Howard Bragman on Advises Celebrities

Question: How should the rich and famous deal with the press Bragman: There are a lot of times when I discourage people from doing press. I have a number of celebrities I represent and we run a risk of overexposure. The people get tired of them. And that goes back to Warhol and the way we cover celebrities now, I call the ‘reality show’ coverage of celebrities. We only have so many slots. We only have so much time in Entertainment Tonight or Showbiz Tonight, so we generally pick a number of celebrities, somewhere around 25 celebrities, and we may cover them at any given time. Over the last couple of years, it seemed to be Paris and Britney and Lindsay, but then we’re not seeing them quite as much as we did, because we get tired of them. We get burned out on them, and they get ‘kicked off the island,’ as we say, and then we say, “Well, who is coming in to take their place? Who is the new celebrity who is going to do it?” And it’s interesting because this reality culture way in which we cover celebrities works two ways and that is we have a certain limited number of celebrities we cover. The other thing is a regular person can become a celebrity, that’s what we got from reality shows. You can win and suddenly become a celebrity, i.e., Elizabeth Hasselbeck, look, she’s now famous. And the other thing that reality shows do is take celebrities and make them human. Go watch “Surreal Life.” Even an excellent show like “Dancing with the Stars” that has really helped a lot of people’s images, they show those celebrities in real moments, in rehearsal, when they hurt their foot, having a hard time with something and we like that. We like to be more like celebrities as regular people and we like our celebrities to be more like us as regular people, too. Question: What’s the most common mistake when talking to the media? Bragman: Well, the most common problem in media training or media coaching as I do it is people do an interview and they haven’t thought about it ahead of time, and as I say, they’re the goalie for the hockey team, and I go, “How did the interview go?” And they said, “I didn’t get my teeth knocked out and the puck didn’t go in the net behind me so I scored! It was a great interview.” And to use a sports analogy: if you’re doing an interview, you’re playing offense. You have a reason for doing that interview, and if you don’t have a reason for doing an interview, don’t do the interview. So if you have indeed a reason for doing the interview, we deal with the fact that the media can deal with somewhere between three and five messages in most interviews, and if you know what those messages are ahead of time, you’ve practiced them and you practiced getting them out there, you’ve practiced the tough questions, and you do the interview and I say, “Hey, how did it go?” They say, “I got my messages out, I handled the tough questions well,” then you have a real objective measure for that. So the biggest mistake people make is they don’t go in with a plan. Question: How do you doctor spin? Bragman: I have 30 years of experience on my side, so there’s very few situations I haven’t seen before. But the one truth is, you know, they call it spin doctors, right? That’s one of the terms people use, and I think it’s an apt comparison in a lot of ways, because each person is different in their DNA in terms of the media. One person can do something in the media and it plays out a certain way. Another person can do the same thing and it plays out totally different. Just like one person could be given a drug and cure a disease, another person can be given the same drug and it could kill him. And, you know, there’s a lot of grey areas, but experience helps understanding trends, [help], and there are some basic truths about how you deal with the media, how you treat people with respect about your integrity, your reputation, and my book is not a blueprint but it is a process, and it allows each person to adjust for their own foibles, their own realities of their life, and I think that’s what’s important. The first thing I tell everybody to do is take a baseline, take a pulse. If you go see a doctor, he’s going to take your pulse, check your heartbeat. He’s going to take your temperature, he’s going to take a series of tests and say, “Here’s where we stand today.” I think we all need to do that with our own public image, and you can do that online, you can do that by talking to people, but you want to get a baseline for your reputation, because you know where you’re going to start from. Question: How should celebrities approach their wardrobes? Bragman: I never think it should be “contrived,” I think it should be authentic. And the point being, if I went to anybody’s closet and was choosing a wardrobe for TV, okay? The wardrobe that they’re going to wear to a party is different from the wardrobe they’re going to wear to be interviewed on TV. I want it all to be real, I want it all to be true to them, but it’s got to be consistent. There are certain actors and actresses we think of when we go, “They are a great dresser. They always look good. They’re always in style and they always pull it together.” And there are certain people, we go, “Oh, my God, they’re a disaster! One day they’re wearing something that doesn’t flatter, the next thing something that doesn’t work on TV,” and it’s really knowing what works for you, because I’m… I’m 6’4”, 250 pounds. What works for me is not going to work for somebody who is a size 40 regular model. Hugh Jackman and I have decided not to share wardrobes for that particular reason, and you have to be really clear on what’s going to work for you and what doesn’t work for you and understanding your own rules. I don’t think we have to be contrived. I don’t want everybody living a nuanced moment. There’s something that your essence when you’re asked a question, you don’t have to think about, “What would my brand do?” You can answer honestly. If they’re wildly inconsistent, it says more about your personality than it does about your brand. Question: Can any famous person really stay out of the public spotlight? Bragman: Well, in that case, I call it the mystique, and the mystique is inaccessibility. And it goes to something I talked about in the book, which I’ll call the Coors Beers Syndrome. When I was a kid growing up in Michigan, if somebody went skiing in Colorado, they’d bring a six-pack of Coors Beer back in their ski boat and you would drink this and you go, “Oh, my God! This is the best beer I’ve ever had! It’s liquid manna from Heaven, and isn’t this amazing?” And as soon as they started selling this Coors Beer at every 7-Eleven on every corner and every liquor store, it lost its mystique. So some people have a mystique of inaccessibility, and that’s smart as long as they manage it well, because if you could become too inaccessible, then people lose interest. So it’s always a balancing act out there, and you never know. It’s like knowing when the stock market is going to go up or going to go down. If you absolutely knew that, you’d make a lot of money. But there are people who have a pretty good intuitive feel for their own self and what’s out there about them, and those are the people who have a real gift, a real skill set. Again, Brad and Angelina seem to have that gift.

Howard Bragman gives his best advice to public figures.

America’s education system is centuries old. Can we build something better?

The Lumina Foundation lays out steps for increasing access to quality post-secondary education credentials.

Sponsored by Lumina Foundation
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  • Elizabeth Garlow explains the Lumina Foundation's strategy to create a post-secondary education system that works for all students. This includes credential recognition, affordability, a more competency-based system, and quality assurance.
  • Systemic historic factors have contributed to inequality in the education system. Lumina aims to close those gaps in educational attainment.
  • In 2019, Lumina Foundation and Big Think teamed up to create the Lumina Prize, a search to find the most innovative and scalable ideas in post-secondary education. You can see the winners of the Lumina Prize here – congratulations to PeerForward and Greater Commons!

First solar roadway in France turned out to be a 'total disaster'

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Image source: Charly Triballeau / AFP / Getty Images
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What was it like to live in a Japanese concentration camp?

During World War II, the U.S. incarcerated over 100,000 Japanese Americans in concentration camps throughout the West.

Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Now that the issue of concentration camps in the U.S. has once again reared its head, it can be beneficial to recall the last time such camps were employed in the U.S.
  • After Pearl Harbor, the U.S. incarcerated over 100,000 Japanese Americans in camps, ostensibly for national security purposes.
  • In truth, the incarceration was primarily motivated by racism. What was life like in the U.S.'s concentration camps?

On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which authorized and directed military commanders "to prescribe military areas … from which any or all persons may be excluded, and with respect to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War or the appropriate Military Commander may impose in his discretion." Under the authority of this executive order, roughly 112,000 men, women, and children of Japanese descent — nearly two-thirds of which were American citizens — were detained in concentration camps.

How did the camps get their start?

With the benefit of a nearly 80-year perspective, it's clear that the internment of Japanese Americans was racially motivated. In response to Japan's growing military power in the buildup to World War II, President Roosevelt commissioned two reports to determine whether it would be necessary to intern Japanese Americans should conflict break out between Japan and the U.S. Neither's conclusions supported the plan, with one even going so far as to "certify a remarkable, even extraordinary degree of loyalty among this generally suspect ethnic group." But of course, the Pearl Harbor attacks proved to be far more persuasive than these reports.

Pearl Harbor turned simmering resentment against the Japanese to a full boil, putting pressure on the Roosevelt administration to intern Japanese Americans. Lieutenant General John DeWitt, who would become the administrator of the internment program, testified to Congress

"I don't want any of them here. They are a dangerous element. There is no way to determine their loyalty... It makes no difference whether he is an American citizen, he is still a Japanese. American citizenship does not necessarily determine loyalty... But we must worry about the Japanese all the time until he is wiped off the map."

DeWitt's position was backed up by a number of pre-existing anti-immigrant groups based out of the West Coast, such as the Joint Immigration Committee and the Native Sons and Daughters of the Golden West. For many, the war simply served as an excuse to get rid of Japanese Americans. In an interview with the Saturday Evening Post, Austin Anson, the managing secretary of the Salinas Vegetable Grower-Shipper Administration, said:

"We're charged with wanting to get rid of the Japs for selfish reasons. We do. It's a question of whether the White man lives on the Pacific Coast or the brown men. ... If all the Japs were removed tomorrow, we'd never miss them in two weeks because the White farmers can take over and produce everything the Jap grows. And we do not want them back when the war ends, either."

Ironically for Anson, the mass deportation of Japanese Americans under Executive Order 9066 meant there was a significant shortage of agricultural labor. Many Caucasians left to fight the war, so the U.S. signed an agreement with Mexico to permit the immigration of several million Mexicans agricultural workers under the so-called bracero program.

Life in the camps

Japanese American concentration camp

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Circa 1943: Aerial view of a Japanese American relocation center in Amache, Colorado, during World War II. Each family was provided with a space 20 by 25 ft. The barracks were set in blocks and each block was provided with a community bath house and mess hall.

For the most part, Japanese Americans remained stoic in the face of their incarceration. The phrase shikata ga nai was frequently invoked — the phrase roughly translates to "it cannot be helped," which, for many, represents the perceived attitude of the Japanese people to withstand suffering that's out of their control.

Initially, most Japanese Americans were sent to temporary assembly centers, typically located at fairgrounds or racetracks. These were hastily constructed barracks, where prisoners were often packed into tight quarters and made to use toilets that were little more than pits in the ground. From here, they were relocated to more permanent camps — replete with barbed wire and armed guards — in remote, isolated places across the seven states of California, Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, and Arkansas.

Many of these camps, also known as War Relocation Centers, were little better than the temporary assembly centers. One report described the buildings as "tar paper-covered barracks of simple frame construction without plumbing or cooking facilities of any kind." Again, overcrowding was common.

As a result, disease became a major concern, including dysentery, malaria, and tuberculosis. This was problematic due to the chronic shortage of medical professionals and supplies, an issue that was not helped by the War Relocation Authority's decision to cap Japanese American medical professional's pay at $20 a month (about $315 in 2019 dollars), while Caucasian workers had no such restriction. As a comparison, Caucasian nurses earned $150 ($2,361) a month in one camp.

The U.S. government also administered loyalty questionnaires to incarcerated Japanese Americans with the ultimate goal of seeing whether they could be used as soldiers and to segregate "loyal" citizens from "disloyal" ones. The questionnaires often asked whether they would be willing to join the military and if they would completely renounce their loyalty to Japan. Due to fears of being drafted, general confusion, and justified anger at the U.S. government, thousands of Japanese Americans "failed" the loyalty questionnaire and were sent to the concentration camp at Tule Lake. When Roosevelt later signed a bill that would permit Japanese Americans to renounce their citizenship, 98 percent of the 5,589 who did were located at Tule Lake. Some apologists cite this an example of genuine disloyalty towards the U.S., but this argument clearly ignores the gross violation of Japanese Americans' rights. Later, it became clear that many of these renunciations had been made under duress, and nearly all of those who had renounced their citizenship sought to gain it back.

Since many children lived in the camps, they came equipped with schools. Of course, these schools weren't ideal — student-teacher ratios reached as high as 48:1, and supplies were limited. The irony of learning about American history and ideals was not lost on the students, one of whom wrote in an essay --

"They, the first generation [of Japanese immigrants], without the least knowledge of the English language nor the new surroundings, came to this land with the American pioneering spirit of resettling. ...Though undergoing many hardships, they did reach their goal only to be resettled by the order of evacuation under the emergency for our protection and public security."

Potentially the best part of life in the camps — and the best way for determined prisoners to demonstrate their fundamental American-ness — was playing baseball. One camp even featured nearly 100 baseball teams. Former prisoner Herb Kurima recalled the importance of baseball in their lives in an interview with Christian Science Monitor. "I wanted our fathers, who worked so hard, to have a chance to see a ball game," he said. "Over half the camp used to come out to watch. It was the only enjoyment in the camps."

The aftermath

When the camps finally closed in 1945, the lives of the incarcerated Japanese Americans had been totally upended. Some were repatriated to Japan, while others settled in whichever part of the country they had been arbitrarily placed in. Those who wished to return to the West Coast were given $25 and a train ticket, but few had anything to return to. Many had sold their property to predatory buyers prior to being incarcerated, while theft had wiped out whatever else they had left behind. Many, many years later, the 1988 Civil Liberties Act mandated that each surviving victim be paid $20,000, though that seems like a small fine to pay for irrevocably changing the courses of more than 100,000 lives.