Sunday, June 30, 2013

Facebook Has Made Us All Busybodies

So, for the sake of not being a hypocrite and not making everyone angry with me, I’ll start out with the obvious fact that I use Facebook (sometimes too much). I think there are a lot of great things about it.

But, now that the disclaimer is over, here’s something else to think about: we have instant easy access to a whole lot of information about others makes it easier for us to nose around where we aren’t wanted.

You know the old stereotype of the old woman who sits on her porch knitting, bespeckled eyes trained on the small town goings-on so she can always be ready with the latest gossip? (I’m thinking of Rachel Lynde, for all you Anne of Green Gables fans.) That old lady was the only one in town who really could be an effective busybody because she was the only one with the time to sit around eavesdropping, people-watching, and information-gathering.

Thanks to the Internet, all of us can do that with just a few clicks. Chances are, if I wander over to your Facebook profile, I can know an awful lot about you: what movies you’ve watched, how you vote, what events you’ve been to recently, who would be on your zombie apocalypse team, and what stupid chain letter things you participated in during high school.

And, if I’m feeling like a stalker, I can find out all those things about your mom, your siblings, your roommate, and your boyfriend/girlfriend too.

Thanks to social media, we have an incredible amount of information about people. Sometimes that’s good—Facebook is great for sharing pictures, keeping up with friends who moved away, planning events, etc. But I’d like to claim that Facebook is also really good at making us busybodies.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Generic vs. Name Brand Products...and Writing

I didn’t learn an awful lot in my high school economics class. (Case in point: at the beginning of the recession panic, I raised my hand and asked my teacher to explain what would probably happen with the national debt over the next ten years. She said it was too complicated and not to worry about it.) Mostly, we were told to not go into credit card debt. So far, I’m doing pretty good on that one.

But there is one lesson that has still stuck with me. Even though it wasn’t the lesson I was supposed to be learning.

One day, our teacher brought in a sack of food and asked for volunteers for a demonstration. Food + high school students = an unlimited number of volunteers. One lucky participant was chosen and blindfolded. Then he was given two cookies, one generic and one Oreo brand. And so on, with products like orange juice, crackers, and fruit snacks. Each time, the student was supposed to raise his right or left hand to guess which product he thought was the brand name one.

He guessed right about 50% of the time. And even then, he admitted, “I’m just picking one. They taste exactly the same.”

Granted, this lesson on the relative unimportance of brand names might have been lost on the saggy-pants volunteer wearing a shirt proudly emblazoned with Abercrombie and Fitch, upping the cost about 400%, but the point was supposed to be clear: you don’t have to pay more for a quality product.

I say “supposed to be clear” because I learned a different lesson: you can charge more for a product if you market it well.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Bikini Debate

If you haven’t already seen this video that’s been circulating on Facebook, take a look. It’ll be an interesting ten minutes of your life.

To recap, Jessica Rey, creator of a vintage swimwear line, talked about modesty and how women wearing bikinis cause men to view them as objects. This generated a surprising amount of discussion and debate—check out the comments on this blog for a sampling. Here are the two basic responses from Christians I’ve seen in various places on the Internet.

One: This is so great! Christian girls have no business running around wearing skimpy bikinis. Don’t they know how it affects men?

Two: This is outrageous! Christian girls should wear whatever swimwear they want—they’re not responsible for the reaction of others. Men need to learn how to control themselves.

And those are mild ways of phrasing the debate. I’ve also read a few comments that questioned the salvation of parents who let their teenage daughters wear bikinis and some that pointed to Rey’s attitude as one that leads to a culture where rape is common because people see the woman as the one to blame.

One of the Rey Swimwear suits
I want to say something totally different. See, I think that this discussion on swimwear is actually bringing up the central issue of Christian ethics, one the apostle Paul wrote about more than any other. (Seriously. I bet you didn’t even know Paul talked about swimwear 2000 years ago.)

When you strip down the bikini debate, both sides are really looking for someone to blame. There is a central fact: women in skimpy swimwear often cause men to lust. So whose fault is it? The anti-bikini people emphasize the responsibility women have to keep men from stumbling by the way they dress. The pro-bikini people are outraged that men aren’t being held responsible for their own lust.

But guess what? Christianity has never been about shame and blame. It’s about grace and love. So why aren’t we talking about those things? Because when you start talking about loving others, it’s no longer about whose fault it is. It’s about something else.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

How Many Crazy Writer Tendencies Do You Have?

I realized I hadn’t had a quiz on here for a long time. And, since crazy people, by definition, don’t know that they’re crazy, I thought this handy guide might be helpful. Enjoy. And let me know what your level of insanity is.

Say you were alone at a cabin in the mountains, well-stocked with supplies, in November, probably hunting a turkey for your family’s Thanksgiving dinner. If a freak avalanche trapped you there for the winter, how long would it take you to go stir-crazy?

  1. Probably about a week, if that. I couldn’t handle not being around people. 
  2. Around Christmas I’d get a little lonely, but I could keep myself busy and stick it out the whole winter without going completely insane.
  3. Are you kidding me? I’ve waited my whole life for an opportunity like this! Think of all the writing I could get done!
  4. Wait, why was I hunting a turkey when I can buy one at the grocery store? This question doesn’t even make sense.

How heated is your opinion on the Oxford comma?

  1. That’s a kind of punctuation, right? I think I’ve heard of it, but I don’t really care.
  2. I mean, I can see both points of view, although I could argue one side over the other. Really, just follow the rules of whatever publication you’re writing for.
  3. Oh my goodness, don’t even start. I have had five heated debates about this in the past year. Friendships were ended. It was bad.
  4. Oxford…that’s in England, right? I like England.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

How to be a Conversation Terrorist

(Part Three of "Things I Learned In College.")
Okay, so the title of this post sounds way more violent than it actually is. Some of you are probably thinking, “Um…how does Amy’s mind even work?” And the answer to that is…it’s complicated. But I’ll try to explain this one.

“Conversational terrorism” is my name for what happens when, for some reason, you need to hijack the conversation. People are talking about something that you’d rather not talk about, and you need to act quickly to redirect the course of the conversation. Except in this case, it’s a positive thing, unlike terrorism. So maybe it’s a bad analogy.

Anyway, here are five of my best tips for hijacking a conversation, particularly if your friends start to badmouth another person.

One: “Well, I’ve learned that for everything I find annoying about someone else, there’s probably something about me that gets on their nerves.” Or a similar speck-log-we’re-all-humans-and-have-annoying-things-about-us type of statement. Sometimes it’s helpful to remember that I wouldn’t want people talking about all of my flaws and faults when I’m not around. And they totally could, because I have a lot of flaws and faults.

Two: “I can’t judge. I wouldn’t want their job. Can you imagine how stressful it would be to….” Or a similar put-yourself-in-his-shoes statement. Because sometimes we judge people by the fragment of their lives that we’re experiencing right now. This is somewhat similar to opening a book to a random page in the middle and seeing the main character say something mean and condemn him without looking for context of any kind.

Three: “Hey now. That’s a little harsh, don’t you think?” Or a similar point-out-that-you’re-kind-of-being-a-jerk statement. This is more direct and has the potential to make the other person defensive. A likely response is, “I’m just saying it like it is.” At which point you can try 1 or 2, or say something positive about the person being gossiped about or just shrug and move on with a different conversation.

Four: “Okay, this isn’t fair. He’s not even around to defend himself.” Can be said in a joking-not-joking kind of way, or just straight up serious. People usually get the point without feeling backed into a corner. Everyone secretly hopes no one is talking badly about them behind their back. It’s a simple Golden Rule thing.

Five: “Hey, did you know that giant squid’s eyes can be as large as a beach ball?” This is not just a random subject changed. After I saw this comic strip, I looked up some facts about giant squid to use to abruptly (and slightly passive-aggressively) change the subject away from gossip. It’s actually pretty fun to do.

There you have it. Five of my favorite conversational terrorism tactics. Use this information responsibly, my friends.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Why the Communist Versions of Monopoly Failed

You’ve probably heard about how the USSR banned Monopoly during the Cold War. But have you heard about what they did to replace it?

According to a Mental Floss article, “Soviet leaders even tried coming up with their own Marxist-themed spin-off games designed to highlight the virtues of frugality. The title of one such knockoff from Communist-era Hungary loosely translated to ‘Save,’ while another in Russia had a name that roughly meant ‘Manage.’”

What, never heard of these? Why on earth did these communist reboots of Monopoly not immediately take off?

Because they were trying to create culture in a purely reactionary way.

There was a cultural movement out there (capitalism) that was being encouraged by a wildly popular bit of creative property (the game Monopoly). If we’re communists, inherently opposed to capitalism, we’ve got to make our own bit of creative property to combat the one from the other side, because otherwise our people are going to be sneaking around covertly buying up Boardwalk and Park Place into the wee hours of the night. And we can’t have that, now can we?

Don’t even try to say that it’s “just a board game,” and that it doesn’t affect how people think. By entering into a game where you are a greedy landlord trying to get rich at others’ expense, you are accepting that philosophy, even if it’s in a small way. We create culture, and then it creates us.

The problem is, if the culture we create is weak and poorly designed—the Hungarian game “Save” sounds pretty compelling, doesn’t it?—people will reject it, no matter how careful we’ve been to infuse it with the right values.

Okay, let’s stop pretending we’re communist board game developers for a minute. (What? You were never pretending? Oh, come on, where’s your imagination?)

Instead, let’s talk about Christian fiction. Or Christian music. Or Christian art in general—or any area where “Christian” is used as an adjective. And let’s ask the question: are we simply reacting to the culture around us?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Questioning the Lord’s Prayer Graduation Speech

Take a 52 seconds to watch this video, if you haven't already.

Here’s the background, according to MSN: “Roy Costner IV wrote a speech for his graduation, submitted it to the school for approval and was prepared to read it to the crowd on Saturday afternoon. But the South Carolina valedictorian stunned everyone when he tore up his prepared words and recited the Lord's Prayer instead….Costner was reportedly protesting the school district's decision not to include prayers at this year's graduation ceremonies.”

From the cheers of the crowds to the MSN comments to the multiple times I’ve seen this video posted on Facebook, the response to this has been pretty universally positive. Except for those angry atheists who probably convinced the school district to remove prayer in the first place.

Well, in honor of Be a Heretic Monday, I’m going to join the angry atheists for a while here. Except without the “angry” or “atheist” part.

Let me explain. I am a Christian, and one who believes strongly that public expressions of faith are beneficial for our country (even though I think the claim that we’re a “Christian nation” is kind of sagging for lack of evidence). The Lord’s Prayer is actually one of my favorite passages of Scripture, because it has a beauty that comes from truth put simply.

But I still have a hard time knowing how to respond to the graduation speech video.

Because what if the student had recited a traditional Buddhist hymn? Or a passage from the Koran? Or even the creed of some obscure Satanic cult he belonged to?

Would the Christian reaction to the speech be the same in those cases? Would we still applaud a student for having the courage to take a stand for his religious beliefs when we don’t share those beliefs?

Should we?

I don’t know, exactly. This is one issue that I’m extremely hesitant to make firm conclusions on yet. So here are some thoughts, along with some related questions that I’m going to start thinking about. In case you haven’t figured this out, I’m very open to changing my mind about them and would love to hear different perspectives.

Thought One: I think a valedictorian at a public high school graduation should be able to express religious beliefs. It’s silly to say you can quote Ghandi or Martin Luther King but not Jesus. If everyone was forced to participate in a group prayer, that’s one thing. Letting an important area of your life (your faith) inform a speech is quite another. To me, the difference between the government establishing a state religion, or even officially endorsing one, and letting an individual express his religious views is pretty clear. That being said, I can remember being uncomfortable and annoyed when speakers have articulated a religious opinion different than my own. It’s hard not to have a double standard on this one.

Question: How should we, as Christians, react when others use their freedom of speech to respectfully articulate philosophies that we strongly disagree with?

Saturday, June 8, 2013

How To Manipulate Yourself

(Part Two in a series of "Stuff Everyone Should Learn in College. Last week's was "How Not To Fall In Love With Everyone." Moving on to academics....)

This could also be called “How to do things you don’t want to do,” but self-manipulation is a more interesting way of putting it. Seriously, though, motivating yourself to get unpleasant things done is a fascinating study in your own psychology.

For example, I really like eating cookies. They’re not particularly healthy. So I figured out something that I liked to do more than eating cookies: giving cookies to other people. Perfect.

And, if I had a daunting research paper to write, there were several tactics I could take to get myself to work on it.
A. Convincing myself that the topic was fascinating and important for my personal development (this actually worked with a lot of my exegetical papers).
B. Planning a movie night or board game party…but only if I got the work done.
C. Giving myself a stirring speech about discipline and the value of a liberal arts    education.
D. Dressing up. (Seriously. When I wore business casual, even around the apartment, I got way more done because my brain thought I was doing real work.)
 E. Rewarding myself with chocolate. Really sophisticated, but hey, whatever works.

Obviously, that list is going to look different for different people. But when you've got a stack of homework to do and you'd rather be on Facebook, you need to know what's going to tip the scale from "want" to "should."

It’s not like that covered every scenario in my college career, so I could do every mundane task with perfect joy and happiness. There were times when tricks wouldn’t work—I imagine that’s true for everyone. Sometimes, even if you know yourself so well that you can find all of your motivational triggers, nothing seems to work to make you feel like doing whatever it is that needs to be done.

And then you do it anyway.

Yep. That’s it. That’s basically the secret to how I got good grades in college.

Added bonus: a big part of being an adult is doing things you don’t particularly want to do. Sometimes you may be able to trick yourself into enjoying doing the dishes for the hundredth time…but sometimes you won’t. And sometimes you won’t want to go to work or love your spouse or deal with a discipline problem with the kids…but you do it anyway.

Practice now. It’s going to be a long life if you don’t learn this one early.

But, I mean, you might also want to keep some M&Ms around. Just in case.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Why "Validation" Works

In a scriptwriting class I audited, we watched this short film, a delightful comedy that everyone seemed to love.

The question is, why? Really, there are a lot of clichés that we should have been booing halfway through the film. But we didn’t. Watch it for yourself if you haven’t already. Then, here are the reasons I think “Validation” shouldn’t work, and why it does anyway.

Super Cheerful Protagonist: If the movie had ended halfway through, I probably would have punched our enthusiastic parking attendant in the face. Because while his compliments might have been nice, they didn’t feel sincere at all. I was almost grateful when someone finally rejected him, because a little suffering made him seem more like a real person. The change that he goes through during the film makes him into a better, more relatable character by the end, and it was that change that justified his too-happy persona at the beginning of the film.

Puns: Generally, people hate puns. The very title of this film is a pun for the main plot device. Which is probably why it works—it’s the premise, one that we are told to buy into from the very beginning. Characters who make dumb puns as punchlines usually aren’t compelling. A pun as a concept that supports other humorous elements? That can work.

You Know How This Is Going To End: Was there ever any chance he wouldn’t get the girl? Of course not. But we all wanted him to, so it was okay that the plot wasn’t super complex with a dramatic twist ending.

General Corniness: Yes, there are so many things about this short film that are completely corny. But you can tell from the set-up that the writer knew it was corny…and did it anyway. The song-and-dance number, the melodramatic lovestruck-ness of the protagonist (with accompanying facial expressions), the clips of celebrities, and the ridiculously stoic love interest are all telling the audience “We are not taking this seriously. And neither should you. Just enjoy it.”

We like change, character growth, fulfilled dreams, and happily-ever-after-endings. “Validation” does all of those things, and it does them well. So despite not wanting to like this short film at first…I loved it.

And I smiled at the end. So sue me.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

How Not To Fall in Love With Everyone

(Part one in a summer series of basically the most important life skills I learned or started to learn while in college. It’ll go on as long as…well, as long as I can think of important things I learned while in college.)

Easily the most annoying interactions I had at college were talking to or overhearing girls who described the attractiveness of guys around them, and the comparative unworthiness of the girls those guys were currently dating. (Which was occasionally followed by complaints that guys objectify girls. And as much as I love irony, when it’s mixed with equal parts hypocrisy and cluelessness, it’s a little much.)

If you ever find yourself about to start in on one of those conversations, let me say one thing really loudly and with all of the emphasis I can possibly muster:


Right now, I kind of want to launch into a rant about how, if you can’t stop yourself from daydreaming about someone in a relationship, you plan on stopping yourself later when that person is married. And how, contrary to popular (read: Hollywood) belief, you actually are in control of your own emotions.

But then I realized that’s not even the point (and that I could say it a lot shorter just by summarizing it in one paragraph). Because even if you are dating someone, he or she is not yours.

Let me explain.