A Simpson’s Fraudster


When a nondescript, mousy guest named Tim Heidingsfelder, checked into our hotel, he did not fall prey to the need to draw attention to himself. He knew that cardinal rule of fraud. He had an sizable advantage on most fraudsters though. His characteristics didn’t draw attention, and he wasn’t particularly charismatic. Tim Heidingsfelder had the type of characteristics that most fraudsters could only dream of having, in that he could get lost in just about any sea of faces. No one noticed Tim Heidingsfelder when he checked into our hotel, but the attractive, young women at the front desk didn’t notice him either.

Tim Heidingsfelder probably regarded his unremarkable characteristics as a curse for much of his life. He was never ugly, even during puberty. He never had acne, freckles, or any blemishes on his face, but his bone structure just wasn’t very attractive. He had no chin, no discernible cheekbones, and his eyes were relatively common. As he grew into a man, he found his dating opportunities somewhat limited. They weren’t non-existent, but the rejections he received in high school helped shape the man Tim Heidingsfelder would become. 

When Tim Heidingsfelder decided to commit his first act of fraud, however, he found his unremarkable characteristics ideal. As a fraudster who planned to live the high life and buy the most expensive items he could with other people’s money, he didn’t want people to notice him. He didn’t want people to remember or recall his features. 

Those of us who worked in a hotel never noticed that how it provides the perfect climate for anyone seeking anonymity. Most hotel employees offer every guest a hearty, “Hello!” when they check into their hotel. The better ones might even strike up a casual, fun conversation with the guest, “Hey, you’re from Michigan? Go Blue!” The best hotel employees do whatever they have to do to make that guest feel welcome and special. Yet, if those Michiganders ran into that friendly employee, hours later, even the best hotel employees probably wouldn’t remember them. The average hotel employee sees so many faces in one day that most guests get lost in a sea of faces. Unless guests make themselves known, and this requires some effort on their part, most hotel employees wouldn’t be able to pick them out of a police lineup.

Tim Heidingsfelder wasn’t an outgoing type, but from what I heard, he wasn’t a quiet, loner either. (I only had one interaction with him, as I’ll detail below.) No one noticed Tim Heidingsfelder in the course of that day, and his daily routine allowed him to remain as anonymous as every other guest in our hotel. Throughout his elongated stay, however, Tim Heidingsfelder couldn’t help noticing how attractive the young women working behind the front desk were every time he passed.

It’s all about the money, is the first cardinal rule of fraudsters, and those who attempt to try to catch them. A fraudster needs to keep their crimes small and unremarkable, so they don’t hit the queues of investigatory agents. As most fraud investigators will tell us this might seem relatively easy, but it’s much harder to fight off greed. The second cardinal rule for fraudsters, based in part on the first one, is don’t bring unwanted attention to oneself. For Tim Heidingsfelder, and his unremarkable features, this was the relatively easy rule to manage. The man could slide in and out of just about any room unnoticed. Yet, when a late 40’s/early 50’s man stands face to face with an extremely attractive young woman, and that young woman looks through him, but doesn’t see him, it can cause such a man to do things he wouldn’t otherwise do.

The traveling businessman is the bread and butter of most hotels. Depending on the needs of their business, some businessmen can stay at a hotel 100 days a year. “First of all, you can forget the idea of having a family,” a traveling businessman informed me one day as we discussed the plusses and minuses of his profession. “Why?” he asked, repeating my question. “What kind of child would I raise being on the road an average of 100 days a year. What kind of marriage would I have? The life of a traveling businessman has its perks of course, but those of us who have done it for any length of time know it’s a lonely, sometimes grueling lifestyle.” I witnessed the effects this lifestyle could have on a person secondhand, and I saw them gather at the front desk to have conversations with front desk employees just to have a few normal, non-business conversations in a day. I also noticed most of them centered their focus on the attractive women behind the front desk. It dawned on me, after the traveling businessman told me about the pratfalls of the profession that making an attractive young woman laugh could provide them a respite from their empty, relatively meaningless existence.

Tim Heidingsfelder was not a traveling businessman, but he was apparently as lonely as they were, and this otherwise unmemorable man needed to try to make one of these young women behind the front desk laugh. Based solely on his appearance, we later guessed that Tim Heidingsfelder probably had few opportunities in life to do so.

When he stopped by the front desk for whatever reason he dreamed up, Tim didn’t just stop to say hello, he didn’t just pick up a fax, or engage in the various business-related conversations that occur between hotel employees and guests. Tim Heidingsfelder stopped to chat. He stopped to shoot the stuff with some of these attractive, young women. He stopped to get to know them, so they could know him.

The best looking young employee at the front desk also happened to be the friendliest. Cheri Lee was so attractive and so skilled at engaging in short, friendly conversations with guests that she quickly became a favorite among the hotel’s businessmen and long-term guests. It took some of us naively entering into these conversations, to do our job and add to the guest’s enjoyment, only to be whisked aside by them, to realize they didn’t stop to chat. They stopped to chat with Cheri Lee. After a few of these chats, Tim Heidingsfelder asked the other front desk employees where Cheri was one day. When they told him that she had the day off, he was visibly disappointed.

As with most of the lonely, traveling businessmen who stayed at our hotel, Tim Heidingsfelder found Cheri delightful, and it probably excited him when he made her laugh. He probably didn’t fully acknowledge that the hotel paid her and everyone else on staff, to laugh at guests’ jokes. Some of the guests we talked to on a daily basis were genuinely funny. Some of the times, we laughed politely to fill the void after their punchlines, and some of the times, we laughed because it was good customer service to let guests think they were funny. Cheri had a gift for making all of her laughs sound the same. Tim Heidingsfelder enjoyed this so much that he pursued their professional relationship to its fullest extent. He probably didn’t have designs on her romantically, but after a couple of conversations with Cheri, he did everything he could to leave an impression on her.

“I’m a writer for The Simpsons,” Tim told her. “The Simpsons creators sent me to your city to scout it as a probable location for a future episode.” Was this lie something he dreamed up before he made the hotel reservation? Did he scheme it out beforehand with an algorithm of answers should anyone question him, or did he develop it for the sole purpose of impressing Cheri? How many lies did he think up before he landed on this one? Did he nix some, because they weren’t impressive enough? Did he nix others, because they were too grandiose and subject to fact-checking. We don’t know, but we think he locked in on The Simpsons’, Goldilocks lie, because it didn’t violate any of the imposed or self-imposed cardinal rules. Yet, this seemingly harmless lie would eventually prove to be a depth charge that once detonated would expose all of his plans. 

Tim Heidingsfelder did accomplish his initial and shortsighted goal of impressing Cheri however. When I arrived at work the next day, Cheri was all a twitter about it. “Did you know we have a celebrity in the hotel today?” she said artfully spooling out the scoop she had. “I know you’re a fan of The Simpsons, and I know you’re a writer,” she told me. “Well, we just happen to have a guest who is a both a writer and a writer for that show.”

“Seriously?” I asked.

“His name is Tim Heidingsfelder,” Cheri said. She told me that he was at the hotel on an elongated stay to scout our city as a probable location for a future episode.

“You’re kidding me?” I said. “That is so cool.” I thought about how cool it might be to meet him. I thought about how cool it would be to see our city depicted in the cartoon, and I thought about how cool it would be to talk to a paid writer to learn from his path to success.

When I finally met Tim Heidingsfelder days later, he didn’t look like a writer, but what does a writer look like? Do they all look like James Joyce, professorial and bespectacled with patches on their elbows? Tim Heidingsfelder didn’t look that way, but either did Ernest Hemingway. I was not the least bit suspicious in other words. I talked with Tim Heidingsfelder with a co-worker standing over my shoulder listening. He unsuccessfully hid his laughter while two writer nerds talked craft.

“This is just so cool meeting you,” I said, “and I love what you plan on doing for our fair city.” The man was cordial and apparently as impressed with me as I was with him. Throughout our introductory conversation, I told him that I was a writer and a huge fan of The Simpsons. “As a writer, I always pay attention to the credits that list the writers of the show,” I said proudly, “and I don’t remember ever seeing your name.

“Well,” Tim said. “You probably pay attention to the opening credits. Right? Yeah, I’m what you call an uncredited writer. I have yet to have one of my episodes aired,” he said with some chagrin.

“Shows, like The Simpsons,” he furthered, “have a number of staff writers, and most of us have never had one of our episodes picked up.” That was a great answer, because I read and watched a number of “behind the scenes” and “the making of …” stories about my favorite TV shows. I knew about writers’ rooms and head writers, and it wasn’t much of a leap for me to believe that most writers on staff don’t receive accreditation. I figured that if I really wanted to find his name, I could look at the long list of names that appear at the end of the show. I never did. I was never that interested or suspicious.

While Tim and I talked about the craft of writing, I could tell he wasn’t as into our conversation as I was. I figured that was the natural order of things. I figured he was one of the lucky few that someone paid to write, and I wasn’t. I also figured that by the time I met him, he had been a paid writer for so long that it was no longer special to him. Tim Heidingsfelder gave me no reason, at this point in our conversation, to suspect that he was anything less, or anything more than a writer for The Simpsons.

At one point in our conversation, I feared that I was playing the role of the fan, an annoying, uninformed and pathetic fan. I thought my end of the conversation was mundane, in other words, and I searched for a way to impress this man. I wanted a knockout blow. I wanted some little nugget of information that would prove I wasn’t just a fan to him. I don’t know what I hoped to see this man do, raise an eyebrow, smile an appreciative smile, or what, but I didn’t think my question would gain me anything. I just wanted to make an impression. 

I searched for that knockout blow while asking him other insignificant questions, such as what he thought was the best joke he submitted, and he said, “Oh, there have been so many. It’s hard to pick one.” I asked him what it was like to be in a writing room, and I thought of a couple other nerdy, fanboy questions, but I couldn’t come up with that one big question that would blow him away. After a few more exchanges, hit me. 

What I didn’t know at the time was that I was holding onto a question that would accidentally reveal Tim Heidingsfelder’s harmless lie for what it was and eventually his legacy of fraud. The moment after it dawned on me, I couldn’t wait to ask it, as Tim continued to answer my previous question in a congenial manner. The moment he finished, I launched into what I considered a knockout question that I thought might lead to one of those curious/impressed smiles that allowed him to launch into a discussion of his memories of the years he spent writing next to Conan O’Brien.

“Do you know Conan O’Brien?” I asked him. “Do you know him personally, or have you worked with him in any capacity?”

I don’t remember what he said, or if he decided to leave it blank, but I remember he began backing away to the elevator. That should’ve raised a red flag, but it didn’t. I didn’t think there was anything suspicious about that at the time. He was a guest at our hotel, and he had to take the elevator to get to his room. I thought he was signaling that his interest in our conversation was beginning to wane, or he had to get back to his room for a phone call or what have you. This happened on a daily basis at our hotel. With the benefit of hindsight, I now remember how uncomfortable that question made him. I remember his face turned three sheets of red in the aftermath of that question, but it meant little to nothing to me at the time.

My co-worker, who had been listening to this conversation throughout, noted the uncomfortable silence between Tim and I following that question and he capitalized on the moment to embarrass me.

“Conan O’Brien? He’s a talk show host, on another network,” my co-worker said. “What do you think all Hollywood people know each other?” He began laughing at me. He thoroughly enjoyed the moment. Tim Heidingsfelder joined in on that laughter, in a good-natured way.

“No,” I said looking Tim in the eye, seeking to have him join me in informing my irritant friend of Conan’s early days. “Not many people know this, but Conan used to be a writer for The Simpsons.” This might be common knowledge now, but in the nascent days of Conan’s talk show, it was knowledge only fans of both parties had. 

Unbeknownst to either of us, this innocent question spelled out a cautionary tale for all fraudsters and potential fraudsters. A fraudster might think they’ve worked hard to prepare themselves for every scenario. They might think they’ve built a mental algorithm to prepare for any scenarios that might come their way. They might even sit down and write out an algorithm out to prepare for anything and everything that might expose them. As even the most gifted fraudsters will probably tell anyone who’s interested, a fraudster cannot prepare for every situation. “You just have to learn to roll with the punches, but if there’s one thing you take from our discussion today let it be this, don’t create your own situations to unwind. Don’t create your own spider webs.”  

Tim Heidingsfelder could’ve said something as simple as, “No, Conan O’Brien and I never worked together,” or “No, we never crossed paths.” He could’ve said something simple as, “I don’t know what years he worked on the show, but I never had the opportunity to work with him.” It wouldn’t have taken much to throw me off a trail I wasn’t on in other words. I thought I was in the vulnerable position, trying to impress a man I never met before. If he characterized my question as one coming from a nerdy, fan boy, I would’ve slinked off with my tail between my legs, but he didn’t know enough about The Simpsons, or his lie, to throw me off a trail I wasn’t on. Knowing everything I know now, this would’ve been a perfect place for The Simpson’s character Nelson Muntz to say, “Haw Haw!” as Tim Heidingsfelder all but sprinted to the elevators.

Most fraudsters are smooth talkers, and we think that a late 40’s/early 50’s fraudster should know when to push and when to pull out of a conversation. We think that every fraudster, but particularly a seasoned fraudster should know how important it is to say something, some of the times. Some of the times, we have to fill the blank before others do. Some of the times, it’s just as important to leave the blank alone, to allow the other party, or parties, to fill in the blank for them, as my co-worker did when he attempted to portray me as a Simpson’s nerd who knew more about the show than the actual writer.

Fraudsters learn how to fool people at a very young age. Deceiving the people who know and loved them most is excellent training. Salesmen learn such things in training classes. Trainers tell trainees to try to sell the product to their intimate friends and family first. “Not only are they great potential customers,” trainers say, “but the interaction allows you to work on your sales pitch.” Fraudsters follow the same methodology, as they try to see if they can fool their good friends, their aunt Gladys, or their own mother first. Doing this, is a way to practice the art of deception to see if they have any talent for it.

As a former liar, I often wonder what separates those who lied, stole and deceived in their preteen years and those who continue to do so well into their adult years. Lying, stealing and deceiving those who loved me most almost felt like a rite of passage in my early teen years, but I hated it when they caught me in an act of deception. The embarrassment and shame that followed proved almost physically painful to me. No one trusted me. They called me a liar and a thief, and the only way I found to avoid that was to stop lying and stealing. It sounds so simple, and it is, but some people enjoy deceiving people so much that they keep doing it. Perhaps I’m approaching this from an autobiographical stance, but I believe that the mentality of caring what happens when friends and family catch us in a lie provides something of a dividing line between those who will pursue a life of deception to whatever ends and those who will use whatever abilities they unearth along the way for honest gains.

Everyone who lies, steals, and attempts to deceive people in all the ways they dream up are not going to be good at it in the beginning. They’re going to get caught, and what they do in those moments will define them. Fraudsters don’t want anyone to catch them, of course, and they don’t want to go through the embarrassment and shame of their acts, but if they don’t find a way to deal with the shame, it will impede their progress. It seems to me that a fraudster needs to develop some sort of mechanism that permits them to avoid caring about what their loved ones think of them, and once they clear that hurdle, they will feel free to lie and steal from total strangers. The proficient fraudster will combine that lack of concern with some effort put into covering their trail. No matter how prepared the fraudster is, no matter how smooth they are at fooling their mother, their aunts, and all the men in their life, a situation for which they are unprepared will find them.

Those who discover they have some talent for deception, but find that can’t go on knowing what others might think of them, use whatever talent they have in ways that are more productive. They might use that knowledge or talent to catch other fraudsters and liars for law enforcement, or they might go to work for a fraud department in a fortune 500 company. They might even become magicians, actors, or writers. These three crafts call for a mutually agreed upon level of lying and deception. Those who cannot find a way to channel their gifts productively continue to deceive people, and they find that like a great wine, or a great bottle of scotch, they get better with age.

The man who called himself Tim Heidingsfelder engaged in larger acts of fraud, and he was probably well prepared to defend himself on that front, but he failed to do his homework on his otherwise harmless lie to impress Cheri. Who would? We could say that what a fraudster does in that moment for which they are unprepared defines them, but who would think that a simple lie about writing for The Simpsons to impress a girl might start unraveling a complicated yarn of deception they’ve worked years to build?  

The only thing I knew in the aftermath of my interaction with Tim Heidingsfelder was that the man was not sufficiently impressed with my knowledge of The Simpsons that day in the foyer of the hotel. I didn’t think about it too much, until I began seeing him in the foyer of the hotel. I had numerous opportunities to correct the record, but this man constantly ducked me. I didn’t think he heard me a couple times, and I didn’t think he saw me a couple others. Over time, a troubling pattern began to emerge, until I found his evasion somewhat noteworthy.

“Why does he always do that?” I asked Brian, the front desk manager at the hotel. Just prior to that question, Brian was speaking with Tim Heidingsfelder. The moment Tim spotted me coming to the front desk he moved the elevators.

“Because you’re a nerdy fanboy, and no one wants to talk to nerdy fanboys,” Brian said. That was a great answer, as Brian unknowingly put the onus back on me.

“Ok, but I thought he and I had a great conversation a while back,” I said. “I was beyond polite to the man, and I think he would enjoy talking about how jealous I am of him, but every time I walk into the room, he runs away.”

“Well I know you pretty well,” Brian asked, “and if I saw you coming, I’d walk away too.”

“I’m serious here,” I said.

“You think it’s suspicious?”

“It’s odd,” I said. “That’s all I’m saying. It’s odd.”

“Does everyone have to love you?” Brian said. “Maybe he just doesn’t enjoy talking to you.”

“Fair enough,” I said, “but you know me, I’m not the type who has to be involved in every conversation. As you said, I’m kind of a quiet guy, and when I walked up to this desk tonight, I had no plans of saying anything. I was just going to stand here and let you two talk. If I was rude, or an overbearing person, perhaps I could see it, but this guy jets like I have a communicable disease any time I enter the room?”

Brian did not begin investigating Tim Heidingsfelder that night, but Brian did not view the man with the least bit of suspicion before our conversation, and soon thereafter, he began spotting some unsual dots that he thought might lead to come connections. I might have initiated some suspicion, in other words, but Brian did all of the investigative work. He dotted the I’s and crossed the T’s to find Tim Heidingsfelder’s alleged criminal activity. Brian examined the credit card history on Tim Heidingsfelder’s account history, and he found that Tim Heidingsfelder switched credit cards a number of times. That, in and of itself, was no reason to call in the cavalry. Guests, particularly business travelers, regularly put a number of business cards on their account. At times, and for a variety of reasons, those cards max out. This is particularly the case with extended stays such as Tim Heidingsfelder’s. The company furnishes their business travelers with a number of cards, and some of the times businessmen puts their personal cards on the account and the company reimburses him. Long story short, a guest switching cards in the middle of a stay is no reason to investigate on their account. When Brian analyzed Tim Heidingsfelder’s account, however, he found that a number of the previous credit cards placed on his account were declared stolen.

When I saw Tim Heidingsfelder sitting in Brian’s office, I knew he wasn’t there to discuss his stay at the hotel. His face was three sheets of red again. Brian caught him. Seeing those three sheets of red, I recalled the look Tim gave me after my Conan O’Brien question.

The local police soon followed and frog marched Tim off in handcuffs, and I sensed the script flip from a Simpson’s episode to one of Scooby Doo as I watched the police walk him off in handcuffs. I waited for a “And I would’ve gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for you, the meddling fanboy” exit, but it never arrived.   

The police later informed us that Tim Heidingsfelder was a pseudonym he used, and they managed to find his real name. They informed us that two other states wanted him on credit card fraud.

How many of us have had the best laid plans, only to fall prey to some human need for interaction, to have someone, somewhere impressed by us? Tim Heidingsfelder probably could’ve engaged in fraudulent activity for years, perhaps decades, if he continued to cross his T’s and dot his I’s, but he fell prey to the desire, some might say need, to have someone notice him for an average of two minutes a day. The line on Tim Heidingsfelder is that he stole tens of thousands of dollars from unsuspecting victims, but that could’ve been nothing more than a good start for the man. He could’ve increased that total exponentially. He could’ve destroyed people, and left true carnage in his wake, if he could’ve just managed to control his need for human contact a little better.   

The Complex Art of Lying


Are you an unusually good liar? Can you deceive people without much effort? As with anything else, we all know that effectively misleading people requires practice and trial and error, but if you believe a study by Theodor Schaarchmidt, summarized in Scientific American, not only does lying require a peak of cognitive function, it also involves cognitive peaks and valleys similar to those in our physical abilities.

“Lying is among the most sophisticated accomplishments of the human mind, and the complexities involved often require peak capacity of the mind.

“Young adults between 18 and 29 do it best,” Schaarchmidt found, “and after about the age of 45, we begin to lose this ability.”

Our physical peak is relative, of course, but even top-tier athletes who work out for hours a day, every day, will admit that their physical peak occurred around 25th birthday. Those who extend their professional careers, learn how to compensate for the fact that their ability isn’t what it once was, but most of us recognize a relative physical decline as we age. Those of us who aren’t as reliant on our physical ability as a professional athlete, might not recognize our decline, or how we’ve compensated for it. If one of our eyes loses some functionality, for example, we might learn how to compensate so well for it that we might not notice it for decades? Does the same apply to our mind when it comes to the ability to lie? 

We’ve all witnessed seven-year-olds try to lie, and their tells are often so obvious when they do that they’re hilarious. They need to learn how to do it better, and that knowledge only comes with experience.

When elderly people display the fact that they’ve lost some of the complex functions required to lie, we might make the mistake of believing they’ve voluntarily disregarded the filter we all maintain for polite conversations. “They’ve been on this earth 85 years, and they don’t care what anyone thinks anymore,” we say. “They’re done with trying to spare our feelings with the little white lies we all tell ourselves.” We think it’s funny and intriguing to see this live, but studies cited by Schaarchmidt suggest that there might be a U-shaped curve to truth telling, or an (‘n’) shaped curve to lying, and it’s all based on the complex functions of the brain that operate in some of the same peaks and valleys of our physical abilities.

The Scientific American piece cites an illustrative story involving a man Schaarchmidt names Mr. Pinocchio. Mr. Pinocchio was a 51-year-old who “was a high-ranking official in the European Economic Community (since replaced by the European Union), and his negotiating partners could tell immediately when he was bending the truth [lying]. His condition, a symptom of a rare form of epilepsy, was not only dangerous it was bad for his career.” The article states that doctors found that a walnut-sized tumor that caused seizures whenever he told a lie. “Once the tumor was removed, the fits stopped, and he was able to resume his duties [his lying]. The doctors, who described the case in 1993, dubbed the condition the “Pinocchio syndrome”.”

Some, like Mr. Pinocchio, lie to serve an agenda, some tell white lies to be nice, and some BS to make others think they’re more successful, more adventurous, and happier. If we catch them in the lie, we’re likely to hear something along the lines of, “Everybody does it,” or “if you say you don’t do it, you’re lying.” Those lines are effective, because there is some truth to them. We all tell harmless white lies occasionally. We fabricate, and involve some creativity in our truth telling. Yet, we all know the difference between stretching the truth and lying, and we fear that greater acceptance of small, white lies can affect our relationships with these people, our society, or our culture. The latter might seem exaggerated hyperbole, but we fear that the society and culture cannot operate properly without some demand for some level of consistent honesty from our fellow man. We can’t help but think that such lines also give liars license to continue to lie without guilt.

***

“A lie is not a lie if you believe it,” the writers from Seinfeld wrote for George Costanza. The implication in this line is that the art of deception requires some effort on the part of the liar to convince himself of a falsehood if he wants to convince another party effectively. Schaarchmidt’s piece suggests that if the liar is between 18 and 29, they might not have to put forth as much effort, as the lie will flow more fluently, if there is no damage to the area of the brain required for the convincing lie.

Who’s lying, and why are they lying? How about we take the Costanza lie one step further and suggest that the liar believes what he’s saying with every fiber of their being. Is it still a lie? The separation of the two is, of course, that the liar doesn’t have to convince himself of the lie. He believes it. Even if it was technically a lie and we can prove its lack of merit beyond a reasonable doubt, it would be difficult to prosecute or persecute them in just about every court in the land, including the court of public opinion.

Perhaps, the liar is guilty of the “blind spot” lie. Blind spot lies are often momentary blotches on the liar’s otherwise stellar record of honesty. Blind spot lies are born in the bath water of the loathing they have for their adversaries. They loathe them so much that their competitive spirit gets the best of them. They cannot see the hole until they fall into it, and some of them cannot see even see it then, but their followers wonder if he hates them so much that he can no longer see the truth with regard to their opponent. If he can see it for what it is, the blind spot lie often permits its purveyor to lie without compunction if it serves his goal to do so.  

Regardless, he can no longer view simple disagreements with his opponents on how to resolve pressing matters in an objective manner. He can no longer see an honest disagreement as a simple case of differing values. We don’t know if he has a personal grudge or a professional one, but it’s obvious to everyone but him that his is an emotional pursuit as opposed to a rational one. He is convinced that nefarious influences affect his opponent’s agenda. He views his opponents’ motives as impure. He views his opponents as uninformed, incompetent, selfish, and divisive. He does not view any of his opponents’ mistakes as genuine, of if he does, he capitalizes on them and characterizes them as intentional. He does not think that his opponents are prone to human failure, or if they are, he seeks to characterize them as some sort of institutional failing on their part. In his quest to seek motive, he incidentally accuses them of matters for which he has the most guilt. If he accuses his opponent of thievery, in other words, chances are he knows the thief’s mentality™ better than most. Whatever form of deception lines his accusation, pay careful attention to the particulars of his charge for it might say more about him than it does his opponent. We call this psychological projection.

This blind spot is most disheartening to the liar’s believers, for they believe in him and feel disillusioned by his actions. When they see him dismiss his opponents on a personal level with unfounded charges and names, as opposed to defeating their argument on a granular level, his followers are disappointed. We might enjoy the name-calling, and we might even believe it, but on some other level, we thought “our guy” was above such street games. We thought he was an intellectual, and that no other intellectual would dare seek battle with him. When we witnessed others challenge him, it shocked us to see him try use his power to shut his opponents down to shut them up. He then called upon others to help him shut down dissenting voices, and it shocked those of us who thought he was a fellow dissenting voice. We didn’t think he would stoop to the other guys’ tactics of corruption, lies, and the ‘whatever it takes’ mentality to bring his foes down, but we found some of his actions troublesome. Some blind spot liars knowingly engage in wanton deception, but others have such an emotional blind spot of hatred that they can’t see it for what it is. Most of the times, it is difficult to see the difference, as we can’t know what’s in a man’s heart.

***

The late 1800’s housed an historic rivalry between two West Virginia families. The Hatfields vs McCoy rivalry went beyond a simple disagreement between families. It involved pure hatred that led to murder in some cases. Many consider it one of the greatest family rivalries in history, pitting two families who genuinely hated each other with every fiber of their being. It was not blind hatred, as both families could provide a laundry list of incidents that stoked their ire. As with all animosity and grudges, if the families wanted to find a less violent solution to their dispute they could have at some point on the timeline.  

The Hatfields believed the McCoys were so awful that they accused them of dastardly deeds and vice versa. Some of the times, the charges they made were lies, and some of the times, they committed an equally egregious offense sometime in the past. Yet, the Hatfields viewed the McCoys as evil personified, and they thought everything the McCoys did should offend the sensibilities of every good person who learns of any incidents involving a McCoy, and vice versa. Even if we caught them in a lie, I’m sure they considered it justified on many different levels.

Some famous writers suggest that it’s preposterous to suggest that the most fair-minded among us are objective, as we don’t have the capacity for it. Our opinions, regarding the other side, are so emotional that they colorize how we view their actions. Our emotions, on the matter, blind us to facts, thus the term blind spot. The term blind spot and blind hatred are different, of course, but they intertwine when the latter provokes the former to view the other side as villains who are incapable of truth. We write pieces like this with a certain person in mind, but we run the risk of having a reader read this piece with one of “our guys” in mind.   

We choose sides. In the never ending quest to determine who is being deceptive and virtuous, we believe our guys. Regardless how many white lies, and egregious deceptions our guys engage in we have our reasons for believing them, whether they’re the Hatfields, the McCoys, the New England Patriots, or the Democrats, we choose to believe our guys over the other guys. Our side is right, and the other side contains villainous liars and corrupt cheats who are willing to do whatever it takes to succeed. The other guys don’t care about us. We can guess that disinterested parties chose sides during the Hatfields vs. McCoys and proceeded to follow the newspaper stories from that angle. They probably developed loyalties that led to their own blind spots on the matter. Even though most of them never met a Hatfield or a McCoy, or ever saw one speak, we can guess that their interest in the story spawned some loyalties on the matter that let them to believe “their guys” were incapable of having blind spots, lying, or any form of corruption bent on destroying the other side. We still have matters that divide us in seemingly trivial ways, as observers around the nation were intrigued, and divided, by this episode in history. We might never know the truth of the matter and in some ways, we don’t care. These episodes rarely affect us directly, so no one really suffers, until it dawns on us that everyone does when it becomes apparent that by picking sides we forego the quest for truth.

Scat Mask Replica IX


My favorite artists offend me on a personal, philosophical, and artistic level. They’re emotional robots who have as much sympathy for others as they do for themselves. My favorite artists might use some swear words and some provocative imaginary, but they’re not reliant on them. They’re also not offensive for the sole purpose of being offensive. They don’t care who they offend in their pursuit of artistic purity, and they don’t pick safe targets. Some might say that it’s not possible to be observant, creative, and artistic without sympathy, but my favorite artists ask how an artist can report on the world if they handicap themselves by being sympathetic to the people they report on. My favorite artists refute my worldview in a rational and constructive manner, and I find their challenges to my belief system engaging. They might not change my mind on one single issue, but I don’t think they care. I don’t think that’s why they’re here.

Acting is as difficult and specialized as any other art form, but for all the overblown accolades and financial rewards we provide actors, they’re little more than vessels who carry artistic messages to the people. It takes special qualities to convince an audience that they’re another person. It takes other qualities to capture emotions and convince an audience that those reactions are genuine. Taken down to their core, these elements involve lying, so an individual who wants to become an actor should be an unusually good liar. Those who spent an inordinate amount of their youth learning the subtle intricacies of convincing others of a lie, before they ever thought of becoming an actor, might have the qualities necessary to convince others of the lie that they’re another person. These qualities are difficult to quantify and qualify, but they do lead to some sort of ingrained qualities that is evident to all who seek them for their productions.  

For entertainment purposes, an audience agrees to enter into any fictional production with some suspension of their critical facilities, but at some point, the audience wants that latitude they offer rewarded. This is where those with ingrained qualities shine. Some are better at it than others are, of course, but at some point all inherent qualities are equal and it becomes difficult to distinguish one quality actor from another. Physical traits play a huge role, of course, as some casting agencies won’t let prospective applicants in the door without a decent headshot, but as with any profession those with a hunger to succeed, can overcome physical limitations, so what separates a quality actor from those who can never quite manage to capture the same on-screen magic?

If an actor has established a motif after acting in 40 different productions, how difficult is it to convince other people that they are a 41st character. Landing a key role in a beloved production can advance a career, but it can also kill it, if the audience’s association with a particular character is too strong. We call it being typecast. We’ve also witnessed some actors who are so charismatic they can play themselves every time out, but the others are chameleons and shape shifters who assume another’s characteristics so well that the audience forgets there’s an actor playing the role. How do any of these types wipe the slate clean, so they can help the audience wipe their slate clean? Is it easier for a quality actor to be an empty vessel? I would think that a strong sense of identity would be a difficult obstacle for any actor. If they have little-to-no character of their own, wouldn’t it be easier for them to assume the characteristics of another? When I watch a master craftsman accomplish what so few can do, I wonder if there’s an equation that suggests the less character an actor has in life the better they are at playing another.

On that note, we’ve all heard the stories of method actors who demand that everyone involved in the production call them by their character’s name. Is this a silly, childish game? No, according to some on the inside, and those who want inside, some actors demand this, so they can get “locked in” on their character. In order for them to play pretend properly, others have to join in on the façade. If someone breaks that spell by reminding them that they’re Joey as opposed to Esteban, they can’t continue. Does it kill the empty vessel thing? Is the spell is broken? I’m not an actor, and I have no idea about the process involved in playing another character, but I wonder how much of this is stoked by public relations outlets trying to hype a role one of their clients is in to build the mystique of the actor’s abilities. If it’s all true, and I don’t doubt that it is, in some cases, it seems so silly to me.

We’ve all met unusually good liars who couldn’t find a channel their ability in anyway. We’ve heard them lie about matters we considered so inconsequential that we wonder why they lied about it in the first place. After we hear enough lies from unusually good liars, and the quantity is not as important as the quality, it becomes apparent that they want us to think they have a master plan. They might not have a master plan, but some elements of their intangible qualities lead us to believe they do. Some of these qualities suggest that they pity the rest of us for our struggles, and they might even be laughing at us. They don’t look like they have a plan. They look as bored, unfocused, and as random as the rest of us, but what if they weren’t? What would we think of them if they were someone else? How would our opinions change if they had such an adventurous past that it informed their present? What if their past was so adventurous that they couldn’t wait to tell us their tales? What if none of them were true?

Screenwriters love coming-of-age scenes, and to express their views of coming of age in the compressed time a movie allots them, they use common tropes. One of their favorites tropes involves an actor playing a teacher asking a pre-teen actor a question about a classic book. The child actor’s answer is often far too complex for their age. (The screenwriter is attempting to rewrite and vicariously relive their pre-teen years by appearing more intelligent than they actually were in junior high.) The child actor’s lines often involve shocking, adult swear words that sophisticate their answer in a manner that the screenwriter intends to shock the audience’s sense of moral values. Using children in such scenes feels like a cheat, because moviemakers know adult audiences will feel silly if something a child says offends them. We are to forget that we’re watching a movie created by adults, and that the child actor is reading the lines adults write for them. In the movie, the principle suspends the kid for using offensive language in class. While in the principal’s office, the adult actors playing the child’s parents are dutiful and respectful before the principal. While walking away from the principal’s office, the adult actors offer the child actor sympathetic condolences that suggest that not only is the matter closed as far as they are concerned, they are actually quite proud of the spunky kid for speaking his mind. The supporting character actors, playing the teacher and the principle, eventually develop an indirect way of showing support for this precocious child actor by rewarding him for an unprecedented level of sophistication. (The screenwriter is receiving the vicarious accolades that they felt they always deserved.) (End Scene.)

“I don’t care if you disagrees with some of the ideas expressed in that book,” I would tell my child, as we walked away from the principal’s office, “you sullied your reputation with the language you chose to express your opinion. It’s immoral and disrespectful to say such words in a classroom setting, but more than that, it leads others to believe that you are not capable of formulating a decent argument without using such words. If your argument begins and ends with swear words, no one will remember what you said in between. They will only remember that you “had the cajones” to say a swear word in class, and while that might pay some immediate dividends among your peers, they will not respect you long-term for it. If however, you drop an articulate refutation of the book that expresses a passionate view, you might blow those kids away. No one cares about a book at your age, and they won’t care what you think of it either, unless you say something so profound that they can’t help but notice. Trivial moments like these define you. They might also affect who you’re going to be.

“If you insist on offering your class such a provocative refutation, don’t forget to back that characterization up with details,” I would add. “It’s not enough to call your philosophical opponents a name. You still have to defeat their arguments. Most provocateurs forget to do that when they are trying to sound cool, and most of us forget to hold them accountable for this failure. Most of us will only remember the name you called them. It’s pointless. If you choose the other road, while standing on this philosophical fork in the road, and you strengthen your mind to a point that you can defeat other people’s ideas with concise factual data, and/or a persuasive opinion that is not dependent on emotional provocation, you will leave an impression on them that you are an intellect.”

The Joker is one of the greatest bad guys of all time, and I love stories that involve The Joker, but I never feared the character in an artistic sense. For most of my life, The Joker never really hurt anyone. It was all a game. He said things that made him sound psychopathic, and he had a deranged laugh, but the worst thing he did, for decades, was create precarious James Bond-like situations for Batman to undo, under time constraints, to save the good citizens of Gotham. I never feared The Joker, in an artistic sense, in the manner I did the Tommy DeVito character that Nicholas Pileggi and Martin Scorsese created for Joe Pesci in Goodfellas, based on the real-life actions of Tommy DeSimone. Their Tommy DeVito character made me so uncomfortable that I wanted it over. I didn’t care how it ended. I just wanted to return to my comfort zone. I don’t recall ever having such a visceral reaction to a character before, and to my mind, that’s art. If The Joker ever caused such a reaction to an audience, that ended when DC Comics’ editors put an end to any killing in the second year of The Joker’s publication history, and they did it because they didn’t want to influence young, impressionable minds to commit violent acts. Their goals were laudable, but they essentially defanged The Joker. The psychological games The Joker played were some of my favorites, but in the era of The Sopranos and Quentin Tarantino, The Joker seemed like nothing more than the other team in an exciting chess match, until Christopher Nolan and Todd Phillips changed that in the movies.

“I pay hard, cold cash for such an experience,” I informed a friend after she said she didn’t care for another movie, because it made her feel uncomfortable. I told her about my experience with Tommy Devito, and how uncomfortable he made me, and how much I loved it. She couldn’t understand that mindset. She considered such characters and their movies too realistic and too unnerving. I told her that I think that should be every moviemaker’s primary goal.

Most people don’t think this way about artistic enterprises. If they attend violent or horror movies, they want them toned down just a tad, so they can maintain a comfort zone, and they don’t want to pay their hard-earned money to experience anything that rattles their core. I’ve experienced moments in other movies when they tweak my comfort zone, and I always think back to my friend saying that she doesn’t want to be uncomfortable in a movie theater. If she had a particularly violent past, or even a violent incident that such movies unearthed in an uncomfortable manner, I could understand, but she didn’t. She was just a casual moviegoer who doesn’t enjoy it when movies, or art in general, take her to uncomfortable places. I know most people don’t think this way, as evidenced by most of the movies they make, but as a movie connoisseur, I seek those that offend me, horrify me, and takes me to uncomfortable places. The theme of my rant might be violent movies, but I often wonder if the world would be a better place if more people welcomed, with open arms, those who constructively challenge our ideas and ideals in a rational manner, as opposed to those who just provide us more blankets in our comfort zone.