June 2, 2009

you flatter me, doctor


We just got back from the Academy theater, where Ira Glass presented one of the most beautiful, emotional pieces ever aired on television: the "John Smith" episode of Showtime's "This American Life". And again, I'm reminded of why I never stay for a Q&A session: your fellow audience members ought to be locked up in a Zoo for Narcissistic Ramblers.

This one wasn't even particularly bad: only one or two people made Tessa bury her head in my shoulder, but we've been to several public events where I wanted to MOTHERFUCKING STRANGLE the four or five question-askers who seize their fifteen seconds of fame and stretch it out into five minutes of pure, liquid phosphorescent hell.

These people never have a question; it's always a statement, and it's always about them. God bless ya for trying to impress the talent up on the stage, but here's a news flash: NOBODY CARES ABOUT YOUR TRENCHANT OBSERVATION. The rest of us came to see an artist, or a film, or something transcendental, and YOU ARE PEEING ALL OVER IT. You make the normal members of the audience lousy with Stupid Feeling™, you force your "hero" to navigate your thesis statement so as not to appear asinine, and frankly, you make ME want to apologize and explain that you are not emblematic of this community.

Except that you are. Which is why I have never read the "Letters" section of a newspaper or a magazine in my life: it's always the same shit. "I disagree with all that was written; please cancel my subscription." "As a [fill in race, religion, gender here] I find your article offensive, urgen gurgen flurgen." "I'm Joe America, and I have something painfully moronic to say about the gays." Or whatever.

Here's my pitch to audience members with an agenda: FUCKING SHUT UP. You got the mike because we thought you had a question, not because you needed validation. You've taken all of us hostage with your fanciful notions, and we want to KILLZ YOU. Save it for your graduate dissertation, and pass the microphone to the lady next to you, who has a short, fascinating question that will allow the artist to relax once more.

There are very few places where you can let the hoi polloi ask questions, say whatever they want... and not want to die of embarrassment for humanity. It has to be a venue that is well-curated, self-policing, and full of diverse yet respectful patrons. It often needs moderation, way more moderation than you thought would be necessary, until it morphs into something that is a comfortable place for old salts, newer voices and even shy wallflowers to participate without feeling self-conscious or asinine. It's very rare indeed, and you guys created it with the button just below.

For which I don't thank you enough.

Posted by Ian Williams at June 2, 2009 11:13 PM
Posted by: eric g. at June 3, 2009 4:25 AM

Dear Sports Illustrated,

As a [longtime elementary school librarian who apparently has had his/her head stuck in the sand every February before this year], I am SHOCKED and APPALLED at the salacious photographs in your "swimsuit issue," which arrived on our shelves last week. Please cancel [school's name]'s subscription to your filthy magazine immediately. Shame on you and the Time Life corporation for your collective audacity. Body painting??? Really...

Thank you and good riddance.

P.S. How could I order the bikini on page 124?

Posted by: Tanya at June 3, 2009 5:40 AM

At the risk of sounding like a knuckle-dragging mouth-breather, I do have a question: what's the difference between a "film" and a "movie"?? I have a friend who went to school Up North who always sort of rolls her eyes at me when I ask, "did you want to go see a movie with us?" And her answer is usually, "what film do you have in mind?"

help me out here.

Posted by: Tanya at June 3, 2009 5:47 AM

Pardon my grammar above. It's early. (and may be indicative that I really AM a knuckle-dragging mouth-breather...)

Posted by: Anne at June 3, 2009 6:49 AM

Try working at a university where every program featuring a visiting speaker or panel discussion empowers the show-offy intellectuals to hold forth from the audience mikes. OY.

Fortunately, many speakers now seem comfortable calling the question... probably out of long experience.

You know what they say about opinions....

Tanya: Film has an effete connotation and you are right to detect a whiff of snobbery. If it appears on a screen and it moves and talks, I say call it a MOVIE, dammit! :-)

Posted by: Anne at June 3, 2009 6:50 AM

P.S: Ira Glass = Brown alum FTW!

Posted by: GFWD at June 3, 2009 8:15 AM

So what did they say? I don't know that I've ever been somewhere like a press conference where I've gotten to witness what you're describing.

Tanya, next time your friend asks about a "film", drop by her place and drop into her DVD player, "Jackass: The Film". She'll love the character development and cinematography.

Everyone knows the difference between a movie and a film. Movies: theaters and popcorn and moving pictures. Films: elementary school, little filmstrips come in little flip-top canisters, must be synced with tape recorder and have no moving pictures.

Posted by: the Other Lee at June 3, 2009 9:06 AM

oh God yes on this rant!

I cringe whenever I hear someone ramble on and on when asking an expert something. Whether it is at a live event or listening to an NPR call in show (Diane Rehm's show for example) people just don't know how to self edit their questions.

Posted by: Ian at June 3, 2009 10:53 AM

Tanya, a "film" is a movie that doesn't make money.

Posted by: Sarah at June 3, 2009 11:01 AM

Try going to a scientific talk...ugh!

I had to give several departmental seminars as part of my PhD requirements at UNC. My friends and I used to joke that if a particular famous emeritus professor stood up to ask a question, our best bet was to just let him ramble on, because it would eventually turn into a "statement" rather than a question.

At my postdoctoral university in SoCal, I absolutely despised going to departmental seminars. The Q&A afterwards would often go on 20 minutes or more, while different professors expounded upon the research presented, trying to outsmart each other.

Posted by: Piglet at June 3, 2009 12:28 PM

"Tanya, a "film" is a movie that doesn't make money."

...and is therefore better art than a movie.

Posted by: Julie Hunter at June 3, 2009 12:55 PM

My husband and I have felt the pain of the self-indulgent and gassy Q & A hijackers at parent information meetings at school. Middle school in particular. Talk about your urgen flurgen gurgen.

Thanks for your exquisitely potty mouthed rants that are right on. I'm new to your blog and you are hilarious.

Posted by: Rebecca at June 3, 2009 2:41 PM

I've been to our school district's Kindergarten Information Night 3 times now (over 6 years) and there are always at least 2 parents who stand up and ask about the gifted program. (Yes - the question is answered, and then another parent feels the need to ask it again.) When told it begins in 4th grade, they want to know how the teacher will deal with their child because he/she is "extremely gifted" and so how will their needs be met? The administrator has said this line every time: "We've never had a child enter kindergarten whom we determined actually should be in 3rd grade." It makes me laugh out loud every time!

Posted by: Joanna at June 3, 2009 3:31 PM

Tanya, if I may borrow from the brilliant Liz Lemon, that's a deal breaker. Your pretentious friend is finding silly ways to feel big at your expense. I'd let her enjoy her next "film" alone.

Posted by: Bob at June 3, 2009 4:06 PM

You live part-time in Columbia County and you don't read the letters to the editor in the Register-Star? Good lord, man, you are missing out on one of life's greatest surreal pleasures.

Posted by: kjf at June 3, 2009 5:02 PM

my brother used to wish that when people went on and on like that at Q and A's the presenter would look at them straight on and say "now ask me if i care?"

Posted by: wottop at June 3, 2009 5:15 PM

I knew this kind of crap was coming every time the grad student in the front row in an undergrad class would ask a question . They might have needed to take this class because their original UG work was lacking behind UNC, but they were going to separate themselves from the UG's in the back.

Run to my next class much?

Posted by: Ruthy at June 3, 2009 10:21 PM

Hear! Hear! I concur. Q & S (for statement) is utter torture to me. Do you think people think they are there for show & tell/sharing time? Aack. Ptooey.

Posted by: Ian at June 4, 2009 1:29 AM

Bob, super small-town newspapers are obviously an exception for your reasons exactly... I've gotta check out Hudson's editorial section.

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