Monday, July 20, 2015

How PC Is Too PC?

For a long time I’ve wrestled with the question of political correctness vs. tradition. My liberal default position says we should be willing to axe offensive and oppressive traditions from our society in order to promote justice and equality for all. Yet, a wise man once said, "Traditions, traditions. Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as... as... as a fiddler on the roof!" So, where do we draw the line?

Lately, in reaction to a hate motivated church shooting, an issue has arisen which has brought the question to the forefront of Americans’ minds. Certainly, traditions such a slavery and whites only lunch counters were exercises in cruelty which had to be abolished. Yet, I’m not sure it’s justifiable, or even healthy, to ban symbols of such eras.

The Second Confederate Navy Jack
Subject: The Second Confederate Navy Jack | This work is in the public domain in the United States, and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less.
Of course, the Confederate Flag doesn’t belong on government land. Racist symbol, or not, the Confederacy lost the war, and losers of wars don’t get to fly their flag over the victor’s capitol and/or official properties. That what, “losing the war,” means.

That being said, here in Oregon, legal action is being taken to ban the symbol from, privately owned, Jefferson Davis Memorial Park. I’m not comfortable banning ANY symbol from private use.

Some debate the idea that the flag is a symbol of racism, claiming it symbolizes freedom from Federal control of local issues. The distinction is meaningless to the question of private usage though. Accepting, for the sake of argument, that the flag IS an offensive symbol of oppression, freedom of expression can’t only apply to non-offensive speech.

I’m offended by gay bashers who flaunt Christian symbols and claim to be acting in Christ’s name. I’m offended by people who claim the way to be happy is to lose 50 pounds and cut this or that from our diet. I’m offended by people who want student loans to be magically forgiven, after I spent twenty years paying mine off. You know what though? As offensive as I find their ideas, they get to speak.

The desire to ban the offensive was taken to the absurd extreme in 2012 when a Portland principle tried to ban peanut butter & jelly sandwiches from elementary school lunches, for being a racist sandwich. No, that’s not a typo. Her “reasoning” was that Mexican & Middle Eastern students are unfamiliar with white bread, peanut butter, and jelly, thus the sandwich symbolizes Caucasian oppression.

If someone wants to put a Confederate Flag on their bumper, hand out swastika arm bands in Pioneer Square, or write a book recommending we eat like cave men to lose weight they get to do that. We have the right to look down on them as idiots for doing so, but we have to let them speak.

Equality doesn’t mean we all need to eat, say, and think the same things. If we want to live in a society which respects diversity, we actually have to RESPECT DIVERSITY! It’s the only way a free society can work.

Monday, June 29, 2015

We're Not Stupid!... Are We?

Right now, almost every blogger, vlogger (video blogger), and columnist is addressing the Supreme Court's virtual legalization of same-sex-marriage. Don't get me wrong, I'm tickled pink (no pun intended) that institutionalized bigotry has been dealt a crippling blow. However, given the number of opinions, buzzing across the internet, on the topic, there's nothing of any intelligent significance I can add to the conversation.

Thus, I'd rather address something which has been bugging me lately.  It's becoming increasingly obvious that corporate America thinks the buying public is made up of idiots.

This attitude has always been present in advertising to some degree.  In the old west, crowds were amazed when snake oil salesmen miraculously cured the cripple among them; never mind that no one had ever met the poor soul before the medicine man hit town.
Subject: Water | Date: Unknown | Photographer: Walter J. Pilsak |This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

The mid-twentieth century saw doctors endorsing brands of cigarettes and fictionalized housewives looking forward to washing dishes in order to soften their hands.  Yet, advertisers were able to somewhat deny they thought of consumers as moronic sheep.

Today, it seems like they've dropped all such pretenses, and are happy to blatantly treat us like drooling idiots.

One of the most annoyingly obvious offenders is Crystal Geyser Alpine Spring Water.  Their commercial states their bottled water is, "made by nature, not by man."

Ditditdotditditit... NEWS FLASH, this just in, all water, yes, all water is made by nature.

Crystal Geyser means that their water is taken directly from a stream, rather than from a chemically treated reservoirs.  Yet, the slogan conjures up mental pictures of lab coat clad scientists creating water in test tubes for the competition.  IT'S JUST NOT HAPPENING!

True, some bottled water companies have been known to bottle common tap water, which can contain liquefied chlorine, fluorosilicic acid, aluminum sulphate, calcium hydroxide, and  sodium silicofluoride.  That being said, the water itself was made by nature covalently bonding two hydrogen atoms to a single oxygen atom.  That's what water is.

Companies churn out mindless slogans, like the aforementioned promise of natural water, because they make money.  These slogans make money for the simple reason that we don't think about them.  We sit, with Coca-Cola in hand, stare at that thar TV box, and gobble up whatever comes out.

I'm probably one of the guiltiest consumers I know.  There's no telling how many times I've been tempted by the latest snack chip or fast food offering, only to be disappointed by mediocre junk.

Bottom line, if we want advertisers to start treating us like intelligent consumers, we have refuse to buy products from companies that treat us like idiots.  We have to raise the bar by thinking critically.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Goodbye Grocer

The shelves had been picked half clean by the time I arrived. Memories of mothers with bee hive hairdos and cat-eye glasses clung to the few remaining cans of instant soup.
Hanks Thriftway
Subject: Hank's Thriftway | Date: 06/17/15 | Photographers: James Kiester & Dani Cogswell | This picture was taken by the author of this blog. |

The morning paper told me Hank’s Thriftway was in the process of closing its doors after 80 years. When I was a child, in Aloha, in the 70s, there was Hanks and the TV Highway Safeway if one wanted to buy groceries at a supermarket. We didn’t even have a local 7-11 store until I was 10 years old. Thus, seeking the best price involved driving between the two stores.

I typically do my shopping, these days, at the cheaper Winco, or the gourmet oriented New Seasons and Whole Foods. However, I had business in Hillsboro on Wednesday, so I figured I’d do my grocery shopping at Hank’s to take advantage of the liquidation sale, and to say goodbye to the remnant of my childhood. I also thought I'd be able to write a blog about “progress steam rolling the little guy.”

I can’t write the blog I’d planned.

The shelves were understandably half empty by the time I got there, such is the nature of a liquidation sale.  Yet, their "sale prices" were higher than other stores' regular prices.  For example, Hank's was selling boxes of 6 Pop Tarts for $5.00 ($1.25 per Pop Tart).  Walgreen's offers boxes of 8 Pop Tarts for $2.59 ($0.32 per Pop Tart).  Of course, to off set these prices, if I'd subscribed to the newspaper on the way out, I could've received a gift card to use on my next visit. 

It's true, I had only shopped at Hank's three times a year, if that, for the past twenty years.  Thus, the death of this Hillsboro landmark is partly the fault of convenience oriented shoppers, such as yours truly.  However, if the prices and promotion I saw were indicative of business as usual, I have to wonder if better management could have saved the place.

Sadly, we'll never know.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Must Sees

During a recent coffee date, my friend, Mallorie, remarked that Carrie Fisher hadn't had any movie roles since the original Star Wars trilogy concluded.  When I pointed out she'd

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played Marie in When Harry Met Sally, Mallorie said she hadn't seen it.  I was surprised.  Until that moment, I'd thought of the 1989 romantic comedy as one of those films which everybody had seen, such as The Wizard of Oz.

So, what makes a movie a "must see?"  While MANY movies mindlessly regurgitate cliches, a must see movie, at least in my mind, is one which starts a cliche, or worms its way into the fabric of our culture in some other way.

An example from TV would be Star Trek.  Thanks to the 60s series, when people part ways they often tell one another to, "live long and prosper."  The synonym for goodbye is used today by trekkies and non-trekkies alike.

Being a man who likes to visit the outside world from time to time, I can't sit here and list every such film.  However, below you'll find a list of 10 films, or film series, in no particular order, which, I believe,  influenced the way we talk and/or think.

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01. The Wizard of Oz - This early addition to the fantasy genre taught us to appreciate what we have with the tag line, "There's no place like home."

02. The Star Wars Saga - Like Jar Jar, hate Jar Jar, the fact is that wishing the force be with somebody has become synonymous with wishing them good luck.

03. When Harry Met Sally - OK, 99.99% of romantic comedies make me want to punch kittens.  Yet, writer, Nora Ephron, understood the way people think to such a degree that this movie is frequently quoted by men who feel they can't be "just friends" with women.  Plus, the "I'll have what she's having" moment has been lampooned multiple times over the years.

04. The Godfather - If one is going to "make someone an offer they can't refuse" it helps to have some context for the classic quote.

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05. Casablanca - Not only is "always having Paris" a popular way to say you can't take away our happy memories of what was, the irony of "beginning a beautiful friendship" is lost on those who haven't seen the movie.

06. The Maltese Falcon - Bogart makes a second appearance here.  If you've ever seen a spoof of Film Noir movies with a beautiful dame sauntering into a P.I.'s office, this film best defines the genre.  It's the stuff dreams are made of.

07. Rocky I & II - Yes, there are six Rocky films, with a rumored seventh coming soon.  Yet, it was the first two which chronicled the journey of the fictional underdog becoming the heavyweight champion.  If you've ever seen someone shout, "Adrian!" after accomplishing a significant goal, these movies will lend context to that cry.

08. Dirty Harry: Sudden Impact - While the original Dirty Harry, and its four sequels, became the flag bearers for tough guy cop movies, it was Sudden Impact (the fourth movie) which inserted, "Go ahead, make my day," into our collective vocabulary.

09. Gone with the Wind - This four hour saga has given us multiple cliches from a woman who "should be kissed and often, and by someone who knows how," to a determined woman swearing, "as God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again," as she shakes her fist at the sky.

10. Psycho - Alfred Hitchcock's classic shower murder scene has become a mental representation of shock and horror.

Movies of Honorable Mention

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Pre-Casino Royale 007 movies - Before the modern revamp into a grittier franchise, James Bond movies told fanciful tales of an irreverent super spy who utilized gadgets, concepts cars, bullets, booze, and babes to foil the plots of over-the-top villains embodying the fears of each film's particular era.  Notable offerings include, From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, Diamonds Are Forever, Live and Let Die, The Spy Who Loved Me, The Living Daylights, and GoldenEye.

John Wayne Westerns - Whether one believes Wayne was a good actor, or merely played himself in every movie, his westerns painted a picture of a noble justice driven west.  While films such as El Dorado, True Grit, The Comancheros, The Searchers, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, Chisum, and The Sons of Katie Elder have been rebuked as being white friendly revisionist depictions of an actually oppressive time, I prefer to think of these offerings as a reflection of where we WISH we had come from, even if the ideal was never realized by our forebears.

Musicals - As I've said before, there's no denying that musicals deliver a certain amount of fantasy based cheese.  However, in amongst the glitz and the high steps, audiences are given access to characters inner most thoughts and feelings.  Notable offerings include, Fiddler on the Roof, The King & I, West Side Story, The Sound of Music, Chicago, Les Misrables, and, for the kinky among us, The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Of course, I could add 50 more movies to this list, and still not be finished.  Yet, seeing the films on this list is a good start for anyone wanting to understand modern conversational/pop culture allusions. 

What movies would you include on a must see list?