Thursday, November 29, 2007

Boy Bands and mainstream culture.

Yahoo! Music had an article about Boy Bands, and so I had to put my 2 cents in. Too bad it only had a 3000 character limit. I used every single one. :)


There is nothing so polarizing in music than the selection of pop icons. And if one band is glorified in a decade, the others will be vilified by that particular fan. BSB fans will consider Nysnc the enemy, much like Coke and Pepsi are direct competitors. Looking at it historically, there have been waves of pop music popularity. The creation of rock and roll can be partially given to the rise of such teen idols as Frankie Avalon, but true "boy bands" rose in the 1960's with the Beatles appearance on the Ed Sullivan show (in the US, I know little about trends overseas). It is amazing that cable television would help their competitors, The Monkees, rise from drugs, depression, and horse racing to the monumental comeback they experienced in 1986. Nor surprisingly, groups like Menudo and New Kids on the Block were also popular then. I call this the 80's wave of pop music. (Most of this is simple history, but I'm building toward a point.)

The pendulum of popular culture swung back the other direction with Alternative (REM) and other sounds of teen angst. The rebellion of such positive attitudes and the embracing of negativity was partly the aging of the young fans of the 80's to turn against their childhood and grow up into a world so often invaded by cynicism. (It is also interesting to look at the positive messages in music and parallel them to economic ups and downs in the US economy.)

So when the 1997 pop revolution began, a new sound of positive love songs and catchy musical rips were beginning to be felt in Europe with bands such as BSB and the Spice Girls, and as most things in Europe do, they would have eventually come to the US with as much force as they did. However, it is my contention that if it were not for the amazing song writing abilities and positive outlook of Hanson, the door would not have been opened as quickly for pop music again in America. I seem to recall an interview where Nick Carter (or one of the BSB) said as much.

granted, the days of MMMBop are long gone, and Hanson has matured, and in some instances, continue to produce music and to influence the music scene as much as Middle of Nowhere did (although, frankly, I can't get into their latest album, _The Walk_, it lacks the pop roots that made _Underneath_ a great album)

While boy bands are now as numerous as Walmarts here in the US, and perhaps the airwaves are inundated with sub-par writing and simplistic messages of love and lust, an important realization must be made. Pop has never died off from the 1990's hype, mainly because the availability of music has exploded with the Internet, with Apple's Ipods, and with the diversification of tastes, cultures, and the mainstream acceptance of most music as a personal choice among individuals. So pop can exist along side hip-hop, country, or hard rock, and in some cases, can blend into any of the other genres. It's a positive step toward acceptance of other cultures, and one Pop music should be proud of.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Obligatory Thanksgiving Post II

I went back to the post I did last year, and found that I'm still basically the same person I was a year ago. I've made a few new friends, and almost lost some. But life is a roller coaster; it would be foolish to think that I would sit here, a year later, and not my share of sorrows and joys. (I'm still thankful for my heater.)

I've learned that the cravings we have must be regulated and controlled, lest they tear us up inside. I've learned that friends are the best support system that anyone can have, and can serve more than Prozac or any psychologist ever could. But that it takes effort to keep up those relationships, and while I'm not the best at communication, I am trying more. And I've learned that there are a lot of friends to be made out there, if you know where to look, to find commonalities and become pilgrims traveling down the same road.

So, to be thankful for my friends, as I've said last year, is the most important thing. My new friends, like Gannon and Lucas, who have problems and joys and sorrows, but are wonderful people that I'm sure I'll get to know better. I'd like to thank Trey Toler for being friends with my brother Lee, and helping him to be grounded in reality while flights of fancy and sorrows abound around him. Lee, after all, is still a child, and Trey has helped him stay there, while still maturing and learning his way through the Realm of Experience. I'd also like to thank Miss Tavia for opening her house for Lee when he needs her, as I cannot, being here in Conyers.

I'm also thankful for Cathe and my manager Angie, who are a wonderful couple and are there to support me in my work and in my life. And for fixing really good casseroles and making a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner when Cathe clearly did not feel like it. Big hearts and clear minds are in short supply in this world, and it's good to have some around.

So Happy Thanksgiving to the people reading this, and to the people that know me or would like to know me. I still mean what I said about reading your blogs on one day a year, or your journals, or whatever. To know where you've been, where you'd like to go, and what brought you to this point. It's also good to know that, through blogs and journals, that you're not alone.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Pizza, Cookies, Food for Thought.

I come home from work last night, and my brother has ordered Pizza. Papa John's Pizza. One with Ham and spinach, and no tomato sauce (which is his... he's got Acid Reflux so bad that he had to buy three different trumpets in high school/college because the acid in his saliva ate through the front part of it.) And one with pepperoni and bacon. Now, first of all, the bacon on most pizzas is burnt and hard and gets in my teeth. Secondly, the tomato sauce is either shoveled on there or not present at all, the crust is rubbery, and the cheese is dry. But my mom and brother like it, cause it's "not as greasy as Pizza Hut's pizza."

Which is true. And aside from the garlic-butter-ultrafattening-itssogood sauce they put with each pizza, Papa John's pizzas are inferior to most other pizzas, including the ones you get for a dollar at the grocery store. Pizza Huts pizza's have the ideal amount of tomato sauce, ultra greasy cheese and pepperoni, piping hot cheesy goodness. And I'll gladly exchange adding the garlic butter for the moistness of PH's pizzas any day, and we're not even talking about the stuffed crust or the Triple-decker pizza that they really need to bring back. And I feel so sorry for the myriads of college students at Georgia College in Milledgeville who have had to use PJ's pizza for their meetings because PH doesn't deliver down there.


Okay, I'm gonna complain about my own company right now. So corporate people can listen in, or tune out, I don't care. Went to the cafe yesterday, looking for something sweet, and found Seattle's Best Ovensong Chocolate Chip cookies. Looked really good, so I bought one, took it downstairs, and warmed it up. The chocolate tasted much like plastic, and the cookie was sub-par. Why, oh Why did they switch from the amazing cookies they had before. Their White Chocolate cookie from the beginning of Seattle's Best Cafe, warmed up, was the best cookie I've ever tasted. It leaves the current cookies tasting like dust. So Borders, or Seattle's Best, if you're reading this, please go back to the old cookies, and you can charge whatever you want for them and I'll gladly buy them. The best things are always discontinued.


I was recently talking to a friend about Shoney's, whose declining sales and closing stores have effectively brought an end to American food restaurants in America. And for good reason, the quality of the food has declined, and the customer service has gone down. But there's something to be said for eating comfort food, good old American food, when nothing else will do. I crave Shoney's salad bar occasionally. I miss the breakfast bar with the strawberry shortcake and the french toast sticks and the eggs with the cheese sauce. And the Shoney's brownie ice cream dessert is something only to be outdone by Applebee's brownie ice cream sundae. So good! But I guess the time to eat American food is gone, replaced by Chinese or Italian or Mexican or whatever, most of which have been Americanized and disguised as such.


Finally, you can read all of that and listen to my arteries clog, but you also have to realize that food is one of the pleasures in this world I enjoy, and that society has not tabooed in one form or another.

Capitalism urges it, even as they promote diet plans to combat against it. Go to any magazine rack and pick up Ladies' Home Journal, and you'll find, in big letters, the latest greatest diet plan inside, pictured along side some amazing looking chocolate cream something or another.

Religion uses food in every measure of their faith. Even Jesus ate before he was crucified. The Methodists probably get more converts through good cooking than good preaching, and who hasn't wanted to drink a little more of Jesus' blood or eat more of the body of Christ (oyster crackers) during the Lord's Supper when all we want to do is sing the Doxology and run over to the Olive Garden and beat the lines.

Even our own brains, where Seratonin is raised by most any food, needs food to regulate mood and energy levels. And why is it that sweet tastes so good after salty?

In fact, and this is getting down to the point, that most pleasures that our world provides is ultimately going to cause pain, sickness, or death. If we're talking about wine, or sex, or food, or thrills of excitement and danger, each has the ability to kill us in one way or another. And that's not a depressing point to make. Bob Dylan sang, "He not being born is busy dying," and James Taylor chimed in, "The secret of Life is enjoying the passage of time." So, yes, the things we take pleasure, vices, if you will, will probably end up putting us in our graves, but who wants to live a long and miserable life? We should find our joys in life and treasure them, whether they be a good cheesecake or a precious loved one. And not worry about the problems that come down the road. It sounds Epicurean, and to some extent, it does. But if we add the self-regulation that a good, moral mind must exert on itself, then such vices are kept in balance, and we can enjoy life while acknowledging that we must die at some point. So let me have my greasy Pizza Hut pizza, and my moist White Chocolate chip cookie, and snuggle with one I love, because death is always not far away, and I would rather die knowing the sweetness of life, rather than the bitterness of trying to outmaneuver the grave.

Friday, November 2, 2007

C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, The Anonymity of Porn

I've been reading a classical essay on Love by C.S. Lewis, called The Four Loves. Many years ago I used the chapter on friendship as a part of a research paper that I wrote on the theory of Friendship being just as important as love, and if blessed by God, is just as if not more uniting in soul and spirit. What struck me as interesting this time was the chapter on Eros. (For reference, the four loves, according to Lewis, are Affection (Storge, or Family love), Friendship (Philia or Amacitia), Eros, and Charity (loving the unlovable.) )

In the chapter on Eros, Lewis divides Erotic love into two separate entities. Lust (which he calls Venus, which makes no sense, since Eros and Venus are the same Greek/Roman deity. I would cast Lust into more the realm of Dionysus or Bacchus) can exist without Eros. Remarkably, Lewis says that fulfilling lust is simply a biological need, as desire, much as being hungry or sleepy. He doesn't apply the puritan philosophies that all lust is Satanic and should be repulsed. Hunger is not a sin, neither is passing gas, so the biological desire to have sex is not one either. It's when the sex violates a bond, or a promise, such as marriage, or creates some sort of wrongness, then that is the sin that must be forgiven. Lewis reminds me of Joel Osteen, in that God has the only right to determine what is right and wrong, what sin has been committed. We cannot determine that anothers act of passion is a sin, is right or wrong, since that is between God and that other person. We have only the responsibility to love one another and to apply the laws of our nation to determine justice. Divine justice, forgiven through Grace, is determined by God, not by some preacher or the followers of any religion.

C.S. Lewis lived many years ago, and did not experience the wonders of the Internet. I wonder what he would have said, having seen the anonymity that the Internet provides its users. His point in the Eros chapter that made the biggest impact on me was the idea that nudity, the removal of clothing, turns us into human ideals, mere shadows of the Human form (as Plato would say). We become man and woman (or two people), passionate and universal. And this is all good theory, but when I read this, I immediately thought of the impact that pornography has on people viewing it.

What is it that we see in porn? Sure, there is the attractive body (bodies) of our fellow man (or woman), naked in all his glory, performing some sexual act and inviting us to watch. Opponents of pornography, such as women's groups, would say that porn, from posing in Playboy to participating in adult entertainment, is denigrating and insulting to the woman and to womenkind. I would counter that instead, porn makes one anonymous. Because, especially with adult videos, we incorporate ourselves into the movie, replacing the partner of our choice with ourselves. We moan when they moan, we reach our climax when they do. And the cameramen know this and spend more time on closeups, where the face of the other person is not shown, so that we can pretend we are that person. The people on the screen become the anonymous, universal place holders of man or woman.

This is why pornography is so addicting. Not because of the actors on the screen or in the magazine, but rather because we replace them with ourselves, and in this, we can fulfill lustful needs without having another person there. And, in some cases, it's the only way to do this. Because socially speaking, not everyone has the ability to find that special Beloved (as Lewis says) to merge lust and Eros together and spend a lifetime with. It is the lust aspect of Eros that turns love into a craving, and without lust, the lack of a loved one in our lives becomes bearable. We hold off making a bad choice which might hurt someone by releasing the tension that lust, a simple biological need, creates in our lives.