If you follow me on Twitter, you may know that I already watched the BTS film Burn the Stage on the day it opened.Â But I read a review that said, as a non-fan, it felt like a film made for existing fans instead of being a good introduction for newcomers, so this post is for my mom and sister who are going to go see it with me later this week.Â It will be my second viewing, but their first.Â I figured I’d write a few quick FAQs and then include some videos to watch so they can skim quickly to get up to speed.
Ladies, this post is your homework before the movie so you will hopefully enjoy it more!
I don’t want to re-write the whole BTS Wikipedia page, but from what I’ve gathered, the idea when they formed was to create a group that would be a “shield” for young people from the “bullets” (criticisms) of the older generation.Â They later said it also can mean “Beyond the Scene” in English, but most fans I know hate that anglicized name.
All things considered, they do a pretty good job of living up to the boyscouts image, at least publicly.
Q: Why are BTS fans called ARMY?
ARMY stands for Adorable Representative MC for Youth.Â The band’s leader has said to think of it as the ARMY of young people behind them.Â The most important thing to know is that the plural of ARMY is ARMYs (no apostrophe!), and it is (maybe?) the largest fandom in the world.Â Certainly the largest active fandom on social media, and truly global in scope.
Q: What is Burn the Stage about?
Burn the Stage is a documentary film of behind the scenes footage from their 2017 Wings global tour, interspersed with some clips and footage from various TV programs and award shows they’ve been on.Â 2017 was arguably the year they truly scaled to a global level, and they broke a lot of records, so the film gives you a look at what it was really like to be in that intense spotlight.
Q: Who are the Members?
There’s 7 of them, and they have stage names in addition to their Korean names, and that can be a little confusing at first.Â Also, don’t try to learn who they are by their hair color, because they change that every other day and twice on Sundays.
Why to Love BTS
The obvious answer is their music.Â I’ve listed some of their hit songs below so you can skim through those, but the maybe less obvious reason is because of theirÂ ethos.Â Â
As the members have matured, and their global influence has increased, they’ve taken on the role of being unofficial ambassadors for Korea, and official ambassadors for UNICEF’s campaign to #ENDVIOLENCE.Â They make charitable donations, they speak out about issues that are absolutely taboo in Korea like mental health, depression, LGBTQ issues, and more.Â They aren’t saints, and they’ve done dumb stuff in the past, but generally speaking, they are a bunch of young guys trying to learn how to live meaningful, good lives while making good music.Â What’s not to love?
And maybe more importantly to me, to be a member of ARMY means embracing BTS -AND- their global fandom.Â It’s the opposite of Trump’s horrible nationalism to engage in dialogue with fans from every continent and every language and every ethnicity about a shared love of “our boys”.Â It’s still hard to describe how awesome it is to be a part of a TRULY diverse audience of thousands of people and feel 100% welcomed.
BTS is a boy band from Korea, so I guess you could classify them with the generic K-pop label, but I think they defy genre labels because musically they are all over the map.Â They have a lot of hit songs that are 100% pure pop, but their more recent albums are full of non-pop sounding stuff.
You don’t have to listen to/watch all these videos, just skim through and listen to the ones that sound interesting.
I couldn’t figure out how else to do this other than to go chronologically through their biggest hits, but if you want to skip ahead, I have a section of my favorites, even if they aren’t as popular.
Also, most of their music is in Korean, with some English phrases, so I suggest that you turn on Closed Captions on YouTube and set to English for mostly reasonable translations. If it isn’t captioned in English, don’t bother with the auto-caption translation, it’s terrible.
Their first few albums could be summed up as “school sucks” and “boy-loves-girl” type stuff, although to be fair, they were pretty young (15-22 yrs old I think). And the Korean school system is apparently WAY intense compared to American schools.Â I guess it’s common for parents to send their kids to cram schools after regular school, so kids might be in school until 8 or 9PM or something crazy like that.Â Here are a few representative songs.
NO is about the rigid educational system that makes kids like robots cramming information in their brains but having no joy and no dreams in their childhood.
War of Hormone makes me laugh, it could only be written by lusty teen-age boys. They’ve since apologized for not being more sensitive to women in some of their earlier songs. They’re in their mid- to late- 20s now, so they’ve grown up a lot since then, but I include it anyway as an example of an early work.
Dope came a couple years later, and talks about how they are busting their ass working in the studio and dance practice room while all their friends are out clubbing and having fun. This is the second BTS song I came across and Jimin’s dancing (the one with red hair in this video) is what made me Google them to find out who the heck they were. I love the choreography in this one.
The Songs that Started to Make Them Famous
They started to gain real traction in 2016-17. Blood, Sweat, & Tears is pure art, IMO.Â It’s full of visual literary references about temptation, overindulgence, and evil.
Spring Day is one of my favorites and I think one of their most beloved songs the world over, it’s about missing someone you love dearly and waiting for that spring day when you’ll be together again. I’ve read that it was written after the South KoreanÂ Sewol Ferry tragedy in 2014, where over 300 people died when the ferry sank, many of them students.Â It’s a sad story.Â 🙁
Save Me is the first BTS song I heard that hooked me.Â I listened to it on repeat for like a week or something.
The Big Radio Hits
Their biggest hits are mostly EDM (electronic dance music, madre), these are songs you might even hear on American radio stations.
First up is Mic Drop, inspired by President Obama’s famous mic drop.Â It’s a response to their “haters” who said they sucked and would never make it big.
Fire is straight up club music to jump up and down and dance to.Â I like it for house cleaning music.
Next up is DNA, a pure pop dance song about that trippy crazy magical phase of being in love.Â It’s from the Love Yourself: Her album, which is part of a three-part cycle of albums, sort of like a rock opera.Â Love Yourself: Her is part 1, the falling in love/being in love part of the story.
Fake Love is next, it’s from the second album in the cycle, Love Yourself: Tear, which is the falling out of love/breaking up/realizing love isn’t like the fairytale part of the story.
And last is Idol, from the third album in the cycle, Love Yourself: Answer, which has the theme of knowing yourself/you must learn to love yourself before you can love anyone else.Â The video is crazy, Mother probably won’t like it visually because it’s too meme-like, but musically it’s very interesting because it has a lot of traditional Korean elements and borrows some African rhythms too.
My Other Favorites
Baepsae is one of their more political songs (so of course I like it) criticizing the wealthy older generation who don’t appreciate how hard it is to make it as a young person these days. Baepsae translates to “crow tit” in English, a small bird. It’s a reference in Korean that’s sort of the opposite of being born with a silver spoon. So a baepsae might be someone born poor trying too hard to make it. Yeah, something like that.
So far I’ve only included official music videos, but I love this video of their dance practice, because the choreography is fun and they get a little silly at the end. 🙂
Lie is one of my favorite solos.Â This is a fan-made video showing a split screen of Jimin dancing to his solo song, on the left is a performance from a concert, and on the right is filming the short film for the song’s official release.Â The music, the singing, and the dancing are all just beautiful, and Jimin is my favorite.
It doesn’t have captions, but this is the translation of the chorus, for reference:
Caught in a lie
Find me when I was pure
I canâ€™t be free from this lie
Give me back my smile
Caught in a lie
Pull me from this hell
I canâ€™t be free from this pain
Save me, I am being punished
(Also at times the screen goes black, stay with it..)
I have a bunch more favorite songs, but I’ve run out of time to work on this post so I’m just gonna post it.Â No worries if you don’t have time to watch/read the whole thing, but hopefully it helps a little so you can enjoy the documentary more!
Looking forward to our movie night, thanks for going with me!Â xoxoxo
About to enter Citi Field stadium, at the front of the line chatting with some awesome fans.
I try to talk about my introvert nature at work a lot, especially with the students on my team, because if they are also struggling with it, I want them to know it isn’t a curse.Â I like to say that I’m an introvert who has learned to fake it because people sometimes don’t believe me, but it’s true.Â Some people are energized by social interactions, but for me, anything more than a one-on-one conversation can be draining, and the larger the group, the faster my battery runs out.Â Â If I don’t get periods of solitude to recharge, it can be so exhausting that I get physically sick.
This basic fact about my personality has caused me so much angst and unhappiness.Â Especially because I also paradoxically feel the need to make useful contributions, whatever the conversation or interaction may be, so there is forever a battle going on with part of me wanting to conserve energy and stay on the side, and part of me wanting to be in the center of the room participating in what’s happening.Â It has taken a very long time to find a good balance.
I mention my introversion by way of introduction to this third and last post in my #BTSxCitifield series (read Part 1 and Part 2 here) for two reasons.
First and most obviously because the theme of BTS’s Love Yourself: World TourÂ is about learning to love yourself, andÂ learning to love my introversion instead of hating it has been one of the hardest things for me to do.Â It was only after I stopped fighting it and gave myself permission to be that way that I learned how to balance my life’s social flow in a way that feels sustainable and good.Â Ten years ago, flying to New York City and attending a stadium-sized concert like #BTSxCitifield by myself would have been unthinkable.Â That I was able to not only go to the concert, but truly enjoy the experience – in partÂ because of the huge crowd – is a personal triumph that seems worth celebrating.
Enjoying the show with 40,000 (!!) other fans.
And second,Â because I am such an introvert myself, I’ve often wondered how the artists, creators, and professionals I admire deal with the pressure of fame and the sometimes crazy emotional demands of their fans.Â Fame is such a double-edged sword. Attracting passionate fans is a source of success, but losing anonymity, especially today when everyone everywhere has a camera in their pocket, seems to mean losing the ability to just be in the world.
And when does being a passionate fan tip over into being a crazy fan?Â
Is it “crazy fan” territory to buy tickets this expensive?
It may be weird to worry about what it means to be a “good fan” but I think Stephen King’s novelÂ Misery must have made a big impression on me when I was young because I’ve always thought the most respectful way to honor an artist is to support their work from afar.Â Pay for their work and share/evangelize their stuff to others, but don’tÂ bug them.Â .Â There is a natural desire to express appreciation and gratitude when someone’s work has made a positive and meaningful difference in your life, but that should never come at the expense of respecting the boundaries of the real person behind the fame.
I thought about that a lot when BTS released a series of provocative concept photos for their S version of theÂ Love Yourself: Answer album.Â Â It turns out there’s a Korean word specifically to describe obsessive, stalker fan behavior,Â ì‚¬ìƒíŒ¬ orÂ saseang fan , and they have obviously experienced that.
What a beautiful but desperate representation of the flip side of fame. They all look so contorted to avoid the constant cameras, prying eyes, and clutching hands. Yikes. @BTS_twtpic.twitter.com/Yv21ZcK9CN
It makes you wonder how they are really doing.Â Not their stage personas, but the real 20-something year old guys behind the scene (see what I did there?).Â Is this insane hype-train of record breaking achievements actually good for them?Â Are they being exploited?Â How are they handling the intense glare of the spotlight, and is my participation in ARMY fan culture hurting or helping them?Â The introvert me would have withered and died from that kind of intense pressure in my 20s, as so many of my favorite childhood actors actually did die.
River Phoenix and Corey Haim, two of my earliest fan-crushes.
I want to hope that the real people in BTS are doing ok, that they have each other and their families, and that they are still young and resilient enough to enjoy the wild ride that they are on.Â I have to hope they, and the people who love them, will know when to get off the crazy train when (if?) the time comes.
In my last post, I described how my interest in BTS began and deepened enough to call myself an ARMYÂ and there was a moment, a series of moments, before I clicked the buttons that sucked a ridiculous amount of money out of my bank account, when I wondered if it was crazy-fan territory to sit for an hour in a virtual queue to buy expensive concert tickets, and an expensive plane ticket, and an expensive hotel reservation, just to see a bunch of 20-something boys from Korea for just a couple of hours.
Sitting in a ridiculous virtual line to buy tickets, only to be unceremoniously dumped out to this error message.
Ultimately, I decided that I enjoyed their music and appreciated their art so much that I wanted to be counted among their fans for their first stadium-sized concert and their last show in the US.Â It wasn’t just about attending the concert, although I was of course excited to see them perform live, butÂ symbolically, I think every fan who came to Citi Field was there to show them and the world just how much their work inspires us.Â We wanted to give them another win, another trophy for their bag.Â That super-fun feeling of winning together, ARMY+BTS synergy, is what tipped the scales enough for me to actually purchase the tickets. 
The Night Before the Show
I flew out of Cincinnati on the Friday evening before the concert, with just enough time to land at LaGuardia and get settled into the hotel for a good night’s sleep before the show.Â Hilariously, the first ARMY I met in the wild once I got to New York was another person from Cincinnati!Â Queue that old joke about flying a thousand miles to meet your neighbor.Â Our hotels were in opposite directions so we split up shortly after meeting, but we followed each other on Twitter and re-connected after we got home – and now we’re set to watch Burn the Stage together when it comes out in a couple weeks!
That chance encounter with a friendly ARMY was the first of many happy meetings.Â I saw groups of ARMYs everywhere I went as BTS fans descended on New York from all over the US, and really all over the world. It’s hard to describe the feeling of meeting strangers who don’t quite feel like strangers because you already share a common interest, the instant smiles when we recognized each other, the excitement that everyone felt about arriving for the show.Â Â I really didn’t know what to expect the next day, and after agonizing over what to stuff in my no-larger than 16 inches backpack to comply with the venue rules , I managed to sleep like a rock.
I had no idea what it would be like at the venue, so I didn’t really have a plan, but part of the reason I made the trip was to experience the ARMY fan culture, so I took a cab from the hotel around 6:30 AM and got dropped off right at the stadium.
The first picture I snapped after arriving at Citi Field, ~6:45 AM.
The first thing I noticed as I walked across the parking lot was the merch line (the line to buy official merchandise from the band like the t-shirts, bags, etc.), and it didn’t seem crazy long yet, so without even looking around at anything else, I headed for the back of the line.
That big group of people on the right side is the merch line, which hadn’t started moving yet, ~ 6:45 AM.
At that moment, as I approached the back of the merch line barriers, I felt .. nervous.Â I’d met a couple of fans at the airport and at the hotel, who were all super nice and friendly, but I wasn’t sure what it would be like in the REAL ARMY crowd.Â Would there be crazy sasaengs?Â Would it be weird that I was by myself?Â Was I even a big enough fan to deserve to be there when so many fans couldn’t get tickets?Â My introvert nature and all the anxiety that comes with it suddenly popped out and I felt.. shy.
I needn’t have worried.Â I got in line and spent the next couple hours chatting with the fans around me, gawking at all the hand-made signs, watching the merch line grow and grow and grow..
Can you tell how diverse the crowd is?Â Young, old, men, women, every ethnicity..Â
JOON FOR PRESIDENT!
It turned out that the whole day before the show was a series of waiting in one line or another, and universally, the crowd was friendly and cheerful and happy to chat about BTS endlessly.Â It was terrific!
The “Village” is what they called the cordoned off area where you could buy the “merch” and visit a bunch of different booths to pair your bluetooth-enabled light stick, take a picture with a hologram of your favorite BTS member, donate to their UNICEF LOVE YOURSELF campaign, etc.
Once the merch line started to move when they opened the Village, everyone ran in to.. get in yet another line for whichever specific area or booth you wanted to visit.Â I stuck with the merch line, and got handed an order form to fill out while waiting with a new group of ARMYs.
I can’t remember how long we stood in that line, but it seemed to move pretty quickly.Â I was super disappointed that the official concert t-shirts sold out within the first 15 minutes, since that was the main thing I wanted to get, but there were plenty of other (way overpriced!) things to buy to commemorate the experience.
An example of available merch and the crazy prices.Â There were like 6 or 7 pages of things you could buy.
I ended up with t-shirt version 1.Â No one around me wanted to buy version 2 because it said “Beyond the Scene”.Â The lady behind me reeeeealllly wanted a hoodie and was afraid they would sell out before she got to the counter.Â I think she was successful in her quest but I’m not sure, I lost track of her in the crowd.
With my merch in hand and my wallet further emptied, I wandered around for a bit trying to decide which booth to visit.Â Suddenly I remembered that I had won an express “skip the line” ticket from Big Hit to visit the “BTS Studio” booth where you could take a picture of yourself with a hologram of your favorite member, so I headed over in that direction.. and got in the express ticket line. (Which was only like 10 people long, but still, another line!Â lol)
While I was waiting to get my picture taken, I noticed an ARMY who had just come from the merch line struggling to juggle all of her purchases. Because the “shopping bag” merch item was the cheapest thing on the menu at $5, I bought 3 of them, which was the maximum allowed, so I stepped over and asked her if she wanted a bag to hold all of her stuff. I was glad to have an extra to share! We snapped a picture together once she got her stuff all sorted out.
Then suddenly it was my turn to enter the little BTS Studio tent!Â I have to say, the “hologram” technology they used to make it seem like your favorite BTS member is walking up and sitting down with you to take a picture was pretty freaking cool.Â I was so flustered trying to sort out my bags and all the stuff I was carrying that I didn’t get a video of that (that’s one time when I really wished I hadn’t come alone), but it was fun all the same and sort of made your heart beat a little faster even knowing it wasn’t real.Â I also had a little panic trying to pick which member because at this point, I really do love them all (OT7!), but my original favorite won in the end.
Quick, pick your favorite BTS member!
A picture snapped with my phone of the slightly blurry picture I got in the BTS Studio booth. Me and Jimin!
After that I wondered around the Village a lot taking pictures and videos and just enjoying the scene and the freedom of not being in a line for the first time since I arrived.
Fans dancing in the Village..
Another dancing fan… You can see the merch booths in the background.
Tour staff would watch your bags and take a picture of you with your phone at the various sign boards and photo backdrops..
Making a donation to the UNICEF #BTSLoveMyself campaign to end violence against children..
I’m not sure what time it was, but by that point, my feet were starting to hurt a little and I was ready to take a rest.Â See my note below about the awesomeness ofÂ theÂ Trekology YIZI Go Portable Camping ChairÂ – which I promptly pulled out and set up to rest my weary bones and have a drink and a snack.
Having a rest and filming people entering the Village area..
I thought it was pretty irresponsible of the lady yelling at people to run to the lightstick tent because they were selling out, they didn’t sell out the whole day as far as I know.
Lots of people started to sit down and eat things they had brought at that point.
There seemed to be no food or drink vendors anywhere, which I thought was nuts.
A short video I intended to send to my sister but for some reason it wouldn’t upload so I never sent it..
Finding my Gate and Observing the Front of the Hard Core “General Admissions” Line
Shortly after filming that clip, I left the Village area thinking I should at least figure out what gate I would be entering and where the line (surely there was another line!) would be for that.Â I didn’t realize it at the time, but it turned out that the private box seat ticket holders would be using a gate in the same vicinity as where they were letting the General Admissions line form up to actually enter the stadium.
Now keep in mind that some of the General Admissions folks had been camping out for over a week to get closest to the stage, so as I approached them, I had a feeling like the General Admissions line were the “real” ARMY and the rest of us were just baby ARMYs.Â We still had hours to go before the show started, so I set up my awesome little camping chair again and watched all the hoopla at the front of the GA line.
Periodically you would see fans who had stepped out of line to get merch or something come running up frantically worried that they had missed their spot, so I started posting short video clips and tweeting them out in the hopes that it would help keep things calm.Â There were definitely a couple of moments there where it seemed like the crowd might get shovey and pushy, but for the most part, it stayed orderly and calm.Â After watching them deal with one situation after another, I thought the security staff did a great job of being kind yet firm to keep everyone safe.
Somewhere in the midst of the GA line drama, I started to feel really hungry and decided to go off in search of food.Â I walked and walked and walked and finally came upon what may have been the only food cart out there, a Nathan’s Hot Dog cart.Â I hate hot dogs, but boy if you’re hungry enough, even a hot dog can taste delicious.Â In fact, I had two!Â The Twitter timestamp says I posted this at 3:04 PM, and the stadium opened at 4, so this was shortly before they let us go in to get our seats!
Phew, I feel like I’ve been writing this blog post for eons, and we’re just now getting into the stadium!Â Picking up from the last section, once they let all the GA folks through, they finally called for our gate and I managed to be like the 10th person in line for that.Â It was definitely a very buzzy excited feeling getting ready to go into the venue.Â After months and weeks of planning and then waiting in lines all day, everyone was ready to get inside.
Of course there was one more line to go after they opened the big fence – the security line.Â I apparently didn’t take any pictures during that period, but they had big K-9 dogs, and a seriously armed police presence at the concert.Â We saw groups of officers in full riot gear, and some with what looked like long range rifles.Â It was pretty intense, but given the death threats against members of the band and all the recent public shootings, everyone in line with me agreed that we’d rather have more security than less.
The security check was pretty intense, too.Â They really did search every single compartment of every single bag I had.Â I can’t remember if they physically patted us down, but I did have to remove my jacket and sweatshirt and fanny pack, and they definitely wanded us in addition to going through metal detectors.Â It felt as thorough as any airport screening I’ve been through recently.
And then suddenly we were inside!Â I must have gotten so excited to actually get to our seats that I forgot I had a camera for a while, because I have no photos of the super posh Porche suite at all.
GA folks getting in place around the stage, before the music videos started.
I did take a few snaps of the GA folks still streaming in around the stage though, and shortly after that they started playing BTS videos on the big screens.Â The screaming and cheering began in earnest at that point, and it didn’t stop until the show was over.Â It was sooo loud, you really can’t imagine it.
Somewhere around here, I started streaming live on Periscope, with the intention of streaming the whole show if I could.Â I know it’s against the rules, illegal, etc. etc. but.. well, there are a lot of people who really can’t afford the crazy expense of attending a live BTS concert.Â As concerts go, it is one of the most expensive shows on the planet.Â Seriously, Billboard says it was the most expensive tour of 2018, and that’s just for theÂ tickets.Â That doesn’t event count the cost of travel, hotel, food, and the aforementioned expensive merchandise, which I guess isn’t a necessity, but who goes to a concert without buying the t-shirt to prove it?
In any case, I watched a lot of live concert streams in preparation for going to Citi Field, and I was always grateful to the people who risked their seat to stream for all the ARMYs around the world who couldn’t attend, so I intended to try my best to stream, too.Â Which I did, for a couple of hours.Â Until security came. :(Â Â Having the security guy breathing down your neck and risking getting kicked out of a show you really want to see, waited forever to see, and paid a bazillion dollars to see.. Well, I put my phone away.Â When I looked at the stream playback much later, it said over 100,000 people had viewed it.Â *gulp*Â That’s a lot of people.Â I’m sorry ARMYs, I really tried.
Another great thing that happened around this point was the arrival of my most awesome seat buddy, Chris.Â Like I said before, for the most part, I was fine to attend the concert by myself and I really enjoyed everything solo all day long.Â But when Chris showed up, a guy around my age, also by himself, and just super friendly and fun to chat with.. it really made the concert just that much more awesome. We chatted through the whole show and he even helped shield my phone from the security dude for a bit when I was still trying to stream despite the stress of it all, bless his heart.
Chris, I hope you read this post!Â Super thanks for being such a fun seat buddy!!Â If you’re ever in Cincinnati, definitely ping me and I would go to another show with you anytime, anywhere!Â 🙂
I don’t have many other pictures of the pre-show since by this time I was streaming, so now it’s on to the show itself!!!Â FINALLY!!!!!
And the Show Begins… Breathing the Same Air as BTS!!
I know, I’ve written a whole novel and half and haven’t even gotten to the actual live concert yet.Â What can I say, it was a long, fun-filled, busy day!
By the time the show actually started, the crowd was so amped up, with huge swelling screams and cheers and ARMY bombs blinking.Â The start of the show was LITERALLY explosive, like fire shot out of the stage!Â And it was so LOUD!Â And so high energy!Â And we’re seeing Idol performed live!Â Right in front of us!
I don’t have any pictures because I was still streaming when the show started.Â IÂ hoped to have some of my video footage edited by now to include, but I think it will have to come later or I won’t get the post up this century.
I do have a few clips that I filmed after I gave up streaming and after the security dudes departed, but my crappy phone cam footage doesn’t even begin to do justice to what it really felt like.Â Singing along to your favorite songs with 40,000 other fans who love it as much as you is really something else.Â The energy was insane, I can still feel the vibrations in my chest if I close my eyes and think about it.
The twinkling ARMY bombs everywhere added so much to the atmosphere..
I didn’t get even one single great shot of the band. Even though the screens were huge and we could see clearly in person, the light noise and cables and whatnot made it impossible to get a great photo with a phone camera from where we were sitting. That’s ok though, the experience itself was the reason for being there, and the memories are more than enough.
Seesaw nation rise!
The Truth Untold!
The best pic I took of V! (That one’s for you Chris!) 🙂
I cried a couple of times.Â When Jimin cried, I bawled like a baby. Not my footage, but thanks to the ARMY that caught this on camera. *sniffle*
I cried again during Namjoon’s ending comments.. (JOON FOR PRESIDENT!)
If I’m in the right mood, hearing Magic Shop still makes me cry because I can hear the echo of 40,000 ARMYs singing back to them in one voice.. it was really beautiful. I sang, and screamed, and danced, and cheered, and enjoyed the hell out of those 2.5 hours.
By the end of the show, we all said our good byes, wished each other safe journeys home, and parted ways. It was really a magical experience.
End of the Show & Heading Home
I’d read about post-BTS-concert depression from other ARMYs, but what they don’t tell you is it starts the very second the show is over.
I felt like I was in a shell-shocked daze as we started herding out of the stadium, and by the time I got outside and back out to the parking lot, I think I stood there for I don’t know how long, just too overwhelmed to even move.
Believe it or not, I didn’t realize until right that moment that I’d planned every detail of my arrival TO the venue, but I had absolutely no idea how to get back to my hotel FROM the stadium.Â 40,000 people were all trying to leave at the same time, it wasn’t like I could call a cab.Â I was so disoriented, I didn’t even know which direction the hotel was in from where I was standing. As more and more people poured out of the stadium, I got swept up in the moving crowd, and just ended up going with flow with no destination in mind.
That was the only moment the whole day that I felt somewhat vulnerable and a little afraid to be alone.Â The crowd was still very friendly, but it was dark and chilly and I suddenly felt like I could get lost or disappear and no one would even notice.
Once we got to the outer edges of the parking lot near the street, I sort of came back to my senses and started looking on my phone for options.Â There were already huge lines forming for Uber and Lyft drivers, but then Google suggested a ride service I’d never heard of, Juno, so I downloaded and installed it and like MAGIC – even in that insane crowd – a driver in a big black SUV was there in less than 5 minutes to pick me up.Â It was fantastic.
I honestly don’t remember much after that.Â I know I made it back to my hotel, and I think I was too late for room service so I just crashed.
The next morning, I wandered downstairs to get coffee, where I met some young ARMYs with their dad getting ready to head home.
And a little later at check-out, I met one of the stagehands who had traveled with BTS for their whole North American tour.
I met one of the stagehands who traveled with BTS at all N American shows, I asked what it was like working with @BTS_twt staff and he said they were super perfectionist and super professional. He said all the crowds were great at every show. #BTS#BTSxCitiFieldpic.twitter.com/ipr30vxpyZ
I took one last selfie sitting outside the hotel waiting for a cab..
And then I headed for the airport and flew home..
Back in Cincinnati with the #CitiFieldFlu
As I mentioned in Part 1 of this series, I got so sick within a day or two of coming home that I basically didn’t get out of bed for a week.Â I saw someone on Twitter call it the #CitiFieldFlu, I guess loads of people picked up whatever nasty bug was going around.Â By the time I recuperated from that enough to go back to work, I was too busy playing catch-up to write much, so that’s why it took almost a month to get this posted.
I sent a few messages to some of the folks I met at the concert once I’d recovered to thank them again and wish them well, and got back a bunch of nice replies.Â And I was super delighted when the Cincinnati ARMY I met at the airport DMd me on Twitter to ask if I wanted to go see Burn the Stage in a couple of weeks.Â She was so awesome, she even bought an extra ticket!Â Thank goodness, because they sold out while I was too sick to even notice anything.Â I’m really looking forward to meeting up with her to see the movie!
gratÂ·iÂ·tude /ËˆÉ¡radÉ™ËŒt(y)oÍžod/: noun, the quality of being thankful. tfw a new friend has your back when you’re sick and you don’t even know it yet. Thanks @Chante_tmc2016 ! @BTS_twt fans really are the best.
At this point, even I’m tired of this post, so I’ll wrap it up quickly.
It’s hard to describe, even with all these words and pictures and videos, just how much I enjoyed the show.Â The fans, the concert, the music, the love, the whole experience.
At a time when the political climate in the US feels uglier than anything I can remember in my lifetime (the election is tomorrow as I write this, I am desperately hoping for positive outcome), it felt sooo good to be with sooo many people from soooo many different places and walks of life, all coming together to celebrate and enjoy good music.Â It felt soooo good to support a bunch of young guys from the other side of the world and send them our love and appreciation and admiration and all the best hopes for their future.Â It’s really a tribute to the boys of BTS, and to Big Hit, and the entire team of professionals who produce and support them that we could all come to New York City and enjoy the show like that.
It made me feel and remember that Obama-style hope, and I’ve really missed that.
Thanks to all the ARMYs I met on my journey for making the trip so special, and to BTS for a concert that I will never forget. I purple you.
Â As a lifelong Constant Reader and huge fan of King’s work, it really wigged me out when he joined Twitter and I realized I could actually send a message to one of my favorite people on planet Earth.Â I never did, of course, because that would violate my “don’tÂ bug them”Â principle, but I’ve been tempted a time or two.
@stephenking if you ever see this, I’ve loved your writing since I was 8 years old and got grounded for readingÂ The Dead Zone.Â Thank you, sincerely super thank you, for a lifetime of awesome stories.Â <3
Â I saw some crazy sasaeng behavior at Citi Field, but thankfully not too much.
 I actually purchased tickets THREE times.Â The first time, I bought tickets on Stub Hub after losing out in the virtual queue, but I didn’t realize the ticket I bought was for wheelchair users only.Â Stub Hub wasn’t very helpful when I contacted them, their only advice was to put the ticket back up for sale and buy another one, which is what I did.Â Then a week or so before the concert, Citi Field released a block of box-seat tickets, and even though it was much more expensive, I snagged one of those and then re-sold my second ticket.Â I didn’t want to be a scalper jerk, so I always set the ticket prices for what I myself paid, but I lost out on transaction fees and whatnot each time.Â I never did the math to total up how much I really paid in the end to see the show, I don’t want to know.
Â I bought a couple of items for my trip which I’d like to recommend.Â It took hours of scouring Amazon to find a backpack that met Citi Field’s size requirements.Â I ended up with theÂ Red Rock Outdoor Gear Drifter Hydration Pack and just left the hydration pack at home.Â It was a good purchase, for such a small backpack, I managed to cram a lot in it, and clip a lot on it. I also packed twoÂ Jackery Portable Charger Bars (6000mAh) and aÂ Solar Charger RAVPower 24W Solar Panel which clipped to my backpack to keep me fully powered for the whole trip.Â My phone never ran out of battery even with constant use and lots of filming.
And last but definitely not least, my favorite purchase of all was something I almost left in the hotel room.Â Right before I walked out the door, I clipped the Trekology YIZI Go Portable Camping Chair to my backpack and I spent the rest of the day so grateful that I had it.Â Two thumbs up, it really saved my feet!Â I even had several offers to buy it from me throughout the day!
Remember when I said I wasn’t sure if I even remembered how to blog since it’s been so long?Â Well, I managed to misconfigure an IFTTT trigger and caused an endless loop of alerts about the new blog post being posted to Twitter, which posted a blog post on here that I had tweeted, which triggered a new tweet.. lol.Â Like a noob all over again!Â Thank goodness a RL friend texted me to let me know about the problem.Â Thanks Phil!
Wow, sorry about all that tweet spam. Misconfigured IFTTT trigger, doh. How embarrassing. 😊
So back to the story.Â Exactly how didÂ a middle-aged (!) white lady living in suburban Cincinnati, Ohio get into a Korean boyband?Â In the last post, I talked about my unexpected reaction to the election of Trump and the #MeToo movement, and how my inability to cope with the endless cycle of upsetting news led to an American media/internet blackout.Â Shutting off the information flow opened space for new interests and hobbies at a time when I was in need of distraction, and that was the context in which I discovered BTS. 
I also mentioned that the first BTS songs to catch my ear were Save Me and Dope, but I’m trying to remember what it was exactly that prompted my deeper dive into BTS.Â In the beginning, it was hard to distinguish one boyband group from the next, EXO, Winner, GOT7.. The whole K-pop genre was a stretch for me musically, and I found the “super innocent yet super sexy schoolgirl” vibe of the girl groups especially disturbing.
K-Pop girl group AOA in what appears to be typical “sexy school girl” styling.
Even if they produce a catchy tune, I have a hard time supporting an industry that over-sexualizes young women like that.Â I suppose the boy bands are not so different, since sex sells the world over, but it feels somehow less in your face with the men than it does with the women.Â I’d say BTS in particular seems to dress fairly conservatively these days, though there are shirt-ripping and belly-showing dance moves from their earlier videos.
BTS in school uniform styling, not sure what year this is from though.
Digging around in my YouTube history (yikes, not recommended!), it looks like a fan-made video I stumbled upon about the BTS “alternate universe” story might have been an early hook.Â It’s basically a short film explaining the fictional universe that connects many of their albums and music (sort of like a rock-opera). It tells the story of 7 high-school friends who drift apart, facing their various painful childhoods and personal demons as they grow into adulthood.Â But one member, Jin, has the ability to time travel, and as he watches his friends meet one tragic fate after another, he rewinds time searching for what to change to bring them all happiness, failing over and over again in each alternate timeline.
The time-travel story arc crosses several album cycles and if you search for “BTS storyline” on YouTube, you’ll find a plethora of fan-made videos with theories about what all the clues mean.
As a newcomer to the BTS scene, I think it was the fans’ obsessive attention to detail and endless theorizing as much as the storyline itself that caught my interest.Â Over the next few months, I began to realize that it was a truly global phenomenon.Â Â Europe, Asia, South America, Africa, North America, all around the world there were crazedÂ passionate fans following these guys’ every move.Â It made me wonder how this baby-faced K-pop boyband had somehow developed a following that was so intense it crossed time zones, national boundaries, language barriers, cultural differences, age, sex, gender.
Korean fans (or fans who speak Korean) translate their work into English, and other fans translate it from English into other languages.Â On Twitter, which seemed to be the preferred social media channel, there were endless conversations, in every language you can imagine, at any time day or night, sharing, arguing, debating, writing fan fics, producing their own videos, explaining, theorizing, analyzing.Â (Look at the live, global BTS feed right now, how many languages do you see?) 
And the band was producing a near continuous stream of new content themselves, releasing their new album Love Yourself: Her in September 2017, with new videos, new theories, new tweets and posts.Â The synergy between the band and the fans was.. well, crazy.Â It sucked me in.
It was like watching a reality television show unfold in real time, except instead of seedy cat-fights and endless love triangles, you had these innocent, hardworking Korean guys from an underdog small-time record label trying to beat the odds, and fans from all over the world cheering them on, and over and over again, I had the thought that the international dialogue happening between BTS fans was so different from the hate-filled “us vs. them” rhetoric happening in the US.Â I’m not sure how to describe it, but it felt like… the exact opposite of the toxic brew of ugly Trumpist nationalism.
BTS performing “DNA” at the American Music Awards, November 2017.
By the time they came to the US and performed at the American Music Awards in November, I had passed the threshold from casual observer to proto-fan, and by May of 2018 when Love Yourself: Tear was released (which went on to break a zillion recordsÂ including landing at #1 on the Billboard charts), I could have passed any “You’re an ARMY If..” quiz.Â I even had a handle on all this newfangled fandom jargon (wow it made me feel old) of stanning and biases and ships and K-Diamonds and I-Lovelies.Â It wasn’t just the band.Â It wasn’t just the music.Â It wasn’t just the fans.
The real catch is the thing that unites the fans and the band, an infectiousÂ hopeful optimismÂ that crosses every language, cultural, or age barrier.Â Even though they are so young, their music tells the story of a group of boys growing up and trying to discover how to live a meaningful life in a world of such disparity.Â And even though I’m 42 years old, I’m still trying to figure out how to live a meaningful life in a world of such disparity, too.Â Their solo albums and side projects delve into how hard it is to overcome anxiety, perfectionism, and depression, and through their music and countless interviews, it’s clear they’re figuring out that fame and fortune don’t buy happiness if you don’t like yourself.Â And here it took me 30-some years to discover that.Â How wonderful would it have been if I had realized it in my 20s?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m as cynical and jaded as the next gal. Yes sometimes the lyrics are cheesy, and yes sometimes the music is pure pop syrup, and yes the K-pop machine has an ugly underbelly including sexual abuse, suicide, and contracts that aren’t far from indentured servitude, and yes the band is a commercial, capitalist enterprise making zillions of dollars with their $50+ t-shirts, and lightsticks, and this, that, and the other.Â BTS and BigHit Entertainment is a business, BIG business, and they are monetizing the passion of their fans to make a killing (Forbes reported in March 2018 that Big Hit Entertainment was valued at 783 billion KRW, or $687 million USD, I’m sure that’s only gone up since then).Â That’s all completely true.
BTS ‘Fake Love’ dance practice session.Â Even if you don’t like the music, you can’t tell me that isn’t art.
And.. somehow I don’t care.Â Somehow, I’m glad for them.Â Somehow I still find sincerity in their finger-hearts and silly smiles, earnestness in their practice videos and sweaty concert performances, optimism and a refreshing naivete in their lyrics and rap wordplay.
Why not a bunch of young guys from Korea who have still have theÂ unbelievable youthful audacityÂ to think they can change the world?Â
Ultimately, that’s what turned me into an ARMY.Â Adorable Representative MCs for Youth.Â At a time in my personal life when I felt despair, I happened upon a global thread of hope through BTS and their fans, a reminder that young people all around the world are struggling, thinking, hoping, trying to find a way to live and move forward, and that the way forward is as it has always been, one step at a time, to just plain not give up.Â To not let cynicism win.Â A reminder of the joy of music, the release you feel dancing to a good beat, and the inspiration that came from seeing the often smiling, sometimes tired, but still hopeful faces of 7 Korean boys who aren’t yet ground down by the machine, the world, life itself.
Could we, without relentlessly criticizing, let people have their pumpkin spice, and avacado toast, and their fandoms, and their D&D, and their too-early-Halloween-decorations, and whatever little harmless things in which theyâ€™ve manage to find a tiny shriveled flower of joy?
As the last album of the Love Yourself cycle came out in August 2018, Love Yourself: AnswerÂ (which also went on to break a bazillion records including #1 on the Billboard charts again), BTS and the Adorable Representative MCs for Youth became (part of) the antidote to my Trump depression.Â BTS and ARMY culture shows that there are other ways to to respond to the challenges the world faces other than tribalism and building walls, and that good music, good art makes us think, feel, reflect, absorb, change, and no joke, it can be healing.
Anyone who has watched a BTS video has seen the Big Hit Entertainment intro: “Music & Artist for Healing”.Â Â Indeed.
So after all that, I did what every other self-respecting ARMY (who could afford it) did, and started planning a trip to see them live when they came the States for their globally sold-out Love Yourself World Tour.
Â My rekindled interest in Korean culture was not my only new diversion.Â During an unusually long power outage in November, I dug through the closet and found my guitar, and have been faithfully teaching myself to play (again, but kind of for the first time).Â I took piano lessons as a kid, and played clarinet very badly in grade school, but this is the first time that I’ve passed the threshold of playing an instrument well enough to really enjoy it.Â And practicing requires a level of obsessive repetition that feels almost meditative, it’s given meÂ an enormous amount of solace.
Don’t make fun, I know I’m not very good at singing OR playing, but that’s the first song I learned after picking a guitar up again for the first time in 20 years. (I’ll say it again, Music for Healing!)
This is Part 1 of a three part series, see Part 2, and Part 3 here.
It has truly been an age since I’ve written an actual blog post. Â I may even have forgotten how to do it, I guess we’ll see.Â Â It’s not so much that I haven’t felt the urge to write from time to time, but once you get out of the habit of blogging, it feels insurmountable to start back up again.Â And yet here I am, trying to remember my website password on a Saturday morning.
The impetus for this blog reset was that I wanted to write about the experience of going to see BTS at Citi Field in New York a couple weeks ago. (If you need a primer, here are a few from the Guardian, Rolling Stone, NYT, and Vulture).Â Like many, I picked up the #CitiFieldFlu while I was there, so I’ve basically been bedridden or trying to catch up ever since I got back into town, but I hope I can remember everything because I think it might be one of the best trips of my life.Â It was not only a great show, the whole trip was the kind of awesome, life-affirming experience that makes you see the world differently when you come back home, and not many concerts can do that.
PART 1:Â THE BACK STORY
But to back up a bit, I feel like I have to explain how I got into this Korean boyband in the first place…
It actually starts with the election of Donald Trump, the #MeToo movement, and the absolutely paralyzing trauma I felt near the end of last year.
By mid-2017, as the daily insult and injury of the Trump Administration took my breath away, and every American media outlet, news program, channel, and pop-culture referenceÂ everywhere became All Trump All the Time, I began to experience a kind of cognitive overload and emotional upset that I’d never felt before.Â Then in the fall of 2017, the #MeToo movement broke open with one horrific story of abuse after another.Â Â Coupled with the shock and complex emotions that came with each days’ news cycle, I also began to feel a sense of shame that I was having so much trouble even coping with the news.Â I’d be heading into work listening to NPR, and suddenly find myself bursting into tears ofÂ anger, sadness, fear, horror, and sooooo much disappointment, it’s still hard to comprehend.Â Until one day, I just couldn’t cope with it anymore.
I turned the radio off.Â I turned the TV off.Â I canceled my subscriptions to the New York Times and the Washington Post.Â I un-followed hundreds of accounts on Twitter.Â For many months, I was pretty much offline but for what I absolutely had to do for work and I told everyone in my personal life that I was on a complete news blackout and that I did not want to know what happening.Â No, that’s not quite right – it wasn’t just that I didn’t WANT to know, it was even worse than that.Â I couldn’t even force myself to look at what was happening.Â 
My family and friends were shocked and confused, I think, and concerned.Â For anyone who knows me at all, tuning out and ignoring things is an extremely uncharacteristic response.Â And since the day I first discovered the internets back in 1994, most of my personal hobbies and interests, not to mention my whole career and professional life, has revolved around the internet, activism, and using technology to improve the human condition.Â And yet suddenly I found myself unable to engage with any of it.Â All of it. I felt compelled to shut the internet off.Â 
That was about a year ago, in November of 2017.
So what does a person DO when the thing that occupied all of their waking life for all of their adult life suddenly becomes toxic?
A SLOW-SIMMERING INTEREST IN KOREAN HISTORY/CULTURE TURNS INTO A REFRESHINGLY DIVERTING MINI-OBSESSION
How do any of our obsessions begin?Â Some tiny niggling seed that takes root and grows into something strange and unexpected.
My grandpa is in the center kneeling, with Korean children wearing UN hats.Â Not sure of the year, 1953 or 1954.
My most recent one has deep roots, if I think about it.Â My grandfather on my mother’s side, who I called Dad, served in Korea when he was in the Army, and it’s one of those episodes in the family lore that holds myriad meanings and significances.Â Family rumor has it that Mom and Dad got married because she got pregnant after (before?) Dad went to Korea.Â Not sure about the timeline there, maybe my mom will correct me. The cherry lacquer wooden bowls that Dad sent back from Korea were a source of bitterness for my aunt Mary when Mom and Dad passed away and we couldn’t find them.Â My uncle Frank probably still hasn’t forgiven me that I wouldn’t give up the photographs of Dad in Korea.Â (In my defense, I kept them to scan them in soÂ everyone could have them. :P)
After Dad died, I spent many hours scanning in photos and tracing through his life story, and I never could determine exactly where he was stationed in Korea, but I had the thought that I’d like to go there some day.Â He didn’t talk about his military experience much, but it obviously helped shape who he was, and if the family rumors were true, I was indirectly a product of his Korean adventure.
With Dr. Youngkyun Baek and Korean National University of Education graduate students at the University of Cincinnati, 2007.
Another root of my new obsession was a wonderful experience many years ago meeting Dr. Youngkyun Baek, who at the time was an Asst. Professor at Korea National University of Education.Â In 2007, he joined the University of Cincinnati with a Visiting Professor appointment and arranged for me to lead a week-long seminar with a group of his graduate students from Korea to discuss the use of Virtual Worlds and Second Life in higher education. That was my first sense that Korean society is far more accepting of and quicker to adopt technology than the US.
Having a traditional Korean meal with so many side dishes it blew my mind!
It was fascinating and so much fun to spend time with them.Â TheÂ language barrier was only a mild impediment to a fun-filled week of exploring virtual worlds during the day, and exploring Cincinnati and Korean culture after class.
Canoeing the Whitewater River with my new friends.
I’d say it is one of the great regrets of my career that I didn’t stay in better touch with them all.Â Maybe I’ll try to reconnect now that I’m less ignorant of Korean culture than I was back then (I feel embarrassed now to think of how much I didn’t know).Â If any of them happens to find this blog post, I hope they’ll say hello!
In any case, a few months before my Great Media Blackout of 2017 began, one of the news headlines that contributed to my sense of panic also re-ignited my interest in Korea.Â You may recall in August 2017 when headlines like Trump Threatens ‘Fire and Fury’ Against North Korea if It Endangers U.S. began to appear.Â For a split second, I was afraid Trump might get us into a nuclear war, and thinking of my conversations with Dr. Baek’s students way back when, I wondered what it must be like to live in South Korea and have that worry constantly.
One thing led to another, and I began reading about the Korean War and South Korea’s military enlistment policy, and then an online friend suggested that I watch a Korean drama on Netflix called Descendants of the Sun if I was interested in how the military experience and North/South relations are portrayed in Korean popular culture.Â After that completely addicting experience, I discovered I could addÂ Rakuten Viki and Dramafever apps to my Amazon Prime/Amazon Firestick, and well, let me tell you, once I fell down the K-Drama rabbit hole, there was no turning back.
Next thing I knew, I was ordering books from Talk to Me in KoreanÂ (highly recommended!) and getting monthly deliveries of Korea BoxÂ (also highly recommended!) and scouring the Cincinnati area for soju.Â (I never found it in Cincinnati, you have to go over the river into Kentucky at Party Source.)
It was all a marvelous distraction from the Trump/#MeToo madness, and though I have a lot of critical thoughts about the conservative, patriarchal parts of South Korean culture, it was still a welcome respite to leave the American mediascape behind and learn about a faraway land with their own history and myths and fabulous cuisine.Â As you can imagine, once I entered the world of K-Drama, then the music of K-Pop wasn’t far behind.
My musical tastes are as weird and varied as everyone else’s.Â I cut my teeth on a combination of bluegrass gospel from my biological father’s Kentuckian side of the family, and 50’s/60’s bubblegum pop, the Beatles, and “classic rock” from my mom and step-dad.Â The Eagles (who I just saw in Cleveland this past weekend!), CSN(Y), and Jackson Browne are in my childhood DNA, and then as an adult, well, it’s too varied to categorize, but I can say in the last decade or so, pop music and hip-hop were not really in the mix.Â I remember a couple years ago having the realization that I was Officially Old because I didn’t recognize even one single artist who won a Grammy that year.
So K-Pop was really a field afar for me, and I think I started with some generic “Top K-Pop Hits” playlist on YouTube, as one does these days.Â It all sounded kind of the same at first, and then one of the songs starts to grow on you, and then another one, and then you realize, hey, those two songs are by the same group, and then.. and then..
Â In the interest of full disclosure, I want to say publicly that I am also a survivor and a victim (even though I hate both terms) of sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and sexual assault.Â #MeToo.Â Part of my shutdown was undoubtedly related to those past traumas that I thought I had overcome. Obviously not.Â It’s clear to me now that the way that the Trump election and #MeToo became entwined in my emotional response has as much to do with my personal history as it does with my political identity.
I also want to say that if any other person out there also had a total shutdown response to Trump and/or #MeToo, just know that you are not alone.Â I think we’re human and there are limits to how much trauma a person can process.Â We all have our own roads of recovery.Â I remain truly really grateful for the men and women who had the strength to speak up when I myself did not.
 Relatively speaking, of course, I really couldn’t maintain a 100% blackout even with great effort.Â In this modern day and age, there really is no total escape no matter how hard you try.
 Dramafever was just shut down last week after Time Warner/AT&T bought them, and there was a great wailing heard round the world by K-Drama fans everywhere.Â =(
In 2014, my New Year resolutionÂ was to accept all social invitations, and that’s my excuse for hardly having blogged at all last year – I was out being a social butterfly! Â Or at least as social as this introvert is capable of being.
All in all it was a good experience. Â I made new friends, got exposed to new ideas, visited new places. Â I met up with a fellow metaverse junkie and talked the afternoon away.
I joined a monthly LAN party with a bunch of folks from work and thoughÂ I am still terrible at FPSs, I have a lot of fun anyway.
I went to an art opening that featured a piece by one of the students who works with me, and it was fabulous (the show and the piece).
Good stuff. Â I apparently didn’t take as many pictures of my social outings as I thought I had.
Reason is indeed crucial for good public policy and a good society. But isnâ€™t the most reasonable approach one that takes seriously the known flaws of human reasoning and tries to work around them? Individuals canâ€™t be trusted to reason well when passions come into play, yet good reasoning can sometimes emerge from groups. This is why science works so well. Scientists suffer from the confirmation bias like everybody else, but the genius of science as an institution is that it incentivizes scientists to disconfirm each othersâ€™ ideas, and it creates a community within which a reasoned consensus eventually emerges.
I agree with Harris that the historical shift away from revealed religion as the basis of society and toward democracy, individual rights, reason, and science as foundations of moral and political authority has been overwhelmingly good for people in Western societies. I am not anti-reason. I am also not anti-religion. I am opposed to dogmatism. I am skeptical of each personâ€™s individual powers of reasoning, and Iâ€™m even more skeptical of the reasoning of groups of activists, hyper-partisans, and other righteous reformers who would remake society according to their own reasoned (or revealed) vision.
I prefer to think about how cultural evolution has made our society more rational by indirect means. Social institutions (such as science, democracy, markets, and universities) evolve in ways that we often donâ€™t understand, yet they can end up fostering better reasoning and better lives as an emergent property of a complex society.
There is no Godâ€™s eye view, Dr. Bronowski insisted, and the people who claim that there is and that they possess it are not just wrong, they are morally pernicious. Errors are inextricably bound up with pursuit of human knowledge, which requires not just mathematical calculation but insight, interpretation and a personal act of judgment for which we are responsible. The emphasis on the moral responsibility of knowledge was essential for all of Dr. Bronowskiâ€™s work. The acquisition of knowledge entails a responsibility for the integrity of what we are as ethical creatures.
The play of tolerance opposes the principle of monstrous certainty that is endemic to fascism and, sadly, not just fascism but all the various faces of fundamentalism. When we think we have certainty, when we aspire to the knowledge of the gods, then Auschwitz can happen and can repeat itself.
One way to think about this is if you imagine the very first tool made, say, a stone hammer. That stone hammer could be used to kill somebody, or it could be used to make a structure, but before that stone hammer became a tool, that possibility of making that choice did not exist. Technology is continually giving us ways to do harm and to do well; it’s amplifying both. It’s amplifying our power to do well and our power to do harm, but the fact that we also have a new choice each time is a new good. That, in itself, is an unalloyed goodâ€”the fact that we have another choice and that additional choice tips that balance in one direction towards a net good. So you have the power to do evil expanded. You have the power to do good expanded. You think that’s a wash. In fact, we now have a choice that we did not have before, and that tips it very, very slightly in the category of the sum of good.
Our stories give shape to our inchoate, disparate, fleeting impressions of everyday life. They bring together the past and the future into the present to provide us with structures for working towards our goals.
Be careful which stories you expose yourself to.
The meanings you find, and the stories you hear, will have an impact on how optimistic you are: itâ€™s how we evolved. â€¦ If you do not know how to draw positive meaning from what happens in life, the neural pathways you need to appreciate good news will never fire up.
You may find that you have been telling yourself that practicing optimism is a risk, as though, somehow, a positive attitude will invite disaster and so if you practice optimism it may increase your feelings of vulnerability. The trick is to increase your tolerance for vulnerable feelings, rather than avoid them altogether.
Optimism does not mean continual happiness, glazed eyes and a fixed grin. When I talk about the desirability of optimism I do not mean that we should delude ourselves about reality. But practicing optimism does mean focusing more on the positive fall-out of an event than on the negative.
We all like to think we keep an open mind and can change our opinions in the light of new evidence, but most of us seem to be geared to making up our minds very quickly. Then we process further evidence not with an open mind but with a filter, only acknowledging the evidence that backs up our original impression. It is too easy for us to fall into the rap of believing that being right is more important than being open to what might be.
If we practice detachment from our thoughts we learn to observe them as though we are taking a birdâ€™s eye view of our own thinking. When we do this, we might find that our thinking belongs to an older, and different, story to the one we are now living.
We need to look at the repetitions in the stories we tell ourselves [and] at the process of the stories rather than merely their surface content. Then we can begin to experiment with changing the filter through which we look at the world, start to edit the story and thus regain flexibility where we have been getting stuck.
I would credit all the folks in my Twitter stream who shared these links if I hadn’t lost track with all the open tabs, but if you’re one of them, thanks for the food for thought.
A couple of weeks ago, I posted some thoughts about clemency for Edward Snowden and whether I thought he was a hero. Â My main point was that I was grateful to know the information he gave the world, but I felt that fleeing the US was an immoral choice, that whistleblowers who make the decision to “go public” have a responsibility to stand by their decision whatever the consequences. Â I said that even if I could understand the choice to run, that that didn’t meet my standard of “hero”.
The post generated a lot of comments, and I’ve been thinking about some of those responses.
First, I have to acknowledge the insensitivity of referring to Chelsea Manning as “he” and by a prior name. Â I fully 100% support everyone’s right to define their own identity, and it was thoughtless of me to do otherwise. Â I suppose that the name “Bradley Manning” had become somewhat iconic in my own mind and though I was aware of her choice to become known as Chelsea, it was almost as if the whistleblowing icon and the actual person had become separate entities in my brain.
But of course they aren’t separate at all, Chelsea Manning is an actual person, and its exactly these kinds of careless and unthinking errors that expose cisgender privilege and, however unintentionally, perpetuate prejudice and discrimination. Â Many thanks to those who pointed this out and I will be more conscious and thoughtful in the future.
Regarding the discussion about whether or not Snowden is a hero, everyone who commented here or on G+ or other places universally disagreed with my position. I have a lot of respect for the people in my network and when my perspective is completely out of step with the majority view, it definitely gives me pause. Â Even more so when virtually everyone thinks I’m wrong. Â 😉
I think it speaks very highly of the folks who read my blog that though they disagreed with me, passionately even, no one was disrespectful or rude, and I appreciate that. For me, blogging is a form of processing, of trying to think through issues and problems, and I’m always ready to acknowledge that I may be wrong. Â The whole point of posting publicly is to get feedback and to have good dialogue with people who are also passionate about the issues I care about, and I’m happiest when we’re really digging into an issue but doing it kindly and civilly with each other. Â So thanks to everyone for keeping it cool.
I can’t say that I’ve been completely swayed from my position by the arguments everyone made, but it has made me think more about the complexity of Snowden’s particular situation. Â My mother and many others asked if I thought Snowden should have paid with his life for his actions, and the answer is no, I don’t think he deserves to die or spend life in prison for trying to expose the wrongdoing of the NSA. Â I also agree that both of those scenarios were plausible outcomes if he had chosen to stay instead of leaving the US, and by that logic, then he would be justified in trying to protect himself from that fate.
Despite that, I still feel resistance to the idea that it is a moral choice to blow the whistle and run.
I may be persuaded that Edward Snowden’s, or to some extent, even Chelsea Manning’s, specific circumstances were extraordinary. Â That they were not exposing your run-of-the-mill malfeasance or wrong-doing, but rather they were exposing wrongdoing of such a horrific scale and magnitude, and perpetrated not by some low level official or small corporate concern, but by our own government across many branches and departments, and therefore that deserves some leeway. Â I think that’s a fair argument and it’s forced me to reconsider my position.
I would still argue, though, that universalizing Snowden’s decision to flee is ultimately NOT the best outcome – for whistleblowers OR for the society a whistleblower is trying to protect. Â In the best of worlds, what should happen is that the whistleblower should be safe, should be protected, should be given safe harbor until the disclosures can be digested and the situation investigated. Â Edward Snowden shouldn’t have to flee his own country, rather our government and our society should have better measures in place and better systems to protect those who make the brave choice to expose wrongdoing. Â We should be demanding better protections for the Mannings and Snowdens (and Swartzs) of the world.
And I guess that’s where it shakes out for me. Â If we universalize Snowden’s decision to blow the whistle and flee, and say that’s ok, then we run a two-fold risk:
1) We open the door for anyone claiming whistleblower status to get a pass whether it’s deserved or not. Â I maintain that making a public accusation of wrongdoing carries with it a responsibility to stand behind the claim. We all must have the right to face our accusers, and whistleblowers are not and cannot be exempt from that. Â Due process matters, it protects us from unfounded accusations and (in an ideal world) acts as a safeguard against vigilante justice, by the state OR other people.
2) We let ourselves off the hook for failing to provide the protections that legitimate whistleblowers deserve. Â While I’ll admit that Snowden likely had little rational choice but to leave, don’t we all agree that he shouldn’t have had to? Â I think in some way, blessing Snowden’s decision to flee is a form of ignoring our own complicity in a system that we know is terribly unjust. Â Instead of arguing about whether or not he was justified in running, we really should be expending that energy on making it so he doesn’t have to – not just for Snowden, but for all the legitimate whistleblowers out there who don’t have international visibility and media scrutiny to protect them.
That’s where my reasoning is at the moment, but I’m sure I’ll keep thinking on this for some time to come. Â Thanks again to everyone who commented, and as always, feel free to disagree! Â 🙂
Recently The Guardian published an interesting critique of the TED Talks series by Benjamin Bratton that I’ve been thinking about since I read it. Â The piece asks what good does it do for TED to take extremely complex topics and boil them down into 20 minute presentations, which are viewed as infotainment by a certain segment of people, and then not much gets done about the issues being discussed. Â I think it’s an interesting critique, and as someone who organizes technology conferences, I often worry that if we all just come and do a lot of talking and not much afterwards, what purpose has the conference really served? Â I’d be interested to hear others’ thoughts.
Beyond the critique of TED Talks, however, there were two lines in particular that really struck me:
Because, if a problem is in fact endemic to a system, then the exponential effects ofÂ Moore’s lawÂ also serve to amplify what’s broken.
And the concept of not just innovating but also “immunizing” society:
The potential for these technologies are both wonderful and horrifyingÂ at the same time, and to make them serve good futures, design as “innovation” just isn’t a strong enough idea by itself. We need to talk more about design as “immunisation,” actively preventing certain potential “innovations” that we do not want from happening.
Regarding the exponential effects of Moore’s Law, I’ve written before that I think our public institutions (government, academia, social structures) aren’t just failing to keep pace with changes in technology, but that the technology itself is amplifying their (our) failures. Â Wherever a gap existed before the information age, now it’s becoming a gulf (think income disparity, socio-economic mobility, access to real political power).
Whatever minor systemic failures or bureaucratic quagmires that crept in during the industrial age are turning into full-blown catastrophic disasters in the information age. See the US Congress or our public education system for stark examples, both represent not just a failure to adapt to a changing world, but technology is also amplifying the ills inherent in those systems with truly catastrophic results – a congress that has gone from dysfunctional to not functional at all, and a public school system that is failing the very students it was designed to help – the poor, the underserved, the first-generation students.
We talk and read about “disruptive innovation” every day in the tech and business press, but often its in the context of “creative destruction” as some new business model or product displaces an old one, and in general that’s seen as a positive outcome in a “free” market system. Â But for public systems and institutions, those public goods that have no profit or market incentive, this amplification of the broken is really very scary to me and I am not at all convinced that privatization of public systems is the answer (which is why I don’t support charter schools or for-profit education businesses, no matter how innovative they promise to be – MOOCx blah blah blah).
The most important things in life can’t be quantified in dollars and we can’t “innovate” a business model or technology solution that changes that basic fact.
So where does that leave us? Â I’m not sure, but I’m intrigued by Bratton’s concept of “immunizing” society against the futures we don’t want, and I’m wondering just how we might go about doing that. Â Bratton says:
Problems are not “puzzles” to be solved. That metaphor assumes that all the necessary pieces are already on the table, they just need to be rearranged and reprogrammed. It’s not true. Â “Innovation” defined as moving the pieces around and adding more processing power is not some Big Idea that will disrupt a broken status quo: that precisely is the broken status quo.
.. and I’m inclined to agree. Â I think those of us who consider ourselves technology evangelists and futurists need to think long and hard about these questions.
As a practical step, perhaps one way to help “immunize” society against the technology futures we don’t want would be to make sure that every talk we give, every presentation, every slide deck (or Prezi or whatever), every workshop has a section about possible NEGATIVE outcomes of the technology we’re talking about, and what we could or should do to avoid it? Â If we’re going to spread the word about new tech, don’t we have a responsibility to also discuss the possible negative effects?Â Perhaps as conference organizers and workshop planners, we need to include not just positive visioning, activities, and keynotes, but Â sessions that specifically talk about the possible negative outcomes?
I’m not sure, but it’s something I’m thinking about and want to keep in mind.
Without knowing all the details of what he leaked, how he leaked them, and the explanations for his actions afterwards that led him to China and then Russia, I can’t in good conscience call for his clemency either. Even if I acknowledge that his leaks have better informed a critically important debate about the surveillance power of the government and the constitutional balance (or lack thereof) of the NSA’s programs, even if his stated motivations as a whistleblower are 100% true, and even if I acknowledge that, like Bradley Manning, there likely were no “legitimate” paths he could take to take to expose the truth to the public, I still can’t go so far as to say that they deserve clemency because I’m not in a position to have enough information to make a good judgement, and my guess is, if you’re reading this blog, neither do you.
My own (very small, insignificant except to those of us who were affected) experience with being a whistleblower was a wholly terrible and unpleasant experience. Exposing misconduct and bringing to light what (some) people in power do not want revealed is a dangerous undertaking, even when the stakes are much less than national security. It is fraught with difficult ethical and moral decisions about how much information and when to disclose and how to proceed, and at least in my experience, I had absolutely no way to fully appreciate all of the unintended consequences of my actions, and how many other (innocent in the scheme of things) people would be hurt by my choices, no matter how well meaning and good my intentions were when I started.
I’m not comparing myself to Snowden or Manning, of course, the situations were completely different and on a completely different scale of importance, but I can only draw from my own experience. I certainly felt that I had an obligation take responsibility for the fall-out, and I guess that is where my own, however insignificant, experience as a whistleblower leads me to feel critical of both Manning and Snowden’s decisions to hide and run from the path they chose.
Yes, it stinks that whistleblowers are often punished for trying to do the right thing, but if you choose to do battle with the powers-that-be, then you have a responsibility to stand up and say, “Yes, I did this, my conscience demanded I take action to right this wrong, and be damned the consequences to myself.” That is what sacrifice is, that is what a “hero” does, and that is not quite what either Manning or Snowden did. Even if their initial motivations were largely for the right reasons, even if there have been many good things to come of their disclosures, they still failed to see it through by trying to hide from or escape from the consequences of their choices.
What makes that a “wrong” is that all the untold number of (innocent in the scheme of things) people who paid a terrible price for their actions had no choice in the matter. The co-worker who gave Snowden a password because of trust or because he thought Snowden’s request was legitimate as a sysadmin who was later fired. The diplomats or soliders or, heck, full on spies whose careers were destroyed or lives were endangered by Manning’s or Snowden’s disclosures. Those people had no choice in the matter. They didn’t have an opportunity to hide or escape from the fall-out of those decisions, so why should Manning or Snowden?
When you set the ball in motion, you have a responsibility to see it through to the end, no matter how bitter that end may be. To do less may be only human, but it doesn’t meet my standard of “hero”.
Since my grandparents passed away these last few years, every holiday without them seems as hollow as the cheap chocolate bunnies lining the store shelves. Â On this soggy Easter morning, I miss them more than ever.
My mother’s side of the family was never particularly religious, so for us, Easter was more about celebrating the arrival of spring and having an excuse to get together. There were Easter baskets with jelly beans stuck in the fake grass at the bottom, Peeps and Cadbury eggs, and when I was a little kid, my mom colored eggs and hid them out in the yard for us to find. Â But the extended family gatherings on her side were never too big on the egg hunt tradition. Â More likely, after eating too much dinner and candy, we’d all play cards or check out Dad’s seedlings that he’d surely have started by now in preparation for planting the summer garden.
With my mom and brother, Easter 1980(?)
My biological dad’s side of the family, on the other hand, was very religious indeed. Â They areÂ PentecostalÂ Christians, and Easter was a Very Big Deal. Â The small church they attended always had a contest to see which family could bring the most people to service on Easter Sunday, and I remember the church bursting at the seams with people you never saw any other time of year. Â Distant relatives and sons and daughters who rarely came, and everybody dressed not just in Sunday best, but all the girls in frilly pastel Easter dresses and patent leather shoes. Â Easter was the only time my dad ever went to church with us, that I recall, and we had an enormous clan with 7 kids and a huge extended family of cousins and great-aunts and uncles.
I think some years we won, some years we didn’t, but what I remember best is after church in the parking lot, us kids would run around in our fancy clothes and the men of the church all gave change – shiny quarters and if you were lucky, silver dollars. Â Afterwards, my step-mom would drive us to Hook’s drugstore whereÂ we’d take our loot and blow it on so much reduced-price Easter candy that we thought we’d already died and gone to heaven.
With my grandma and cousin Rodney at Easter last year.
As an adult with no kids of my own, Easter isn’t quite as exciting anymore. Â I’ve long since lost touch with my biological dad’s side of the family, so it’s been many, many years since I attended an Easter Sunday service in a pretty dress. Â And my mom’s side of the family sort of fell apart after my grandparents passed away, so we haven’t had any gatherings on her side of the family lately, either.
Still, there’s something about the smell of spring in the air and the fragile green shoots poking out of the ground that make me feel nostalgic and happy that Easter has arrived.
Some friends and I were talking the other day about how, for those of us who are agnostic or atheist, there seem to be few alternatives for the kind of spiritual gatherings or sense of community that church provides for the faithful. Â We agreed that humans seem to have a need for certain kinds of rituals and that even though we aren’t religious in the organized religion sense of the word, we still felt a need for traditions and sacred spaces and a sense of belonging to a community.
My mom and sister-in law taking a picture of myÂ nieceÂ Julie in her pretty Easter dress. Â Nephew Joel possibly picking his nose in the background. Â lol
I often make the joke that if I have to be categorized by religious belief, that I’m “apatheistic” – don’t know, don’t care – but that’s not really true. Â I may not believe in the Old Testament God I was taught about in Sunday school, but I was raised in a culturally Christian community, and at least my biological dad’s side of the family was very religious,Â so I’m sure that my internal moral compass is still largely guided by Judeo-Christian values. Â I still believe that “love thy neighbor” and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” are good rules to live by.
It’s hard sometimes for me to resolve the conflicts I feel about my views on organized religion and the culturally Christian heritage I was raised with, like celebrating Christian holidays or loving the architecture and iconography of churches and cathedrals, but over time I’ve come to believe that it’s ok to celebrate culturally Christian holidays in my own way, and to keep faith in the core meaning of traditions and celebratory rituals that probablyÂ precededÂ Christianity anyway.
So I think for me, Easter is about the coming of spring, about renewal, and a new season of growth. Â And it’s about redemption, too, letting go of past mistakes and “sins” and trying to make a fresh start. Â Maybe not with an entirely clean slate, the past is the past and our mistakes and history can’t be undone, but we can go forward “reborn”, hopefully wiser and kinder than before, and in anticipation of a new season of possibilities when the warmth of summer returns.
I’m not with my family this year, but I’m thinking of them, and remembering Easters past when we were all together. Â Hope you are having a happy Easter too, and feel a little spring in your step today.