Friday, December 17, 2010

Mustache Madness: A Sequel

Nate wants me to write a follow-up of one of my first posts, Mustache Madness. It's a topic that is very near and dear to many BYU student's hearts. As a brief recap, BYU dress code states that the only permissible form of facial hair on men (and presumably women as well, although I don't think they come out and say it) is the mustache. Were I capable of it (which, thankfully, I am not), I would probably grow a beard and then try to take a test. But I would imagine that while bearded men are an affront to the Lord and his educational institution, bearded women are just sad. Add that to the list of double standards propagated by the Church Educational System.

The people in charge of making and enforcing these sorts of policies readily admit that they can't think of any real reason for this restriction, which was imposed in the sixties and not updated since. This then begs the question: Why not change the policy yourselves? Apparently, it's either not occurred to these people or the policy has an addendum that says "Must Not Be Changed Or Reversed Under Any Circumstances Whatsoever." By their logic, jeans of all shapes, colors, and varieties should still be outlawed and women should still not be allowed to wear pants. But they recognized those policies as outdated and changed them accordingly, and for some reason, they are unwilling to be so flexible when it comes to the mustaches.

The BYU Honor Code administrators have, in fact, made a number of updates to the honor code over the years. Capris, shorts, flip-flops, and sweatpants are now allowed on campus, where ten or twenty years ago, they were not. For some reason, they have failed to update the facial hair policy.

 As a result of this questionable policy, I frequently see men with ill-advised mustaches walking around Provo. Invariably, I am tempted to ask them a series of questions related to their poor choice in facial hair:

-Why the mustache?
-Do you think the mustache looks good, or is it just the only form of facial hair you're capable of growing?
-Have you ever had any facial hair of any kind before this?
-What sort of impression do you think your facial hair makes on the opposite sex?
-Are you making that sort of impression on purpose? Really?
-Are you trying to be ironic?
-Do you own a mirror?
-You are aware that you look like a fourteen year old Mexican boy, right?
-I saw a nun in Italy with a more impressive mustache than that.
-I saw a ten year old girl in Italy with a more impressive mustache than that.

I'm aware that the last two items on the list aren't technically questions, as such, but I still feel they merit mention. On a related note, there are some Italian women out there with very formidable mustaches. Mustaches that the BYU Honor Code Office would do well to fear. 

The sad truth of the matter is that most people do not look like Brad Pitt or Jude Law do when they have mustaches. Most people look like your creepy uncle who you never wanted to spend time with because he always made you feel distinctly uncomfortable and/or Doctor Phil. Either way, take a good look at your life. 

It's time again for everyone's favorite feature.

This is allowed at BYU:

This is NOT allowed at BYU:

Really, BYU? You wouldn't let your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ take a test at the testing center because of his facial hair? Or, I suppose you'd bend the rules for him. But let me ask you this, BYU. Jesus is supposed to be the ultimate example, right? Who are you to say that doesn't extend to his facial hair? By making your policy, you are saying that Jesus's facial hair is immoral and distracting. Have fun defending that in the afterlife.

This is allowed at BYU:

I find this SO depressing. I always thought Seth Green was better than this.

But this is NOT allowed at BYU:

You know who that is, BYU Policy Makers? That's Brigham Young. The same Brigham Young, in fact, that your university is named after. And what is that on his face? Why, I do believe that it is a beard. Quite the beard, in fact. That's a larger beard than Jesus's, and it's larger than any Italian woman's beard I ever saw. You may have even noticed that Brigham Young, per this picture, does not even HAVE a mustache. If you inspect his upper lip, you will find that it is bare. Brigham Young, the founder and namesake of this institution, spent a large part of his adult life not abiding by the BYU honor code.

To further prove my point, this is allowed at BYU.

This is NOT allowed at BYU:

Given that BYU is a Christian institution, I expect that you all know who that is. That's God. God, who LDS people believe is a tangible person with a physical body and would therefore probably be capable of shaving if he felt that there was any need for it. God is invariably portrayed in LDS art and film etcetera as having a beard. If having a beard was in any way unacceptable, do you really think our Lord and Creator would have one? Probably not. This is the same being who built us, saw how horrifying human genitalia is, and then decided that clothes were a necessity for humanity at large. He's been making the dress and grooming standards since the world began. Shockingly, I don't think there's anything in any book of scripture that has ever been made known that condemns beards but condones mustaches. 

I expect that the argument would be that times have changed. And that would be correct- times have changed. But if times have changed before, why is it then reasonable to assume that times have not changed since the 1970's, a good forty years ago? My answer to you, my friends, is that times have changed rather dramatically since the 1970's. Not only filthy hippies and trash have beards these days. But only hipsters, porn stars, sex offenders, and societal outcasts just have mustaches. Given the generally extremely conservative nature of BYU, I would be surprised if the administration wanted any of those people attending school here. But that's who you're inviting, BYU policy makers. Think about it. 

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Baffling Conundrum of Human Existence: Part III

Originally, this was just going to be a two-part set. Then, my husband and I ran some errands and our conversation, as it tends to, swung around to sex. Sex and art. My husband is awesome, and we have the best conversations.

One of the things that I've noticed about American culture as a whole- which is not true of all cultures- is the tendency to equate physical with sexual. Recently, there was some kind of controversy about a group of young girls doing a "suggestive" dance. Now, again, I'm not a parent. I'm also not a man. Thus, I have no idea how either group would typically respond to such a display. As a female viewer who spent a lot of my formative years using my body for creative expression, I saw nothing wrong or immoral. People were offended because these ten year olds, or however old they were, were wearing typical dance costumes and using their hips. News flash: ten year olds have hips too, and they're pretty integral to being a successful dancer. My general feeling was that the people who found something inappropriate were looking for something inappropriate.

I tend to think that people's reactions to "inappropriate conduct" say more about the person than it does about the perceived immorality. Case in point: Several years ago, when Gordon B Hinkley was still the prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, he received a letter from a male member of the Church. The letter expressed this member's affront to gymnastic uniforms that some other members of the Church wore to their gymnastic events. He asked President Hinkley to please do something about the rampant immodesty, as it was offensive and morally degrading.

The response President Hinkley gave to that man is one of the reasons that I love him so dearly. He wrote back that he saw nothing wrong with their leotards, and that gymnastics was a beautiful sport that should be appreciated for what it is.

President Hinkley knew that there was nothing immoral or immodest about gymnasts in leotards. In fact, leotards are really pretty necessary to doing the things a gymnast has to do. This man saw something inappropriate because he wanted to. He took something completely innocent and twisted it. Then he got offended by his own interpretation.

My point is that there is a huge tendency, especially within the Church, to see something physical and perceive it as something sexual. I one-hundred percent disagree. I believe that the human body is beautiful and should be celebrated. If there is one thing from Church doctrine that I believe, it's that we as humans were created in the image of God. Not only does that mean that we have bodies like God's, it means God has a body like ours. Now, I'm sure there are some fairly major differences, but I believe in form and function, our bodies and God's body are largely very similar.

As such, I do not believe that the human body is something to be reviled or feared. We are taught as children that we do not spend any time with certain parts of our body unless we are washing them. We stay away from other people's private places, because it is "bad" and "wrong" not to. As we get older and we learn about sex, we learn that it is scary and dirty and it makes terrible things happen. Depictions of the naked human form in photograph or film are disgusting and pornographic.

The disconnect for me really manifests itself in the way society views art.

If nudity is inherently sexual and immoral, a huge portion of classical art is nothing more than porn. Rodin's Thinker? Porn. Botticelli's Birth of Venus? Porn. Leonardo DaVinci's The Vitruvian Man? Porn, porn, porn. Michelangelo was basically all porn, all the time. I mean, have you SEEN the Sistine Chapel? God's naked, Adam's naked, David and Goliath are naked, a very masculine looking Eve is naked. Thus, porn central.

Basically no one who has had any kind of education is going to defend that sort of opinion. Everyone accepts that nudity is fine, as long as it's in a painting that's four hundred years old. Any other sort of nudity that isn't within the privacy of one's own home behind many screens and locked doors is disgusting and immoral and wrong. Even tasteful, artfully shot nude photographs don't quite manage to make the cut. And now, I'm not talking Playboy here (although, if we're being honest, I find some of their older, circa 1950ish, shoots very interesting). I'm more talking Jeanloup Sieffe's Reclining Nude. It's basically a photograph of somebody's back. Very good use of lighting, so says my husband.

To me, there is very little more beautiful than the human body. I would much rather look at a tasteful nude than a vase of flowers. I'm not promoting tits and tassels here. I just wish that some people could be less uptight about the potential beauty the human body has to offer.

A Baffling Conundrum of Human Existence: Part II

In the similar vein of my recent post on the baffling nature of torture porn, I'd like to talk about another questionable practice that is becoming more and more prevalent in American society: giving babies ridiculous and/or terrible names.

I'm going to preface this by saying that I'm not a parent. I don't have any babies. I have no experience in naming babies, so maybe it's really a lot more difficult than it seems.

I have however, been a baby. I also know what it is like to grow up with a stupid, pun-inducing name. My last name is Ball, and I can tell you, it made fourth grade a really fun time. But that's my last name. I don't blame my parents for not legally changing their last names before I was born. I do, however, take issue with parents who give their babies stupid names on purpose, out of a misguided drive to seem creative and unique.

The most offensive baby-naming practice is, I think, using the letter Y in place of other vowels. For example: Madisyn, Ayden, Gertryde, whatever. The base name is largely irrelevant. Or, rather irrelyvant. The idea seems to be that you can take a tired, overdone name (such as Madison), and make it "fresh" and "interesting" by changing the spelling. Unfortunately, that is a myth.

Of course, there's also the practice of replacing C's with K's and vice versa. Super original. Rather than name your son boring old Christopher, you can name him Kristopher! Ground-breaking!

Spelling a boring name in a stupid way doesn't make it more creative. It makes it more annoying. Everyone who sees the name spelled out can tell what the parents did there. And, quite frankly, I think it's been done enough times now that we can stop pretending it's a new thing.

Beyond a vague knowledge that some people I went to school with spelled their names really strangely, I wasn't aware that there were real people who thought the practice of replacing vowels with the letter Y actually existed until fairly recently. Fairly recently, I was in a room with a bunch of women who were talking about wanting to have babies and discussing what they wanted to name them. If I remember correctly, Madisyn and Ayden were both specifically mentioned as "great" "really cute" ideas.

Granted, I do live in Utah. In Utah, it is fairly common practice to come across people named Lehi and Nephi and Omner and things like that. Utah as a state is notorious for terrible, terrible names for babies.  Babies who then grow into adults who have to introduce themselves to potential dates and employers as Naphtali or Zedikiah for the rest of their lives.

Somewhere in Utah, there is at least one little girl named Christmas Cantata. There's another named Christmas Eve. I quit. I quit. I...just can't. I quit the human experience right here and now, because that's plenty.

I understand the desire to name a baby after a scriptural hero of some kind. You, as a parent, would like your child to emulate the characteristics of their namesakes, and you're hoping that by naming your child Ezekiel, he too will see a vision and become a messenger for the Lord. That's a nice goal for your child. Unfortunately, the fact is that the chances of that happening are really pretty slim, and even if your child does see a vision and become a messenger for the Lord, his name isn't really going to make a huge difference either way. As I understand it, the Lord looks for qualities and patterns of behavior, rather than the right first name when picking his messengers.

Also, if the baby is female and you really want to go Book of Mormon, your choices are Sariah and Abish. To my knowledge, those are the only females mentioned by name in the book of Mormon. There's also King Lamoni's Wife and King Lamoni's Dad's Wife. So, you know, take your pick.

Or just go with Christmas. It's not nearly as unpopular as it should be.

It's all well and good for the parents, who give their children asinine names and their equally asinine peers praise them for being so "creative" and "original," but they aren't the people who have to go through life being named Irelynd. In fact, I recently read a study that said that children who are given unique names tend to be more prone to committing crime. The logic behind this hypothesis is that children who are given normal, popular names tend to be more capable of fitting in with the rest of society, whereas people with weird names are more prone to ridicule and discrimination. This alienates them from society and makes them more likely to live outside the law.

Several years ago, I purchased a book containing several hundred "unique" baby names, names that were touted as "fresh, hip alternatives" to names like Jason and Sarah. Granted, I don't care for the name Sarah either, but no one got beat up for having that name, whereas I'm basically certain that any little girl that ends up with the name Dexter is begging for brutal mockery for the rest of her life.

Which actually brings me to my next point. Giving a child a name that typically does not accompany his/her gender is cruel. Really very cruel. Name a boy Kelly, and his life is plagued with gay jokes and sexual harassment from his peers, regardless of actual sexual orientation. Name a girl Dorian, and it's like you're begging her to become a lesbian and/or you were really hoping for a boy. Girls don't get the gay jokes so much. What girls get is ostracized from the other females in the peer group (who probably make gay jokes about them). Thus, she has no choice but to hang out with boys, and her behaviors become more stereotypically masculine to match the peers that will accept her.

Both Kelly and Dorian are allegedly considered gender-neutral names. They aren't. They are not, so people should stop punishing their children by pretending that they are.

I was once reading a baby names website that maintained that "Butch" is a name that is appropriate for both genders. It's not. It is not an appropriate name for a female under any possible circumstances. I don't care who you are or what your sexual orientation is or what kind of motorcycle you drive. If you're female, you don't want to be named Butch (although if there are females out there reading this who feel differently, please feel free to correct me).

Finally, there is the practice of naming babies after figures in popular culture. (Presumably) Thanks to Stephanie Meyer and her abstinence propaganda, Isabella was the number one baby girl name of 2009, according to the Social Security administration. Jacob was number one for boys. I was actually surprised that Edward wasn't higher on the list, but then I remembered that women who were old enough to ovulate pretty much invariably preferred jail-bait Jacob.

Once again, I quit the human experience. I really just can't do it anymore.

I guess the question that I'm posing that applies both to this discussion and the torture porn post from earlier is "What in the name of God is wrong with society?"

Sometimes, I really wonder what certain parents were thinking when they named their children. Did they just take an immediate dislike to the child? Was it a really difficult pregnancy and the mother wanted to punish the child? Were they hoping for something else but decided to use the original name they picked anyway?

There are some parents that are able to successfully straddle the line between names that every child has, and names that alienate their child from society. I feel that my parents were largely successful on that front. My siblings and I all have names that are interesting and somewhat on the unique side, but they don't cross over into being weird. My hat is off to parents who can do that. I understand why many parents want to avoid their child being in a class with six other children with the same name. It's confusing and annoying for everyone involved.

My personal naming preference is to use names that are classical in origin but are not so old fashioned as to have fallen completely out of disuse. Names like Alice and George (although the name Alice, much to my dismay, is on the rise, once again thanks to the abstinence propaganda of Stephanie Meyer). Good solid names that don't sound like strippers or pageant queens.

Recently, my brother-in-law and his wife had a baby. They named him Maxwell. Maxwell is an excellent name, for several reasons.

-It's appropriate for a tiny baby.
-It's appropriate for an adult man, which he will eventually be.
-It sounds like a superhero name.
-The phrase "Here is the President of the United States, Maxwell R. Kurth!" doesn't sound stupid. (I'm told this is an important test while picking a name for a baby).
-He will not have to go by his middle name because he's embarrassed by his first name
-He shares a first name with the manliest-named man in the world, Staff Sergeant Max Fightmaster.

In summation, well played, my friends.

A Baffling Conundrum of Human Existence: Part I

Over the past couple of days, I've been thinking extensively about two extraordinarily offensive things. The first, which will be the topic of today's post, is torture porn.

Torture porn is the genre of film that deals pretty much exclusively with scenes of horrific torture violence, typically propagated against one human being by another human being for no real discernible reason. There tends to be very little else in the way of plot.

I have several questions regarding the torture porn genre. The first, that I think I've given the most thought to, is this: what possible need could watching horrific violence fulfill for normal, well-adjusted people? 

The name "torture porn" comes from the idea that, like regular porn is mostly sex scenes linked together by a typically fairly tenuous plot, these films are mostly scenes of torture linked together by some half-baked construct of a so-called plot. Like sex is the driving force behind porn, human pain and humiliation is the driving force behind torture porn.

I understand the appeal of regular porn. To me, it makes a lot of sense that pornography is a multi-billion dollar industry. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs qualifies sexual gratification as among a person's most basic needs, putting it on the same level as food and sleep. However, sexual intimacy is qualified as a much less basic need. With that particular distinction in mind, I fully understand why so many people use pornography. 

Further, I understand the appeal of the horror movie genre, in which scary things happen and violence gets committed. The thing about horror movies, though, is that the violence is rarely graphic or excessively prolonged. There's a certain thrill that comes with being startled and experiencing an adrenaline rush. My experience says that the reaction that tends to accompany prolonged graphic violence tends to be horror and nausea. I'm not a big fan of either. 

The need to commit random acts violence against another human being, or to watch others commit random acts of violence does not appear anywhere on any hierarchy of needs, as far as I am aware. Granted, I'm not a trained psychologist, so I could be wrong. Indeed, the fact that this genre of movies is so prevalent now makes me think that either a huge portion of the population is horrifically disturbed, or there really is something about human nature that makes us want to see other members of our species get hurt. 

It might make more sense to me if these movies made more of an effort to dehumanize the victims. Slaves fighting large, starving animals was an entertainment staple in ancient Rome. No one thought of the slaves as human beings, so it's a little bit easier for me to understand how no one thought it was a bad idea. The idea that animals can feel is relatively recent; for most of history, it didn't occur to anyone that the animals they were making fight to the death were in pain. Slaves were placed on par with animals, and humanity as a whole has never had a problem victimizing sub-humans. 

The thing about torture porn that I find so baffling is that there is no effort made to dehumanize the victims. Quite the opposite, in fact. The audience watches as extraordinarily frail and humanized victims are senselessly and brutally tortured and murdered. The audience sees every second of pain and terror. 

An argument that is commonly made in defense of the genre is that it isn't real, and because no one is actually getting injured, it shouldn't be a big deal. 

I'm not disturbed by torture porn because I think that what happening onscreen is real. I went to film school. I'm aware that unless it's a documentary, what we are seeing is staged. I'm not here out of concern for the actors, consenting adults who knew what they were getting into, who knew that they would not actually get hurt, and who got paid enormous sums of money. 

I'm disturbed by the fact that people are willing to pay to watch it. Even though it isn't real, and everyone watching knows it isn't real, I fail to see the entertainment value. I don't get the appeal. It LOOKS real. As far as anyone watching knows, it could be real. It might as well be real. I don't know about anyone else, but when I watch a movie that contains any kind of graphic violence or gore, I don't have a terrifically positive reaction.

Maybe I'm a "wimp." That's the word that usually gets thrown around in those sorts of scenarios, isn't it? Wimp? Someone doesn't like graphic torture violence, and that makes them a wimp, implying that enjoying scenes of torture is synonymous with strength and masculinity. 

Enjoying scenes of torture is not strength. Enjoying scenes of torture is sick. 

I read an article once, several years ago, postulating that by 2050, people would be fighting to the death on Pay-Per-View. For the sake of our society, I sincerely hope not. 

Monday, December 6, 2010

Work Crisis:Installment Three or So

It's been a long and hectic week for me. I thought that my part in diffusing the crisis at work was over on Saturday. I had put in something like forty hours doing tasks that are not usually in any way a part of my job description. All was well, I didn't mind. I was getting paid by the hour, so having a large amount of time-consuming work was not in any way a terribly big deal.

On Saturday evening, I received an e-mail from my boss, asking me if I could do one more project. At the time, the deadline for those particular projects was Sunday night. I had plans for Sunday, so I told her that I couldn't do it if they wanted it on time, and if there was anyone else who could or wanted to do it, then she should probably ask them.

She said she'd ask around, but asked me to check on the project if I had any spare time. I didn't, but on Sunday night, she sent me another e-mail asking me to continue the project on Monday and Tuesday. Because I'd be spending Monday and Tuesday doing work regardless, I didn't see a problem with that.

Here's where the problem comes in. My boss went out of town this morning. Apparently, there was another project, in addition to the previously mentioned one, that she either told people I'd be taking care of, or she told them I'd be taking care of one of them and they assumed that I would be doing the other one as well. The thing is, though, no one actually told me that the second project was my responsibility. Furthermore, my boss told me that I would have today and Tuesday to do the first project.

But then, I got an e-mail this afternoon asking me if BOTH the projects were done. I wrote back, saying I was done with project number one, but I hadn't started project number two, and that I could probably have it done by tonight or tomorrow. Apparently, that's not acceptable. Given my involvement thus far, there would be no reason to assume that both of them would be done. I told my boss I couldn't work Sunday. My boss told me that I would have Monday and Tuesday to work. I told all this to the guy standing in for my boss, and he didn't sound impressed.

These projects have been taking, on average, about six hours to do. If they wanted it done before tomorrow, they should have given me a titch more notice. Also, they should have told me that they wanted me to do the second project BEFORE asking me if I had finished it. I mean, had they asked, and I really did have until tomorrow to do it, then it would be fine. But it sounds like they were expecting me to work Sunday, even though I told them that I couldn't.

Also, I'm a freelancer. I'm an independent contractor. Per my contract with this company, I'm supposed to be a writer. That's it. That is as far as my responsibilities extend. When this work crisis came up, they asked me if I could help. I said I would be happy to help, but I thought it was clear that I would only help insofar as my schedule would allow. I mean, I'm doing them a favor, rather than fulfilling a responsibility. Some additional projects became my responsibility when I agreed to do them, but only the ones explicitly discussed and agreed to. Not the extra ones they assumed I was going to do.

I imagine that there was probably just a miscommunication or two somewhere along the line. Maybe my boss forgot to ask me to take on the second project. Maybe the guy who's standing in for my boss just assumed that I took on the second one when I took on the first one, and that I had been working Sunday to get them done. Maybe the two of them weren't clear with each other about what the deadlines are/were/should be. I really don't know.

I'm not angry or anything, but I am a little bit frustrated. I've spent the past week (minus Sunday) working my butt off for these people, taking on all kinds of extra responsibilities and spending all kinds of time that would normally be allocated to other things, like eating and sleeping and occasionally being in the same room with my husband. I feel a tad taken for granted, and I don't feel like that's fair.

On the plus side, my paycheck is going to be HUGE.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Catalog Fever

So, I guess I should probably never complain that my boss isn't giving me enough work ever again.

She e-mailed me yesterday at around 12:30 and asked if I could start a special project. I then spent the next seven straight hours cataloging over three hundred scripts. Then I spent another four hours this morning, and I'll probably be starting up again in the semi-near future.

On the plus side, if it gets done by Monday, I get a bonus. And Heaven knows that I like bonuses. I don't think I've ever gotten a bonus before. You don't get bonuses for hostessing, and you definitely don't get bonuses in retail. Or, at least, I never did, and I always worked really hard. I frequently got asked to work extra hours and pick up extra shifts and stay late if someone from the evening shift called out, but the closest I ever got to a bonus was a box of whoppers.

Not that I didn't appreciate the whoppers, but I'm really excited about maybe getting a bonus. So that'll be fun.

Not so fun is the hours and hours and hours of work I'm going to be logging until Monday. Fortunately, for this particular project I'm getting paid by the hour, so even that has it's upside. Usually I get paid by the script, but I'm not writing scripts, I'm cataloging.

On the plus side, Nate and I are watching Lord of the Rings this afternoon. Nate decided that I needed a break, so here we are. Also, I'm waiting for my boss to get back to me about the next thing I'm supposed to be cataloging.