(Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. Photo by Victoria Will/Invision/AP)
When news broke that Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman had died, it triggered an outpouring of heartfelt reactions online. It was news big enough to eclipse the Super Bowl and heartbreaking enough to elicit genuine sadness.
But not all reactions were sympathetic. That day, actor Jared Padalecki called Hoffman’s death “stupid” and “senseless,” and he’s not the only one who voiced this opinion.
According to the New York Times, police confirmed Hoffman died of a drug overdose, most likely due to heroin.
All over social media, peppered amid the deluge of mourning, were comments similar to Padlecki’s — people claiming Hoffman’s death was not tragic, that they had a hard time feeling sad because, after all, these were his bad choices. No one forced a needle into his arm.
And while that’s true, it also ignores so many important parts of his story and of addiction in general. Writing it off in such a way is unfairly callous.
Hoffman was reportedly sober for 23 years and only recently relapsed. Addiction is a disease an afflicted person will battle his entire life — one that requires treatment and compassion.
Steve Wildsmith is the weekend editor at the Daily Times in Maryville, and he’s also a recovering addict.
“It’s a fundamental disease that most people cannot comprehend,” Wildsmith said. “It doesn’t matter how long you’re clean, your disease is out there doing pushups, waiting for you to slip up.”
When you’re an addict, “you exist, but you don’t live,” he explained. “It’s a place of darkness, like you’re one of the extras in ‘The Walking Dead.’ ”
Hoffman’s death, while tragic, has had at least one positive effect: It’s sparked important conversations about addiction that many, especially those quick to judge, need to hear.
As celebrities and journalists open up about their own struggles with addiction (I found David Carr's and Jeff Deeney's accounts particularly insightful) and new drug legislation is discussed (Have you heard of naloxone, an opiate overdose reversal medicine that can help save people from overdoses?), these issues come into better focus.
“The takeaway is that it can happen to anybody,” Wildsmith said. “So we need to do what we can to help all these other Philip Seymour Hoffmans who don’t have his fame or money or recognition.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are more than 38,000 drug overdose deaths per year in the United States — more than 100 per day. And help isn’t always readily available, even locally.
“It’s a terrible thing here in Knoxville. There are more (people) than there are places to go,” said Johnny Lewis, executive director of the E.M. Jellinek Center, where the waiting list is approximately four to five months. “The majority just stay in jail until they can get in over here.”
And at Knoxville’s Helen Ross McNabb Center’s drug rehab facility, it’s even longer. According to PR coordinator Emily Scheuneman, if someone were to come in wanting immediate inpatient care, the waiting list is one year. For someone seeking outpatient care, it would still be 10 weeks.
Whether it’s 10 weeks, five months or one year, that can feel like more than a lifetime to an addict needing help.
The answer to this epidemic is neither to judge nor to punish — it’s to provide treatment and empathy.
As Meghan Ralston of the Drug Policy Alliance said, “We need doctors, not jail cells.”
November is National Epilepsy Awareness Month. I wrote my column this week about the staggering difference in funding between epilepsy and breast cancer. A similar number of people suffer from both each year (though more die from epilepsy), yet on average $215.25 is spent on research per breast cancer patient (both current and survivor) while $76.50 is spent per person with epilepsy.
One in 26 people - that’s one person per average K-12 classroom - will develop epilepsy in their lifetime. More than 2 million people in the US and 65 million people worldwide have epilepsy and that number will continue to grow as traumatic brain injuries from sports and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan become more common.
What follows is my personal story of how I was diagnosed and have lived with epilepsy.
My story with epilepsy began when I had a seizure in front of Mrs. McGuffey’s talented and gifted class at Flenniken Elementary School in South Knoxville. I was eight years old and, it will shock no one who knows me, I was in the middle of being sassy to my friend Jerome when my first tonic-clonic hit me like a freight train.
It took about 20 years to remember that much.
I awoke in the nurse’s room - a bleak white room with a creaky metal institutional-type twin size bed - with Mrs. McGuffey by my side.
She was always put together, that lady. Not one hair was out of place in her dark brown June Cleaver hairstyle and her hands were calmly clasped in the navy blue lap of her dress.
“What happened?” I asked.
“You fell,” she answered. “We’re just going to wait here until your mother arrives.”
(Photo by Adam Brimer/News Sentinel)
The countdown has begun — and it’s now less than a week until Bonnaroo 2013 commences.
Bonnaroo, of course, is a music festival that takes place in Manchester, Tenn., on a 700-acre farm. About 80,000 campers congregate to listen to more than 150 musical performances on more than 10 stages. There’s music, art, comedy — and lots more.
Social media is an essential part of the Bonnaroo experience, whether you’re on the farm or watching from afar.
One of the quintessential go-to places for keeping tabs on ’Roo is the Bonnaroo team. Aside from their official website, they have a strong presence on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Spotify, Instagram and Tumblr. They do it all, and they do it well.
Spotify is one of the newer tools the Bonnaroo staff has embraced, and it’s the perfect medium. It’s a digital music service that gives users on-demand access to millions of tracks. For those wanting to get in the Bonnaroo spirit, the team has compiled a playlist featuring the 2013 lineup.
The team will also be continuing its recent tradition of livestreaming some of the performances for those who can’t attend this year. The ‘Roo webcast will broadcast live on Ustream starting Friday, June 14.
(Photo by Adam Brimer/News Sentinel)
But when it comes down to Bonnaroo and social media, there is a clear winner — and it’s Twitter. According to data released by the social network after last year’s festival wrapped up, there were a total of 32,000 mentions of Bonnaroo. And across all social sites, Twitter accounted for 91 percent of all mentions of ‘Roo.
This year, the official hashtag for the event is simple — #bonnaroo. There are bound to be other versions and sub-hashtags, but for a steady stream of ‘Roo-related posts, that’s the safest bet.
The reality is Bonnaroo serves as an annual check-up on the state of social media. New and old tools alike are put to the test, and we learn a lot in the process.
One of those new tools that will likely change the game this year is Vine, which some call a mix between YouTube and Instagram. It’s a new app that allows users to capture and share short, looping videos — almost like animated GIFs with audio.
(LiL iFFy. Photo by Rachel Wise)
Vine also happens to be a favorite among the members of rap act LiL iFFy, the only Knoxville artist invited to this year’s Bonnaroo.
“I like how easy it is to use and the ability to crudely edit together tiny, six-second films,” said Thomas Thibus, producer for LiL iFFy. “It’s super simple and super effective.”
Hip-hop acts and Bonnaroo might not seem like a natural pair, but you’d be surprised.
A couple of years ago, VH1 analyzed data culled from social media and found that hip-hop and rap artists crushed the competition on social media.
It may seem surprising that hip-hop would dominate anything at Bonnaroo, the giant music festival (and party) that began in Tennessee a decade ago with hippie-ish jam bands and roots rock. But this is what we discovered when using Next Big Sound to gather social media stats on all 150 or so acts on the lineup.
At knoxville.com, we’ve found similar results. I compiled a list of the top 10 most-watched Bonnaroo performance videos that we’ve posted over the years, and the top 2? Eminem and Lil Wayne. In fact, hip-hop artists comprise 4 of the total top 10.
It’s fitting, then, that this year, we have chosen to team up with LiL iFFy. Members of the Harry Potter rap group will be sharing content and allowing our readers to see the festival from a unique point of view.
(Photo by AP/Keystone, Martial Trezzini)
“We’ll share (posts) of various acts and behind-the-scenes stuff,” said Thibus, who performs under the name DJ Tom Ato. “It would be awesome to get some Vines of us with other artists.”
Ever since the 2010 documentary “Catfish" was released, I’ve been fascinated by this idea of elaborate Internet dating hoaxes. The notion that someone would dedicate so much time to building a fake life and extensive fake network of friends and family, and use it to deceive others — frankly, it blew my mind.
So when the Manti Te’o scandal came to light last week, I grew equally as fascinated. Not only was the story so bizarre and, at this point still somewhat mysterious, but it’s happened so publicly. The bottom line is questions must be answered.
In case you’ve never heard of the term, here’s a little about its origin.
(Filmmakers Ariel Schulman, Henry Joost and Nev Schulman, from left.)
The term “catfish” comes from a 2010 documentary film of the same name, in which a young New Yorker named Nev Schulman has an online relationship with a woman on Facebook that turns out to be much different than it appears. It’s hard to say much more without giving away the ending.
I saw this in theaters when it came out, and it made me think. I’d definitely recommend it. But it didn’t stop there — the film spawned a TV show that debuted recently on MTV. It has a similar premise: People who have developed online relationships seek to learn more about their purported lovers, often discovering unexpected realities.
The Manti Te’o tie-in
I’m pretty sure the world did a collective “HUH?!” when a Jan. 16 Deadspin article came out, saying that Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o’s girlfriend — the one who allegedly died of leukemia the same day his grandmother died, and who was at the center of many, many news stories — never existed in the first place.
(Notre Dame star linebacker Manti Te’o after the Nov. 12 game.)
The article revealed that it was all an elaborate hoax. It asserted that Lennay Kekua, the college girl whom Te’o had talked very publicly about and whom he told the world he loved, was a complete fabrication. The details in the story seemed to indicate there was a very complicated web of lies behind this hoax.
It was, and continues to be, largely a mystery. Details are still coming out; reports are still being investigated. But, to me, it indicates something even bigger: Te’o is insisting he’s been “catfished.”
Hitting close to home
Of course, whenever I take on a topic for a column, I try to find some kind of local, East Tennessee tie-in. I want to help make issues relatable for our readers. So it seemed a bit too good to be true when I saw this tweet by Cami Webb:
Cami Webb, a Gatlinburg native and UT grad currently living in Orlando, had been contacted out of the blue by Christopher Waldron, a student at Syracuse. Waldron alerted her that someone was using her photos to do some “catfishing” of their own.
"So this Te’o thing got me thinking. There’s been this drop dead beautiful girl flirting with me on Facebook. Profile is pretty sketch and no one knows her. I did a reverse picture search and this person is using your pictures. It’s odd but I knew something was up. Name is Venessa Beckwith in Oswego, NY… Who does not exist," Waldron wrote to Webb.
Webb was startled by the random email.
"I initially was shocked, and then felt taken advantage of. This person was using my images to apparently flirt with random guys on the Internet. Even more discomforting was that the profile had been up since 2011. It makes me wonder if there are other imposters out there that I may very well never find," Webb told me.
She proceeded to message “Venessa” and report “her” to Facebook, in addition to enlisting the help of her friends to also report the profile. Although she never received a response from “Venessa,” she did hear back from Facebook days later.
"They (told me they) didn’t find anything wrong with the profile. Turns out she did end up deleting all my photos — which is all I really wanted," Webb said.
How to spot a ‘catfish’
Just because some people have been duped by fake online profiles doesn’t mean it isn’t OK to engage with people you don’t know online. It does, however, mean you should be more cautious.
When I asked Waldron about his experience with “Venessa” and tracking down Webb, here’s what he told me:
“It was just common sense. There was not much info on the profile, vague answers, and let’s face it, models don’t send Facebook messages to strangers for dates. … Back in the summer, I knew it was a fake profile so I did not pay much attention to it. It was when the Te’o news broke when I said ‘hmm…’ “
Waldron did a reverse image search, which led him to Webb. His advice to others?
"I just think people should pay attention to red flags and bad excuses, like they can’t meet for coffee because their cat got run over for the fifth week in a row, etc."
Tools to help
The unfortunate truth is that these kinds of Internet dating hoaxes are more common than you might think, which is why it’s important to understand the best ways to guard against it.
“As long as we continue to be lax with our online presence, impersonation will happen,” Webb cautions.
Here are some of the best tips and tools to combat both online identity theft and being duped by a fraud.
Ah, it’s my favorite time in Tumblrville: time to announce Knoxville’s latest placement on a national list.
(In case you’ve somehow managed to miss our fixation on lists, you can browse past entries here. As it turns out Knoxville is the proud owner of many odd and varied titles.)
But this time Knoxville has been named one of the happiest cities in which to work. According to Forbes, Knoxville earned a score of 4.02 out of 5 total points in a list compiled by CareerBliss.
(Downtown Knoxville and Fort Loudoun Lake are seen Oct. 26, 2012. Photo by
Paul Efird/News Sentinel.)
This list — 10 happiest and 10 unhappiest cities — “is based on analysis of more than 36,000 independent employee reviews between Nov. 2011 and Nov. 2012.”
Employees all over the country were asked to evaluate ten factors that affect workplace happiness. Those include one’s relationship with the boss and co-workers, work environment, job resources, compensation, growth opportunities, company culture, company reputation, daily tasks, and control over the work done does on a daily basis.
Rounding out the top 5 happiest cities:
And the top unhappiest cities:
To read the complete lists and for a breakdown of Knoxville’s score, check out the post on Forbes.com.
Today, social photography site/app Instagram released a list of the “most-Instagrammed” places in the world for 2012. I was curious to see what the results would be, especially because the photo service is used across the globe.
In the No. 1 spot? Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport in Thailand, where more than 100,000 photos were taken — and Instagrammed.
Rounding out the top 5:
The Instagram list goes on to include the top 10 spots, but it left me wondering: What would East Tennessee’s top spots be?
(Instagram photo by user @johnschumacher_)
My guess is that Neyland Stadium would be No. 1 for our region, followed by shots of the Smoky Mountains, Sunsphere, University of Tennessee and Downtown Knoxville/Market Square.
What do you think are some of the most-photographed places in East Tennessee?
I had several ideas for column topics this week, but when midnight Wednesday rolled around, I knew I had to abandon those options and focus on the painfully obvious: the coaching search at UT.
That’s because at just past midnight Wednesday morning, yet another seemingly unbelievable rumor surfaced, this time being reported by a Memphis TV station.
Twitter exploded. Tweet after tweet echoed the outrageous claim:
This report alleged UT had offered Jon Gruden the head coaching job, and that part of the offer would give Gruden “a piece of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, who were recently bought by Jimmy Haslam III, one of UT’s biggest boosters.”
But despite a denial, the rumors continued to swirl; in fact, they swelled.
We posted a story on knoxnews.com about that rumor and the denials, but regardless, that story became our most popular story. In fact, it became the most popular story on all of the Scripps newspaper sites around the country for a solid 6 hours.
It was a non-story, but it trumped actual newsworthy articles. It was more read than the story about the Powerball increase to $550 million — which online producer Dave Goddard found surprising.
"It’s like people care more about Tennessee football than $550 million," he said.
(Photo by Amy Smotherman-Burgess/KNS)
But why SO MUCH hype?
OK, listen. As I say in my column, which I realize is bound to offend at least some people, I wish I could stage an intervention. With Tennessee fans.
The continuous hype and never-ending rumors have gotten to me, and to many others, I’m sure. Frankly, I just don’t understand it.
As if the bogus Memphis report wasn’t bad enough, here are some of the other “Grumors” circulating:
Trying to understand the mania
My reasoning is that no matter what fans say or do, or know or don’t know, it’s not going to change the decision making. Dave Hart will decide what and when he wants — and then we’ll all know. So what’s the obsession really about?
Granted, I’m not a Knoxville native. I’ve lived here for just shy of 2 years, so I’ve got a lot to learn. So, in an effort to understand this mania, I reached out to a couple of colleagues and a good friend to help.
(Jon Gruden in 2002. AP photo)
A very real downside
Well, some might ask, what’s wrong with a little hysteria? It may be annoying, but is it really hurting anyone?
The truth is, the hype really could come with some consequences.
Strange and Wright both made the same point: By continuing to make such a huge deal, especially surrounding Gruden, fans are setting themselves up for a monumental disappointment if he doesn’t come.
"The coaching announcement is going to come like a surprise hammer to the face if it isn’t Jon Gruden, because it reads like one more loss. Even if we get a Jimbo Fisher or Charlie Strong or some other totally capable and exciting coach,” Wright said.
My plea to Tennessee (fans)
Passion is great, but this obsession is a bit much. I wish we would all do a few things.
Social media as a game changer
As my friend Wil Wright put it, “This is our second coaching change in the golden age of social media, and it changes the conversation entirely.”
Now, with Twitter and Facebook as ubiquitous as they are, the rumors spread father, wider and much faster. Instead of the rumor mill being mostly contained to message boards, which are frequented by the usual suspects, the ceaseless speculation is open for all to see. And see. And see.
But so often, the speculation is nothing but completely fabricated wishes. I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve seen random people tweet about Coach So-and-So and UT a “done deal.” “It’s official.” “Will be announced today.”
No. It won’t. Because it’s not true.
And even if something might have a shred of truth to it, you would never know because it’s drowned out by myriad falsehoods.
“It’s never been easier to perpetuate rumors. Because for every credible information leak there are 50 believable but totally fabricated rumors and they all look the same on a cell phone,” Wright said.
Want to weigh in? I’d love to hear from you. You can reach me at WiseR at knoxnews dot com or on Twitter @rkwise.
Here on #trending, we’re all about the lists. Well, I am, anyway. I love it when Knoxville lands placement on a list, whatever it might be, because it means we’re on the map.
In the past, at least on this blog, Knoxville (and sometimes East Tennessee) have been named as follows:
OK, so it’s not all good. But it certainly is interesting, and a pretty eclectic mix of things. The latest list, though? I’d say it’s a pretty good accolade for ol’ Knoxville.
The study “provides a detailed assessment of the metros that have generated the most robust job growth based on ‘unique regional factors rather than national trends,’ ” The Atlantic explains.
Knoxville didn’t land in the top 10, but it did secure a spot at No. 13.