Tag Archives: social psychology

Superman, All-Powerful Gods, And What Sets Them Apart

superman

Superheroes mean many things to many people, especially at a time when superhero movies routinely dominate the box office. For some, they’re just gimmicks, fads, and marketing tools by big media companies. For others, they are akin to modern day mythology. It’s an apt comparison. Even contemporary heroes have a lot in common with the mythological legends of the past.

Some take it even further than that. Some will go so far as to claim that superheroes are filling the same roles as gods and deities. It’s not just the ones based on Norse or Greek mythology, either. In many respects, many iconic heroes fit many of the common traits ascribed to gods.

Superman is all-good.

Thanos wielding the Infinity Gauntlet is all-powerful.

Lex Luthor, Dr. Doom, and even Mr. Fantastic are so smart that they might as well be all-knowing to most people.

Such divine, god-like feats make for iconic stories that offer lessons and insights on everything from morality to justice to society, at large. While superheroes aren’t worshiped within organized institutions or granted tax-exempt status by governments, they utilize a similar structure to that of other holy texts.

The narrative surrounding superheroes revolves around good, evil, and the struggles that occur in between. Both the good and the evil in these stories takes the form of some grand, larger-than-life character who embodies these traits and implements them on a level that’s impossible for ordinary people to comprehend. That’s what helps make the message so powerful.

However, it’s the qualities that set superheroes apart from deities that offers the most insights. I would even argue those insights are more critical now than they were before Superman, Batman, or Iron Man ever showed up on a movie screen. At a time when organized religion continues to exert immense influence on society, we should be scrutinizing these discrepancies.

I hope it goes without saying that modern superheroes can only do so much to compare with the deities of organized religion. No matter how much money “Avengers Endgamemade at the box office, it will never exert the same influence that the three main Abrahamic faiths have imparted over the two millennia. For better or for worse, history, politics, and the entire species has been influenced by these religions.

The most notable and obvious difference between them and superheroes is that the deities of religion aren’t presented as entertaining fiction. To the believers of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and many other religions, the deities and the characters in their holy texts are real. They’re not myths or legends. They’re real people and real forces that have real effects.

Regardless of how true that is, and I know atheists will point out how none of those effects can be verified, this is the critical difference between superheroes and deities. Adherents don’t just believe that these characters are real. They place their trust and faith in them, believing that doing so will guide them in life and protect them in death.

I understood this difference as a kid. I was both a fan of superhero comics and surrounded by relatives who were devout believers. I knew they didn’t see their holy texts the same way I saw Superman comics. Superman was just another character. They knew who created him. They knew he was a licensed fictional character from DC Comics.

However, even back then, I found myself wondering whether those same relatives would see Superman differently if they didn’t know he was a comic book character. I imagine if there were old stories about him from centuries ago, written as though they actually happened, they might be less inclined to discount him as fiction. Some might actually be more inclined to place their faith in him over other deities.

It’s an interesting thought experiment, but it only scratches the surface of what sets superheroes apart from ancient lore. Aside from how real people think these characters are, and some take it much further than others, the standard superhero narrative reveals something striking about the standard religious narrative.

To illustrate, take a moment to contemplate how Superman goes about being a hero. As the gold standard of superheroes for the past 80 years, he sets the highest bar and embodies the highest ideals for a hero. On top of that, he has powers and abilities on par with many deities. At times, he has been shown as capable of destroying an entire solar system with a single sneeze.

Despite all this power, Superman seeks only to help humanity. He doesn’t ask for praise, worship, payment, or sacrifice. He simply does it because it’s the right thing to do. He’s the ultimate paragon, selfless and compassionate to the utmost. The people of Metropolis, and the world at large, don’t need to have faith in him. They just need to trust that he’ll keep doing the right thing.

Contrast that with the deities in holy texts. Many are every bit as powerful as Superman, but display qualities that aren’t exactly heroic. Certain versions of certain deities have been shown to be petty, jealous, and vindictive, sometimes to an extreme. A deity does often help or guide believers in a conflict like a superhero, but it’s rarely done out of pure altruism.

These deities, many of which are believed to have created humanity and the world, exercise a certain level of authority over people. It’s not always outright forced, but the nature of the story provides plenty of incentives and/or punishments to those who rebel or subvert that authority. Some become cautionary tales or outright villains.

Some villains are sexier than others.

In this context, the religious narrative builds an over-arching theme that has little room for heroics. These deities and super-powered beings aren’t necessarily there to save the day. They’re there to maintain the order that they helped create. They function as the glue that holds the universe and humanity together. Anyone or anything that goes against it requires recourse from both adherents and divine forces.

We often see this manifest in the real world when religious people argue that things like homosexuality, which is often condemned in holy books, are this bigger threat to the world. That’s why you’ll hear plenty of dogmatic preachers claim that homosexuality won’t just give people distressing thoughts. They’ll say it will destroy society.

Religious dogma, by its nature, depends on a strict adherence to what is the status quo for a particular place, people, and time. Defending it isn’t just seen as an act of piety. It’s akin to a superhero saving the day from evil forces. Whether those evil forces are demons from the underworld or a gay couple who want to get married doesn’t matter. It’s all about preserving a system.

Conversely, superheroes like Superman don’t limit themselves to a status quo. They’re less driven about how things are and more focused on how things could be. Superman doesn’t just want to save the day and help people who need it. He seeks to give people an ideal for them to aspire towards. This is perfectly reflected in his father’s message to him, as read by the late Marlon Brando.

It is now time for you to rejoin your new world and to serve its collective humanity.
Live as one of them, Kal-El
Discover where you strength and your power are needed
Always hold in your heart the pride of your special heritage
They can be a great people, Kal-El, they wish to be
They only lack the light to show the way
For this reason above all, their capacity for good
I have sent them you, my only son

It’s in this defining message that the superhero narrative distinguishes itself from religious traditions. These superheroes, as powerful as they are, didn’t create us. They don’t hold any inherent dominion over us. They didn’t create the current situation, however flawed it might be. They still seek to help people, carrying out feats that others cannot. That’s what makes them heroes.

One fights to maintain what society is while the other fights for what society could be. These narratives can exist alongside one another and can carry greater meaning for certain people. There are critical lessons in both, but I believe the lessons of Superman are more relevant than anything offered by the stories of religion.

For much of human history, organized religion was part of that social glue that helped keep society stable. For a good deal of that history, society was only as stable as the conditions around it. People hoped and prayed that there wouldn’t be a famine, a storm, or some other catastrophe that they could not control. Survival, even among kings and emperors, was their primary concern.

Things are different now. At a time when food is abundant, poverty is in decline, and education is more widespread than ever, survival isn’t enough. For a planet of billions to thrive, people need to prosper. Doing so means aspiring to something greater than the status quo. That’s exactly what superheroes embody.

That’s not to say that the rise of superheroes is directly linked to the ongoing decline of religion, but the contrasting narratives reflect just how much priorities have changed. Superheroes don’t demand faith, sacrifice, and reverence, just to keep things as they are. They go out of their way to save a world that they believe is worth saving, hoping that it can better itself.

They can help, but they can’t do it for us. That’s another trait that Superman demonstrates, much to the chagrin of villains like Lex Luthor. Like deities of old, he doesn’t use his powers to achieve everything for humanity. He seeks to empower them to achieve those feats on their own. That process of aspiring to be greater than is often an affront to a religious narrative, but critical to the themes of superheroes.

Even if superhero movies stop making billions at the box office, the over-arching message will still be relevant. Faith in what is just isn’t as appealing as hope for what can be. The gods of religion offer comfort in familiar order, but superheroes can inspire hope in something better. Given the many flaws in this chaotic world, I believe that hope is more valuable than any ancient doctrine.

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Filed under extremism, human nature, philosophy, religion, superhero comics, superhero movies, Thought Experiment

Sales Of Sex Dolls Surge, But Will The Stigma Decline?

Years from now, we’ll look back on this global pandemic with a mix of amazement and sorrow. We’ll recount to our kids and grandkids what it was like to endure months on end without sports, haircuts, gyms, or hugs. It’ll be hard for them to appreciate, even if they’re cyborgs or genetically enhanced somehow. At the same time, we’ll see this period in history as a turning point for certain trends and industries.

That brings me to sex dolls and sex robots. Chances are this is a detail we’ll opt not to share with our kids and grandkids, no matter how enhanced they are.

A while back, I speculated on the technologies that would likely get a significant boost or a revitalization due to this pandemic. Sex robots was on that list, obvious. However, the hardware associated with the kind of fully functional sex robots we see in “Blade Runner 2049” is still a long way off. Until then, we have to get by with hyper-realistic sex dolls.

Unlike robots and advanced AI, this technology exists. It’s also a mature market. Realistic sex dolls have been an emerging industry for decades now. However, the pandemic has triggered some rapid growth, both in terms of sales and expansion. That shouldn’t surprise anyone who has been stuck at home for weeks on end, but it should still spark some intrigue.

Forbes recently documented this surge in sales. It also noted how this surge can’t just be attributed to loneliness. How valid that sentiment is remains to be seen, but there’s no arguing with the numbers. Sales of sex dolls are increasing. The industry is growing. Taboo or not, this is happening and sex robots aren’t far behind.

Forbes: Sex Doll Sales Surge In Quarantine, But It’s Not Just About Loneliness

Sex doll sales have surged since quarantine began, to the extent that one company are looking to take on new staff to keep up with demand.

Sex Doll Genie has received “hundreds” more inquiries than usual in the last eight weeks, from both couples and single people. The company saw a 51.6% increase in orders from single men in February and March, with a 33.2% year-on-year growth in orders placed by couples in April.

“We have lots of products in stock but we can’t work fast enough to keep up with demand,” co-founder Janet Stevenson said. “We are hiring as quickly as we can and have created several new roles in fulfillment management and customer support in both the US and Europe.”

This surge in sales may be temporary. Once things open up again, sales may decline and sex dolls will go back to being a perverse curiosity. However, there’s no getting around the sales data.

If nothing else, it proves that when people are isolated, they’ll seek intimacy in whatever way they can. They’re even willing to pay for it. Whether you approve of sex dolls or not, there’s still a demand and where there’s demand, there will be someone willing to supply it.

There are still plenty of barriers for this industry to overcome. You’re not going to see sex dolls on display at a local mall anytime soon, assuming malls will still exist 15 years from now. Some are pure logistics. Those will be overcome with improvements in production, distribution, and design, just like any industry. Others are less tangible.

The one barrier that has kept this industry a niche market is stigma. There’s still a significant taboo for people who seek the company of or even admit they’re intrigued by sex dolls. If you were to tell a random stranger that you own a sex doll, chances are they’ll look at you oddly and not in a flattering way.

However, that knee-jerk reaction may be changing now. After being cooped for months on end, I think everyone is a bit more sympathetic do those who feel lonely. Does that sympathy extend to sex dolls? It’s hard to say. With sales surging, we might find out sooner rather than later.

If the stigma surrounding this industry continues to decline, then that bodes well for future sex robots. Chances are the current market for sex dolls will overlap with the future market for sex robots. The more that market grows, the more incentive businesses have towards improving that industry. It’s hard to know what that end result will be. Hopefully, it’ll be as sexy as it is satisfying.

This pandemic has made us all appreciate human intimacy. In the long right, it might end up being the catalyst that helped spark an entire industry that made the world feel a bit less lonely and a lot less horny.

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Filed under Current Events, Second Sexual Revolution, sex in society, sex robots, sexuality, Sexy Future

How “13 Reasons Why” Handled Male Sexual Assault in The Least Sensitive Way

The following is an article submitted by my good friend, DC-MarvelGirl 1997. We’d both been working on pieces about “13 Reasons Why” and she was generous enough to submit this. She tackles an issue that I was very hesitant to write about and for that, I thank you. She does great work on her website, which I encourage everyone to visit.


We live in a world filled with double standards. It’s by far one of the biggest diseases we have in society. I’m not putting this to the same standards of COVID 19, which is by far the deadliest pandemic we’ve ever faced in worldwide. Double standards are a different kind of disease, meaning they breed this false sense of contentment. And no, I’m not just referring to the Theon Greyjoy memes, which are truly sad and pathetic. I’ll admit it. When I look up those memes, I at first chuckle. But then I remember why they were made, and it is to point out that Theon no longer has his penis. Suddenly, those memes are no longer funny.

Theon

As much as I wish this article is about those Theon Greyjoy memes, it’s not. That’s what’s painful for me. This article is about the frankly piss-poor representations of male sexual assault in entertainment. And no, I am not referring to Burt Reynolds’ “Deliverance,” which was one of the first movies to put rape of a man into a scene. At least with that movie, it was done well. Even made for TV films like “The Rape of Richard Beck” did it better, because with “The Rape of Richard Beck,” now known as “Deadly Justice,” they blacked it out before the rape happened.

What I’m referring to is the rape scene from the season 2 finale of “13 Reasons Why.” It was the scene that made many people throw up watching it. For those of you who watched it, you know what I am talking about.

scene1

Now, I’ll admit it. I never watched “13 Reasons Why,” because it was banned from my household by my mother. And after hearing about how the show got progressively worse, I’m glad I didn’t watch any other episodes beyond the pilot. It’s a show that psychiatrists cautioned teenagers from watching, because it could be triggering to those thinking about suicide. Not only does it send the contrived message that you can use suicide to get revenge, but it handled male sexual assault in one of the worst ways possible. Because I’ve never watched the show for myself, I had to do a little bit of research on the “13 Reasons Why” wiki pages, and look up articles critiquing it. The male rape scene centers around the character of Tyler, who gets sodomized with a mop handle by a character named Montgomery. Not only was the scene unnecessarily graphic, triggering, and disturbing leaving many either crying, getting sick, or feeling disgusted, but the aftermath of it all is what I’m most critical of.

I understand that “13 Reasons Why” wanted to show that men can be raped as well. But their delivery was terrible. Like I said, the scene was downright disgusting and stomach-churning. But they didn’t bother showing Tyler doing something effective to get the bullying to stop. It doesn’t help that the teachers in the show are portrayed as incompetent of seeing what’s right in front of them, giving this sense that you cannot even trust your teachers to keep you safe. But the show didn’t bother giving us scenes of Tyler handling the aftermath with maturity. They just cut to him wanting to shoot up a school dance, mirroring the Columbine massacre which is one of the most devastating tragedies in US history.

Let’s just say, I would have handled this rape scene and aftereffects a lot differently.

scene2

If I were to write out that rape scene between Tyler and Montgomery, I would have shown the graphic violence of Tyler being drowned in the toilet and having his head slammed against the mirror. Then, I would have an extreme close-up of Montgomery’s hand reaching for the mop handle as the camera shakily backs away to display him leaning over Tyler’s back. Then, the scene would fade to black, signifying what’s to come. After that, I would have it fade into Tyler sitting on the bathroom floor with his pants down. That to me is more than enough to let the viewer know what happened, without giving you every, horrible detail of what happens. Then, there would be other scenes I’d add in.

How about having Tyler go to a hospital to be examined by a doctor? All the signs could be there, showing he’d been raped, but the doctor neglects to acknowledge this and that’s one of the things that pushes him.

How about showing Tyler being interviewed by police, but an officer telling him he was asking for it? That would also give him a reason to want revenge.

The reason why I put those two suggestions above, is because male rape isn’t given the same consideration as female rape. When a female is raped, it becomes a world-wide news story. When a man is raped, it’s not treated the same way. I tried to research cases of male rape in the recent years, and you wouldn’t know if there was, because the news doesn’t talk about it. Look at cases such as Corey Feldman and Brent Jeffs. Brent Jeffs I’m just mentioning, because his story is downright heartbreaking. He was raped by his own uncle, Warren Jeffs, the head of the FLDS. Jeffs’ story is one that many do not consider at all. Of course, people have the knowledge that Warren Jeffs raped and molested boys and girls alike, but they often forget to acknowledge that boys in that “church” were raped. They’re blinded by how horrifically the women and girls in that “church” are treated, that they forget about the boys. That to me is the saddest thing.

scene3

If “13 Reasons Why” bothered displaying how the criminal justice system fails to acknowledge male rape victims, then that would have been a much more powerful impact than Tyler trying to shoot up a school.

Overall, “13 Reasons Why” failed in a major way to display consequences of male sexual assault. They neglected important details with the character of Tyler, and didn’t even bother showing Tyler going to the authorities until season 3. And the fact that Montgomery was just arrested on the spot for raping Tyler, when there’s no rape kit having been done? I don’t buy that for one second.

However, keep in mind, they did the same thing with Hannah Baker in season 1. She didn’t go to the police reporting teachers’ negligence. She didn’t go to a hospital to be examined by a doctor. She just blamed everyone for her suicide with tape recordings, claiming it to be all their fault when she didn’t bother going to higher authority for help. And the fact that they display her mother blaming everyone as well? To me, that’s even more pathetic. I understand that you are hurting because your daughter took her own life and that she was raped. But she also failed to get help beyond going to a guidance counselor, who clearly wasn’t doing his job.

Therefore, do yourself a huge favor, and do not watch “13 Reasons Why.”

DC-MarvelGirl 1997

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Filed under health, human nature, media issues, philosophy, psychology, rants, television

The (Many) Reasons Why “13 Reasons Why” Fails At Confronting Serious Issues

There’s a place for mindless, shallow, escapist entertainment in this world. I would argue that place is even greater now as we cope with a global pandemic. Sometimes, you just want to turn your brain off, watch your favorite superhero movie or Michael Bay explosion-fest, and enjoy yourself. There’s nothing wrong with that.

There’s also a place for entertainment that attempts to have a meaningful, serious conversation about a real-world issue. I’d also argue that kind of entertainment is more important now than it was last year. I know this kind of entertainment is risky, especially when it tackles taboo subject or social politics. Sometimes, that effort evokes distress, disgust, or outright hate. It’s still worth doing.

However, that kind of media can be counterproductive when it gets an issue wrong, flawed, or ass-backwards. When the conversation it attempts to have is misguided or contrived, then its effects can be outright damaging.

This is how I feel about “13 Reasons Why.” It’s one of Netflix’s most serious shows in that it attempts to confront serious, painful issues. From teen suicide to bullying to sexual assault to mental illness, this show attempts to portray these issues in a way that helps us talk about them. I respect that goal. I think the show’s creators, actors, and producers had good intentions.

I also think they failed in too many critical ways.

I don’t just say that as someone taking the time to critically analyze a show. As someone who was a miserable teenager, I really wanted this show to start this conversation. I wanted it to send a good, meaningful message through its morbid themes. After the first season, I was very disappointed and a little depressed.

The premise of the show has the right ingredients. It revolves around the suicide of Hannah Baker, a teenage girl who took her own life and left pre-recorded tapes behind for her fellow students, namely Clay Jensen, to follow. The story attempts to explore what led Hannah to this grim decision that left her family, friends, and community devastated. Unfortunately, in doing so, it starts the wrong conversation.

That’s not just my opinion. Organizations like the National Association of School Psychologists and the United States Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology have criticized the show for how it depicts suicide. It has also been linked to an uptick in suicides and suicidal ideation among teenagers. Now, that might just be an unlinked correlation, but it’s still a distressing sign.

Then, there’s the plot of the show itself. This is where I felt the show really lost sight of its mission because, as a show, there’s a need for drama. Unfortunately, incorporating that drama undermines the conversation and, in some cases, turns it against itself.

Beyond the graphic depictions of Hannah’s suicide, which was received so negatively that was subsequently cut out, the whole show is built around a world of teenage caricatures that don’t exist in the real world. It portrays a world that relies heavily on stereotypes, gives little depth to characters no named Hannah or Clay, and makes every issue seem overly simplistic.

That’s good for dramatic moments and concise plots, but not for having real conversations about complicated issues. The people in Hannah’s life, from her parents to her friends, barely function as background characters. The authority figures, namely those in the school or in the police, are even worse. They’re essentially portrayed as never caring in the slightest, only seeing teenagers like Hannah as a nuisance.

For a show that wants to have a real conversation about teen issues, this is a terrible message. Teenagers already have an incomplete view of the world. Many of them already think nobody cares about them. The sequence of events in “13 Reasons Why” only confirms that. How is that supposed to help any teenager who might be contemplating suicide?

That’s still not the worst part, in my opinion. If “13 Reasons Why” has one glaring flaw, it’s how Hannah’s suicide essentially affirmed her motivations. To some extent, Hannah got exactly what she wanted when she killed herself and made those tapes. She punished the people she held responsible. Her story became the story that everyone talked about.

This isn’t just a terrible message with a depressing premise. It effectively misses the entire goddamn point in the conversation about suicide and teenage issues. In effect, Hannah doesn’t commit suicide because she’s clinically depressed or mentally ill. She does it as a very graphic “Fuck you!” to a world that didn’t listen to her.

It doesn’t just hurt her family. It doesn’t just cause more pain to her friends, some of which genuinely tried to help her. It gives the impression that suicide will make someone relevant. It’ll make everyone who didn’t care suddenly care. It ignores the pain caused by someone’s suicide and focuses on how it punishes those who wronged her.

Hannah was wronged. There’s no doubt about that. She was outright raped. She was a legitimate victim. If the show had decided to focus only on sexual assault and avoid suicide altogether, it might have sparked a more meaningful conversation.

However, the show grossly simplifies her issues, as though one egregious act is all it takes to send her overboard. People, even teenagers, tend to be more complex than that. On top of that, Hannah is shown to make bad choices and take little responsibility for her actions. We, the audience, are supposed to sympathize with her, but she makes that more difficult than it should be.

I wanted to like “13 Reasons Why.” I really did. I wanted it to further an issue that I think should be addressed. I was genuinely disappointed with how it panned out. The fact the show got multiple seasons only made it worse, rendering every serious issue as little more than a catalyst for drama. I don’t recommend this show to anyone if they want to confront issues like suicide and depression.

Ironically, if not tragically, Netflix already has a show that addresses these issues in a much more meaningful way. It even manages to do this with cartoon characters that depict humanoid horses. Yes, I’m referring to “Bojack Horseman.”

I understand it’s a cartoon. I also understand it’s a comedy that’s meant to make you laugh at times. However, the fact it still manages to depict the real struggles of depression and mental illness in a relevant only makes “13 Reasons Why” more tragic in the grand scheme of things.

These are serious issues that deserve serious conversations. If you can’t start that conversation better than a cartoon horse man, then you’re doing something very wrong.

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Michael Jordan, Intensity, And Championships (With References To Glengarry Glen Ross)

There has been an ongoing, and at times insufferable, debate in the world of basketball. Who is the greatest of all time? ESPN recently released their ranking. The top five are as follows:

  1. Michael Jordan
  2. LeBron James
  3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
  4. Bill Russell
  5. Magic Johnson

Do you agree with this list? How do you even go about determining who is the greatest player, given how much the sport has changed over the decades? That’s not an easy question to answer, especially for a sport like basketball. Unlike football or baseball, it is possible for one player to make a huge difference on a team’s chances of winning. Just ask the Cleveland Cavilers.

That question has gotten more scrutiny lately and not just because there are no sports to distract us. A comprehensive documentary entitled “The Last Dance” has added some rhetoric to the greatest of all time conversation. This documentary covers the career of the number one player on ESPN’s list, Michael Jordan.

If you haven’t seen this documentary and are marginally interested in sports, I highly recommend checking it out. Even if you’re not a basketball fan, it’s worth seeing for reasons beyond the sport it covers. It offers an unprecedented insight into the life, drive, and mindset of a player that many believe to be the greatest. That insight is also something that has inspired some mixed feelings.

Now, I’m old enough to remember the second half of the Michael Jordan era for the Chicago Bulls. I remember seeing his team win those last three championships and being in awe. To say he was an iconic athlete would be an understatement. In the same way it’s impossible to describe how big Michael Jackson was in the 1980s, it’s impossible to articulate how big Michael Jordan to the sports world in the 1990s.

Being like Mike wasn’t just a marketing slogan. It was a testament to just how much Michael Jordan dominated at everything he did. I know there’s an entire generation of basketball fans who only know the greatness of Steph Curry, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James, but in terms of sheer star power, Michael Jordan was bigger.

There’s always caveats about whether he would dominate as much in today’s game. I’m of the opinion that he would. Like I said, I grew up watching him in his prime. He’s one of those rare athletes who would have found a way to dominate in any era. However, that’s just my opinion. We’ll never truly know if Michael Jordan is better than Lebron James or Bill Russell.

However, Jordan’s greatness isn’t the only thing on display in The Last Dance.” In some sense, it exposes the dark side of being great. In public, Michael Jordan is that smiling, friendly guy who tries to sell them overpriced sneakers. In private, and during games, he was not that. He was incredibly intense. Some even call him a bully.

While that may surprise others who only know Jordan through his marketing team, it really shouldn’t. You don’t win six NBA championships, multiple MVPs, and a nickname like “Air Jordan” by being overly nice. In the world of professional sports, you can’t be Mr. Rogers. You have to be intense, sometimes to an extreme.

Michael Jordan was the epitome of extreme. Even as a kid, I saw it in the games. The man looked like he was ready to run through a wall and over people to win. The way he played the game with such intensity almost made him seem superhuman. That makes for amazing television, but on the court and in the heat of the game, it makes him something else.

That intensity reminds me of another famous insight into what it takes to succeed. It’s not nearly as iconic as Michael Jordan making the winning shot in the NBA Finals, but it’s close. It’s Alec Baldwin’s legendary speech about closing in “Glengerry Glenn Ross.” In case you need a reminder or some brutally honest motivation, here it is.

Look at Baldwin’s demeanor. Listen to the intensity of his voice. He sounds like a bully. He doesn’t sound at all likable. He sounds like the kind of guy you wish you could punch. Unfortunately, he also sounds like the guy who succeeds at what he does.

He’s intense.

He’s abrasive.

He demands greatness from others and has no sympathy for those not willing to put in the effort.

That won’t make him many friends, but it will make champions. That’s the kind of intensity that athletes like Michael Jordan channel. It’s not something that just anyone can do. It’s not even something you can entirely fake. You can try, but it only goes so far. You either have it or you don’t.

Being intense, competitive, and a little abrasive is often unpleasant, but it’s critical in pursuing success. Whether it’s selling real estate or winning six NBA championships, you need that kind of intensity to raise your game and those around you. You can have all the talent and charisma in the world, but it’ll only get you so far if you don’t have the drive to push yourself.

Michael Jordan had that drive. He pushed himself and those around him. He stepped on a few toes. He made plenty of enemies. He strained himself and his teammates. He also made mistakes, but that only fueled his intensity.

That’s why, in my opinion, he’s the greatest of all time.

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Filed under human nature, outrage culture, political correctness, psychology, sports

How Much Agency Do We Really Have?

How much agency do we actually have in our day-to-day lives?

How much freedom do we actually enjoy on a pragmatic basis?

I ask these questions as part of another thought experiment, albeit one that requires more introspection than the others I’ve posed. I think it’s relevant at a time when we’re dealing with a global pandemic that has severely restricted everyone’s agency to significant degrees. It’s also relevant because it’s something we rarely scrutinize.

There’s another reason I’m discussing matters of agency. It has less to do with current events and more to do with frequent criticisms of certain stories. As an aspiring writer and an avid consumer, especially of superhero media, the agency of certain characters is an integral part of that process. You can’t tell a meaningful story without characters exercising some level of agency.

What has become a major issue in recent years is the source, degree, and structure surrounding that agency. I’ve noticed critics and consumers alike scrutinizing who makes the major choices in a story, as well as what role they play, how they look, and why they’re doing what they do. While these are relevant details, that scrutiny can be misguided.

I see it whenever a female character is perceived as having no agency or having too much.

I see it whenever a male character is perceived as being the only source of agency for every major detail.

I see it whenever a character of a different race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation play a role that isn’t just restricted to tokenism.

It has derailed many meaningful conversations about some genuinely great stories. It has also established this standard for some people that if any character with agency happens to be of a certain gender or ethnicity, they roll their eyes and discount the story as pushing some sort of agenda. I find that to be incredibly shallow and short-sighted.

That’s why I think it helps to analyze how much agency we think we have in the real world. It’s easy to quantify that agency within the rigid structure of a story, but the real world is larger, more complicated, and a lot less predictable. How can we determine how much agency we actually have in the grand scheme of things?

How much agency did you have in being born into a particular time, place, or socioeconomic level?

How much agency did you have in falling in love with the person you married?

How much agency did you have in getting the job you have or the career you pursued?

How much agency did you have in finding the friends and social circles you’re part of?

On the surface, it may seem like you’re exercising your ability to choose in these circumstance. I ask that you take a step back and think a bit harder about it.

When it comes to our lot in life, did we really have much say in the economic and social system that we’re part of? Sure, we can choose to not participate, but in doing so, we either starve to death because we don’t have money for food or we become completely isolated from the world and any semblance of social support.

We think we have choices when we go to the supermarket or a restaurant, but how many of those choices are already chosen for us? We don’t always by the cheapest brand of cereal because we want to. We buy it because we have to. In that same sense, we don’t always buy the car we want. We buy what we can afford.

To a large extent, our agency is incredibly limited by our economic resources. It’s limited even more by our social structure, as well. We can’t always do what we want, no matter how depraved. We can’t just walk outside naked, rub our genitals against the nearest person, and yell racial slurs at the top of our lungs. We’d get arrested, imprisoned, or ostracized, at the very least.

Even if what we do isn’t illegal, we still limit our choices because of peer pressure and social stigma. It’s not illegal to watch porn on a public bus, but it will get you odd looks and plenty of scorn. To some extent, we sacrifice some of our agency to maintain an orderly, functioning society. It’s just a question of how much we sacrifice and how much we’re willing cling to.

With all that in mind, see if you can take stock in the amount of agency you exercise in your day-to-day life. You may be surprised by how little or how much you actually have. It may not be the most interesting thought experiment you can do for yourself, but the implications it offers are profound.

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Filed under human nature, outrage culture, philosophy, psychology, Thought Experiment, writing

A Perspective On Generation Gaps

As a general rule, I try not to talk about politics with anyone. I avoid getting into political debates online, as well. I used to actively seek that out. I’ve since learned there are less frustrating ways to waste my time.

A significant part of that frustration comes from talking politics with people who are significantly older or significantly younger than me. I’m in my thirties now. I still remember my teen years, but I also can’t deny that I’m different now than I was back then. I’m still the same person. Time and perspective just have a cumulative effect.

I think most people experience the same thing, regardless of their age. I’ve talked about issues regarding generation gaps before. I imagine they’ll become even more prominent as Generation Z comes of age. It’ll only get more divisive as the Baby Boomers start to retire.

I know this because I’ve gotten into more than a few debates with older relatives and family members. Every time politics comes up, they’ll share stories with me about how things used to be, how they see things now, and how they think things are going to pan out in the future. I’m not going to lie. It has led to more than a few “Okay Boomer” moments.

Those moments shouldn’t define the discourse, nor should it be an intractable barrier. I’ve faced similar barriers in talking politics with people far younger than me. It’s hard to explain the complexities of the world to teenagers when their experiences are so limited.

With that in mind, I’d like to take a moment to offer a brief perspective on generation gaps and discussing controversial issues. Whether it’s politics, society, or life in general, I feel it might help to take a step back and try to see the forest from the trees. To that end, here’s a quick insight that I hope people from every generation can appreciate.

Your attitudes, beliefs, and assumptions are not the same as they were 10 years ago.

Your attitudes, beliefs, and assumptions will not be the same as they are 10 years from now.

However, at your core, you are still the same person.

The attitudes, beliefs, and assumptions of every functioning adult you’ll encounter are not the same as they were 10 years ago.

The attitudes, beliefs, and assumptions of every functioning adult you’ll encounter will not be the same 10 years from now.

However, at their core, they’re still the same people.

You and the people around you may change, but change is never anyone’s first inclination. It only takes hold when it feels right, necessary, or convenient.

Whether you’re young, old, or middle aged, I hope this helps make sense of things. I don’t claim to be smarter or more insightful than anyone else with an internet connection. I just believe that making sense of this chaotic world and the many people within it starts with a balanced perspective.

You won’t be able to understand every idea from every generation, but it’ll remind you that people have more alike than they are different. We don’t have to identify with all those differences. It’s just easier to get along when we remember just how similar we are.

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Filed under Current Events, human nature, philosophy, political correctness, politics, psychology

Sex Vs. Violence (And The Distressing Standards Behind Them)

What makes something obscene? I know the law has its own esoteric definition, but there’s no universal standard. What’s obscene to one person may be mundane to others. How else do you explain old cigarette commercials to millennials or the Super Bowl halftime show to baby boomers?

I ask this question because someone pointed out recently just how many of the biggest, most successful box office movies of the past 10 years rely on violence to sell tickets. I’m not knocking it. I was among those cheering during the final battle scene at the end of “Avengers Endgame.” I also freely admit I watched every season of “24” and was entertained by all the violence it included.

However, that same person who pointed out how much violence was part of these big-budget entertainment products, but was still PG-13. At the same time, if even one of those products included a single image of a female nipple or a depiction of a male penis, then it wouldn’t just be rated R. It would be deemed too obscene for children.

Think about that for a moment. A network TV show can freely depict a scene where Jack Baur tortures a prisoner and a PG-13 movie can depict Captain America beating the crap out of nameless thugs in an elevator, but the viewing public just can’t handle the sight of a female nipple. That’s just too much.

The only thing that could make it worse is the depiction of a penis. That wouldn’t just make a movie or TV show rated R. It would be classified as porn. Never mind the fact that half the population has a penis and even kids know what a penis looks like. Just a depiction of one in any form of media is enough to make it obscene. Meanwhile, you can buy a shirt that has Captain America punching the President.

Now, I know I’m bias because I write sexy stories and talk about sexy topics, but I feel it’s a relevant question to ask.

Why are we more comfortable consuming violent content than sexual content?

I get that sex makes people uncomfortable. I also get why parents don’t like talking to their kids about it. However, when it comes to violence, it’s okay to keep that in a proverbial blind spot.

I remember cartoons in the 80s and 90s. Those cartoons, in addition to being glorified toy commercials, used some form of violence to resolve a plot or tell a story. Some parents complained, but nobody thought it was obscene.

I remember watching “R-Rated” movies as a kid too. I put that in quotes because, by today’s standards, these movies would barley qualify as PG-13. The first “Terminator” movie was rated R. I saw it as a kid. My parents didn’t make a big deal about the sex scene in it, but that was often cited as the scene that made that movie R-rated.

If those same kids watched a simple depiction of two naked people making love, minus the violence, then that content would still be considered mature. If that scene didn’t hide genitals, then it would be considered porn. It doesn’t matter if the scene is romantic, tasteful, and completely consensual. It’s still as pornographic as the most depraved parts of the internet.

Why is that the case?

Why is this a fair standard?

Why do depictions of violence get a pass while depictions of sex are subject to rigid standards?

I understand sex makes people uncomfortable. I also understand that people can be immature about it. They can be just as immature about violence too, but people are willing to confront and tolerate it. With sex, however, it’s always obscene. It’s always taboo. There’s no room for nuance or context.

Going back to the standards of obscenity I mentioned earlier, I think there’s room for improvement. Violence, by definition, harms people. Sex, when done right, does the exact opposite. If we’re going to have standards for obscenity, then let’s at least keep things in perspective.

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Filed under censorship, human nature, outrage culture, political correctness, psychology, sex in media, sex in society, sexuality, video games

Nature Vs. Nurture: A Case Study In “The Big Bang Theory”

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What makes someone an uptight, narcissistic control freak who refuses to admit when they’re wrong and will never let anyone else sit in their spot on the couch?

What makes someone a needy, whiny, emotionally stunted man-child who is chronically insecure and in constant need of approval?

What makes someone an outgoing, overly social free spirit who is also habitually irresponsible, exercises poor judgement, and intellectually dense?

These are all personal questions that have a multitude of answers, none of which are definitive. There are entire fields of study devoted to answering such questions, none of which are perfect. It often comes down to a question of whether someone was born with certain traits or are simply a product of their environment.

It’s the classic nature versus nurture debate and, in almost every case, it’s neither one nor the other. Some people are born with certain traits or personality quirks that physically manifests in their brains. Others are heavily influenced by the people and environment they grow up around. In between all of this is a multitude of other factors that are difficult to quantify.

Figuring people out what makes them tick and how they got that way is challenging, even if you consider yourself a very insightful person. People, in general, tend to be complicated. Human beings might have basic drives to survive, reproduce, and find a tribe, but there are countless variations beyond those drives.

Many of those exaggerations are also pushed to hilarious extremes with fictional characters. Between the Hulk’s anger issues and Lex Luthor’s narcissism, fictional worlds can provide useful insights into the whole nature/nurture dynamic. Whereas someone like Lex Luthor was born with little empathy and way too much ego, the anger issues of the Hulk were a more complicated, as well as disturbing.

These characters, like real people, often have a combination of nature and nurture that helps influence who they, how they got that way, and what they eventually become. It’s often subtle and building a story around it is difficult. However, there’s one group of fictional characters that I believe embody the nature versus nurture dynamic better than most.

Those characters are the cast of “The Big Bang Theory,” a show that recently ended it’s remarkable 12-year run as one of the highest-rated sitcoms of all time. While the show has garnered plenty of criticism and outright hate, there’s no denying that the show struck a chord. No show involving the same group of characters lasts for 12 years without resonating with audiences on some personal level.

While there are certainly parts of the show that I don’t care for, I still consider myself a fan of it. I even admit that I got emotional when I saw the series finale. I thought it was incredibly well done and it marked a fitting end for the journey that Leonard, Howard, Raj, Sheldon, and Penny began 12 years ago. Many other fans of the show agreed with that sentiment.

Love it or hate it, and plenty did hate it, the show had a great deal of appeal outside its cheesy jokes and comical portrayal of geek culture. After seeing the finale and watching a few reruns, I think one of the most endearing appeals was how much the characters grew over the years. Given that it was a sitcom and character growth in sitcoms are notoriously slow, I think it’s one of the show’s biggest accomplishments.

From the beginning, the personalities of each character are established with distinct traits that were heavily exaggerated for comedic effect.

Leonard was needy, insecure, and weak-willed. He was basically the ultimate beta-male nerd from every 80s teen comedy.

Howard was obsessive, selfish, and immature. He also had some stalker-like creepiness baked into his approach towards getting women.

Raj was passive, effeminate, and quirky, but largely defined by his inability to talk to women.

Sheldon was self-centered, stubborn, and egotistical. He might have also been autistic.

Penny was a bubbly, upbeat, lovable free spirit. However, she was also irresponsible and exercised poor judgement, especially when it came to her personal life.

Like every sitcom, every major plot and iconic gag was built off these traits. From Leonard trying desperately to win Penny’s affection to Howard’s efforts to pick up women to Sheldon’s inability to keep a secret, “The Big Bang Theory” had plenty to work with in terms of eccentric personality quirks. I believe a large part of the show’s success is a direct result of how well it made use of those quirks.

As the show progressed and we learned more about these character, we also learn more about where they came from and what influences them. We find out that Leonard’s insecurities might stem from the relationship he had with his mother. He also learn how much living with his loud-mouthed mother has effected Howard. We learn where Penny came from and how that informed her personality.

We learn plenty about Sheldon too, but it would take a long time to go over his many issues. He was, by far, the most eccentric character on the show and one of the most controversial.

For each character, we get a strong sense of their nature. More than most sitcoms, “The Big Bang Theory” belabors and reinforces the core personality of each character. If you watch just a few episodes, you can get a fairly decent feel for their behavior and how they would react in most situations.

At the same time, however, the show also demonstrates how new influences change these characters over time. In fact, the foundation for this change is established in the pilot episode when Penny first moves in to the apartment across from Sheldon and Leonard. She is a very different kind of influence on these two and vice versa. You could even argue that it’s the most important catalyst for the entire show.

It’s only after we learn about the nature of each characters that we appreciate what a critical moment that was in the context of each character’s journey. Before Penny’s arrival, Sheldon and Leonard didn’t have many disrupting influences. They were surrounded in familiar territory. They had nothing prompting them to change or grow in new directions.

The same goes for Penny. Before she arrived, she was just a simple girl from the mid-west who had never lived around hardcore geeks and accomplished scientists. She never even showed much interest in science, geek culture, or anything of the sort. While it didn’t seem to affect her at first, there were signs of their influence as the show progressed.

Both Howard and Raj went through similar transformations. In the early seasons, there were many sub-plots built around both of them trying to get the attention of women, despite Raj not being able to talk to them without being drunk. Most of them fail spectacularly. Some were downright pathetic at times and not in a funny way.

 

Then, new influences came into their lives. Howard met Bernadette, who underwent her own transformation as she became a bigger part of the group. While their relationship had its upheavals, it did more than anything to humanize Howard. It still didn’t fundamentally change him. He was still immature and obnoxious at times, but he also showed that he could be a respectable family man.

Raj’s growth wasn’t quite as dramatic, but he did eventually learn to talk to women without the aid of alcohol. He also went from just wanting to get the attention of women to seeking love, marriage, and family. He even gains more self-confidence and assertiveness as the show went on, some of which was a result of interacting with Penny and the rest of the group.

Then, there’s the growth of Sheldon Cooper. More than any other character, Sheldon demonstrated the value of having quality influences.

His nature is, by far, the most eccentric and extreme. It’s the nurturing forces, however, that I think had the greatest impact on both his character development and the overall progression of the of the show.

There’s no getting around it. In the first few seasons, Sheldon was a stubborn, selfish egotist. For a time, it was even a popular refrain to note that Sheldon was just one lab accident away from becoming a supervillain. Given that most supervillains tend to be petty, eccentric, and self-centered, I think that’s an accurate statement disguised as a joke.

Thankfully, that accident never happened. Instead, Sheldon was frequently nudged and, in a few cases, shoved into being less insufferable. Penny was usually the one to get him out of his comfort zone in the early seasons. Then, Amy Farrah Fowler came along and gave him a nurturing force that seemed almost impossible in the earlier seasons.

Amy brought issues of her own to the table, but like Bernadette did with Howard, she proved to be a stabilizing presence for Sheldon. She didn’t fundamentally change him, nor did she even demand it. She simply provided new influences. Granted, he stubbornly fought them, at first. He fought harder than anyone else in the group. In the end, though, he still embraced these changes and was better because of it.

It was that change that made his Nobel Prize acceptance speech at the end of the show so perfect. In that moment, he achieved something he’d been hoping to achieve since the earliest season. It was the ultimate affirmation of his genius and his abilities, which he’d bragged and boasted about to no end. It could’ve been the ultimate ego trip for him.

Instead, he thanked his friends. He demonstrated humility on a stage in front of a huge crowed of people. For someone who started the show seeming incapable of empathy and nuance, it was a powerful moment. It showed that this weird, colorful character that we loved and hated at times had really grown. He even acknowledged the source of that growth in a genuine, heartfelt gesture.

When you look at that moment in the context of the entire show, you can see just how powerful those influences can be. These chaLracters, all of which were set in their ways to some extent, showed just how much those influences can change. Even for characters with idiosyncrasies like Sheldon Cooper, people can change in positive ways.

Sheldon, Leonard, Howard, Raj, and Penny wouldn’t have undergone those changes without nurturing one another to some stent. At times, that nurturing took the form of annoyance and frustration. That only makes the change more fitting because most people resist that change. Even in the real world, our default reaction is to keep doing what we’re doing and make every excuse along the way.

While many sitcoms have their characters undergo plenty of upheavals, “The Big Bang Theory” goes the extra mile in showing how people can be changed by the people and influences around them. They’ll still stay true to their nature.

Sheldon will always have that distinct Sheldon-like persona, as will Penny, Leonard, Raj, and Howard. However, with the right kind of nurture, they can become endearing characters in their own right. Say what you will about the quality of the show, but its place in TV history has been secured.

Bazinga!

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How (And Why) Boredom Undermines Gender Equality

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Imagine, for a moment, you’re in relationship of perfect equality. You and your partner are the personification of gender equality. You share equal roles and responsibilities. In terms of who does what, gender doesn’t factor into the equation. You do your part and your partner does theirs. From dishes to child care to paying the bills, it’s as equal as any relationship can be.

In essence, your relationship is the ideal that feminism, egalitarians, and even most Men’s Rights Activists champion when they describe the fair and just society they’re fighting for. In a perfect world, your relationship would be the standard. Even if you can’t imagine your current relationship being that perfect, you can still appreciate the ideal.

As with most ideals, though, there’s a major flaw and it has to do with boredom.

The scenario I just described above isn’t another one of my thought experiments. It was inspired by a story in Pluralist about a woman who is frustratingly bored with her perfect feminist husband. To get an idea of how frustrated she is, here’s a direct quote from the article.

“Don’t get me wrong, I love him and this year we celebrated 17 years together – 13 of them married – but I wish he’d lie, cheat, defame or slander just once, so that I could feel better about my own less-than-perfect character. Simply put, I’m bored of being married to a paragon of virtue.”

Now, I know it’s tempting to roll your eyes at a woman making this kind of complaint about her love life. The idea that a spouse is too perfect is like a billionaire complaining that the seats in their new Lamborghini are too soft. I’ve seen more than a few comments on social media criticizing this woman for being so petty. Some have used her story as proof that women can’t handle nice guys and men just can’t win with women.

I don’t think that criticism is fair. I also don’t think that her story proves or disproves a particular aspect of gender politics. However, I believe it does highlight how boredom can complicate the push for gender equality. It’s a factor that rarely comes up in discussions surrounding feminism, men’s issues, LGBT issues, and the societal factors that exist in between. It still has immense influence.

After reading the Pluralist story, I felt sympathy for the woman. I know it’s hard to feel much for someone in such a perfect relationship, especially for those of us who are single, but I can understand how boredom can undermine a seemingly ideal situation. To some extent, this woman’s story shows how boredom can complicate the otherwise noble efforts to pursue gender equality.

In making sense of the woman’s feelings, I found myself thinking back to the high school. If that sounds like an odd connection, I promise there is a logic to it. Now, I’ve made clear in the past how much I hated high school. To say my experience was not ideal would be a gross understatement. That said, the idea behind high school has some useful parallels to gender politics.

The ideals of high school are simple. You take a large group of teenagers, put them into a structured environment, educate them to a particular standard, and send them out into the world with all the knowledge and skills they need to become functional adults. Again, that’s the ideal. While that effort works fine for some, there are many more for whom it fails.

For this particular woman, she represents the lucky few who ace every test, pass every class, and follow every rule. As a result, she should be perfectly equipped to enter adulthood. By all accounts, she does. There are no surprises or setbacks. Everything goes according to the plan and the ideals behind it.

It’s here where the boredom takes hold. That lack of major upheavals means there’s little in terms of challenge or growth. The path is already set. The obstacles have already been cleared. You just have to walk it and you’ll get to where you’re going. There’s no strain, but there’s no sense of achievement, either. In the grand scheme of things, you didn’t overcome anything.

In the context of gender equality, it’s akin to a clear, unobstructed path that doesn’t test or excite anyone. That directly conflicts with the basic psychology of boredom that craves novelty and seeks more intense sensations. Perfect equality, be it in a relationship or a high school, doesn’t leave much room for any of this.

This isn’t just about people being inherently flawed or needing something to complain about. In practice, true equality means the outcome of every challenge is determined. The woman herself stated that she knew how a situation would play out in her marriage. There’s never any negotiation or exchange. With such clear-cut equality, everything is pre-determined.

“If I told him on Friday I was spending Saturday chilling at a spa, he’d probably drop me there so I didn’t have to drive, then take the kids to their clubs before making sure the house was tidy.”

When everything is that predictable, then boredom is practically unavoidable. When there’s nothing to gain or lose, then it’s only a matter of time before malaise sets in. It’s not the woman’s fault and it’s not her husband’s fault, either. That’s just how boredom works.

The article went onto cite a number of studies that indicate couples in equitable relationships have less sex, but they primarily focus on the symptoms of boredom and not the underlying cause. For the woman in the story, I think her frustration has little to do with her husband sharing in the work and everything to do with how predictable everything is.

If I could talk to this woman, I would caution her against wanting her husband to lie, cheat, or develop a bad attitude with her. That might shake things up for her in the short-term, but would do a great deal of damage to the both of them in the long run. I would advise that she and her husband seek new challenges outside gender roles. Both she and her husband may benefit from shaking things up for a while.

What that may entail depends on the nature of their relationship. The article didn’t get into too many personal details and understandably so. Without getting to know this woman or her husband, I can’t be certain what else might be fostering such boredom. There could be other issues beyond their relationship that are causing these feelings.

Whatever the case, the corrosive power of boredom is difficult to work around. Equality is generally a good thing, but when equality fosters predictability, boredom is an unfortunate byproduct. This woman, whatever her politics, knows this better than anyone.

I still support efforts to improve gender equality, especially within relationships. I think it’s beneficial to everyone when roles and responsibilities are shared in an equitable manner. However, I also believe that human beings need challenges and obstacles. Without that, pursuing a greater good takes a back seat to escaping crippling boredom.

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Filed under gender issues, human nature, men's issues, outrage culture, philosophy, psychology, romance, sex in society, sexuality, War on Boredom