Riffing and Forwarding: 2009

The following was published on-line in The Urban Dictionary:

Riffing is not only a musical term rooted in Jazz but also a comedic term.

In common usage the term Jazz has not only several denotations but it also has several connotations: Jazz sometimes denotes an elaboration of something: To take something and elementally mix it up in such a way as to improve upon it.

“I bought an old car and jazzed it up.”

“If you want to sell it, you’ll need to jazz it up.”

Jazz also has negative connotations:

“I slipped climbing into the truck and jazzed up my knee.”

“The divorce jazzed up my whole life.”

Say you had a Jazz quartet; a bass fiddle, a drummer, a sax, and a guitar. They can take a very old and very familiar tune and jazz it as a group to the point of being practically unrecognizable. Or, they do solo riffs on the melody. This is not a true solo, as, in turns, the musicians increase the volume of what they are playing while the others fade in volume and maintain the basic melody and beat. To riff then, is to touch upon a thing (in this case a melody) and depart from it to the point where it is unrecognizable by itself. Riffing is to touch lightly upon a thing only to depart from it.

Late-night talk show hosts and stand-up comics do topical or celebrity riffs. They may touch lightly upon an issue but quickly depart from it just for comic effect. They do not address or critique the issue or personality in question directly in a sober, mature or scholarly manner; instead they use it as a springboard to say something silly or irrelevant.

“I can riff on this all day but that doesn’t solve the basic problem.”

I got an email the other day containing an obviously doctored image of President Obama depicted as a Communist Witch Doctor. While the image visually riffs on his being of African heritage and a liberal politician, it does nothing to directly address his national health care policy proposals.


The email mentioned in the above is what conjured the term: “Riff“. I’ve received many funny jokes and humorous pictures and drawings from friends and family over the Internet that, for the most part, are simply passed from hand to hand by using the Forward option.

In most cases I’m reluctant to forward any of it when I consider the reaction of the receiver. Some people appreciate neither the gross nudity nor the bathroom humor often contained in such messages. It’s merely “sharing a laugh” with a friend.

However, by forwarding the message with neither comment nor explanation one places one’s name on it automatically (with or without an auto signature) with your own email address as it’s source (your personal imprimatur) and the tacit implication that one approves of it, wholly or in part.

There really is no way to send such a message anonymously and avoid any responsibility for it.

If it is a crime, you are a party to it: if it is a sin, you are guilty.

Forwarding such a message propagandizes many subtle ideas, ideas that even you may not whole-heartedly approve of yourself.

How can I send, with each and every forwarded email message, such a caveat as:

“This made me laugh, but I disapprove of it.”?


“While I appreciate the sentiment, I find it fundamentally wrong.”?

Perhaps I think too deeply or too long about such things but I am aware that, given precisely the same material, one person might roar with laughter, but another, deeply offended, would react like a wounded animal. There exists a full spectrum of opinion.

Everything you send over the Internet truly becomes part of Your Permanent Record.

I suggest using the Forward option sparingly if at all: it is, after all, your reputation.

I wish to take neither credit nor responsibility for someone else’s messages. I do have a sense of humor and know the difference between riffing and sober discussion; but riffing alone makes for an impoverished intellectual diet.

As for riffing on the President: I have never voted for either a Democrat or a Republican for President. I could riff on his race, but race is something I simply do not believe in even as a concept. I could riff on his ears but that would be subtly engaging in personal attack. I leave that to the political cartoonists to caricature; which is also a visual riff.

I could cite a half-dozen logical reasons why I did not vote for him: He’s a lawyer, a Democrat, pro-abortion, a product of Affirmative Action, etc.; without so much as touching upon either his race or his ears. (When he turns to the Left or the Right – everybody ducks.)

He’s a shirt, he’s a puppet, he’s a tool; he’s a product of The System. He is really many, many things; but the one thing he is not: He is not The Messiah.

President Barack Obama is a hard but necessary lesson for the so-called minority voters who believe that simply having “one of their own kind in The White House” will solve all of their problems. Don’t they know the President of Mexico is a Mexican?

I’m an old man; I was born during the Truman Administration. Most of my presidents have been white. Cuts no ice with me. I was drafted by Johnson ‘n shafted by Ford; suffered mightily under Reagan and Clinton and all of the rest.

Really, I wish President Obama all the best; and would counsel him if I could. But I already know that, after four or even eight years in office: He’ll fail to solve the most fundamental problems of The Human Condition. This is because humanity insists upon learning things the hard way, judging each other instead of judging themselves.

When I first became aware of Barack Obama’s candidacy I dismissed him almost immediately as being more Jeffrey Dahmer’s type.

About The Twentieth Man

Age 69
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