Thursday, December 31, 2009

Men’s Fashion Tip For December

For this month’s fashion tip I’m going to begin what may be an ongoing series on choosing a suit. There are a lot of factors that go into choosing a suit but, judging by the suits I see on men around town, not many people pay attention to them. Obviously that can have negative repercussions; a sharp looking suit will connote success and confidence, but a bad suit can be a significant handicap.

For this first suit-oriented tip I’m going to focus on venting. When buying a suit it’s important to look at the jacket and determine how many slits it has in the back along the bottom. These slits are called vents and there are basically three main types of venting: no vents, single vents, and double vents. (This is also true of most sport coats and other jackets as well).

The most flattering of these styles is double-venting. A double-vented jacket will have two slits, just behind each hip. This style looks more European and typically has the greatest slimming effect on the body. It makes the wearer look more athletic and its lines suggest the ideal masculine shape. This kind of suit also suggests a classier look; because it requires more effort to make (more cutting, sewing, etc.) it looks more expensive (and sometimes, but not always, costs more too). All of these factors combine to give double-vented suits a sleek, flattering, modern aesthetic.

Though I prefer double vents, I more commonly see single-vented suits. These suits will have a single slit in the center of the back and the style is characteristic of looser, more billowy American suits (as opposed to European styles). When I recently asked (the incredibly talented tailor) Lady Danburry why this kind of suit is so common she speculated that it is because they are easier, cheaper, and faster to make, especially by machines. Not surprisingly for suits that have emerged under those conditions, these suits are less flattering. Of course, the single vent can be used to make the suit slimmer and more tailored, but depending on body shape it usually won’t compete double vents. (This style is particularly unflattering when paired with the great fashion travesty of the century: pleated pants).

Finally, suits with no vents are often the least tailored. They’re basically cylinders cut out of fabric and are less flattering. In fairness, some would say they look more formal than single-vented suits (more like tuxedos, for example). They can evoke a particular kind of retro vibe as well; Cary Grant wears one in North by Northwest for example. Still, double and single-vented suits can look equally retro and formal under the right circumstances and have the advantage of actually being attractive too.

Ultimately, then, a double-vented suit is going to be the most stylish choice. Though people in professional and social settings probably won’t consciously note how many vents your suit has, they will be impressed by a man that looks especially sharp and well kept. It should also go without saying that a better looking suit leads to greater confidence, which is in turn a key ingredient for success. So the next time you go decide to revamp your wardrobe remember: venting matters and there is no fashion neutrality.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Kill Christmas!

Ever since the holiday season began I’ve been looking forward to writing a blog about why Christmas is inferior to other holidays. However, I think I basically made my case in my Thanksgiving post (and to a lesser extent my Halloween post), so here I’m going to explain why the best way to celebrate Christmas would be to kill its so-called “spirit.”

The spirit of Christmas, as I understand it, is tied to the life of Jesus Christ. It involves being charitable, loving, and (most importantly) dwelling on the things that He provided for us. As a Christian/Mormon, I obviously think all that stuff is great. However, it’s no surprise that the way we celebrate Christmas so often has little to do with actual Christianity; we buy stuff, stress out about family gatherings, put up lights, decorate sugar cookies, etc. Of course, most of our modern Christmas traditions are actually pagan activities (Christmas trees, for example, which have nothing to do with Jesus despite Christians' attempts at appropriation).

However setting that issue aside, few Christmas activities actually promote reflection on Christian doctrine. In fact the holiday is really wrapped up in the consumerist, pop cultural side of the event. When I think of Christmas I don’t think of the gore-fest that was Jesus’ life, I think of Norman Rockwell paintings and wrapping paper. I think of How the Grinch Stole Christmas or Frosty The Snowman. I think of the pride I got as a teenager from vanquishing our neighbors in an unofficial Christmas light war. In other words, the things that I associate with Christmas are fun, happy, and (most importantly) secular.

For what it’s worth, I prefer it that way. As grateful as I am for them, I don’t really want to think of Jesus’ horrific experiences at Christmastime. I prefer to simply enjoy the pleasantness of spending time with friends and family and save the religious meditation for later. When I’m watching Christmas commercials or looking at lights, I feel a little of the holiday excitement that is supposed to accompany the season. When I think about someone being tortured to death on a cross, I just get kind of sad.

Given the origins of the word “Christmas,” it seems likely that at one point the holiday was actually a somber religious affair. However, for better or worse, that really isn’t what it’s all about anymore. We can shake our fists at the superficiality of the holiday, or we can accept it and enjoy all the secular movies, foods, activities, etc. If we wanted, we could even set aside a different day for contemplating the life of Jesus. We could spend our time thinking about Jesus’ entire life, from how awful it would be to give birth in a filthy stable to the awesome idea of resurrection, and then continue to have a sweet secular celebration on December 25th.

Whether we set aside a different day or not, it’s unlikely that Christmas will become less secular. Instead and as a result of our spending habits, it’ll probably continue to move away from the “Christmas spirit.” Fighting that fact will just constitute slapping a religious veneer on a technically pagan and effectively secular celebration. On the other hand, sweeping away that veneer would allow us to guiltlessly enjoy the simple pleasures of the season (like, say, the deliciousness of eggnog or the smell of evergreen), without extra preoccupation about sins and hell. Ultimately, it’d allow us to embrace the kitschy aesthetic of the season and open the door to a more meaningful religious holiday.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A More Poetic Style

Tonight I've been writing a list of new Provo businesses of 2009 for Rhombus Magazine. In my opening paragraph I had originally written "...surprisingly managed to bring new life to our struggling downtown." However, I felt like that wasn't really very interesting to read because "bring new life" was boring and clunky. After considering for a minute the image of someone using a defibrillator kept coming to mind. Thus I changed the phrase to "...surprisingly managed to defibrillate our struggling downtown." It's shorter and easier to read, and, I think, more interesting.

If I were writing a poem such realizations would be necessary and one as simple as this wouldn't warrant any particular rejoicing. However, since I was writing an article I think it is an occasion worth taking note of. The first phrase was adequate and would be sufficient. In my own writing I'll actually usually go with whatever is adequate eight or nine times out of ten simply because I have to move on. Though different writers have different skill levels, I'd bet that most professional writers work similarly simply due to time constraints (though "adequate" from great writers is obviously better than "inspiring" from mediocre writers).

This all raises some questions: does it matter? Does an audience really care if a magazine author or journalist uses more interesting diction? Do they notice? (Am I even correct in assuming that my second choice was more interesting?) I'm not sure. Most writing I read isn't remarkably well written, nor is it terrible. It does, however, seem to place a premium on content. Language, most popular writing apparently assumes, isn't something that is supposed to call attention to itself or be anything but the background for the ideas it conveys.

However, a more poetic style (which I hope I was inching closer to when I happened to think of the word "defibrillate") is more exact. I think the verb I decided to use is more violent and vivid than the bland phrase I started out with. If it really is better my conclusion is then that I hope to continue to work toward a more poetic style in my future popular writing. By extension I'd argue that writers generally should do the same.

Of course, probably no writer would argue that he or she shouldn't try to find better words to use. However, I think that my argument is also that, by extension, "adequate" is actually less adequate than it seems. Though the basic idea gets across when writers settle for the first thing that comes to mind, the complexity of a concept is lost. In other words, ideas and language are closely integrated with one another and using inexact words conveys ideas inexactly.

Ultimately I think that popular writing shouldn't strive for transparency. It should strive for poetry. Though poetry itself is all but a dead art (which, as a writer and reader of poetry, I lament), the power of language is significant. Obviously few writers have the luxury to treat everything they write like a poem. Yet I know that in my case when I simply adopt the belief that writing should be poetic my work is profoundly changed. This, coupled with reading more poetic works (such as actual poetry) could substantially improve writing in many venues. Theoretically it could also inspire readers to become more passionate about what they're consuming, which in turn could (in some small way) help to reinvigorate the struggling writing industry.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Going Home Culture

Throughout my time as a college undergrad I was puzzled and slightly intrigued by my friends who had families near by. As a Californian living in Utah, seeing my family was a two or three times a year affair. I’d go home during Thanksgiving and Christmas, and maybe during summer, but for the most part I didn’t see them much.

That, however, contrasted significantly with my friends from Utah who went home at least several times a month. In the case of my roommates I’d always notice them taking their laundry and coming home from Sunday dinner with leftovers. I have to admit that in many ways I was envious of these friends; they obviously had the opportunity to cultivate a stronger relationship with their families, and they also saved money by eating their parent’s food and using their parent’s washing machine.

Though my family lived in California for years, just as I graduated they moved to Utah and I subsequently began to experience the decidedly different culture that exists among family members living within driving distance of each other. Of course, I was recently married by this time and no longer an undergrad, but I still began to do many of the things I’d seen my friends do before. I started taking advantage of my parent’s washing machine. Laura and I started going (and continue to go) to dinner at my family’s house nearly every week. Occasionally we go hang out with them or do things for family night.

As we’ve done this I’ve been surprised at the difference between having family far away and having them nearby. Though that difference was apparent to me before when I had experienced only one of those two options, I don’t think I could fully appreciate it until my family moved to Utah.

For example, as Laura and I prepare to visit her family for Christmas she mentioned how we might not want to bring piles of dirty laundry home (though we have done this in the past and may still in the future). We also don’t think of Laura’s parent’s home as a source of delicious free food.

More seriously however, the kind of relationship that is fosters between family members is largely contingent on how often they communicate and through what medium. The actual conversations that we have with my family, for example, are affected by how much time we spend at their home. It’s also obvious to see how the various things going on in our lives (school, work, stress generally, etc.) changes the kind of relationship we have. On the other hand, a fair amount of time we spend with Laura’s family is going to inevitably be reserved for catching up and/or reasserting the familiar connection we feel.

All of this is really just to say that distance still plays a significant factor in the kind of relationships people can have. Though the Internet and other technologies continue to “shrink” the world, I don’t think they actually allow relationship to transcend or circumvent distance. I’m not arguing that one kind of relationship is better (be it long or short), but that no matter how many phone calls a person makes to their long distance family they can never have the same kind of “going home” culture as a person with family nearby and vice versa.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Sandra Bullock: Gradual Feminist or Closeted Misogynist

A few nights ago I had the dubious pleasure of watching Sandra Bullock’s The Proposal, the second of her three films this year. Along with Bullock the film stars Ryan Reynolds and is a fairly formulaic romantic comedy: a man and a woman initially dislike each other, are forced to spend time in one another’s company, finally manage to separate only to discover that they’ve fallen in love. It’s the same story over and over again. However, The Proposal throws a curve ball into the mix: Sandra Bullock plays the role of the older, more powerful professional, while himbo Reynolds is the plucky underling who falls in love as a result of his superiors coercion. In other words, The Proposal reverses the typical romantic comedy gender roles.

Or does it? Though Sandra Bullock, as a vile and reviled publishing boss, is definitely playing against her type she can’t really shake her Sandra Bullock-ishness. The role she’s been given is basically trying to be Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada, but Bullock really just comes off the same way she does in every post-Speed movie. Though this tension between her supposed evilness and her obvious charm actually makes the movie more entertaining, it also begins to undermine the legitimacy of The Proposal’s gender reversal. Much like Miss Congeniality, this latest film casts Bullock in a man’s role but is narratively concerned with removing her feminist veneer to reveal the awkward, tomboyish Bullock archetype. In that sense it’s not unlike several of Barbara Stanwyck’s films that cast the golden era starlet as a spunky working girl who nonetheless ends up in a very traditional relationship.

The process by which Bullock’s feminist veneer is removed further raises questions about the feminist slant of the film. Though the initial gender reversal is laudable (Reynolds, for example, is accused of sleeping his way to professional success much as a woman might be in a less progressive movie) the end of the film basically ends like any romantic comedy with the man proposing to the woman. (This is not a spoiler, as the inevitable end of any romantic comedy is a heterosexual coupling.) It’s trite, but in this case it’s also particularly disappointing because The Proposal had seemingly already done away with that particular convention when it had had Bullock getting down on her knees to proposal to Reynolds earlier in the film.

In any case, The Proposal begins with what could be an interesting premise but slowly unravels everything it has going for it so that by the conclusion it’s just business as usual. Hollywood often takes a lot of flack for supposedly being “liberal” and trying to push a progressive agenda. When some (overly conservative) person watched the film they probably lamented the fact that the film seems to endorse woman’s rights and gender equality. However and unfortunately for those of us who actually believe in those things, the film actually condemns them and advocates the gender disparity status quo that it might have been trying to dispel. In the end, then, The Proposal shows that men are in control and women are just schemers trying to find a husband.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Electron Deception Christmas Song

So when I started this blog I had actually intended to talk a lot about my band, Electron Deception. Over time, however, I've drifted away from that. However, I wanted to do a shameless plug here for the Christmas song we just recorded. It's our fairly liberal interpretation of "Little Drummer Boy" and you can get download it for free, here. While you're at it, feel free to check out the other bands' Christmas songs on the same website, as they are very cool to (if very different from our own).

In the coming days I hope to discuss Christmas music more generally and some of the interesting realizations that we (the band) had as we tried to actually write a Christmas song. Assuming I don't get distracted with other topics I'll post that next week.

Triceratops and Siamese Cats

Tonight I am amazed at the power of children’s movies to shape my adult ideas. More specifically, I am amazed that movies I saw when I was kid as still determining how I see the world, even when I don’t realize it.

Earlier this evening Laura and I were talking about our clothing as a kid and I mentioned that my mom made shirts for my siblings and me that had brontosauruses on them. I mentioned that at the time (and now, actually) brontosauruses seemed like pretty wimpy dinosaurs (I subsequently had my mom sew flames on mine, effectively turning it into a brontosaurus-dragon). Anyway, Laura made the point that the brontosaurus is a fairly gender-neutral dinosaur that would have fit well on either my shirt, or my sister’s.

I think Laura is right, but why? A t-rex is probably a good example of a “boy” dinosaur, but I couldn't think of why brontosaurus would be neutral (this reminds me of my post awhile ago about school mascots). Then, as I was suggesting alternatives that I would have preferred, we figured it out. I said that would have taken a triceratops over a brontosaurus, but that “I always kind of thought of triceratops as girl dinosaurs." That’s when Laura realized that all this went back to The Land Before Time.

Not coincidentally, my mom made our dinosaur shirts right around the time The Land Before Time came out. Though the reason she made them was to have all us kids match, she probably party chose the dinosaur motif because of the movie. However, if my mom was motivated by the movie to make shirts for her children, she probably couldn’t have foreseen that that movie would continue to influence her children’s perceptions about dinosaur gender for the rest of their lives. Though I know there were both boy and girl triceratops, I don’t foresee myself ever associating that dinosaur with boys. If I ever have a son I'll probably give him a doll before a triceratops toy, not because I’m opposed to boys playing with girl toys but just because it would never occur to me to give a girl dinosaur to a little boy (whereas I’d be more likely to think critically and make creative choices about more obviously gendered toys).

Similarly, I know that Siamese cats are evil. Every time I see a Siamese cat on the street I try to steer clear of it, and usually I give it a mean look. Though I spent most of my adolescence and young adult life believing that Siamese cats were just among the more temperamental of cat breeds, I eventually realized I got my ideas about them from Lady and the Tramp.

Remember that part where the two Siamese cats sing “we are Siamese if you please. We are Siamese if you don’t please.” Honestly I can’t even remember anything else about that movie (or what the cats do that makes them so evil). As I’m typing this I’m also realizing that there may be some underlying racism in that part of the story, but that’s a topic for a different day. The point is that because of that movie I will forever imagine every Siamese cat I see singing those two lines. Though I’d feel comfortable describing myself as a cat person, I’d never bring one of those kind into my house.

I suspect that everyone has had similar experiences with media they consumed as a kid. I’m also sure that there are other examples of movies influencing my current attitudes that I'm not even aware of yet. If this story has a moral I suppose it would “be careful what your kids watch.” That’s an important message, I guess, though for now I’m content to marvel at how I know this happens, but I’m relatively powerless (at this point) to do much about it.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Don’t Buy Tacky Digital Picture Frames

Some things from the past are really tacky. Shag carpet, for example. And TVs with fake wood paneling. Though some of us love that stuff for its nostalgic quality, I don’t think any one would ever call it “classy” or “quality.”

Today’s equivalent of the wood-paneled appliance is the digital, USB picture frame. I’m sure you’ve seen this item. Perhaps you even own one yourself. When they first came out the novelty of the idea nearly made me get one. Thankfully I didn’t make that mistake and if I had I would probably find some person I only half liked so I could give it to them as a Christmas present.

These frames are tacky for a lot of reasons. First off, they’re pretending to be something they’re not. Like it or not, displaying 4x6 photographs on a bedside table is going to get rarer and rarer. After all, digital pictures are not pieces of paper and they don’t need a picture frame to hold them. Hardly anyone takes anything but digital pictures these days, but because all of us were alive when analog photography ruled the earth we still tend to want to play by the old rules. Just because were taking digital photographs, we might think, doesn’t mean that we actually have to display them differently. That, however, is wrong. Like most new technologies, digital photography is not well suited to old fashion frames and it will eventually change how we think about pictures.

In many ways digital pictures frames are a lot like those old radios, record players, or TVs that pretended to be large wooden pieces of furniture. You’ve probably seen these things in the homes of old people (my grandparents seemed to have a few). I think the idea was that all the new-fangled technology needed to be proper and respectable, so it had to look like a table or a cabinet. In retrospect that idea seems quaint and kind of silly. Similarly, the idea that you’d want to put a low quality monitor on a shelf to perpetually play a screen saver is rapidly looking outdated, passé, and downright ridiculous.

As if digital picture frames weren’t bad enough by themselves, many models actually leave the flash drive hanging out the side. Why the frames’ designers wouldn’t have realized that USB drives are longer than half a centimeter baffles me. Still, I’d say at least half the frames I’ve seen suffer from this problem and it always kills what little aesthetic appeal they have; it’s like wearing a polyester suit, and then going out with your fly down.

I predict that in the future we will have ways of viewing pictures that take into account technological advances and don’t try to make new things fit into old boxes. If I could vote, it’d be for something like Facebook’s photo system, where I get to chose which pictures I see. With the proliferation of the internet into new devices (gaming systems, phones, etc.) anything around the house could be used to display pictures. For example, while you’re not watching anything, your TV could continuously display pictures that are stored in one central location and accessible by any device. (Someone is probably reading this think that they like being able to have their digital photographs displayed like old fashioned ones and they don’t want something new. All I can say is too bad. After all, how often to you consume technology or media the way people did in the 80s, 70s, or 60s? The reality is that things change.)

Of course, predicting the future is a fool’s game, but learning from the past is not. It’s possible that digital picture frames will survive and be really cool for a long time. On the other hand, there are very few examples of old technologies (like picture frames) successfully being applied to new ones (like digital photography). So this holiday season avoid digital picture frames and don’t do the 2009 equivalent of installing wood paneling in your home. It’s a choice you appreciate sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Driving and Individual Liberty versus Potential Liberty

When I began writing this post it was going to be about how frustrating elderly drivers can be and how difficult it is to pass legislation regulating them. I had just listened to a program on NPR about making roads safer that had focused specifically on the elderly. As I’m sure is obvious to most people, many elderly drivers are a menace on the road and, according to this show, demonstrate a considerable drop-off in road safety after the age of 75. On the other hand, the problem with improving that situation is that the elderly consistently vote (unlike equally unsafe teenagers) and no legislator wants to upset old folks.

As I’ve considered this topic, however, it has occurred to me that the issue is really about freedom. Elderly people oppose laws that restrict their rights because those laws would allow them to do fewer things.

What’s interesting about this debate is the fact that the elderly, by virtue of their opposition to new laws, seem to be aware that those laws would limit their privileges. This in turn represents an acknowledgement that they may in fact be unsafe. Yet despite the fact that stricter rules would make roads safer, elderly people still oppose them.

Clearly, elderly drivers who oppose new laws value personal freedom over general safety. For what it’s worth I think that’s a fair position to take and one that I share in some instances. (For example, I hate airport security measures and would gladly accept the risk of terrorism if it meant a less invasive screening process.)

However, the issue isn’t as simple as restricting or maintaining elderly drivers’ right to their car keys. If the elderly were merely annoying on the road the issue wouldn’t be that difficult (freedom versus annoyance seems like an easy choice). Instead however, when elderly drivers drive recklessly they often hurt or kill other people. Obviously, if someone is dead or limb-less their freedom has also been significantly reduced. In fact, a dead person has quite a bit less freedom than an old person who can no longer drive.

Thus, the issue of elderly driving seems to revolve around two kinds of freedom that I like to think of as “real freedom” and “potential freedom.” In the first case “real freedom” is the actual, demonstrable ability of a person or people to do something. An individual elderly driver, for example, will absolutely lose some freedom if laws are tightened and it's easy to know exactly who would be affected by new laws. “Potential freedom,” however, affects nameless people who statistics say have been saved. Once a new law is enacted it's usually impossible to identify specific people who have been affected. In other words, potential freedom abstractly affects someone, somewhere, somehow.

Though these labels are just my own invention I think the idea is an important one because it provides an excuse for real-world political and social action. An elder driver might believe that they won’t hit someone, despite the fact that they have a slower reaction time. They won’t miss a stop sign because their eyesight is bad. But they will lose their license if new laws go into place. Therefore, they oppose them.

The problem with this, however, is that it weighs two unequal things. The inability to drive would surely be frustrating, but losing the right to be alive is also a much bigger deal. How many real, flesh-and-blood drivers should lose their licenses in order to preserve one nameless, hypothetical person? Statistically speaking, we know that people will die but without a name or a face they seem less important than grandma and grandpa.

Personally, I believe that the elderly should have stiff regulations imposed on their driving. I don’t think that their inconvenience is worth risking unnecessary lives. However, I recognize that it is difficult to balance freedom with safety, especially when we’ll never know whose lives are saved. Elderly driving is also only one example of this dilemma. Airport security is another, as are security measures in schools and public places, smoking and alcohol laws, weapons laws, and a multitude of other issues. (Come to think of it, the entire ideology behind libertarianism is based on an assertive, and I’d argue painfully simplistic, assessment of the relationship between real and potential freedom.)

In the end, then, this post is less about how frustrating elderly drivers are and more about the difficulty of ensuring that people are safe while they exercise their rights. In a country like the United States, where the word freedom is pretty much synonymous with “good,” these are hard questions indeed.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Max Hall and BYU’s Unsportsmanlike Facebook Group

In the past few days I’ve noticed some of my friends joining a Facebook group called “Max Hall said what everyone was thinking.” (I have quite a few friends in this group right now. If you’re one of them I’m about to condemn it in no uncertain terms. I hope this doesn’t upset or offend you as I value your friendship. Maybe this post can open a dialog. Who knows, perhaps you have some rebuttal for my argument that I haven’t thought of yet.)


Max Hall is, of course, BYU’s quarterback and the group refers to these comments (taken from the group’s page) that he made after the game last Saturday:


I don't like Utah. In fact, I hate them — I hate everything about them. I hate their program. I hate their fans. I hate everything. So, it feel good to send those guys home... I think the whole university and their fans and organization is classless... I don't respect them, and they deserve to lose


This article gives more context, but unfortunately it doesn’t mitigate the inflammatory nature of the remarks. Now, before I comment on anything else I should say that Hall made the comments right after a tough game during which there was undoubtedly a lot of adrenaline pumping through his system. I know that that sort of situation can cause people to say things they would otherwise keep to themselves and though I think Hall is an idiot for what he did, I can understand making a mistake. (On the other hand, Hall would no doubt like to go pro but if the emotion of a game prevents him from controlling himself he’s hardly NFL material.)


In any case, Hall’s comments were a mistake. He admitted as much and was also officially rebuked for them. What is much more troubling than Hall messing up is the fact that BYU students have created a group to honor and perpetuate his mistake. Though Hall’s comments reflect poorly on him and his school (which is my own alma mater too) the Facebook group endorses negativity and unsportsmanlike conduct. Hall at least had the weak excuse that he was riled up by the game. What excuse do BYU fans sitting at home on their computers have? That they’re ill mannered jerks?


The comments on the Facebook group’s page vary. Some mention that the University of Utah’s football team was playing a dirty game. Others mention that U football players have similarly said insulting things about BYU. However, that type of excuse is so flimsy it’s laughable. Both teams played a dirty game and even if the U had worn brass knuckles onto the field BYU students should have taken the high road once the game was over. Do they really hate U fans? Seriously? Isn’t BYU all about service and showing Christ-like love? Even to people who chose to get an education at different universities? Ultimately, this whole thing makes BYU look like it’s filled with mean-spirited bullies.


I think it might be useful to imagine this whole episode as an inspirational sports movie in the vein of Rudy or Remember the Titans. On BYU’s side we have a fifth year senior who didn’t even play very well. Maybe the U deserved to lose, but Hall’s performance hardly justified a win. On the other side, the U had an 18 year old freshman as their quarterback. As the announcers on the Mountain West Sports Network said during the game, he didn’t show that he was a freshman during the first half but it was apparent in the second. Nevertheless the Utes held BYU at bay the entire game until Max Hall finally got lucky and threw a complete pass to win. Then, despite the win, the much older Hall went on to ice the cake with an insult.


If this were a movie BYU would, without question, be the bad guy. Most sports movies include some brutish, mean antagonist and BYU almost perfectly fits that bill. The only problem is that Hall will never have to face the U again so there won’t be a rematch during which the older, more experienced bully is crushed by the resilient underdog. In other words, the U was Rocky. The U was Rudy. The U was every sports movie hero and BYU ended up playing the part of a stock bad guy.


I think this movie analogy is useful because the Facebook group supporting Hall currently has 2065 members at the time I’m writing this. It makes me wonder: does everyone want to come off as a vindictive bastard? Do people like perpetuating the worst parts of a dirty game? Does this group strike any of its members as being somewhat at odds with the values they claim to believe in? I’m not saying that BYU fans (and many of my friends) are bastards or hypocrites, but the Facebook group certainly makes our school appear to be extremely bad sports. And really, that's not good for anyone.


My guess is that most people aren’t thinking very much about this issue. Rivalries are fun and the conflict they allow can be a much-needed outlet for a lot of people. Perhaps BYU supporters who have joined the group simply feel like they’re showing school spirit. However, I hope that BYU students and fans realize that sports rivalries are not worth being a fool over. Going to another school and (passionately) supporting that school’s team doesn’t make someone a bad person. One bad apple shouldn’t be used to generalize the bunch (which BYU must appreciate, in light of Hall’s comments and the unfortunate actions of some BYU fans after the game). This seems obvious, but the existence of a group like this makes it seem like BYU students have lost sight of things that really matter. If the world is actually going to be the campus of BYU students, there isn’t room for hate groups.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Thanksgiving: The Best Holiday of the Year

Thanksgiving is unequivocally the best holiday of the year. Though it consistently ranks below Christmas on many people’s personal holiday rankings, it deserves more credit.


Of course, the most obvious reason to praise Thanksgiving is the way it is celebrated. Thanksgiving is practically synonymous with food and feasts. Admittedly, if you aren’t a fan of turkey, pies, mashed potatoes, etc. (and I know many people aren’t) Thanksgiving will probably hold significantly less appeal. On the other hand, Thanksgiving food is fairly varied and most people don’t hate all the traditional dishes. More importantly, perhaps, a Thanksgiving feast provides an opportunity for creativity. This year, for example, my family and I had the typical pies but Laura and I also made banana cake. Last year someone brought sautéed mushrooms. Though these kinds of food definitely weren’t on the Pilgrims menu, they are delicious and any holiday that provides an excuse to eat good food has a lot going for it. Ultimately then, even if you don’t love Thanksgiving food, you can still use the day as an excuse to make and eat a lot of other delicious things.


While food is certainly a big part of Thanksgiving, I would argue that is isn’t the most important part. Instead, the most significant part of Thanksgiving is being able to spend time with family or friends. Again, I know that not everyone enjoys this part of the holiday. I also know that there are many people who can’t get together with their families. However, the fact that the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is the biggest travel day of the year suggests that celebrating with loved ones is a typical or at least common thing to do. What’s more, whether you get along with your family or not, Thanksgiving is among the least stressful ways to get together. You don’t to worry about things like presents, and the attention is never on one person as it might be during a wedding, birthday celebration, graduation, etc. 


There are a number of other reasons to appreciate Thanksgiving. It takes place in the fall, for example, so it’s not as cold as Christmas but it’s not as hot as the Fourth of July. It also means a day off from work for most people and two days for many (and three for students and teachers). The list could go on and on, but the point is that Thanksgiving genuinely has more to offer than most holidays.


Of course, Thanksgiving is also good because of the ways that it isn’t celebrated. As I mentioned above, there are no presents as there is with Christmas. Obviously if you love getting (or giving) things that might seem like a negative thing, but realistically presents raise stress. You have to find just the right thing for everyone, worry about whether they’ll like it, and then act surprised/impressed/excited about what they gave you no matter how you actually feel. Sometimes none of those things are a big deal, but other times they cause serious tensions. At very least Christmas requires everyone to put on a show and by comparison Thanksgiving comes off as a much more sincere holiday.


Thanksgiving also isn’t commercialized the way that Christmas or Halloween are. To be honest, the commercial aspect of Christmas is really the only part of the holiday that makes me feel the seasonal “spirit”; I can’t, for example, get into Christmas unless I’ve seen tons of Christmas commercials. However, Thanksgiving’s charm is that you don’t have to “get into” the holiday in the first place. There is relatively little buildup and, consequently, no let down when the day actually comes. As an adult I can’t stress this point enough. Though I loved Christmas as a child it is inevitably disappointing as an adult when I know that there is no magical, Santa-related ending and that the best thing that will happen is that I’ll get to sleep in. Those things are great, but hardly worthy of weeks and weeks of anticipation. Thanksgiving, by contrast, includes the best parts about Christmas without the huge anticipation and subsequent let down.


I could go on and on about how much better Thanksgiving is than all other holidays (in the U.S.). Instead, however, suffice it to say that in these first days of December I’m reminded of how much more thankful I am for Thanksgiving than all other holidays.