Wednesday, September 25, 2013

It's Time to Give It a Rest, Part II

There are a few things that are trendy these days that I don't understand.

Novelty Hoodies

Take a look at this:

Your first reaction might be to think, “Ha! That's clever. You can look like Bowser.” But really think about it. Once the novelty wears off, would you really want to wear this thing around? Seriously, you'll make people smile at first, but then you're walking around with a cartoon character for a jacket. It's one thing to have a t-shirt that looks kind of like a cartoon character's outfit. But this is a big, oddly-shaped jacket. Even if the spiky shell in the back is detachable, you've still got that tail, hair, and horns getting in the way. It would make it uncomfortable to sit down on the bus, especially with all of the beatings and wedgies you're sure to be getting at the same time. Here are some more:

Let's be real. You aren't really going to wear any of these just around. So what's the point? Are you going to wear any of them for a Halloween costume? Of course not, they're not elaborate enough to be costumes. These hoodies are in that weird, useless middle ground between everyday apparel and halfway decent costumes, making them pointless and worthless. And yet the Ninja Turtles hoodie is priced at $52. The Optimus Prime one is $60. The guy that made the Bowser hoodie wants $400 for it. I say anyone dumb enough to pay four hundred big ones for something so pointless is too stupid to be trusted with their money anyway.

Being an Introvert Doesn't Make You Better Than Other People

I'm also getting tired of the recent surge of Pro-Introvert Propaganda I've seen online in the last six months or so. It seems that there are people out there who have decided that introverts are the best that humanity has to offer, and we all need to go out of our way to accommodate them.

Look, I get that introverts are misunderstood a lot, and it can be frustrating for them. Believe me, I know. I don't know where exactly I'd be classified scientifically, I feel like I'm a little extrovert and a little introvert. But I am definitely part introvert. There are times- a lot of times- when I would much rather be alone and do stuff on my own than go out and put forth all the energy of being around people. Last year I went camping by myself in Zion National Park, and I loved it.

But what angers me is how a lot of these “introvert activists” seem to be asserting that anyone who isn't an introvert is shallow and worthless. Look at that image up there. The title of this masterpiece is “Introvert Rage.” He hates being around people because they are crazy anti-government nuts, shallow, gossipy airheads and sweetbros, stoners, etc. So he decides he'd much rather stay home and spend an evening on the internet. But wait... all of those people he hates in the real world are not only in the online community as well... they are the online community. Stupid, shallow, crazy people abound everywhere you go. Stupidity is not specific to any personality type. By the same token, there are tons of people out in the more social hemisphere of society that are intelligent, thoughtful, humble, and pleasant.

The caption that went with this image was, “Am I the only one?”

No, you jerk, you aren't the only one who hates clubs. You aren't this great intellectual who is leagues above the mindless troglodytes who enjoy clubbing. There are tons and tons of people who don't like going to clubs. But hey, look at all those dumb sluts taking endless selfies and wasting their lives on such a stupid activity. Every single person who likes to go to clubs sure is an idiot.

You know what? If you don't like clubs, then don't go to them. But just because you don't like something doesn't mean the people who do are idiots. It means that their way of having a good time is different from yours. And that's ok. It's just as ok that you prefer to sit home and read or have a quiet conversation with a close friend over lunch. Plenty of smart people like to dance on the weekends.

This introvert activism has all kinds of helpful guides on how to rearrange your whole personality in order to make them more comfortable. Don't make them go out if they don't want to. Don't demand that they be more outgoing. Don't pressure them into participation in large group activities. They say that just because they aren't loud and crazy doesn't mean they aren't having a good time. Just because they don't want to have shallow, pointless small talk doesn't mean they're a jerk. Just because they prefer not to go to big parties doesn't mean they don't want to spend time with you or be your friend.

I get that. They're valid points. If a person is introverted, you really shouldn't try to force them to be extroverts or assume that they're just mean or don't like you. But can I present a counterpoint on behalf of the extroverts out there? Nobody knows you're an introvert unless you tell them, and even if you do, not everybody knows what exactly that means. Being quiet and thoughtful at a party often looks exactly the same as not having a good time and hating being there. How is anyone supposed to know the difference if they don't know you?

If I'm an extrovert, that means that I am outwardly expressive of my emotions. If I'm happy, I look happy. If I'm having fun, I'm energetic and talkative. And it's hard for me to really, consciously understand that other people might not express their emotions that way. So when I see my roommate avoid large social gatherings or leave them early and spend a lot of time alone in his room, based on my understanding, I'm going to assume that he's shy or hates the people I hang out with, or that he's depressed. If I encourage him to get to know my friends or go out with me to more activities, it isn't because I'm an idiot and I want him to do idiot things. It isn't because I want to make him uncomfortable. It's because I don't know he's an introvert, and if I do, I don't get what that means or how I should interact with him.

A lot of frustration and resentment could be avoided if he would just take me aside and say, “Hey, I just want you to understand that I'm the kind of guy that prefers to be alone or in small groups. I like people, and I can be a great friend, but big parties and things like that aren't really my thing. So if I seem shy or anti-social, it doesn't mean I'm not having fun or that I hate you or anyone else. I appreciate your efforts to include me. Please don't take offense if I'd rather stay in than go out.”

Is that so hard?

Stop Complaining, Old People

The other day, I was at work, and during a brief moment of free time, I checked football scores on my phone. I have a coworker who is an ancient Spanish woman named Julia. She is a lovely lady, and generally very nice and pleasant. She came over and told me that she predicted that twenty years from now, the human race will have forgotten how to speak out loud because they will have entirely abandoned talking to one another in favor of texting.

You hear these kinds of things all the time. Kids these days don't make connections with other people. They always have their faces buried in their phones. They text instead of call. Nobody interacts with one another anymore. You ride the bus and every single person is playing with their phone instead of enjoying the world around them.

Look, I won't deny that we could all stand to look up from our phones a little more. Enjoy the party without constantly tweeting about how much fun you're having. But it's not nearly as bad as people are whining about it.

Imagine a picture of people on the bus. I would have drawn one, but I didn't feel like it. This is a bus in 1956. Some riders are reading the newspaper. One is reading a book. Another is doing a crossword puzzle. One is doing some work he brought with him from the office.

Now picture a bus in 2013. There are the same number of people, all of them looking straight down at their phones. How awful! But you know what? They're doing the exact same things the people were doing in the first picture. They can read the news, books, do work, play simple games, and way more than that. A person can use their phone to text their mother how much they love her. They can pay bills. They can listen to music, take pictures, watch movies, learn about the world around them, meet new people, learn a new language, participate in the political discourse in their community, even tune their guitar- all with their phones. Just because sometimes we aren't talking to someone face to face doesn't mean we're wasting time.

But why can't they put their phones away and interact with each other? Because it isn't like they would have if they didn't have phones with them. The other day I was at Chik-fil-a, waiting for my food. To pass the time, I played a game on my phone. Sure, I could have kept my phone in my pocket. But what was I missing by playing a game? I'm not interested in striking up a conversation with a complete stranger who will only be near me for five minutes. That's pointless, and carries much more opportunity for awkwardness and unpleasantness than I'm willing to risk. If it had been 1956 and I didn't have anything to distract myself with, I would have stood there quietly, looking around for something interesting to occupy my mind. Such a shame that having a phone with me kept me from that experience.

"What do you say we all put down our phones and play 'Red Rover?'"

Look, if you're out on a camping trip or at a party, or anywhere else that offers something or someone to actually experience, then yes, put away your phone and be alive. But if you're on the bus, and you have to decide between playing Scrabble on your phone and small talk with the creepy guy across the aisle, then please take out your phone and go for that triple word score. (Although I do make decent conversation if you'll just give me a chance.)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

It's Time to Give It a Rest

 Everybody wants to be a part of popularity. Whether it's a company trying to capitalize on a trend or an individual wanting to participate in the current “thing,” whenever something becomes big, everyone seems to want to rush onstage and feel like they're in the show. An unfortunate byproduct of the modern era of technology is that everyone has the means to be a part of pop culture. This is unfortunate because while all of us can contribute, not everyone can contribute something good. In fact, most of the things created by your everyday citizen is pretty much absolute crap.
Just look at any running joke or fad on the internet. Anything that has open submissions from the general public will get 99% garbage. used to have a weekly caption contest. They'd post a funny picture, and everyone could submit a caption to make it funnier, and the winner got fifty bucks. The winning captions on these things were often hilarious. Take this one, for example:

And the prize for Best Costume definitely goes to the Invisible Girl in the middle.”

Not bad, right? Give the man his fifty dollars. But you could also scroll down and see all of the submissions, arranged in order of how many votes each one earned. Here's one that, clearly, did not come close to winning:

Duck, Duck, Duck.... Duck GOOSE!”

Maybe it's going way over my head, but I can't figure out what makes that funny. Like, at all. I don't even get what joke he was trying to do. But here's the thing- not only did this guy think this line was funny enough to post, but fifteen other people voted for it. Fifteen people thought it was worthy of winning the contest. Scroll down to see the ones that only got one or two, and you'll want to euthanize your computer.

I get that everyone wants to be a part of something. I understand why companies will try to capitalize on the popularity of literally anything. But the problem is that when everybody gets a shot at the horse, it's going to already be dead when most of them get a turn to beat it.

The result of all this dead-horse-beating is that things that are great become awful, through no fault of their own. Ask anyone if they want to listen to “Gangnam Style.” Of course not. There's a good chance that they might even tell you that they “hate that song” or that it's “such a stupid song.” The thing is? It's not. “Gangnam Style” is a good song. It's catchy, fun, and the absurd dance moves are funny. There's a reason the music video got over ONE POINT SEVEN BILLION views on YouTube. People watched it and listened to it because they liked it. But now, because it was so popular, it got way overplayed, a million different people made parody videos, it got played at every sporting event for a solid six months, and you can bet your life there will be a movie soon where poorly animated Smurfs or Chipmunks do a dance number to it right before the credits roll. We are all fed up with that stupid “Gangnam Style” song, even though most of us loved it at first.

So there are things that are awesome that are becoming terrible because people won't ease up on the hyperbole. Here is a list of such things:

- Bacon
- Nutella
- Sloths
- Grumpy Cat
- “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk
- “Keep Calm and Carry On”
- Doctor Who, Sherlock, The Avengers, etc.
- Chuck Norris jokes
- Every single meme and joke ever created.

All of these things, on their own merit, are great. But then everyone had to repeat the same thing, then take the thing and change it a tiny bit and think they're a comic genius. (Keep Calm + "Do A Thing That I Enjoy" = BRILLIANT.)  ("I don't always [do thing], but when I do, I [do thing differently than usual])

Then they decided it was the greatest thing ever created and they must have it tattooed on their back. They take something that people like, then apply it to completely unrelated things and declare it awesome. Yes, bacon and Nutella are delicious. But we DO NOT need bacon-scented soap. Angry Birds gummy candy is UNNECESSARY. There is NO REASON to tattoo a sloth on your chest.

Well, you see, grandchildren, for about eight months in 2013, lots of people agreed that sloths were cute. Sure, they moved on to iguanas once they were tired of sloths, but I have never once regretted having this hideous image on my chest for my entire life.”

You guys, they are making a Grumpy Cat movie. This has to stop.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The 5 Worst Things College Professors Do

1. Make the Class Too Hard

I'm not complaining about a course that is challenging.  It's not about a subject being difficult to master.  That's the point of higher education- to stretch your mind and give it a chance to grow.  What I'm talking about is when a professor intentionally makes things hard.  We've all had that class where the average score on an exam is somewhere around 52%.  I had an American Heritage class my freshman year that was known for this.  At our first midterm, you could score in the thirties and still pass.  The highest scores might have made it into the sixties.

Professors who do this love to show how hard their class is.  I don't know, maybe they like to flex their authority.  Like somehow, by tearing every student down, that makes the professor super smart.  My eighth grade science teacher was awesome.  He was super funny, and everybody loved his class.  But he took pride in the fact that the slightest error on an assignment would knock your grade down a whole letter.  For the rest of my education, all the way through college, whenever I had an awesome teacher, it would mess with my head, and I'd be terrified to make mistakes.  The man had screwed me up psychologically.

What's the point?  The fact is, if most of the class is getting failing grades, the problem isn't with the students- it's with the teacher.  The whole reason people are taking your class is so they can master the subject you're teaching them.  So teach it to them, and stop jerking them around.

2. Have the TA Teach the Class All the Time

What's the point of teaching a class if you don't actually teach it?  Some professors have their TAs do all of the actual teaching, and the professors focus on their own research.  What kind of joke is that?  Why is Dr. Schlotzky's name on the syllabus if Tyler and Katie are the ones who do all the lecturing and grading?  I don't get it.

3. Make Attendance Part of the Grade

I know that often, a student will realize that he has this new freedom to skip class whenever he wants.  He is no longer required by law to be in class.  So he might not show up.  But one thing I realized in my time in college was that while I didn't have to go to class, I really needed to.  I came to understand that when I went to class, I learned more.  And when I learned more, I got better grades.  So I went.

College students are adults.  They should be allowed to decide whether it's worth their while to go to class.  If they do poorly in the class because they didn't attend lectures enough, then that's their own fault.  Let them reap what they sew.  Don't make attendance a part of their final grade.  Don't have this nonsense where if you miss more than three lectures, then you automatically fail.

I'm fine with having quizzes and other graded assignments that require you to be present in order to get the points.  It's ok to have these graded things take place on any random day, which would encourage the student to go every time.  But when I decide whether I want to go to class, it should be up to me to decide if it's worth the sacrifice.

Like I said before, the point of taking the class is to master the subject.  Your final grade should be an assessment of how well you have done so.  Not whether you actually attended class every single Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  If I can miss two thirds of your lectures and still ace my final exam, I deserve that A.

4. Dock Points Based On Your Opinion

Someone once told me they got a bad grade on a paper because their teacher didn't agree with their interpretation of Hamlet.  That's right, Hamlet.  An incredibly complex piece with countless interpretations.  One time I saw a show where several different performers did the "To Be Or Not To Be" monologue, each with a different tone and emotion.  What I'm saying is that Hamlet can't be interpreted just one way.

It's fine if you disagree with the thesis of the paper.  But if the point of the assignment is to display critical thinking skills and an ability to formulate and effectively defend an argument, then grade the student on that.  A debate team takes an assigned position on an issue, and has to defend that side with all they have, regardless of their actual opinion.  You don't award the win to the team that you agreed with.  You give it to the team that did the best job arguing their side.

Obviously, many assignments require the student to explain specific facts and show that they understand the principles taught.  There is only one correct answer, and they are supposed to give it.  But for others, the student is expected to show what they found in their research, and even if the professor disagrees, if the student clearly did a good job researching and formulating their argument, you've got to give them due credit.

5. Testing Students on Nitpicky Things

I don't know how else to say it.  Getting an education means attaining a masterful understanding of a field of study.  If, as a professor, your objective is to help your students do that, then great.  You're doing your job.  If, however, you want to trick your students and see exams as a way to win a battle of wits against them, then you're a manipulative jerk.

I've had classes where I've been tested on specific pages of a text.  The worst have been religion classes.  The Doctrine and Covenants are organized into numbered sections.  When taking a course on the Doctrine and Covenants, you're trying to grasp the message of the scripture.  So it helps nobody if a quiz question asks you to match certain quotes to their specific section number.  If I can get a good understanding of the Word of Wisdom, what does it matter if I know whether it's found in Section 12, 89, or 130?

Professors who do this don't care about teaching as much as they care about proving they're more clever than their students.  It's incredibly immature and unprofessional, and it has no place in a place of higher learning.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Blue > Red

I generally try to stay away from the subject of the BYU-Utah rivalry, aside from a little playful trash talking. These things tend to devolve into mindless taunting and figurative muscle-flexing, both sides slinging empty platitudes and stereotypes. It's like politics, but with more subtlety and maturity.

But since it's Rivalry Week and the Holy War is mere days away, I figured I'd descend into the mud pit a bit and say why BYU is better than Utah.

It isn't about academics. Let's get that out of the way. Both universities have great strengths and are respectable institutions. I chose to attend BYU for a lot of reasons, and I never considered Utah because I didn't have any reasons to. But if I had somehow ended up getting my education in Salt Lake City, I would still be proud of it. More or less.

But when it comes to sports, especially football, I am 1000% a Cougar. For several reasons.

1. 1984 and Ty Detmer

These are two clear achievements that put us above Utah. Sure, they've been to a couple of BCS bowl games, and good for them. But the fact is, BYU has a national title and a Heisman. Utah does not.

2. BYU Is No Stepping Stone

Urban Meyer coached two seasons at Utah. He led the Utes to a win in the Fiesta Bowl, then skipped town as fast as he could. Compare that to LaVell Edwards, who coached the Cougars for almost 30 years. Forty, if you count his time as an assistant. He was given offers to coach the Texas Longhorns and the Detroit Lions, but he turned them down. He stayed at BYU because it was worth staying. (Of course, if Bronco Mendenhall ends up jumping ship for a better job, I'll eat my words.)

3. Independence vs. the Pac-12

Sure, I'd love for the Cougars to be in a good conference. Utah can and should be proud that they were invited to the Pac-12. You can debate the reasons why BYU wasn't invited, and why we haven't been invited to the Big 12 or whatever. I do hope that we can make it into a strong conference like those, and I believe we have the credentials. But while the Utes can be proud of being in the Pac-12, I'm proud of BYU for how its recent conference alignment history played out, and why it makes me proud to be a Cougar.
When we didn't get an offer to join a major conference, we were stuck. We wanted to be in a good conference, and the Mountain West wasn't cutting it. But rather than stick it out for a few more years in hopes that an invite would come around to rescue us from the mid-majors, we chose independence. Fortunately, BYU is one of the only schools that can make it as an independent. The Church gives us a nationwide fanbase, one that will fill seats in any stadium from the Rose Bowl to Lane Stadium. You can offer a BYU channel in every state and there will be people willing to pay for it. Outside of the state of Utah, who cares about the Utes? The only people interested in the University of Utah who don't live in Utah used to live there. You can go all over the country – the world, even – and you can find BYU fans.
What I love about independence is what it means. BYU showed that it doesn't need a major conference to make it. Sure, scheduling consistently strong season of opponents has been a challenge starting out, but it's getting better. If the Cougars manage to go undefeated this season, you can count on them being considered for a BCS berth. (I don't personally expect an undefeated season. It's way too early to be counting those chickens.)

4. We're Not Defined by a Conference

If BYU gets invited to the Big 12 or somehow the Pac-12, I would love for them to accept. It would be great. But what I will not do is go crazy with the conference logos and conference boasting. Ute fans have been a laughingstock because of how much importance they've pinned on being in the Pac-12. My U friends on facebook had huge Pac-12 logos all over the place. Cars had enormous Pac-12 stickers filling their windows. You had to search for the tiny drum and feathers in the corner to figure out what team they actually liked.
Last week, Utah State beat Utah in overtime. It was a surprise for all of us- the Aggies aren't usually that good, and the Utes were supposed to be better.  Ute running back John White, after the game:

It's devastating, because we lost to a team that's not even in the Pac-12,”

...Seriously? Does John White really think that the fact that Utah State isn't in the Pac-12, that automatically means they're a bad team? Would he be more proud of beating Colorado than Boise State? If they lose to Washington State, will John White just shrug it off, because at least it's a Pac-12 team? White seems to buy into the idiot idea that just being in the Pac-12 automatically makes Utah a great team. But getting spanked every week by Pac-12 teams is not better than having a winning record as an independent or even a Mountain West member. This ridiculous crush on being in a BCS conference needs to relax a bit.
Yeah, last year's loss in the Holy War stung quite a bit. But overall, I'd absolutely take BYU's 2011 season over Utah's.

Also, BYU is noted for having the most adorable mini fans.

Prediction for the Holy War 2012

It's always good to be a Cougar. But this week, it's certainly better to be a Cougar than a Ute. They say the stats and records go out the window during a rivalry game; either team could win, no matter how highly one or the other might be ranked. A few points about this weekend:

- Utah is coming off a tough and surprising loss to Utah State. On the one hand, they're sure to be wanting a way to regain their mojo this week, regardless of the opponent. They'll be extra motivated by the threat of starting the season 1-2.

- However, losing in overtime to a team they've easily handled for the last 13 years has to be a bit demoralizing. They could also be a bit off balance, their heads still spinning.

- They're more than a bit depleted with the loss of Jordan Wynn. That has to make things tough as they scramble this week to build a good system around a new QB. If the game was later in the season, they might have been able to get comfortable by the time they faced the Cougars.

- BYU is still riding high from a strong start. People generally believed they could beat Washington State, but nobody- not even many of us fans- expected them to win so handily. The unsurprising shellacking of Weber State just gave the Cougars a chance to settle into a good, comfortable system and evaluate where the team stands going into week 3

- Breaking into the AP rankings this week has to give the Cougars some extra confidence and swagger. Normally I'd be worried about a bit of overconfidence, but not for the Holy War.

- Last year's embarrassing loss to the Utes is definitely going to factor into the Cougars' performance.  Revenge is going to be on their minds.

- Ute fans can point out that beating Wazzu and Weber State are hardly lofty accomplishments. This is true. Utah is the toughest team BYU will have faced so far this season, and vice-versa. But the best Utah has done so far is beat Northern Colorado. The Utes have more of a clear limit than the Cougars. We know that BYU is at least good enough to beat Washington State and Weber State, quite probably much better. But we know that, at least so far, Utah is only good enough to beat UNCO, and not good enough to beat Utah State.

- The game is in Salt Lake City, which does give the Utes an edge. If this game was to be in Provo, it would be an easy pick.

- However, home field advantage is not going to be enough to push the Utes over the edge. The Cougars are playing too well right now and the Utes are hurting too much from last week.

This game could certainly go either way, but I'm picking BYU to win, 30-21.

BYU winning in a stadium full of people wearing red.  May as well get used to it now.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

I Honor Freddie Mercury by Comparing Him to Myself.

Freddie Mercury would have turned 66 today. How about that. I was recently reading about him, and I learned some pretty cool stuff. For example, he was born in Zanzibar. Zanzibar! That's pretty awesome. I think it just adds to his rock star credentials. More importantly, I read that his over-the-top personality on stage was very far removed from the way he was in normal life. Privately, he was very shy and introverted. While onstage, he basked in the audience's adoration, which I imagine was why he loved to perform. It was a way for him to be someone he wanted to be and feel something he didn't feel otherwise.

It's something people do all the time. It's like how a lot of people get lost in a book or a video game or a TV show. When they're in that world, they get to feel like the kind of person they want to be. They experience emotions they don't feel elsewhere. Or they might feel those things in real life, but this is a more polished, perfected, easier way to get it. The Twilight books are so popular because women can read them and imagine themselves being adored by impossibly attractive, devoted, literally otherworldly men. Why do you think the comic book or video game industries are so huge? They give people a way to feel like powerful demigods who can solve all of their problems with punching.
Yeah, that's probably closer to reality.

These things let us inject ourselves into perfect avatars for whom everything always works out. And even when things aren't going well and they look hopeless, we know that everything will be ok in the end.

Real life doesn't offer the same comfort. We don't know if the cancer is going to go away. We don't know if we'll find that job in time to pay rent. We don't know if we'll ever hit our target weight. So we let our minds run away to magical worlds where we're heroes who have just enough to get where we need to get. We'll get that ring to Mount Doom. We'll beat the Icelandic hockey team. We'll end up with the right man or woman, and we'll live “Happily Ever After.” We'll beat the odds because the deck is stacked in our favor. For at least a little while, everything works out.

But the thing is, for Freddie Mercury, being onstage meant something more than that. It wasn't an escape into the imagination. When he left that stage, he didn't go back to being an ordinary person. Sure, he turned back into Clark Kent, but Clark Kent was still Superman. He might be hiding it, but he's still that person. That hero. Mercury might act differently, but he's the same person who was on that stage. He still has the talent, the voice, and the passion that he had on that stage, even if it's all packed away for right now.

When he was performing, Freddie Mercury was magnifying a part of him that he loved to be. He could be that while onstage because that was where it was appropriate. That was where it was appreciated. If he was that flamboyant at, say, the laundromat, people would yell at him to shut up and let them fold their unmentionables in peace.

I suppose I'm fascinated by this because it helps me understand myself. I have many friends from a dozen separate lives. There's my EFY friends, my work friends, my high school friends, my family, my mission friends, my college friends. All of them know a different Andrew. In fact, some know me as Andrew, others know Andre, still others call me Elder Madsen, some even know me as Sam. It can get kind of awkward when these worlds cross paths, and I have some 'splaining to do.

Thing is, in each setting I'm in, I have a different persona. They are generally similar, and they aren't deceptions. I wouldn't exactly say I wear a mask. It's more like I accentuate the things about myself that I want people to see. We all do it, of course. Everything from the way we talk to the way we dress to the way we even walk is an attempt to project an image we want people to see. That's why some people tan excessively while others wear black and neon and fake wolf tails. While many of these attempts are poorly executed, they're all done for the same reason. Each of us plays a part, hoping that if we play it long enough, we'll eventually become that person we're pretending to be.
Of course, points for trying only get you so far...

For me, it seems like it has to be clearly defined in order for me to pull it off at all. As I look back at the things I've done best, or at least enjoyed the most, they all follow this pattern. They give me a chance to be someone I want to be. At EFY I play the part of a spiritually mature leader who sets a good example for those younger than myself. As a server at a restaurant I'm a charming host who helps you have a good time while you enjoy your meal. At ComedySportz I'm a hilarious entertainer that makes people laugh. In high school I was drawn to theater and singing because they let me be an entertainer and a musician.

These aren't false personalities. I'm not pretending. Rather, I'm expanding the things about me that I want people to associate with me while downplaying the things I don't like about myself. I can forget about my weaknesses and celebrate my strengths. It's when I don't have these clear objectives that I start to run into trouble. People have wondered how I can be so nutso at an EFY dance, but at a party with friends I avoid dancing and often avoid the party entirely. It's because at EFY, people have certain expectations about me specifically, and I have a clear purpose. I'm trying to encourage the youth to have a good time and showing them that it's fun to let loose and forget what others think of you. At a party, I'm just another guy, and nobody cares what I do.  Even here, in this blog, I'm presenting to you an Andrew who is carefully constructed to accentuate very particular aspects of who I am.

The best I can do when it's all unscripted is to try to be funny. In fact, I'd say most people know me as a guy who likes to joke around. Again, it's a part of me that I play up, and I do enjoy making people laugh. But don't make the mistake of thinking the funny guy is that way because he's carefree and in a constant state of chuckles. I have worries, frustrations and fears just like everyone. I stay awake at night worrying about things all the time. Making people laugh is just another way to escape the bad and feel good. If you ever watch the show “Louie,” you'll see that he has an incredibly depressing life. He makes his living as a comedian because he depends on that escape to a world where he is adored and appreciated and people like him. Often the ones who make people smile the most are the ones who are the most unhappy. Believe me, I know several hilarious people who have serious issues.

I'm not saying I'm about to jump off a building. I'm just reflecting on how my life is arranged and why I am drawn to the things I am. I just need to figure out how to make this all work in times when I have to just be me. I suppose I just need to decide what kind of a man I want to be, and be that man. Which is really the most any of us can do.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A Few This's and Thats

Several things on my mind recently.

Today I had the unfortunate experience of watching a trailer for an upcoming talkie called The Big Wedding.  Apparently Katherine Heigl really is the patron saint of terrible romantic comedies, because this one looks incredibly, and predictably, stupid.  The premise:  A young couple is getting married, and one of them's parents (I forget which, and I don't hate myself enough to watch it again to find out) are divorced, and the dad is remarried.  But I guess he (it was the groom-to-be's parents.  I remember now) was adopted, and he has for some reason decided to invite his birth mother to the wedding.

His birth mother lives in Colombia, where she's from.  Now, I'll buy that he could conceivably still maintain contact with his biological mother, and even want to invite her to his nuptials.  But the fact that he would fly her all the way to another continent for it is kind of a stretch to believe.  But it gets way more contrived.  You see, she's very Catholic, and so she frowns very sternly upon divorce.  So in order to not offend her, this young man demands that his adopted parents pretend to be still married to each other, and his stepmother has to pretend she's someone else.  She could be a family friend, an aunt, a former teacher, anything- but they decide she's the waitress or something.

We all know Hollywood is out of ideas.  Battleship: The Movie and Step Up 17 tipped us off.  But there have to be simpler ways to come up with a bland romantic comedy with the intention of humor.  Since when in the known history of mankind is a birth mother's archaic views regarding divorce more important than letting the actual parents enjoy their son's wedding like normal people?  She might not like the idea of his parents being divorced and remarried, but guess what?  People do that, even in Colombia, and even Catholics, so she'll get over it.

Speaking of terrible movies and Catholics, have you seen these commercials for this Mel Gibson movie that just came out?  It's straight-to-DVD.  Let that sink in.  Mel Gibson's career has died so completely that he's the star of a movie that is going straight to DVD.  Mel Gibson.  Mel.  Gibson.  You guys.

I have to say, the Olympic Opening Ceremony in London was brilliant.  It was made fun of a bunch leading up to the big day, since the rumors about what was going to happen kind of sounded ridiculous and hilarious.  But they pulled it off, and it was incredible.  A few of my favorite parts:

1.  The industrial revolution part was kind of sad, seeing all of that wonderful green countryside get ripped up and smokestacks rise up out of the ground.  But it was also really cool to watch.  That part where they forged the ring that rose up to join the other four in the sky and create the Olympic rings?  So cool.

2.  "Abide With Me" was strangely beautiful.  I didn't get exactly what they were trying to convey with the dancing, but I still thought it was great.

3.  Mr. Bean.  Oh my gosh.  I've probably watched that part alone around 30 times.  Also, the "Queen" jumping out of a helicopter and parachuting into the stadium with James Bond.

4.  People complain about the seven non-Olympian kids lighting the torch, but I liked it.  I thought it was very cool to see the older generations of Olympians literally pass the torch to the future competitors.
                     (Also, I couldn't help but think of the Hunger Games when I saw those kids.)

5.  The Olympic Cauldron has to be the best cauldron I've ever seen.  Breathtaking.  I can't think of one more beautiful, and I love the symbolism of a whole bunch of smaller flames joining together to burn in unity as one flame.  I hear there's one bronze petal for each participating nation, and each country gets to take theirs home once the games are over.

I was going to do a whole post about this, but whatever.  You know how a person can be not too good looking, but then you get to know them, and because of their great personality and stuff, they become truly attractive to you?  (Guys like me depend on that principle of life.)  Well, the opposite seems to be true as well.  I've noticed a couple of actresses who have done roles that make them super unpleasant to look at.  I think it's that when a person is awful, you notice the parts about them that you don't like, and when they're awesome, the features you like are accentuated.

Ever seen Friday Night Lights?  The coach has a teenage daughter played by Aimee Teegarden.  She's a more or less attractive young actress.  But her character, Julie Taylor, is the kin of Lucifer.  She's selfish, dumb, reckless, and shallow.  Granted, most teenagers are all of those things, but she seemed to represent the worst of it.  So now every time I look at that actress, all I see is a miserable little troll.  It doesn't help that she's not very good at acting.

January Jones is in the same boat.  Her character, Betty, on Mad Men, is such a hag.  For a while you feel bad for her because Don is pretty terrible in the way he treats her and their marriage.  But eventually you see more and more of the awful things she does.  She isn't much of a mother for her kids, especially her daughter.  She's super self-centered and hypocritical.  She's petty and immature, especially for a grown woman who should know better.  Also, at one point, when her marriage to Don is going poorly because of his lies and philandering, he finds out that she's been seeing someone else as well.  He confronts her about it, and she kicks him out.  Why in the world does she get to do that?  In this particular situation, she was the one who screwed up, and if anyone should have to go stay at a hotel, it's her.  Whatever.  I hate her face.  Also, while January Jones is better looking than Aimee Teegarden, and she's a slightly better actress, she's still not that good, and I hear she's a huge diva.  I hate people like that (see Russell Crowe post).

Pictured: Aimee Teegarden and January Jones.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Screw You, Russell Crowe.

I'm real lucky. Know why? Because I don't care that much about the NBA. Sure, I'll watch a game or two out of the season, maybe follow the playoffs, go with my brother on our annual pilgrimage to the Wizards' butt-whooping at the EnergySolutions Arena. But when it comes down to it, I don't really have a real emotional investment in professional basketball. That's why I've hardly been upset at the recent developments with the NBA lockout, the latest news being that the entire 2011-2012 season is not going to happen. Don't really care that much.

What I do care about is the fact that thousands of people whose financial livelihoods are centered around NBA teams are now up a creek. I'm talking about the arena workers, the restaurant owners, the everyday “nobodies” who don't have the option to go work in Italy or Turkey in the meantime. Not to mention the economies of the communities that will take a huge hit from all this, especially smaller markets like Salt Lake City.

Why are these people out of luck? Well the gist is that the owners want as much money as they can get, and the players want the same thing. Both sides want money. I don't want to get into a ton of detail about the whole situation because that's not what this post is meant to be about. I want to talk about these basketball players who are putting thousands of middle- to lower-class people out of jobs because they want to be allowed to demand higher salaries with no ceiling. You see, in their minds, being really good at basketball is a skill set worthy of millions upon millions of dollars, and they should be allowed to have as big a piece of the pie as they can get their hands on. They want to split the revenue 50-50 with the owners. But the owners want it to be more like 48-52. The humanity! How is Kevin Garnett going to pay for a third island now?

Oh we have loads of money. It's just that we want more $300,000 suits. Truly we are the downtrodden.

Of course, athletes are not the only ones who think that they deserve way more money than they do. Actors are in the same boat. Now, I fully understand that being really good at something lucrative deserves a certain level of compensation. Pro athletes and movie stars get big bucks because they are the best at what they do, and what they do brings in a ton of cash. Without them, all that money would never be seen. But at what point does the talent become the martyr? Am I really supposed to feel for the poor basketball players who want $16 million a year instead of $15 million? Please.

What drives me crazy is that these celebrities have such a sense of entitlement that they think they are the very gods of the earth. An actor wins a daytime Emmy and suddenly he's the Dalai Lama. They get so used to getting coddled and waited upon and treated like little princesses that they expect everybody to treat them that way. And what's worse, we do. We see Johnny Depp or Kobe Bryant or Whitney Houston and we get all starry eyed. We offer them free food, beg for them to shake our hand or sign an autograph, hold the door for them in hopes that one day they'll... what? What do we think will happen? Do we think that Emma Watson will one day, in her Oscar acceptance speech, say “And a huge thank you to Martin Spackelbrush from Gary Indiana! He gave me a free scone with my coffee three years ago just because I was famous!” We have nothing whatsoever to gain from letting a celebrity crap all over us except it will be an interesting story to tell the roommates that evening.

Several years ago, Russell Crowe was on a radio program talking about his new movie “Robin Hood.” (Oh you didn't see it? Yeah, neither did I.) The guy interviewing him had the nerve- THE NERVE SIR- to suggest that Crowe's accent in the movie had hints of Irish in there. Crowe graciously and maturely refuted this claim and surmised that if the gentleman had sensed Irish inflections in his voice, it was unintentional. LOLJK he acted like a complete diva and huffed and pouted and threw a hissy fit as though the man had just said his mother was ugly. (She probably is.) Here are a few quotes:

You've seriously got dead ears if you think that's an Irish accent.”

I'm a little dumbfounded you could possibly find any Irish in that character, that's kind of ridiculous anyway, but it's your show.”

He refused to drop it, and eventually stormed out of the studio. Another thing the host had brought up during the interview was Crowe's famous incident when filming “Gladiator,” when he flat out refused to say the line, “In this life or the next, I will have my vengeance.” He told writer William Nicholson, “Your lines are garbage but I'm the greatest actor in the world and I can make even garbage sound good.”

Let me spit some reality for you, Russ. Yes, you are good at what you do. (Though not as good as you think sometimes... grimacing and making boogers run down your face does not constitute realistic crying.) But when we boil your profession down to its basest elements, you know what you are? You are a dancing monkey. Or better yet, a dancing cat.

Pictured: Oscar winner Russell Crowe.

You exist in our culture solely and entirely for us to be amused. Sure, your work is done in a more profound, artistic way, and because of your talent, coupled with the talents of hundreds of others that contribute to your films, the audience is able to have an emotional experience and perhaps learn something about themselves. But let's face it. Your job is to take a script and say the lines in front of a camera. You aren't even the one that comes up with the material or decides how it is ultimately going to be presented. You just take the part you are assigned and do your best to make it good. If we don't like it, you don't get paid. But just because we often do like it, that doesn't necessarily make you “better” than any one of us. That doesn't make you wiser, deeper, more charismatic or more valuable to society any more than it does that cat. You lucked into a big break, and just because you managed to find a place in society where people throw money at you doesn't make you a god. And it sure as heck doesn't excuse you from common decency and respect.

It reminds me of when LeBron James was asked how he felt about his critics after he laid an egg at the NBA Finals last season. To paraphrase his response: “Yeah they can say what they want, but tomorrow they'll wake up and they'll still be poor people who aren't famous and I'll be eating panda steaks on my yacht with the Victoria's Secret Angels.” Yes, LeBron James, because you are paid millions of dollars for being good at playing a game that means your life has more meaning than the rest of the millions of people in the country.

Pictured: NBA Championship winner LeBron James.

And that means you deserve even more money, because hey, who else is going to do your awful job? Your sacrifice is truly inspiring.

That's why when I meet a famous person, I try not to get all crazy and blubbering. Recently I met Jimmer Fredette. I took him to his table at the restaurant that I work at, and I chatted a bit with him on the way. Yeah, I appreciate him for what he did for my favorite basketball team. I loved watching him play and he made the season exciting. I think to myself that if I was his server, I might be inclined to pay for his dessert or something to express my appreciation. But then I stop myself. Why would I do that? What in the world does that do for me? As if he doesn't already have enough cash. Even if he isn't getting a paycheck from the NBA, he's still doing just fine with endorsements and commercials and appearances. I'm not saying he owes me anything, but I sure as heck don't owe him anything either. Yeah, I respect him and appreciate him, but he isn't royalty. He can stand to pay for his own fried ice cream.