Category Archives: Nonfiction

How to Outlast, Outwit and Outplay Cable News

I’ve been streaming my television content since I moved to Miami Beach in 2013, mainly because I don’t watch enough channels to get any value out of a cable package. In 2016, I decided to download the CNN Go app to follow the election because I felt like I was missing out on important coverage during such a monumental shift in American politics. I tuned out after election night, though, because I felt bamboozled with the election results and placed the blame on my reliance on cable news as a primary source of information.

I will admit that, at first, I tuned out in an attempt to bury my head in the sand and live in denial about our current political leadership. But then months passed and I didn’t feel any desire to check in with New Day or AC360, the programs I watched the most last year. Instead, I subscribed to The New Yorker and went back to reading The Economist and The Guardian to stay informed.

Current events seemed so heavy at the time that I frequently read pieces from The New Yorker’s archives to take a step back and gain perspective on the issues of the present. It was there that I came across a piece written by E.B. White in 1960, another election year, that helped illuminate my problem with cable news and television programming in general.

“If you open a copy of the Times to a page that has in one column a Macy ad displaying a set of china and in an adjoining column a news story about China itself, your eye makes a choice; you read about Macy’s china or about Mao’s China, according to your whim. It’s a free selection. But if you turn your TV set to a channel, only one image appears, and after you have watched for a few moments, an advertiser buttonholes you and says his piece in a loud voice while you listen or try not to listen, as the case may be. Thus, your attention is not just invited by the commercial, it is to a large extent preempted. Preemption of this sort does not occur in periodicals. It cannot occur. There, advertising matter competes with editorial matter for the reader’s attention, and it is fair competition,” wrote White in “How Television Has Changed Us“.

Reading his words, which could have been written last year without losing their effect, made me realize that my problem wasn’t with one television journalist or cable network, but with the business of television programming in general. While cable subscribers enjoy a sense of choice by being able to switch channels from one network to another, they still experience the effect that programming and advertisers have on the information they are consuming.

If there’s anything the 2016 election taught me, its the power of television networks to create and inflate celebrity. Gone are the days when we knew nothing about our trusted news anchors. These days, journalists and pundits make their careers based on Q Scores, not the validity of the information they are sharing. This issue was exacerbated when Donald Trump won the Republican nomination for the presidency of the United States.

While most of us were fixated on all of his gaffes and blunders on the campaign trail, Trump was fixated on the television ratings his candidacy generated (a fixation that has followed him into the Oval Office). He was the most covered candidate from the primaries through the general election and cable news has benefitted from his political ascent, even though neither networks executives nor Trump himself want to admit to their symbiotic relationship.

These days, I stream episodes of Survivor in lieu of tuning into cable news in my free time. I find the skills necessary to win a game like like that far more useful in my daily life than what I learned from watching pundits vie for a chance to shine on CNN.

On Survivor, you get blindsided if you’re too altruistic. You get voted out of the game if people see your leadership qualities as a threat early on. At the end, it is a jury of your peers that decides if you deserve to win $1 Million, usually based on your ability to make friends and gain influence while playing the game. I wish I had been exposed to these ideas before the 2016 election.

Sure, hindsight is 20/20, but maybe I wouldn’t have been blindsided by the election results and would have been better equipped to help my candidate win if I had tuned out of cable news earlier and focused my attention on how to outlast, outwit and outplay the competition.

Don’t Be Ashamed of Your Pop Proclivity

Don't Be Ashamed of Your Pop Proclivity (photo: William White)

Don’t Be Ashamed of Your Pop Proclivity (photo: William White)

I noticed something funny on my way home from the Grove the other night. I found myself jamming to a Justin Timberlake song and it made me stop and think.

Would I be listening to this song and even singing along to it if I weren’t alone in the car? My question was answered when I rolled down my window to pay a toll. I turned the music down as to not be ridiculed for blasting the musical endeavors of an ex-Mickey Mouse Club Member.

This little incident made me think back to conversations I have had concerning music as a form of art versus music as a product. Most people who say they are music savvy consider a pop song a product spoon-fed to pre-teens through radio stations as well as music television. By no means is it considered ‘real music.’

If indeed the music itself can be considered a product, then business forces come into play. These products wouldn’t be successful if people didn’t want them. With no demand, a product will pretty much go nowhere. So the idea of the public being pushed to like certain songs, and therefore buy certain albums, can only be true to an extent.

What is true about the radio and music television is that they choose the songs that people hear on a daily basis, some by popular request, but the rest based on other factors.

Exposure is key for the success of many songs, so those songs that do not get rotation on the radio or TV are left to fend for themselves. However, a good song can still become popular without such initial exposure.

Take Norah Jones’ ‘Don’t Know Why’ as an example. Music that is well marketed and widely accepted is automatically discarded, I feel, without proper justification.

Pop music is different from artsy music. Different genres satisfy different cravings. Sometimes people don’t want to listen to poetic rhymes and intricate instrumentation. They just want to zone out for three and a half minutes.

Also, I think that popular music is an accessory to some people. It’s nothing on its own, but it’s a nice touch, like a baseball cap or a watch. It’s just like a supplemental soundtrack to the drama of everyday life.

No, why is it taboo for a music lover to listen to Justin and friends? I mean, let’s face it: Pop music is catchy. While some would compare its catchiness to the flu, I think the best analogy would be to compare pop to sugar.

Pop music is to ‘real music’ as sugar is to coffee. Music in general is a cup of Joe and pop music is a packet of Equal.

I have seen some kids (and a few adults) eat sugar right out of the packet. There are people with a sweet tooth. No harm, no foul.

Music aficionados, like coffee buffs, prefer their coffee black. They are insulted with the suggestion of tainting their music collection with a Sum 41 album.

I take my coffee sweet. I balance my affinity for music with the charm of pop music. Some like bitter coffee, some add sugar for extra punch.

I rarely hear people get persecuted for taking sugar in their coffee, so why should I be scolded for liking Christina Aguilera’s new album?

The way I see it, if I refuse to give pop songs a listen, I am being a hypocrite. I like music of all types, whether fashionable to detestable, I choose different songs for different moods and refuse to feel impotent in musical discussions for having Stripped in heavy rotation at home.

In the end, who really cares if Christina is a ‘Fighter’ and Justin wants to ‘Rock Your Body?’ I do. Will I be sent to music hell for even remembering the names of these songs? I think not.

If you want meaningful music/lyrics you may have to embark on the arduous journey of finding a Björk fan on campus (they do exist) or maybe check out a Metallica album.

However, if you want to turn the radio up on the way home from school or work and jam to a pop record, by all means, do so without feeling persecuted.

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Questions About Becoming an Independent Artist in Miami

How do you decide to become a professional artist?

My first exposure to oil painting came when I was a child. My mom had taken it up as a hobby and I used to watch her paint in the kitchen of my childhood home in Kendall, a suburb of South Florida.

My most vivid recollection is of walking in and seeing her paint a row of colorful daisies. I remember them clearly because when I went back into the kitchen a few minutes later, they had disappeared.

The canvas had been covered in a thick coat of violet paint with a bit of ultramarine blue splattered across it and some white highlights. It was the same canvas, but another painting entirely.

At that point I became mesmerized by the power of the artist to alter the fate of a painting.

It wasn’t for another twenty years that I would have my first experience with oil painting.

I had just moved back into my parent’s house after deciding against climbing the corporate ladder in financial services and moving out of my condo in Coral Gables. I was in my late twenties and I decided that I had to make the most of my time at home so that I didn’t feel like moving back was a step in the wrong direction.

To that point, the only thing that I had figured out was that stressing over financial figures, client meetings and performance reviews was not something that I wanted to do in the long term.

Where do you start your creative career?

I started my creative journey years before that while I was writing for the FIU Beacon, my college newspaper.

I reviewed books, movies and music at first, then ventured into humor and anecdotal nonfiction – all the while discovering new characters and stories in the pages of my short fiction and poetry. My creative work never saw the light of day, though. I was too insecure to put them out there at the time.

I had attempted to make a career out of writing after college, but the type of work that it required to be successful in publishing in Miami was not the type of work that I was interested in doing by the time I was in my mid-twenties.

So, I figured that I had no other choice but to pursue some form of art – a choice I had been intimidated by since I was an adolescent.

How do you develop and discover your artistic talents?

By my late twenties I had collaborated on digital photo collage work and editorials for local publications, but my main focus had been on writing.

Once I decided that I was not going to take the traditional corporate track to find my success, I wanted to build my skill set as a visual artist so that I could eventually focus on art and design as a career.

As fate would have it, my mom was taking oil painting classes from an older Cuban couple when I moved back home.

I joined her for a couple of classes out of a desire to try something outside of my comfort zone.

The studio was on the second story of a strip mall on Calle Ocho and the bohemian instructors were kind and welcoming. The smell of linseed oil and the diversity in the colorful student work displayed on the walls immediately drew me in.

Applying a coat of wet paint to a blank canvas felt very sensual to me – it still does. It can be tedious, time consuming and frustrating, but I now understand the immediate gratification and long term value in painting.

Outside of oil painting, I found myself drawn to painting the furniture we had in the house that nobody was using at the time. I would stare at these vintage pieces and carefully figure out how a coat of paint could bring new life to an otherwise forgotten furniture piece.

What happens after you identify your talents and passions?

Once I realized that I had something to express with paint, I decided that I needed to do more than just paint in order to make it a career.

I began The New Miamian as a literary and visual art studio to share my work and the works of other artists that I encounter along my artistic journey, with a focus on Miamian Art.

And instead of shutting off the part of my brain that craves analysis and written communication, i’m going to use my words to create a dialogue about art and how impossible it seems to be able to make fine art a career choice in the twenty-first century.

The way it works now, only artists that appeal to collectors and curators have any chance of living as a professional artist.

My concern with this system is that it doesn’t encourage artists to experiment or to produce work that may not have a market at this moment in time.

What do you say to the Vincent van Goghs of the world, who will never sell a painting in their lifetimes, only to have them hang in the most important museums of the world a century later?

We should encourage everyone who is passionate about art to produce it, not just those with the possibility of appealing to those who hold the purse strings of society.

Is art a profession?

The true artist refuses to assimilate to a lifestyle that ignores the realities of society.

A rejection of the status quo and a divestment of the trappings of contemporary life are necessary to be able to view the world with the objectivity necessary to create honest art.

It’s hard enough to overcome the insecurity of looking at a wet canvas with odd shapes and colors on it without wondering if you’re losing your mind. Adding to that society’s dismissal of art as a profession only makes it sound more insane to want to become an artist.

Only recently did it occur to me that it doesn’t sound like a career choice for a reason: the role of the artist goes beyond commerce. The artist is meant to ask society the questions that we don’t have answers to yet – and these questions are usually met with resistance.

Where are we going as a civilization?

Technology has added a lot of noise to our daily lives and it’s hard to live without, but what happens next?

Will we end up in another nuclear war that will devastate our already deteriorating environment?

Will our children be able to witness nature in the multitude and splendor that the last few generations have been lucky enough to experience?

Will religious wars overshadow their doctrines, creating the first generation on the planet that does not worship a deity?

More importantly, though, who is asking these questions – and to whom?

Fiona Apple Is Wiser Than the Singers On the Radio and Listening to Her Will Serve You More Than Radio Will Ever Do

You’re vulnerable but still scrappy, philosophical but direct with your words.

The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do.

Valentine is my favorite song on this album with Anything We Want coming in at a close second and Hot Knife in a league of its own. And, of course, there’s Every Single Night, which is cursed by being the first single. Yes, it’s amazing, but it’s I’ve listened to it for so long that I need some time apart from it before I can acknowledge its genius.

These songs are beautiful and brilliantly written like Bacharach, performed from the gut like Janis Joplin and peppered with words and witticisms that most people can’t define.

You opt for real instruments over ever-familiar studio sounds for this album, adding a performance aspect to the recordings that infuses it with the true spirit of music.

The iTunes version of the album comes with live footage of your SXSW performance of Anything We Want. You play the cow bell thing (don’t know what the instrument is called) while you sing and your face is priceless. It looks like you lost a bet and were forced soldier through the cow bell noise-making for the sake of the performance. Honestly, I’m just happy that I got to visualize the noise in the song – kind of amazing.

You know what else is amazing? Your ability and desire to express sentiments that people are very happy to ignore in their daily lives.
I don’t wanna talk about, I don’t wanna talk about anything.
And yet you do.

You’re an interesting mix of childhood innocence and the wisdom of old age. You have the sensitivity of a child and the insight of an octogenarian, which makes you a baby genius in my book.

When I was in high school I would listen to Tidal and When the Pawn and think that you were falling apart. Now that I’m somewhat grown up, I realize that you weren’t falling apart, but tearing things apart. You tear through the bullshit to get to the truth in the only way you know how – in a song.

Music is your truth. That’s what makes you a musician and me a fan.

For Immediate Release: Bob Gramatges is a Writer Again

I, Bob Gramatges, would like to consider myself a writer again. The reason that I have stopped using the word ‘writer’ to describe myself is simple: I haven’t been writing enough lately.

To remedy this, I have tasked myself to document my reality, express my feelings and share my truth on this blog in order to remain a card-carrying writer (and now, blogger, as it turns out).

Now, I’m certainly no authority on the subject, but I do feel that writers should write, painters should paint and poets should… well, poets should come up with a word to describe the act of writing poetry. But that’s beside the point.

What I really mean to say (or write, rather) is that creativity and self-expression are important enough to be prioritized on a daily basis.

I don’t encounter enough originality in my daily life to be happy with the status quo. And even though these words may not impact everyone I encounter, they will impact me when I encounter them.

So, in reality, what I am trying to express is that my writing is essentially meant to make others more interesting.

Humor aside, I truly believe that we create our own reality in life and that our reality dictates our destiny.

As someone who is constantly searching for purpose in life, I have come to the conclusion that I need to write in order to fulfill my destiny.

Therefore, in order for this blog to serve its purpose, I will only give myself one rule and that is to write – write often and write honestly.

Now all I have to do is keep following my own rule.

Okay, enough about rules. God knows there are enough of those to go around.

Goodbye Gay Bar, Hello Grindr?

I was watching an episode of Chelsea Lately the other night and the panel discussed a 2007 Entrepreneur Magazine article stating that gay bars were among businesses that were facing extinction over the next decade.

This made me laugh. Not just because Chelsea and her writers had come up with a few good one liners about Grindr, but because I was actually putting together a feature on Score’s 13th Anniversary Celebration.

I Googled the Entrepreneur article immediately to see what facts they had to back up this assertion. Suffice it to say that the evidence was weak – a newspaper article stating that a decline in gay bars could be attributed to a growing acceptance of gay people – not exactly the smoking gun I was looking for.

The article did not mention the recent rise of smartphone sex apps like Grindr and Radar, which I think would have made a stronger argument. But then again, I know better than to think that these apps would deter gay people from frequenting bars like Score, Twist or Palace.

As is usually the case when straight people make assumptions about gay men, they seem to have confused being social with being sexual. This article (and the theories about Grindr making the gay club obsolete) only furthers the stereotype that the gay scene is purely sexual, leaving out the social and emotional bonds that gay people form with each other in these environments.

For many gay men, going to a gay bar is the first step in coming out of the closet. For others, it’s somewhere they can feel safe rockin’ five inch stilettos on the dance floor. It’s also the best place to listen to the artists that don’t get a lot of play at the trendier South Beach night spots.

And although sex isn’t everything, there is still something about vibing with someone at a bar or club that is much more thrilling than sending a guy pictures of yourself in front of your bathroom mirror and asking if he is a top or a bottom.

I’m not against theory that acceptance of gay people will make it more acceptable us to party with our straight friends. However, I think there will always be a need for gay bars just as there will always be a need for biker bars, taverns and rooftop lounges.

And thank God for that!

Use Your Words, New York Times

The New York Times reported on two ‘attacks’ against gays in New York City over the past week.

In one attack, nine members of the Latin King Goonies savagely beat and sodomized three men in the Bronx because they were gay.

The other attack occurred when gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino spoke to a group of Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn.

The article ran just two days after the Bronx beatings under the headline ‘Paladino Attacks Gays in Brooklyn Speech.’

Now, as someone who clearly remembers Paladino promising to go to Albany with a baseball bat, I was concerned.

Then I read the article.

Apparently, Paladino does not think that children should be ‘brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is acceptable.’

His horrible choice of words aside, he is not alone in this feeling, as almost half of the country (according to AP’s latest poll) is still against marriage equality.

The Times also reported that he removed a line from his speech characterizing homosexuality as dysfunctional.

The fact that those words were even in the speech to begin with could be an indictment.

However, some would argue that his choice not to speak the words is a sign of good judgment.

It is ultimately up to the reader to decide what they think.

Or is it?

Clearly, the New York Times wants their readers to accept the characterization of Paladino’s speech as an ‘attack on gays.’

But with the details of the gruesome Bronx beating still fresh in my head, I have a hard time accepting that premise.

I would even go as far as to say that using such language to describe Paladino’s remarks is irresponsible journalism and does more harm than good to the LGBT community.

LGBT individuals are constantly being confronted with political issues and we need the facts to be able to defend ourselves properly.

Politico ran the same story, but they used a factual headline (Paladino Disavows ‘Dysfunctional Homosexual’ Line) and cited a multitude of sources. They provided the facts to back up their claims, and their claims fell in line with those facts.

The Times took an authoritarian approach to the issue in labeling Paladino’s opinion an attack. Clearly, there was a desire to stir up controversy.

News organizations like the New York Times rely on provocative statements to sell papers with little emphasis on the facts.

The result: the latest Gallup poll reported a record high in distrust of the mass media this year – the highest in decades.

This goes to show that the caterwauling and personal attacks that have replaced rational political discourse in the current media landscape are not effective.

If we characterize a difference of opinion as an attack, we shut down all dialogue and get nowhere.

Everyone should be allowed to express their opinions without fear – especially those who do not agree with us.

The last thing we need is for the few media outlets that are willing to cover LGBT issues to be marginalized by lack of credibility.

Ken Mehlman Backlash: When Elitism Replaces Empathy in the LGBT Community

When I first heard that former RNC chair and Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman came out of the closet in an interview with The Atlantic, I was shocked. I had never really heard too much about the guy, but I knew that he held a lot of clout within the ranks of the GOP – something that the LGBT community could definitely use in our battle for equality.

And after reading about his involvement with the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER) and his work on the case against Prop 8, my shock turned into excitement. Could we finally have an advocate for LGBT equality that could bring about change where we need it the most – from within the Republican Party?

Finally, I thought to myself.

I logged onto Twitter a few minutes later to find out what people were saying about the news – and that’s when my excitement turned into frustration. The attacks on Mehlman – for waiting so long to come out, his work with Bush’s campaign and being a closeted member of the Republican Party – have been merciless.

They may not be baseless, but they are just as hateful and counterproductive as the attacks on gay people coming from the right.

It wouldn’t surprise me if the fear of being ripped apart by the gay community was part of Mehlman’s motivation for staying in the closet for so long. (Not the other way around, like most people would assume.)

And I’m sure that any closeted gay conservative who googles Mehlman’s name after this week would think twice about coming out after reading certain blogs.

This is equally unfortunate for the LGBT community, as some members have decided that playing the blame game is more important than moving forward – together.

The reaction to Mehlman’s coming out makes it clear that we need to be more consistent with the messages that we send out as a community.

We cannot preach NOH8 unless we are willing to make it our M.O.

Nor can we overlook how difficult it is for someone – especially a conservative – to come out of the closet. Coming out of the closet takes faith, courage and an insatiable desire for change.

The fact that Mehlman was part of the anti-gay machine during the Bush years is something that he’s going to have to live with his entire life. Attacking him for his past will not change it. It will, however, deter others from having the same courage to come out publicly.

People learn from experience. Nobody comes out of the womb an advocate, but advocates can very quickly become elitists when they fail to remember how difficult it is to come out.

The LGBT community has the opportunity – and responsibility – to make coming out of the closet a positive experience for everyone, including Ken Mehlman.

We must promote unity and understanding within our community and without. The more that people feel comfortable about coming out and joining the fight, the more likely we are to achieve equality.

But first, we have to lead by example and remove hate from the debate.

Well-crafted Ignorance Examines Exile

What is home? Is it where one lives or where one was raised? Does your home lie with the people you love or where destiny takes you? Milan Kundera questions just that in his short, thought-provoking novel, Ignorance. Like a fly on the wall, the narrator follows characters Irena and Josef back to Czechoslovakia in 1989 after a two-decade absence. Both emigrated after the soviet take-over in 1969 and, upon their return, face the reality that life in Prague went on without them.

Ignorance forces the reader to evaluate life in the midst of political turmoil and exile. It juxtaposes the lives go Czech emigres with those who weathered the communist occupation of Czechoslovakia between 1969 and 1989. Irena faces extreme difficulty in connecting with her Czech friends when she return to Prague in 1989. After twenty years of building a new home in France, she finds it hard to imagine that her return to Prague is a ‘Great Return’ home. Her childhood friends have completely different lives and seem uninterested in Irena’s experience away from Czechoslovakia. She is an outsider in a place she is supposed to consider home.

Josef moved to Denmark in 1969 and faced a similar struggle upon his return to his country of origin. He feels his family forgot he existed while he was away because many of his relatives had passed away without him receiving proper notice. Josef barely recognizes his own brother and finds it difficult to connect with his past. During his visit, he reunited with a communist friends and has an amazing discussion about the importance of past and the definition of self.

Josef and Irena cross paths on the flight back to their original home, leading to an inevitable climax: a vivid, page-turning sexual and emotional explosion between the pair. Intriguing supporting characters add substance to the work by giving the reader insight to the world in which the main characters live. As the story progresses, the lives of the characters fuse together to form a network of people all marvelously linked to one another by fate.

Kundera writes beautifully and from the heart, reaffirming his position among the elite of contemporary writers. He tells a story rich in history and tradition without being boringly technical; he adds believable emotional journeys to the history learned from textbooks. He dotes upon his characters with a parent’s love and affection. His descriptions of the dreary situations never cease to convey genuine compassion and understanding for human suffering.

Kundera’s writing is a conversation with the reader told with eloquence and clarity. Like on the commentary track of a DVD, he discusses the actions of his characters every few chapters. The work is thought-provoking without going off into the philosophical rhetoric that often fills books of this nature.

Words, art and historical data are intertwined with the journeys of the characters to add context. Kundera compares the journey of the emigres to Odysseus’ journey in Homer’s epic. He also uses the comments of Arnold Schoenberg, a 20th century musician, in an interesting philosophical analysis of time. Does our expectation of the future dictate our actions in the present? Does nostalgia overwhelm our thinking? Is it possible to live solely in the present? Milan Kundera’s ideas on the subject are definitely worth reading.

Wynwood and the Paradox of Popularity

Staring out the window of Panther Coffee, I admire the colorful murals across the street almost as much as the coconut chocolate chip cookie I’m indulging in. With RuPaul blasting from my headphones and a hipster working on her thesis in the seat next to me, I realize that I am not in Miami anymore.

In Wynwood, your social currency is your individuality. This is the type of place where striking up a conversation with a stranger isn’t out of the question and you could probably breastfeed a three year old without creating a stir. (That sort of behavior would probably get you thrown in jail in other parts of Miami.)

Writing in this environment makes me go back and forth in my head about whether to monetize this blog or just keep it to myself.

If I keep it to myself, it will be more authentic and certainly provide me with a more intimate experience in writing it. And if I monetize it, my words will reach more people and eventually become part of the greater exchange of ideas.

While both options are equally alluring, there’s something about sitting in Panther Coffee that makes me want to keep the blog as intimate as possible. I don’t aim for mass appeal because my aim is not to appeal to the masses. I’d rather appeal to the individual.

Those who seek mass appeal always end up sacrificing the devotion of the individuals who first gave them a chance. It’s the paradox of popularity that makes artists, singers and writers lose their focus after they become famous.

There are days when I write words that I don’t want anyone to read because I never want to revisit the thoughts that inspired them. This blog gives me a place to liberate those thoughts. I put them in the work and get them out of my head.

As much as I want this to be my best work, I know that it will not be my best if I can’t come here at my worst. When it comes to writing, the words that I am most insecure about are usually the ones that readers respect the most.

So, for the sake of my writing, I ask that you refrain from bringing this blog any sort of notoriety. I want this space to remain free of expectations, opinions and judgments. It must remain a safe space my all of my thoughts, not just the ones that fit into society’s list of approved expressions.

I’ve come to the conclusion that this is the only way we can get to know each other better.