Search This Blog

Anti-Semitism In "Drive": 5 Lessons

Drive is the most anti-Semitic movie I have seen in a long, long time. Yet a keyword search of "anti-semitism in drive" yielded comments like "absurd."

Heeb Magazine there was a discussion of this issue centering on Sarah Deming's lawsuit to get her ticket price refunded on the basis that the trailer is basically false advertising. Jonathan Poritsky's assessment: "Completely bogus." 

I disagree. Not only is the trailer "misleading," it is patently false. Whoever made this film hates Jews and hates women too. I completely agree with the lawsuit claims:
"Drive was a motion picture that substantially contained extreme gratuitous defamatory dehumanizing racism directed against members of the Jewish faith, and thereby promoted criminal violence against members of the Jewish faith.
Perpetuating the lie, not only is the trailer misleading, so is the Netflix description of the movie:
"A Hollywood stuntman and getaway driver is lured from his isolated life by a lovely neighbor -- until her violent husband is released from prison."
In fact it is not about any of this. "Drive" features a criminal (Ryan Gosling)/talented (potential) race-car driver who falls in love with/is pursued by a married woman (Carey Mulligan) whose husband is inconveniently in jail, but penitent.

The husband does not do one violent thing in the movie other than take a "job" to protect his family from being pursued by thugs. (So the trailer exploited the stereotype of men as wife-beaters.)

I was very disturbed after watching Drive. Not only was the movie a hateful portrayal of Jews - much like The Passion of The Christ -  but because the anti-Semitism is so subtle, you almost don't even know it's there.

There seems to be wide consensus, in fact that the movie is not at all anti-Semitic - that the lawsuit is frivolous - and that the Jews are once again complaining over "nothing." For example the argument (see "Poritsky" comment, here) that reading the movie as anti-Semitic misses the point that the villains were gangsters, not only Jews:
"Nino and Bernie are Jews, but they're also gangsters. Their treatment is directly related to their gang involvement and their own propensity for violence."
However, a close reading of the movie shows the typical anti-Jewish stereotypes in play:
  • The Jews are obsessed with money. Even their knives - with which they kill people - are gold and in encrusted jeweled cases. The main gangster continually throws money at Gosling. He is "dirty" - Gosling is "above him" - and the movie dwells on the moment where he refuses to shake the Jew's hand.
  • The movie contrasts Gosling as someone who can do "real" (i.e. physical) work whereas the Jews manipulate, exploit, extort, steal and double-cross to make a living. And it's all about the cash - portable and transportable - recalling the racist stereotypes about Jews as "moneylenders" (recall that throughout history Jews were not allowed to own land, were expelled from their homes, and could only pursue professions where property was portable)
  • The gangsters have exaggerated Jewish features and affect; they are arrogant; they whine and complain in Yiddish.
Versus Gosling and Mulligan, who despite doing bad things are viewed completely sympathetically:
  • Gosling is portrayed physically as a Christlike figure. Unearthly, otherworldly stare; tall, thin, blond. Similarly Mulligan. 
  • Gosling is never tempted nor provoked - not by money and not by the flesh. Any time he um, actually chokes and kills people it's all forgivable, because for a good cause. The stealing? Well - the movie's logic is - he doesn't carry the gun - he only drives the car. (Really?)
  • Similarly, Mulligan, despite pursuing Gosling while married, is portrayed in a saintly, long-suffering kind of way. She is forever holding her son, playing the part of the dutiful wife and mother, never betraying any "badness" except when Gosling insults her integrity.
Similarly the sexism in the movie is subtle as we see that women are either suffering mothers (Mulligan), prostitutes, or sneaky, manipulative thieves.

5 key takeaways from this exercise:
  • To combat propaganda means to be educated and sensitized to stereotypes. It also means to be bold and stand up against a chorus of people who think you're nuts.
  • To fight propaganda you have to spell out very clearly what the issues are, very specifically, because generalizations actually anger people more than the possibility of propaganda itself.
  • It's important to distinguish between racism and speaking up when people, including Jews, women or anyone, behaves badly. Telling the truth is not the problem - covering up wrongdoing is.
  • If you're trying to change thinking or behavior in a positive way, subtler is better. Weave a story, don't push: The more you hit people over the head with a message like "think different," the more they resist it. (I remember being an Apple kid back in the early '80s when everybody was still on IBM - it took many, many years.)
  • The best way to make change is to model it visually and experientially - not to talk about it.
I can stand a lot of things, but I can't stand when people try to deceive others instead of telling the truth.

Have a good day everyone - and good luck!

Communicators Should NOT Be Subject Matter Experts

Photo by me. 

Transference is when you treat your therapist the way somebody else treated you. 

Professional communicators are like therapists to the organization. 

Unlike the stereotype that we are "just a bunch of writers" who "put together pretty pictures," our real job is to put the organization on the couch. Its leaders especially. (Read Kets de Vries.)
 A brand expert is there to help the organization project the right image. That's the end of the game. 

The communicator is the architect of the brand base layer. We are there to help the customer - people and groups - be ready for the brand. 

We dig down through the layers of denial, dysfunction, and destruction. Our job is to hold the customer's hand and help them come out from the painful process of self-discovery in a better place.
  The parallel between communication and therapy is very strong.

In therapy:

1. It is not only routine, but imperative that the therapy patient transfers the earlier painful relationship onto the therapist herself or himself. By re-creating it, the therapist can help the patient experience the pain of the past, go through the emotion, and get free. So that they don't re-create the dynamic with other people in their lives.

2. It is also routine, and unfortunate that the therapy patient will take great pains to deny the transference, deny their feelings, deny deny deny. A good therapist knows that this is motivated by fear and helps the patient through it.

3. Finally it is common for therapists to project feelings onto their patients from their own personal baggage. This is called counter-transference. It's why good therapists go to therapy themselves, so that they don't let this interfere with the patient's care.

Similarly, in communication:

1. The organization and its leaders will treat the communicator the same dysfunctional way they treat other people. In other words, they will transfer their dysfunction onto the communicator - the same person who is there to help them. This is to be expected and not viewed personally. It is actually a sign that the relationship is working. A subject matter expert who is cozy with the organization will not experience transference this way, and therefore cannot assist with it.

2. The communicator should expect that the organization will deny what it is doing in #1. The person who waits for the organization to "see the light" and "magically change" is not understanding the dynamic or how to resolve it. You have to experience what they do to others, before you can help - which is why it is good not to get too close to the customer or you will drink their Kool-Aid. Subject matter experts who think the way the customer does therefore tend to be poor communicators on their behalf.

3. The communicator will routinely experience frustration due to their own "baggage." After all - we do have motivations for going into the field - the need to be seen as an expert, the need to be listened to, the need to have the power to change things. These are not issues with the customer, but issues that the communicator must confront and resolve in other arenas. Subject matter experts who are not invested in communication are like people doing therapy without a license - they will not experience the kind of counter-transference that signifies commitment to communication itself.

I would argue that mature organizations know this, and avoid hiring subject matter experts to do the work of a trained communicator.

On the other hand, immature organizations seek to avoid being confronted with the underlying problems that cause poor communication - and so rely on subject matter experts claiming that they are "better equipped" to do the job. This is a form of denial.

Transference and countertransference are difficult issues to deal with, but they are real and a sign of commitment and progress in the communication relationship. We should not shy away from them, but rather understand what they are telling us and use them to move forward.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!

5 Challenges for an Innovative Personality

Today I was commenting on a discussion question at about challenges re: innovation. 
In writing about it I realized that there is a bias toward blaming the organization for not innovating. 
While this issue is real, it is also true that many of the challenges I face stem from having an innovative personality. I've tried to give examples and explain ways to overcome them where possible. 
1 - Innovative people have little patience for the customer
Innovative people tend to think fast, work fast, and innovate at a very rapid pace. We need to team up with other people who are able to present innovative ideas in terms, and at a pace, that the customer can appreciate. For example I put an email based process onto Google Sites, but my assistant actually works with the customer and is flexible enough to go back and forth between the innovation and the "old way." She is also innovative herself and has the technical skills to tweak the system.
2 - Innovative people don't want to stop tweaking till it's perfect
In my experience there was one executive who wanted to track all projects in Excel. Simultaneously I was developing a project tracker in Sharepoint but was hung up on all the bells and whistles and making it perfect. My colleague did the political thing and worked with the executive until he decided Sharepoint was better and convinced the other executives to use it. She worked with me to simplify it so that people could use it, and she also convinced me to stop working on it, insisting it didn't have to be perfect in order to work. Now they all use Sharepoint and have appointed a Sharepoint champion. 
A related issue is that I tend to constantly update my work. This is extremely annoying when you've already showed someone how something works, and they come back and now things are different. Sometimes you have to have a version you're working on, and a version you show...they can't always be parallel.
3 - Innovative people tend to be seen as impractical
It never fails that I get great feedback on my blogs, as a speaker and lecturer but in the actual workplace, among a general audience people wonder whether innovation isn't a bit too radical for them. One way to deal with this is again, to team up with other innovators or people who appreciate creativity and innovation. Another way is to be seen as the designated innovator and so the organization makes space for your input because they feel they need someone like that.
4 - Innovative people tend to hold themselves to unrealistic standards
I am not sure why but I have this idea that I must constantly be innovating. Sounds great except the pace is obviously not sustainable on a constant basis and I sometimes feel like I'm failing even though objectively have achieved a lot. For example I've just come out of a six-week urgent website renovation project and while it was going on, managed to learn a lot of new things, develop some innovative ways to get work done quicker/better etc. But yesterday was a slow day and I found myself feeling like a "failure." So of course I drove my assistant crazy focusing on our internal blog and how it needed to be fixed up. I don't really have the answer to this except to be aware of it and to try and have mercy on the people who have to work with you. 
5. Innovative people talk about process whereas most people want the bottom line
I am working with someone right now who is extremely creative. I get her completely. But when she answers a question she takes a long time to do it because she will answer the question, relate it to other things she's done, provide context, and generally take you through the whole A to Z of why she thinks what she does. For me this is all extremely valuable information and I mentally file it away as training. But for bottom-line business types (most people) it's more than what they want or can understand. My husband always tells me "say the end at the beginning" and that's pretty good advice - that and think to yourself "they only want 10% of what you had planned to say."
Hope this is helpful.

Have a great day everyone, and good luck!

Normal People Make Boring Brands

Have you ever noticed that Maroon 5 produces the same kind of song again and again?

Every one of them is about messed-up love. Extreme. Betrayal. Abnormally skinny people with exaggerated makeup and tattoos.

But I can't not listen to the songs.

Mel Gibson has been caught over and over as a ranting, raving anti-Semite. ("The Passion of the Christ" is Exhibit A.)

But when "Braveheart" is on TV, I stop everything and watch.

What is it about branding, that to do it well you have to be obsessed, insane, extreme?

Often the great brands don't even know they are doing branding. In fact the more consciously they brand, the more they ruin it (Madonna).

But their bizarre obsession with a single hyper-specific thing, combined with their skill and personal craziness, makes them totally valuable. (Britney Spears.)

Michael Jackson had it.

Whitney Houston had it.

Marilyn Monroe had it.

Elizabeth Taylor had it.

All the great brands have been slightly off kilter - more than slightly.

The question is whether they can sustain that edge, without falling off the cliff.

7 Real Ways To Introduce Organizational Change

This morning I was fortunate to attend a workshop sponsored by Jive Software as part of its "Jive Live" tour. (The workshop was free and open to the public, and this is not an endorsed post nor an endorsement of the company or its products.)

Jive is part of the new wave of "social business" companies integrating knowledge management, collaboration, and internal communications for greater productivity. Yammer and Socialtext are two competitor names that come to mind, although there are many (Quora has a fairly comprehensive listing).

The workshop itself was very educational (see #jivelive) but the best part for me was the "7 Steps to Success" presented at the end. They are useful for implementing ANY organizational change strategy.

1. Align to business strategy. Use your initiative to answer the question, "This year we will ---"

2. Gain strong executive sponsorship. If the leader wants it, everyone will want it.

3. Pilot with influential groups. These are the "buzzworthy" folks, the ones other people copy, and/or those whose success is repeatable in other offices.

4. Train people how to use it - explain to them how to act in the "new order" - this does not refer to infantile, overly restrictive policy

5. Seed the environment with examples of success - put content in the blog before you launch it, for example; if a different kind of change, populate the environment with living examples of success

6. Communicate in all directions - 
from the bottom - experts, influencers - and top down executives, staff meetings

7. Be able to show the impact - quantitative use, qualitative feedback and correlate use to impact

Excellent seminar, really excellent - I will be carrying around these tips for a while till I memorize them.