In which I coin the term panicfic

This post is brainstorming, not research. Clearly.

I’m fascinated by these little stories we create in the middle of a moral panic. I was going to coin the term panic-dote but it’s used for something else according to the Urban Dictionary (though, in an extenuating circumstances there is a way this established definition could fit).

Perhaps panicfic is a better phrase.

I grew up in the 70s and 80s, so a lot of the panicfics I’m aware of are racist, homophobic, and misogynistic, but others I’ve heard recently seem to fit the bill and are a little softer, though that is relative to the teller and listener.

They’re not urban legends. They’re smaller than that. They’re shorter than that. These stories are these clipped, little anecdotes that allow people to express their outrage. They’re often a way of putting yourself within a group, testing people to make sure they think the same way you do. There’s never really a basis in fact. It’s always something that you heard from your cousin’s neighbor’s dog‘s husband‘s best roommate.

One of my favorites from recent times is the “My friend said Merry Christmas to a woman, and she yelled at him, saying ‘I’m an atheist and that offends me’ and she was very upset,” and of course the story isn’t true. If it’s close to true, the lady was fucking with you and your satire gland is shriveled and useless. Atheists can love Christmas, too. We love cookies. We love materialism. Just like Jesus!

Building upon an idea I threw out there in my last post, these panicfics are fanfiction, a genre of wish fulfillment where people tell comforting stories to themselves. Some of these are offshoots of overplayed media outrage, but most start as juvenile play. I often think about my own school days, centuries before Livejournal, tumblr, and AO3, where my friends and I had to pass notes back and forth, always describing a “dream” we had involving some band, or athletes. It was never a dream, friends, it was fanfic and it was great.

But this is darker, this is destructive and viral and dehumanizing. Panicfics always show more about the person telling the story (let’s face it, the person making up the story) than the story itself. As as for the people they are trying to target, they say nothing. No one creating these stories has ever interacted with the people they hate.

It’s really difficult to extract panicfics from urban legends as they have a similar vector of spread, especially now in the Internet age, but it is their reinforcement of insecurities that make them so powerful. The two that come to mind for me are awful. In an early draft of this essay I wrote them out in full, but that’s what the panicfics want, they want to spread.

I’ll be vague: [edit]on second thought, I’ll be vaguer: [edit 2]fuck it: one was misogynistic and homophobic, the other racist and classist. You figure out which I mean.

If you’re my age, you probably have heard them both. If you’re younger and have an inkling, I am very sorry. We have failed you.

If you’re younger and haven’t heard them, but have a cesspool of hate and misinformation coming at you every day when you’re just trying to post your dance videos – WOW we have all failed you and your strength is an inspiration. Please save us.

If I searched through news databases or Google to trace some origin to these panicfics, I’m sure I will find the story somewhere. I’m sure I will find them presented as funny or amusing or, in some cases, presented as “this actually happened.”

It didn’t happen. It’s made up. It’s a fiction. It’s a desire to show the listener that the teller has “heard a thing or two” and “knows the way of the world.” It’s the gossip of the idiot, too scared to crawl out of their own backyard and talk to a person that doesn’t look like them. Even if, digging deep, down into the bowels of public discourse, there appears to be a shred of an inkling of a microscopic point that seems parallel to one element of these panicfics, they’re still not true. They only truth they hold is in their power to inflict pain and death.

I started out fascinated by panicfics to the point I made a name for them. Now I’m just mad.

That guy that told me the Atheist-Christmas story? I was so shocked at the blatant bullshittiness of the thing, I didn’t know what to say. I said “sorry? People are weird.” I wish I’d had a better comeback, but stupid stuns.

A Medical Story

I had a conversation with the clerk at my pharmacy the other day. I was picking up a prescription for a family member and he said “You know it costs $XXX?”

“Yes, and I still don’t know why you ask me. It’s not like we don’t need the script.”

“Well, we let people know because when they hear the price, sometimes they don’t want it.”

I paused. “No. It’s not that they don’t want it, they can’t afford it. There’s a difference.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

“Words matter. They change how you think.”

This is as close to quoting as I can remember and nothing like the political fan-fic you usually read online about “let me tell you what happened when I told this person a thing-or-two.” It wasn’t a confrontational conversation and it happened pretty sporadically and I didn’t feel particularly proud afterwards. We so often think of storytelling as reading to children, instead of how the choice of words we use to describe our experience then inscribes that experience onto our conscious. I left frustrated.

There are a lot of nuances to the Humana-Medicare fraud story that came across the news-feeds a few days ago. I saved it with the intention on writing about the piece, not because I am someone who regularly comments on the health insurance industry, but because it is complementary to some of my research and what I think about all the time. This story and its $200 million dollar headline is not how we’ve been trained to think about insurance fraud, and that’s the point.

We have seen those local news investigations of the person on disability payments for back issues, somehow able to build a deck in the behind their house, or the person who, in conjunction with their doctor, fudges the severity of their symptoms to get more coverage for medical supplies that they would not normally be entitled to. These are the stories about fraud that we’re used to: the individual scammers, the advantage-takers, but where does the overpayment to Humana enter into this narrative. For the wider audience, it doesn’t.

Humana has a huge presence on daytime cable television, along with other Medicare supplemental programs promising to put more money in your social security check every month by switching to their insurance. None of these commercials (easily) disclose that you’re forgoing part of Medicare (hence the refund) only to pay that money to the separate insurance company. It’s a boon for the corporations and seems like a no-brainer to the hapless person wanting an extra $100 in their Medicare check every month.
Yet, still, that is a story told about individuals, the lonely seniors unable to see through the smoke and mirrors of television advertisements. The “boomer” generation taught to trust the evening news and the sales pitches in the commercial breaks never unlearned that trust. Even after Watergate, they turned to television to get the information they needed. The channel hardly mattered, and, when it comes to insurance advertising, still doesn’t. There are a lot of generational generalizations in those previous sentences, but there are sparks of truth within. We still think of Medicare (or any health insurance) fraud as an individual problem. We tell the stories of individual people scamming the system, which allows us to shake our heads and feel better about how we aren’t the scammers and maybe the system is the problem.

I don’t believe in universal truths (aside from the lack of universal truths) but something I find to be a consistent occurrence is that any system created by humans can be exploited by humans. The Humana-Medicare story suggests that the largest exploiters of the system are at the corporate level. Yet we never tell the story like that. We always focus on the man building the deck, or the woman with too many diabetic supplies. We focus our attention and our scorn on targets that are the same size as us: individuals that can be outed and shamed. We understand the individual scam because we perpetuate them ourselves in any number of ways: we drive a little fast, we needle our way out of jury duty, we find advantages to pay less in tax, etc. Perhaps we get upset not at the scam, but at the scammer being caught. It tightens the rein on all of us.

Or at least that’s the impression. The watchdogs will start scrutinizing individual actions more closely, because that’s where the story takes us, if not the data. The story is the reality and if multiple people committing $100 a month in Medicare fraud is the scourge presented, then where does the $200 million assessment against Humana fit into that story. Honestly, it doesn’t. We won’t cancel our individual Humana plans because by purchasing them in the first place, we’ve agreed ith the idea that the corporation is a better adjudicator of our health care than government-funded Medicare. We have already sided with the individual over the communal in our story – the individual as the mighty sovereign of liberty and the individual as the mighty sinner in violation of justice and fair play.

Justice, sovereignty, fair play, are all stories. We tell ourselves these stories day in and day out in order to feed and reinforce the world view of our communities. And that community is a story of people telling the same stories in the same way. Humana is a corporation that told a number of small stories in distorted ways that entitled them to receive more money than they were owed. The federal audit is telling that same story from a different point of view.

NPR only uses the word “fraud” in two places: one, while describing what extrapolation is to the readers, and two, in one of the story tags: “medicare fraud.”

Some thoughts on grad school

Ugh. I miss smoking.

I don’t have any profound words about grad school, really. I’m ending my third year of the PhD after two years of the M.A. and there are moments when I have trouble finding the energy to keep moving forward. I’m at that stage now where I need to get back into my routine, but the will is not there. I’ve been looking outside of myself for inspiration and motivation but–and I know this and, if you asked me I’d tell you this–that’s not where those things come from. Being off campus is a drag. Being on campus can be a drag too.

yeah, this is where I check my privilege. I get it.

I have to remind myself what I’m doing this for and that answer is fuzzy right now. I enjoy working with students and their writing, that hasn’t changed, but I think this semester is just a culmination in constant fatigue. Am I supposed to be dedicating all my time to trying to make classes engaging? All of my time? At $20K a year?

The lack of contact with my colleagues convinces me that I am the one failing. That’s a lie, but I wouldn’t say I’m thriving.

It’s difficult to reach out when everyone is going through similar pressures and anxieties. Those that always say “we can talk any time” are overburdened, as far as I’m concerned. And, to be honest, I don’t want another goddamned Zoom meeting in my life. I’m tired and discouraged, and I think that’s reaching my students.

Is that a bad thing though?

Is it bad for them to understand that the unending timeclock, inseparable spheres of life, constant ennui are not unique to their experience? Is it good for them to understand that we’re all kind of hating all this shit together?

I don’t know. I guess my end of semester evaluations will tell me. That’s fine.

Perhaps the problem is I am just completely uninterested in the course topic this semester. Perhaps I am just completely uninterested in moving forward with the program. I have no answer, yet. Just the semi-annual re-interrogation about why I do this?

Tom Nook is not a crook. He’s an entrepreneur.

I was thinking about the regret I felt after buying Animal Crossing and not enjoying it. Perhaps because I never played any of the previous console versions of the game, only the mobile version, I had a misunderstanding of what I was getting into. What I found, what I got into was a whole lot of nothing. It was cute, but boring. Utterly, terribly dull.

Perhaps it was the real-time clock, the one that mimicked the endless March that we still find ourselves in, pumpkin spice not withstanding. The short times I played the days seemed interminable and I wondered if part of the draw was just checking in on a daily basis and seeing how much oranges were going for that day. After a few days it felt like one more thing on my to-do list, one more thing I don’t get credit for.

Next, the crass capitalism of the thing confused me. Was it supposed to be ironic, satire, educational, dystopian? When I finally paid off my initial loan to inhabit the little island, I felt no relief, no satisfaction. The debt never weighed over my head, but perhaps by that time I’d realized I was never going to love this game. The magic, if it had ever been there, was gone.

I always forget Rule 34 when I do image searches. Never forget Rule 34.

What I did feel was jealousy when my two island mates got better starting houses than I. Why was mine so narrow? Why wasn’t that yellow roof brighter? I got frustrated trying to manage my inventory when I needed to collect “all the things” in order to get paid. I wasn’t buying accessories, or building furniture, or tricking out my too-narrow house — a problem Ian Bogost’s son appeared to have earlier this year — I was just trying to get a long and finding myself leaving the game earlier and earlier each time.

I didn’t like those feelings and I didn’t like the me that had them. I didn’t like how managing stuff soon took over my gameplay. I didn’t like how I was encouraged to check into the store for points. It felt too much like real life and real like was what I wanted to escape. I wondered when they were going to start offering Starbucks stars for shells. There’s a tie-in waiting to happen. The game quickly became drudgery.

It’s been at least a week since I’ve played and it’s only crossed my mind because I left a note to myself to write a post about Animal Crossing and capitalism, but Ian’s article is better. There’s no sense doing duplicate work, not when there are oranges to pick, trees to shake, and the grind of perpetual debt.

Note to self: Stop hoarding and start reading

The very first step of David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” is Capture, grabbing items that are pertinent to you, whether they’re emails, articles, new ideas. The purpose of Capture is the curate the deluge of information coming your way at any given time and separate it into doable “boxes.”

Next you make a decision on its “actionability.” Is it doable now? Is it urgent? You’re sorting through your digital inbox determining the temporal worth of everything you’ve captured.

Finally, there’s organize, where you place all the items into their appropriate spots. You’ve probably heard the rule “if you can do a thing in two minutes, just do it.” That’s the best rule from the whole system, I think. In fact, I just crossed something off my long-term to-do list this morning because it only took a few minutes. Great advice. Good job me! Or you can delegate work to someone else, which for me, doesn’t work, because I’m it. Solomente. Hitoride. Alone.

Here’s where monkey hits the wrench for me. I’m great at capturing items. Whether I use apps like Raindrop or Pocket or Instapaper or Google Keep (and I’ve used them all), I’m awesome at collecting Tweets and articles from Feedly and various tidbits of interest from all over the Internet and social media. I’m a practiced hoarder.

I tend to skip the Clarify part, skipping straight to organization and dutifully, once a week or so, adding tags and moving into folders, in general (as I list it on my to-do list) processing the information I’ve collected over the course of the week. I can organize like no one’s business.

Which is the appropriate idiom because all those articles and ideas that get organized, stay unread, unused, underappreciated, underground for all that it matters to my research, writing, of life in general. With each realization of failure to consume the information I want and with a steadily increasing pile of digital texst waiting for me to read, I would empty the particular app I was using of its collection, blame the app’s shortcomings for my own, and then switch to an entirely new system that will surely work with my style and this is just the thing I needed.

Two months later…

The Philly Trash Strike of 1986 – that’s the Vet in the background.

So as with all things, when you realize the issue isn’t the software, or the marriage, or the job, or the presidency – but YOU. You are the thing that makes it all broken and bad, then its time to fess up and change the one thing you can change. You.

Or me, in this case. You are perfect. I’m in progress.

I stopped collecting. For the last month, I’ve stopped collecting and curating like I used to. I have some bookmarks on Twitter, but only a few and I know they’re all teaching related. Occasionally I add something to my GQueues To-Do list, but only with a date and time so I can take care of it quickly.

Now, when I see an article that I think would benefit me, my research, or my students, I just read it. Honestly, that’s it. I just stop and read the article.

I mean, it doesn’t take that long. I’ve read this investigative work by the Orlando Sentinel called “Laborland” about the plight of theme park workers. That was on the tail end of reading the Washington Post article about families living in motels in Kissimmee. I’d seen a tweet from a reporter at the Sentinel that highlighted their own work in light of the Post’s reporting. Both were worth my time, and yours.

Recently, I read this piece from Edgar Gomez on Narratively about the subculture of “Gays with Guns” in the aftermath of Pulse and the rise of homophobic and trans violence. It’s a terrific piece of experiential reporting and left me with mixed feelings about how we feel and deal with threats differently.

A friend linked to an article via social media, so I took the time to read “This Isn’t What We Meant By Hybrid Learning” at We Are Teachers and instead of just getting mad at the headline, I was able to have my anger be more informed, nuanced. An unending ember instead of a quick flame.

And I think that’s the ultimate result from forgoing collection: I’ve slowed down. Taken the time to read more fully when it comes to current issues. I’m a bit less inclined to “react and move on.” Even in Twitter, even with this tweet, I read the thread first before commenting:

Ultimately, wide-forehead aside, I feel less cluttered mentally, less inclined to switch on and off, and more receptive to diving into articles in the same way I would research. I think giving up Collecting will ultimately improve my comprehension and retention when I’m close reading and give me the clarity to assign urgency to what matters, not just what’s loudest.