Thursday, May 3, 2012

Cupid, exposed

What most people do not know about Cupid is that he used to have a great P.R. guy. This of course was back in the Greek golden age, when the gods had a lot more resources to spend on things like public relations. Gods, like musicians, tend to change their names to create new personas, and at the time, Cupid was going by Eros. Aristophales, (that was Cupid’s P.R. guy), did a fantastic job with the persona of Eros. Eros was a sex symbol, more beautiful than Adonis and with more infatuated fangirls than Johnny Depp. Even the very word ‘erotic’ can find its roots in this rock star of ancient Greece. He did not cause a lot of problems, his mother, the vengeful Venus, was more into the whole ‘tormenting the mortals’ schtick. The worst thing that could happen with Eros is that he would spirit away some beautiful princess about to be sacrificed to a sea monster and treat her to a non-stop love-fest in his magnificent castle.

Unfortunately, his ‘Eros’ persona was relatively short lived, and soon the Cupid we know began to take root in the minds of mortals: A fat, cherubic little baby, floating about on wings, shooting love darts left and right, usually around Valentine’s Day. This was a common practice amongst the gods of modernity, with many of them selling out to corporations. Mercury became a flower delivery spokesperson, Apollo opened a concert hall in New York City, Mars got into the candy bar business, and even King Midas got a deal fixing mufflers and brakes. Cupid, however, became the biggest sell-out of all, becoming the corporate tool of Hallmark, selling cards to remind people that they love each other on an arbitrary day in February. 

Still, the version of Cupid we know from Hallmark, while not as flattering a portrait as the Eros of antiquity, is still a much more benign image than the real Cupid. The real Cupid resembles the winged fat baby only in passing. A closer look shows that he is indeed rather short, overweight, and bald, but not adorable by any stretch of the word. His wings are vestiges of a time in his youth when his frame was undoubtedly slimmer. He is eternally cranky. Were I a casting director, I would probably recruit Danny DeVito for the role.

 The diaper is in actuality a whitish pair of briefs, sometimes accompanied by a men’s sleeveless undershirt, (colloquially known as a ‘wife-beater’). He does indeed have a bow and arrow, but rather than the cute little plunger-like darts one sees on cartoons, his arrows are jagged, designed to inflict damage when removed. These serrated arrows are then dipped in a love-inducing venom and fired with precision towards his victims. 

This is another instance where Hallmark does a passable job cleaning up Cupid’s image. Falling in love is portrayed as some sort of pre-destined event, a fated union of two soul-mates. In reality, the Fates and Destiny herself both refuse to have anything to do with Cupid, ostensibly because of his drunken groping of Nona the spinner at a New Year’s party. Cupid himself is something of a Darwinist, which is admittedly an odd philosophy for a deity, but goes to show that religion and science can sometimes get along rather well.

One of the constraints Cupid works under is one familiar to many fans of first person video games: He only has so much ammunition. Arrows aren’t free, and so Cupid rarely fires two at the same time. Economic concerns aside, Cupid does seem to relish unrequited love. Like a frustrated housewife watching soap operas, he enjoys watching the drama of complete devotion answered with utter indifference. Still, because humans must reproduce in order to perpetuate the species, which in turn, is good for Hallmark’s bottom line, Cupid must occasionally strike two people at once with his arrows. The resulting infatuation breeds a new generation of mindless customers. This is where his Darwinism comes into play, targeting attractive people who will in turn have beautiful children and keep the species interesting for Cupid and the other gods to look at. Moral character, wisdom, intelligence, kindness, or any number of other factors are irrelevant in Cupid’s decisions. The tiny tyrant has decreed that happily ever after is only allowed to a genetically fortunate few.

Fortunately, the human race is nothing if not adaptable. In the absence of that rare form of love that includes an equality of adoration from both parties, many will settle for what they can get. Women will convince themselves that their attractive, but abusive and neglectful boyfriends are in fact simply good men encased in mystery: Mr. Darcys and Edward Cullenses just waiting to be discovered beneath the cold exterior. Men will blindly devote themselves to beautiful goddesses who would not deign a second glance to them if their money ran out. Aspirations of love erode slowly, replaced by resignation and acceptance. Miserable marriages soon follow, laced with secret resentment and a sense of disappointment that their lives did not end up the way Hallmark and Hollywood promised. 

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Idiocracy: The Corruption of the American Dream

*Note: When I use the word "Santorum" in this piece, I am talking about the politician, not the more common definition that shows up when you google the word.

I detest American politics.  I would probably protest other countries' politics too if I followed them.  However, I cannot stop myself from paying at least a little attention to them.  This little bit from Santorum made me wish I'd stayed blissfully unaware:

Let's ignore, for a moment, the blatant hypocrisy of a man with an undergraduate degree from the highly ranked Pennsylvania State University and no fewer than two GRADUATE degrees (an M.B.A. and a law degree) calling Obama a snob for valuing higher education.  The idea that universities are indoctrination mills churning out a legion of Obama clones is so easily refuted that a simple glance at two random college graduates....let's say...Obama and Santorum...will show that college does not guarantee uniformity of thought or policy.  Or even guarantee thought at all.

I want to focus on the larger problem here.  Namely, Santorum's meteoric rise as a contender for the Republican nomination for president of the United States.  This is symptomatic of a disturbing cultural trend: The tendency of Americans to vilify intelligence and glorify ignorance.

First, let me make one thing clear:  I do not think Americans are innately less intelligent than any other people. I think stupidity is common to the human species in general.  The problem is that, in America, ignorance is seen as a positive thing.

I'm a bit of a Francophile, and I'll use France now by way of contrast.  France is a country that values its intellectuals.  Philosophers are rock stars to the French.  When Sartre was alive, his opinion was sought out on matters of social policy, on politics, on whatever.  People recognized that he was a smart guy and that it might be nice to know his thoughts on the matter. 

In America, this sort of rapt attention is reserved for Kim Kardiashian and Snooki's twitter accounts.  

Carl Sagan picked up on this way back in 1995. "One trend that bothers me is the glorification of stupidity, that the media is reassuring people that its all right not to know anything - that in a way it's cool.  That to me is far more dangerous than a little pornography on the internet," he warned. 

We see it in schools where the smart kids are afraid to answer the teacher's questions for fear of looking too smart in front of their peers.  We see it in politics, where Americans will always vote for the guy who looks like he would have a beer with them and not the guy who sounds 'too smart' (or like a SNOB, to use Santorum's word). We see it when girls are told not to act too smart around a boy she likes, or she'll scare him away.  "Just giggle and smile and laugh at his jokes, boys don't want girls who are smarter than them", their mothers warn. From a very young age and at every stage of social development, American children are taught to hide their intellect for fear of making others feel inadequate.  

Where did this begin? I believe what Sagan calls the 'glorification of stupidity' its in reality the bastardization of the American Dream.  What once was the idea that every citizen had the chance to become more successful than his parents, to rise beyond her circumstances, or to achieve that white-picket fence epilogue to a life well-lived, has been subtly transmuted into something far less inspiring.  The American Dream was what once allowed a child to say, with every confidence, that he would grow up to become President, or an astronaut, or a scientist.  Now it has become an ambiance of marked scorn for even daring to have such lofty ambitions.  Why would you want to be an astronaut? Are you too good for us here on Earth? We're cutting NASA's funding anyway.

These principles of equality and fairness have been tainted by contact with the least common denominator.  Ambition is met with derision. Credentials are scoffed away.  With the democratization of knowledge through google and wikipedia, everyone feels entitled to the role of 'expert'.  With the advent of blogging and self-publishing, everyone is first an author, then a specialist.  Why waste time on a Ph.D. when a cursory (and shallow) facade of expertise can be produced with a few minutes spent on a search engine?  

True academics and vetted intellectuals are seen as elitists.  Seeking to become one is somehow an affront to those who are content not to develop their intellect.  It is as if attaining a higher education was pushing the rest of society somehow lower, when in reality the relative distance only increased in a positive direction.  Education improves society.  The academic achievements of my peer elevate him, they do not diminish me.  That science nerd who made you feel dumb in high school may one day cure your cancer.

Now we find ourselves in a society where Plato's Philosopher King would be booed out of office in favor of someone who is acceptably average.  Instead of putting the power to help us all into the hands of the most capable, we prefer to put it into the hands of those who make us feel comfortable with our own mediocrity.  The same jealous spirit that moved the mobs of Alexandria to burn its libraries and murder Hypatia animates modern man.  Those same feelings of distrust, fear, and hatred motivate bullies to punch the 'brainiacs' and push Santorum to get cheap laughs at the very notion that America could be improved if more people were taught critical thinking skills. 

I currently live and work in South Korea, which, like most Asian countries, puts such an importance on education that the children spend countless hours after school with expensive private tutors, at great cost to their families.  If America wants to retain its competitive edge, we would be wise to give education at least some of that value, rather than scorn.  If we do not, we cannot complain to our leaders when China overtakes us.  

After all, our leaders are just average Joes like us.  That's why we elected them.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Swashbuckler

There seems to be a lot of confusion as to what exactly a swashbuckler is.  I'll start like every other Sacrament talk or public speech: With a dictionary definition of the subject of my discourse.


 [swosh-buhk-ler, swawsh-]   Origin


 [swosh-buhk-ler, swawsh-]  Show IPA
a swaggering swordsman, soldier, or adventurer; daredevil.

Zorro.  The Dread Pirate Roberts.  The Three Musketeers.  Most of the characters portrayed by Errol Flynn on the silver screen. These are all classic examples of swashbucklers.  A swashbuckler is typically unarmored, relying on his wits, speed, and charm to see him safely through his adventures.  He is prone to swinging from chandeliers, dueling villains with his rapier, and engaging in witty repartee.

I have been slightly obsessed with the concept since I was a kid.  My first email address was (Like most hotmail accounts, it has since become my dumping ground for websites who want my email address to register but that I know will send me spam).  Part of the reason I learned French was because I had fallen in love with this mythos of the witty adventurer.  This is also why I took up fencing.  My favorite superhero growing up was always Spider-man, the swashbuckler of superheroes (okay, I know, Nightcrawler is a better fit, but he was always a favorite too).

This brings me to Halloween.  Living in Korea, Halloween is not celebrated much here.  However, I have been sort of planning possible costumes for next year.  What can I say? You can take the American out of America, but you can't take America out of the American.

Looking back at my costume choices in the past, I'm beginning to see a pattern:

Halloween 2007:  I am Le Scorpion, an Italian swashbuckler from a French comic book:

Halloween 2008: I was a Musketeer (Aramis, my favorite).

This was a collaboration costume for a French Club Halloween party.  My good buddy Greg Jackson was the stalwart Athos and we even had a girl from the Master's program play Porthos to round out our triumphant trio.

In 2009 I was in France, again a country without the costumed traditions of the 31st of October.

Halloween 2010:  I decided I'd make a wonderful Dread Pirate Roberts.  We were able to wear our costumes to work, and I made sure to take no prisoners:

This was fun because most of my co-workers were dressed up as well.  There was a Princess Peach to my left and the most impressive costume of all was a Gizmo-duck from the old cartoon Darkwing Duck.  He even had the unicycle.

And this brings me to brainstorming for my next costume.  I've decided if I grow my hair out a bit, I could maintain my swashbuckling tradition with the roguish Flynn Rider:

I even found a pretty good costume!

 I'd have to trade in my sword for a trusty frying pan, but I think there's enough of a resemblance there to pull off a pretty good Flynn.  So this is where I find myself, trying to justify spending 70 bucks on a Halloween costume.  I really need to meet a girl that can sew, my life would be much simpler then.

What sort of themes do you find yourselves drawn to for Halloween? Are there any other swashbucklers out there? Classic movie monsters? Superheroes?  It's the one day a year where it's okay to be whoever you like.  Do not let it pass you by!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

I Stumbled Upon an Interesting Blog Today

Browsing through the blogosphere, I came across a blog from a woman with Borderline Personality Disorder.  I hadn't thought much about this particular disorder in awhile, but it used to be a topic of interest to me.  This blogger is a high functioning professional and seems to be on the road to recovery with therapy.  Blogging about her road seems to be helpful to her as well, and gives the rest of us some insight into what she is going through.  It's definitely made me more hopeful that she will eventually feel understood. is the address.  If any of you are curious as to what goes on in the head of someone who has this disorder, its definitely worth the read.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Rules are Meant to be Broken

Today my youngest sister told me she was reading a book called "The Rules".  I was only vaguely aware of this book before, but the more she described it, the more I did not like it.

From Wikipedia:

The book argues that in order to attract and marry the man of her dreams, a woman should be 'hard to get'. The underlying philosophy of which is that women should not aggressively pursue men, but rather ought to get the men to pursue them.

I'm very much against the games people feel like they have to play, this whole 'don't let him know you like him or he will value you less' mindset is ridiculous.  There have been several times where finding out a girl was interested in me actually made me look at her more favorably, even made her more attractive in return.

Basically the Rules play off of the bit of psychology that says men want what they can't have, so if you want to trick him into liking you, pretend you don't care for him.  Women aren't the only one to use this play.  Men do it too.  Its called 'Treat the girl like you're a total jerk and she'll end up wanting you more.'  We've all seen the a-hole guy with the girl that's totally into the neglect or occasional abuse he dishes out.  It works.  That doesn't mean its okay.

That's the defense I hear about "The Rules".  They work! Fine..they might.  But if you have to trick a guy into liking you, is that really the guy you should be dating?

To me, the whole story seems very familiar:

Luke: Is the Dark Side stronger?
Yoda: No, no, no.  Quicker.  Easier.  More seductive...

It would be easier to get a girl's interest by mistreating her.  I've gone down that road before.  Its almost sad how easy it is.  But is that the kind of low self-esteem person I want to be with?  While easier, it leaves a hollow victory in the end.

Let's look at some of the infamous "Rules":

2. Don't talk to a man first.
3. Don't talk too much.
4. Don't meet him halfway
6. Don't accept a Saturday Night Date after Wednesday (even if you were planning on sitting at home complaining to your roommates that you're bored, you have to make him think you lead a glamorous life filled with dates and you can only just barely book him if he calls far ahead of you're the freaking Per Se)
12. Stop Dating Him if He Doesn't Buy You a Romantic Gift for Your Birthday or Valentine's Day (make sure he pays the monetary transaction required for his end of the bargain...but you're not a prostitute, let's make that clear)
13. Don't See Him More Than Once or Twice a Week

Okay, so far so good.  Besides setting back women's rights by about three decades, they aren't completely weird.  Just a lot of "pretend you're someone you're not so he'll like you and if you're interested in him FOR HEAVENS' SAKE DO NOT LET HIM FIND OUT!!!".

But then the rules start to get really weird.

23. Don't Date a Married Man (Okay...good advice.  Kind of obvious but if you're reading self-help books maybe it bears repeating)
26. Even if You're Engaged or Married, You Still Need the Rules (Ie: Don't ever let him find out what you're really like, keep pretending to be disinterested or he might grow bored with you. Remember, men love a challenge!)
31.  Don't Discuss the Rules With Your Therapist

Wait....WHAT?!  Does that raise a red flag to anyone else?  There's a whole chapter devoted to not letting your trained licensed professional know that you're following life advice from an accountant and a freelance journalist? How long is this chapter?  Is this like the first rule of Fight Club?

First rule about "The Rules: Time-Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right":
Don't talk about "The Rules: Time-Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right".
39. Men Can Handle it if  You are Dating Other Men as Long as You are Still Available for Him (written like a woman who's never been in a relationship with a man before)

And the list of Rules goes on, explaining how you should not leave the house without makeup on, never answer the phone on the first ring, etc.

Here's my rules for dating, from a guy's point of view:

1. Be yourself.  Don't trick a guy into liking a glamorous phantasm you create for him.  Don't try to be what you think he will like.  If you do, that's a mask you're going to have to wear forever, because if you do end up getting married, he's going to eventually see the real you.  You deserve to be dating someone who likes you for who you are.

2. Be honest.  Laugh at his jokes if you find them funny, not because a Rules tells you to.  If you're excited to talk to him, its okay to let him know.  Its okay to beat him at a game you're better at than he is. Its okay to let him know you're smart, maybe even an equal partner to his own intellect, rather than a subservient food making sex machine.

Those are all the rules I can think of.  They probably don't work as fast or as easily as the "Rules", but I think you'll be happier with the end result.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Who is the Scarlet Pimpernel?

I freaking love the Scarlet Pimpernel.  For those of you who have no idea who that is, go read the book right now.

Go for it, I'll wait.

We done?  Okay.  For those of you too lazy to read a book, even an electronic one, let me sum up.  He's the freaking Batman of the French Revolution:  Rich, debonair, but entirely shallow and vapid playboy by day, but by night, he dons a secret identity and saves people from certain death.

This is a hero who survives by his wits, by staying one step ahead of his enemies, and above all, by projecting a foppish facade that serves as a shield against suspicion.  

As someone who often plays the fool, this guy is my hero.  He manages to dance circles around his enemies without them even fully realizing that they've been completely taken.

"I say, I do believe DC Comics owes me a royalty...wot?"

The musical based on the book is playing this month in Ogden, Utah.  My friend is organizing a trip to go see it and I want to go.  Unfortunately, he wants me to bring a date.

"But David, you're in Provo.  There's literally thousands of girls just waiting to be asked out on such a marvelously classy date as going to the theater," you might say. And yes, you are probably very right.  And the last time we made such an excursion, I had no trouble finding one.

Unfortunately, things have changed (see my last entry).  This is not the Provo of 2008.  Though I see beautiful girls all over campus, I don't know any of them (and I'm not very good at asking complete strangers to drive to Ogden and see a play with me).

Sadly, my life is this:  Wake up, drive to Lehi for work, get off work, drive to the campus library, research my thesis until midnight, go to bed, wash, rinse, repeat.  This leaves precious little 'get out and meet new friends' time, and even less time for romance.  

So I feel like the sailor, stranded on a piece of driftwood, saying "Water, water all around and not a drop to drink" before he dies of thirst in the middle of the ocean.  I'd love nothing better than to buy a ticket for a girl to experience what is without a doubt my favorite musical of all time.  (Okay, I realize its not super manly to have a favorite musical, but don't judge!)  The only trick is...finding the girl!  

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Return of the King

Warning:  In case you couldn't tell by the title of this post, I'm going to geek out a little.  If you're geeky enough to read blogs but not geeky enough to admit you enjoyed the Lord of the Rings movies, you should probably stop reading.  ;)

I have returned from Europe and I now find myself back in Provo, Utah.  It is a very strange feeling.   While I was in France, I listened a bit to the soundtrack in the Lord of the Rings.  I noticed something meaningful in the songs chosen for the end credits.  They all speak of a journey at different stages.

From Enya's "May it Be" (The Fellowship of the Ring soundtrack):

May it be an evening star
Shines down upon you
May it be when darkness falls
Your heart will be true
You walk a lonely road
Oh! How far you are from home...

A promise lives within you now....

Out of context, it sounds like something off of an EFY cd, a metaphor for a Parent's wishes for a child beginning life's journey through this mortal coil.  But in my context, it was talking about my trip through Europe.  Though I did not admit it, I sometimes felt like Frodo- a very small hobbit off on a very big adventure, (only with shoes and with green eyes instead of Elijah Wood's oh-so-baby blues).

You can't tell from the pictures, but I'm actually taller too...
Then winter came, and my contract seemed interminable.  Thanksgiving and Christmas made me realize how long it had been since I'd seen my family and friends, and suddenly Gollum's song became my anthem.

From "Gollum's Song", the Two Towers soundtrack:

Where once was light, now darkness falls
Where once was love, love is no more

Don't say goodbye, don't say I didn't try

These tears we cry are falling rain
For all the lies you told us, the hurt, the blame
And we will weep to be so alone
We are lost, we can never go home

Now, I certainly didn't feel as overdramatic as the schizophrenic Smeagol, but that line "We are lost, we can never go home..." rang true.  But winter passed and the sun came out, and soon my return home was pressing close.  

When the journey was almost over, suddenly "Into the West", from the Return of the King, fit perfectly:

Lay down
Your sweet and weary head
Night is falling
You have come to journey's end
Sleep now
And dream of the ones who came before
They are calling
From across a distant shore
Why do you weep?
What are these tears upon your face?
Soon you will see
All of your fears will pass away

Safe in my arms
You're only sleeping

What can you see
On the horizon?
Why do the white gulls call?
Across the sea
A pale moon rises
The ships have come to carry you home
And all will turn
To silver-glass
A light on the water
Grey ships pass
Into the West

This was my favorite of the three soundtracks.  The song is a melancholy mix of hope and wistful regret, a sort of nascent nostalgia as Frodo realizes his journey is over and, while weary, is sad to see it end.  I felt the same sort of thing at the end of my time as a missionary, and I felt it again as I sat in the airport waiting to return to the states.  

So the Lord of the Rings is about journeys, specifically, Frodo's journey to Mount Doom, but also Aragorn's journey to his destiny as King.  These journeys can be perilous in and of themselves, but as Bilbo warned his nephew "It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door.  You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to."

Now I find myself, like Frodo, back home in the West, carried by grey ships that fly so high that the water in the clouds appeared as silver-glass.  And like Frodo, I find myself unable to recognize my old haunts.  Did Provo change so much in a year?  So many of my friends are gone, graduated, married, or moved on that where once I could not walk five minutes without seeing a friendly face, now I see only strangers.  Or is it myself that has changed?  I feel that sense of isolation that is so common a trope for the hero of a travel-tale upon returning home.  

Was Thomas Wolfe right when he said "You Can't Go Home Again?"

My brother and I walking our hobbit sized nephew home...