influencers.
- This last is kind of weird but here goes. When I decided to try to stop what had been a slow weight gain over 15 years, I realized I was very uncomfortable with the idea of feeling hungry. Like, for the last 10 years or so, I had treated feeling hungry like a national emergency and I was investing actually a lot of effort into never feeling it, including food and snack preparation and carrying. So for a few months I experimented with letting myself feel hungry for 2, 10, 20 minutes. It really made me realize that I needed to contribute to food banks, because feeling hungry for 30 minutes is fine...for a day is not okay. I feel like letting myself feel hungry is an important experience to staying a responsive and moral human being, because it connects me to the parts of the world -- and indeed, the entire planet we are plundering -- physically.
For things, I realized that I also was operating from a strange scarcity mentality...buying and hoarding so that I would never be without 2 raincoats, 4 pairs of scissors, bowls in the Right Shape for every serving occasion...so that I would never betray my vulnerability by serving olives in a cereal bowl, or having to put plastic bags inside a wet pair of boots. In other words, I was insulating myself from the reality of millions if not billions of human beings, and making sure I both was and looked like someone who was Not Lacking. Lacking in really, every sense.
Now, I have kids and a house and I still have dishes for serving olives, but at the odd moment when I don't have X or I have a Not The Best X, I try to welcome that experience in order to deepen my commitment to social justice, anti-poverty, and environmental...I won't say activism, but awareness and at least support. When my son's boots were wet and I realized I hadn't bought a back up pair, and that made me look like a bad mom (but luckily I have been poor enough as a kid to know about the bag trick), the result was that I bought three additional pairs - one second-hand for him, two brand new ones for our local shelter.
Wow that got ranty but...I guess what I'm saying is, you can also enjoy the feeling of not having the best/right thing.
Today in Tedium: There’s an ad campaign currently on national TV that really bothers me. Like, a lot. Starting a couple of months ago, Facebook started using The Muppets to promote its Portal product, a device that is seen as so problematic that upon its release it received nearly universal do-not-buy recommendations from tech reviewers. And I friggin’ love The Muppets, to the point that I was absolutely giddy about them as a kid. But despite The Muppets’ roots in advertising, it feels wrong—like having Mister Rogers promoting Exxon after an oil spill. Today’s Tedium is about advertisers who put a happy face on problematic products. — Ernie @ Tedium
Thanks to Anil Dash for the idea. Also, Today’s Tedium is sponsored by Lemonade. More from them in a second.
“It all ends in one of two ways: either someone gets eaten or something blows up.”
— Jim Henson,describing the controlled chaos of The Muppets, his concept for bringing puppetry to television starting in the 1950s. For the most part, Henson didn’t particularly care how the explosion or digestion took place, just that it happened, which is good, because it meant that he was flexible with how the brand first appeared.
Step away from the webcam, Fozzie! It’s tracking your every move!
Why Facebook’s co-opting of The Muppets to sell webcams is so problematic
The Muppets are a major influence on me, I think I can say. So much so that my third issue, published when I maybe had about 500 subscribers, was about them. And when I got a chance to check out a museum exhibit featuring Henson earlier this year, it brought me a level of joy few other things have.
The campaign is, on a surface level, well-done. Evoking the classic films, where the various characters are often split apart before coming together at the end of the film, the Portal is shown as a way to bring the characters into the same room once again, or as Kermit puts it: “I sent everyone a Portal so we can be together no matter where we are!”
In one sense, you can argue that this is an example of Jim Henson’s creation returning to its original context. Henson was never overly protective of The Muppets when it came to advertising, in part because it was initially one of the few contexts in which it could live peacefully before it became a successful concept on its own. He got his start in advertising, and one of his key goals was simply to get his foam and fabric figures out there. It took multiple tries and many false starts (most infamously, a hated stint on the first season of Saturday Night Live) to get his creations in the right context.
And the right context happened in a roundabout, indirect way. The Muppet Show, when first created in 1976, was a British production that aired in first-run syndication in the U.S. because the networks didn’t want it. But it became a phenomenon despite them, as well as a valuable asset, one that successfully hits pretty much every age group.
Decades later, it’s clear why The Muppets were picked for Facebook’s campaign, though: The franchise was on a bit of a downswing after the failure of a single-season sitcom on ABC a few years back that messed with the classic formula by attempting to modernize it and target it toward a more adult audience. That meant that Kermit and company were in need for a round of image rehab—something that put them in their original context.
You can say that the Portal ads certainly do that—despite the use of technology, the ads hit all of the cues of the 1970s variety show and the original film series.
The problem is that the device that they’re using is widely seen as a privacy nightmare, despite Facebook’s best efforts to sell it as anything but. Its reputation was so damaged out of the gate that it needs image rehab even more so than The Muppets do. On paper, it’s a combination that should make sense.
But there’s just one problem: Facebook Portal is an irredeemable product. It will not win because it is associated with Facebook, a company whose crises are myriad to the point it makes it untrustworthy. In fact, the Portal makes those image problems worse.
“They have privacy issues they need to address and having a device that could invade your home is a problem,” noted well-known tech journalist Kara Swisher upon Portal’s release.
The Muppets’ Facebook gig feels like the Silicon Valley version of greenwashing
Making Fozzie Bear and Animal do brand rehab just feels like an enormous slap in the face—a clear example of something with a good reputation trying to sell something really bad.
It’s Facebook’s version of “greenwashing,” the well-known phenomenon in which companies with inherent environmental problems use eco-friendly language to promote their products or improve their track records.
It’s not a new idea (the concept really kicked off in earnest while Mark Zuckerberg was still in grade school), but there is a pretty recent example that’s worth bringing up. Earlier this year, the energy company Shell launched a YouTube series that leaned on the backs of a sitcom star and a number of high-profile online personalities.
The series, called “The Great Travel Hack,” shares a similar conceit to the Facebook Portal commercials, in that it uses positive imagery to help put a shine on something with a somewhat dark underbelly. The host, Kaley Cuoco of The Big Bang Theory, officiated a competition in which two teams of fresh-faced influencers (on one team, YouTube power couple Sara Dietschy and John Hill; on the other, popular travel vloggers Damon and Jo) traveled across the country using the minimum level of carbon dioxide possible.
It’s understandable why they did the series: Shell probably paid everyone a lot of money. But for those familiar with the nature of greenwashing, it felt like bad news.
“Shell making a promo on reducing CO2 emissions is like McDonald’s making a promo about reducing obesity,” one YouTube commenter stated.
Despite the negative comments and online criticism, that hasn’t stopped Shell, which made a second season targeting the European market.
Disney, which owns the Muppets brand, has allowed Facebook to commit the technology equivalent of greenwashing with some of the 20th century’s most beloved television icons. And if not careful, the company could cause long-term damage to an important brand.
The year that Disney finally purchased the Muppets franchise, a successful attempt that came about 15 years after the first time the company tried to do so in 1989. The deal fell through at the time in part due to Henson’s untimely death, but Disney in 1991 took a distribution role with The Jim Henson Company, and after that company was purchased back from a German media company in the early 2000s, the characters featured in The Muppet Show were sold to Disney in 2004—while Henson’s namesake company and some of its other franchises (Labyrinth, Fraggle Rock) continue to be owned by the independent studio, and Sesame Street has completely different owners entirely. (Which means, despite some surface similarities, the Facebook campaign has no corporate ties to Sesame Street’s promotion of Farmers Insurance.) Got all that?
Walmart’s labor practices were widely criticized in the ’90s—but it wasn’t Walmart that took the brunt of the blame. (Clean Walmart/Flickr)
Can brands damage celebrities as much as celebrities damage brands? Yes, sometimes
In some ways, the use of The Muppets in a Facebook commercial flips the script on the nature of celebrity endorsements gone awry. Generally, it’s the celebrity that’s costing the bigger brand credibility when something goes wrong.
One particularly famous example of this: Before O.J. Simpson became the poster child of low-speed car chases, he was the poster child of car rentals, as he endorsed Hertz. There were signs of trouble as early as 1989, as some of Simpson’s personal troubles went public, but the brand waited them out.
“There was still some concern and we watched it carefully … but after the press didn’t make a big deal about it, and the slap-on-the-hand outcome … we elected to keep going with O.J,” said Brian Kennedy, a Hertz executive vice president of marketing and sales, in a 1994 Washington Post article. (An article, incidentally, also written by Kara Swisher!)
Because O.J. spent so long as their sponsor, it was hard to disconnect Hertz’s image from the guy who was running away from the police in a Ford Bronco.
When a brand has a breakdown, the celebrity is more often than not the one who causes the breakdown. Think Lance Armstrong, Chris Brown, or Madonna—three celebrities who, for different reasons, saw major brand endorsement deals go south because of things they did.
But there are some examples where a brand association actually harms the celebrity. I have two in particular I want to bring light to: One that happened many decades ago, and another that’s much more recent.
The more recent example that comes to mind is Theranos, the failed startup that misled its investors regarding what its technology could actually do. So where do the celebrity endorsements come in? On its board—where major politicians, including former presidential cabinet members Henry Kissinger, James Mattis, and George Schultz, lent some of their authority to a high-flying startup. When information about Theranos’ processes came under scrutiny thanks to dogged reporters, the board was quickly torn apart.
Kathie Lee Gifford, shown right, was publicly defended by her late husband Frank Gifford after a scandal involving her clothing line emerged—a scandal that emerged after activists publicly called her out. (John Matthew Smith/Wikimedia Commons)
The older example is more interesting, though. TV host Kathie Lee Gifford found her name dragged through the mud in the mid-1990s because of something she didn’t actually personally do, but was merely associated with indirectly.
The brand that did her wrong? Walmart, which sold a line of clothing with the talk show host’s name on the packaging. Charles Kernaghan, a labor activist whose organization, the National Labor Committee in Support of Human and Worker Rights (now known as the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights), was a leading voice against the use of sweatshops, publicly spoke out against Gifford, personally blaming her for the labor practices associated with the products that bore her name.
Overnight, the effervescent co-host of “Live With Regis and Kathie Lee,” was branded a pariah after Charles Kernaghan, executive director of the National Labor Committee Education Fund in Support of Worker and Human Rights in Central America, told Congress on April 29 that her clothing line was being made by 13- and 14-year-olds working 20-hour days in factories in Honduras.
Never mind that Wal-Mart was responsible for producing the Kathie Lee Gifford clothing line. Never mind that Michael Jordan and Jaclyn Smith have come under criticism for endorsing products made in sweatshops. Never mind that Mr. Kernaghan recently apologized, saying he and his organization “never intended to hurt anyone personally and are truly sorry for any pain caused to Kathie Lee Gifford.” The fact remains that the Kathie Lee name has become associated in the popular mind with the word “sweatshop.”
Gifford had never dealt with a controversy anywhere near this level in her career. Her whole brand was built on being innocuous and friendly. But Walmart was only just starting to gain its negative reputation with consumers as a company that will go long lengths to help facilitate its low prices, and Kernaghan decided that Gifford was the one who deserved the attack dogs brought on her.
The result created widespread changes in labor practices, but at the cost of Gifford’s reputation. Kernaghan made Kathie Lee cry, and promoted that fact for years.
The reality is that Gifford, like many other celebrities, was not aware of what the corporation was doing under the guise of the endorsement deal. She noted that she had a clause in her contract that specifically forbade the use of illegal labor practices—but that Walmart produced the clothes in poor conditions anyway. (The mistake she made was failing to actually audit this claim, which is understandable because it’s not generally an issue celebrities have to worry about with endorsements.)
Kernaghan could have just as easily targeted any other major celebrity of the era who had an endorsement deal at a big-box retailer—say, model Kathy Ireland’s long association with Kmart—and gotten similar results.
Gifford, for her part, understood the gravity of the situation and used her celebrity to help further attention on the issue, even working with the Clinton administration to draw attention to the problem. Even so, her critics continued to needle at her—in 2000, upon her departure from Live With Regis & Kathie Lee, lawyer and labor activist Jonathan D. Rosenblum—who admitted not even knowing who she was before the controversy started—called her a “sweatshop queen” and a “hypocrite” in a column that did not blame Walmart once for the fact that it was their supply chain issues that were to blame for the saga.
I understand the challenges of getting the public to care about issues of labor activism and sweatshops, but one could make the case that the targeting of Gifford at the same time that other celebrities of the era, such as Michael Jordan, could have credibly been targeted for the same thing to a possibly more dramatic effect, reeks of sexism and let the actual bad guys—the ones running the supply chains, a.k.a. Walmart, Nike, and whomever else—off the hook.
Kathie Lee was a patsy in the anti-sweatshop movement, and Walmart let her take the fall.
Can The Muppets outlive this association with Facebook Portal? God, I hope so, but it also reflects a longer-term issue that has surfaced with the brand—one that is particularly surprising, given that it’s owned by a company that now owns a lot of artistic franchises that people really care about.
Simply put, the fact that Disney rented out The Muppets to Facebook is a huge warning sign that they don’t know what to do with these icons of filling the frame, an issue cited by critics such as Slashfilm’s Josh Spiegel as far back as 2017. At the time, he took Disney to task for seemingly only putting them on YouTube and failing to transition in the creative personalities behind the scenes.
“Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, and the Great Gonzo (among many others) are iconic, family-friendly faces, each able to represent a blend of hope and comic anarchy,” Spiegel wrote. “But now, we get 30-second bits where they deliver a couple brief one-liners, and that’s that. It’s easy to get a bit ruffled about who’s performing as these characters, with Frank Oz having retired and Henson having passed.”
In other words, Disney was already having brand management problems for years before they let Facebook do their bidding—which is particularly confusing given how successful it has been managing other brands it now owns, such as Marvel and Star Wars.
It does not bode well for other major franchises that will likely carry something of a secondary role under the Disney umbrella—such as, for example, The Simpsons, a relatively new acquisition for the company, and one that is already suffering from obvious blunders of creative management on Disney+.
Promoting The Muppets seems like something that Disney could so easily get right. But they keep getting it wrong. And now, this beloved franchise is, potentially, forever tainted by its association with one of the worst things Silicon Valley has ever created.