Monday, December 15, 2008

The Fruit of the Matter

In the many, many discussion I have had with fellow adolescents about what the heck we are going to do with our lives, I’ve noticed a few trends. The first of these is that none of us really has any clue. The second, the even more universal and poignant commonality to all of our young, idealistic fledgling life plans, is simply this: we all just want to matter. As usual, this has inspired some questions for me: What is behind our compulsion to matter? Do adults who have already made their contributions to society feel like they matter, or is this desire (like so many that college students have) one that we grow out of?

There are, of course, innumerable things that could drive a person to want to make a difference. It could be a natural altruism and desire to help people, if you believe human nature is like that, or it could be something that one’s religion stipulates. But besides those obvious answers, why do we (meaning, I) try so hard to make a lasting impact on the people around us, and the world at large?

My guess is this: we need to exist to people other than ourselves. Even though we might believe that humans are benevolent creatures, we are also afraid we aren’t, and that life really is “poor, nasty, bruteish, short.” During our lives on earth we are drawn to careers that have a deep and meaningful impact on a great number of people. In criticism to my scathing indictment of children who want to be famous, a fellow young friend wrote, “The struggle to be famous and the struggle to be remembered are quite possible one of the greatest struggles of our time. If our names are not carried on past our deaths, our existence on this Earth is forgotten and quite possibly fruitless.” And I have to agree with this, at this point in my life. I want to have a meaningful impact on a great number of people, and I’d like to be well known. At my age, I do judge my potential future life by how many people I have touched and changed. I am afraid of being lost and forgotten in the apathetic anonymity that life looks like from here. I want to choose my career and my life path so that I am known and remembered, because that is the only way that I can qualify my life right now.

I sometimes hope that this desire to make a heartfelt difference in other people’s lives is a sign that we know that there is more to life than money (which is what all young idealists like myself want to believe). However, as deeply as we want to make a difference, there are precious few who are signing up to become Mother Therese, or even go into low-paying but “rewarding” (in respect to my argument) careers, like teaching. College students are misguided to tie their financial solvency in with their impact on others. I have to believe that every older person feels like they make a lasting difference, or they have another way to feel that their life isn’t fruitless.

When I ask my peers who matter most them, when I ask myself who matters most to me, the answer is far humbler than our aspirations. The most common answer: our parents. My parents have certainly taught me the most and touched me the most deeply, and I read that “mom” is the most commonly given answer when kids are asked who their heroes are. So why is it that any young girl who says she wants most to be a mother met with such deep scorn? And I have virtually never heard a young guy list “be a father” as something they want to accomplish by the time they’re thirty. If all we want is to make lasting difference on people that will carry our names on after our deaths, families are absolutely the best way. We have tricked ourselves into believing that our jobs must be dramatic and sweeping and glamorous or they are worth nothing, and that dreams beyond the workplace are worth nothing at all. What young people fail to realize is that one’s job doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t) be the measure of one’s life.

As such, I must conclude that we will grow out of clamoring so desperately for a way to feel like we matter. I will someday cease to care that I’m not a World Famous Life Changer, because I will have other things that satiate my need to connect and rescue me from the vast unknown. That’s my answer to the argument: we shouldn’t care if our names are carried on after our deaths. We can matter for people, exist for people other than ourselves, without the mass fanfare and fan base that we adolescents so deeply desire. We just need to change our definition of what it means to matter, and realize that the fruit of life is much more subtle and sweet than any of us could have guessed.

I think there’s a name for this, what is it called? Oh, yes. Maturity. And I, for one, have a long way to go.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Mistaking “I Miss You”: A Common Phrase Misapprehended and Misconstrued

As I would imagine is natural when one grows up, I have rather suddenly found myself far apart from quite a few people I like quite a lot. I have never moved and I hold tight to people I love, so it is a strange and unfamiliar feeling to be apart from my old friends for so long at a time, and naturally, I miss them. But as I have been trying, somewhat desperately, to stay in touch with these friends and keep my relationships with them ‘the way that they were’, it has me thinking: what does it mean to miss someone?

In my musings on the subject, I have come up with the following articulation of what ‘missing’ is: when you miss someone, you feel a desire to be with them. If I assume, for the sake of making my point, that we are all essentially selfish beings, this is usually a desire for the person you miss to be where you are currently (that is, one generally does not hope, when we miss someone, to be with them where they are, at least at our basest level). This desire fails to account for the other person, at least as a casual emotion. By this logic, missing someone is a selfish impulse, in the same vein as jealousy, or greed. So not only does my missing someone accomplish nothing other than making me sad, it is also a disservice to the other person (whom I assume already knows I care enough to miss them). At least as a feeling and an impulse that is not acted on, the sadness one feels in relation to not being around one’s faraway friends is self-serving and accomplishes nothing much, for even telling someone “I miss you” just pulls them into your foolish sorrow. But what can be done? Even knowing what it means to miss someone doesn’t make me miss them less. It doesn’t make Phoenix or Miami or Seattle or Boston or wherever any closer to me.

But even here, I am selfish: I fail to realistically imagine that my friends are happy without me; in my wish that Seattle or wherever be closer to here, I am considering the situation only from my own viewpoint. Once when I was at a book signing, the author of the book was trying to explain the importance of seeing people as they are and not seeing them as they relate to us. When he was expressing his apologies that he had to end the event because he had a plane to catch, nearly everyone in the audience told him that he didn’t have to go, he should stay here, it would be better anyway. These sentiments, he said, while flattering, were just we Arizonans failing to realistically imagine and understand the people who were waiting for him where his plane was going. They wanted him to be there, for their own selfish reasons, just as much as we wanted him to stay here. Missing someone is sort of like that: it’s selfish in that it expresses much more about the person doing the missing than it does about the person being missed. I don’t think I explained that exactly clearly, but hopefully I get the point across. I am not trying to do a disservice to people who are missed, or say that I am not missed or shouldn’t be. However, I am pointing out that we need to think about what we say, what it means, and how it affects the person we say it to.

I also think that it is generally implied in telling someone you miss him or her that you will someday be together again. Even many of the people I talk to and certainly many that I miss, I may never see them again (which is why I am limiting this post to friends, not family, who I am almost certainly going to see again). Does this mean that missing them is going to be my current state, in regards to so many dear friends of days in the past? I don’t want to be selfish, or to bring them into my silly sadness, or to fail to realistically understand the people I don’t see regularly. It just seems so pessimistic and ungenerous to say, “Well, it was good times, have a good life.” But it is more honest and more realistic than my self-serving and self indulgent impulse to look at my faraway friends only as they relate to me.

The true virtue in missing someone is in its quiet expression of care. Missing people, be it selfish or not, is what keeps us writing letters, sending emails, mailing Christmas cards, years after it becomes clear that missing each other is our constant state. When we (or at least, I) miss someone, we are not trying to be selfish or misunderstand the people we miss. The only thing I can think of to be done is to more clearly express what I mean when I say, “I miss you.” And I think what everyone is trying to express is simply that: care.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Epiphanies(?) on Decisions(!)

Almost a year ago from right now, I was in the middle of making what I considered at the time to be the Biggest Decision of My Life. I thought that I was going to decide the fate of the rest of the rest of my life by choosing where I went to college, what I majored in, and other exceptionally inconsequential decisions. Adolescent Society (or at least, my high school guidance counselor) had told me that I had to know who I was, what I wanted to do, where I wanted to live, and who I wanted to become, all as a an oh-so-worldly-and-knowledgeable senior in high school. Now that I have made said decisions and am living the life I dreamed of (and dreaded) lo those many months ago, I have learned one or two things about right and wrong decisions. I will be the first to admit that none of them have gotten me any closer to being a lawyer or a doctor or a teacher or a small-time con artist or whatever it was, in my hubris and my naivety, I decided I was going to be.

One of the first non-sequitors I realized about this Life Altering Decision I supposedly made is that nothing is as life-altering as they tell you it will be. From the way college brochures and teen magazines tell it, mass fanfare will accompany a correct decision and mass destruction will follow an ‘incorrect’ one. I believed them, of course, as much agony ensued on choosing right. But now that I have made the decisions, and am living with them, it’s certainly not so clear-cut. Of course college is fun, but it’s hardly the striped-scarfed, colored-leafed Tree of Knowledge OR the party-a-night drunken tomfoolery the movies portray (and that I believed. Was high school like the movies? No. Did that stop me from believing what the movies had to say about college? Well.). I think I’ve made the right decision, I’m certainly learning and having fun, but really the only moment that’s ‘taken my breath away’, as the saying goes, is when I tripped and fell on the stairs outside my dorm. Maybe I’m anomaly and other people do feel an immediate sense of The Right Decision. But as wrong as I was in believing it, it is wrong for society (that is, the SAT and college guides and teen magazines and high schools and the entire industry that has sprung up around The Decision) to make that Decision into anything more than it is. Here is what it is: not much. A choice of snow over sun, mostly. Maybe of prestige over price, or of urban over suburb. But it is decidedly NOT a choice of success over failure, no matter where you end up. (Did I believe the people who told me this, that one year ago? Ahem.)

As for the career choice – does anyone get to say, “I want to be that” and automatically be it? It is a curious thing to ask a five-year-old what they want to be when they grow up (why do we do this?), but an even curioser thing to ask an eighteen-year-old. What does either know of what his chosen profession is, or what is will take to get into that profession? Countless children of both ages have said they want to be doctor – but that does not make them one. Toys and make-believe generate their concept of what a doctor is: play doctor kits or television hospital dramas. Such a choice may be underscored by a love of science, or a desire to help sick people, but there are many people who are not doctors with that. A major means little to nothing about what you will become, in my (admittedly limited) experience. Why is there such a pressure to choose what work we will do, precisely? I am by no means advocating not having a job; I am merely pointing out that what one wants to be is hardly ever what one actually becomes. It is not wrong or undignified to do work that isn’t exactly what you said you wanted to be when you picked your major, and I might even say it is necessary and sometimes inevitable. I want as much as anyone to ‘turn out okay’, but just when does one ‘turn out’? I will strive to become what I thought I wanted to be, what I dreamed of being, but I might learn that it isn’t right for me or just isn’t possible. It is no fault of mine to have a job that is different form what I thought I wanted to do when I was a senior in high school, making the Decision of a Lifetime, and I am beginning to learn that it just may be a virtue.

While I was foolish for being taken in by the shiny, attractive claims that my Life was in my oh-so-capable hands when I picked where to go to college and what to major in, the industry surrounding mine and my peers’ belief in those erroneous epithets is really who’s at fault. High schools seniors are already arrogant and self-righteous – no one needs to be giving them more power, more choice, or more control than they already have, be it authentic or not. Adolescents deserve to be told what is real and true about life, not coddled and cajoled by advertisers or schools or high school guidance counselors trying to curry money or favors or whatever abstract thing it might be that an eighteen-year-old might have to give. So here is what it is, advice to my year-ago self that I certainly wouldn’t have believed: Life is not so dramatic as a movie, and neither is college. Saying you want to be something does not make you any closer to actually being it. Not becoming what you said you wanted to be isn’t a vast tragedy, it’s just life. I can only hope that, a year from now, I will have grown and learned enough to look back on my current self with as much benevolent head-shaking, and maybe this time, I’ll be able to listen to advice.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Basketball and the Meaning of Life

I am not a sports fan nor do I like basketball, and I sometimes find it hard to understand the market and culture that surround college sports. However, in what I hope is a result of my increasing maturity and not my new softness of mind or spirit, I am starting to see just what value it might have to society. I volunteered working concessions for two such basketball games recently (the volunteer’s hourly wages are donated to a community service club), and as a result I was trying to understand the sociology of sports.

In my natural tendency toward cynicism, a nearly empty basketball stadium (are they even called stadiums?) can make me very sad and sorry for society. All the investment of money, time, ideas, design, all the training and hope on behalf of the players and the families, all the lonely people who are fans of a team who is clearly at the end of an era of greatness sends strains of melancholy Beatles songs in my concession-stand-bound ears. It is hard for me to grasp that anyone’s life is made better by wasting hedonistic amounts of money on food, or clothing, or other merchandise that is specifically designed to make the purchaser feels a certain way that, even when effective, so swiftly fades. Though I was volunteering and my sales statistics hardly mattered, I felt myself willing our would-be customers elsewhere, thinking at them, “Please don’t walk up here. I don’t want to have to rip you off. I can’t make you happy.” I didn’t want to support the corporate-giant sponsor whose products we were shilling at what felt like a billion percent mark-up, to support or condone the kind of consumer manipulation that makes me so sad for what my history professor calls “the American market society.” It puts an ache in my heart to see good, hard-working Americans putting their hard-earned wages into making a giant trans-fat merchant more giant and fat, to watch the people watching the game and see a tiny bit of their hard-bitten, hard-knock, just plain hard lives.

But in the many hours I spent providing the hard-core basketball fans who came out for the 9:30pm tip off with all-American eats, I realized a few things in what were epiphanies probably to me alone. When we arrived several hours before the game to inventory our stand, I met some very nice people whose entire life is spent in the sodium-and-sugar shanty that I had but a one-night sojourn in. They work for the corporate-giant sponsor who is the very definition of “the man”, selling semi-unsuspecting fans popcorn and peanuts and momentary bliss for the low, low price of five dollars a popcorn kernel. But in what was a miracle only in my failure to realize it, they were real, well-intentioned people, just doing what they can to get by. I had been tricked into the romantic deception that soft-drink conglomerates are run by some group of crazy suits trying to rip off the world and steal all our money and clog all our arteries – and maybe they are. But these companies employ the little people, the real people, the people who fix soda machines and pop popcorn and get a little thrill out of a well-played game of basketball, making it possible for them to support their families, live their lives, pursue their own happinesses. All the people who designed the stadium, whose ideas, construction, advertising, training, coaching, recruiting, or other blood, sweat or tears go into that stadium or that team are probably good, honest people too. Though I am not na├»ve enough to think that any of it was done for anything other than the bottom line, I am also more certain that none of it was done with malicious intent. An infinite number of peoples’ livelihoods are created by the basketball culture, and it’s hardly the most depraved social phenomenon that supports families. And all those red-and-blue clad fans, who cheer so fervently for the team, who spend so generously for a snack at halftime, are hardly expecting to find enlightenment between free-throws and rebounds. They are probably just regular people, getting to forget for a bit just how hard life is, experiencing a tiny bit of nirvana in their team’s valiant bid for the win. As I sold a tub of popcorn to a man who still goes to every game his alma mater plays 48 years after he graduated, or to a father brought his physically and mentally handicapped son to enjoy some ‘guy time’, or to any of the people who wanted nothing from me but something to quench their thirst, I began to understand a tiny bit about life. The people involved in the basketball stadium aren’t trying to rip anyone off, just trying to do what’s right by them. The people involved in concessions have no malicious intent, they’re just trying bring in a paycheck for an honest day’s work, no matter how giant their employer. And the people who attend late-night college basketball games aren’t expecting to get or even looking to find enlightenment. They are hoping to remember their glory days, or spend time with their families, or just forget about their problems for a while by placing their hopes in a few promising young players. As it has taken me so long to realize, finding the meaning of life isn’t about broad strokes, taking down the man, enjoyment as only I can see it, or happily ever after. For normal, regular, real people, at least for a night, meaning --and perhaps even a taste of happiness -- can be found in the squeak and swish of a well-played game of basketball.


Note:I have now enabled comments from non-registered users, which are always invited and appreciated.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Being Seen: Are You What You Try To Be?

When I get a new haircut, it is one of the only times I am consciously thinking about how I come across to other people. For example, while I might hope that my choppy bob comes off as “young sophisticate”, I am usually just praying that it doesn’t come off as “mental patient” or worse, “shabby Victoria Beckham imitation.” As much as I’d like to deny it, I place as much hairstyle-choosing faith in those who will see my hair as I do in my own power to choose. And though I am at least aware that I’m doing it, I am not alone in the time-and-money consuming pursuit of a certain and specific persona.
Everything a person appears to be is at least to some degree the result a contrived and conscious effort. Like, if I was really a young sophisticate, would I be so concerned with my haircut broadcasting it to the world? In every choice one makes (at least in their young, keeping-up-appearances years), one is cultivating a brand, a symbol, a projection of oneself. If a girl hopes others will think her an aspiring pop star, she will probably wear faux-distressed jeans, a bedazzled tank top, and Rainbow flip-flops, if that’s what she thinks music darlings favor. She’d probably talk about her recent trip to LA long after it was recent, and her screen-name might be “Luvz2SingXO”. Just as an author would develop a character so that the reader would believe and maybe like her, we each cultivate ourselves – how are character appears – for our audience – society. As anti-self as this may sound, it is inevitable and undeniable, for at least in younger years, that how others view us is how we validate ourselves. Through our clothing, our speech, our screennames and Facebooks and preferred hangouts, we are creating an image, a reflection, a brand of ourselves that we are just hoping the rest of society believes. If someone appears to be fashion-forward and worldly, it’s probably because they wear expensive-looking dark fabrics in flowing skirts and pepper their daily language with delicious morsels from foreign tongues, be it correct or not. We are hardly at fault for wanting to portray ourselves in certain ways, but just like the author I mentioned above, we have little to no idea of just how our efforts to appear actually come across. Our potential Mariah may think she looks like the next Grammy’s darling, while everyone around her thinks she’s silly to wear a tank top in November and thinks she should stop bleaching her natural brown hair. The Francophilic Fashionista’s trans-Atlantic banter may come across as offensive and her many skirts may make her look like a bag lady. Do we ever know when our attempts at creative costumery fails? I can think of any number of people I’ve seem who could not possibly see themselves how I see them (as an example: I think all can agree that Spandex does not come across as confidence after a major weight gain). And what do we do, if we find out that people are thinking that our attempts at looking like a young sophisticate make us look like a Jersey sale rack? We can not care, of course. But just as everyone, consciously or not, tries to control how people views him, everyone lives in a society and at least to some degree has to cultivate their appearance in order to be accepted. Maybe there are people who don’t think about this phenomenon, or who just look great without trying, but in perfect keeping with my point, the people around then probably think they look like slobs, or sluts, or are trying too hard. We can wait until we’re say, thirty, and such things don’t matter anymore. Or we can go on trying to convince other people – and ourselves – that we just don’t care, to hell with what people think of us, it doesn’t matter anyway. And just to make sure everyone knows we don’t care what they think, we might wear a lot of black, buy a MacBook, get a young-sophisticate’s piecey bob, and start a blog.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Voting from Passion and Youth

As I am still twelve days shy of the legal voting age, I have watched this election as more of an outsider than most can: I am an American who understands the governmental process, and my future is certainly invested in the outcome of today’s election, but I can watch it with a strange kind of detachment as I won’t be casting a ballot. I've been observing the passionate, impressionable eighteen-to-twenty-four voting demographic as they cast their vote to determine the next President of this fine country.
Since the voting age was moved from 21 to 18, the new voters have yet to make much of an impact on an election, but this time, they could be a decisive part of the voting population. Their set of key principles is different from an older adult’s, their responsibilities are different, and their opinions on many key topics vary greatly from an older voter’s. From what I have observed, the tide of popular opinion has had the greatest affect on the red-vs-blue decision, with shows like Saturday Night Live and promotions from stores like Urban Outfitters making a greater impression than scholarly articles and candidate’s web sites. Granted, there are those students who are passionate as well as well researched, and they also play a large role in persuading those young voters who are less interested. The issues that matter most to young people – like the legal drinking age – are so drastically different than what matters most to a voter only a few years older – property taxes, or healthcare. Though I appreciate that the young people have a chance to be heard, it scares me that people who have yet to own a house, or care for a dog, or do their own taxes are making decisions that could change the nature of this country. I am not saying all young people are ignorant or ill-informed, but I am venturing that there are some questions they are unqualified to answer: one will undeniably better understand property taxes and how best to vote on them after they have actually paid them. One will better understand healthcare and how best to organize it once one has been seriously sick. In some states, one must be over 18 to own a gun, so how could someone younger than this really understand the micro-implications of owning a gun? I have heard far too many discussions between young voters saying they are just going to guess what is best when voting for propositions and the less-glossy categories on the ballot. Is guessing any way to make an important, informed decision? I am hardly advocating the white-landowning-male restrictions of the past, but I deeply hope I am wrong in my appraisal of how much research and time the young voters have devoted to this momentous decision. The right to vote makes everyone into an expert, and as unpopular as it may make me to say it, the under-twenty-one age group is hardly expert on mush at all. It strikes me as illogical that the drinking age (formerly 19 in most states) and the voting age (formerly 21) have switched in the last 30 years, because frankly, most people between those ages care more about the former than the latter.
Another popular heated debate for young people is the Electoral College: the usual logic is that whoever gets the most votes from the most people should win. While political pundits and political science professors alike have discussed this countless times, I also argue with this rationale. Some governmental historians have argued that the Framers of the Constitution created the Electoral College because they didn’t trust the masses to make the right choice for president, and sometimes, I don’t either. Even in times not wracked by economic and political turmoil, Americans hardly even seem to like each other, let alone trust each other with the most important decision many of them will ever get to make. Though the Electoral College is hardly a stopping point for stupidity and un-trustworthy voting, in whatever its many forms, I admire the Framers’ foresight. Especially in this presidential election, the candidate one chooses is more a reflection of one’s own hopes and dreams than an accurate reflection of who each candidate is as a person, what he or she is capable of, and who is best qualified to lead this nation. Just like youth and passion, hopes and dreams are shaky foundations to lay a vote -- and a presidency -- on. I just hope most that when people vote, whatever their age, they are thinking first of red-white-and-blue and not merely red-versus-blue.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Crown of Celebrity: To Worship or Dethrone?

Though I have been known to pick up a glossy magazine or watch a bit of the E! Channel now and then, America’s collective and nearly universal obsession with celebrity has always perplexed me. As my mother always says, “They’re just people.” What does it say about our culture and our psyches that we consider the sexploits of barely-legal, barely-there celebutantes more important than, say, voting in the presidential election? In 2004, celebrity magazines like People had revenue of $786 billion, while news magazines such as Time made a paltry $1.3 billion. What is it about the rich, famous, and undeniably fake Hollywood actors and actresses make them the most sought-after, the most listened-to, and the most emulated? How do American royalty ascend to their throne, and what does it say about their subjects?
I’ve heard various arguments as to why famous people are famous, usually some variation of the statement, “Acting is hard.” While this may be true, is it truly more difficult than the jobs of the everyday Americans who are doing real, necessary jobs? Without the audience of humble roofers and real-estate agents, there would be no audience: no one to deliver box office gold, no one to buy a Target knock-off of the latest princess’ Oscar dress. The fact that actors, who are merely sophisticated pretenders, are praised and paid in gluttonous fashion, while the less beautiful, more long-lasting regular people who make this country run are rarely praised or paid very much at all, displays that Americans value abstract, shiny inventions of people more than real, true, and therefore less sparkly people. Indeed, we are often more interested in the ‘real life’ of the actors we pay several hours’ wages too see on the silver screen than the struggles of the people sitting beside us in the movie theatre. The obsession with celebrity goings-on – from their hedonistic spending, to their invented and contrived dramas, to their blatant disregard and condescension to the masses that make their fame possible – is an extreme form of escapism. Are our lives really so stifling, so painful, so impossible that we must project our own shameful wishes onto whatever lucky starlet has us star-struck at that moment? It is true, at least to some degree, that we all want to be beautiful, rich, lucky, and feel like we matter. But celebrities don’t matter – the people we project them to be don’t even exist. Actors don’t have any more insight on life, or feeling, or truth than anyone else; in fact, they live in such a bubble that it is likely they have less. The celebsession is pathetic and sad – beauty and light do exist, but the contrived lighting of the Beautiful is absolutely the wrong place to look.
We love the famous because we ourselves want to be famous – but why? I’ve heard friends say that they want to become a celebrity because they want to matter. They want people to know their name; they want to be remembered. But what kind of lasting, real, positive affect do actors have on anyone? Perhaps a movie moves you – it was created by a writer; can you name any screenwriter who’s been on the cover of People (that wasn’t an actor first)? And as for their dramatic involvement with whatever the hip world tragedy du jour might be, they are paid more, they have more money, they can afford to donate more, and be photographed looking beautiful doing so. Though I’m obviously not interested in meeting any, I’m fairy certain that the Hollywood Hot-and-Popular are just like the rest of us – just luckier, more beautiful, and (thanks to all of us who pay our hard earned cash to see ‘candid’ photos of them doing whatever mundane task they couldn’t shame their minions into doing for free) probably raging narcissists. It is unhealthy for our youth to want to be famous: does the world really need any more Lauren Conrads? And the even more sad, more sorry fact of it is that because of the desperate yearning of millions of aspiring aristobrats, now Lauren Conrad thinks that she matters. She probably thinks she’ll be remembered. Is that really what we want to represent us, America? Is her contrived drama really any better (or worse) than our own real ones?
There is a certain shadenfreudic element to the industry of celebrity, that we find pleasure in their pain. Apparently, America delights when the latest rising star is shot down by a crack addiction, and buys all the magazines it can get its hands on when the latest leading man goes crying back to his baby mama. Does this say good things about us, either? Is it better to escape our less outlandish, less publicized humiliations by delighting in the failures of the famous? Or maybe it’s the hope of a come-back that makes us keep our home-pages on Perez Hilton: if the Hot Young Thang of the moment can be caught making out with an endangered leopard species, then pose wearing a thong made of its pelt, then win a Nobel Peace Prize for animal conservation all in one night, well, then, we can too. The comeback I hope for most is one that will take us away from the dramatic, fake lives of the Famously Fabulous and back to the caring about the person sitting next to us in the movie theatre.

Facts on magazine revenue from: o http://www.mediapost.com/publications/index.cfm?fuseaction=Articles.showArticleHomePage&art_aid=36309
Special thanks to: http://www.sparksflyup.com/archives/weblog/2008_07_01_archive.php;the posts from July 10-15, 2008

Monday, October 13, 2008

Texptlanations...

It has only been in the last five or so years that text messaging, or “texting” has been really popular, nearly replacing phone call s for the fifteen-to-twenty-five age range. But other than those of the older generations that just don’t understand how to use the auto-complete setting, there has been little discussion and analysis regarding how this swift-thumbed social phenomenon is affecting us – our relationships, our social skills, etc.
Let me preface this by saying that I do text, of course. If I didn’t I would be a social pariah, a position not even I am willing to take in the name of peaceful protest. But while I understand and participate in the unspoken act, I am always thinking of the not-so-positive ways it is affecting me, and my peers.
Telephones used to be about talking: not quite the same as face-to-face communication, but almost. Text-messaging reduces the human contact to a modern-day Morse code, with little feeling or emotion. Not to be melodramatic, but countless psychological experiments have shown the detrimental effects of reduced human contact, notably increased anxiety and difficulty relating to and sympathizing with others. Our world is already so digitized; the elimination of immediate voice contact is only another vestige of this mildly disturbing human trend. Emoticons are no replacement for the emotion and sincerity conveyed in a voice – sincerity that just can’t be abbreviated, digitized, and sent through a text.
Similarly, the use of text-messages in place of phone calls makes it easier for both the sender and the receiver to hide: from responsibility, from difficult subjects, from the all-dreaded “awkwardness.” If you are afraid or reluctant to discuss a topic, you can send a text, and tell yourself that you have addressed the issue. In reality, a text is no way to deal with anything: the receiver of your digitized missive should be given enough respect to warrant a phone call. Instead, we are able to hide behind our cell-phone screens, displaying classic avoidance of responsibility and puerile cowardice in a way that is socially accepted. In an example of how this phenomenon has already eroded respectable, respectful discourse, it is now legal in some Asian countries to divorce via text as long as “the intent is clear.” If you are married to someone, you deserve him or her at least a phone call. Texting gives cowards an easy and socially accepted way to say difficult things – while sacrificing accountability, honestly, and sincerity.
On the receiving end of a text, this new method of communication also allows us to dodge responsibility and having the decency to respond to difficult topics (which should not be addressed through this medium anyway). In the most dramatic terms, texting makes us and our messages less important: we send texts so that the person can choose to read our discard our messages at their leisure, leaves us anxious for their potential reply, it creates social tyrants out of the receivers of the message. The receiver can not reply, wait for prolonged periods before responding, or use the ever-prevalent and always-dubious excuse that they didn’t get the text, that it somehow got lost in the digital vortex and never vibrated into their message inbox (in my experience, this is actually the case about .001% of the time). In a phone call, immediate reaction is necessary; in text messaging, it is virtually optional.
There are many other sociological detriments to texting, including the deterioration of grammar standards, questions of academic integrity, and increased cases of carpal tunnel. And I am not trying to stop texting, merely express the difference between “Come on over” and “Marriage = Over”. Even more disturbing than diseases of the thumb is society’s collective act of thumbing its nose at respectful methods of discussion, necessity of human contact, and responsibility in relationships.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Pronoun Pro-nonsense: Truth, From Concentrate

Nearly everywhere and especially in academic circles, a writer must trip all over himself to avoid offending any one of his readers. The very basis of this soft-hearted, soft-minded pursuit is wasteful and absurd: What does this semantic gerrymandering hope to save us from, and what does it really accomplish?
The preemptive strike in writing (that is, constructing your prose in a specific way in the fear that one of your readers might be offended) has taken over writing of any and every kind. The most obvious example is writers’ insistence on a gender-neutral plural pronoun, like substituting “he or she” or “s/he” for the widely accepted and generally understood “he”. Even more insipid is the use of “they”, which is, of course, a plural. The use of “he” isn’t a vestige of the patriarchal paradigm: it’s a grammatical convention, just like commas and contractions. No thinking reader would think that an author is referring to men only when using “he” in an example, just no informed person could assume that the use of “mankind” or “man” to refer to the general population is in some way jilting the women. In the use of “he”, there is no political agenda and the reader can focus on what point the author is making. However, the modern insistence on cumbersome and overtly PC pronouns superimposes the feminist agenda over whatever the author might have been trying to say. The kind of ego-saving, guilt-inducing hijacking of traditional grammar is almost censorship, and it usurps what might have been a gender-neutral message and makes equality for women the point of every written work.
To have an opinion is to risk offending someone. As the saying goes, “To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.” Writers and the world in general should stop worrying about maybe bruising one reader’s tortured ego, and allow commonly accepted conventions (no matter what male-centric world contrived them) to have their rightful, gender-neutral place. Those who are offended by such unintended “insults” should realize that the world is cruel, truth is barbed, and not everything carries a political message. Feminists should stop perpetuating their dusty agendas and realize that by even insisting on the usage or “she” in place of “he”, they are implying that there is still a difference between the two.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Peace, Love, and...Victoria's Secret?

I know as well as any other fashion-forward person that it’s tempting to make a serious statement with your clothes. One seems oh-so-much more worldly and mysterious when wearing an outfit that promotes human rights and global change instead of just, you know, one’s love for pink sundresses. However, the goal of outfits like that should be to say something important about an issue without it just being printed in bold face across your chest.
I have absolutely no issue with T-shirts that raise money and awareness for important causes (the Gap’s RED campaign comes to mind). It’s the clothing companies (and the customers who buy said clothing) that perplex me the most on this issue. The most obvious abuse of the statement outfit is the ubiquitous peace sign. I am confident that most of the general population and an even higher percentage of college students would like to promote peace. But do all the girls who flounce around in their peace-sign festooned velour tracksuits really think about what peace means? Do they consider how peace is attained as much as they consider their outfit? Do they think that by buying a bikini printed with the symbol, it is bringing the world any closer to peace than by buying one with, say, skulls? Or do they stop to consider that many pieces with peace signs on then are made in sweatshops, in countries plagued by civil unrest? I like an ironic outfit as much as anyone, but for all parties involved, it’s better when the irony is intentional.
I’m not condemning all the women who identify with or wear the symbol of the Hippie generation. It is a perfectly admirable thing to want others to know that you support peace. I just hope that consumers are not lulled into a sense of false purpose, that girls don’t think that by wearing a peace sign, peace is any closer. It is one thing to advertise to your fellow Pink-bedazzled peers that you want to reduce conflict in the world, it is entirely another to think about and decide what peace is, or how to attain it. And I wonder how much closer peace would be if we spent as much money on aid for the agencies that fight for mutual harmony among people as we do on merchandise that is printed with the symbol for pacifism without saying much at all.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Here's the Why:

It feels like a crazy kind of hubris to think that anyone (other than, like, my mom) would care what I think. As a young person, I am mostly thought of by the rest of the world as a depressing statistic, a harbinger for the scary future of the country, or at least something that can't be understood. So as a girl who is trying to be aware of the world and thinking about what it means, I think there are a few adults who might like to know "what the young people are thinking about". That's what I want to write about: what strikes me uniquely about pop culture, politics, Pop-tarts -- anything. It's not that I want to say something; it's that I've got something to say. There's a quote that says "So many adults is that they forget what it's like to be a kid." So here's a piece of that: what it's like to be this kid.