Where Plain Speech Went (to die)—Has it Died?

Asher invites guest and colleague Steve Pruneau to comment on the "Talk Like a Man" episode. Asher shames modern movie dialogue and the cultural fad of avoiding words that contain commitments. In a world of indirect utterances, there are no tough guys, only understatements. Comments on Aaron Sorkin, Jerry Brown, Ed Rendell, and others.

Show Notes Delightfully un-edited and subject to error (blame the machines who might say ANYTHING).

The podcast, the show about being a man, I'm your host, Asher black. And we're going to be joined by a colleague of mine. Steve Pruneau. Steve has worked with me on a variety of projects and I with him and we've known each other for quite some years and have learned to disagree with style and verb. Sometimes it's heated, sometimes it's not, and we just shake our heads and walk off. I don't know what we're going to end up with in, in this particular episode, but we want to pick up where we left off, which was me ranting about the changing speech patterns in a monologue about the decline of the culture. And if I know Steve at all, he will have a completely different perspective on this and I will find great points in it. And probably still largely I think what I think at the end, I don't know. So we're about to find out. So what's your take on the language having evolved? Has it evolved to be less effective or less clear, or if, you know, to use our adjective less man hearted, our movies representative of that change in the culture, or are they anomalous and not reflective of the culture?

I think the reflective of the culture. Look, if you understand yourself and what you're about, you're going to hedge your language a lot less in moments where there's an issue that's important to you, but that's the thing is if you know what you're about, you're going to be a lot less concerned. So, you know, if you're in a company and you're not worried about your job, you're going to say a lot more of what you think and believe, or if you're in a group of people and you just committed. Look when you're centered about who you are and what's important to you, you're going to care less about other people. Now, I think you're actually making a distinction between normal courtesy and actually having some hesitancy about causing offense. And there's a big freaking difference. And I, I agree with the basic premise that look, you know, if you know what you want, it's going to come tumbling out like Boger or Rhett Butler.

This point that when you speak, if you qualify every phrase as buffer, if you prevent educate, if you're circuitous, a couple of things happen, one, you risk not having your point get across to you. Rob the language of it's rhythm, it's directness, it's ability for the tone and the language itself to carry your point and three, you create a communication pattern with people in general and foment this in society that is circuitous indirect, cautious walks on eggshells does not say what it means and buffers to the point of, of not being understood. So when I hear it guys say, look, you know, I want to tell you something and I kinda sorta want to just tell you, this is where I'm coming from. You know, I feel this. I'm not saying it's true. And if you have a different point of view, that's okay. My God, I remember Tony soprano, his right-hand guy has conciliary. It started off, you know, like, Hey Tony, some of the guys and I've been talking and you know, you know, we, we love you, right? And he's like, skip the preamble and got to the point. What do you want? The guy says, yeah, we think you're wrong. Do you think this is an issue? Or is it a manufactured issue? There are so many manufactured issues these days, which bathroom should there be a third bathroom, but what do you think?

I don't think it's an issue with language. I think it's an issue with hesitancy and confidence. I, I see this with directors and writers and artists. And you use this example, actually I think with artists, which is, if you look into the audience, you know, you're a little bit unsure. You're going to get shaped by the audience and you're not going to produce your art. There was a story I was, I heard actually it was about Firefly and the guy who wrote the Firefly series. And this point that he said that the pilot and the security officer had to be married. That was part of his story. And it's a white man and a black woman and the security officers, the woman. And he said the, the, the studio didn't really want that in the story. And he told a story that he said, even as, you know, he didn't have quite as many credentials at that time.

And you know, this is a big chance for the studio to take up the story and the series. And he said, he dug it. And he went all in and said, if you want to make this happen, this is the story full stop. And they went with it. They, as, as we all know, you know, Firefly made it through at least one season. But it's that conviction. I saw an interview with the actress, from a girl with the dragon tattoo. And there was a scene that she said she flat out dug in. She would not do it. And she had already signed on, she had already, they'd already been shooting and she had it out with the director and she would not budge. And during the interview were saying, what, weren't you a little bit concerned? You know, that it might fall apart.

She said, yes, but I was that committed. And so I think what's being talked about here is there's an element of conviction that I think you're describing, but then there is an element of delivery. So I might be committed to something, but I might deliver it for that other person in a way that I hope gives them some level of regard or respect. So I think when you talk about this issue of language, I think for me, it's primarily about the strength of your own internal conviction, whether it's about your principles or your art or the thing you want to get, the thing you want to build. So that is not a function of how we communicate as a society. I don't think there's some speech pattern. That's pervading a society that is causing everyone to do it. I think it's a lack of conviction. That's getting revealed through this way of talking. And I think people talk that way because, and they can be influenced there. There is that. Okay.

I think that's right. I think it's insightful what you're committed to determines how you talk. And so the question becomes, if you hear people consistently buffering, prevaricating being circuitous, avoiding the point, maybe they're not that committed. The old proverb is out of the heart. The mouth speaks, right? So, or out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. So the idea is maybe we have these speech patterns because we have these thought patterns and the thought patterns generate the speech pattern and, and the, the real quest to being a little bit like bogey, if that's a goal and his direct forum or or Rhett Butler or Don Draper, maybe the quest is to be more committed or maybe more importantly, to be more aware of what we are committed to. And when a particular discussion is about a commitment versus something flexible, you know, where's your line, what's your boundary?

What is your goal? What do you want more of? What do you want less of? What do you approve of and disapprove of, you know, et cetera, I can't help, but notice that this pattern of speech though, in facts, areas of life, where it's not so much about commitment, it just becomes the normal pattern. Now we just use the same Patois for everything. So there's a, an action movie coming out with the guy that was in breaking bad. I forget the guy's name, Cranston Bryan Cranston. It's an actually moving, coming out and he's on the subway. And you know, it's the typical action movie. Seeing these guys are overconfident. He's going to show him what for secret train, black ops specialist, former security, you know, the usual meme I get so tired of it. How many people does black ops have? Gosh, that's half the country now I'm gonna, his line is I'm going to mess you up.

And I'm thinking, gosh, that is a far cry from dirty Harry, go ahead, make my day. Or do ya punk? You know that, I don't think those lines hold a candle to the kind of stuff I'm talking about with bogey and Don Draper wrapped Butler, but they're still better than I'm going to mess you up. And I think of bogey in I think it was in the Maltese Falcon. He slaps this guy and he says, when you're slapped, you'll take it. And you'll like it. And, and I think, okay, there it is. He's letting the guy know, you know, I'm not giving you the option. I'm enforcing this point of view way better than I'll go. I can't imagine bogey. I'm going to mess you up. So I do think this lack of knowing what we're committed to being certain of it and committed, meaning it's not an option. We're not asking the crowd if it's okay, that that affects our speech, as you said. But I also think that then our speech affects the rest of our speech.

You know, one thing that's different now versus say 50 or 60 years ago is now everyone can publish. They can hit print on whatever medium you want. They can record audio podcasts and they can shoot video. And where 50, 60 years ago, the content that got into print or onto film was highly curated, right? Managed speech and presentation of self was, was managed. And now it's highly improvisational. And so I speculate that the there's probably not a substantially more propor, larger proportion of people who are less sure of themselves. It's just that now that everybody can publish, we're hearing that part of society where 50, 60 years ago, we were only hearing the curated content of the nightly news, film, television, and printed newspaper. Now I think we're saying, we're seeing, oh, look at, look at this speech pattern. But to your point, it's sort sorta reverberates now into our culture and where it, some people perhaps are saying, well, maybe that's how my characters are going to speak in my film now because it's, it's bouncing through. I find a director, I'm a writer. I'm borrowing that from the world. I know where if that's director or writer where we're doing it 50 or 60 years ago, they would be borrowing from film at that time where now we're borrowing from Tik TOK, you too, you know, you name whatever live stream. So I think it's a little bit of a reverb.

It seems to be a sticky reverb. When I listened to Mindy, Kayling Aziz Ansari, I'm committed to never speaking that way. I can't, I can't watch shows where people talk that way and it's crept in, you know, I know 40 and 50 year old people who have started to use the word, like it creeps into my sentences. I militantly push it out because I want to, I want specificity. I'm committed, not just to certain values and to a way of living and so on, but I'm also committed to my thoughts being actually precise. And when I hear somebody say so the other day I was like sitting there and this guy like bumped into me. And then I was like it's partly this thing where everybody's acting out now. And as you say, anybody can make media. So the selfie is the cultural norm now.

And, and people perform, they act out things and it's almost like we're all at an improv stage. So we don't so much tell somebody as what we did as say, I was like this and demonstrate what we did through a mix of tone and maybe body posture. And so on. We sort of, my newly acted out one can say, I'm just closed minded. I don't like it. But I think there was more substance watching somebody like Bogart communicate. I look at this sort of, are we committed to precision in our thinking? If so, are we committed to separating the way we feel from what we think? Can we have a sentence where instead of saying, I kind of sort of feel, I think X, or is that too divisive? Some of the feedback that's happened in the culture is I've heard people say, well, that's too arrogant.

You're sure you're right. When you say, I think X you're expressing an opinion, and that opinion could be divisive. Even if it's not inherently divisive. It's because it's an opinion. It's softer to say. I feel such-and-such. I shrink from that because I think what I'm really hearing is don't express commitment. Don't fully commit. Don't say, I think back away say I feel because if the other person doesn't like it, the verdict from the crowd is going to now feed back and reshape my commitment. Oh, I didn't mean to say, I think that I, you feel differently. Oh, okay. Well, I only feel it. I'm not committed to this view that I missed. And I still think that we all miss culturally, the kind of guy that could walk into a room order, a scotch turn around and say, where have you been all my life, sweetheart, play it again, Sam. And his is committed to what he thinks. So I miss it. I, if worst case scenario, I'm not making an ideological play, I'm simply saying I still have the freedom to do that as a man, but I miss living among other men who feel that freedom sound like that. Talk like that. Having a beer with guys like that, smoking a cigar like that, it feels like I've been robbed of some of that culture.

I agree. I do want to be around more of that. I offer, as you might expect a more optimistic view. I think that's still there. It's just getting drowned out by the volume that I was talking about, you know, in this massive world of, of media available to us, I think it's getting, getting drown out. So where in the past, the same ratio of concise lucid thought is now getting washed over by a tsunami of anybody being able to publish anything. A few of my points of hope are, first of all, Aaron Sorkin writing any of the series that he did, but especially for me newsroom, there are some epic speeches in there that are dense lyrical, holy smokes, you know, he's, and he's our, he lives contemporary to us. So that is a single data point. I got to bring politics in it, into this, not from a perspective of political debates, but you know, currently Senator Sasse from Nebraska, man, that is a guy of conviction.

And he, he does not ask for permission about his perspectives. I mean, he plants that flag. Same thing for Jerry Brown. A lot of people misunderstand Jerry from, you know, the old days, but holy smokes Jerry Brown was committed to the policies in California and they weren't quite as left to his people might think. And that, that surprised a lot of people, but there was no doubt about where he stood. So anyway, that language is there, but I, I certainly on board with trying to bring more of it too, just so that we ourselves experience more of it.

This makes me happy. You cited Aaron Sorkin. That makes my day, I've watched that series newsroom five times or something like that. Of course, he's responsible for west wing, which if I started now binge watching, I would be on something like my 18th time going through the series. It is precisely that it's partly the culture, the bond between people that I think is a man hearted bond. It's a bond of commitment. It's a bond of mutual honor and courage. It's a bond of knowing the direction we have chosen to go to and sticking with that commitment. I consider those to be man hearted values. I think the women in that show are some of the most man hearted men I've ever Ainslie Hayes. You know, when she defends she's a right-wing Republican died in the wall, you know, country, girl. And when she gets all in the face of those guys, calling the, the liberals in the white house trash and says, those are honorable people and you will not speak that way.

And I am their lawyer. I just, oh, oh sweetheart. That was awesome. I that's a man hearted woman loved it. Everything Aaron Serkan puts out to me is, is a lot like that. And I guess that's what I'm saying is in our next episode, we're going to talk about rock music and music in general, we won't just limit to rock, but we can talk about music, probably rock music, because it's the biggest thing has happened in our lifetimes, right? I like living in a world where rock some of the lines that I hear from the stage in a rock and roll song. Some of the lines kicked out by Aerosmith and the rolling stones, the reason they affect us so much. And our lightening rod for criticism is because they're direct unqualified. They're committed. They're all in. I want to touch your, you know, whatever.

But the point is, he knows what he thinks. He knows what he wants. He's not holding back. He committed, he expressed it into the microphone and put a guitar cord with it. And I think we all admire that where we see it. So I think you've actually hit the nail on the head. You've made the show, Steve, because you've, you've actually pointed out the crux of the man hearted element we're talking about, which is when you're committed to something that makes you a man hearted, I would modify that and say, when you're committed to, and you know what you're committed to and you don't budge off

Of it. Yeah. When you know what that is.

Yep. You've always said that since I've known you, that knowing what you're committed to is key to having the life you want. You have to have a direction, you have to know what you want. More of. You have to know what to go toward. And we literally define that as the choice then to go toward it. Therefore, you know what you're committed to that is the commitment. And in the years I've known you, that shapes the worldview that I, I would regard as the man hearted worldview that comes off of you. You ooze, man, this my friend,

Are you okay with that?

Yeah. I'm glad you're checking in because I don't know.

You know, I was the one I was on a platform in Portland, Oregon, and I love Portland. You can, people throw crap at it all the time. People's Republican Portland. Yeah. They know what they're committed to be a man and accept it. And you're committed to something else. Be that they'll be like, well, I can't live because they're committed to this thing over here. Stop it. Half of the way we criticize other people is because they're committed to something different. What I want to criticize is the uncommitted. But anyway, I'm on the platform and on the train platform in Portland, and it's my favorite train platform. It's near the super eight hotel. And I love it because it's got a coffee shop on the platform. It's serving hot coffee and it's real coffee put out by an Oregon roaster and some of the best coffee in the city.

So I'm there in the platform. And I bumped into somebody, but I remember that he and I are chatting about something. And I said, I don't like some kind of food. It just doesn't sit right with me. I don't understand why they make it that way. And a couple of people backed away from us on the platform. And one of them said, I can't be around this, the violence that's coming off of these opinions, the violence. I think I said, I don't understand why, or I think it was Ethiopian. I understand why you have to eat it with your fingers. Do you have the option to eat it with a fork? How has that violent? You know, and that's what I'm saying is they're committed, I guess, to not having commitment. What I don't know is what else they're committed to. I know what I'm committed to forks.

There's this idea of the guitar hero, you know, dire straits talked about it on, I want my MTV, you know, get your money for nothing, get your chicks for free. And they're making fun of in general, they're sort of smearing the folks who just wanted to be a guitar hero to live that lifestyle. And, and I, I think there's a distinction between that and people who are committed and love the thing that they're doing via that Don Henley song life's been good so far. No,

That's Joe Walsh. Don Henley is has got a song it's similar to money from pink Floyd, but it's I'll find it. Yeah. Hey, I want to recommend that you visit your local R E I store that's R E I REI is all about outdoor gear, fun and fitness. So it doesn't matter if you ski or hike or backpack or camp or use a roller blade or snowboard whatever it is that you do, that's a sport REI is, has got your stuff. And here's the thing about it. No matter where you are in the United States, there is an REI store. That's one state away, at least and more likely than not right within your state. If you're in Washington, it's their New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Georgia. You've got REI. So I encourage you. If you don't know about the store to go down there, it's a couple of great things about the store.

One is that they have a garage sale. Yes. Right in the store, people bring things back and those things get sold in a special part of the store as part of the REI garage sale. It's not every store, but most stores and some are bigger than others. The garage sale, some have pretty extensive ones, great stuff. They almost always, always, I've never been in. They didn't have a clearance rack as well. And he can find some really great stuff there. But their main stuff is really good brands that often are some of the most ethical brands on the planet for sportswear, sporting goods and apparel equipment. That sort of thing. If you need one of those headlamps to go wandering off in the woods at night, if you need a backpack, you can go get a fitting there. The level of services unparalleled, and the quality of the products that I've gotten.

There are consistently quite good. Every time we go in of spending five, six, $700, it can be quite addictive just because the stuff is so good. You can get the information about what you want so easily. And invariably, you're going to see something else there you need. So if you're buying stuff, that's cheap, crap falls apart at some big box store, I encourage you to visit REI and also check out some of their co-op goods. The REI co-op branded stuff is really well made. It's ethically made it's fair, traded, stuff like that. And the quality is a suburb. So my raincoat comes from there. I dig it. I never worry about going outside. When it rains, I stay dry as anything it's completely waterproof and it's light as a feather. Sometimes I forget I'm wearing it. I look down, it's like, Hey, I've got my rain coat on.

You got to go to REI. I hope you check it out. Well, that's been our discussion, mine and Steve for know, Steve, thanks so much for being on the show. It was really great having you. And just a reminder that Anderson Cooper has one for the month, our excellence in manhood award, E I M a, if you want another reasons for it, just tune into the previous episode. But he gets credit all month long for very good reasons, in my opinion. Thanks for listening to our show, visit us at [inaudible] dot com. Buy something from the store. It'll help. Keep the show going. We really need you in that regard, even man, if it's just a t-shirt Annie up, kick in, do your part, lift your end of the heavy object and let's carry the show forward. If you want to hear more episodes. Thanks again.

WARNING: Delightfully unedited. The machines MIGHT say anything!

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Asher Black

Asher is a fabulist, maximist, humorist, and raconteur. By day, he works with companies to find and tell their story effectively. By night, he is a human bonfire.

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