Tuesday, April 22, 2014

My Guilty Pleasure - Game Of Thrones


Photo courtesy of Amazon's Affiliate Program.
I must begin by stating that I HATE the term "guilty pleasure."  Typically used to refer to high calorie/salt/fat foods, the terms "guilty pleasure," "sinfully delicious," and alike make me want to punch the speaker in the throat.  By my way of thinking, good food is good food.  Unless you're trying keep Kosher or something, there's no SIN involved  in eating a bacon cheeseburger, or any other tasty morsel.

That being said, I find myself assigning the term to, of all things, a TV show.  Weekly depictions of murder, torture, incest, orgies, and other reprehensible behavior put the show in a morally questionable category.  Yet, even as I squirm during certain scenes, I find myself unable to look away.   Why?

One strength of the show is the fact that all the characters are intelligent.  The show, unlike many shows today, does not feature idiot droolers doing off-the-wall things just to do something to  fill screen time.  As an audience, we don't always like what the characters do, but their actions make sense and add to a well told story.

Additionally, I love the fact that the story, for those of us who haven't read George R. R. Martin's books, is completely unpredictable.  Any character can die at any time.  Main characters, who would have been presumed safe on other shows, have been killed without warning.  This uncertainty keeps viewers on the edge of their proverbial seats by maintaining an air of constant danger.

Ultimately what keeps me tuning in is the chance to root for the underdog.  Surrounded by an array of powerful morally bankrupt characters, we're given a handful of, seemingly powerless, noble characters who struggle to do what's right.  Recently, we saw one such hero refuse to allow his servant to endanger himself in order to get the hero out of some pretty dire straights.

Like HBO's Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones is a smorgasbord of sex and violence for adult viewers.  Other than the use of swords and magic though, the audience's ability to pull for someone other than a criminal sets Game of Thrones apart from its network alumni.

I give Game Of Throes 8.7 out 10 stars, only marking it down for a few sadomasochistic scenes, over the years, which really made me squirm.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

In God We Justify

Easter, the Christian observance of the death and resurrection of Jesus, takes place this week.  Given that my last entry was about hedonism, I wanted to address religion during this week of holy reflection.

Religious Symbols
Title: Religious Symbols | Date: 07/26/2006 | Artist: Szczepan1990 | The copyright holder of this work, releases this work into the public domain. This applies worldwide.
That being said, I had no desire to preach to anyone or dissuade anyone from believing in their personal view of God, or the universe.  That's not my place.

Personally, I believe God walked the Earth as Christ to make our redemption possible. That being said, if a person can find their way to compassion and tolerance, then they're my friend, and I don't give a rip if they read the Bible, the Tora, the Tao Te Ching, the Quran, the Vedas, the Book of Shadows, or the complete works of Stephen Hawking.

I wasn't sure what I wanted to say about religion until I heard two stories on the news.

First, a hate monger chose to go on a Jew killing spree, in Kansas City, right before Passover, a commemoration of their liberation by God from slavery, over 3,300 years ago.  Two Jewish male victims, identified as 14 year old Reat Griffin Underwood and his grandfather, were shot in the parking lot outside the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City in Overland Park, where auditions for a musical were taking place. The shooter shouted, "Heil Hitler," then drove a mile away to Village Shalom Hebrew Retirement Community, where he shot and killed an elderly woman.

In other news, St. Alban's Episcopal, in Davidson, N.C., is displaying a statue depicting Jesus as a vagrant sleeping on a park bench.  People are objecting to the statue, only identifiable as Christ by his stigmata wounds, saying the art piece insults Christ by associating him with the homeless.  (The pictures of the piece are copywritten, thus I can't display them.  However, you can view the statue on NPR's site.) 

While the two stories seem dissimilar, they both reflect narrow concepts of religion.

Violence in the name of God is nothing new.  From the Crusades to 9/11, and beyond, people have been killing in God's name.  I read my Bible on a regular basis though, and I can't find the passage which recommends the murder of Jews during a community audition.

Granted, anti-semites point to Titus 1:10-11 ~ "For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake.”

However, the verse in question chronicles Paul chastising false prophets who are teaching bogus doctrine in Christ's name.  The quote is meant to be an indictment of heretics, not an entire race.

As for the statue protesters, it's true that many of us Calvinistically link holiness with prosperity in the back of our minds.  However, whether one believes Christ was God, or not, the undeniable fact is the Jesus of scripture associated HIMSELF with the homeless.

Luke 18:35-43 ~ "As he drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” And he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God. 

Scripturally speaking, it's completely appropriate to depict Jesus as living among the poor.   He walked from city to city, mingled with vagrants and prostitutes, and taught the word of God.  Yet, many of us don't enjoy being reminded of the less fortunate, so we try to hide reminders of their plight.  Therefore, many people, especially the affluent, want depictions of God/Christ to be white robed and clean.

In the end, I don't think religion divides people, as much as people try to use religion to justify the divisions we create among ourselves.  By my way of thinking, religion, Christian or otherwise, serves humanity best as an apparatus to bring people together, rather than as a wedge to drive us apart.  Perhaps faith, genuine faith, lies within the ability to accept people for what they believe, and trust that God/the universe will sort it out in the end.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Happy Hedonists

Spa Massage
Title: Spa Massage | Date: 07/2011 | Photographer: IQP | This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
1:  the doctrine that pleasure or happiness is the sole or chief good in life
2:  a way of life based on or suggesting the principles of hedonism
Hedonism - Definition from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary
I'm an avid Facebook user.  The site is practically my virtual version of Cheers, a "place" where everybody knows my name.

Recently, my friend L.A. started a Facebook page called Mostly Unrepentant Hedonists.  Upon being invited, I began using the page which mostly consists of cocktail recipes, risque humor, and sex tips.  Mostly interested in the cocktail recipes, I'd drop in for a few minutes a day to see what was new and to share my two bits.

A few days after working this habit into my daily routine, I caught an episode of Saturday Night Live featuring musical guest Pharrell Williams.  During the show, he sang his flagship song "Happy," the chorus of which is:

Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do.

The song, and the frequent visits to L.A.'s page, got me thinking about the concepts of happiness, pleasure, and hedonism.

The philosophically astute will point out that, on the deepest level, happiness and pleasure are separate ideas, one being physical and the other being spiritual.  While such people are on solid academic ground, I prefer to think of the two terms as synonyms; what makes us happy gives us pleasure, and inversely, what gives us pleasure makes us happy.

Of course, the third term, hedonism, often gets a bad rap, typically is thought of as the quest for pleasure at the expense of others.  Conjuring images of Romans feasting and fornicating as slaves fight for their amusement, hedonism is considered, by many, to be a primary motivation for evil.  By my way of thinking, it doesn't have to carry an evil overtone though.

Certainly, if enslaving three girls for eleven years is what makes you happy and gives you pleasure, that's undeniably evil.  Sickness aside though, many things, apart from stiff drinks and unique positions, can give pleasure and make someone happy.

  • A good meal can give pleasure and make someone happy.
  • A walk on the beach can give pleasure and make someone happy.
  • A good book or movie can give pleasure and make someone happy.
  • Playing poker can give pleasure and make someone happy.
  • Taking the grand kids for pizza & smoothies can give pleasure and make someone happy.
  • Watching sports, listening to music, and a plethora of other positive things can all give pleasure and make someone happy. 
This being the case, then can't we say, "hedonism is merely the quest for happiness?"  If so, aren't we all hedonists?

Monday, March 31, 2014

Beware Half-Truths

P.T. Barnum once bought a load of white salmon and found them to be unsellable. Buyers were used to pink salmon. He sold the fish by canning the meat and printing, "Guaranteed not to turn pink in the can," on each can. The statement was 100% true, but completely irrelevant. Pinkness isn't a sign the fish has gone bad, it's merely a different species. Nevertheless, the implication was enough to depopularize pink salmon and create a demand for white salmon.

In November and December of1946, sponsor Kellogg's kicked off chapters of the Superman radio story, "The Secret Letter," by promoting their Kellogg's Pep Cereal with the inclusion of a comic themed pinback button in each box. They promised that characters such as Superman, Orphan Annie, and Moon Mullins would, "...look as real on the button as they did in the funny papers." The implication was that the characters would look "real." However, because it was worded with their appearance in the newspapers as the standard, the buttons only had to display the same simple art for the promise to be true.

Title: Salt | Date: 01/21/2011 | Photographer: Drtony999 | This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
Today, foods containing "sea salt" are being marketed to health oriented shoppers. First of all, mined salt is only underground because that ground was once under the sea. Thus it's all "sea salt." Labeling salt "sea salt" is like saying white salmon won't turn pink in the can. It's 100% true but completely irrelevant.

As for the idea that sea salt has some kind of benefit, salt marketed as "sea salt" is coarse, like Kosher salt, and isn't quite as processed as table salt. However, sea salt & table salt have the same basic nutritional value, despite the fact that sea salt is often promoted as being healthier. Sea salt and table salt contain comparable amounts of sodium by weight. If a buyer tastes a difference & buys it for taste that's valid, but buyers shouldn't think of it as more or less healthy than typical salt.

My point is, we’re surrounded by falsehoods nestled inside half truths and misconstrued  statements of fact.  Facts, when presented with a particular slant, CAN lie.

Always question statements such as:
  • Priced as low as - The term "as low as" means it's the very least  buyer will pay for something, most buyers will pay more.
  • Free - One can bet good money companies aren't shelling out good money for advertising in order to give away FREE goods & services.  Odds are, there will be a cost to the consumer somewhere along the line,
  • All Natural - The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t define it, although food makers won’t get in trouble as long as so-labeled food doesn’t contain added colors, artificial flavors, or “synthetic substances.”   That means there’s room for interpretation.  So a food labeled natural may contain preservatives or be injected with sodium.
  • Light - To be considered a "light" product, the fat content has to be 50% less than the amount found in comparable products, but manufacturers have been known to use the term to refer to the flavor rather than the fat content.
  • Nothing works better - This doesn't mean the product in question is the best, many such products may be equally effective.
There  are many other examples of misleading, if technically true, statements.  Bottom line, one should consider every possible angle before accepting anything as truthful.