Happy Judgment Day!!

“Three billion human lives ended on August 29th, 1997. The survivors of the nuclear fire called the war Judgment Day. They lived only to face a new nightmare, the war against the Machines…”

“Judgement Day” is the day in the Terminator films when Skynet (the computer system controlling all our nuclear weapons) launched an attack on the Soviet Union. Of course, in the universe of the movies, this is a future that only extends off a series of events that was interrupted by the events of the first and second films.  The “alternate ending” of “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” helps put it in perspective.

So Happy Judgment Day! “Everyday from this day on is a gift! Use it well!”

p.s. Michael Jackson turned 39, not 40, on August 29, 1997.

Old Man Facebook

I’ve been meaning to share this since I read it a week ago. It’s a report on current social media usage based on age and gender.

Perhaps the least surprising revelation is that Facebook is “old” (at least in the media sense).  Two-thirds of its users are over the age of 35.  It’s a little better for Twitter, but not by much.  Just over half of its users are over 35 years.

Compared to sites like deviantART and Hacker News, the scope of Facebook’s age is even more startling.  Both are dominated by the under 35 crowd.  About 70% of the users of each are from this key demographic.  When calculated by average age, the figures are a little less startling, but not much different overall.

The report came to me via the Twitter feed of Bryan Alexander, who is (for me) an almost magical provider of thought-provoking resources for the higher education professional interested in technology.  (His “professional” blog is a good place to check him out, too.)  Like Bryan, I am profoundly interested in how young people use technology.  They are, after all, the people I try to reach in my classes and (often) in my writing.  How they use social media and interact with one another are important for me to know as I evolve in the ways I integrate social media and other technological tools into my teaching.

But what do we make of this kind of data?

Undoubtedly, we are coming to a time when the average college student is going to see a college or university Facebook page or Twitter feed as about as cutting edge as the use of computers on campus. In fact, we may already be there. This makes it hard to be current, or “hip” in the parlance of yesteryear, but that is not the primary concern for me now.

As teachers and as researchers the challenges are huge and also largely unacknowledged.  We are moving to a time when physical colleges and universities and face-to-face teaching are becoming a niche.  This is sad, and bad, and a sign of our jacked up priorities, but it is so.  Our effectiveness as teachers (whether online or in person) already relies on our ability to speak in the forum of our times.  But that forum has been changing. And it still is.

Where will it all be in another 5 years?

Check out the entire study here.

Still Kickin’

And now for a little something from my weird side…

Those of you who know me via this blog know that I have a little fascination with celebrity deaths.  As a kid, celebrity deaths were among my most favorite kind of news story.  I love obituaries for the famous.  I even think about the public recognition of their death before the celebrity has actually died.

Yesterday’s passing of Phyllis Diller, at age 95, is the fruition of one of those exercises.  Truth be told, with the exception of George Burns, I’ve probably thought about the impending death of Phyllis Diller more than any other celebrity.  Ever.

Most of this comes from an immense amount of respect.  I love stand-up comedy like I love soul music, with a passion that respects the artistry of the greats as well as the history of the institution.  Phyllis Diller was the queen of that castle, in my book.  A trailblazer if there ever was one, she not only stood as a woman in a man’s industry but also an artist who perfected a style that is imitated even today.

A lot of my death fascination with her also came from her age.  Not just her real age, but her “character” age as well.  Like Burns, Diller had built a career off of references to her age.  As a character on stage, in film, or on Johnny’s couch, she was “old” for my entire conscious life.

Anyway, her passing today got me thinking: what celebrities might people be most surprised to learn are still living? (I know it doesn’t seem like a logical leap, but trust me, it was in my mind.)

So, here’s my list of the top 10 celebrities that are still alive.  It isn’t a list of “oldest celebrities,” which would require research (and debate: what counts for celebrity?).  It isn’t a list of those likely to die (that would be macabre).  It’s just a list of folks who I know are still alive and who I think others might think are already dead.

  1. Sid Ceaser (89 years old)
  2. Zsa Zsa Gabor (95 years old)
  3. James Garner (84 years old)
  4. Mickey Rooney (91 years old)
  5. Jonathan Winters (86 years old)
  6. Esther Williams (91 years old)
  7. Robert Guillaume (84 years old)
  8. Doc Severinsen (84 years old)
  9. Olivia de Havilland (96 years old)
  10. Wilford Brimley (only 77 years old!)
Honorable mentions should go to Eli Wallach (96) and George Gaynes (95).

Hero Worship & Human History

Last week, when I read Peter Richardson’s review of Seth Rosenfeld’s book on the FBI and Ronald Regan I was shocked to learn that Richard Aoki–a legend in Bay Area activist circles–may have been an FBI informant.  I teach about Aoki and much of the history he participated in as part of my class, “All Power to the People.”  I had the pleasure of meeting the man, who was both entertaining, compassionate, and a grand storyteller. It was shocking, to say the least.

This morning, as Rosenfeld’s own account of this story appears in the San Francisco Chronicle and, as a consequence, in multiple places all over my Facebook feed, I get to see a host of my friends go through the same shock.  Some are defensive, some in denial, and others just shocked and confused.

Rosenfeld’s book, Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power, is not about Aoki. As I understand it, the book is about the FBI’s counterinsurgency history in California and, most importantly, how Ronald Regan cooperated with and benefited from the FBI.  Aoki is featured in the book because of his long Bay Area history inside of multiple organizations which were targeted and infiltrated by the Bureau.

Some in my circles are already questioning Rosenfeld’s research without having read his book or without considering his evidence.  Others I know are questioning his motivations, made suspect by his selling of his book in the above article.  That says a lot about Aoki’s memory, and his many fans in the world of comparative race & ethnic studies.  Some small part of it also reveals some of the reflexive elitism inside of academia–doubt the journalist because he is not an academic.  (As if academics do not have biases.)  Most of it is really about coming to terms with the death of our movement heroes, especially when they represent communities not often represented in our mainstream understandings of these times.

Doubting the evidence will be, I suspect, a fruitless task.  You can never know the “real truth” when it comes to these matters.  Aoki is dead, and can not defend or clarify his own truth. At the same time, FBI records are about as good as it gets for this.  While they can be misleading, too, maybe even wrong, they were not created to be sources of misinformation. The fact is, the FBI does not reveal these truths willingly or with any kind of openness.

Richardson’s review helps shed light.  Rosenfeld is the first to use the only real evidence we have to accurately tell the story of the FBI, youth political movements, and Ronald Reagan–the FBI files themselves.  He got access to these over many years and fleshed out the story with interviews and other evidence.  His approach as a journalist (standards of evidence and raw tenacity in securing sources) seems more useful here than if he had been an academic.

But, of course, we should read it and then evaluate these questions.

What I really wanted to say has little to do with this burden of proof.  It’s really about heroes.  Last week, after my initial reaction of shock, I came to terms with the Aoki news for the benefit of my teaching. After all, it is a profoundly important “teachable moment.”  The lesson, I think, is one I emphasize time and time again in my class–these times were complex and always defy easy categorization. On top of that, it is a powerful reminder of the human imperfection marking all of our pasts. We are messy, contradictory, imperfect beings. Our history is this, too.  That isn’t bad, it just is.

Heroes can be useful to history because they inspire us to be better than we are.  Figures like Aoki help us question our own times, our own lives, and (maybe) realign them for the better.  Revelations of their contradictions and frailties don’t end this potential.  For those ready to make a real change in their lives, reminders of the humanness of our heroes is necessary.  Martin Luther King Jr.’s infidelity and sexism, Cesar Chavez’ dictatorial style and poor decision making, or whatever we discover about whoever, are necessary understandings for us to possess to put our hero worship in a real-world context.

What I mean to say is–perfection and purity are not prerequisites for change. If we make the standard of progress dependent on our romanticized memories of these real figures rather than on the historical realities they contained then we are doing “the movement” an injustice.  We make it far less likely that we will ever make a better world through our own efforts because we will take ourselves out of the fight before we even begin.

Richard Aoki may have been an FBI informant. Richard Aoki may have also been a man who made meaningful change throughout his life and served as an inspiration to thousands. Deal with it.

EDIT: Below is a short video made on the story by the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), for whom Rosenfeld works.