make it work, people


For those of you who don’t watch “Project Runway”, don’t worry – I’m just using it as example, but damned if it isn’t a good one. I’m continually amazed at how people act so foolishly inappropriate when the rules of the game are so obvious.

So this chick Terri on the show had the same job as the eight other contestants: design a dress based on your sign of the Zodiac. Eight of the eliminated contestants showed up to help the remaining eight execute their ideas, and Terri was given Keith, an ex-Mormon with issues. Terri LOATHED Keith, and now she bemoaned her fate, even though he seemed to be compliant and willing to help.

Instead of making the best of it, she shut him completely out of the process, so he went to sleep on the couch in the “Project Runway” foyer.

Fast-forward to the end [SPOILER], where Terri’s dress has been singled out as not particularly good by the judges… and the first thing she does is throw Keith under the bus, claiming he abandoned her. Keith fights back – he had nothing more to lose – and by then, the judges are pretty much disgusted with the whole thing.

Thus, Terri is booted off the show, just one elimination away from having her clothing line featured at Bryant Park. Worse yet, her dress wasn’t even that bad, but the judges look at designing as a “collaborative process” and she obviously sucked at it. In essence, she torpedoed her own career because she couldn’t simply come to an agreement with Keith, whereby they would smile for the cameras, say “thank you, Michael Kors!” and move on.


Tim Gunn, genius

What makes this episode of “Project Runway” so interesting? Because you see the same thing play out in front of you time and time again. So much of life is a motherfucking game and you either play along with it, or you turn yourself into a problem. I see it every time I fly: someone at the security gate is trying to get through with a giant jug of hand lotion, and IT’S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. Play the game, lady! Move this line along!

At all my regular jobs, especially in the dot-com days, I’d see people fighting for little victories that they would win, but at a cost of months of ill will. Very intelligent folks would expend energy on tasks guaranteed not to be appreciated, leading to resentment on all sides.

Play the game! Or, more aptly, take Michael Jordan’s advice: “KYP! Know Your Players!” In other words, don’t whip a gorgeous no-look pass to a 7’6″ guy with hands of concrete.

Here in Hollywood, it’s something you need to take to heart every day. You may be crafting gorgeous scripts; you may put in little turns-of-phrase that exalts the writing into the heavenly canon… but if the plot takes place in the kitchen of a fancy restaurant or at a busy newspaper, you obviously didn’t read This Year’s Rules and you’re not playing the game.

By no means should this be confused with “mindlessly accepting every hand you’re dealt” or “walking in lockstep with the status quo”. There’s still plenty of opportunity for bloody insurrection – just not in the “10 Items or Less” line.

I’m sure this concept can be twisted politically, so that Republicans can say “Hey, we’re just playing the game! Don’t come crying to us! We don’t make the rules!” In some ways, I’d have to agree, except that “playing the game” only makes moral sense if entire swaths of people aren’t vilified in the process. The Willie Horton ad worked, and perhaps the gay-hating referendums of 2004 did too, but both were pretty bad for America.

I also take exception for the denigrations of things I actually love – like music and basketball – by those who call everyone else a “playa hata”. When the actual music and the actual basketball starts to suffer, then “the game” has become something else entirely, something that usually makes me cry on my pillow in a burst of effete, inconsolable snobbery.

But everything else? Play the game, fuckers! Stop trying to turn left from the right-turn lane! That suitcase is not going to fit in the overhead bin, asshole! Quit baiting the guy who signs your goddamn paychecks! Pass it to Serge Zwikker where he can actually catch it! And for god’s sake, unless you’re Picasso, smile nicely, survive and advance!

0 thoughts on “make it work, people

  1. Anne

    Pick your battles. Don’t sweat the small stuff (although I don’t agree that it’s *all* small stuff).
    Excellent points. We live in a national of raging individualism, and while we give lip service to cooperation and compromise when we raise the next generation, it takes a way-back seat to the concept of individual freedoms. An example I’ve heard of this is the tendency of Europeans (and probably people in China) to queue up patiently, while Americans fume and piss and moan when they’re in a long line at the bank or the concert venue.
    Also, and not on topic: A friend sent me a link to Annie Lamott’s column in Salon about managing our (liberals’) anger and putting it to better use this fall. First tip: Never utter the name of She Who Shall Not Be Named. Second: Say it loud, over and over — “Obama, Obama, Obama.”

  2. mcf

    also apropos of nothing but i thot might be appreciated here:
    my 4 yr old daughter and i were looking at a map of the world talking about this place and that:
    Julia (pointing at the map): Mama, what is that country called?
    Mama: That’s Morocco.
    Julia: Oh, Morocco Bama!
    hee hee
    Enjoy your citizenship day.

  3. Killian

    From a place even deeper south than this southern part of heaven:
    this ain’t the ditch i want to die in!
    I first heard that phrase at the southern baptist bastion where I had my first University job. . . it saved my ass innumerable times; made me fight HARD for the things I WAS willing to go down for, and helped me let go of the smaller stuff. great advice!

  4. Mindy

    I don’t have anything profound to add to this, but I had to chime in because I love this post. The only thing I might add is that I wish that people would not only play by the rules, but also play by the spirit of the rules. Really people can stick to the letter of the law and still behave in ways that are pretty crappy.

  5. Anne

    Off topic; sorry. This is a follow-up on previous discussions of the Republican (vs. Democrat) psyche:
    “…Now that we can map the brains, genes, and unconscious attitudes of conservatives, we have refined our diagnosis: conservatism is a partially heritable personality trait that predisposes some people to be cognitively inflexible, fond of hierarchy, and inordinately afraid of uncertainty, change, and death.
    “People vote Republican because Republicans offer ‘moral clarity’—a simple vision of good and evil that activates deep seated fears in much of the electorate. Democrats, in contrast, appeal to reason with their long-winded explorations of policy options for a complex world.”
    — from “What Makes People Vote Republican” by Jonathan Haidt

  6. T.J.

    “I wish that people would not only play by the rules, but also play by the spirit of the rules. Really people can stick to the letter of the law and still behave in ways that are pretty crappy.”
    Mindy, I ran across a great quote the other day that sums this up:
    “Integrity has no need of rules.” – Albert Camus

  7. Annie H.

    Great post today, Ion–in fact, I think your posts of late have been exceptional–esp. ‘We were right, you were wrong.’ Haven’t had the time or focus to chime in yet, but last night (and the night before) I woke up thinking about the election (warning: abt to go OT) and another Cafe Press t-shirt idea came to me. Lacking the know-how to embed photos here, I’ll just have to describe it:
    (photos: close-up images of MLK Jr., Gandhi, Dalai Lama)
    (text, below): Great Teachers…World Leaders…COMMUNITY ORGANIZERS

  8. Rebecca

    I have a happy thought for the day:
    My 9 year old son walked out of the house today so excited to get to school because it was the first day of music class. He was so proud to carry his newly-rented violin! Many of his little friends are doing it too, and I just am in awe that there is peer pressure to play the violin. I’m also in awe that his public school offers 2 40 minute violin classes each week. Now that’s a great use of my tax dollars!

  9. Annie H.

    ….Or: Same photos, plus:
    Obviously I’m pret-ty stuck on this idea.

  10. LFMD

    I am so glad to see that you are gleaning some life lessons from reality television! Have you tuned into the Rachel Zoe Project yet? Good stuff.

  11. Matt

    Too easily spoofed, Annie.
    William Ayers, Tony Rezko, Al Sharpton… Community Organizers.
    Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse-Tung, Adol—… World Leaders, Community Organizers!
    Maybe you could market both. Sort of like that store Ian photographed some time back that sold both pro and anti-nazi buttons. People snicker because 99.99% of Americans have never heard of a community organizer. It sounds like a title you’d make up so as not to sound unemployed (e.g. domestic engineer).
    “In essence, she torpedoed her own career because she couldn’t simply come to an agreement with Keith, whereby they would smile for the cameras, say “thank you” … and move on.”
    Sort of like Obama not sucking it up and coming to an agreement with Hillary, whereby they would smile for the cameras and sail on to victory in the GE. If Barack had picked Hillary, Sarah Palin wouldn’t be torpedoing his campaign right now. Axelrod must not watch Project Runway.

  12. Bud

    Annie, I think your idea is fantastic.
    IMO, simplest is best; a photo of the three men and the caption: “Community Organizers.”

  13. campbell

    What a great post. And Julia’s mom, that is one of the cutest stories I’ve ever heard from a four-year-old.
    This will give me some good talking points the next time my husband is acting as though the rules do not apply to him — traffic rules, starting time rules, parenting rules. Instead of fussing at him because it’s bothering ME, I will try to channel Ian and (gently) point out that the world just runs better, generally speaking, when people play by the rules.

  14. FreshPaul

    would it be rude on a tee shirt to point out that Pontius Pilate was a governor?
    (ok, technically a prefect, but still, the analogy stands.)
    anybody got some hand soap?

  15. Zel M.

    What a great post. Working in education, my wife and I bemoan the fact everyday that some people A) don’t think rules apply to them and B) choose their battles so poorly.
    I often think back to a line from my mentor: “Never get into a pissing match with someone who has an unlimited supply of piss.” Appropriate for this blog sometimes as well.

  16. Zel M.

    And because just like an accident, I can’t help but look… but I have to call bullshit on this “Pilate was a governor” crap.
    Matt hit the nail dead on the head and yet you all choose to ignore him. Bill Clinton was a governor. So was FDR. What’s your point? And if you want to be ugly about it, the Third Reich was built under the guise of “community organizing.”
    Matt is also absolutely correct about some of the derision directed at “community organizer”. I’m sure few people had heard of the term before Barack Obama started touting it, and no one really thought it a qualification to be president before he brought it up.
    Rather than righteous indignation, I would love to see Obama bring out a parade of people whose lives he touched as a community organizer. When the GOP pulled a swift boat on Kerry, he brought out people he served with to blunt the tide. If the community organizer experience could somehow be personalized and quantified, then it might gain more traction.
    Otherwise, as Matt astutely pointed out, it sounds like a resume filler. And, as I have repeatedly said, if Obama continues to run against Palin, he is fighting the wrong fight and falling right into a trap…

  17. Bud

    I totally agree with your concluding statement, Zel.
    What excited me about Obama in the first place was the vision of a better America he conjured up in his speeches. Obama can help us to build that better America, but he’ll get the chance only if he can stay on message and not get distracted by sideshow non-issues. If current events have a lesson for us, it’s that there’s too much at stake for the usual bullshit.
    So over the next 7 weeks, I’d like to hear less about GWB’s would-be successor (and his understudy) and more about Obama and that better America.

  18. Annie H.

    And what a lot of good going public with those who served with him did Kerry. I was thinking all day how much I prefer Zel’s commentary to Matt’s, but right now is not such a time. HTF did being a community organizer become a strike AGAINST a person?!?? Only Republicans could think this way….

  19. kent williams

    Matt, none of the people you mentioned have ever been community organizers. Al Sharpton — who I’m no great fan of — is an ordained American Baptist minister, and has mostly organized his own mouth to shoot off. William Ayers was a student radical and later a bomber, and then a college professor.
    The Republican Party’s use of ‘community organizer’ is the classic Rove tactic of taking an opponent’s strength and making it a weakness. Sarah Palin made a sarcastic joke about it, even though I doubt she could actually tell you the first thing about what Obama did on the South Side. Obama was working for 8 Catholic Parishes, reacting to the loss of jobs in their neighborhoods. It was a ‘faith based’ initiative, as it were.
    Trying to ridicule this work is an asshole move, and if you have any decency at all you’ll shut the fuck up.

  20. Bud

    Annie and Kent, this speaks to my point.
    Time is limited. As long as we bicker with the Matts of this world over sideshow bullshit, we’re NOT talking about what’s wrong with the country and how we’re going to fix it.
    Obama’s strengths are his vision and his power to inspire. That’s what we need to focus on.
    Kerry’s campaign fell into the trap of arguing ridiculous accusations at length. Better simply to say “that’s bullshit; here’s the real issue” and move on.
    We don’t have time for The Usual Bullshit (TUB) this time around.

  21. Matt

    Calm down, Kent. So Al Sharpton isn’t a community organizer, but Jesus is? (Forget how offensive and ludicrous the latter comparison is for a moment.) According to Wikipedia, community organizing is “a process by which people living in close proximity to each other are brought together to act in their common self-interest. … Community organizers work actively, as do social workers, in community councils of social agencies and in community-action groups.”
    What’s Al’s organization called? The National Action Network. If he’s not a community organizer, then neither is Obama. And “community organizing is pretty much what Ayers was trying to do in Chicago during the “Days of Rage.” What’s your opinion on “MLK Jr., Gandhi, Dalai Lama”? But most curious to me is why you’re so humorless about it? Is “community organizing” sacred or is everything related to Obama?
    Look, Gov. Palin made a great comeback on Obama’s mocking her time as a mayor. It was effective for the reason I mentioned above. Get over it or get a better joke yourself. I saw someone at Daily Kos with a semi-humorous take on the lipstick line (“What’s the difference between George Bush and Sarah Palin?”) It doesn’t have to make perfect sense to be funny or effective. Take everything you see on the Daily Show for example.
    Speaking of decency…

  22. kent

    Matt, you persist in misrepresenting what Obama did in Chicago, and conflate working for a group of Catholic Parishes to help the people in their neighborhood after plant closings with all manner of unrelated bullshit.
    I don’t remember Obama ‘mocking her time as a mayor.’ Quotes please. As far as I have heard, Obama has prudently avoided commenting on Palin’s career. Sarah Palin’s comment was a sneering, cynical comment based in equal parts on her ignorance, and a desire to turn a positive into a perjorative.
    As for the decency links, here’s two questions:
    1. If torture is such a compelling prerequisite for the Presidency, why don’t we torture all our candidates? If it’s good enough for frequently innocent brown people in Iraq and Gitmo, it’s good enough for United States Senators.
    2. The ad in Spanish was pretty stupid. I don’t support the Obama campaign in making it. I don’t know why they don’t make more direct points about the xenophobia and racism of Republicans; they’re easy enough to make.
    And I’m done being calm. McCain and Palin aren’t more of the same, they’re worse.

  23. kent

    And yes, I pushed post before properly editing it. The question in the second part was this:
    2. Given that McCain has abandoned his earlier, more humane position towards illegal immigration, and chosen to side with the majority of his party, why should Latinos trust anything he says?

  24. Zel M.

    I agree completely with Bud – most of this is sideshow bullshit. But I will make one more attempt at this because one of the recurring themes of the blog over the past few days has been the apparent disconnect between (insert party here) and (insert candidate or position here).
    With that having been said, my thought about the whole “community organizer” crap is this:
    1. What exactly is a “community organizer”; and
    2. How does holding that position qualify one to be president?
    Many progressives have been apoplectic that the VP candidate who shall not be named dared to question “community organizers”. But what exactly does that term mean? Just look at the previous posts on this thread – there is much disagreement on this point, even among the left.
    I guess there has never been a presidential candidate with credentials so light that he has to cite “community organizer” as a qualification to be president. And I’m telling you as I write from red state America that the term holds absolutely no weight here. As someone familiar with politics and the Chicago political machine, I figured a “community organizer” was a party hack of some sort, but apparently his work was on par with Mother Teresa, to hear some tell it.
    That’s why I said if Obama had given a face or a definition to the term, maybe it would gain more traction. Where’s the litany of people he helped, or the trumpet of the years he did it? As near as I can tell, he helped one group of people from one organization for about three months as a sideline to his day job.
    And Matt is correct – She who shall not be named rightfully used it as a retort to Obama’s attempt to diminish her service as small-town mayor. And the retort was effective on two levels. First, more people can identify with a small-town mayor than some nebulous “community organizer”; and second, it draws Obama into running against SWSNBN. I will try to keep screaming until someone in the Obama camp listens that running against SWSNBN is the wrong fight.
    That is all. Carry on.

  25. Bud

    To me, this election is about issues too important to ignore.
    IMO, the most important of these are 1) The Economy, 2) Health Care and 3) The Proper Role of Military Force.
    I can understand why our opponents would not want to talk about these issues and would attempt to change the subject.
    What I don’t understand is why we would let them.

  26. Terri

    I hear and agree with you, Zel M.
    You know what would be really funny? What if, when Obama gets elected, he immediately – I mean, January 20, 2009 – shows himself through word and deed to be truly the most conservative Republican ever. If ever there were a Republican rock star, he’d be it. He’s Reagan, Scalia, and Inhofe all rolled up into one. I mean, he makes Matt moist! (Just jokes, Matt! :-D By the way, I can’t see you, but I’m sure you look very nice today, and I just want to tell you so.)
    I think that the conversation that would follow on this blog and elsewhere would illustrate that none of the stuff that folks are getting so heated up about really and truly matters. Not the experience (or lack thereof), not the community organizing, not the elitism. What ultimately matters is, are you on my team or not. It’s like when Johnny Damon left Boston (hell) to come to New York (heaven). One day New Yorkers absolutely hated him, and the next day they didn’t, simply because he began to play for their team. (A lot of good that did this year, but whatever …) So conservatives might see the whole community organizing thing in a different light, and liberals might say that he clearly didn’t have the experience necessary for the job.
    Basically, everybody’s just rooting for the home team very passionately. I’m just glad nobody’s getting killed for doing so.

  27. kent

    Why Obama’s work is germane to his being president:
    He was working with ordinary working Americans who, through no fault of their own, thrown into personal economic crisis by plant closings, to help them find ways to survive, and hopefully prosper. What’s important about this work:
    A) it indicates something about his character. He wanted to work in service to others, as opposed to earning an order of magnitude more money in the corporate world.
    B) it shows that he has not spent his whole life insulated from the lives of middle class people.
    I don’t ever wish to take away from John McCain’s military service or the qualities of character he exhibited as a POW. But his resume doesn’t contain any street-level contact with what politicians like to call ‘ordinary Americans.’ And I’m not faulting McCain’s resume, per se — just pointing out that Obama’s experience gives him a perspective McCain lacks.

  28. FreshPaul

    speaking of conservatives and Obama:
    and a conservative with National Review bona fides.
    Not that those being mollified with the selection of the gimmick du jour VP candidate know the National Review from the National Enquirer…but interesting nonetheless.
    Just think, if I may propose a moment of empathy…if we opposed to the selection of the Governor of Alaska find her selection upsetting, how much more must it upset thinking conservatives with a grasp of the issues, like the one liked above?
    Not my preferred flavour of schadenfreude, but it’ll have to do for now.

  29. Neva

    Love that link FreshPaul. I think this guy gets to the heart of the matter and if folks were listening, reading, thinking (and not just getting up in arms about lipstick on pigs) they might also see these aspects of BO that everyone can get behind. This is a cautious, thoughtful, smart man who I truly believe will make well thought out decisions … here’s my favorite quote from the link…
    Barack Obama is not my ideal candidate for president. (In fact, I made the maximum donation to John McCain during the primaries, when there was still hope he might come to his senses.) But I now see that Obama is almost the ideal candidate for this moment in American history. I disagree with him on many issues. But those don’t matter as much as what Obama offers, which is a deeply conservative view of the world. Nobody can read Obama’s books (which, it is worth noting, he wrote himself) or listen to him speak without realizing that this is a thoughtful, pragmatic, and prudent man. It gives me comfort just to think that after eight years of George W. Bush we will have a president who has actually read the Federalist Papers.

  30. Matt

    “speaking of conservatives and Obama”
    Simply put, there is no groundswell of conservative support for Obama. It’s just not happening. By the polls, Independents and conservative Democrats are supporting McCain in much larger numbers than Republicans are supporting Obama. Take your Wick Allison, we’ll take our Lynn Forester de Rothschild.
    I actually agree with a lot of what Terri wrote (and not just because she has a sense of humor).

  31. FreshPaul

    you can keep the Rothschilds…all of ’em.
    By the polls–since you mentioned them–which candidate are the lights who think Obama is a Muslim voting for?

  32. Melissa

    Fantastic post. I’m a writer and many unpublished friends send me their crazy manuscripts that are full of scenes and not plot, and words but not story, and it’s just like, “What is this?” Is it pretty word-wise? Yes! Is it going to get published? Dude, no WAY. Play the game. Write something coherent. Then get poetic and mysterious on your own time.
    PS-Did you see how I left politics out of this reply? It’s hard.


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