Mental+Physial Toughness Now Labeled "Toxic," What Will 9/11 Mean to Those Who Weren't Born for It?, The White House Wastes Tax $$ on TikTok, Vince Vaugn's Welcome Return (The Five for 08/13/21)

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Be sure to check back on Tuesday, as I’m going to share some info on a major project I’ve been working on for months (in the tech space).

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Let’s dive into Culture & Commentary.

[one]

As we approach the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, some major pop culture events are coming up. Netflix will release the Oscar-bait drama Worth about the controversial 9/11 victims fund (trailer here). Former Daily Show host Jon Stewart and Saturday Night Live cast member Pete Davidson will host a comedy show for charity (Davidson’s late father was a fireman who died in the Twin Towers during the attacks).

But events like that are a therapy, of sorts, for those of us who lived through the attacks.

On that day, we were all witnesses to an event so horrific that it marked the B.C./A.D. delineation of the lives of most in my general age bracket.

In May 2001, I delivered the Valedictorian speech at my high school graduation, stepping into a peaceful, stable world with a strong economy and a bright outlook. I was off to the local jr. college on a basketball and academic scholarship.

Five months later, I turned on SportsCenter to catch the Cardinals highlights from the night before, only for the screen to flip to smoke pouring out of the World Trade Center. Moments later, I viewed what hundreds of millions of my fellow Americans witnessed—the second plane driving into the remaining tower. Confirmation that we weren’t witnessing an aviation accident, but an attack on unsuspecting civilians.

In the hours that followed, my family was thrown into the most horrible confusion as to whether or not my Uncle Rod, a private pilot who was in New York that morning, was actually in the buildings when they were hit.

Shortly after that, my mom (a teacher at the high school I attended) called to tell me that my friend Anthony’s dad might have been killed in the Washington D.C. attack. A senior, Anthony had stayed in Illinois for his final year of high school when his father, an Army general, had been transferred to the Pentagon.

All hope seemed lost when Anthony could read his dad’s license plate on CNN, confirming the General was in the building.

By an absolute miracle of God, the General had been called to a meeting in another wing of the building, and survived unscathed.

Two decades later, the emotional scars are still there, although my family and friends came through the attacks unscathed (although, if circumstances had varied slightly, both Rod and the General would have died that day).

But what about those who can’t relate to these emotions…because they weren’t around to feel them firsthand?

A new nonprofit aims to make sure that the events of that horrific day, and the stories of the people we lost, do not fade into obscurity.

USA Today reports:

Before the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, the National September 11 Memorial & Museum is launching an initiative and fundraiser to focus on teaching the history of the deadly day to a younger generation.

The Never Forget Fund aims to support educational programming for students, educators and others to understand more deeply the history of Sept. 11 and how it shaped the world.

The larger Never Forget initiative marks the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11 and will include a commemorative ticket for admission, said Alice Greenwald, the memorial and museum's president and CEO.

"This is a transitional moment," Greenwald told USA TODAY. For millions of Americans, Sept. 11 remains a vivid memory etched into their minds, but for a younger generation, "they don't have that memory. For them, it's history," she said.

As I think back on my own experiences on 9/11, I wouldn’t want to transfer those emotions to anyone else. It was truly a horrific day, and the start of one of the most difficult years of my life.

But, I also don’t want Gen Z and beyond to simply view this as a sterile textbook history event, the way that Minnesota rep Ilhan Omar came under fire last year for summing up 9/11 as “some people did something.”

No.

Men and women and children burned to death, and were crushed by millions of tons of steel and concrete. And a few of the very, very unlucky ones were forced to choose between waiting to be swallowed by the flames and jumping to a quicker death from hundreds of feet.

The fact that I didn’t lose anyone I knew that day was simply a matter of meetings and minutes, small schedule variations that resulted in life rather than death.

In twenty years, we’ve never landed on a true ritual to mark the occasion of 9/11. In my opinion, the U.S. should adopt something similar to Israel’s Holocaust remembrance day, when sirens throughout the country signal two minutes of silence in April, and the entire nation shuts down for those brief moments.

Perhaps the best way to help the next generations to understand what happened…is not just education, but also to carve out room for them to reflect on the grief that faced a nation.

[two]

This week, an article trended on “Toxic Masculinity” was a trending topic on Twitter, due to being selected as Google’s “featured snippet” (info on the subject, displaying on Google’s own search results page).

Observations:

A. How are these “masculine” traits? How sexist is it to exclude toughness and self sufficiency from being “feminine.”

B. The highlighted traits are necessary for nearly every difficult venture in life, from climbing a mountain, to leading a special ops unit into battle, to navigating corporate America, to caring for a loved one going through a serious illness.

C. A quick list of women who would be considered “toxicly masculine” according to the highlighted bullet points:

—Simone Biles, who’s reserved in interviews and accomplishes incredible feats

—Reese Witherspoon, who just built a $900 million entertainment company when most of Hollywood said it was impossible to create “hit” movies and shows featuring female lead characters age 35+ (including the hit shows Big Little Lies and Little Fires Everywhere)

—Anna Speckhart, the younger sister of my childhood friend, a New York runway model who enjoys ATV’s and fishing. (Anna got married in my hometown, which was featured in Vogue, if you feel like seeing rural IL pics in a high fashion mag).

D. In 2021, gender serves as a shorthand for stupid people who can’t understand 200 years of established psychological study. If you have an IQ of 98 and a Twitter account but can’t quite understand The Big Five Personality Traits, you can always gain followers by becoming a radical feminist or MGTOW advocate (Men Going Their Own Way—a movement of…secular monk, I guess?—heterosexual males who have given up on relationships and blame women for all their problems). Yell loud enough, frequently enough, about easily disproven gender stereotypes and the retweets will roll in.

E. When gender, or gender characteristics, are discussed, I always ask “what women are you referring to? And what men?” The average high school cheerleader teen girl in rural America who loves makeup tutorials on YouTube and carries a pink backpack is objectively tougher than many average guys in cities, because the former can likely change a tire and skin out a buck—while the latter can install apps on his phone. Toughness comes from strong values, living out a creed and putting oneself in a challenging environment (either through birth or choice). Toughness does not from gender.

And toughness isn’t toxic.

Neither is self reliance.

Those are necessary survival skills, both 10,000 years ago and today.

In the modern era, you won’t starve to death without them, but you won’t thrive either.

[three]

Former IT worker Dave Portenoy built Barstool Sports from a free print publication in Boston in 2003 into a digital media empire, valued at $450 million.

Another day, another nail in the coffin of traditional cable services. Baseball and football remain the most sports in TV ratings. Only the MLB (and possibly college football) might be in talks to move (at least some) games off of broadcast TV.

The New York Post reports:

Major League Baseball and Barstool Sports have had significant negotiations about having national midweek games on the site’s platforms, The Post has learned.

The discussions are what Barstool founder Dave Portnoy was referring to last week when he mentioned his company has had talks with “major leagues.”

MLB and Barstool potentially could team up to create a new type of broadcast with a focus on in-game gambling.

The talks have started recently, and while they have picked up steam, an agreement is not yet a certainty. One source deemed it “50-50.”

MLB and Barstool declined to comment.

Major League Baseball currently has national TV deals with Fox, Turner and ESPN. As part of its new ESPN contract that begins next year, the network dropped regular, non-exclusive Monday and Wednesday games, leaving MLB trying to find a buyer for that inventory. Turner will move its regular-season games to Tuesday, from Sunday, beginning next season.

YouTube is a possibility for the midweek national games, as it already has streamed MLB games for three years. Peacock just did a weekend series last month, as well, and is seen as a contender.

But Barstool sticks out because it has the connection to a younger audience MLB craves and could possibly create buzz with its alternative delivery approach. Barstool would be expected to deliver the games through its website, Instagram and Twitter accounts, among others.

The article goes on to state that Barstool is likely making similar moves to enter the college football broadcast market.

While it’s easy to shrug this off and blame Millennials/Gen Z for wanting to stream everything via their phones, the real story here is not the medium, it’s the message.

Baseball remains popular, but the average baseball announcer is roughly 104 years old and actually died three days ago.

This makes Barstool Sports an attractive destination, as the Boston upstart has proven to have the ability to keep it’s proverbial finger on the pulse of younger fans, and reacts by writing Buzz-Feed-y headlines and focusing as much on banter, general pop culture and comedy as much as “hard line analysis” of what’s happening on the field and in the locker room.

Still, by not taking themselves so seriously (and getting clicks off of laughs as opposed to “breaking news”), Barstool (inadvertently?) contributes to quality journalism, like this joke poll on Twitter, which unintentionally showed the growth in the fanbase of English Premier League soccer (EPL) in the U.S.

Then there’s the enticing pull of gambling. While I’m known to make the occasional sports bet (maybe once or twice a year, almost always on UFC), I do have some concerns about gambling being so mainstream, convenient and accessible.

While serving as an RA in college, I talked to one fellow student who had gone $4,000 in the red in (illegal in 2004, I think?) online poker games, and was absolutely despondent. He was also fighting the compulsive urge to “dig himself out” by hitting a hot streak. (Spoiler alert dude, if you’re that far in debt, it’s cause you’re bad at poker).

As inflation continues to skyrocket and a questionable economy puts everyday folks in rough spots, I have concerns as to what will happen when gambling is so normalized that it’s a part of watching a Tuesday night baseball game…it’s not much of a mental leap to see how desperate people could make unwise decisions with sports betting, trying to catch up on bills, and further wreck their financial lives.

But pulling the lens back for the wide shot here…cable is going to lose, and emerging, (younger) fan-centric outlets are going to win. And the aforementioned outlets are going to bring gambling with them.

That’s not necessarily unethical. But it will likely ruin some fortunes and families once in-game betting becomes a reality.

[four]

The White House made the questionable move this week of using tax dollars to hire TikTok personality Benny Drama to promote vaccines via a social media post.

According to Forbes, groups with the highest rates of un-vaccination include:

  • Republicans

  • Rural residents

  • Evangelical Christians

  • Young African American men

Just curious as to which of those groups the Biden administration thinks will change their minds and line up for vaccines because of Benny Drama?

[five]

As always, let’s head into the weekend with a pop culture roundup:

  • Vince Vaugn (Wedding Crashers, The Break Up) is partnering with Scrubs and Ted Lasso creator Bill Lawrence for Cheese Monkey, a crime/comedy series coming to Apple+. Vaugn will play a one-time detective who’s been demoted to restaurant inspector, only to be yanked back into the world of espionage when a severed arm is found by a tourist. And yes, there’s a monkey sidekick, apparently.

  • Popular sitcom How I Met Your Mother announced the full cast for the sequel series How I Met Your Father, starring Hillary Duff.

  • One of the most fun parts of parenting is re-living intellectual property I grew up on through the eyes of my daughter, which is why I was thrilled to see a new Muppets special dropping on Disney+ this fall. See the trailer for Muppets Haunted Mansion here.

  • Popular teen drama Pretty Little Liars just ended in 2017, and is already getting a reboot. The teen murder/mystery/horror drama ran for seven seasons, and is among one of the most popular teen shows of this generation, so the news was quite unwelcome to many hardcore fans. “The bodies aren’t even cold yet,” commented one fan on social media. “They’re literally still out there in the WB Jungle.” In an increasingly competitive streaming market, it’s not surprising to see basic cable lean towards familiar IP’s, but this does feel quite odd.

  • Oscar winner Halle Berry will star in Bruised, which will also serve as her directorial debut. The story follows a disgraced MMA fighter seeking redemption in the ring while fighting for custody of her young son. Catch it on Netflix this November.

MUSIC NEWS: Beyonce has a new album on the way. ||| YouTube channel Punk Rock MBA dropped an excellent retrospective on Linkin Park, including how the band were early investors in tech startups (Spotify, Robinhood) and innovators in modern marketing, which is well worth your time if you count yourself even a casual fan. ||| After nearly a decade of hip hop and R&B dominating the charts, former rapper Machine Gun Kelly (along with Billie Eilish and a handful of Gen Z stars) is leading the trend pushing rock back into a slot of cultural dominance. Kelly announced his forthcoming album with punk rock OG Travis Barker of Blink 182 (and Transplants, Box Car Racer, Aquabats, this dude has been in a lot of bands) fame in the producer’s chair. The heavily tattooed pair got matching ink of the album name, although both musicians are so covered in body art that they had to write over previous tattoos.

MY PICK: Pressure Machine, the new album from The Killers, may just be frontman/songwriter Brandon Flowers’ magnum opus, and currently leads the pack for my favorite album of 2021. Written during the COVID lockdown, Flowers narrows his lyrical lens in on his hometown of Nephi, Utah, where fading economic opportunities, opiods and general despair have hit hard. Critics are drawing comparisons to the Bruce Springsteen classic Nebraska.

NEW MUSIC: The Killers (see above), Kalie Shorr’s I Got Here By Accident rides the line between pop and country well, Elijah Ocean channels George Straight and Garth Brooks on Born Blue, The Dirty Guvnah’s find halfway point between Lynyrd Skynyrd and campfire singalongs with Revival, Former Five Seconds of Summer member Luke Hemmings writes through the process of unpacking his experience finding fame at age 15 on When Facing the Things We Turn Away From, Sheryl Crow let’s go of Live from the Ryman, a live career retrospective that isn’t up on YouTube yet, for some reason.

[epilogue]

On one hand, Jane Fonda’s views in the 1970’s align with what can be presumed to be the majority opinion in the modern era (Vietnam was impossible to win—mainly because of how we approached the conflict).

However, Fonda, a major movie star, became a highly divisive figure when she toured North Vietnam in 1972, and appeared on 10 different Communist radio programs, in which she allegedly spoke ill, not just of the war, but the U.S. troops, many of whom were drafted and had no choice in the matter.

During the press tour, Fonda posed manning a Viet Cong anti-aircraft gun, as if she were shooting down U.S. fighter pilots. She later recounted the events in her 2005 memoir:

Here is my best, honest recollection of what took place. Someone (I don’t remember who) leads me toward the gun, and I sit down, still laughing, still applauding. It all has nothing to do with where I am sitting. I hardly even think about where I am sitting. The cameras flash. I get up, and as I start to walk back to the car with the translator, the implication of what has just happened hits me. Oh, my God. It’s going to look like I was trying to shoot down U.S. planes! I plead with him, “You have to be sure those photographs are not published. Please, you can’t let them be published.” I am assured it will be taken care of. I don’t know what else to do. It is possible that the Vietnamese had it all planned. I will never know. If they did, can I really blame them? The buck stops here. If I was used, I allowed it to happen. It was my mistake, and I have paid and continue to pay a heavy price for it.

Even if the photo was an honest mistake, Fonda’s admission to laughing and cajoling with the enemy stands in stark contrast to the reality of captured pilot (and future U.S. Senator) John McCain, who was being tortured at the hands of his Communist captors just miles away at the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” prison.

While Fonda’s motivations (and regret) are unquantifiable, the public (more or less) moved on.

However, small groups of military vets still regularly protest her public appearances all these year later.

To put this into perspective, this would be similar to Angelina Jolie or Emma Stone posing in Instagram pics and conducting interviews with the Taliban in 2017, as the Afghanistan War was winding down. Was the length, strategy and ethics of the war in question? For sure.

Would witnessing a major U.S. movie star fraternizing with the enemy on the same day you lost a good friend in battle hurt? Without a doubt.

This likely explains why the incident has never been forgotten by a handful of soldiers who were in the field fighting the Viet Cong while Fonda was drinking tea and chatting with them.

Until the next one,

-sth