Latest 3 Things

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

3 Bully Benefits

It’s the latest epidemic of choice; championed by celebrities, government programs and televised public service announcements.  But it’s not breast cancer, smoking or AIDS.  In fact, it’s not a disease at all.  It’s bullying.  You can hardly watch television, surf the web or even listen to the radio without being reminded about the damage done by bullying and what you can do to stop it.  For the profoundly uninspired, they even offer government-approved scripts for determining what to say in bullying situations - distilled down to a political-correctness so pure than you can almost clean tile with it.  But as a former victim of bullying, I’m here to say that the government’s got it all wrong.  Because unlike the other diseases-de-jour that pop-culture has taken on, bullying isn’t all bad.  Sure, back in 1989 as a 4’11” high school sophomore, I didn’t see any good in the inevitable daily beatings I endured - but looking back, I don’t think I’d trade them.  Sure, no evil should be allowed to exist unchecked, but as Newton discovered lifetimes ago, each force begets its opposite, and the universe is nothing else if not balanced.  In order for there to be champions there must be their foils, and what good are white hats if no one wears black ones?  So, in the interests of defending the indefensible, here are 3 reasons we shouldn’t get rid of bullies:

1. Someone to Hate.  There are no great parables about the power of hate, the endurance of a vengeful heart, or the strength that can be gleaned from a need for redemption.  Even those stories that do highlight the “dark” side of motivation tend to be cautionary tales that teach that nothing good come from these negative emotions, and that true happiness and success can only be found through love, forgiveness and peace.  But what about Darth Vader?  No, not the wussy Vader that George Lucas foisted on us via Hayden Christensen in the most celebrated neutering this side of Lorena Bobbitt.  No, I mean the Empire Strikes Back Vader, the seven feet of badassery and heavy breathing, running-a-spaceship-the-size-of-a-planet while wearing a cape Vader.  Pure evil and hate - and totally kicking ass as a result.  So what if he gets his comeuppance later on in the story?  Don’t we all?  What about that whole “it’s better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all” crowd?  Why doesn’t that same logic hold true for hate?  Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not a proponent of hate for no reason, disproportionate revenge or love being of no use.  But hate with a good reason is a powerful motivator.  If someone does you wrong, the desire to strike back is not only natural, it can drive you to extraordinary feats (Daniel Laruso’s gonna fight?).  Bullies give us focus, a driving force in a world which not only accepts but nearly encourages our mediocrity.  Because between a person that thinks the world has screwed him over and a person that thinks someone else has screwed him over, which one do you really think has it all wrong?  And which one are you betting on to do something about it?

2. Survival of the Fittest.  Physical strength plays an increasingly small part in our day-to-day lives, as our gentrification has slowly creeped into feminization.  The current youngest generation has become so far removed from a good ass-kicking that when you talk about beating someone up, you actually have to clarify that you don’t mean doing it online.  If you think I don’t know what I’m talking about, try listening to a teenager talk to an adult sometime.  If I would have called a grown-up “dude” or “bro” when I was a kid,I knew my dad would have hit me hard enough to knock a molar out of my head - which is why he never had to.  We live in an almost completely consequence free environment, where anyone can mouth off however they’d like, with no fear of reprisal.  Bullies are a reminder that no matter how far we may live from the Galapagos Islands, we are still a Darwinian species, and there is a biological imperative that the strongest amongst us do the most reproducing.  I would submit that if you haven’t met a kid lately who needed a good beating, you haven’t met a kid lately.  Violence doesn’t solve anything?  Ha!  That’s the way we’ve solved things for thousands of years.  The Romans weren’t keen on “talking things out,” and where would we be if the American colonists had simply tried “communicating their feelings” to the British?  Freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from reprisal if you say something stupid, it just means freedom from reprisal from the government.  Bullies are a reminder of the age old saw “no matter how big you are, there’s someone bigger” and its implicit corollary “and if you say something to piss them off, they’ll kick your ass.”  Bullies are the natural predator of weakness, and it should come as no surprise that as we begin to kill them off, the weakness will reproduce unchecked. 

3. Something For Everyone.  The latest childhood obesity statistics are staggering and tragic. Approximately 17% (or 12.5 million) of children and adolescents aged 2—19 years are obese and since 1980, obesity prevalence among children and adolescents has almost tripled.  If you don’t believe these numbers, go to your local Wal-Mart during non-school hours.  Trust me, after that you’ll wonder why they’re so low.  But that notwithstanding, we’ve got a lot more fat kids than we used to - and they’re going to need something to do; something to be.  We already know they can’t play kickball worth a damn, and we only need five or so for the offensive line.  So what does that leave?  Bullying.  Bullying is not only the fat kids’ way to exorcise demons, it’s a way for them to exercise, period.  What could possibly burn more calories than chasing around the smaller, nimbler kids in a attempt to assert some kind of dominance based on an overactive pituitary gland and poor dietary habits?  If you take away bullying, what are these kids going to do - talk out their problems?  Look, if talking burned enough calories to keep you thin, I’d never have to exercise (trust me).  Besides, in this era of trophy parenting and loving yourself exactly the way you are, bullying finally gives these roly-poly youngsters something to be ashamed of - Lord knows that looking in the mirror isn’t doing it for them.  It’s the natural order of things: bigger kids beat up smaller kids, smaller kids grow up to run companies and keep those bigger kids employed in the worst possible jobs.  Do you really want someone who can’t reliable control what they toss down their throat controlling an entire company anyways?  

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The problem with bullying is not that it exists or that it serves no purpose; it’s that we’ve let stronger instrumentalities into the hands of children - and therefore into the hands of these bullies.  When you go past fists and words, you can do some real damage, and no one wants to see that.  If we want a crusade - that’s where we should start: no weapons, no unlawful harassment.  But learning that bullying is wrong, or on the other side, how to deal with, utilize or rise up against bullying, are important life lessons that children should not be deprived of, just because we think they can’t handle it.  Kids are tougher than we give them credit for.  Just because they are emotional doesn’t mean they’re emotionally scarred for life.  Bumps and bruises heal on the young body just as quickly as they do on the young mind.  And these trials and tribulations are just as, if not more, important than the trophies, atta-boys and positive reinforcement that has become unimodal modern parenting.  After all, if it wasn’t for bullies, I’d never be the man I am today - which means if I ever see him again I’ll probably want to shake James Richmond’s hand... right after I punch him in the mouth. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

3 Twilight Troubles

Well, I’ve flirted with it plenty of times, but I’ve never really gone ahead and gotten down to it.  To be honest, I didn’t really think I had to explain why I don’t like Stephanie Meyer’s idiot-opus - it seemed like the most obvious thing since Clay Aiken’s sexuality.  But, it has come to my attention recently that there really are otherwise perfectly normal people who count themselves as fans of this literary abortion - and it’s time to finally lay it down once and for all.  After all, can I really include this interminable saga of the ambiguously sexual paranormal into my lexicon of high-level hates (e.g. Miley Cyrus, Notre Dame, Sarah Palin) without its own dedicated column (as all the aforementioned have enjoyed) ?  The answer is no, I can’t.  And so, in the interest of including the most tragically overrated storytelling since summer camp on my list of things to loathe, here are 3 things wrong with Twilight:

1. Young Is As Young Does.  There is a time in our lives where we are ready to cast aside the simple turns of phrase and illustrations of children’s books, but not yet ready to pick up Ayn Rand or Charles Dickens.  In these formative years between childhood and adulthood, there was often a dearth of sufficiently challenging yet suitably simple writing.  But the birth of the “Young Adult” genre amicably filled this void, giving comfort, solace and the slightest bit of literary enrichment to a sea of pubescence, adolescence and emotional innocence.  Judy Blume gave us “Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing”, Edward Packard and R.A. Montgomery taught us to “Choose Our Own Adventures” and J.K. Rowling enchanted a generation with the tale of “Harry Potter.”  But while these timeless classics gave us light and flowing prose to probe heady coming-of-age themes, Stephanie Meyer’s stumbling narratives are as clumsy as they are petulant and needlessly brooding and cover the most absurd subject matter this side of Scientology.  Ironically, the tone that she is able to capture - not unlike what one might expect in the rambling journal of some teenage goth-emo-punk with enough black in his or her wardrobe to clothe the entire City of Oakland - seems almost impossibly appropriate for her characters.  Where Rowling exercised the genre to tell, simply, a brilliantly robust story with themes for young and old alike, Meyer uses it as a crutch - propping up an ill-conceived and impossible story with adolescent themes and a disjointed style that likely reads better as text messages than on an actual page.  The bottom line is that most young adult literature is written exclusively for the same generation that can currently make sense out of MTV’s programming and cars shaped like boxes, which ought to tells us how little it should appeal to grown ups.  Meyer’s cross-generational appeal is not a cause for celebration, it’s a cause for concern.

2. Not Your Parents’ Vampires.  I have never really been a fan of the macabre, so you have to imagine the kind of blasphemous and enragingly absurd depiction of vampires that might actually make me miss how vampires used to be.  I mean, if there were ever a moment where Bram Stoker wished he was an actual vampire, it would have to be upon looking down on Stephanie Meyer’s baffling best-seller and wanting to swoop down and suck all the idiot blood out of that barely functioning brain - even if it meant everlasting damnation.  There hasn’t been a legend this badly bastardized since Sarah Palin tried to turn Paul Revere into a historical Tea Party crusader.  Vampires were creatures of terror and pain; parasites whose dark deal required the regular slaughter of others, and who lurked in the darkest corners of the darkest places.  Even in modern times, where they have been reduced to worship by chubby or unpopular teenagers whose need for attention drives them to delusions so great as believe that being abnormal qualifies them to be paranormal, the vampire legend garnered some measure of respect.  But no longer.  The painfully adolescent Meyer has painted the modern day vampire as a brooding and ambiguously sexual nymph, who looks about as believable in a fight as a baby harp seal.  Honestly, if you’re going to paint a character who is immortal and has superhuman strength, why would he have the musculature of a twelve year old Cambodian boy, and the skin tone of Snow freaking White!?   I don’t care if he has a mouth full of shark teeth, is dripping blood and is literally flying towards me, I’ve seen Pokemon characters who scare me more than Robert Pattinson.  I’m not saying there isn’t a place for things like this - I’m just saying that it’s in their parents basement listening to indie emo albums and putting on each other’s eye makeup. 

3. Some Real In My Unreal.  I know that books and movies are offered to provide some measure of escape from reality, but they also usually deal with quintessentially human themes - and unless they are pure fantasy, offer some kind of moral/message.  And while the Twilight series fails profoundly as artfully-crafted escapism (mostly in the “artfully” part), it fails ever-so-much more where it tries to offer a message.  The young girls’ fantasy of non-sexual male love is as timeless as the vampire myth itself, but just as surreal.  In these hyper-sexualized times, where teenage girls pattern themselves after reality show vixens, and scantily-clad music video dancers, can it be true that everyone is looking for a little less sex in their love?  The Sexual Revolution is older than most of the parents of the teenage generation, and so the notion that only barbaric and ill-mannered men want sex, and that women are creatures of pure virtue and light, who need only love and provide sex only to satiate men is as tired as the skin under Linsday Lohan’s eyes.   Feeding this affected morality play to the masses as a “love story” is even more tragic than the story itself.  There is nothing heroic about the gay men in a teenage girl’s life, and nothing evil about the straight ones.  The notion that love stories that exclude sex are somehow better than those that fail to is as absurd as the women who swoon over “Teen Paranormal Romance” and weep uncontrollably during The Notebook and P.S. I Love You (each with plenty of sex to go around).  The desire for sex is not the absence of virtue, and the absence of sex does not purify a relationship, or make it more meaningful.  This closing-your-eyes-and-pretend-it’s-not-there method for coping with issues doesn’t work for ostriches any more than it works for the rest of us - and while I can forgive teenage girls for failing to understand this, watching grown women do it makes me wonder if feminism is completely dead.

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Twilight fails on so many levels, it’s hard to know where to begin.  Paring this list down to three was not an easy task, as I didn’t even begin to address the feminization of the modern-day leading man, or the wussification of the modern male protagonist in love stories.  For all my railing against them, most recent “chick flicks” haven’t really been so bad.  I’ve seen The Notebook twice, recommended Atonement to friends, and even got a little weepy during P.S. I Love You.  After all, a little romance never hurt anyone, and we all like to see the guy get the girl in the end.  But that’s where Stephanie Meyer loses the Y-chromosome crowd - because we simply cannot relate.  There is no “Edward” in any of us.  He is a wholly feminine character, and even my gayest of friends has never expressed a desire to look pale, thin and constantly inconsolable.  And please don’t get me started on the attempt to insert a hyper-masculine antagonist (the less-gay werewolf) who looks like he wears more makeup than my last two girlfriends combined.  Twilight as “literature” is as telling of a modern social trend as any, and in historical context will mark an era of intellectual recession even more depressing and irrecoverable than the economic one it parallels.  Only this one has a much simpler “bail out” plan.  Book burning, anyone?  

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

3 Poor Placements

If you’re a regular reader you know - it’s hard enough to figure out what to wear, let alone how to wear it. With clothiers peddling even less reliably valuable wares than Hollywood and the recording industry, we can hardly rely on magazines and model to tell us how to get it right. But it turns out that where you put something on your person is just as, if not more, important than what you’re putting on. In fact, you can easily turn something you should be wearing into something you shouldn’t just by putting it in the wrong spot. Of course, we’re not talking about wrong-footing your shoes or sticking your arm out the head-hole. Those obvious mistakes and mis-fits are rarely seen for more than a fleeting absent-minded moment while dressing. No, we’re talking about ways you can put things on, but never, ever should. In these trying times, we must usually rely on our friends to let us know when we’ve dressed ourselves like a punchline. But from the looks of things there are a lot of folks who haven’t got good friends, or any friends at all. And so, in the interests of identifying those folks who could use a hand, here are 3 places to not wear things:

1. Not So Bright. Sunglasses have become as essential a part of the modern wardrobe as shoes and pants. But with this addition to the standard clothing vocabulary comes a timeless paradox: where to put those vital shades when they’re not over your eyes. First: you must take them off your eyes when there’s no direct sunlight. (There is only one exception to this rule - but since you’re not famous, wanted by the government, or working as a covert operative - it doesn’t apply to you.) Now that we’ve cleared that up - where are you going to put your glasses? Given the almost limitless options you’ve got, it might be easier just to go over where you’re not going to put them (well, that is if you’re hoping to retain any sense of self-worth in the eyes of others). They don’t go in the case you’re keeping with you. Who keeps the case anyway? If your sunglasses are that precious to you, you should just leave them in the case all the time and only wear that cheap pair you got from the drug store. They surely don’t go on your face just above your eyes. Whoever started this absurdity is definitely in line for a rake-slapping; as this is only marginally less ass-hattish than wearing them under your chin. They also don’t go on top of your head. Please read that again. Please. I recently saw a television ad for a Las Vegas real estate agent who did the commercial with his sunglasses on his head. I wish I was joking. I wouldn’t let that guy help me buy gum from a machine, let alone real estate. So, what options have you got left? You can’t go wrong with the collar, and there’s always your pockets. You ladies have your ever-present handbag. But if I see them anywhere else, I can’t be blamed for assuming that you’ve got a double digit IQ, a job that requires a name tag and a deep-seated belief that professional wrestling is completely real.

2. Bling-In. There are precious few reasons for a man to wear anything around his neck that aren’t dog tags, an Olympic medal or an award given to you by Princess Leia for saving the Rebel Alliance, and there are none to wear it outside your shirt. I’m half Italian and grew up in an Italian coal-mining town and I still don’t get how anyone could think this is ok. Male jewelry is only thing you can put around your neck that’s even lamer than an ascot. And don’t make the mistake of thinking that neck “mewelry” is gay - because after ten years of cheerleading and ten years in the Navy, I don’t know a single gay man that thinks wearing a chain outside your shirt is ok. In fact, they’re usually more appalled by it than I am. I would truly be more accepting of a man walking around with his zipper undone to display his manhood rather than some cheap gold herringbone chain outside his mock turtleneck. And don’t even get me started on the hip-hop community... because there’s only been one time that a bevy of gold chains has been a reliable indicator of bad-assery, and since Mr T. has long since passed into pop-culture irrelevance, you’re better off showing off your financial prowess with what you’re driving instead of what you’re blinging. Look, maybe there’s something on that chain that’s special to you, maybe you just want to keep it close to your heart. Do us all a favor and keep on the heart side of your shirt - on the opposite side from my gag reflex.

3. Heard, Not Seen. There was a time when a cellular phone was a symbol of status and importance. You either had the means to make calls from wherever it suited you, or were vital enough that you had to be reached at any time. As time passed, and more and more of us obtained cell phones, the smartphone replaced the cell phone as this talisman of wealth and influence. After all, not just anyone could or should have 24/7 access to their e-mail and the information superhighway. But we have finally reached critical mass - and now you can buy a smartphone in a 7-11. What does this mean as far as phone placement goes? It means that I don’t need to see your phone anymore. The belt clip phone case is the new fanny pack. Sure it’s convenient and leaves your pockets free for other sundry items - but who needs all that space when you’ll have the hole left from losing your dignity to store things in? Your phone goes in your pocket or your purse. If it doesn’t fit, your pants are too tight or your bag is too small. If you’ve got the equipment to warrant it, it might even go in your brassiere. But if I can see it while you’re not using it - there’s a solid chance I’ll never need to call it. Additionally, bluetooth headsets are not fashion accessories. At best, they’re legal requirements for using a phone in your car in a couple of states. But if you’re walking around and talking on one, or even worse, walking around with one on that you’re not using - you’re sporting the consumer electronic equivalent of Crocs. And I think we all know how that translates into “value to society”...

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Accessorizing isn’t an easy thing. There are people in Hollywood who get paid to do it full time for celebrities, just to make sure they don’t do it wrong. Unfortunately, not all of them get this crucial help and we’re left without a reliable guide on how or where to wear those things we deem vital to keep on our person. As a general rule of thumb, if something seems ridiculous or awkward it probably is. And just because your friends aren’t saying anything, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t. If you can’t find at least two of your friends (i.e. people who don’t see you naked regularly) who affirmatively tell you it’s ok - don’t wear it. If you can find two friends who approve of something on this list: find new friends. Quickly.