10 Reasons Not To Miss "The Interview"


Weekends are for movies and if you don't know what to watch the next time you power up Netflix on your Roku, I would highly recommend "The Interview."

Unfortunately the marketing of this movie was so bad that they almost totally ruined my interest in it. But I should have known that if Seth Rogen and James Franco were involved it was going to be a certain kind of funny, and it absolutely was.

Here are 10 reasons you absolutely have to see this movie:

  1. James Franco's portrayal of the host, which is so funny and over-the-top it makes the movie.
  2. The screenplay, which is hilarious - these lines are so rich I can't quote them enough: "America tried that before and it didn't work." "That doesn't mean we shouldn't do it again."
  3. The intelligent worldview of the movie, which is that wars are just as much fought through communications as guns, that both are equally powerful
  4. The plot, which allows us to talk about real issues by combining reality and satire
  5. The focus on North Korean dictator specifically, which was highly imaginative and which allows us to look at him from a psychological point of view
  6. The psychological bent of the movie, which doesn't use action to cover a lack of thought 
  7. The empowering messages about women,  subtle and not-so-subtle: "It's 2014. Women are smart now."
  8. The overall message of the movie, which is that taking care of each other is the most important thing we can do on this planet.
  9. The cameos by Eminem, Rob Lowe and Bill Maher, which were very funny.
  10. Seth Rogen's portrayal of the Jew as Franco's moral conscience who's also lost his way because his job pays a lot of money, and Franco makes him feel loved and wanted.
As a side note there is a scene in the movie that involves a line that some would consider anti-Semitic (to the effect of "Don't shake his hand...he's a Jew.") I understood that line to be important to the movie, to have artistic integrity and to be perfect for the comedy.

Imagine what kind of world we would live in if we could not incorporate anti-religious messages - even if crude or insensitive - into art the same way we incorporate sexuality and violence. We would be starting down a path where the only end is bleak totalitarianism.

In any case this is a fantastic, funny, movie that is rare in combining true art with a truly important set of themes and messages about the world. I hope you take the time to see it, on Netflix or anywhere else.

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All opinions my own.

5 Lessons In Crisis Communications from the Netanyahu Speech

What always surprises me about large-scale communication conflicts, what is endlessly surprising and what keeps me sort of riveted to this kind of stuff, is the following:
  • The dynamics behind them always seem weighty and consequential.
  • The truth is they're often about people acting petty.
  • The consequences of this human immaturity are often deadly or otherwise disastrous.
Basically we're looking at people who act like they're somewhere between age 5 and 5th grade in their selfishness, greed and immaturity.
So many examples of screwups come to mind, but the most immediate ones are the BP oil spill, the Toyota brakes crisis, and Hurricane Katrina. Jerry Sandusky, the pedophile protected by Penn State. The fraternity gang-rapes at UVA.
On the positive side, I can only think of Tylenol and Johnson & Johnson's response to the tampering several decades ago. This fact alone, for a student of crisis comms, is pretty sad.
The current Obama-Netanyahu crisis is a case in point.
Over the past few days I watched in shock (why?) at the entire course of events: The invitation from U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner to PM Netanyahu to speak, without telling the White House; the latter's acceptance without unofficially clearing it or at least making the invitation known; and the hot public meltdown by the White House in response.
The context of the above of course is the well-known contempt that the White House has shown for Netanyahu over the past few years and the refusal of the Prime Minister to knuckle under. The open attempts to influence Israeli policy, when the country is under direct and continuous attack.
In a broader context that includes statements like "there will be a price to pay," "we will reward our friends and punish our enemies," and so on.
To be fair, the White House perceives itself as blockaded by its political rivals at every turn. And it was a fairly open expression of disrespect to the President to invite PM Netanyahu just after the State of the Union.
There are personal rivalries here, political rivalries and of course an objective existential threat all the way around: a nuclear-armed Iran. It is a farce to think they're going to negotiate anything, of course; they're just buying time till they can fire a nuke right into the heart of Israel.
From a communication standpoint, here is what I would urge both sides to do, now.
  • The President needs to hire better help. The statements that are coming from the White House sound ridiculous - "a breach of protocol?" Without going into detail with a laundry list of comments on this - who are we kidding? And the several-times-repeated "there will be payback time" type comments (in this context and others) are not only petty, but also very weak. A truly strong person never threatens, they just act.
  • The Israeli Prime Minister should graciously thank Mr. Boehner for the invitation, but announce that he's not going to come. The President has made it clear that he's unwelcome, and he is coming to the President's turf. It is below his dignity to be used as a pawn in somebody else's internal fight, and it detracts from his honor to even appear to push his way into American politics.
From a policy standpoint I think the U.S. and Israel should each pursue their own interests, because we are dealing with two different countries here. It's stupid to constantly have this narrative at work that the one must reinforce the other.
We stand together where it makes sense. We don't when it doesn't. Because both sides have to benefit from the relationship. That's it.
Above this entire situation there are 5 underlying communication principles here, simple and straightforward.
  • Lead with the facts. Bluster has no place in contemporary rhetoric; you can either prove what you're saying or you can't. It goes without saying that parsing language like a lawyer ("I did not have sexual relations with that woman") only tarnishes your credibility more.
  • The best offense is conciliation. Emotional intelligence is required nowadays and you must find an honest meeting point between yourself and the opposing side, even if you disagree. Use that meeting point to express respect in a respectful way, and then make your case, and do what you need to do.
  • People are not stupid, so do not talk to them like they are stupid. For some reason, politicians continue to use glorified fluffy language in public, and in private say things like "WTF," and the latter is what gets leaked and is truly listened to. Fancy talk means lying. Honest talk is straight.
  • Good policy and good communication go hand-in-hand. The current U.S. approach to Iran looks suspiciously like appeasement. I haven't heard anything convincing to the contrary.
  • Your stand-ins speak for you. The President included a few words against anti-Semitism in his State of the Union speech, but when his unnamed advisors say truly nasty shit about Netanyahu nobody appears to say "that's not nice, we apologize, we don't talk like that." Weak affirmations and weak denials sound...weak.
They say the only constant is change, but sadly, poor communication - especially in a crisis - is also a fairly consistent practice. Friends can disagree but these antics are really childish, and dangerous.
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All opinions my own. Photo credit: Psyberartist via Flickr

Keeping Silent Will Not Save You


More than once I've used my blog posts to be a flaming kiss-ass. I'm not proud to admit it, and it's not that I do it intentionally, but it happens. Inevitably my misuse of my G-d given talent backfires, because someone always calls me out on it.

"You should stick to blogs on branding," a commenter recently said, "because when you write about Obama [note: I work for the federal government and have a vested interest in not getting my ass handed to me on a silver platter] you always put your foot in your mouth."

Specifically objecting to a previous post imploring the President to fight radical Islamic terrorism. Where I said:

"Only you, only you can do this."

The comment: "No, only G-d can do this. With your words you blaspheme G-d. Change it, so you won't be punished."

Fine, but I'm still gonna write about the stuff I'm writing about, I thought.

Even though I'm afraid.

I am afraid, like many Jews are afraid.

The nail that sticks out gets hammered.

But when the U.N. convenes a summit on the problem of global anti-Semitism, you know you're past the threshold when we could afford the luxury of silence.

This past week's Torah reading, Shemot, talks to this exact issue. The Jews' slavery in Egypt began with anti-Semitism and progressed to forced labor; there was quite a bit of run-up.

There was opportunity to speak up to Pharoah, to intervene and influence history.

According to the ancient rabbis, Pharoah's advisers were rewarded or punished because of how they reacted to his declared intentions.

Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald explains:

"The Midrash states, that in the 130th year of Israel’s sojourn in Egypt, Pharaoh dreamed that, while sitting on the throne, he saw an old man before him holding a scale in his hands. On one side of the scale were all the elders, nobles and great men of Egypt, and on the other was a single sheep that outweighed all the great Egyptians. 
"Disturbed by the dream, Pharaoh awoke early in the morning and summoned all his advisors and wise men to help him interpret the dream. 
"Among those summoned were Balaam, the son of Beor, the great gentile prophet. Another was Jethro, the future father-in-law of Moses, and the third was Job, a man of great faith, who refused to curse G-d despite his profound losses and suffering. 
"The Midrash depicts Balaam as spewing venomous hate toward the Jewish people....
"Jethro spoke up, advising Pharaoh not to start with the Hebrews....he warned Pharaoh that any leader who had, in the past, confronted the Hebrews, had met a bitter end. 
It was up to Job to decide between the main royal advisors, but he chose instead to sit on the fence, saying simply that since all the inhabitants of the land were under Pharaoh’s sovereignty, it was up to the King to do as seems fit in his eyes....
Job is perhaps the saddest and most complex of the advisors. 
Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik in his essay “Kol Dodi Dofek” (The Voice of My Beloved Knocks) takes Job to task for being silent before Pharaoh and not speaking up on behalf of the wretched Hebrew slaves. 
To paraphrase Rabbi Soloveitchik: You, Job, refused to intervene publicly with Pharaoh because you were fearful lest you be accused of dual loyalty. 
And so it was for the “Jobs” throughout the generations... 
How sad it is to see how often history repeats itself. Jews today have their determined enemies and beloved friends. But, most of all, we have those who are too fearful to speak up on behalf of justice, truth, and morality. 
We are indeed “a nation apart,” who, as the Psalmist asserts (146:3), must not rely on the goodness of princes or mortals.

Speak up, speak up, speak up, speak up, speak up.

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All opinions my own.