On Writing, Mike Rowe, and Election 2016

I’m ashamed to say that the last time I wrote anything of substance here was the end of February this year. As a writing teacher, I dislike the “writer’s block” excuse, but as a writer, I found the past few months uninspiring. Finally, today, as I perused my Facebook feed, I came upon something that not only inspired me, but it helped me pull together several ideas I have been mulling, so here goes it.

Silence: for a writer, silence is a statement. It’s not a lack of anything to say but rather a refusal to say something that maybe shouldn’t be said. That’s my first excuse for having been derelict in my duties to model real writing for real students. In a strange way, this last academic year was simultaneously rewarding and disappointing for me. Despite receiving a much-coveted teaching award and the ensuing travel benefits and attention, and despite my recent promotion, my professional life felt “off.” I had some wonderful classes and met some fabulous students who are now friends, but other events and revelations involving my professional life left me disillusioned and disappointed. Rather than rant or pessimistically poison my five or so readers, I chose to remain silent and try to improve my attitude, which I am happy to say I’ve managed to do. I still won’t accept the excuse of “writer’s block” for assigned writing, but I have learned a lesson in empathy.

If you’ve spent any time at all watching cable television, you likely know of Mike Rowe. Probably best known for his “Dirty Jobs” television show where he experienced some of the nastiest real jobs that people have to do, he also writes, acts, blogs, and runs the mikeroweWORKS Foundation that offers scholarships to students seeking a career in the trades. For many people, Rowe epitomizes the blue-collar, hard-working American who lives by his solid values and good old common sense, and he has a huge fan base, with over three million followers of his Facebook page; it doesn’t hurt that he’s also ruggedly handsome and looks pretty decent without a shirt. His recent post was my inspiration for this post, which so far hasn’t made a lot of sense, but bear with me.

Rowe’s post was a response to haters—and some fans—who felt he was out of line for reportedly chastising a young woman who erroneously won a prize due to clerical error. After the error was discovered, the young woman lost her spot in a national contest, and Rowe suggested that she should also return the first-place, gold medal as a demonstration of good character. It turns out that there were at least two different versions of events, and Mike Rowe describes it like this:

The Raw Story: HEADLINE: “TV’s Mike Rowe Trashes Ohio Girl’s ‘Character’ After She’s Stripped of Prize in Contest He Helps Run.”

The Real Story: HEADLINE: “Mike Rowe Defends the Importance of Fair Play – Encourages Observers to Look Beyond Politics and Gender Stereotypes in Recent Controversy.”

Rowe goes on to explain to his FB followers the details of events and how what really happened was quite different than described in the RAWSTORY.com article. This whole controversy suddenly seemed to me like the perfect analogy of what is going on in our world today with politics, world events, and the media. How often do we get only one side of the story or some of the details or an inaccurate version of events or even needless sensationalizing? How often do we seek “the rest of the story,” as Paul Harvey used to say, or how often do we at least refrain from jumping to conclusions and instead practice a little critical thinking and self-control?

This leads me to Election 2016, the one most of us are dreading. Already, the presidential election has stooped to new lows, and there’s no end in sight. Thinking people everywhere anticipate it will get worse, maybe much worse, as we get closer to the November elections and without becoming a housebound hermit, there’s no way to escape the diatribe from all sides. While a free media is important to a democracy, we need to remember that no one is entirely free, and that includes modern media. Ultimately, and here my pessimism will show, the almighty dollar and the seduction of power are generally the motivations behind media, especially such brands as FOX News and MSNBC. Even the others, the more mainstream news organizations like CBS, NBC, and ABC will use their abilities to manipulate audiences with sensationalism in the name of news, which frenzies the masses and contributes to the extreme polarization of our country.

I pay attention to politics because I consider myself a good citizen with an interest in what’s best for my country and my fellow citizens, and though I usually follow a more progressive message, I have friends of all persuasions, and that’s a good thing. I know that many people who follow a very conservative message do so because they honestly believe it is what is best for our country. It’s not out of hatred or bigotry (usually) that people want a smaller government and less intervention in people’s private lives; however, it could be painted that way, right? Likewise, as a progressive I favor higher taxes for rich people (or maybe just fairer taxes across the board) and government support for those who aren’t able to help themselves, but I favor those not because I’m lazy or want the government to control my life; however, it could be painted that way, right?

It’s possible that by now you’re wondering how in the world I got here from my first paragraph about writer’s block—and honestly, I’m wondering, too, if this will come together the way I envisioned it. My point is this: during the next several months, I’m going to try hard to write more consistently, and I’m going to do my best to stay above the fray and write messages of positivity, hope, honesty, and beauty, wherever I find them in this sometimes ugly world. The nastiness of politics and the manipulation of various media will still be out there, raging all around, but I’m going to seek sanity and balance and critically evaluate the messages I encounter, in order to be an informed citizen. Above all, I want to remember that the presentation of things and events is not always accurate, and I invite readers (all five of you) to keep that in mind as well. Oh yeah, and Mike Rowe has an adorable little dog by the name of Freddy, and that’s important because, well, dogs.