I often have podcasts and video essays playing in the background while I work or do chores. Here are a few bits of content that I've recently enjoyed.
I discovered Zoe Bee's videos only a few weeks ago. According to my YouTube history, I'd watched one of her videos before, but now I'm focusing a bit on them. This video, "Grammarly is Garbage, and Here's Why," sympathetically approaches the use of grammar programs to improve one's writing. Her conclusion is fair: using a grammar program is fine, but does "more harm than good."
I've had a difficult relationship with grammar over the years. I've always enjoyed writing and I've always wanted to write effectively. I've taken a lot of pride in the good marks I've received on specific assignments; I take a lot of pride in a couple of my songs that came out particularly well. I've gone through phases where I tried to write exclusively in E-Prime, even to the point of speaking in it. What I mean is, I take my grammar and semantics seriously.
I may be serious, but that doesn't mean I'm skilled or effective. I wouldn't take my successes so seriously if my writing didn't bomb so regularly. When I look at old essays, old blog posts, old journal entries, I feel ashamed. In those old compositions, my language comes off as sloppy and hackneyed; my arguments seem weak and unauthoritative. For someone who wishes he went into journalism, there is plenty of evidence to show a history of bad writing.
Despite this, Grammarly often pisses me off. Sometimes I appreciate its ability to point out sloppy writing, but I rarely change the sentence the way Grammarly suggests. To me, Grammarly usually points out a small solution to a larger semantic problem in the piece.
I've been an English teacher for most of my adult life. However, I still haven't cared to learn many of the technical terms for elements of writing. I've leaned heavily on thinking about what I'm trying to say with clarity and precision; getting fussy about technical terms isn't as effective, to me, as taking the time to just make sure my sentences make sense. I still need to go back and edit my ideas a lot. I know that I will always hate my writing when I return to it in a few months, but Grammarly and grammar programs have never changed that pattern for me.
An example might be my post from 2015 about Bill Tapley. It has six comments right now, so it's by far the most popular post on this blog. I go back to that post, however, and its writing comes off as... weak: my verbs are imprecise; my nouns aren't concrete; my sentences are sloppy. But for the life of me I doubt Grammarly could help me much there. The post, and the thinking behind it, need a complete workover from top to bottom, or, perhaps, more likely, a deletion.
I still battle with my writing. I misplace my modifiers; my passive voice use is inconsistent; my tone is clunky and cumbersome. But Grammarly isn't the way to deal with those problems. Instead, I need to keep practicing and keep trying to empathize with my reader's point of view. And I need to keep finding ways to enjoy myself while I write.
Which is a long way to say, I agree with most of the Zoe Bee video, embedded above.
Max Headroom is one of my earliest TV memories. He was everywhere in a formative moment in my childhood. And then he was gone. I'd thought about him a bit over the years, but never in a way that led me to do any research. He was just there on the edge of my consciousness, popping up once or twice a year. Until this video appeared in my YouTube feed.
"On Max Headroom: The Most Misunderstood Joke on TV" is an excellent video essay. It provides history, analysis, context, and some synthesis that helped to bring a few of my disparate memories together. I remember a few of the commercials; I think I may have watched a few episodes of the dramatic TV series; I probably saw an interview here and there. But I couldn't cohesively assemble my impressions until I saw this video.
I've always leaned towards ironic comedy that pokes into tropes we don't quite admit to. SNL is usually too on-the-nose for me, and work like Chappelle's is too abrasively self-important. But I like how Max Headroom works in the middle: it weaves between genres and tropes and makes me ask lots of questions. And those questions often lead to smiles and quirky shifts in perspective.
And I like the ephemera of it, that something like Max Headroom couldn't really come out of a different place and time than where it came from. We couldn't re-create it; it wouldn't work. This "On Max Headroom" video is fun because it also describes numerous times when Max Headroom, even in his own space and time, just didn't work. I like the type of nuance that this video exemplifies.
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