Sunday, December 28, 2008
Socially, Minoan women had the same status as men, and ate with men. Many sculptures from Minoan sites portray fierce and beautiful goddesses that were fertile and strong.
Greek culture seemed to have contradictory ideas about women. Socially, women were treated as second class, with few exceptions like Asphasia and Sappho. (It should be noted however that Sappho was from Lesbos, a Greek Island that had slightly more progressive views.) Yet when one reads Greek literature, strong women abound. Lysistrata, Clytemnestra, Antigone, Medea-whatever one may think of their actions, these characters are certainly powerful. And what of the goddesses? A veritable pantheon of women. Yet one notes an interesting pattern. Excluding Persephone, the women fall into three categories: Mother (Demeter and Hestia), Sexual (Hera and Aphrodite), and Virginal (Athena and Artemis). This almost anticipates the “Madonna-Whore” Complex. We have goddesses of the hearth and earth who are necessary, kind, but have few of their own stories. Demeter’s story shows her as the ultimate good mother, who is so distraught at the loss of a child, the whole world is plunged into winter. Hera and Aphrodite use sex to get what they want, and Artemis and Athena are sometimes androgynous.
Judaism, which also has many noble female characters and even had relative protection of women’s rights when it came to divorce, failed to bring these stories to their full feminine power. There are elusive references to prophetesses in the Bible; the story of Esther is one of heroism. The flaw in Judaism is not that they completely ignored the feminine, but just that in most communities it was played down as secondary to the masculine.
Gnostic Christianity had an incredibly progressive view of gender equality. Jesus’ disciples preached that God is “no respecter of persons”, but rather sees all humanity regardless of sex, ethnicity, etc. as equal. In the Gospels of Thomas and Mary Magdalene, which Gnostics adhered to, Jesus advocated a balance of masculine and feminine power and even showed a special admiration for Mary Magdalene.
These gospels have been (and still are) rejected by mainstream Christianity. The codifying of “official” Christian scripture instead favored other writings, such as Paul’s ambiguous writings about marriage. The relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene has been played down, denied, or scandalized by many people depending on their motives and respect for Christianity in general. One Christian writer, namely this one, thinks that the denial of this relationship is unnecessary, and that whatever the extent of this friendship (or more) it is largely irrelevant to the basic theology of Christianity.
As early medieval priests in the mainstream decided to remain celibate, the role of woman again became relegated to one of sex: women are a vehicle of childbirth or of sexual pleasure, and this pleasure was deemed carnal and evil. This was supported by the two basic female archetypes that existed in early medieval Europe: Ma Donna Mary, or Eve, portrayed as a sinner and a whore. It became accepted that the “Forbidden Fruit” Eve and Adam tasted was actually sex, and that because Eve “tasted” it first, she seduced Adam beyond his ability to resist. The account in Genesis merely states that the fruit was knowledge, which may be sexual or not. This view further simplifies women as only having to do with sex, makes villainy of sex, and over simplifies characters in a book that is incredibly complex.
In the High Middle Ages, this began to shift in other realms, though the church still tried to keep a short leash on things. Eleanor of Aquitaine provided a strong female role model and supported old Celtic stories that celebrated “natural” impulses like sex and curiosity and fused them with Christian ideals of service, mercy, and sanctity. The cult of the virgin arose, honoring Mary not just in the simplified role as mother of God, but also as a strong woman who agreed to an enormous task that included supporting her son’s controversial doctrine and watching him be martyred under the brutal Roman system of capital punishment. This holistic synthesis paved the way for women’s rights up to the present, not only in the sense of community respect, but self-respect.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Two or three years later, we were moving and I was sad for my star. We would be leaving it.
One night, in my new house I looked to the sky. In the Northwest, there was a star. My star. I thought I imagined it. But after several nights, it was still there. And it is right up there in the winter, every winter.
I know it's mine. I just know.
So that's why I believe in Santa Claus.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Eleanor was the oldest daughter of Duke Guillame X Duke of Aquitaine and his wife Anor. She had one younger sister, Petronilla, and one younger brother, Agret. Aquitaine was the epicenter of European culture, and Eleanor had rare access to education. She was an engaged and intelligent student. Her mother, younger brother, and father all died when she was young, and at the age of fifteen she inherited Aquitaine, land area that was larger than the official land of the king of France. At this time she also married Prince Louis Capet of France. Shortly afterwards his father King Louis “The Fat” died from food poisoning and the teenagers became monarchs.
Louis had been prepared for a career in the Church, but became the heir to the throne when his older brother died. Meek and pious, he was an odd match for the lively and inquisitive Eleanor.
In 1141, at age 19, Eleanor offered one thousand vassals in support of the Second Crusade, led by her religious husband. She also insisted on accompanying Louis with some 300 women. Eleanor intended for her women to be nursemaids, caring for the sick and wounded. It seems Eleanor was supporting her husband, but the legends surrounding her women suggest she may have had more ironic intentions in mind. The women allegedly dressed in the fashion of the Amazons, the legendary army of women. They rode white horses and carried arms (which they did not use) and attempted to rally troops. It is interesting to note that it was after this crusade the church barred women from accompanying the crusaders in any capacity, something Louis supported. One wonders about the intentions of Eleanor’s crusade-perhaps she was staking a claim for dominance in the relationship. Perhaps she found a way to reintegrate classical, “pagan” ideas and wanted to spread them. Perhaps she meant to represent nurture, as a protest to violence. Whatever her motives, the crusades became the turning point for the royal couple’s relationship.
In Antioch, Eleanor deepened her friendship with her uncle Raymond, who was young and charismatic. They were so close that rumors spread of an affair. Raymond had more military prowess than Louis, and suggested that the Christians focus on protecting their existing presence in the Middle East, but Louis insisted on conquering Jerusalem. Louis’ plan required more time and resources, and was likely to be more violent. Eleanor advocated Raymond’s plan, and (jealous?) indignant Louis insisted she come with him to Israel. It was at this time that the young queen showed public disdain for Louis. Their marriage was illegal, she claimed, unrecognized by God, and therefore should be annulled. While many wondered if Eleanor had had sex with her uncle, she began protesting her marriage on the grounds that it was incestuous. She and Louis were relatives, as many nobles were, and their relationship was close enough to fall under the umbrella of consanguinity in the powerful eyes of the church.
Louis forcibly took Eleanor further on his crusade, which was, as Raymond had predicted, a disaster. The couple pleaded with the Pope for a divorce, but it was denied. He instead recommended they live as any other husband and wife, and the couple had two daughters. In spite of the children and other appearances of unity, both parties knew that the relationship was dissolved. Finally, in 1152, the marriage was annulled.
Thirty year old Eleanor would then marry someone much younger than herself-Henry of Anjou, who became Henry II, King of England. Once again, Eleanor found herself a queen. While Henry and Eleanor never divorced, and their marriage resulted in a large brood of eight children to her first marriages two, their relationship was equally tempestuous, if not more so. Rumors may have risen about Eleanor and Louis, but Henry was openly unfaithful to Eleanor. He even seduced one of his future daughters in law.
In 1169, Henry and Eleanor agreed that Eleanor should focus on managing the duchy at Aquitaine. Eleanor cooperated with Henry in the interest of their children, but remained largely independent in her views and responsibilities. She celebrated the glory of Aquitaine, working to keep it relatively sovereign. Eleanor once again established Aquitaine as a cultural center. Her oldest daughter Marie, now a countess, joined her to sponsor artists and intellectuals such as Chrétien De Troyes, who some believe was in love with Marie. Marie also wrote the famous “Code of Love” which included many feminist ideals not generally practiced at the time. Eleanor sponsored a corresponding “Court of Love” where she and other women would arbitrate romantic disputes. Their rulings influenced art and poetry, popularizing and legitimizing romantic and erotic love. The women at Aquitaine influenced these ideas in such a way that many of our current ideas about love and sex to this day; ideas like the importance of loyalty, the relation of intimacy to sex, etc.
In 1173, Eleanor’s sons revolted against their father. She supported them, and Henry imprisoned her in London for 16 years. She was released at his death. Eleanor spent her final years in Aquitaine playing matchmaker for her children and grandchildren. She had been wife to two kings, mother of two kings, and influenced art until the present day. She had traveled widely for her time. She was a model for feminine power and independence, and still is. Eleanor’s fighting spirit kept her busy and active until her death in 1204. She was eighty-two years old.
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
God’s Chosen: The Jewish Character
We live in a world that worships the new. How is it that such a world would still manage to contain adherents to ancient traditions and beliefs? Beliefs that label some foods as unclean, separate men and women, and declare one group as chosen by a very concerned, emotional god? Judaism has influenced law, history, the idea of family, and even other religions and theology for over five-thousand years. Amazingly, the flame shows no signs of dying out, particularly in the
Judaism, like the rest of Western Civilization, actually began in the
Jews also believe that YHWH continued to reveal his will and laws to the leaders of the church, prophets. This adds to the special relationship they have with deity. In church services, two and one half of three hours consist of readings and prayers directly from the scriptures, particularly the Torah, or Revealed Instruction. Whilst reading from the scrolls, the spiritual leader or rabbi covers his head with a prayer shawl. The scrolls are wrapped in beautiful blue cloth, and worshippers touch the Torah as the rabbi brings it around. They also kiss their personal copies of Torah before replacing them on the shelf. These scriptures and rabbinical writings are the precious relics of Judaism. Nevertheless, is it hard for Jews to live with 500 centuries of laws in a culture that emphasizes a large dose of rebellion? As one young orthodox Jew told me, it can be. Jeff Richens says particularly in adolescence, it was hard for him to “keep kosher”, or follow the dietary guidelines found throughout Mosaic Law (Richens). “Everyone is searching for themselves, for individuality. You kind of just want to do whatever the hell you want.” Once again, the identity as the chosen people helped him stay true. “I just tell myself this is what I’m supposed to do. I hold myself to a higher standard.”
This blend of piety and confidence differentiates the Jewish character. At the church service I attended, the rabbi seemed to be training his son. This boy, only nine or ten years old, was heard praying with fervor. He was enthusiastic, something rare in generally apathetic or nervous pre-teens. He was not garish or inappropriate either. Richens assures that Jews are not superior to other people, but have entered into a covenant and therefore have an “incentive” to be better people.
This leads to a question in the history of Judaism-if Jews are the chosen people of God, why have they suffered so much persecution and hate, even to the point of genocide? Richens says succinctly, “Jews are treated like shit.” He cites current examples in pop culture. However, perhaps because Yahweh has agreed to pay special concern to the Jews, he tests them more, like an exacting professor. Richens seems to think this is the case. It is simply part of the higher standard believers hold themselves to.
One struggle the Judaists have had is the struggle for a geographic place of reckoning. Because the Jews are also the race descended from Abraham, it is possible to be a Jewish Christian or a Japanese Jew. Zionism is a philosophy held by those who believe that Jews and Hebrews should reclaim Israel/Palestine as their national homeland. The Jewish languages of Hebrew and Yiddish would be spoken, and even Jews who do not practice Judaism would be able to have a living heritage. In fact, it was (and is) mostly “secularized” Jews who advocate Zionism. At the synagogue I attended, a special prayer was said for
These struggles will, however, eventually be ended with the coming of a Savior. Some even believe that by being faithful and righteous enough, they can bring this salvation sooner. This gives the disciple of Judaism an even greater diligence and motivation in worship. It is with this hope that Jews can weather their many struggles and stay so strong.
In studying the Jewish religion and its struggles, when set against the sweetness of its people, one is easily able to see why they need a Messiah. A belief system that embraces piety and confidence, community and individuality, faith and education, hope and long suffering, Judaism’s doctrine and people impressed me greatly. In the Jewish character, we find one so great, who has suffered so much. If Jewish thought and creativity had not been suppressed, as it so often has throughout history, who knows what new developments we would have had. Perhaps when their Messiah comes, they will receive their vindication.
"Judaism”, Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2008
http://encarta.msn.com © 1997-2008 Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved.
http://encarta.msn.com © 1997-2008 Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved.
"Abraham”, Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2008
http://encarta.msn.com © 1997-2008 Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved.
Holy Bible: King James Version.
Richens, Jeffrey. Personal interview. 11 Nov. 2008.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
You have escaped damnation and made it to Purgatory, a place where the dew of repentance washes off the stain of sin and girds the spirit with humility. Through contrition, confession, and satisfaction by works of righteousness, you must make your way up the mountain. As the sins are cleansed from your soul, you will be illuminated by the Sun of Divine Grace, and you will join other souls, smiling and happy, upon the summit of this mountain. Before long you will know the joys of Paradise as you ascend to the ethereal realm of Heaven.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Sunday, November 09, 2008
You have a gift for expression. Whether it's writing, drawing, creating objets d'art or making music, you see the world in a unique way and are able to convey that to other people. No doubt you doodle on napkins and meeting notes, are always humming a new tune, have already read the latest fiction releases, and know all the local art galleries' schedules by heart. You might like hobbies like sketching, photography, sculpting, playing an instrument, singing, journaling, scrap-booking or designing clothing.
Take the Quiz!
Sunday, November 02, 2008
Unknown author. (28 May 2008) The Onion. “Obama Practices Looking-Off-Into-Future Pose.” Retrieved 2 July 2008 from http://www.theonion.com/content/news/obama_practices_looking_off_into
This website is a mock news source that provides heavy political satire. This article claims that even Barack Obama’s facial expressions are painstakingly calculated to gain votes. While this is doubtful, the article does bring up questions of political identity as well as gently mocking the intense scrutiny candidates are subject to. I would cite this article in an essay analyzing how spin and commentary affect the election, specifically the credibility of the candidates.
Martin, Roland S. (25 June 2008) CNN. “Commentary: Obama helps himself and McCain, too.” Retrieved 2 July 2008 from http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/06/25/roland.martin/index.html
This is the website of the news network CNN. CNN claims to be America’s most trusted new source, and many of its reporters and writers are highly respected. In this commentary, Roland S. Martin speaks of how Obama’s decision to opt out of public financing helps McCain, yet will likely also help Obama’s campaign in the long run. I would use this article to examine how the candidates spin each others decisions versus the validity of the decision itself.
Newton-Small, Jay. (2 July 2008) Time. “Is McCain's War Record Sacrosanct?” Retrieved 2 July 2008 from http://www.time.com/time/politics/article/0,8599,1819719,00.html
This is the website of Time Magazine, which is a widely read news magazine. This article discusses the validity of attacking McCain’s war record as well as the validity of assuming such a record will make him a better president. I would use this article to discuss how the media is also subject to political manipulation, as well as contrast it with the satirical article on Obama to discuss where the line between respectful criticism and disrespectful mocking is in this, or any, election. Is nothing or everything sacrosanct? How do we know?
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
The website for Wells Fargo Bank (http://www.wellsfargo.com) appeals to current and potential customers-upper middle class families. It is a standard hypertext structure that makes it easy to find what one is looking for, as one can access information from many different points on the page.
The site has a lot of text, mostly about the services the bank offers, under various headings such as Banking, Loans, and Investing. There is also some drop-down menus and textual ads that have icons next to them. There is a separate section for those who already have accounts, with logos around the text, and a banner ad for the bank sits at the top of the page.
The website uses images of prosperity to create the feeling that they are a sound financial institution. The banner ad shows an upper middle class father and daughter. The daughter, probably about six, is relaxing on a white couch. She even appears to be coloring on some paper. My first thought is that the father must have a enough money to clean that couch often if he let’s his six-year-old draw on it. The father is working on finances, as implied by the text, but he seems relaxed-he’s barefoot. His clothes are “business casual” and his laptop is very shiny. There is also a photographed image that is a relatively elaborate representation of the banks usual carriage outline logo. The carriage is shiny red and yellow-it certainly has not come cross country, despite its appearance in a barren stretch of desert-and is being drawn by six horses. This once again represents prosperity, and it also alludes to the old romantic history of the West as a land of gold. It also lends some historical heft to the company. They are saying “We’ve been around forever. You can trust us.”
The web page uses visual design principles well. The topics are well organized; one can easily find what one is looking for. The organization is consistent; there are no random words or images. The images are clean, non-distracting, and minimal. However there are enough images that the site does not seem sterile or unapproachable. A frequent user of the site appreciates the division of topics. Advertisements and general information are grouped together for those who may be thinking about opening an account, while those who already have one are able to bypass the already known information to access their accounts. Someone who does not have an account yet does not immediately feel excluded from using the site.
This is very important as one may have occasion to visit this site whether they have accounts with Wells Fargo or not. One may use it to check the status of an account, open an account, or check average interest rates for such things as mortgages.
The site manages to accomplish its purpose; that is, it both informs potential users of available products and makes it easy for current customers who may visit it.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
rating: 5 of 5 stars
I was lucky enough to receive this book as an early reviewer, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is dramatically entertaining, but also raises questions about the nature of identity-can it really be separate from what we say and do? It also has whetted my appetite for biography, particularly of the master con artists and undercover workers Schneider quotes throughout the book.
View all my reviews.
Sunday, October 12, 2008
It is five-thirty in the morning and I am watching my dog, Toby, try to stay awake. He will not be successful. The only reason he is awake is out of loyalty to me. It is the same reason he was struggling to stay awake at twelve-thirty this morning. No matter how quiet I try to be or no matter how many times I tell him to go to bed, Toby keeps the same odd hours I do.
Toby is an elderly pug I received from my brother. Stephen lived with me for a while last summer and when he moved out, Toby stayed. The Pug Dog Club of America gives the following information about pugs:
The Pug is of Chinese origin and dates back to the pre-Christian era. They were prized possessions of the Emperors of China and lived in a most luxurious atmosphere and at times were even guarded by soldiers. Records show that three types of short nosed dogs were bred by the Chinese. They were the Lion dog, the Pekingese and the Lo-sze. The Lo-sze or “Foo Dog” was the ancient Pug.
Toby seems to have inherited his ancestors’ taste for luxury. While a playful enough puppy, his favorite activities include luxuriating on pillows and sunbathing. Two floor pillows and one bean bag chair have been taken for the cause, and it is nearly impossible to get to come inside during the summer. Toby, unlike some who may descendents of royal dogs, does not demand to be the center of attention. He is fine being a little left of center. For example, he is fine with me writing this paper because I reach down to pet him occasionally. He doesn’t need constant attention. However, when I become a little too focused on my Spanish homework, he will decide to take a nap on the textbook and papers. He also refuses to sleep without his plush dog that squeaks. She is jokingly named Girlfriend. When forced to sleep without her, he will whine and cry until she is with him.
A Pug’s character is unique in that he is a clown at heart with a terrific sense of humor but at the same time he carries himself with great dignity. They are not too delicate for fun and games. A pug is anxious to please, anxious to learn and anxious to love. His biggest requirement is that you love him back.
The preceding description by The Pug Dog Club of America is very apt. While Toby, who is solid black except for a white patch on his chest and white toes, seems to think of himself as a rather distinguished older gentleman, he will sometimes show the enthusiasm of a puppy. Toby’s eyebrows, eyelashes, and chin are turning white and he is nearly eleven, yet if one asks him where Girlfriend is, he will disappear and return in a flash with the toy. He especially enjoys playing with her after dinner, when he will growl at her, shake her around, and then settle into a long session of licking her face off.
As Toby has gotten older, he has become more possessive of “his” things. He fancies himself quite the guard dog. Despite his age, lack of any respectable teeth to speak of, and general tininess, he will chase golden retrievers off of the property. He is quite pleased with himself afterwards, kicking the grass fiercely with his back legs. (He also does this whenever he finds ground loose enough to make dust clouds.) He does bark at strangers and seems suspicious of males in particular. However, once he has determined someone as a friend he will sound a series of whines and barks as if engaging in conversation. He will then be quite offended if they don’t offer him a belly-rub or back massage. He is also quite possessive of me, and becomes jealous of my little nephews.
Many pugs have problems with jealousy and separation anxiety. Toby is no exception and I believe these problems may have been exacerbated by my brother’s divorce. As far as Toby knows my brother’s ex-wife and “his” human disappeared one day and was never heard from again. (Actually this is alarmingly close to the truth, but I digress.) Toby becomes jealous of other dogs and toddlers (not infants for some reason) and is anxious to see me when I come home. He also waits outside the bathroom door when I shower.
The funny thing about Toby is that his likes and dislikes are just as strong as any person’s. He prefers my mother’s bed to nap on, my father’s chair to sit on, and no toy is nearly as beloved as Girlfriend. And then there’s his favorite sleeping position: paws near my shoulders, chin on my forehead. When he can get me to sleep, that is.
Quotes from Pug Dog Club of America
Obtained on June 11, 2008
Saturday, October 04, 2008
Thursday, October 02, 2008
Friday, September 26, 2008
I love TV.
I know TV is supposed to be guilty pleasure if one admits liking it all, but guess what I do.
Especially the CW Thursday night. My friends tease me (good-naturedly I hope) about how much I love the shows Supernatural and Smallville. Well now I m going to explain why I love Supernatural, especially the current season, which started last week.
1. Jensen Ackles is really hot. See the above picture. (I don't know who took this, but I assure them I respect their copyright.You know, as if their reading this.) -Sigh.- But more than that, his character Dean Winchester is a bad boy, but he's bad because he has to be to do what's right. So he's a righteous bad boy. This is my favorite kind of boy. This is the boy who answers to a higher ideal than other people. So I am very in love with his character, as opposed to just lust, which describe my feelings for the actor. So there's my superficial, junior-high groupie reason for loving this show.
2. I, strange as this may sound, relate to various aspects of the show. Philosophically. I first watched it thinking hey, this is sort of like the priesthood. That might sound weak, but I pick up philosophical (?) patterns in the world like that guy in A Beautiful Mind picks up mathematical ones.
3. I especially love this season. I'm going to discuss in detail the first two episodes now, so cover your eyes if you don't want to know.
This season seems to be explicitly Christian. I find this cool for couple reasons, the first being that I'm Christian. If you don't know me maybe this seems kind of bigoted, or maybe it does even if you do know me. But I think it's good for me, as a Christian, to have a show like this that isn't really cheesy. And I relate far better to these guys doing the best they can and hoping they're not damning themselves along the way than someone who volunteers and then gets the warm fuzzies from it.
So this season Dean got pulled out of Hell by an angel, heretofore not realizing they existed. (But if you have demons it only makes sense that you have angels.) This angel then tells Dean that he needs to work for God to fight Lucifer. I of course imagined they were doing this all along, but that these two beings exist also blows Dean's mind. Then, if the mention of angels and Lucifer hadn't convinced you, the angel and Bobby (another demon hunter) mention specific things from Revelations. So here's another reason I think this is cool-it's bold to be so explicitly Christian, especially on a show like this, prime time, on the most coveted night of the TV week.
I mean this is not Sunday afternoon nor friendly non-denominational angels whose only real religious standpoint is God loves you (cough, Touched By An Angel, cough). While it seems weird to describe an angel in these terms, even a fictional one, Supernatural's angel kicks ass. There is just no other accurate term. When we meet him for the first time he walks right into a knife and keeps on going. It's pretty cool. I mean he's sent from God right? So a knife wouldn't freak him out. But he's also compassionate, asking Dean why he doesn't think he deserves to be saved. It's awesome. It's not dumbed down, and it's definitely not a kids show. It's not what I would immediately call uplifting, but it kind of does make me want to be a beacon of truth, fight bad guys like Satan and Oppression and Really Stupid Governments. (You think I'm kidding, but I'm not.)
My religion doesn't completely agree with every idea on the show (though it doesn't explicitly disagree with much either). But one of my humanities professors is always talking about how much the US misses out on not having many basic heroic stories anymore, which is why if we even get a scent of one we milk it for all it's worth. (I think this is probably why we make so many super hero movies.) So most of all I'm excited to have a hero I can relate to-a righteous rebel fighting the bad guys in his own special way.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
There was a man named Samuel Swift Merritt. Samuel was said to have powers. Nothing extreme, just party tricks, your run of the mill telekinesis. He could make “spoons dance and tables jump” (Kelsey, 2008). Samuel eventually left his family and joined a controversial new religion called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. He forsook his abilities and came west. But Something followed him. One morning at a camp by the Snake River he arose stricken, pale, and looking many years older. Accounts say he looked as if he had seen death. It was beyond a bad night’s sleep. Indeed, his descendents say he was wrestling with evil spirits.
Samuel Merritt is my ancestor, and as far as my family can tell, the first person in our line to experience weird hauntings, strange abilities, and unexplained knowledge of some things. If hearing this, one wonders how this is possible; if maybe we’re just crazy; making it up, imagine being the one on the receiving end of this otherworldly birthright. In an attempt to understand myself, I will examine several stories in my family history and their individual significance. These stories have all been told by my mother, who received them orally from other members of my family.
The theory is that due to Samuel’s strong energetic power and many heirs that would seem to inherit this, evil spirits attempted to woo him away from being a religious man. At the least he would not receive all the salvation he could, at the most he might lend something to the cause of evil. It is also speculated that spirits lent some excess energy to Samuel, that being the reason he could perform his tricks. Herein lies the first rule of being whatever it is we are-just because you are able to do something doesn’t mean you should. One example is the last time I got my Tarot cards read. I know nothing about Tarot cards, but as my friend Jeff was doing them for some people and I was a little curious and a lot hyper, I agreed to have them read.
“Focus on a question,” Jeff instructed. I thought of a question-it was all too vague really, a general “what does my future look like” query. I don’t even remember the specific question though I remember the general idea. I put all the excess energy I had (which was a lot) into that question. Jeff turned over the cards. Love, pain, battle, victory. He told me the meanings skeptically.
“Maybe it didn’t work,” he frowned.
“Why do you think that?” I asked. I had other ideas.
“It’s just a weird reading. These two,” he covered the cards for love and battle, “are supposed to correlate and these two,” covering pain and victory, “go together, but they’re opposites. Did you actually ask a question?” I knew exactly why those cards were together, why they were in that sequence. It was confirming all the dreams (and nightmares) I had had my whole life, the almost memories that didn’t make sense. “Maybe love will sustain you through a battle, and then you’ll think you’ll lose or it’ll cause you pain but you’ll be victorious, or…” he trailed off. He was wondering if I was going to die for something, I think. I didn’t confirm or assuage his fears, I was thinking about a dream I had when I was ten. I was suddenly exhausted
“Do you think it works?” He nodded. “How?”
“I think you put your own energy into it. If you’re tired your readings aren’t as good.” I nodded. That was true I realized. No spirit was whispering in my ear what to ask. As far as I knew, Jeff was not a shaman. It certainly was not a religious experience. But I had spent a lot of energy, and while Jeff was not a shaman I might be something close.
I will never get my cards read again. I don’t want to abuse any power I might have, and I certainly don’t need spirits coming to play with me any more than they try to now. Just because you are able to do something doesn’t mean you should.
Samuel’s daughter Elizabeth married Caleb Bleazard and they had children. One of these children was my mother’s great-aunt Lydia. Lydia had discovered a popular parlor game called Ouija. The premise was you ask the game a question and using a magnifying glass like object you would mysteriously spell out the answer. The times I have actually heard people talk about this game, no one has bothered to explain why it works, or even more interestingly why there are some occasions it doesn’t work. Caleb, who likely had enough sensitivity to recognize danger when he saw it, forbade the use of it. In fact he demanded it be thrown out. Lydia didn’t listen, but hid it from him. After Caleb died, it became a regular fixture in the Bleazard household with Elizabeth and especially Lydia consulting it often. Lydia wouldn’t travel without it. It seems like a joke, this spinster living with her mother and addicted to a board game, but this was the case. Whatever one thinks about the Ouija, one must agree Lydia’s fascination with it was unhealthy. But, like all these stories, there is a deeper, weirder element and a lesson therein. Lydia’s cousin Hazel, my grandmother, was a fairly new bride (maybe five years into her marriage), who nonetheless already had half the children she would ever have. Lydia thought it would still be fun to ask Ouija how many children Hazel was to have. After all, the divination of the number and sex of future children is a common practice. (Brunvand, page 8) The Ouija responded 3 boys. Hazel had already had two girls and in fact would only ever have one boy. Hazel thought to herself that this was unlikely and somewhat stupid. Then the Ouija began to spell out the words “You’ll be sorry for that.” Seeing as Hazel had not actually said anything, this disturbed her a bit. Another interesting story is that the Ouija would not work in the presence of my grandfather Robert, who himself had had some experience in performing exorcisms and held the LDS priesthood. The infamous Ouija was destroyed in a house fire when Elizabeth’s own personal haunted mansion fell into disrepair. From an early age then, we were taught not to play with things we don’t understand.
I had managed to avoid such things as the Ouija until I was thirteen, when of course it made an appearance at a friend’s party. It was a present for the hostess given to her by one of her friends who honestly seemed a bit creepy to me, though I was much more judgmental then. The hostess herself was only mildly intrigued, but the giver had a hungry glint in her eye and demanded we try it immediately. I flat out refused, as did my best friend whose father had warned her of such things. This surprised the hostess and annoyed the gift giver.
“Why not?” Natalie, the hostess, asked.
“Sometimes it works-my question is how?” I replied.
“It might not,” said Margaret, the giver, who was obviously hoping it would.
“That thing can’t be good,” my friend Courtney stated emphatically.
“It’s a game-how dangerous could it be?” I raised an eyebrow, and Natalie admitted that she was sounding dangerously like she was offering us drugs. We offered to leave. The question was dropped, or so I thought, yet while Courtney and I were enjoying our mocktails, Margaret entered looking dark and dejected.
“You can relax,” she said. “It doesn’t work.” We looked at each other, annoyed. Yet I have since wondered if our combined resistance, topped with our lack of any real power in the situation with us being only thirteen, managed to protect the party from otherworldly influences of a negative type. Interestingly, there was a brief time that I suspected Natalie and I were on opposite sides of the moral fence. Her lack of respect for my knowledge may have influenced me. The giddy, nervous, experiments with witchcraft that some teenagers go through were always avoided by me. Now that I’m older, some associates try to do the same thing with drugs. One shouldn’t play with things one doesn’t understand. I also learned from this experience that I have more power than spirits do-my grandfather Robert is an example of this as well.
These things have incredible individual significance, and this shapes my social interactions and responses to everything. It is an undeniable part of who I am, and the only veracity I can offer is that I wouldn’t choose to be this if I could imagine any other possibility. Sometimes, when I am able to warn a friend I realize why I know things before they happen, why I see things that I shouldn’t, why I have a deeper understanding of so many things and I am grateful. Other times, when I have dreamt of spirits all night, when they put nightmares in my head, when I arrive at school looking like I’m hung-over when in reality I’ve been casting out demons in my dreams all night, I hate it. And of course there’s the telling people, when I do. Isn’t it so unbelievable? Why would it exist? Why should it be my family? Is it all Samuel’s fault?
A friend called the other day. “What’s up?”
“Oh, nothing. Same old, same old.” As one friend put it, nothing, because “what else can I say to you?” (Anonymous Source, 2008.)
I don’t tell people because they can’t always know it’s true. If it’s just me telling a story, what someone else said, if they play with the idea it’s truer than if I swear it happened, if I write a personal statement. For my own sanity, at least as preserved in the minds of other people, when they ask me what’s wrong I’ll continue to say “It was nothing.” They can think what they want; while I know it’s like my mother Rosalie said in one account-“There was Nothing there. But you know what? There was something there.”
Kelsey, Rosalie. Personal Interview. 28, July 2008.
Brunvand, Jan Harold. The Study of American Folklore. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1998.
Anonymous. Personal Interview. 25 July 2008.
Saturday, September 13, 2008
"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."
— Ernest Hemingway
In “His Father, Singing” by Leslie Norris, the speaker describes the tone in which and reasons that his/her father sang. The father does not sing happily or contentedly, but achingly and in anguish. The speaker tells of one specific incident in which the father comforts his son by singing to him. As his singing breaks into “pain and anger”, the speaker takes notice. So much important art is born out of pain, anxiety, and social unrest. It is these wounds we most want to explore. We want to see if they look like our own. I think there is a secret vulnerable part of all of us. Our quest for intimacy and the popularity of sad stories is our desperate need to show someone. The father in this poem, while usually singing quietly in the garden, reaches a point where for whatever reason he shows his wounds. Perhaps he relates to the child crying, perhaps he knows that the baby will not remember or repeat his song, perhaps he just can’t hold it in anymore. Either way, the speaker hears it and instinctively knows that “someone should be listening.”
Hemingway’s quote is apt-all good poetry, even the happy kind, seem to come straight from the writer’s heart, body and soul, to be their blood. A good poem pumps through are veins, drives our movement, becomes a vital part of us. Even the most ecstatic poetry should wrench one’s heart. The best poetry, like the father’s song, does not just tug on the heartstrings; it jerks them out of place. And someone should be listening.
Voice is everything in Jane Kenyon’s “Briefly It Enters, And Briefly Speaks”. In fact, rather than saying it has a speaker, I would almost just say it is a voice-after all, it seems to be an abstract idea that is speaking. The voice is intimate, particularly in the last stanza. It is first person, which always makes the reader feel as if the speaker is talking to him/her specifically. This contrasts with the actual diction of the poem; words which are speaking of a kind of universality between humanity.
It is the contrast between this intimate voice and wide range of subjects that create the magic of the poem. This is done most effectively by using first person. If the one line second stanza was changed to “It is the maker, the lover, and the keeper. . . .” the intimate connection with humanity is lost and it remains simply an ideal. By presenting the speaker as It (humanity, hope, love), the reader really believes that there is that connection, that It exists.
The imagery in the stanza that reads “I am the heart contracted by joy. . .the longest hair, white before the rest. . . .” is compelling, again for it’s contrast. A heart contracting is a very dynamic, violent image. A hair that is white before the rest simply is, and there are no other verbs in the phrase. White is purity, white hair is age, and it paints a very serene picture. With the contrast between these two images, we know that the voice resides in the youthful ecstasy of joy and the serene peacefulness of age.
Monday, September 08, 2008
Happiness, on the other hand, cannot be held. Any souvenirs do not begin to touch the actual emotion involved because happiness “doesn’t need anything.” The only thing it leaves one with is a different perspective. With happiness we “wake up with possibilities”. Sadness may make us look to the past, but happiness makes us look to the future. For example, compare being in a relationship and being happy with it to being in a once happy but now unhappy relationship. In the former, one may be filled with hopes of dates, stolen kisses, plans to travel, to marry etc. All of these are hopes for the future, whether distant or near. If the relationship has turned sour however, even the sweetest memory of the lover is made bittersweet.
Happiness is transient; it “goes away when it wants to”. Upon reading this, one might wonder if Nye is saying happiness is hopeless. While Nye speaks of the initial cause for joy being temporal, she leaves us with the feeling that the new perspective gained is not. Even moving from a paradisiacal tree house to a quarry “cannot make you unhappy”. We are still left with the idea that “everything has a life of its own”.
Nye concludes by saying that happiness is too large to be held inside. Instead happiness radiates into everything that surrounds the happy person. We cannot take credit for this beneficence, just “as the sky takes no credit for the moon,” we simply hold it and let it radiate from us. Through this simile we are able to see happiness as a glowing orb that lights our way, once again into the future.
This last stanza can be compared to the first which speaks of holding sadness in one’s hands. This is an interesting progression: first the speaker talks of sadness as something one holds, then she says that happiness doesn’t need one to hold it, and finally she admits that one holds it the same way the sky holds the moon. This last claim implies that sadness does need to be held to exist. This comparison is the key to understanding the true result of Nye’s meditation. Happiness happens, while sadness is something we must take responsibility for. If we let go of sadness, instead of radiating, it will simply cease to exist. By showcasing our happiness, we not only have a better chance of gaining perspective, but shine a light for everyone as well.
The following is a poem with the same basic theme that I wrote as response to Nye’s poem.
I am banishing you,
Small pitiful you,
Undeserving of any tears, time, or thought.
I made a mistake, but I won’t let you tell me that I am one.
I embrace You
Grand, shining You
Conquering the doubt, fear, chaos.
I embrace You lightly like light, knowing You will come back over and over again…
Tuesday, September 02, 2008
I lost him to the narrow passages of his mind
I lost them to the Vista from which I had to recover
I lost her to The Other Side, where I was always scared she was going
I lost him to smoke and holy water
I lost them to the land of peachtrees
I lost her to the real world
I'm losing him to the streets and I might break
I lost Them and I never hope to find them
I keep losing pieces of my soul,
Or at least you all have torn at them
Maybe you will stretch it far enough
Monday, August 25, 2008
“Barn Burning” by William Faulkner is the story of young Sarty’s conflict with his father Abner. Abner is a man who will not change his course for anything (including manure) and is a temperamental arsonist.
This story makes me think of a reversed story of Helios, whose son’s pride and recklessness scald the earth as well as kill him. Helios allows his son to drive the sun chariot against his better judgment and many lives are destroyed. Sarty also goes against his better judgment to testify against his father out of familial loyalty. His often reckless father commits arson when ever his pride is hurt. Sarty, like Helios ends up lamenting yet frustrated at his relative’s actions. Prometheus also stole fire (power) from the gods and gave it to man. Destruction is a power Abner has that brings him closer to the rich DeSpains-everyone is vulnerable to fire, and through its use Abner feels invincible.
This story also has an archetypal father vs. son power struggle. We can see this in stories of how Zeus overcame his father, the story of Oedipus, etc. Sarty is indirectly responsible for his father and brother’s deaths. With this he becomes the patriarch in the family, but also to some extent, its destroyer. When Sarty is called on to testify against his father and Abner later beats him for supposedly considering it, it shows the first severing of the father-son relationship.
In these scenes, Sarty is a helpless boy, by the time he runs away from home he is a power in his own right. Sarty’s familial duty gradually fades away as Sarty is unable to empathize with Abner. Sarty tells Abner he understands his anger, which Abner takes as implicit approval of arson. At this point Sarty realizes he must take over in order to survive and protect his family, much as many mythic sons kill their fathers in self-defense or as vengeance.
Monday, August 18, 2008
In William Faulkner’s stories “A Rose for Emily” and “Barn Burning” (Faulkner), the protagonists both must deal with overbearing fathers. Emily’s father refuses to let her have boyfriends, and Sarty’s father Abner is an arsonist. We see how these authority figures dominate their lives indirectly, in “Emily”, and directly, in “Barn”. Faulkner creates a world in where no one is innocent, the need for control can be dangerous, and a break with authority can be necessary yet tragic.
Neither Emily nor Sarty are truly innocent, which traps them within an assumed innocence.
Emily is never allowed to experience romance until her father is dead, which makes her innocent of normal male-female relationships, but sadly experienced in a dominating, suppressive one. Her only other relationship is with her serving-man. It is very possible Emily views all men only as potential slave masters or slaves. There is no innocent first love, only a twisted one-sided relationship.
Sarty has also experienced hardship, due to his father’s pyrotechnics. Sarty is very aware of society’s laws and reactions to his father’s crimes. He has seen the destructive power of fire and his father shows this same destructiveness when he beats Sarty. Sarty tries to relate to his father, but cannot due to his experience of what arson really does.
In both stories, to be innocent is to be ignorant.
The townspeople are innocent enough to dismiss the smell at Emily’s as bad cooking or hygiene, and therefore miss the glaring evidence of murder. The pharmacist, while not completely naïve, does not have enough persuasiveness to stop Emily from buying arsenic because he has no experience with the situation.
Sarty’s siblings seem innocently ignorant as well. While we find it hard to believe they could be anymore innocent than Sarty, especially the accomplice older brother, they do not to seem to have the same grasp of their father’s actions. The sisters are lazy and unintelligent, and the brother follows Abner blindly.
In both stories, the need for control is dangerous and destructive.
Emily’s father controls her, and this leads to her wanting control over her lover, Homer Barron. Her desire is so strong she kills him, keeps his corpse and never leaves her house. Her home has become her own world in which she can control everything, even her lover. He will never tell her he’s not in the mood, that he doesn’t like the curtains, or that she shouldn’t go out tonight. More important for Emily, he will never leave her, at least physically or by his own volition. He can forever remain the ideal-no need to discover he’s a philanderer or an addict.
Abner exercises control over his family and over the element fire. Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to humanity, as a way to bridge the gap between them. This is basically how Abner utilizes fire. No barn is fire proof, no matter how much money or pedigree has gone into it. His employers may abuse him all they want, all men
are equal in the face of fire-and all are subservient to the one who controls it. Fire also represents rage, as both can be destructive and lose control in an instant.
Faulkner shows the sometimes tragic necessity of breaking with authority.
When Sarty finally betrays his father’s actions openly, it is at least partly in the interest of his family. They cannot keep travelling an losing jobs. They cannot constantly be put in the position of being made to commit perjury or take responsibility for actions that aren’t theirs. Sarty cannot continually be physically and mentally abused. The struggle of family vs. ethics/law/etc. is unsustainable, particularly for a child. Yet when Sarty hears gunshots, he knows it is likely that his father and brother are dead. Sarty will then have to reconcile the feelings of responsibility he may have.
In contrast, Emily never breaks with authority until she breaks what is the most crucial law-murder. Perhaps it is inevitable that those who feel oppressed will revolt, and perhaps it would have been better for everyone if Emily had done so earlier in her life. “Barn Burning” shows this necessity much more explicitly than “A Rose for Emily” does. We don’t actually know to what extent her father controlled her; it may have been very slight. It may have been incredibly abusive. We don’t know if it directly influenced her murderous ways, but one can reasonably assume so. One cannot act according to another’s desires forever. These stories show us the same thing experience has-the longer an emotion stays under wraps, the hotter it will grow, and the more combustible the release will be.
It may have been better for Sarty to turn in his father in the beginning as well. If Abner went to prison, it would have saved two lives. Perhaps what Faulkner is trying to say is that we should not subject anyone-ourselves or others-to someone’s own desires. Faulkner mentioned that the human heart was oftentimes in conflict with itself (Robbins)-add someone else’s heart and life in nearly unsustainable.
Faulkner, William. Selected Short Stories of William Faulkner. New York: Random House Inc., 1962.
"Edit Submission: Short Story Essay- Major Paper ." SLCC Virtual Campus. nd. 27 June 2008
Monday, August 11, 2008
Who, what and where am I? As a member of The Church Of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I feel this question is best answered by the following statement from the Church’s library: “We are daughters [and sons] of our Heavenly Father, who loves us, and we love Him.” I adhere to the belief that I am a literal spiritual offspring of a God and Goddess and that it is my destiny, should I live up to it, to become a Goddess in my own right. I have been placed specifically on the earth at this time and in this situation to follow that destiny. We humans are “god[s] in embryo.”
How do I know? Assuming the main goals of existence are joy and self-actualization (to be examined later), how do we know our metaphysics and actions are correct? We generally experience and interpret the world through three ways; that is action, emotion, and rational thought. If we wish to reach correct conclusions, it is best we give all these interpreters due consideration.
Action is necessary to a long life and for most healthy humans, a happy one. We must take the action of eating in order to survive for example. Action is the center of our experience because it is both a result and a cause of our thoughts and emotions. We desire to kiss our boyfriend, we commit the action and enjoy it, and therefore we desire to do it again. Action without thought, however, is often harmful and stunts progress. (It is doubtful whether one can act without emotion as there is likely at least a desire to perform the act.) If one discovers fire, burns oneself, and out of fear never utilizes that power again, many developments may never be reached (such as light, warmth, cooked food). Truths one discovers through action are called self-evident.
Emotion is important to consider chiefly because it is undeniable. Everyone experiences emotion except possibly severely disordered people such as psychopaths. Emotion is what creates our desires, it seems directly connected to physicality (e.g. the body needs sustenance; this prompts the desire to eat.) With this in mind however, emotion is not purely the body (as is action) nor purely the mind (as is reason) but seems to mediate between them. For example without the emotions of love or compassion, when one feels the desire to eat one could simply steal another human’s food. Emotion seems to me the chief component in moral decisions. If something feels wrong, chances are it is and ones mind has not been able to explain it yet , nor ones body to know what action to take. It is emotion however that is most dependent on the other two faculties of knowledge. On an individual level, it is emotion that should be strongly examined. Emotion and action without reason may result in crimes of passion and further unhappiness, emotion and reason without action leads to non-productivity and, again, further unhappiness.
Reason is the champion of our age and rightly so. Most decisions that lead to happiness and productivity are largely founded on reason, and it continues to be the driving force in society. All conclusions should indeed make logical sense. If action is the way in which we progress and emotion our motivation for doing so, reason is the language we speak. It is the cornerstone of our actions as it is ultimately what decides if the action will result in further happiness. It finds the best way to express or satisfy our emotions. Many philosophers grant reason supremacy, as it is the clearest and most necessary way of dealing with each other. Like action and emotion however, it is also dependent on the other members of the experience trinity. As Aristotle’s syllogism demonstrates, reason can quickly lose credence if founded on false or faulty premises. For example, take the faulty premise that all women like to cook. While cooking may be an activity with many merits most rational beings can appreciate, it is very risky to say that all women enjoy doing so. If we take this premise as true and add the self evident premise that Monique is a woman, we can conclude that Monique likes to cook. But what evil will be wrought when we force Monique to spend time cooking, when she does not derive pleasure from it! That may sound extreme until we consider the following.
The Aryan race is innately supreme to all other races. Science declares this as false, the DNA of one race is not any stronger or weaker than another. But let us take this false premise and play with it. Adolph is of the Aryan race, Elie is not. Therefore Adolph is innately superior to Elie. This follows the logic, does it not? Yet our emotional center is becoming queasy. Adolph, on this false premise executes Elie and six-million or so other non-Aryans. This is the perfect example of why we must employ reason and listen to our emotions and body. An SS officer beats a Jewish woman; he throws up afterwards and feels an unknown guilt. His body, his feelings show him something is wrong, if he only he would use his reason to check his premises…
Aristotle aims to prevent this by having all logic stem from definition. E.g. All animals are living things of such a type that are endowed with traits which allow them to flourish. Human is an animal. Human possess traits of reason, emotion, and ability to act. Human endowed with reason, emotion and ability will flourish. This brings us to the next question.
How should I behave? So we now have a basic compass to guide our behavior. Is the action possible? Does it “feel right”? Does it make sense? Now we check that we are not rationalizing. Is it truly impossible, or is it that I don’t desire it? Do I really feel good about the decision or is it just easier? Does this course really make sense or am I avoiding certain facts? All these questions of course tie directly back in to metaphysics. Who are we? Where are we? Even wearing a sweater doesn’t pass this test if we’re somewhere hot and humid in July. It also begs the better question, what is the purpose?
If we are on Earth training to be Gods and Goddesses, what other purposes does that imply? If we are going to be omnipotent, omniscient beings, we have the purpose to learn. In the Old Testament God says “I AM THAT I AM” to Moses. If we too are to be Gods and Goddesses, we must know ourselves completely, be our best potential most perfect selves. In my religion we also believe that “Men are, that they might have joy.” We can add from this three other things to consider. Will this action increase my knowledge? Will it ultimately bring me joy? Is it worthy of me, an embryonic deity?
How should I behave in relation to others? The important facts to remember are that others are also pre-divine, and it is immoral to impede their education, happiness and health. However if that is unethical it is absolutely unacceptable to impede their freedom. Freedom is self-evident. Everyone must answer the basic philosophical questions, and they must answer for themselves. To destroy one’s own education, happiness, health and individuality is immoral, but is one’s own to destroy or cultivate. The taking away of freedom “for one’s own good” is a contradiction in terms. No matter how ethical one may seem to behave, limiting their freedom will limit their capacity for education. It will limit their capacity for happiness. It will entirely eradicate their divine individuality. Freedom must never be limited. This includes individuals’ freedom to live and gain property as well. As an entitled heir or heiress of heaven we have the right to defend our property, person, and others’ properties and persons from immediate danger. This may come in the form of other countries, other people, or even our government. Those who violate others’ properties and persons must be removed from the society, as they have obviously lost respect for human dignity. We must strive for societies which protect us from these people while still allowing us as much freedom as possible.
What ideas, images, and inventions/creations will I support, utilize and enjoy? Individuality is perhaps the ultimate ideal of my philosophy. We must honor our “divine nature” and “individual worth.” It is also moral to encourage others to do so in such a way that does not limit their freedom. We can do this through our aesthetic principles. We will buy art that shows humans as beautiful and heroic. We will see plays and movies that uphold ideas such as honor, courage and freedom. We will listen to music that pleases us, that helps us to further understand ourselves. We will read what is well written, use what is efficient, wear what is beautiful and well made. When asked what we think, we shall speak. We will live in beautiful places, encourage open minds, and defend truth, freedom, and our divine individuality.
Rand, A. (1982). Philosophy: Who Needs It .New York City, NY, Signet
LDS Church. (2001). Young Women Theme. http://lds.org/portal/site/LDSOrg/menuitem.b3bc55cbf541229058520974e44916a0/?vgne xtoid=ed462ce2b446c010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD&locale=0&sourceId=725fbe 335dc20110VgnVCM100000176f620a____&hideNav=1
Moyer, T.J. (1993). “The Family-Now and Forever.” Ensign. 10-12.
Ross, W. D. (1955). Aristotle Selections. NY, Charles Scribner’s Sons.
(1958). Holy Bible, King James Version. Philadelphia, PA, National Bible Press.
(1974) The Book of Mormon: Another Testament Of Jesus Christ. Salt Lake City, UT, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Tuesday, August 05, 2008
July 29, 2008
The following is a long paper I wrote with several other people. They will be kept anonymous, for their protection, but I thought I'd post it anyway.
Reality Show Judging: a New Code of Ethics
Salt Lake Community College
Group Community Writing Campaign
Reality TV shows' lack of fairness, ethics and good judgment are making an impact on popular culture. There is a lot of disagreement and discontentment with the values that are being transmitted to the viewers. Through research of several different types of reality shows, we have come up with ideas and ways to improve these shows. The most important things we are looking for are (1) qualified judges, since they represent justice (2) stopping multiple voting (3) assuring that judges cannot change their mind after a decision has been made, and (4) establishing a strict code of ethics between contestants and judges (which also includes: no unprofessional interaction and professional conduct on the parts of both contestants and judges, throughout the entire process, including prescreening). The expected outcome is a fair and enjoyable reality TV show.
In the last decade, the genre of reality television has become culturally iconic. TV shows, on which contestants compete, in particular, have enjoyed immense success. Programs that add viewer voting into the setup are watched and participated in by millions of people. The populous now has an even more direct influence on the “next big thing,” whether musicians, dancers, comedians, or even pets. As entertaining as these shows are, however, they are not immune from criticism. Upon closer examination, one can find many problems with the prescreening techniques, the voting process, and the objectivity of the judges -- problems which could be less glaring with some minor adjustments. How do so many obviously untalented people get on TV in the first place? Is it possible some fans are able to “pad” the votes? How does the audience influence the judges, and how do they influence each other? We will attempt to explore these questions, among others, through the specific formats of four popular reality shows that are centered on four different kinds of talent. We will examine the credibility and objectivity of the judges on each show, explain the effect of viewers or audience members on the eventual outcome, and examine what the code of ethics seems to be, if indeed there is one. We will then put forth specific ideas on how each show, and reality competitions in general, may be improved.
The most popular reality show right now is American Idol. American Idol is a hallmark television program with millions of followers. Idol was created by Simon Fuller, the Spice Girls Svengali, and first aired in England in 2001, as Pop Idol. It came to America the following year, with a new name but with the same purpose: to find market-friendly talent among an enormous pool of amateurs and wannabes (Frere-Jones, 2008, p.74). It has a simple dynamic plot that has captivated America for eight seasons. Every year judges that work for the show travel to different cities in the U.S. searching for talented singers. Long lines of hopeful young performers make their way through preliminary screenings anticipating their moment in front of the three famous judges: Simon Cowell, a successful, hit-making executive for BMG Records in Britain who created and helps produce the series, Paula Abdul, a popular singer and choreographer, and Randy Jackson, a veteran musician (Duffy,2002).
Reality competitions are only as good as the judges who preside over them. The American Idol panel, the gold standard of the genre, proves that the right combination of critiques can add professional insight, comic relief or a verbal jab (much to the delight of the audience) (Kinon,2008, p.1). Each judge has a distinct personality and role on the series. Simon is usually the most critical and direct. His opinion is however the most valued because of his experience in the music industry. Simon is paid to deliver his criticism in a nasty way, although he's usually right. "He's just being honest, saying it in blunt fashion. It's just constructive criticism," said Justin Guarini, a personable Pennsylvanian who was among the favorites to win it all (Duffy, 2002). And then there's Paula -- if she could find it in herself to do a taping sober, she might give some good feedback. John Rich of Nashville Star thinks she's downright disrespectful to contestants with how nonsensical her commentary is (Sample, 2008, p.3).
These performances in front of Simon, Paula, and Randy are called the preliminaries, though the contestants have already been seen by another professional panel to eliminate those that are obviously not qualified- or so you might think. The reality is that these first acts from all over the country can be some of the most entertaining, although sometimes at the singer’s expense. In these episodes of American Idol the judges will send a few singers they think have a shot at winning to a second round in Hollywood. These are also the episodes that showcase a variety of obviously bad auditions. The judges, though honest, can be cruel. This of course is entertaining and is usually a crowd pleaser.
"I think this kind of competition, going in there live, singing a cappella, is as brutal as it can get," says Abdul (Duffy,2002). Although each contestant agrees to the terms and condition of auditioning for the show, it might seem mean spirited to show these obviously bad auditions for amusement and public scrutiny. Some of the contestants who might even be mentally ill or psychologically challenged are ridiculed by the judges and their performances are aired on primetime television. Does this aspect of the contest distract from the real goal of helping an amateur singer rise to the top and become a success?
"The original idea was to do a show that shows what the music business is really like-illogical, sexist, all the things," stated Cowell (Duffy, 2002). The contest's intentions may be pure but judges can be brutal, especially in the preliminaries. In one instance, the usually kinder and more sympathetic Paula and Randy were unusually rude.
“If you were looking for insensitive behavior, Randy and Paula were your go-to judges. The two of them breaking into hysterical laughter as 22-year-old James Lewis sang "Go Down Moses, Let My People Go," was the cruelest moment of the night. They might be forgiven for not having the back story, but the producers made sure to let the viewers in on the fact that the Philadelphia tour guide had been encouraged by his co-workers to audition, obviously some sort of cruel joke on their part, which the producers were happy to help with” (Kerwin,2008, p.30).
Though it may seem the judges have the final word in the preliminaries by the next phase of the contest it’s not just the judges who affect the outcome. Except for the early stages of the competition, when the judges winnow a group of about two hundred down to twenty-four, they can only file amicus briefs. They can say, "It was just O.K. for me, dog," banish singers to cruise ships, and make everyone cry, but the people have the power (Frere-Jones, 2008, p.74).
The judges critique contestants on their vocal ability, song choice, presentation, and other aspects of pop craftsmanship. The American public, though, decides who remains in the running, by phoning and texting in votes after Tuesday night's broadcast (Frere-Jones, 2008, 75). This is an exciting opportunity for the American people to get involved. They feel that their vote might be the deciding facture of who stays on the show and competes until the end or who goes home. American Idol does "an immense good in getting younger people interested in singing." Finkle (2006, p.18) notes that "competition, as we know makes you get better.” Each week contestants are cut based on the popular vote received from text messages sent into the network from the masses. But text messaging voting, though it involves the viewers, has its disadvantages. There is no limit on how many times a viewer can vote in. While interviewing coworkers at my job I found that many of those who voted texted in dozens of times. Therefore the outcome may be a little skewed.
According to Frere-Jones (2008, p.75), seventy-four million votes were cast in the finale of the 2007 season. The problem with the voting may not just be the amount of times one can repeatedly vote, but the lack of experience the general public has with actual musical talent. Simon Cowell’s critiques, though harsh at times, represent real value.
The viewers need to compete only with Simon; Jackson and Abdul both give us plenty of opportunities to feel superior. The self-flummoxing Abdul is physically incapable of not reassuring the contestants. One of the few variables that Jackson seems able to track is pitch (Frere-Jones, 2008, p.75). Even if the professional judges' opinions might be off at times, surely the general public is even less qualified to judge the real art of singing. Finkle (2006, p.18) wrote, "I don't think that the most important factors are being addressed by the judges more than half the time. You're dealing with a range of watchers who [include] musicians and record producers who know what is marketable. According to Finkle (2006, p.13), there are people who vote for contestants because they're cute. Undoubtedly the winner in the grand finale of the show will become an American idol. A show as big as American Idol, is open for all types of people who want to take advantage of it (Keveney, 2006, p.40). Does this contest undermine the real talent that exists in America? Just because it’s popular doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the most valuable. What the judges say about the contestants does not always sway the voters, although Cowell - the only judge who is able to dependably articulate why he thinks certain performances do or don't work - probably affects some (Frere-Jones, 2008, p.75). Hopefully America will realize that to really find the best of the best a popular television show, though it may have many fans, should not be considered the greatest resource for finding America's most talented singers.
In addition to people pets are also expected to hold their own in the world of reality television. Each episode of Pet Star has a talented group of animals and their owners who show off their special talent competing against one another. The winner of the show for that day will receive $2,500 and return at the end of the season and compete for $25,000 in cash and prizes with the other finalist from that season (“Mario Lopez,” 2008, p.1). Any type of animal can participate in the show as there is anything from lizards and ponies to the average dog competing. To showcase your animal’s talent, all you need to do is call or e-mail the producers and they will send you a form to fill out about the talent that will be shown and what type of animal you have. There are also questions not just about your pet's personality but also your personality. According to Borgenicht (2004, p.10), in his book, “Reality TV Handbook,” if you would like to pass the prescreening you need to make your personality more interesting then it really is.
The host of the show Pet Star is Mario Lopez. Mario has been a celebrity star since 1985 in an ABC comedy series (“Mario Lopez,” 2008, p.1). It is unknown if he owns any animals, but he seems to love each animal that comes on stage with him. Mario makes a wonderful host as he is able to get along well with the animals and the panel of judges (C. Cole, personal communication, July 7, 2008).
The panel of judges is made up of celebrities. The judges will stay for that season then next season there will be new celebrities judging the contestants. Some judges are Ben Stein, Susan Yezzi, Billy West, Brad Pitt, Melissa Pertman, and Brett Butler to name a few (“Animal Planet’s,” 2008, p.1). For each show there are always three judges on the panel. The main things the judges have in common are that they are well known celebrities that are either annoying or funny (C. Cole, personal communication, July 7, 2008). The article “Favorite Reality Television Judges” by Andy Dehnart (2008, p.3) states, “Judges on reality shows need to be knowledgeable, articulate and entertaining, or some combination of those.” Dehnart’s point is that you don’t need to be an animal trainer or have an educated knowledge of animals to be a judge deciding America’s talented animals but you need to be funny and well known.
The judges vote after each animal has preformed their talent on stage giving them points from 1-10, 10 being the best (“Mario Lopez,” 2008, p.1). The judges are to write in their score before they begin to share what they thought of the animal that just preformed. Their comments are not as rude as other reality shows, but uplifting. As the judges may not be educated about the animal that is performing, the judges may not be as awed by a pet that is not incredible. If you really knew the animal and the behaviors of that animal you would find it either normal or simply amazing. An example of this is from the episode on July 7, 2008; the first contestant, a border collie jumped for Frisbees as the owner threw them while the second, a potbellied pig, went through an army obstacle course. The judges gave the Border collie one 9 and two 10s, while they gave the pig two 8s and one 9 (Ross, 2004). Both performances were well done with little mistakes. To me this was unfair judging. If you knew about the two animals you would know that Border Collies learn very fast and are very smart while potbellied pigs are stubborn and hard to train. The correct way to judge this show is to have judges that actually know about different animals and have studied their personalities.
The code of ethics that is illustrated in Pet Star shows professional conduct. As the backstage and the true prescreening of the show are not shown, there is no way to find out if there is unprofessional conduct or unfair prescreening. In most reality competition shows the judges meet the contestants before they are brought on the show, this can be unfair and cause discrimination or prejudging. A change that should be made in Pet Star is to have educated judges that know animals and their natural behaviors. With this change in the show there will be fairness in judging and the right “pet star” will be found.
While the comments on reality shows are often amusing, one show’s purpose is to find the funniest person in America. Last Comic Standing is a reality show in which stand-up comedians compete for the favor of NBC producers, celebrity talent scouts, and of course, audience members. If they succeed in this endeavor, as of the sixth season, they win, “a $250,000 grand prize including an exclusive talent deal with NBC, a brand new Honda, and a starring appearance in Jubilee! at Bally's Las Vegas.” (“Information About Last”, 2008, p.1). Comedians that attend auditions, are given a chance to perform in live showcases, and are narrowed down to only the best. Then they are voted on by the audience.
The show is hosted by Bill Bellamy, who is a comedian. Bellamy has hosted Def Comedy Jam and received an NAACP Image Award. The show also boasts “special correspondents” Fearne Cotton, ANT, and past winner Debra DiGiovanni (“Information About Last”, 2008, p.1).
The participants on the show are diverse. Anyone who thinks they are funny finds their way to the auditions. Many of the contestants who are successful have been doing stand-up for a while, but their styles differ widely. The most recent season started off with the expected satire on everyday life that stand-up generally consists of, as well as a man who impersonates dinosaurs and mosquitoes and one totes his rather large bass fiddle onstage (Hurwitz, 2008). Auditions are open, and it is up to the many celebrity talent scouts to decide who will go to the next round. The scouts don’t always agree about who is funny, but if one sees potential s/he can usually convince his/her fellow judges to give the contestant a chance. The producers are pretty good about which auditions make it into actual air-time: bad comedians are only shown to give the scouts an opportunity to explain what they are looking for or an interesting aspect of the show, such as when a comedian refuses to be rejected, as shown on a recent episode. However, this is not always the case. In one episode, we see a shirtless man in clown make-up make one bizarre statement before the scouts command him to leave. It is likely that the producers show this audition to highlight all the strange diversity of comedy, but it seems just as likely that they had another thirty seconds of air-time to fill (Hurwitz, 2008).
The talent scouts consist of several comedians and comedic actors. While many viewers would agree that these people are funny, and they have obviously found success, one may ask why they are any more qualified to know what’s funny than anyone else. Just because an actor can deliver someone else’s lines well, we give them the credit for being funny but, what about the writer? After all, stand-up comedians have to write their own material as well. Perhaps this is the reason that nearly all of the show’s talent scouts have experience in stand-up, improvisational comedy, or writing. All have been trained in the art of comedy, yet comedy is still highly subjective. After all, what makes someone laugh? Connie Weiss (2008, p.1) quotes Susanne Langer as saying that this is the wrong question-that humor is only one of the “causes of laughter.” Weiss points out that laughter can come from relief or surprise. We may find some things funny that one close to the situation would not, our detachment provides the humor. In contrast, we may find a dark or satirical joke amusing precisely because we can relate to the situation. Weiss observes that comedy often surrounds tragedy, perhaps as a way of dealing with it. This is valid, as satire or “spoofs” have become increasingly popular, and directors like Mel Brooks have based their career on them (T. Dirks, 1996, p.1). It is also what stand-up tends to be about-experiences are embellished or under exaggerated in order to see humor in them. A qualified judge would be one who understands what makes other people laugh and why. The scouts and judges are aware of these techniques, and they have honed their own comedic ability, but they are not free from bias.
While there is no popular vote in Last Comic Standing until the final round, placing more emphasis on professional opinion than many shows, although, viewers still have influence. Comedians perform in showcases, in which judges and the general population are able to see their talent. This is an important part of the process, comedian Tony Jaeger states that “Ultimately, the number of people in your audience that are laughing is the key to comedic greatness” (Jaeger, personal communication, July 7, 2008). It is important to test the hopeful comedian out on an audience. This however, definitely influences a judge’s opinion. Laughter is infectious and a judge may suddenly see a comedian as much funnier (or less amusing) in front of an audience. This also has subtle influences on the viewer who looks forward to voting. The cameramen focus on those members of the audience who seem to be having the most fun, presenting an infectious mood to the viewers as well. There is something to be said for a live connection as well. Comedy is much funnier in person, and it’s much funnier in the front row than in the back. Judge Lonny Ross stated that comedy doesn’t always translate, and though he was referring to cultural differences, it could apply to live versus filmed comedy as well.
Compared to some reality shows, Last Comic Standing runs fairly professionally. However, to limit the judge/audience influence on each other, it might be helpful to split the sections of the show. For example, the talent scouts could choose their favorite comedians from the audition. Those comedians could then perform in a showcase for an audience who votes once for their favorite-this audience would not include the judges. This would consist of the first elimination, and the show would proceed with similar guidelines until a winner is chosen. This would respect the importance of the live audience, check the people’s influences on the judges, and still allow the professional influence to be paramount.
In addition to singing, pets, and comedy, dance as become a popular subject for reality shows. America’s Best Dance Crew is a TV show broadcasted through MTV where dance groups known as “street crews” compete for money and prizes. Randy Jackson, a very successful Grammy Award-winning producer who is also a judge in the aforementioned American Idol, created the show. America’s Best Dance Crew is hosted by Mario Lopez (previously Pet Star’s host), and he hosts quite well. He does however, get overexcited sometimes and starts to demonstrate certain empathy for some of the contestants, usually when they do something totally out of the box and Mario shows his emotion in an exaggerated way.
As I previously mentioned the participants here are called “street crews”, though many of them really aren’t; most of them look pretty preppy or at least they are middle class. They might even go to dancing academies. It’s very strange how the judges refer to them as if they came from the streets even if they are not. It looks absolutely fake how some of the judges would tell them that they know what it is like to come from the streets and how difficult it is to overcome, that is annoying, even though some of the contestants really do come from the streets and most have been dancing in the streets for a long time. Only two or three groups at the most out of the twelve that compete are from the streets (Kubicek, 2007, p.1). These contestants are usually the ones that have the best qualities and do the best performances. Mario Lopez needs to remember that he is the host and he has to show partiality and not favoritism to the street dancers. The main purpose of the show is to make streets dancers famous, and when they bring people that have been going to academies or schools to the show kind of contradicts the purpose of the show (Ominous, 2007, p. 3).
The jury consist of three judges; JC Chasez, Lil Mama and Shane Sparks. JC Chasez used to be one of the members of NSYNC. Lil Mama is a former rapper-singer. Last but not least, Shane Sparks is the only professional dancer of the jury. Here is where the biggest problem is, the jury (Cudworth, 2008, p.2). Not including Shane Sparks, who is the only judge that makes good observations to the contestants’ performances and provides them with a constructive critique, JC Chasez and Lil Mama are very questionable participants on the show. Lil Mama is the main problem because of her poor critiques. There is lack of constructive comments, and the way she expresses herself makes her very hard to understand. Besides she isn’t really a dancer, she is a singer, so we could say that her experience is not relevant. Then we have JC Chasez, who has been out of the scene for almost six years. After NSYNC tore apart he tried to start a solo career, which turned out to be a big failure (Cudworth, 2008, p.2). He gained a lot of experience dancing with his group and he probably learned some basics, but let’s face it, he was just a pretty face.
The voting system is very simple, call as many times that is necessary for your favorite crew. I personally don’t vote for the contestants, but there is some sense of coherency of who is going home and who is staying in the program. We could say that there is some fairness in that part. There have only been two seasons so far, and none of the judges have changed their decisions nor have any argued the reason why certain crews have gone home. There has never been any intimate interaction between contestants and the people in charge of the show (judges, hosts, producers, executives, etc.) so that speaks volumes about the ethics of the program (Kurtz, 2007, p. 69).
In conclusion, to have absolute fairness in the show Mario Lopez would have to stop showing his favoritism. It is not necessary to kick him out, if he would just improve in that he would become a better host. Two of the judges definitely would have to be replaced for others more capable and with more experience, of the same caliber of Shane Sparks to be more specific. This way all spectators would enjoy a more fair TV show and would with no doubt keep watching it (Hill, 2005 p. 47).
As we have made evident, with the creation of a code of ethics and small changes in the voting and prescreening processes, as well as choosing highly qualified judges, reality competitions could be about real talent. These changes will result in better conditions (and chances) for the contestants, more respected judges, and an even more enjoyable experience for the viewers.
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