Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Mens Fashion Tip For September

For a long time I’ve simply taken for granted the fact that autumn is the best season for fashion because you can layer, but don’t have to wear cumbersome winter coats.  Then, today, I walked outside and saw a guy wearing a terrible sweater and realized that like any season, fall is a blank slate.


That brings us to this month’s fashion tip: layer, but do it intelligently.  As the word suggests, layering means you can wear lots of different things at once, creating a more complex look than might be possible (or, at least, appropriate) for summer.  For example, you can combine common place items like sweaters, sport coats, jeans, slacks and scarves to achieve a young professional look, a bohemian hipster look, a libriarian chic look, or an infinite number of styles. 


The point here is that fall is like the French Revolution of fashion: suddenly that tyrannical summer heat has gone to the guillotine and you’re free to start with a whole new set of values.  Consequently, if you’re in the mood to reinvent your image or simply try something new, fall is the time to do it; you can mix old styles with new ones and the comfort of retaining something from the past will mitigate the intimidation of change. 


While layering can be an effective way to spice up your image, it can also pose some dangers.  The biggest of these is probably that wearing layers can easily begin to add bulk to your figure, making you look fat or frumpy—hardly the desired effect of anyone.  If, for example, that sweater and sport coat I mentioned above are fairly thick, they could end up adding two inches to your girth.  As the weather cools even more and you add a coat on top, you could end up looking bigger and bigger, subsequently turning the fall French Revolution into a grotesque fashion Reign of Terror.  Don’t let that happen. 


The most obvious way to avoid this problem is to layer with slim, lightweight garments.  Even if the weather is quite cool, three or four thin layers should provide enough protection until winter.  Obviously all of these layers need to fit well.  Personally, I love sweaters but I’d say that at least half the sweaters I see out there are loose and poorly shaped, which in turn hides the more attractive form of their wearers’ bodies.  (No matter what your body shape, wearing a poorly fitted sweater makes you look worse.)  If you start out with a sweater like that, it’s going to be almost impossible to do anything for the rest of the ensemble.  The same goes with ugly, passé pants. 


Besides fit, another way to counter the “added bulk” problem is to make sure that most of your body is lightly but uniformly covered, thereby reducing the amount of skin coming in contact with those chilly autumn breezes.  What I mean is that to stay warm you can either put on tons of coats and sweaters, or you can wear a coat, sweater, scarf, and hat.  I was once told that 90% of a person’s body heat escapes through their head.  While I doubt the number is actually that high, the point is that by wearing a hat and a scarf you will actually need to wear fewer layers on the rest of your body.  You’ll look slimmer, and you’ll be wearing a fashionable hat and scarf (look for a future tip about choosing cool-weather accessories).


In the end shop around and use fall’s transitional weather to experiment.  Last year, for example, I got an $80 sweater at Banana Republic for less than twenty dollars on sale.  It wasn’t really my typical style, but I experimented and mixed it with things that were, and the result was something that I felt was flattering, fashionable, and new (which obviously made me feel good and gave me more confidence, which is one of the goals of good fashion).  That it was cheap and easy also attests to the fact that fashion is not difficult or exceedingly esoteric.  In the end, then, remember, you can look great and there is no fashion neutrality.  

Hard News/Soft News

Ever since I graduated in August my approach to finding jobs has been a bit atypical; I figured I didn’t want to do a dead-end job, so I just started emailing places I liked asking if I could come work for them.  Though this process has yet to land me a job (or even a volunteer experience, as I also told companies I’d work for free), it did get me one interview. 


The interview I landed was with KUER in Salt Lake City for the position of intern-reporter.  However, having essentially no journalism experience I didn’t get this position.  Still, the interview was a good experience; I got to meet Jennifer Napier-Pearce (she interviewed me) and see the studio where Radio West is made (both of which experiences are things I would have driven to Salt Lake to do even if I wasn’t trying to get a job). 


This interview was definitely a learning experience for me, but one part of the exchange in particular stands out.  Ms. Pearce asked me what sorts of stories I’d be most interested in covering.  I wanted to say, “ANYTHING BECAUSE BEING A REPORTER WOULD BE AWESOME AND I’M DESPERATE TO GET A JOB IN JOURNALISM” (in caps because I would have been yelling it).  I actually said, “I’d be interested in covering a variety of topics, though right now I’m probably best equipped to cover arts and culture….”


In retrospect my answer was definitely not what KUER needed, which fact was demonstrated by Ms. Pearce’s answer: “…we cover more hard news than soft news” (that’s not word for word, but you get the gist).  I probably visibly spaced out at that moment because I immediately began mentally analyzing the distinction between these two genres of journalism.  What exactly makes something “hard” or “soft” for example?  Who determines that?  Just how aware are journalists of the (subjective) hierarchies they create when lumping some event into these categories? 


Since then I’ve thought a lot about this hard news/soft news distinction.  On the surface, this is a fairly obvious dichotomy.  For example crime rates, politics, or scientific discoveries are easily classifiable as hard news.  On the other hand, Paris Hilton’s latest hijinks are clearly less important.  Said another way, some stories impact public wellbeing (hard news) and others merely boost ratings, provide entertainment, or move newspapers (soft news).  


Still, that distinction places a lot of responsibility on the journalist and the categories do blur.  Murders and petty crimes might have a correlation, for example, blurring the line between important and less-important stories.  Or, a newspaper might discover that reporting on murders results in higher sales, so the editor chooses to disproportionately report on violence, blurring the line between public well being and sensation.  In any case, hard news and soft news aren’t black and white categories and a journalist wouldn’t get anything done if she or he didn’t make some decisions about what to report. 


Which is all fair enough; journalists obviously have to choose between legitimacy and sensationalism.  Yet on a deeper level these decisions perhaps need reevaluation.  For example, though most people would probably agree that stories about Paris Hilton are less important than stories about Barack Obama, that doesn’t nessecarily have to be the case.  We as a society could decide that the most important value we share is our love of pop culture (and indeed the advent of infotainment suggests that we might).  However, what if pop culture actually was more important.  Imagine, for example, that someone started a religion that worshipped celebrities.  Imagine we all belonged to that religion and truly believed in it.  Suddenly the actions of people like Paris Hilton would mean something very different.  If that’s too far-fetched (it shouldn’t be, really) imagine if Jesus Christ came back to earth as per the beliefs of most Christian denominations.  He’d certainly be a celebrity worthy of biographical and human interest stories, but he’d also probably be fair game as hard news (especially if he did all that stuff the Bible says he’ll do). 


My point is that the classification of certain stories as “soft news” or infotainment actually devalues things that might have immense cultural significance.  While the Paris Hilton and Jesus Christ examples are extreme ones that I’m using rhetorically here, the issue does raise questions about the arts, music, cinema and all those things that don’t create new laws or inventions, but nevertheless inflect the way people behave (more than most hard news topics too).  Where do these things rank compared to something like a state legislature, which is surely hard news but much less present in people’s lives than someone like Angelina Jolie?  In other words, are arts and culture important? Are they hard news?  Why?    


In the end I largely agree with the distinctions between hard news and soft news (though I can’t help but wonder why I was told that KUER reports on hard news right after I had said I wanted to report on the arts).  Still, simply because something seems to work doesn’t mean we should take it for granted.  Hard news may be hard for a reason, but I still think it’s worth asking why it is.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

(Belated) Men’s Fashion Tip For August

I’ve been washing my own clothes since I was nine years old.  I started doing it because I felt that my mom wasn’t washing them well enough.  Sometimes they’d shrink.  Other times they’d fade.  Though I occasionally had those same problems myself, at least I could spend the time to do whatever was most appropriate for the garment.  In turn, my clothes have generally held up well and looked nice for a long time.  (This isn’t to say that I always look nice, but to suggest that the clothes I’ve taken care of don’t wear out quickly.)


Which brings us to last month’s belated fashion tip: take care of your clothes, guys.  While that may seem like a simple, or even obvious statement, I’ve found that many guys don’t have a clue about how to take care of what they wear. 


The first, and most basic, part of taking care of clothing is knowing how to wash it and washing it yourself.  If someone else is washing you clothes for you (mother, wife, girlfriend, roommate, etc.), you’re already doing something very wrong.  It’s important to wash your own clothes because you (should) know how they fit and (should) have the largest stake in making sure they don’t shrink or fade.  Conversely, if you don’t wash your own clothes don’t be surprised when that cool new shirt you got is suddenly three inches shorter and two inches wider.  So, check the tags and sort the colors yourself.  Again, this may seem basic, but if you don’t want to look like a dork all the time it's the very least you can do.


The next part of taking care of your clothes is acquiring an awareness of what kinds of fabrics they’re made out of (again, check the tags).  Most of my clothes are made out of cotton, and if you’re in the same boat you might want to consider taking some extra precautions.  For example, if you have a cotton t-shirt and you ever put it in the dryer, it will almost certainly shrink.  Also, most cotton clothing continues to shrink indefinitely.  It’s true that most of the shrinkage will occur in the first few washings, but that process may never stop.  (How much and how long your clothes continue to shrink depends greatly on the quality.  A three dollar t-shirt will become ridiculously deformed after two or three washings, while a twenty dollar t-shirt will last much longer.) 


Similarly, if you have dark jeans (which are perfect for the cooler weather!), they will continue to lose color as long as you have them.  This frustrates me to no end, but if you want proof just go to the nearest thrift store; most of the shirts will be short and wide (i.e. very shrunken), and most of the jeans will be very light (i.e. faded). 


For cotton there are a few things you can do.  First, always wash anything cotton in cold water.  Second, hang dry your clothes.  (Hang drying is also cheaper and environmentally friendly.)  Third, if you have a colored garment, wash it inside out.  Taking precautions like these won’t keep your cloths in mint condition, but it will extend the life by months or years. 


The other big thing you can do to preserve you clothes, no matter what they’re made of, is hand wash them.  I was lucky enough to learn all about hand washing while in Brazil, but my sense is the few people have hand washed something before.  To hand wash something you can either go out and find all the proper materials (washboard, ringer, etc.), or you can just find a clean bucket.  The easiest way to do it is to fill the bucket up with cold water and a little soap (don’t use too much), and let the clothes soak for a while (I let them soak overnight when I have time, or for an hour or so if I don’t).  Then gently plunge the clothing up and down in the soapy water, making sure the they’re moving against each other and that water is moving through them.  When you’ve done that for a few minutes, empty the bucket out and fill it up with clean water, non-soapy water and repeat to rinse.  Finally, hang them to dry. 


Some people might express doubt that that this process gets clothes clean because its not mechanized, but in fact you can actually get things much cleaner by hand washing.  In fact, I often hand wash my favorite clothing both to preserve it and to keep it fresh. 


Ultimately, the point is that to look presentable you have to be conscientious of you clothes even when you’re not wearing them.  A hands-off approach to clothing care will leave you looking like a fool.  (When it comes to fashion I’m reminded of the old quote “I didn’t say it would be easy, I only said it would be worth it.”  So true.)  And remember, there is no fashion neutrality. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Blogging Part 2

If my last post was based on my impressions about the post before it, this one is kind of “State of the Blog” address. 


Besides having to take time to think about the nature of blogging, I’ve also been posting less for other reasons as well.  First, I’ve been working every day as a video editor, which has occupied my time.  Second, I am now submitting articles once or twice a week to the new online magazine Rhombus.  If you haven’t read Rhombus yet, you should.  In my case, I’m basically submitting stuff that would be on this blog, but usually with more immediate relevancy to the larger world.  (In other words, I might not submit film reviews of old movies, fashion tips, or criticisms of LDS church magazines.)  Though I won’t have an article in Rhombus everyday, I will have one in it frequently and many of the other writers are also quite engaging as well.   


What this means for this blog is that posts will probably continue to be less frequent.  (I’m hoping for once or twice a week.)  Also, the topics will probably tend to be those things I mentioned above as not being appropriate or timely for a magazine.  Obviously I will try to continue to bring a critical eye to everything that I write about, however, so hopefully this blog will be as engaging (or offensive) with each post.  Because I’ll be sending some of my more decorous writing to Rhombus, the blog may become even more engaging (and offensive) as I try to take it in a less “journalistic” (or perhaps “column-istic”) direction.  (Unfortunately posts may also become even less polished as I have less time to proof read and edit them.) 


While the primary purpose of this blog was hopefully to start discussions, I also began doing it as a way to practice writing quickly and for a more popular/broader audience that I’m used to in school.  I also saw it as a way to think critically about popular cultural (which I believe is infinitely more important than anything I’ve written about or discussed in school.)  When I started writing for Rhombus about a week ago I understood that doing so would take away from these pursuits.  After all, I only have so much time and energy for writing.  However, I also saw it as a way to engage with more people and to have an editor telling me what should and shouldn’t be out there for people to read. 


(You can read my first two Rhombus articles here and here.  Also check back frequently because I should have stuff in there often.)


I’ve done terribly with posting these last few weeks and a big part of that was that the comments on my last post surprised me in a few ways.  First, I was surprised that anyone commented at all because I didn’t send a facebook update telling people to take a look at the post.  Second, however (and more importantly), I was surprised that my impression about the purpose of blogging is (or at least was) very different that most people’s. 


I think that what surprised me most about the comments on my last post was that many people apparently assume an underlying hierarchy when they read something online.  In other words, the author or blogger’s post takes precedence and no one else’s voice can be as authoritative or as dominant.  Obviously this is true with online news or literature or whatever.  However, I was surprised to see that it is also true for blogging as well.  Of course, other people can comment, but those comments are entirely secondary in some people’s opinions.  (Obviously not everyone who commented felt this way, and my impressions are based as much on conversations I had outside of the blog as they are by the comments.)


As I’ve thought about this idea I think everyone who indicated that a hierarchy exists in blogging is right, though unfortunately so.  Because the Internet is (theoretically) universally accessible, and because most blog hosting companies (google, wordpress, etc.) allow for comments, I initially felt that the medium could be like one big classroom.  Significantly, however, my impression was that it would be more like a classroom without a teacher; everyone’s voice would be different but equal and the author of the posts would merely be a kind of moderator who brought up topics. 


What I’ve learned is that though blogging may be like a classroom, but there is definitely a “teacher” present who controls that space.  A reader may not like the teacher, or respect him or her, but there is still a person who dominates.  This happens symbolically as people choose to enter someone else’s site, but it also happens literally as comments are placed beneath the original post and visible only someone clicks on the actual entry. 


I have no conclusions for this post.  What I hoped to have happen can not, because as much as I want it to, people (you perhaps, if you’re reading this) usually interpret blogs differently than I imagined.  I am now left to wonder if there can be an online venue for discussion that is more democratic.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

What’s the Point?

This is my first post in a while (longer than I’ve ever gone since I began this blog a few months ago).  There are a few practical reasons for this (like I’ve been working, preparing to apply to PhD programs, etc.).  However, probably the most important reason that I haven’t been writing lately is because I’ve been questioning my faith in the importance/purpose of this blog (and blogs generally). 


From the beginning the goal of this blog was to start discussions.  If some people have blogs to let friends and family know what they’re up to, prompt something they create, etc., I’m often trying to push people’s buttons enough that they push back.  Obviously some posts do that more than others (though I’m sometimes surprised which ones), but hopefully each blog offers some sort of critical discussion or insight. 


What I’m not very sure about is whether a blog can really accomplish that goal, and if it does, if that really matters.  I’ve enjoyed the debate on this blog (and several of yours), but I wonder if blogging has really found it niche.  Does it offer something that can’t be better achieved in real life?  Is the kind of debate on blogging actually enlightening or does it simply promote one-time responses that never lead anywhere?  In the end, what is the point of blogging?