Tag Archives: Popular Culture

The Problem With Kids These Days… It’s Their Music

The other day, I had a few students hanging out in my office (I am a floating teacher, I have no room to call home, so I have a small office in the library). They were sharing with me their music and I was horrified. “Why?” You ask? “Was it loud? Obnoxious? Laced with profanities? Encouraging violence? Complaining about the world around them? Promoted a message against ‘the man’?” No! It was none of that! In fact, I would say that it was wholesome, unobtrusive, inoffensive, easy to follow, melodic… in short, drivel.

Call me old fashioned, but part of being a teenager is being rebellious, bucking the ‘status quo,’ annoying your parents and everyone else over 21. The music of today’s youth represents none of that. I think they even use it to bond with their parents as opposed to rebel. A few of my student even gleefully told me stories of how they went to concerts with their parents. Horrifying. Of course, that may also be because going to a concert these days costs a small fortune.

When I was a teenager, half of my music tastes were solely to annoy my parents. I poured my babysitting money into cassettes as my mother continuously destroyed them believing that they were literally satanic. Kids these days have never even heard of a cassette or an 8-track… I listened to angry rockstars sing about love, the establishment, warfare, dropping out of school, fighting for your right to party, or any myriad of things that angered the older generation (the only requirement). I remember when I purchased Ice T’s iconic classic “Cop Killer.” Did I mention that my father had worked his way through Law School as a police officer? That went over well…

So, what is wrong with the world today? I propose that it is the music of ‘the kids these days.’ It’s their music. It has no marker of rebellion, anger, or discontent that marked the youth of my generation. Buck it up children!

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How the Stair Master Made me Socially Awkward – or was it Facebook?

I have never been a runner…. ever. However, I realize the importance of exercise and make an effort to stay in shape… most of the time. Two ACL surgeries have firmly put me in the ‘low impact’ category of exercise and I have found my cardio main-stay on elliptical machines and stair masters. I get a solid workout without my knee swelling up like a cantaloup. I have used a stair master regularly for at least 15 years… maybe more… at least since my formative teenager years. These many years of using simulated stair-machines have now rendered me helpless in the face of physical steps. I stare at them confused, uncertain of my next move – how do they work? Why don’t they move? I will sometimes stand helpless for hours as I wait for a light to turn on and let me know whether I will be moving up them in “cross-country” or “random” mode while recording my caloric output.

I now fear that my decade long use of the elliptical machine is beginning to affect my gait and my casual amblings down the street will be the next victim in this long stretch of simulated activity machine incapacity. It won’t be long until free-weights make me unable to lift objects around the house – oh wait, I already have that ailment (or so I tell my husband).

This hyperbolic string is part of an exchange I have continued with my friend and colleague Dan, carried out almost entirely via text message. Dan and I share a passion for education and technology – in a lot of ways, he is more techy than I (and in some ways not). In spite of the fact that Dan and I regularly exchange jibes and jokes and basic communiques via text message we also chat on the phone and, when we find ourselves in the same town (as we live in other states), even get together for a meal or a drink – a real, in life social interaction.

Why am I making this ridiculous point? Well, one of my greatest annoyances about the complaints I hear bout the rise of technological communication is that it hinders and even stunts real-life, social interaction. I hear this remark from my colleagues, friends, families, and online (irony highlighted) all the time – Facebook, Twitter, text messaging, and email have turned us all into socially awkward troglodytes incapable of basic niceties beyond grunts and crude gestures.

Studies and assessments on the topic are often inconclusive or even contradictory. All that I can highlight is my own observations (as a consumer of electronic media for most of my life) and as a teacher of both the socially advanced and hindered. So, let me tell you a little about myself – I Facebook, I tweet, I email, I text, I blog, I play World of Warcraft (yep, that game), I list serve, I message board, I instant message, I Skype, I iChat, I LOL and if it’s really funny I’ll even RFLMAO. I also go out to wine tastings with my husband, have dinner with old friends, travel to Europe with colleagues, go on Southern California Adventures with friends. I have friends (in “real life”) that I’ve known for a year, and those that I’ve known for 20 (and a multitude in between). Other than my crippling social awkwardness around celebrities (sorry Eddie Izzard and Dr. Drew), I am actually a pretty social person. Texting hasn’t rendered me incapable of visiting my friend Michelle in San Francisco – in fact, it helps to keep our relationship on the front-burner as I can send her quick quips when they jump into mind. And when I see her in person, we catch up where we left off.

The world we are in today (for better or worse) is much different than the way it was in the past. We live far away from friends and family; our peripatetic lifestyles make it virtually impossible for us to keep up with all of the important people in our lives, spread out across the globe, using ‘traditional’ methods. However, with new media (like Facebook) I have been able to see my cousin’s (who lives 1,500 miles away) baby bump photos grow every week  with a smile on my face. I get to see my niece’s growth in between visits – her Easter Dress and Halloween Costume. They live 1,000 away from me, so I miss many events. Facebook, pictures and video messages have helped me to stay involved in those important moments in her life.

Now, I am not saying that I have not seen “socially awkward” children dive into Facebook or Twitter as a sanctuary from the frightening world around them. That is true. In a way, “online” provides them a safe outlet within which they may develop their own persona and thought out responses outside of the physical realm. Not ideal, by any means, but not the first time that this has happened. Before Facebook and Twitter, these were the kids who played Dungeons and Dragons without end or buried themselves in their parents basement with the ham radio. Children with social awkwardness do need special attention and often must be gently pushed into uncomfortable situations to help improve their abilities to get along with other human beings. This isn’t a new problem.

I propose that the idea that social awkward/technology promote social ineptitude is all wrong. Technology doesn’t cause social awkwardness in teenagers. Kids aren’t ‘forgetting how to write’ because of texting’ or unable to communicate face to face because they send emails. The reality is that technology and social media are tools – tools that can be used in many way. You can use a hammer to bash in somebody’s brain, but it also works really well for hammering in nails. I have witnessed social butterflies become monarch social butterflies using Facebook and Twitter. I have personally experienced an expansion of my own professional learning network (PLN) using social networking sites (not at the expense of my personal interaction).

In my experience, social media becomes a problem for those who already have a problem – it further exacerbates an existing issue. However, for the mainstay it’s another tool – an expansion of our already social nature.

5 Children’s Stories that Destroyed my Childhood

So, I woke up early on Saturday morning and decided to hit the gym. I just go to a local 24 hour fitness, it’s nice, but not too fancy. There are several television screens that they have tuned to various channels to keep you pumped during your workout. This being Saturday morning, they were all turned to cartoons. While watching television shows about Troll Dolls (they still have those now?), remakes of Scooby Doo, and various Japanese exports that still make no sense to me I was struck by how different modern children’s stories are from my own childhood. Namely, they don’t seem designed to scar you for life. You see, my childhood was riddled with disturbing ‘children’s stories’ in which the protagonist essentially learned that life is hard and to expect tragedy. In this post I present to you the top five children’s stories that shattered my childhood, in particular order:

5) Darby O’Gill and the Little People - this is by far the most frightening film ever made, and not just because Sean Connery sings. To this day, the images of this film haunt me. It’s why I fear Leprechauns and banshees. In fact, it’s probably why I have avoided visiting Ireland in spite of several opportunities to do so – I’m terrified that I’ll be on the foggy moors of Ireland and confronted by these terrifying creatures. Seriously, I cried myself to sleep for weeks. It’s the tale of a drunken Irishman who attempts to outsmart the King of the Leprechaun and even defies death. So, let’s present this here: it’s a children’s tale about wanton drunkenness, evil creatures, and death – I mean, a *lot* of drinking and drunkenness, and drunken brawls, and other drunken shenanigans. Did I mention how freaking scary that banshee is?! Yep, cheery.

Enjoy this video of a young Sean Connery pretending to be Irish (notice that his accent never changes whether he plays a Scot, an Englishman, an Irishman, or a Russian boat captain).

 

4) The Red Badge of Courage - For some reason this book was required reading in the fourth grade. In fact, it’s considered excellent reading material for children 4th-8th grade. It’s an incredibly graphic novel about a young man going off to the Civil War, watches his friends and comrades die in battle, listens to Generals essentially declare his regiment as cannon fodder, and other disturbing imagery. After the primary character flees from battle, he endeavors to redeem himself by exorcises his demons in suicidal attempts. Disturbing… Apparently, the horrors of war is considered good reading for ten year olds:

“Once he thought he had concluded that it would be better to get killed directly and end his troubles. Regarding death thus out of the corner of his eye, he conceived it to be nothing but rest, and he was filled with a momentary astonishment that he should have made an extraordinary commotion over the mere matter of getting killed. He would die; he would go to some place where he would be understood. It was useless to expect appreciation of his profound and fine senses from such men as the lieutenant. He must look to the grave for comprehension.”

3) Where the Red Fern Grows - On the surface, this story seems like it would be good, clean, childhood fun. After all, it’s the story of a boy and his two dogs and the hunt adventures they experience today. However, this seemingly innocent and endearing premise, is a facade for an incredibly disturbing story that includes dog fighting, horrific bullying, abusive grandparents, graphic scenes of hunting (including detailed images of raccoon beings hunted, killed brutally, and then skinned), and the accidental death of a teenager involving an axe (yes… an axe). Ultimately, the little boy has to deal with the death of his beloved coon hounds (one was mortally wounded saving the boy from a mountain lion and the other dies from grief over the loss of her buddy). The little boy (yes, the boy) then digs a grave for his two dogs and buries them in the forest. Good times. I was forced to read this book at 8.

2) The Little Mermaid - I’m not talking about the Walt Disney version here. I mean the original Little Mermaid written by Hans Christian Anderson. If you have been blessed to have only seen Disney’s Little Mermaid, allow me to inflict some emotional trauma on you. You see, in this version of the Little Mermaid, the 15 year old girl (unnamed)

Things Didn't End this Way Originally

does not get the man and all does not end well. After seeking out the Sea Witch for the opportunity to become mortal and win the Prince with whom she fell in love on her once in a lifetime visit to the surface, she is robbed of her voice and granted legs – however, walking/dancing would always feel like walking on daggers (awesome). Also, she would only remain human so long as she married the love of her life. If he married another, she would die and turn into sea foam the morning after his wedding. When she catches back up with her Prince, he repeatedly requests for her to dance for him and she willing does so (in spite of the excruciating pain).

However, the Prince ends up marrying someone else and, keeping with the Sea Witch’s original words the Little Mermaid prepares to die at first dawn. Her sisters show up with a dagger (selling their hair to the witch). All she has to do to save herself is to stab and murder her Prince and let his blood fall on her legs – she would get her tail back and could return to the ocean. However, she couldn’t do it and instead plunges into the ocean at first light and turns into sea foam. Yep, she dies.

The first time I saw this story was in movie form at a friends’ birthday party. And this was pre-Disney Mermaid movie so the mother had no excuses showing this to children. She knew how this story ended. I distinctly remember a group of eight year old girls (and one nine year old boy – mine friend’s other brother) finishing up this birthday celebration sobbing on the couch. In fact, this friend’s brother grew up and in high school was in a hard-core metal band, even wearing a spiked dog collar. I blame that phase on his shattered childhood (a shared experience).

1) Old Yeller - This was a children’s book that Walt Disney turned into a movie – without their characteristic ‘let’s change everything to a happy ending.’ If you’ve never seen/read Old Yeller, do not see it!!! I cannot emphasize this enough. Whoever thought that this was an appropriate story for children is a sociopath. I don’t remember how old I was exactly when I saw this film, but I recall that I had to have my mother read one of the signs for me – meaning I was less than five years old.

Long story short, Old Yeller is the story of a young boy and his dog. Again, sounds like a loving and innocent premise right? A child and his beloved pet. He and Yeller (a mastiff-golden lab mix) form an intimate bond. Yeller becomes a member of the frontier family and helps with hunting and even saves the children from a bear attack. How wonderful. However, one night, Yeller saves the family from a rabid wolf that attacks them. Sadly, he sustains a bite in the process. As he is now infected with rabies the young boy then has to shoot his beloved dog in the head. Yes, this ten year old boy has to shoot his beloved pet in the head as he contracted rabies saving the family from a wolf.

Here’s a brief video of it, warning: you will cry!

 

So, these were the shattering “childrens’ stories” of my youth. Here is what I learned from these lovely stories: life is about pain, tragedy, death, depression, suicide, unrequited love, worthless self-sacrifice, and killing your childhood pets. While the Trolls television show isn’t going to raise any I.Q. points at least the children aren’t sobbing and scarred for life when the show is over.

“This is Sparta!” – The Battle of Thermopylae

August 9, 480 BCE is the traditional date for the final day of the Battle of Thermopylae. The battle is one of the most famous in all of Western History, rivaling the Alamo as one of the most significant “last stands” of military history. The battle was one of the last of the Persian Wars, which ultimately ended with the Greeks successfully deflected the Persian invasion of the Greek mainland.

The Battle of Thermopylae saw a relatively small Greek force of approximately 7,000 men hold off the entirety of the Persian Army for seven days (three of them in active battle). While Herodotus’ and other historians’ counting of the army is rather dubious (anywhere from 800,000 to 2.6 million), the reality is that it was by far the largest military force ever gathered at that point.

The success of the Greeks’ can largely be attributed to strategy – as King Leonidas selected a narrow pass (more easily defended by a smaller number of men) to hold off the invading Medes. While popular culture celebrates the 300 Spartans who fell at Thermopylae, the reality is that Greeks from all over the Peloponnese (numbering approximately 4,000) were present, upwards of 1,000 men from Sparta, 700 from Thesbia, 400 from Thebes, 1,000 from Phocia, as well as Greeks from several other smaller city-states (not including the slaves and servants that would have accompanied fighting men to battle).

The Battle saw the death of most of the Greek soldiers (some surrendered, others strategically retreated). All of the Spartans, including King Leonidas, were reported to have been killed violently in the struggle. When the Persians recovered the body of Leonidas, Xerxes reportedly ordered his head removed and his body crucified – uncharacteristic behavior of the Persians who frequently honored their defeated enemies. However, Xerxes was known for his fiery temper and the action seems to have been keeping with his character.

The Battle of Thermopylae has become a defining and romanticized moment in history. It has perpetuated our ideas (some true, some false) of Spartan military culture and the event is embodied in my favorite quote from ancient history attributed to the specially brave Spartan warrior Dienekes. Reportedly, a Trachian (on the eve of the first day of battle) told the Spartans that the Persian has so many archers, their arrows would block out the sun. Dienekes reportedly retorted:

“εἰ ἀποκρυπτόντων τῶν Μήδων τὸν ἥλιον ὑπὸ σκιῇ ἔσοιτο πρὸς αὐτοὺς ἡ μάχη καὶ οὐκ ἐν ἡλίῳ” — Herodotus Historis 7.226

“If the sun is hidden by the arrows of the Medes, then we will fight in the shade and not the sun!” — translation mine

The battle is also the theme of one of my favorite classical movies (albeit grossly historically inaccurate), 300 - see the trailer below (and then see the movie).

Marilyn Monroe – 49 Years Later, the Death of an Icon

On August 5, 1962, iconic actress Marilyn Monroe was discovered dead in her home from a drug overdose and possible suicide. She was 36 years old. It’s no mystery that the stunning beauty led a troubled life – battles with drug addiction, many failed relationships and marriages, erratic behavior, and plagued by the press. Still, her death was shocking and the country mourned her loss.

Nearly 50 years after her death, Marilyn is probably one of the most remembered and idealized figures in Hollywood History. She summed up her own imperfect life wonderfully in an interview when she stated:

“This life is what you make it. Not matter what, you’re going to mess up sometimes, it’s a universal truth. But the good part is you get to decide how you’re going to mess it up. Girls will be your friends – they’ll act like it anyway. But just remember, some come, some go. The ones that stay with you through everything – they’re your true best friends. Don’t let go of them. Also remember, sisters make the best friends in the world. As for lovers, well, they’ll come and go too. And babe, I hate to say it, most of them – actually pretty much all of them are going to break your heart, but you can’t give up becuase if you give up, you’ll never find your soul mate. You’ll never find that half who makes you whole and that goes for everything. Just because you fail once, doesn’t mean you’re gonna fail at everything. Keep trying, hold on, and always, always, always believe in yourself, because if you don’t, then who will, sweetie? So keep your head high, keep your chin up, and most importantly, keep smiling, because life’s a beautiful thing and there’s so much to smile about.”

In spite of her flaws and the tragedy of her life, we all remember you Marilyn. The Smithsonian has a wonderful article about how the country memorializes the woman and in the legend in its article: “Remembering Marilyn Monroe.”

Werner Herzog Discusses Film & Archaeology

Famed German film director Werner Herzog was recently granted access to the Chauvet Caves, which he filmed for an soon-to-be released film on paleolithic art in France. The film entitled “The Cave of Forgotten Dreams” focuses on the early peoples of France and the earliest creations of human art.

Herzog granted an interview to Archaeology Magazine in which he discussed the unique challenges of filming the site as well as the privilege of being trusted with its memorial.

ARCHAEOLOGY: There are hundreds of ancient sites in the world that have really fascinating artwork. What was it that attracted you to Chauvet?

WERNER HERZOG: It is one of the greatest and most sensational discoveries in human culture and, of course, what is so fascinating is that it was preserved as a perfect time capsule for 20,000 years. The quality of the art, which is from a time so far, so deep back in history, is stunning. It’s not that we have what people might call the primitive beginnings of painting and art. It is right there as if it had burst on the scene fully accomplished. That is the astonishing thing, to understand that the modern human soul somehow awakened. It is not a long slumber and a slow, slow, slow awakening. I think it was a fairly sudden awakening. But when I say “sudden” it may have gone over 20,000 years or so. Time does not factor in when you go back into such deep prehistory.

The film was recorded and produced in 3D, a new technique for Herzog and premiered at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival. Read the full interview in this Archaeology Magazine article and listen to the audio from the interview here.

Why 1950s America was *Not* Magical!!

I’m at home today nursing some killer allergies and recuperating from the end of the school year. As such, I have spent the day browsing the web and watching bad television. I suppose it’s not all bad – I’ve watched the news (Casey Anthony dominates the headlines), Doctor Who, and skipped through some older sitcoms. One thing that struck me is how much people romanticize the past. Now, as a person clearly into history (historian, archaeologist, and necromantic linguistic), I certainly get that, but what always chaps my hide or, as my good friend Michelle likes to say, makes my teeth itch, is the notion that the past was somehow “better” that the world was “more innocent” or that things were “simpler.” The reality is that the past is the past for a good reason – if things were so super awesome in the the long-long ago, then we would still be doing those things. One decade that truly seems to embody this element is the 1950s – especially, 1950s America. We seem to think of this as a magical time when people lived morally and hard-work and dedication were respected and admired. The streets were paved with gum-drops and rainbows showered skittles into our esoteric buckets. Pfaaah. The 50s weren’t so great, and here are some good reasons why:

Polio - whenever I hear of parents refusing to vaccinate their children (my Mother now included – thank God not until I was well past vaccination age), this horrid disease comes to mind. Polio, now virtually eradicated, once was rampant – paralyzing and killing children. There was no treatment or cure. It wasn’t until the 1960s that the Salk vaccine was developed enough to provide immunity to 99% of recipients. Today, most children and adults have never been touched by the disease and fail to remember that it was once a killer of children.

Jim Crow Laws - before the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, racism and segregation were very tangible and culturally ingrained practices. This was a world of “Whites Only” drinking fountains and “Colored Only” cafés. While Brown vs. the Board of Education was handed down in 1954, most desegregation did not happen until the 1960s – amid violence.

The Korean War - Do you know what the Korean War was about? If you do, you’re in the minority – although more than 50,000 Americans were killed or MIA.

McCarthyism – “Have you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?” In the 1950s, the Red Fear had a solid grip on America and, under the leadership of Senator Joseph McCarthy, the US Government set out to eradicate the “subversive forces of Communism hiding in our nation.” Those target by Joseph McCarthy and the House Committee of Un-American Activities were largely political enemies, civil rights activitists, academics, artists, suspected homosexuals, and yes, even a few actual Communists (although in this country, we have always valued political freedom).

J. Edgar Hoover - in spite of an impressive women’s shoe collection, Hoover was a truly frightening man. If you lived during the 1950s, then Hoover probably had a file on you. A true meglomaniac and paranoid “protector” of America and its secrets, Hoover single-handedly trageted a number of American “subversists” including Martin Luther King, Jr.

1950s Television – In spite of commentaries to the contrary, television and film has not deteriorated in the last sixty years. Have you actually sat down and watched television from the 1950s? First of all, every single character is white and middle class – hardly representative of America at the time. As much as I love Lucille Ball as a feminist figure, every freaking episode of I Love Lucy was the same! The Honeymooners I credit with the creation of the “fat guy skinny wife” phenomon that pervades sitcoms even today. There were about three sitcom clichés of the day: jealousy, comedic misunderstanding, and defying gender roles (women working in an office?! The horror!)

1950s Music – Until the very end of the decade, the music of the 1950s was terrible. Remember that this was the time of Jim Crowe Laws and most proper Americans (aka – white men) did not like the idea of their children listening to “Black Music” – Rock n’ Roll and Jazz was considered outsider and without the existence of Napster and MySpace, even the most dedicated of hipsters couldn’t keep abreast. Trust me, music has improved (take that Mom & Dad).

Domestic Violence - It wasn’t until the 1970s that domestic violence became criminally prosecutable. While there are a few cases of extreme domestic violence going to court (usually involving murder), beating on your wife and children was considered discipline and law enforcement generally didn’t respond. In some states (notably California), it was actually illegal to prosecute men for spousal abuse as it was considered a form of sexual discrimination.

Sorry Working Women – In spite of the common fantasy perpetuated in media and some political figures, many women worked outside the home in the 1950s. Nearly every woman in a working class family found work outside the home – usually in some type of domestic role (maid, nanny, etc). Middle Class women generally stayed at home and ‘housewife depression’ was common-place (often referred to as the “feminine mystique”). If you decided that you wanted to work outside the home, less pay was common place and acceptable – as was passing you up for promotion or other benefits.

No Civil Rights – The Civil Rights Act was not passed until 1964. We think that the job market is tough now, think of what it was like when you could be screened for skin color and gender.

No Trousers for the Ladies – Except in certain acceptable situations (i.e. horseback riding), women wore skirts and dresses – all the time.

No Air Conditioning – It’s May in Texas and it’s been over 90 degrees every day for weeks. Not to mention ridiculously muggy. Yeah, sure, AC takes a lot of energy but if you’ve ever spent a July in Dallas, you literally thank God for the invention of the condensing unit. People die in heat waves. AC not only provides comfort but physical well-being.

No Federal Highways - The Federal Highway Act was signed in 1956 and thus began the 20 year construction of the national highway system. Today, we take highways for granted – you can pretty much get from point A to point B in a straight and reasonable line. Not so in the 1950s. Not only did your car (if you owned one) get pitiful gas-mileage, but interstate travel was a nightmare. Imagine driving from New York City to Los Angeles using primarily state and local roads. And this was before Google Maps!

No Private Telephone Lines - If you had a telephone in the 1950s (most Americans did not), you probably had what was called a party line, meaning you shared it with anywhere from 2-8 other households. Eaves-dropping on neighbors was so common place that it ended up in much of the popular culture of the time (a common plot line for sitcom clichés #1 & #2). Oh, and you couldn’t call over-seas (an estimated 25-40% of Americans were illiterate at this time, so no phone communication = no communication).

Only 48 States – Alaska and Hawaii weren’t admitted until 1959. 48 Stars made the flag look silly.

And again, I would like to reiterate the horrors of Polio. Seriously, get your children inoculated. This disease was devastating.

Now, I’m not saying that there wasn’t anything good about the 1950s. In fact, a lot of great literature was written at the time – J. D. Salinger, Tennessee Williams, Jack Kerouac… however, I am saying that this was not a ‘magical’ time – most times in our past were not. It is dangerous to idealize events, people, cultures, and time – appreciate the nows for what they are. I love that I have an iPhone, that I can look up information 24/7 without having to go to the library, that I have amazing access to entertainment media. There is a reason why the past is the past.