Malcom Gladwell is Mad at Satire

PHOTO: Kris Krüg
I like Malcom Gladwell’s work because I want to feel smart without doing the work of research or analysis. Remember when he dropped that 10,000 hours knowledge bomb? People devoted their lives to that pup like it was god’s own pinned tweet. Well, old Gladdie’s gone and fired a shot at Satire. In doing so he has exited the universe of absurdity, through the Oort cloud of hubris, and is making his way into interstellar bullshit.

I’m late to this, but in his podcast, Revisionist History, (Episode 10, “The Satire Paradox” Warning: bizarre-o site design) Gladwell asserts that satire not only doesn’t solve any problems, it sometimes makes them worse.

He cites as one example Stephen Colbert’s show The Colbert Report, positing that liberals watching the show saw Colbert’s over-the-top blowhard character and thought “That’s so true! Those Fox News Pundits are so full of shit!” and conservatives thought “Hooray! That Colbert guy is owning the libs!”

Point being, if you’re a liberal comedy writer and you think you’re striking at the heart of hypocrisy, sometimes hypocrites get a laugh too. They know how full of shit they are and they’re getting away with it.

It hurts when that happens. I was invited once to participate in a “roast” of some local celebrities whom I judged to be kinda racist. I went to their show, stood up in front of their crowd, and pointed out that it was weird that in a city which is predominately non-white, not a single person of color had chosen to attend the show. I expected to bomb after that comment because I thought people would look around the room and think, “Wow, he’s right.” Instead, it got a big laugh, almost as though that group of people knew they were being kinda racist and maybe kinda liked it.

Chalk that one up to my naiveté, because, when applied to myself, I prefer “naiveté” over “dipshittery.”

People often criticize satire, and comedy of all stripes, for merely making fun of issues without proposing a solution. That’s valid criticism if you’re in couples therapy with your wife and she’ll only communicate by doing Dangerfield one-liners. But satire provides a great service to the public conversation that Gladwell is overlooking: it describes the pieces at play.

Right- and left-leaning zealots are always going to read the news. But the difference in a democracy is made not by the zealots but by the middle. By and large, The People do not like things like hypocrisy, bigotry, corruption, but in order to get them to the polling places to do something about those issues, people have to first be made aware.

My impression is that you’re more likely to get The People to read a The Onion article, to watch The Daily Show or Last Week Tonight, than you are to get them to read a Reuters news piece. It’s easier to digest entertainment than unvarnished fact, and Malcom Flippin’ Gladwell should know that, given that his books, and his career, are based on simplifying stories to make them fit a narrative. I mean, come on, dude. You’re shitting on your own bailiwick!

I do not, nor should anyone, fault Gladwell for making his books interesting. That’s his job. But for him to fault comedy writers for turning reality into comedy is as useful as him yelling pop lyrics into a shitty hat.

Come on, Gladwell. You’re a good writer and a smart person who has been a journalist for a long time. Do better.

Note: Forbes’ Jeff Bercovici also jumped Gladwell for this one.


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27 – David Joel Stevenson and Cavern of the Immortal

David Joel Stevenson is a singer, songwriter, musician, actor, and author. He lives outside of Nashville, TN with his wife, several chickens, and thousands of honey bees. He’s working on a great series about a superhero called Victor Boone. “Victor Boone Will Save Us,” is the latest in that series.

Find out all about him at his site here:

I’ve had the pleasure of sharing a couple of SciFi con panels with David, then got to be next to him at our artist’s tables most recently at Hypericon. He’s a super likeable guy with some great books to offer.

I knew he’d be a good Outliners guest!


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26 – Lydia Sherrer and the Planet of the Snakes

Lydia Sherrer is an award-winning USA Today bestseller and author of the Love, Lies, and Hocus Pocus series. Find all of Lydia’s work on her website here:

I met Lydia on a panel at Hypericon in Nashville, which got completely derailed when I inadvertently mentioned another author’s work. That set Lydia laughing for most of the rest of the time. We’ll tell you all about it.

It’s new book day for me! Check out Apprentice Quest here:

Thanks for listening! Hope you dig the podcast.


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25 – D. Alan Lewis and Gears of Love

My guest this episode is D. Alan Lewis, possibly the bravest man alive. He leapt into an open seat on this podcast with no explanation or warning or anything. That’s a leap of faith similar to the one when Indiana Jones stepped off that ledge in the last good Indiana Jones movie and it ended up he was stepping onto a ledge of green screen.

Anyway, I really appreciate it, Alan. Find his work here and give it a look-see:

Also at Hypericon we also met our new pal John Horner Jacobs. Find his work and his recap of the weekend here including a photo of me with a beer on a panel. Shameful display:

As for me, my new book, “Apprentice Quest” is live for pre-order! Grab that here:


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The Outliners Episode 24 – Bilgrones and Crystal Whispers

My guests on this episode are Julia Jones and Jessica Bilgrad otherwise known by their two-woman powerhouse improv duo Bilgrones. Find them on Instagram here:

I invited them to be on this writing podcast first of all because they’re hilarious and fun to be around. But also because the point of this podcast is to reinforce important things about writing which are: writer’s block doesn’t exist, ideas are nothing, it’s all in the execution.

But the paralells don’t stop there. Improv is an art form where a group of people try to come up with a story together. The only way to come up with a story live in front of an audience with other folks like that is to contribute to the story but not to hog the stage.

It’s a lot like writing a novel in that way.


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23 – Jonathan French and the Grey Bastards

On this episode I want to take a minute to celebrate friend of the podcast Jonathan French and his “The Grey Bastards” book launch with Crown. I recorded our conversation at Eagle Eye Books at his launch event so you’ll get to hear that too.

Check out Jonathan’s work at his site here:

In us news, Outliners is going on the road! I will be traveling to Hypericon in Nashville July 6th – 8th to talk about writing and sell books, and one of the panels I’ll be on will be an outliners, so look forward to that.

The show I (half) directed, Summer of Sketch & Moby Sketch, runs for two more weeks at Village Theatre. Grab tickets at

My show Atlanta Explained is going to do a short, free version of itself at village Saturday June 30th, 7PM. 30 minutes long. Join us for that.

There will be a whole bunch of discounted books starting next week through Kindle Countdown deals. They’ll be $.99:
Santa vs. Krampus: June 24th – July 1st
Santa Suits: July 1st – 8th
Battle for ATL: July 8th – 15th
Find those book on the main page of my site here:

Thanks for listening! If you’re an author who would like to be a guest, find out more here.


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22 – Gil Hough and the Algae of Death

I met Gil as a fellow panelist at ConNooga, a scifi con in Chattanooga. He’s a super interesting dude, as you will see when we get into the tale of the Algae of Death!

Gil is working on epic fantasy with his Order of the Lion series. The Celestial Paladin is the first book in that series and it’s free on Amazon:

Also check Gil out at his web site here:

Thanks for listening!


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Cryptocurrencies are Becoming the Everest of Stupid

If you know me from my mountain climbing books, you know that I try to inject a little humor into mountain climbing, which is a sport whose practitioners often take themselves too seriously. Let me be clear: you should not ever take yourself seriously, especially not when in the great outdoors. But you should respect the land to the point of religious zealotry.

Someone who was attempting to publicize their new social media and attendant cryptocurrency sent three climbers to the summit of Everest with a thumb drive they say is valued at $50,000. The men were told to leave the thumb drive there as a publicity stunt for the new crypto. A man died in the attempt. That makes me unspeakably sad, even though I never met him.

Beyond that man’s senseless passing, it bothers me that the company claims their surviving climbers “conquered” Everest. Humans no more conquer Everest than an ant conquers my driveway. I suppose to the ants the driveway might be significant, but to me it’s just a flat surface where I park ageing used cars. The ant, the driveway, and myself are all so insignificant to the Earth as to disappear from calculability. It is impossible to “conquer” something that will never, ever notice you.

Secondly, just because you say something is good–say, worth $50,000–doesn’t mean that it is. I have explained to my wife many times that my dance moves are art, but she insists upon asking me if I am having a stroke. We’re expected to understand that if the currency’s designers say it’s worth $50,000 it must be so? Guys. Are you having a stroke?

Even if the thumb drive these guys left was worth what they say it is, it costs more than $50,000 to get to the summit of Everest. You might be able to get to the summit for less money if you already have all the gear, fitness, and knowledge, but even so you’ll be gone from your home for months, which means you’ll not be earning any money. Also, like all mountaineers, you’ll be at the mercy of the weather. You might never set a foot above 4000m.

This fundamental lack of parity between what crypto people say their stuff is worth and the real world is, like, the most cryptocurrency thing ever.

A friend emailed me this morning to ask about some sort of blockchain social media thingy which claims to pay authors in a cryptocurrency that has just been invented. This is the digital equivalent of reading your work out loud in a bus station in return for Skee-ball tickets.

I don’t mean to sound like a cryptocurrency snob, but if someone was offering Bitcoin I might be able to turn that into actual money. Then again, my first question would be, “But why can’t you just pay me in actual money?”

I think the ideas behind cryptocurrency, like security and de-centralization, are good ones, but it seems now that every day someone invents a new coin and a dumb way to promote it. It makes me sad that someone died alongside this frivolity.

You know what doesn’t need promoting, ever? Value.


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21 – Dan Jolley and the Legacy of Rust

The podcast is back! I get into it a little bit. But yes, we will be back with more Outliners episodes. I hope you’re enjoying them.

Our guest this time is Dan Jolley, an American novelist and comic book writer. I met him at Connooga and we chatted about the importance of outlines, so I knew he’d be a good guest for this podcast.

He’s currently wrapping up a novel trilogy the Gray Widow series. The first two books are already out and the third will be released by Seventh Star on May 25th.

Grab that here:

He’s got lots of other work coming out as well so have a look at his web site. Thanks for listening!

Find Dan and the rest his work here:


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Hypothetical Hiring Challenge: College, Porsche, or Marathon? All three?

I met Geoff Graham a couple of years back when I was still doing web sites for a living. Working with him was one of those rare professional experiences where things get done, but everyone is still in a good mood. Can you imagine? Enjoying your working life?

Geoff posted the following question on the twitters yesterday with a poll: “You must hire one of three candidates: The first is a college graduate. The second completed a marathon. The third owns a Porsche. These are all the facts that you can know before you make your decision. Which one do you hire?”

I feel uniquely qualified to respond to this question because I have done all three of those things at different times in my life. I’ll lay out my mindset for each and the best answer.


I went to college because everyone is supposed to want to go to college. I did not want to go to college. I wanted to be a guitar player in rock bands. Later, when I dropped out of college, after a lot of money wasted and teeth gnashed, I played guitar in rock bands for a few years. Now that was an education.

I think if my parents had gnashed teeth even more they could probably have forced me to finish school and get a degree. If so, I would have been a positively terrible hire. I know because I had more than a few jobs in those years and I was a positively terrible hire. No degree could have changed that about me.

You don’t know when you’re hiring a college grad whether they actually cared or whether they finished because their parents shouted them through it. If the latter is true, when you hire them, you’ll be taking over the job of shouter in chief.

A Porsche

I am a car guy. I have been a lifelong fan of Porsche. When I owned one years ago I hung around with other Porsche owners. There are cool Porsche owners and complete jack-legs. Merely owning a car is not a marker of either. All it means is someone had the money to spend and the will to spend it.

Porsche enjoys a reputation as a performance car brand which they richly deserve thanks to their history of commitment to motorsport. Porsche owners, on the other hand, are just people. The former is not transferable to the latter.

If you want to hire someone with a commitment to the art of performance driving, hire an SCCA or NASA or other performance series driver. They’ll most likely be in a Miata.

If the applicant owned a particularly cool example — say, a real RS America, a real 550, or a 959 — maybe that would say something about taste or refinement. But hire-ability? Meh.

My car was 26 years old when I bought it. It needed a lot of care and that care was not cheap. If you hire a Porsche owner, they might be a little more willing to stay with you because they need the money to keep their car on the road, but if that’s the case you might as well hire someone with a modest drug habit.

A marathon

“Marathon” is a word that gets misapplied. I have heard someone refer before to a “10K marathon.” I think there are also a lot of half marathon runners out there who occasionally leave the word “half” off when they describe their experience. There were nearly four times more finishers of half marathons than marathons in 2016.

As a marthon, ultramarathon, and Ironman finisher, I can tell you: forgetting the distance, there’s a big difference between a half marathon and marathon. It happens at about the 20 mile mark. If you have never run through that, you just don’t know what it’s like. A person committed enough to run through that might be a good hire.

Remember: Running a marathon isn’t just the act itself. It’s months of preparation in addition to one’s normal commitments. Most likely the marathoner has been running for years, doing 5k, 10K, 13.1 events.

I’d say of the three choices the marathoner is unquestionably the best, given that you don’t know anything else. Other factors might play in. Like, let’s say the college graduate put herself through school while raising two kids. That’s someone who knows how to manage her time. What if the Porsche owner built the car herself? What if the marathoner walked the whole thing?

Of course, it’s a thought experiment, so we don’t know. But Geoff asked for a few more suggestions. Here are a few more ideas:

  • A single mom who is cutting it
  • A Certified Sommelier+ (i.e. Level 2 or above)
  • A thru-hiker
  • Someone with a handful of summits (14ers, Mont Blanc, not Kilimanjaro)

Have any more ideas?


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