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Staff Editorials

What happened to normal serial killers on television

By Christie Pool

Staff writer

Last week I finished season two of Amazon’s Goliath starring Billy Bob Thornton and before the final credits were rolling I was already thinking: “How could I have just invested eight hours of my life watching this?”

Like many Americans, I spend some down time plugged in to Netflix and Amazon Prime and, of course, big time sporting events like the NBA finals and the FIFA World Cup. From sporting events to comedies to dramas, we Americans like our television shows. Critics and regular viewers say streaming television is where it’s at – more so than movies – for the smartest, deepest storytelling and most nuanced and morally complex characters. 

But in this golden age of television it seems every show is engaged in a race to see which can have the meanest, sickest character. 

Your main character skins his rivals like Ramsay Bolton on Game of Thrones? No worries, our main character beat a stroke victim to death with an aluminum chair (Scandal) and another show’s main villain shows-off by beating one of the most popular characters to death with a barbed-wire baseball bat (The Walking Dead). 

So when I realized, at the end of Goliath that I really had sat through a show where one character had a fetish with amputated stumps and another enjoyed playing surgeon, chopping off limbs of people who crossed him, I was aghast. 

And to be honest, the entire premise of a show like that makes me wonder just  exactly what we’re all doing watching this twisted material and what effect it might have on us? Americans watch on average five hours of TV a day (that’s a lot). And this is the stuff we’re watching? These shows I reference are among the most popular, not something you have to seek out on the dark corners of the internet. Not too long ago shows that filled our screens considered it inappropriate to show two married people sleeping in the same bed (I Love Lucy, Dick Van Dyke). 

How have we gone from Leave it to Beaver and Andy Griffith to our current top shows like House of Cards (where First Lady Claire Underwood kills her own mother for voter sympathy). Game of Thrones, is filled with so many despicable acts that it would take the whole paper to detail them. 

Cop shows have always been popular. And someone had to be killed for Sherlock Holmes to have a case, but television is escalating the crimes to ever more elaborately gruesome and strange. Even on shows like CSI, Criminal Minds, it’s never just a serial killer. He has to also be depraved in some outlandish way. 

The best shows, the ones we want to commit to watching full seasons of, should be challenging with great performances, snappy scripts and well-developed themes. We want compelling plots that develop naturally by putting characters into a difficult or interesting situation, then allowing them  to behave authentically, like real people -- even the bad guys. Why does the drug dealer go to elaborate length to torture by playing surgeon?

When we flip on our TVs we want to be entertained but we also want to be connected and fight for the hero. We love shows that inspire and characters who grow and mature, or are crazy funny and for just plain bad guys. 

So give us more funny, more genuine human drama and less torture and horror.

What’s in a (nick)name?

By Angela Reinhardt

Staff writer

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My father-in-law was at my house a few days ago, telling stories like he likes to do. He reminisced about a guy most people know as “Smiley.” 

This “Smiley” character was the latest in a War and Peace-sized list of nicknames I’d heard him and others bring up over the years, so many so that I wondered if anyone here went by their birth name. Monikers on the list include: Codeye, Birdhead, Tiny, Slapface (also referred to as “Ol” Slapface), Lager, Squirrel, Lambhead, Doodle, Sod, Brush, Red, Buzz, Hutch, and on and on. My father-in-law has two himself.

I didn’t recall the nickname phenomenon where I grew up, or within my own family for that matter. Was this a regional thing? A rural thing? And why don’t I have one?  

The issue is explored in an episode of Cartoon Network’s Uncle Grandpa. Uncle Grandpa, a magical grandpa  who travels the world helping people, lands his flying RV in a neighborhood and kids gather. He goes down the line excitedly high-fiving “Larry Picture,” “Blondie,” “Duck Head Tony,” “Spaghetti Legs,” and gets to the boy at the end. 

“And who are you?” Uncle Grandpa asks. 

“Eric.” 

“No, I meant your nickname.” 

Eric lowers his head despondently. 

“Oh that. I don’t have one.” 

The downtrodden Eric said he guessed he’s too boring to have a nickname. 

  Uncle Grandpa dished out some wisdom. He tells Eric he can’t just get a nickname. 

“You gotta' earn it,” he says. “You have to do something legendary.”

You also can’t give yourself one. 

I agree some nicknames are the result of legendary acts (i.e. “The Great Bambino,”), but the origins of a nickname are many and varied. They range from commentary on physical traits (“Curly” for someone with curly hair); to ironic nicknames for physical traits (“Shorty” for someone who is tall), to riffs on occupation (“Bones” for a doctor), and many others. 

[Note: Some don’t count. Occasionally I’m referred to as “Ang” or “Reinhardt,” but variations on your name don’t cut the mustard].  

  While a legendary act might not be required to get your own, Uncle Grandpa is still onto something, the certain sine qua non that nicknames have.  

In his book The Means of Naming, author Stephen Wilson says nicknames are common in small groups or communities where they can represent a hierarchy of power in which it “more than any other type of personal name reflects the social power the namer holds over the named,” or that they can “stigmatize anything uncommon – heritage, accent, appearance, attitudes.” But nicknames also exist in a friendly, affectionate sense, and are used respectfully and signal membership into a group.  

All of this makes sense. I’d argue most people get their nickname in high school or college, or in tight-knit groups like the military. They are also a decidedly a male phenomenon and seem to have a strong relationship to hazing. 

Still,  I’ve lamented not having my own. Maybe I’m boring like Eric. I wrote an article about biscuits last year and friends called me “Biscuit” a couple times, but it didn’t stick. Another friend called me “Tangelo” one night several years ago, but that one didn’t stick either. 

I was discussing this at the office and a guy who helps us deliver papers on Wednesday (and who goes by ‘Big-D’) said, “Oh, no. We all call you ‘Rhino.’”

For a split-second I got excited at the thought of having a nickname I didn’t know about. I was in the club! 

Then he told me, “No, not really.” 

Dang. 

Oh well. But for all you lucky folks out there, all you Maddogs and Papa Smurfs and Bruisers, enjoy being part of a chummy subculture me, and many others, may never know. 

Sincerely,

“Rhino” 

    (really trying to make this one stick)   

 

The troubling rise in suicides

Anthony Bourdain got paid, very well, to travel the world eating unusual food. He re-defined the chef culture and was judged to be a very hip 61-year-old, amazingly fit from martial arts.

Kate Spade, 55, was described in her New York Times obituary as having an “accessory empire.” Empire is a strong word but even people who couldn’t recognize her handbags, might know her name as someone famous.

Both were rich. Bourdain’s mother said in his obituary, “Success beyond his wildest dreams. Money beyond his wildest dreams.”

Both had children: Bourdain’s was 11 years old; Spade’s was 13.

Yet, both hung themselves last week – ending lives that most would trade for in a split second. What dude wouldn’t want to be paid to eat and travel and how many girls dream of fashion jobs?

The tortured artist is a stereotype for a reason. As early as 1897, poet Edwin Arlington Robinson penned a verse about super-rich-man-about-town Richard Cory who “went home and put a bullet through his head.”

Not making People magazine, however, is the fact us commoners have been killing ourselves in growing numbers since the 2000s rolled in.

According to figures at both the CDC and World Health Organization websites, Americans have been killing themselves more and more often. Forty-five thousand Americans took their own lives in 2016. The suicide rate has increased more than 30 percent in half of the states since 1999.

While the United States is often found among the worst for social problem statistics, with suicide that is not the case. The countries where it is most common are generally the poorer countries. Sri Lanka and Guyana both top the list. The most common way to kill yourself worldwide is poisoning with agricultural pesticide if that gives some insight into the demographics.

In the United States men with guns are by far the most common scenario for self-inflicted deaths. Men are three times more likely to kill themselves than women here and guns account for about half of all suicides. Hanging and poison are the next two leading causes. 

Suicide has become the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, according to a New York Times article on the rising number. It included experts who expressed dismay that the rise has occurred despite years of research and preventative programs. 

The Centers for Disease Control reports that suicide is rarely caused by any one thing and many of the people who die by suicide are not known to have a mental problem at that time. Bourdain apparently shocked friends by killing himself, but Spade’s relatives said for years she had battled depression issues.

The CDC found causes of suicide are  linked to relationships 42 percent of the time; problematic substance abuse 28 percent; “general crisis” 29 percent; job/financial 16 percent and physical health 22 percent. But these often overlap and include a mixture plus other specific issues.

There is clearly something wrong in a world where killing one’s self is in the top 10 of ways to die. It’s hard to know what can be done to improve these statistics. On a larger scale, two areas of modern life need to improve their efforts: the church and psychiatric medicine. At the bottom of the issue is a spiritual problem. People are hopeless. Whether from internal factors or what they see around them, people feel alone and miserable. More emphasis on the community and specifically the church family is needed to address this rot in the modern psyche.

Secondly, as the results in the New York Times story indicated, the rise in suicides is despite the fact that more Americans than ever take antidepressants, with the 15 million Americans taking the drugs -- tripling the number of taking them on a regular prescription since 2000. Clearly the modern approach to mental health on a national scale is a failure. 

On a personal level, there are plenty of websites with tips for spotting symptoms in loved ones – generally beginning with talk of suicide – don’t ignore it if you hear someone speak of it. Googling suicide prevention returns a bountiful number of resources.

 

Put those damn phones down

Thanks to the Georgia legislature, we are all soon to be at liberty to listen to rock and roll, ride with the windows down and enjoy the sights from our cars on warm summer evenings. (Boy that is a compliment you never think of giving a government body).

But come July 1, we can all turn up that Skynyrd, crank up the Big K.R.I.T and listen without being disturbed while you cruise home from work. Or you may be the type to take that special someone on a moonlight drive and want to talk to them, as opposed to someone on a cell – “Oh, I just got to take this one.”

And you may be surprised what has changed in Pickens County since the last time you went for spin – one where you  checked out the scenery, rather than social media. 

What we’re talking about is the state’s Hands Free Georgia law going into effect at the end of this month requiring you “keep your eyes on the road and your hands upon that wheel” - [as Roadhouse Blues advises drivers].

When those powerful, stylish, gas-guzzling machines of the mid 1900s to the 1970s rolled out of a driveway, you didn’t call, didn’t sit with eyes glued to a little screen while the real world slid past. You cruised and you sure as heck didn’t spend the whole drive yakking on a little phone with your spouse about plans for the front yard.

Back when America was inhabited by real people, not a herd of social media sheep, winding out on the highway, you sat back and thought about life or at least what you were going to do when you got home. Reflective-time, as close as many of us get to being philosophical and something that can’t be done while fielding calls from customers, bosses or co-workers about a project that really can wait until you get to  work. 

Work is where work happens, cars are where driving happens.

The fact that the state had to pass a law that makes it’s illegal to fiddle around with some computer-toy-phone while driving shows how much we’ve all been sucked into the online world. It’s unbelieveable that our Georgia highway rules have to state that it is illegal to watch a video and drive a car at the same time.

“It’s become a habit we don’t think twice about since we have been talking on our phones while driving for more than three decades and it is going to take time for all of us to stop automatically reaching for the phone when it rings,” GOHS Communication Director Robert Hydrick said in a press release last week.  “If you want to talk on your phone or use GPS while driving, now is the time to implement those measures so hands-free will become the instinctive thing to do.”

Better yet, don’t implement those things. Don’t do anything to compel you to keep on squawking while driving. In fact, tell people you want to make it illegal to talk on a cell phone in a restaurant or while waiting in line at the grocery store.

We encourage all our readers to use that time in the car to take a break from the constant contact that cell phones force upon. Studies have shown that people develop automatic reactions when they hear that little ping indicating a new alert -- like Pavlov’s dogs starting to slobber at a sound. Give yourself a break; studies are also finding that more social media/digital communication may produce depression and anxiety.

While the state passed this law for sorely needed improvement with highway safety, we hope it has some beneficial social effects with people regaining a sense of reflectiveness and sanity that follows them, even when they aren’t behind the wheel.

 

Don’t hate, navigate

By Angela Reinhardt

Staff writer

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Two weeks ago we reported GDOT’s plan to build two roundabouts on Highway 136 – one at the Hwy.136 Connector intersection and the other just a couple miles down the road at the Ellijay Rd./Hwy. 136 intersection. 

GDOT provided numbers that demonstrate roundabouts drastically improve safety by reducing the frequency and severity of crashes. 

“You can’t argue with worldwide statistics,” GDOT State Maintenance liaison Sam Wheeler told me.

Apparently that’s not correct, Mr. Wheeler, because plenty of people argue with the statistics, ignore them, or don’t realize they exist. We put the roundabout article on our website and posted it to social media, and I was surprised (and amused) by the  downright hostility people have for inanimate and seemingly benign roundabouts. Here are a few comments made on the Facebook post.  

“A Round-A-Bout so bad, bad, bad, anywhere. Dangerous.”

  “What a nightmare this is going to be! Not to mention the construction. This is not the answer.”

“Such bu%[email protected]

Uh???? Those are some strong opinions for a traffic solution that’s always seemed low key, low speed, and fun for its sheer novel factor. Feeling confused, I surveyed my brother-in-law’s business to see if the aggression extended beyond our Facebook post. Without needing time to think, every person but one said they “hate them” - not  just that they didn’t like them, they hated them. A Google search returned several articles titled similarly to a City Lab’s “Why Americans Hate Roundabouts,” which solidified my new suspicion the repugnance is widespread.  

John Metclaf, author of the City Lab article, writes, “As beacons of unfamiliarity, the roughly 3,700 circular traffic intersections in the U.S. are feared, avoided, and even loathed, often without good reason. It seems that every time traffic engineers propose to build a new one, there is protest and uproar.”

This holds true for the only roundabout in Pickens County at the intersection of Cove Road and Steve Tate Highway, as well as the one in Ellijay, which was hotly protested initially, but welcomed when residents realized how quickly traffic could move around downtown (barring heavy traffic times such as morning school traffic and the Apple Festival).

In a Priceonomics article “The Case for More Traffic Roundabouts,” the difficulty one American engineer had selling the U.S. on the concept is discussed. 

“We are trying to bring the British-style roundabout to the western hemisphere,” the U.S. engineer wrote in a 1984 letter to the  creator of the modern roundabout. “The fighting is tough, the slogging is slow, and the resistance is stiff.”

But the article goes on to cite more of those “worldwide statistics” that show how much safer roundabouts are than four-way intersections, reducing fatality/injury crashes by nearly 80 percent. They also reduce emissions and improve traffic flow and efficiency. 

Roundabouts have gained popularity in the states, but the U.S. is still squeamish when compared to other countries. According to analysis by geospatial designer Damien Saunder, there is one roundabout for every 1,118 intersections in the U.S. compared to one per 127 intersections in Great Britain and one per 45 in France. 

A traffic expert told Priceonomics “Americans in general dislike ambiguity in traffic; we like wide roads with clearly demarcated lanes. [Roundabouts] seem more dangerous because they demand more cognitive bandwidth, but we can only appreciate the safety statistics when we step back and think.”

Sounds right to me. From my limited survey people hate roundabouts because “they’re confusing and nobody knows how to use them.” Maybe they have visions of National Lampoon’s European Vacation where Clark Griswold and his family get stuck on one in London for hours? Good for us, American roundabouts are usually simpler than their multi-laned European counterparts and only have one rule - traffic getting into the circle yields to traffic already in the circle. 

Just because we’re not accustomed to roundabouts doesn’t mean they don’t work. It might take a few go rounds, but the benefits of this traffic solution far outweigh the learning curve.