Monday, December 30, 2013

Destructive Standards of Beauty

I am not neutral.

I came across this post today, which shows a video which is critical of how the "beauty industry," driven solely by profit, has constructed standards of attractiveness which are totally unrealistic.

In my opinion, these [often artificial] standards of beauty are causing a great deal of damage, particularly to women. Obviously, being male, I probably don't fully appreciate the psychological effects that can result from this. Maybe I'm stepping over the line by discussing this here, I don't know.

By the way, I totally realize that this video was developed as an advertisement for Dove. Interestingly, Dove is actually owned by Unilever, which distributes another brand I've discussed in a previous post. Clearly I can't dictate how these companies conduct their marketing campaigns. But we can exercise freedom of speech with our wallets. Our buying behaviors influence how marketing departments shape their messages. I'd prefer that they propagate a message which is a bit more healthy and realistic for all of us.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Keep the Flame Burning

What can the Underground Railroad, the season of Advent, and a parable teach us about perseverance in faith?

During undergrad, I was privileged to sing with the UAlbany Chamber Singers, directed by David Griggs-Janower at the time. Around the fall of 2004 we performed the song "Keep your Lamps Trimmed and Burning." This African-American spiritual alludes to the Underground Railroad, a network of secret traveling routes and safe-houses which led many people to freedom at a time when slavery was sanctioned by the government, and when racism was deeply ingrained into the theology of some religious communities.

The lyrics, which describe the use of an oil lamp while traveling by night, are an encouragement to persevere and to not lose faith, even though the journey is long and the odds seem impossible:

Keep your lamps trimmed and burning
The time is drawing nigh
Children don't get weary
'Till your work is done

But these lyrics have a dual meaning. They also refer the parable of the ten bridesmaids, an illustration of the importance of keeping one's faith alive even in times of uncertainty. In it, a group of young women in a wedding party are asked to keep watch during the night for the groom, whose day and time of arrival is unknown. They are admonished to keep enough oil in their lamps to keep the flame going for when the groom arrives.

This parable reveals a core reality of the Christian faith. We hear the news that God's mercy and his justice are real and will be fulfilled. But we can't escape the fact that, presently, the world is full of suffering and injustice. We wonder, "when is God going to show up?" No one alive now has seen the Groom himself in person, and like Peter, at times some of us wonder that our hope may be in vain. But, despite our doubts, we keep our lamps burning, with faith, trust, and hope.

The season of Advent resonates with the depiction in this parable. The flames of the candles which are lit during Advent symbolize and emphasize that we are waiting patiently on God. When we sing the 12th century Advent hymn "O come Emmanuel," we acknowledge the world's present state of injustice and brokenness, and affirm that, like those who paved the way to freedom via the Underground Railroad, we believe in something which seems impossible:

O come Desire of nations bind
All people and all hearts in one mind
Bid envy, strife, and discord cease
And fill the world with heaven's peace

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Lies my shampoo bottle tells me about dating - my take on AXE's marketing strategy and the state of the modern male

This image, found on the back of my AXE shampoo bottle, makes some lofty claims. Over the last 7 months of using this shampoo [it lasts a long time for me since I don’t have much hair left], I still have not been pursued by a woman in a skimpy red dress.
The image you see above is something I view every morning; it’s on the back of my “AXE” shampoo bottle. This shampoo bottle has been sitting in my shower since January. So I’ve been contemplating what the AXE marketing strategy says about the modern male's perception of women and dating.

Some might argue that AXE targets the “insecure novice” who “needs the most help in getting women.” (click here to view article). I find it somewhat incredible that there may actually be people who believe the advertisement shown above. But this strategy has worked very well for AXE - they are now the best-selling deodorant brand on the market.

But I've been thinking that this ridiculous ad is overshadowed by an even bigger delusion which blights the modern male population: There seems to be a widespread belief that fulfilling your desires outside the context of commitment is a commendable accomplishment, and will lead to personal satisfaction. If it feels good, do it. Lacking positive role models who convey the importance of making an actual commitment, we increasingly opt for a continuous slew of "hook-ups." In my personal opinion, these trends have generated significant consequences which ultimately affect the well-being of children.

What's my proposed solution to this societal dysfunction? Sorry, I don't have a quick fix. But I think it's important to at least talk about the problem, instead of going along with the status quo. I know that even by posting this on my blog, I've probably offended some people. You might even de-friend me on Facebook after reading this. So what motivates me to write about this? It's at least partly because I care about the well-being of children. Or maybe it's just frustration about the outrageous claim on my shampoo bottle.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

How are hospitality and environmentalism related?

A recent blog post I read on climate change sparked a bunch of thoughts about the nature of hospitality, which I’d like to share here. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “hospitable” as “given to generous and cordial reception of guests; promising or suggesting generous and cordial welcome; offering a pleasant or sustaining environment.” While we typically associate hospitality with generosity and provision, it also implies protection.

The crucial component of protection in hospitality was well-established in ancient Middle-Eastern cultures. Travelers passing through (who did not have land, status, or a means of protecting themselves) were completely dependent on codes of hospitality for their survival. Hospitality wasn’t solely about providing food, water and shelter. Hospitality implied physical protection. Travelers would not be mugged, beaten, or raped when passing through a hospitable community.

In modern times, we continue to recognize that hospitality and protection remain a fundamental moral value. For example, if I invite you into my apartment as a guest, I will take full responsibility for your safety and protection while you are here. I will do everything possible to prevent harm from coming to you, even if that means I am harmed myself.

But what does hospitality have to do with the environment? In my thinking, a crucial question facing the earth’s present residents is: “What moral responsibilities do we have to ensure that earth is a hospitable place?”

I would argue that, prior to the 1900’s, the earth seemed to have unlimited resources. We could cut down forests, burn petroleum, and hunt wildlife as much as we needed. Once we completely tapped a certain location/stash of resources, we could easily move onto the next area to get what we need.

When the earth’s population was smaller, it seemed very reasonable to dump pollution into our local environment. Ecosystems were able to effectively absorb a certain amount of pollution. Once a community polluted a certain region so much that it became uncomfortable to live there, they simply moved on to a fresh, unpolluted area.

Now, things are different. We have 7 billion people living on earth. We’ve pulled a significant amount of the earth’s petroleum out of the ground. We’ve burned that petroleum, converting it into carbon dioxide. That extra CO2 is now floating around in the atmosphere. These facts are undeniable – you might not like it, but this is reality.

A question I have going forward, is “what exactly will be the long term effects of increased CO2 levels in the atmosphere?” I don’t think anyone can say for sure what will be the exact outcome of this. There are definitely a significant number of scientists who predict that this change will have a major impact on how humans experience life on earth. If I end up living another 4 or 5 decades, I am very curious to see how these scientists’ predictions pan out.

In the meantime, we need to be honest about our fundamental moral responsibility of providing hospitality and protection. In my opinion, this responsibility goes beyond simply welcoming people into our homes as guests. It means that we are also responsible for how we impact the environment around us. If our actions produce an environment which becomes inhospitable to the point where earth can no longer sustain 7 or 8 billion people, we will be held accountable for that outcome.

We brought nothing into this world, and we can take nothing out of it. We are guests on earth. Our children and grandchildren will also be guests on earth. We owe them hospitality.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

My take on Anthony Weiner's folly

I've seen a bunch of tweets roll by recently about Anthony Weiner's shenanigans. Since my opinions on this can't be described well in 140 characters, I figured I'd start a blog and put my thoughts together here.

First, I think America needs more self-awareness when it comes to issues of sexual ethics. It's very easy to lambaste someone else for their misconduct (especially when they are a public figure). But I think being a little more honest with ourselves about our current condition in America, we'd be able to approach these media frenzies with a bit more grace. Let me explain:

As a society, we aren't doing an incredibly great job at maintaining marital fidelity. Approximately 40-76% of marriages experience an instance of adultery at some point. Not only that, but pornography addiction is a growing problem among both men and women (click here for stats on porn use). It's easy for us to criticize Spitzer for paying a woman to have sex. But the truth is, for those of us that have viewed pornography, we've done the same thing. The only difference is, that for porn a camera was turned on to record the act.

Spitzer and Weiner stand in a long line of leaders throughout history who have committed adultery. Though his assassination elicited a sense of national unity (resulting in most folks looking back positively on his presidency), John F. Kennedy had a series of extramarital relationships. Martin Luther King Jr., a crucial contributor to the civil rights movement, has faced allegations of adultery (at the very least, his close friend Ralph Abernathy stated that King had a "weakness for women"). And let's not forget that revered leader who slept with a married woman and had her husband killed to cover up his adultery.

Granted, a key distinction would be whether people like Spitzer and Weiner have actually experienced remorse and turned away from their error. This is something that I don't feel is easy for me to discern, given that I don't know either of these people personally.

Weiner seems to have a continuing sexual addiction, which has continued even after he resigned from congress. It deeply concerns me that he blatantly lied to the American public about his "cyber-affair." It would be difficult for me to entrust such a person again as a government leader, unless I knew that they've truly reformed from their former ways.

At this point I do think it would be appropriate for Anthony Weiner to step down and stop trying to become the mayor of NYC. The tri-state area needs trustworthy leaders, and we simply don't have time for this drama.