Wednesday, January 7, 2015

3 Dangers in Over-Glorifying Youth

“I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling twenty-twoo-ooo!”

Actually....I’m not really sure how I’m supposed to feel as a 22-year-old. Seriously, am I an adult or what?

Western society’s increasing phase of adolescence coupled with its constant glorification of youth can make for an interesting and confusing experience for the modern twenty-something. To be honest, sometimes I just want to get on with my life and be respected as an adult. To be equally honest, sometimes I just want to keep getting away with everything that young people can get away with. Isn’t there a happy medium?

I mean I’m certainly thankful that my society is no longer one that would expect me to be married and bearing children by now. However, we may have gone a little too far in the opposite direction. Here are three dangers I see in over-glorifying the frivolities of youth.

1) It can make it harder to enjoy youth.
Ironically, too much pressure to have fun while you’re young can kinda take the fun out of being young. It’s like there’s this quota that we’re supposed to fill before graduating college, starting a family or career, or otherwise joining the “adult world.” I mean, my youth hasn’t been particularly mainstream since I was homeschooled and went to a university with a relatively high percentage of non-traditional students. But still, I highly doubt I’m the only young person who has ever looked around and thought, “ I having enough fun yet?”

And sadly, the types of fun that are commonly depicted in the music and movies that influence our conception of youth are not the healthiest. Which leads me to my second point.

2) It can make youth more dangerous.
This is very culturally specific, I suppose, as it’s closely related to the way in which we glorify youth. Think of a few songs or movies about teens and/or twenty-somethings “living it up.” What are the common themes? How about taking advantage of one’s independence from career and family obligations to invest time and effort into a cause they care about? Nope. What about using youthful health to get outside and swim and climb and explore and just DO AWESOME STUFF??? Despite the amount of North Face you’ll see on a college campus or the number of Tinder profiles featuring the word “outdoorsy,” this doesn’t seem to come out on top, either.

Rather, it seems that most songs and movies about youth regularly hit on two themes: sex and alcohol.

Now don’t take me for more of a saint than I am. I’m not against either of these things when enjoyed in moderation. But when partying becomes the focal point of being young, young people miss out on SO much. The quality of one’s youth shouldn’t be measured according to how many times they woke up and didn’t know where they were or how attractive their hottest hook-up was. Emphasis on these things fosters a youth culture tainted with alcohol poisoning, drug overdose, sexual harassment, and a lot of self-image issues.

3) It can take away from the rest of the human experience!
I don’t really like it when people talk about high school or college or their teens or their twenties or whatever as the best time in their life. Again...I’m supposed to be having all the fun now? TOO. MUCH. PRESSURE.

But also, there are multiple things to enjoy about every phase of life. I understand that there are hard times and goods times, ups and downs...but overall, I want to live so fully in every phase of life that when I’m on my deathbed looking back over the years, I can’t even decide which part was the best.

Furthermore, I think the pressure to “live it up” and be irresponsible while you can get away with it really hinders people from contributing toward their long term goals. 

I was thinking about mine earlier today...become an archaeologist, work as a professor, contribute to education reform and found at least one university in a developing country...and it occurred to me that 22-year-old me is not the main character of my life story. We’re still in the first half hour of the movie, glancing through at the young adulthood that makes me who I need to be for the climax of the story. Of course you can always be making some kind of difference in the world around you. But for many of us, the significance of our lives will not be realized in full until our middle or later adulthood. And that means that right now, we have all this time and energy that we could either waste or use to prepare ourselves. It’s up to each of us to become the person that we want to be. It’s important to balance that fact with enjoying and appreciating the time we have while not tied down to a lot of serious commitments. Experiencing the now should not come at the cost of experiencing the later...or vice versa, mind you.

I guess the main point here is that three quarters of the “living” you do should not be done in the first quarter of your life.

Yeah, we should enjoy the good things about youth while we have them. But not just the ones that are glorified by our media, and not with a blind eye to everything else that life can be.

Friday, January 2, 2015

How to Tell if a Movie is a Dude Flick

Photo by jwblinn/iStockphoto
We all know a chick flick when we see one. The main character or characters are chicks, the main dude is some version of prince charming…etc etc.

But how do you tell if a movie is a dude flick? It’s a bit less commonly defined.

Thus, I put to you the dude flick test. If a movie meets three basic criteria, it passes as a dude flick: (1) There are no more than two women in it and  (2) they don’t talk to each other unless (3) it’s about a man.

Let’s try it out with a few of 2014’s biggest films.

~The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Little dude, big dragon, lots of fighting. Bard has two daughters but all they do is scream and cry while the son helps save the day, leaving only the two elvish women as plot-important chicks and they don’t share scenes so PASS!

A few WWII soldiers survive a plane crash and over a month drifting at sea only to be captured by the Japanese navy. I haven’t actually seen this one, but I scrolled down the complete cast list on IMBD until I got to roles as generic as “young bully” and only saw one female actress, so I think you’re safe. PASS!

~Guardians of the Galaxy
A human dude, an alien chick, an alien dude, a talking raccoon, and an animate tree save everybody from evil alien dudes. The important alien chick, Gamora, does talk to her evil sister, Nebula a few times. So it comes close, but it doesn’t quite past the dude flick test. But they’re both pretty hot in this badass alien chick way so I’m sure you’ll still enjoy it. FAIL! But barely.

~The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1
Female main character who talks to her mother and sister, the female future president of Panem, and a propo director chick with really cool tattoos. Sorry boys, this one fails. But, don’t worry, it’s not like it’s female dominated. Actually if you look at the cast list you’ll notice that there’s still slightly more men in plot pertinent roles than women.

Okay. This is just a sample. But I could go on all day, and the pattern would be the same. If we use a standard for dude flicks that says there can only be one or two important female characters and they can only converse to each other about male characters, you would think that only a small fraction of mainstream movies would qualify. But that’s not the case.

As a matter of fact, I have to confess that I didn’t make up this test completely on my own. I actually adapted it from something called the Bechdel Test.

It’s just as you feared! It’s a trap! A feminist trap! Come on, you stuck with me this far. Hear me out.

The Bechdel Test is a low bar test for gauging sexism in movies. Its three criteria are the inverse of those for the dude flick test. So a film passes the Bechdel Test if it has 1) at least two women in it (2) who talk to each other (3) about something other than a man.

This is the 21st century. Age of equality. Only a few particularly dudely movies will fail. Right?

Wrong. If you go to you can see and add to a database of movie reviews saying whether or not a given movie passes. This is open for the public so both men and women can rate the films they watch (not just us pesky feminists).

You’ll notice that not only do a good portion of current movies fail, but a lot of the movies that pass only do so by the skin of their teeth. If you click on the movie title you can read people’s reviews and comments. They’re often debating about whether the few slivers of conversation between the female characters in the movie really count.

Take Guardians of the Galaxy for example. Don’t get me wrong, this is a really fun, enjoyable movie. But it fails the dude flick test and passes the Bechdel Test with just a few minutes of conversation. And it follows the same trend as lot of other super hero movies, such as the Avengers and the Fantastic Four, where there is a team of heroes and not only is there one female but her gender is one of her defining characteristics.

You’re unique because you’re a talking raccoon. You’re unique because you’re walking tree. You’re unique because you’re a hot alien chick.

This is just one example of men being implicitly presented as “standard” and women being presented as “other.”

Alright, I’ve lectured you on the Bechdel Test long enough. Before I let you go, I want go ahead and address a few responses I’ve gotten from men when bringing this is up in the past.

        Movies cater to men because men go to the movies more.
How do you know that men don’t go to the movies more because movies cater to men?

        You just started voting, what, 100 years ago? Baby steps.
Oh you’re right. The USA waited a century and a half for women’s suffrage. If we can wait that long to vote we can certainly wait for equal representation on screen. Silly me. 

SERIOUSLY?! The fact that we had to fight for a basic civil liberty does not mean that we’re obligated to wait around for equality in other areas. I mean really, why would you even say that? I just can't. Can't even.

 Come on, it’s just a movie. Stop being petty.
 It’s not just about one movie. It’s about a huge and culturally significant industry that both reflects and influences our societal values. Men, specifically white men, still dominate almost every industry. The realm of entertainment is no exception. I know you’re annoyed that you "can’t just enjoy the damn movie," but women and minorities are annoyed at constantly being belittled and relegated to roles that revolve around you. So who’s really being petty here? 

Look, I don’t expect anyone who reads this to go protest or abstain from anything related to JJ Abrams. All I ask is that you look with open eyes at gender inequality and stop belittling women who are tired of it.  If nothing else, next time you’re at the movies and your lady friend is begging you to watch some stupid chick flick instead of a “normal, everybody movie,” think twice about how you respond.