RL451 - The Slick Back Kid

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

The Problem: You can’t talk about wood paneling, referring to John deleting problematic tweets including when he was talking about wood paneling.

The show title refers to the dealership where John bought his new truck that had salesmen who still had their hair slicked back, a thing that he didn’t knew still existed.

Merlin sounds a little scratchy.

Raw notes
The segments below are raw notes that have not been edited for language, structure, references, or readability. Please do not quote these texts directly without applying your own editing first! These notes were not planned to be released in this form, but time constraints have caused a shift in priorities and have delayed editing draft-quality versions to a later point.

Merlin getting Chinese takeout that was not good and had too many 5-star reviews (RL451)

Merlin trusts people too much, especially strangers! Last night he wanted an easy dinner, the family had gone to the East Bay to watch on of his kid’s friends dance in a parade, which sounds weird, and Merlin was in the mood for Chinese food to get for everybody when they came back, he was going to be super-dad and take care of everything and not ask any questions. He wanted to try a new place. They usually get the number of things they would get +1 or sometimes 2 and he got a lot of stuff. He likes honey walnut prawns, but his family doesn’t, and being a self-involved dad is a lot about the appearance of sacrifice.

Merlin did not listen to his better angels and he should have known by looking at this place because there were a lot of warning signs. The name was not particularly distinguished, the signage and the logo is the same generic that looks like somebody made it in Microsoft Word. He has ordered from this kind of place before. He went into the stupid food ordering app and made a sort by best rated. His does not usually review things, but last night he was very tempted to leave a review for reasons he will be as subtle about as possible. The restaurant had 5 stars with over 2000 reviews, which seemed really high for a place he had never heard before that was practically in his neighborhood!

The other day Dan was telling John that he got COVID and it was an engineered virus by the way it felt (see RW245)? John probed him for a while, but then he go off of it. Merlin knew about the first part, but not about the second part.

The dude delivering it took a long circuitous way and Merlin - because he is a magical thinker - already knew that this was going to be a thing. They had 14 pounds of food, he carried it up, yelled: ”Food!” how he usually does, everybody had things they were excited about, Merlin had Wonton Soup and some Garlic Chicken, but about half the food was grey in color and didn’t pop. The Lo Mein and the Chow Fun was extremely grey. The Garlic Chicken was kind of good.

If you order something with vegetables in it, be carful! The hugest red flag is too much cornstarch, they they have tried to make something with a sauce that is not really a sauce, also if you can identify celery it is a red flag, also big slices of carrot that are gut in a cute fancy way. This was not 5-star food, and this morning he had a couple emergent appointments in advance of recording his program, and he is tempted to leaving a rating and review. he leftover situation is not a stitch! His lady friend is the youngest of 7 and that was the only way she could find any food, crawling around on the floor, looking for food, because everybody else eats first and the dog ate better than her. She loves her leftovers, but they agreed by mutual consent that not only will they never be ordering from this place again, they also didn’t save a stitch of it. Lesson learned!

John leaving a review for his doctor that later got a bunch of faves (RL451)

John left a rating and review earlier this year, one of the few he has ever done, maybe it was the first: He rated and reviewed his doctor, the one who took off and John felt so powerless in that situation, so abused, that he left a review of a doctor, and it was a bad review. He contextualized it, he said that he was very professional at the appointment, he was very engaged, John had been so excited, but: ”Let me tell you about my experience!”

Merlin lost a lot of grade points as a kid for his sloppy handwriting and he didn’t think that was fair, but today - although he still thinks it is wrong - he understands what they were trying to do: In life we evaluate people based on not only what they did, but how they did it, and you might have liked mostly what the doctor did, but in the end you may not like how she did it.

John got a lot of flack from his neighborhood busybody moms about the fact that she was working for a Catholic medical institution, but what are you going to do? On one hand you got the Catholics being bad about health access, on the other hand they hired a muslim lady doctor, and where is John supposed to go? He left this review and forgot about it, but a month later, something popped up in his email: ”Hey, your online review has gotten a lot of faves!” - ”What?” His name was on it because he had signed in with Google. This was in a moment, it was like yelling at United Airlines on Twitter, he go it off his chest.

He had left that review not that hour or even that week, but something had arrived in his inbox hat said: ”Hey, how was your experience at Catholic Medical Thing? Would you like to leave a review?”, and John was so insulted by this cheery corporate prompting, that he was like: ”Oh, you want me to leave a review? Yeah, I will fucking leave a review!” and now he realizes that the Catholic Medical Thing is not the one trying to get a bad review, but the general architecture, the understanding of what the Internet is and what we are supposed to do, are happier… no engagement is bad engagement! You are going to log on with Google and then you are going to leave a review and it is going to get 600 faves and all of that benefits not just Google, but the whole concept of rate and review.

When John was a kid, a doctor was like a priest, a professional person, they weren’t a mechanic, somebody you rated and reviewed, what does that even mean relative to a doctor? But she is now a young doctor in a world and an institution that things of doctors as a thing you rate and review. One of the things that horrified him about this when he realized that this review had been sitting out there, collecting faves, was that she surely couldn’t help but see it because she surely gets mails in her inbox that say: ”A new review!”

John is now sitting here as somebody who is conscious of the fact that he got rated and reviewed, and there are people out there right now who have never met him who are reading his review and he is perpetuating the problem, he is rating and reviewing somebody else, and whatever her deal that day, whatever his problem… Merlin is still mad at Allmusic and their review of the first Long Winters record because they had never heard of The Long Winters and they pitched it to some young person who then said it sounds like R.E.M. They had just gotten done listening to the first New Pornographers record and they were missing the mass romantic, there was no hit on this.

The problem was that for the next 8 years, every time you googled The Long Winters, the first thing you saw was this Allmusic review of their first album. Merlin also knows John is still mad at Travis Morrison about his chili (?), but let’s talk about his solo record (called Travistan, see review here), which Merlin is still angry about to this day. Not only was that a zero, which was almost unheard of, but he likes Dismemberment Plan! It was just about shitting of people and be able to tell that you have written the worst kind of review, it is a fun exercise, like the review of the worst meal of all time that made the round a month or two ago, a ridiculous 27 course meal of vapors and foams. Getting interviewed by Isaac Chotiner or Ronan Farrow (both at The New Yorker). Merlin can’t believe people pick up the phone!

The 0.0 review of Travis Morrison’s record was the most famous thing that reviewer ever did, and for two weeks they were on top of the world because everybody was talking about their review. That person works in an Amazon fulfillment warehouse now and that is it, that was their moment, and they were basking in it. John did not want to bask in his review of his doctor and he immediately deleted it. At some human level she and John knew what had happened. She had gotten several messages from him that he had called the front desk, that he had talked to a different doctor, that he had talked to her nurse three times, she knew that there was a dissatisfied customer, which is not even the relationship you should have with your doctor, you are not a customer, that is such a reduction of the relationship to its meanest, basest level!

Half of people’s jobs now is customer service, dealing with students and parents over email, people who rate their professors. There are all these levers now for people to get to you and get at you, and Merlin had a career in that racket back when he was Merlin Mann because half of America suddenly felt like it had a second job of dealing with the caprice of emotional strangers. A college professor should never hear from a parent ever! It is not Kindergarten! A parent has sent away their child to college. The End. The parent is done, and if there is a problem the last person who should be intervening on their behalf is the parents. If there is a job for a university administrator it is to take those comments from angry parents and filter them so the professor never hears them.

John took his review down and he was humiliated that his bad review of this doctor had ever reached the doctor, let alone influenced anyone in the world, even though he did at some level want to say: ”This behavior is bad behavior for a young doctor, and maybe you are young and don’t understand yet that part of your doctor job is to deal with anxious patients who can’t get their meds and you can’t just blow them off or re-route them through a phone tree!”, but part of that problem was that if you called Catholic Medical and said that your doctor was not responding, then some other doctor would get on the phone and helped you, which would enable John to solve his problem on his own without leaving an online review because there were other professional people who recognized that this was a profession and not a job, for the love of God!

John being pushed into leaving a 5-star review when he bought his truck and editing it later (RL451)

The only other online review John ever left was when he recently bought his new truck. He was exhausted, he was at a used car dealer, getting the hard sell from a bunch of smarmy dudes who had gel in their hair, which he didn’t even know was still a thing, like Patrick Bateman from American Psycho, they were writing numbers on a piece of paper and sliding it across the desk, and John just wanted to get out of here, but his daughter’s mother had told him that he could no longer shop and he had to buy a truck that day, he had been shopping for years and today was the day. She was trying to be helpful.

John in his search had been to 15 car dealers where he kind of liked the people, where they were really straight forward, and unfortunately on this day he was at a bad car dealer called Northwest Motorsport who deal with jacked-up pickup trucks, they are selling pickups and big trucks, and that is what John wanted, but the guy John went to at one of their locations had a ”Let’s Go Brandon!” thing behind his desk! He was looking at trucks online and he ended up at Northwest Motorsport in Lynnwood and they were giving him this smarm.

He just wanted to buy the truck, the amount was fine, but they were gearing up to tack on a $5000 maintenance contract that they don’t present as optional, but they just asked if he wanted the Gold or the Platinum. It is not letting a little kid decide when they want to go to bed, but they can pick which jammies to wear. It is a scam, a racket! The ended up selling him a truck that wasn’t quite a lemon, but still had a lot of problems and it has been at the Ford dealership 5 times since he bought it, and of course there are supply chain problems and they take 14 days to fix the issues and they never offered him a loaner vehicle.

The day he bought it John was sitting in the lobby, waiting for the greasy guy in the back to come out with his gold star service program that John had no idea what that was, he just wanted to get out of there, and the slick-back kid who had slid him the piece of paper across the table: ”Hey Billy Beane, this is our offer for you to manage the Red Socks!” came over with an iPad and sad: ”Hey man, I would really appreciate if you gave me a 5-star review on DealerRater!”

He handed him the thing before John even had closed the deal, but he took the thing and wrote some comment like: ”I bought a truck from these guys and they seemed like they were doing a good job!” and he sent it out into the world although ever since the day he bought it he had felt like that was a terrible experience and they were awful, sleazy car dealers, and out there in the world is a review with his name on it, saying: ”Yeah, Brandon and Jeremy were great!” As John is saying this he is going to go on there (review from January 31st, 2022. Page number will change over time), saying that these guys are sleazes!

People putting too much value into a simple rating without any context

Merlin says that we have had some power taken away from us and we are bringing a bit of frontier justice to this to bring some power back to us through ratings and reviews or webcomments. What Merlin wants… is when he gives Everlong by Foo Fighters 5 stars or when he hearts a song on Spotify, that is for himself, and if it is being used by anybody else it does not really concern him. Especially back in the days of iTunes that is how he could identify songs he liked, include stuff like skip counts and all that cool stuff and make playlists, but he did not rate any of that as a performance for other people. All he wants is to mark this place to remember it was the gross one where he doesn’t want to get food anymore, he doesn’t want anyone else to see his rating, neither other customers nor the business itself, he wants to create a legacy of historical quality.

John would give Merlin a 5-star review, he likes to talk to him. But Merlin’s feeling about John are complex. For example 1998 Merlin’s dear friend and bandmate Mike Coleman gave him the Pet Sounds box set (probably The Pet Sounds Sessions by The Beachboys) which was wonderful and had all that a capella stuff, and one time he looked them up on Amazon and there were a lot of really bad reviews coming from super-fans who were mad because they thought it was a naked cash grab to keep releasing all of these. There are so many bands who have so many Greatest Hits albums!

Most people are just looking for: ”Should I buy this or not?”, and then there are comments where somebody is mad that this didn’t have audio commentary by Van Dyke Parks. Merlin has talked to Siracusa about this, facets are very interesting because they provide context and don’t just have it be a ”Yes!” or ”No!” Merlin loves Outlandos d’Amour (album by The Police), but when it first came out on CD it sounded like shit and if you asked him if you should buy this CD he would have said: ”No, don’t get that record!” It as an outstanding album with an unparalleled energy, capturing a moment, but it is not mastered very well and you are probably better off just enjoying the LP until a better version comes out, and that became what is now called ”Merlin’s Shitlist” You ask him what email app he uses? He uses the currently least shitty one, but all email apps suck. Next question!

John says that Yelp and Pinterest both suck ass because every time he clicks on a link somewhere and it takes him to one of those they pester him to sign up. John’s daughter’s mother goes on Yelp and if something has 4.5 stars she will decide to go to that one because the one with 4 stars must have shit all over the floors and the 4.5 star place must serve it on a golden tray. They do it on Netflix, too: If it only has 4 stars, what a fucking piece of shit this must be!

Merlin thinks the best reviews are the 3-star reviews, and he had a funny list on 5ives on this once, because those people have thought about it.

John was sitting in San Francisco at one point with a bunch of San Franciscans and everybody pulled up their Uber app and looked at their ratings. John didn’t know there was such a thing, it is somewhat hidden in the app, and of the whole group of 6 people who all used Uber all the time he had the highest rating and they wondered how he of all the people could do that, but John is first of all a talker, and he never leaves a review for the driver. He does this on eBay, too: No stars is the same as ”either 5 stars or it never happened!”, it affects their rating not at all, and in most cases that is fine with them. ”nothing” is ”fine”.

At the very end of the episode John is reading his review that he just wrote on DealerRater. Merlin thinks the review merits 3 stars, but then he changes his mind and gives John 11 stars because this was literally the greatest thing he ever heard. ”Will you follow me back?” - ”Merlin, I love your review, but we don’t monitor those reviews!” - ”I used to be a big fan of John Roderick, but - alas - I have to change this to a 2-star review because he doesn’t know my name!”

John cleaning his Twitter from bad words, but still keeping the account alive (RL451)

A lot of their listeners work in computers and are part of some small cog in building this architecture, but they don’t see themselves that way, they see themselves as doing something good, trying to make this better or more efficient, but at a key level the whole idea of what the Internet is and should be doing and whether or not it makes our lives better is wrong. Whenever he says this type of thing he will get plenty of letters from people saying that back in the day he didn’t used to be able to call his mom and now he can, so he is wrong because the Internet has done a lot, you didn’t used to be able to get toilet paper delivered to your house and now you can.

John is not saying that progress hasn’t happened, but there is something fundamentally wrong. Merlin says that being able to find your English teacher on Facebook, which is the one good thing with this platform, does not mitigate against all the incredible shit that comprises most of the day-to-day Internet.

It has been a year since John has been on social media. For 9 months he never went there at all, and then he was reading the news and there was a link to incredible footage of a helicopter crashing into a baby carriage and how can he miss seeing that? He clicked on it and - surprise - it was taking him to Twitter where he hadn’t been for 9 months and he had some messages that were all nice, except maybe one that told him to feed his kid.

He had made his Twitter private as soon as Beandad happened and he scoured it with exactly the same program that whatever millennial troll used to find ever instance that he used the word Jew and deleted them as every millennial friend he has ever had told him to do years ago. So many people he knew deleted everything from their Twitter except the last 10 posts, but John could not do that because Twitter was an archive with all his thoughts and feelings. This had been his life and he was going to look back at it 50 years from now!

He couldn’t help himself but open up his feed and there were 8000 people saying: ”Beandad should be in jail!” and he would shut it down, but in one of those he saw a tweet from Matt Haughey that said: ”I am really disappointed in John for shutting down his Twitter, he should be here to face the music!”, speaking as part of the Twitter culture, like shutting it down is the coward’s way and you need to be here to face the music, referencing somebody who had been in a similar situation who had stayed there to face the music.

John cleared it all of every bad thing he ever said, every word he could think of, every time he said: ”Merlin, stop being a bitch!”, or wood paneling? No, you can’t talk about wood paneling! But he left the account alive, it is still up there, and all you 4Chan trolls who got tired of outing cheerleaders who had sex with their boyfriends and had migrated into a world where you thought you were working for justice by finding every time somebody said something in 2011 that you don’t like can go and look for the words he might have missed.

After that first time he shut it down and didn’t look at it again until he was following another news article of a helicopter that crashed into a baby carriage and he ended up on Facebook and over on Gary’s Van, a place where he used to love to be where people are talking about his shows he followed something there, had an interesting little bit, and then he saw somebody say something he didn’t like and he shut it down, but around Christmas time of 2021 he noticed that he was creeping back. He was looking at Facebook and commented on a thing, he went on Twitter and sent somebody a tweet, then he read the timeline.

By the time he put the mouse on the thing and scrolled down one time he saw a thing he didn’t like. It was never about him, it was just some friend from the old days who was thirsty for faves and attention, posting something like: ”Can you believe this!” although they were better than that, they are a good person, and it was the first thing John saw after 30 seconds of being on there, somebody taking a stand about a thing they didn’t care about and in the indignant tone of a smart person who can’t believe something they saw, in the same way that 500.000 people around the world had been talking about John, a thing they didn’t know anything about. It took one second to find a friend he hadn’t talked to in a year, being on there, thirsting, and he knew that every person he know that is still on Twitter is doing that all day, it is all Twitter is now.

It went on Facebook and it took him two scrolls to find somebody who was mad about something that they weren’t really mad about, and he had to sit alone with his head in his hands and tell himself: ”Do not go on there! It is not a question of you being safe from criticism, or that you are not going on there because you are afraid of that somebody is going to say: ’Feed your kid!’, but it is because it is awful and it makes everyone awful!” and he lost respect for anybody he saw doing it.

The beginning of the end of social media for John 5 years ago (RL451)

4-5 years ago we all started telling each other that all social media was bad. It was no longer what it was, and we should not be on there. The first time John said something about politics, a Bernie Sanders supporter who was a young beardo and had been listening to the podcast for a long time, wrote John and was unaccountably furious at something he had said about public policy that seemed like an innocuous thing, and back then he used to reply to people: ”What the fuck are you talking about?” - ”You don’t understand! This is what is going to happen and Bernie is going to fix it!” - ”Who the fuck are you, 22 year old telling me that I don’t understand? What the fuck have you ever done?”

Then a third person chimed in and said: ”Hey John, that is a bad look for you to talk to somebody who cares about the world!” - ”Who the fuck are you? Not only who the fuck is he, but who the fuck are you to talk to me like that? This kid doesn’t know shit and you don’t know shit!” and all of a sudden John was wondering why he was doing this. The second person was a dumbass, but he was right about one thing: This was not where John wanted to be, but he kept doing it and kept coming back and he went through 6 months where he was screaming at people: ”What books have you ever read, asshole?” at some kid.

That was the beginning of the end for him and the problem is that he spent another 5 years on there, arguing and saying shitty things to people, embarrassing himself, full of rage, spending all night awake, thinking about what somebody was saying to him on Twitter. What is it going to take? It is just a drug and everyone is on it and although he hasn’t been on it for a year he is still on it, that crack pipe is still sitting on the table. What if he went on there and said something funny?

Paul F. Tompkins referencing Beandad in his year-end list (RL451)

John has no idea how much Beandad is still a thing and how much that is going to be an asterisk on his life for the rest of his life. If he were on Twitter he would have a better idea and he would be on there, filling the void with new material that maybe would redeem him? Then Paul F. Tompkins sent his own year-end list to John that someone else had posted on Facebook. He is a guy John has known and has done a ton of things with, although their relationship is complicated and John would not say they were friends, but they are certainly well-acquainted with one another for over a decade.

The year-end list was about bad things that were going to happen in 2022, and 5th or 6th thing down the list was ”Beandad redemption arc” He was already in front of it, like: ”Here is the joke: This is the year that Beandad is going to do something!” and he said Beandad, not John Roderick, a guy he knows or his friend or his compatriot. He was already shutting it down before it was on anybody’s lips. But it is not just negative there for John, he can see how bad it is for everybody and he was probably lucky enough to get hit with it like a ton of books.

Social media no longer moving the needle for selling anything (RL451)

There are tens of thousands of people listening to this podcast, and they are all on there, except for the ones that aren’t, and John hears from them, too! They all think that to one degree or another they are immune, not from getting publicly shamed, but to the caustic day-in-day-out grind of it. They think they get more out of it than they put in and they think they need it to promote their craft beer or to connect with people or they have to be on there for their job, but nobody has to be on there!

There are probably 20.000 people who are interested in the music of Dave Bazan and they know who they are and he tweeting about his new record does not sell a single record. Maybe reminds the people who know about him and like his music that he put out a record, but none of social media moves the needle anymore. People will join your Facebook group, but that doesn’t mean that they will buy anything or listen to your thing or engage with you. They are busy putting their own shit out there!

The listeners of this program have been with them for years, and John could be tweeting out the new episode every week and maybe it would remind 10 people that they hadn’t been listening for a while, but it is not moving the needle, even if it was 100 people. That is probably true of everybody, it is no longer an engine of commerce or promotion because there is too much! You can’t follow everybody’s link to their Insta, meaning you can’t follow anybody’s link to their Insta, especially now where they are putting an ad every 4th post. John hadn’t seen that before and he was stunned when he logged on recently.

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