13 October, 2017

Sex, Gender, and Halloween Costumes

Halloween is the time of year for feminists and mommy bloggers the web over to complain about how attractive girls' costumes are (I hate to resort to cheap insults, but it really supports the impression that much of this criticism is motivated by bitter jealousy), and bemoan their alleged lack of choices compared to boys (in spite of the oft-ignored fact that nothing is stopping a girl from wearing a costume made for a boy - in fact, she'd have better success than if the genders were flipped). I've always felt that this "crisis" was overblown, but I must admit, I do take a perverse delight in monitoring the controversy. Every year, I enjoy browsing through all the girls' Halloween costumes on display (sitting in store fronts, advertised in web banners), because, as someone who is enraptured with femininity - especially the "girly" sort that children embrace but adult women are largely socialized to grow out of - to me they seem to represent everything that makes girls so amazing - the proverbial sugar and spice, and everything nice.

Arguments can be made about how many of these costumes are inappropriately "sexualized" (see: Monster High, essentially the horror version of Bratz dolls), but I believe this criticism, too, is overexaggerated, and depends so largely on a subjective interpretation of "sexiness". To what extent are the qualities we admire in girls (e.g., "cuteness" and "prettiness") an immature manifestation - in the sense that their youth and innocence is connected via an unbroken chain through a process of physiological metamorphosis into the adults they will someday become - of the same qualities that men will be attracted to when they are fully grown? (One might argue, as this image demonstrates, that it is not the costume that makes the girl sexy, but the girl that makes the costume sexy). They're not the same, perhaps, but are they related? I would argue that they are, more so than most would like to admit (i.e., that children share more similarities with adults than they do with sexless objects), which is the source of much of our instinctive anxiety surrounding youth and sexuality.

I'm a proponent of education in lieu of enforced ignorance. Why shouldn't we teach girls about the power their bodies hold, if it's something they're going to have to deal with sooner or later (and, despite anyone's protests, most likely sooner rather than later)? The lessons shouldn't come all at once - which means that you shouldn't wait until it's too late and hope they'll figure it out overnight any more than you should dump unnecessary baggage on them while they're still too young to process it. (This is where I must caution parents that if you neglect your child's education, she will pick it up on the street instead). Girls are bound to start experimenting with their sexuality eventually. Instead of trying futilely to cork the bottle, we should focus on what it all means, and how it should be handled. Because what we're talking about here isn't an avoidable pattern of evil, it's a fact of life - however uncomfortable it might make you feel. And a miniskirt on a child is no more an invitation for inappropriate behavior than it is on an adult woman.

So, at the risk of adding fuel to the feminists' fire (because I'm not interested in obscuring reality just to prove a point - I don't want to debate what the facts are, just how they could be interpreted), I've compiled a comparison of several costumes across genders, marketed to children. I think the differences are illuminating, but they're also precious. And while it's readily apparent that Halloween costumes do indeed play to gendered stereotypes (I would sum it up as "boys like action" - which is a gentler way of saying "violence" - and "girls like fashion"), one must acknowledge that they are a commercial product. Companies sell what consumers are buying. To use an analogy: ultimately, it is not the tobacco industry, but tobacco that primarily sells cigarettes. If most boys like action, and most girls like fashion, who can complain if that's what costume companies market to them? Certainly, there is no rule saying that if you are a boy, you have to wear a costume that's violent, or if you are a girl, you have to wear a costume that's stylish.

And if girls' costumes feature a disproportionate amount of tulle skirts and spaghetti straps, it's because that's what girls like to wear. This isn't restricted to Halloween costumes - take a look at the girls' section in your local department store. Girls like to be pretty. Girls like to be fashionable. Nor is it uncommon for them to imitate adults (especially on a holiday that gives them an opportunity to try on a new identity, just for a day) - what exactly do you think it means for them to be playing with baby dolls, after all? It's not some shady plot by upper society elites to sexualize little girls' bodies. It's human nature. If, like a lot of people, you have a problem with that - with the way little girls like to dress - that's one thing. But it's pretty short-sighted to pin all the blame on Halloween costumes. Although, to be fair, a lot of these arguments that come from conservative quarters do expand their complaints to cover the entire "moral degradation" of society - or, at the very least, the evil exploits of the bloodsucking advertising industry (you know, the one that invented the word "tween"). Dancewear is another frequent target - as far as Halloween goes, and ignoring the many off-topic costumes that seem to be modeled after a ballerina's tutu, girls can choose from Arabian, Flapper, Disco, and even Burlesque!

I mean, I'm not saying that I don't see how someone could interpret some of these costumes as being "sexualized". But what gets me is that I'm not sure I understand how that's any different from saying that they're "sexy" - and isn't that kind of problematic? You may consider it "inappropriate" for a little girl to wear fishnet tights, because of the meaning they hold in your mind, but ultimately, it's just a piece of clothing. Why does it bother you? Because it gives you inappropriate thoughts targeted on a child? If we are compelled to view children as perfectly sexless beings, then why should it matter what they wear? I feel like there's a serious cognitive distortion going on here. Either the costumes are bad because the children are sexy, or the costumes are fine because the children can't be sexy. Or, you know, maybe we could all just be mature adults and let children have their fun in whatever they want to wear, and not shatter their innocence by obsessing over how we judge their bodies. No?

At any rate, it seems like there is much more disparity between the sexiness of men's and women's costumes when you get into the adult category. This, too, is a reflection of our culture, but it's not as though there aren't plenty of women's costumes that aren't specifically designed to be sexy, especially if you don't hypocritically rule out unisex costumes as an option for women just because they aren't feminine enough to register as being "for women". I wonder if there aren't two separate issues at play here - the sexiness of adult women's costumes, and the enforced gender roles inherent to many children's costumes marketed to girls (a.k.a., the pretty pink princess effect) - that are getting mashed together to create the illusion of a third problem: sexy children's costumes. From what I've seen (and in fairness, I will admit that, as someone who likes sexy and/or frilly costumes, and isn't really looking for anything else in the Halloween store, I may be understating the problem), I'd say that the issue either isn't as pronounced as the nitpickers make it sound, or that retailers have done a good job of curtailing the most egregious offenders in recent years, and people have just gone on about it because they like having something to complain about.

Certainly, there have been questionable costumes made for kids (one wonders, for example, whose idea it was to wrap a little girl up in a Twister mat, with the "right hand red" positioned suggestively over her chest - something that would seem more appropriate for a college party than trick or treating grade schoolers), but the market generally corrects itself, and I consider it more of a humorous misstep than evidence of a great social evil bubbling under the surface of modern civilization. For example, I admit that this is pure speculation, but it would seem that Party City may have responded to complaints about their Fallen Angel costume by hiring a less lithe young model and toning down the makeup and fetish boots (for what that's worth - I don't know how comfortable a conservative mommy would be with either version of the costume), as if they'd realized they were shooting product photography (for kids, no less), and not high fashion glamour. (Although it's a bit of a foreign concept to me as an aesthetic artist to reach a point where you have to avoid pursuing what looks good in a photograph, just because it crosses some arbitrary line of propriety).

Ironically, though feminists complain that girls' choices are limited, they tend to spend more time campaigning for the elimination of some of their options (the ones they don't like), and criticizing anyone who chooses those options (as dupes of the "patriarchy" - hapless victims of the male gaze), rather than embracing the freedom of choice, and emphasizing the possibility that girls may simply shop in the boys' section, if they'd prefer to. What these people should be railing against isn't the fact that these are the costumes stores are selling, but that society expects girls and boys to shop according to their gender (to the extent that they actually do - I would argue that boys, not girls, suffer from greater rigidity in this context).

If you wanted to change the way the aisles are labeled - replacing the word "boys" with "action", and the word "girls" with "fashion" (or something like that), I would support that endeavor (although, where would you put the costumes that are fierce and fashionable?) - and if I were a bit younger, I'd even volunteer to model some of the frillier costumes, as a boy. But suggesting that there is something wrong or inappropriate about selling "pretty" Halloween costumes to girls - costumes that involve things like bows and ruffles, tulle and tights - or even about marketing those things to the audience that's most likely, statistically speaking, to buy them (i.e., girls), then I'm sorry, but you're off your gourd. Thankfully, though, that's not what consumers appear to be buying. And now, at the risk of possibly shooting myself in the foot, here are those costume comparisons I promised. Note that I am leaving out any costumes clearly marketed to teens (as opposed to "tweens" or children). Like it or not, teens are sexual creatures. This is not open to debate. Hell, some of them are even legal!

Horror Classics
Ghost, Skeleton, Mummy, Zombie
Vampire/Witch, Werewolf

Batman, Robin, Superman, The Flash
Spiderman/Wonder Woman, Captain America

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Action vs. Fashion
Pirates, Ninjas, Ancient Greek, Medieval
Link/Zelda, Peter Pan/Tinkerbell

Army, Police, Cowboys
Indians, Rabbit, Mad Hatter

On average, the primary differences between boys' and girls' costumes are as follows: girls' costumes typically replace pants with skirts (which is entirely conventional, and hardly scandalous), tend to have brighter colors (often including pink), and while boys' costumes opt for total immersion into the character, girls' costumes tend to emphasize the features of the girl wearing the costume - arms, legs, and especially hair and faces. This is probably the most egregious difference - and could be argued to contribute to girls' self-consciousness about their appearance (we're not allowed to talk about the rippling muscles drawn onto some of the boys' superhero costumes), although I would argue that this is merely a symptom, and not a significant cause, of our culture and/or the biological differences between the genders (depending on your position in the nature vs. nurture debate). However, I would caution that this may be a hasty generalization, and it is still true that nothing is stopping a girl who wants to become a werewolf, and not simply "dress up" like one, from buying the boys' costume. On the other hand, if a boy wanted to wear a tattered skirt and a furry hood with ears, he'd likely be laughed out of the classroom by his peers. So forgive me if I have little respect for the feminists' argument, when they so willfully ignore the concerns of half the population in their crusade for "equality".

The one other major difference is one that isn't so clear in these comparisons (although you can see hints of it in the Link/Zelda, Peter Pan/Tinkerbell, and Ancient Greek/Medieval comparisons), which is the type (and multitude) of costumes available by gender. For example, there are a lot more pirate and ninja costumes marketed to boys, and hardly any witch or fairy costumes, which are all marketed to girls. You can't really fault costume makers for adhering to the gendered standards of historical and fictional characters - e.g., the fact that knights were men and princesses were women, and these were the social roles boys and girls probably looked up to. Again, it's not as though we can't subvert those standards by having a boy dress up like a princess, and a girl wearing a suit of armor, and there are certainly examples of genderbent or unisex costumes on the market. Although I found hardly any Spiderman costumes marketed to girls, and there seems to be a dearth of Wonder Woman costumes marketed to boys, most of the heavy hitters - Batman, Superman, and some of the Avengers - offer feminized versions of the boys' costumes, as well as the female version of the superhero (e.g., a girls' Superman costume in addition to a Supergirl costume), which I think goes at least a little of the way in making up for the fact that girl superheroes tend to be dominated by the likes of Harley Quinn, Catwoman, Poison Ivy, and such (not that I dislike those characters, but I can see how they could be considered "vamp"-ish). Still, the overwhelming impression to me is the sheer multitude of options available to girls.

Interestingly, there are more devil costumes for girls than for boys. I wonder if this is due to the church's influence (albeit via the vehicle of customer complaints). If so, it's telling that conservative audiences would be more outraged by the suggestion of a boy donning the mask of Lucifer (all in good fun), than the idea that a girl could be seduced (and subsequently become the seducer, by the look of some of these costumes) by the lure of sin. Although, to be fair, this is biblical canon. Perhaps conservatives are so stuck on the importance of girls' modesty because they secretly believe in their hearts that the soul of woman is inherently corrupt. How come this institutional misogyny never comes up in these discussions?

There also seems to be more varieties of zombie costumes for girls (although this is admittedly a thin margin). I would hypothesize (from witnessing some local zombie walks) that zombies may actually be more popular among girls, because, in spite of their gruesomeness, they tend to involve a lot of makeup, which is something that girls typically like to play around with. Or, maybe there's a secret society of upper elites trying to push necrophilia onto an unsuspecting public. (Yeah, right).

A couple notes on specific costumes:

The bunny costume is probably one of the most damning comparisons in this group. The boy is in a pretty standard fur suit, great for imagination play, while the girl looks like she's trying out for Hef's junior squad...

The police officer costume is another pretty damning comparison, as the boy looks like an actual police officer, while the girl looks like something out of a porno (the beginning, mind you - before the clothes come off). But in fairness, the boys' costume is not actually marketed as such, and even includes additional images of a girl wearing it. You might object to the very existence of the girls' version of the costume, but you can't say that girls have limited options. Also, most of these costumes do not include shoes, so even though many of them have been shot with the questionable choice of dressing the young models in impractical footwear, this is probably not what most girls will actually wear with these costumes.

In conclusion, I'd have to say that in the vast majority of cases, where the girls' version of a costume differs significantly from the boys' version, it's usually to create a more fashionable, girlier, prettified version of the costume. The "sexiness" of these costumes is open to debate, but they certainly adhere to gender stereotypes. I'm just not sure this is a big problem. How else are you going to market costumes to girls, other than to make girlier versions of them? I understand that this presupposes a certain gendered imperative, and the idea that boys are normal and the default, while girls are a variation on that - although, why assume girls are an inferior substitute; can't they be an exceptional alternative? Because I like girls, and that's how I see it.

But as someone who identifies as transgender (and is enamored of stereotypically female gender cues), I don't want to abolish gender - just the imperative that says that if you are a particular sex, you have to conform to the corresponding gender. I wish we had different words for sex and gender (or would come to a consensus about the words we already use - for example, using male and female only to refer to one's biological sex, while using the terms "boy", "girl", "guy", "man", "woman", etc. as a descriptor of a person's gender identity and/or presentation regardless of their sex).

But in the meantime, exposure to the transgender perspective, and more emphasis on the fact that it's okay for girls and boys not to conform to gendered expectations (which is something we definitely need to do a better job of teaching kids), is better for society than complaining and campaigning against the existence of costumes you simply don't like, and thereby limiting our and our children's freedom of choice. Because you might think that someone else has made a bad decision, but free will (as the religious like to argue) depends on people's freedom to make those bad decisions. And besides, you're no less fallible a human being than anybody else; what gives you the confidence to arrogantly exclaim that your choice is the right one for anyone else? Surprise me by showing a little humility for once.

22 September, 2017

Planting Bamboo

I'm working on constructing a privacy screen using fast-growing bamboo. Out of the various species rated for growing in pots (which provides relative mobility - since we don't own the property - and avoids the potential for out-of-control growth), we chose Phyllostachys Bissetii, for its cold hardiness (so it will survive and stay green through the winter), high tolerance (so there's less chance of us accidentally killing it), height (for quicker vertical growth), and, of course, price ($44-$64 per plant, depending on the size you order). I ordered the 3 gallon size plants, to save a year of waiting for them to grow up, and their tallest canes are already a good 10 feet tall (being as flexible as they are, they were doubled over in their shipping packages) - although they still need to fill out quite a bit.

For planting, we chose 26" round wooden barrels ($35 ea @ Home Depot) to give the plants plenty of room to grow into. Following Lewis Bamboo's instructions (when it comes to bamboo, they really know their shit), and assuming an approximately 20 gallon container (leaving some space at the top), for each plant we mixed 75% top soil (15 gallons or 2 cubic feet of Miracle Gro Moisture Control Potting Mix), 20% organic (4 gallons Black Kow Composted Manure, measured out in one of Homer's 5 gallon All-Purpose Buckets), and 5% Bio Char (about half of a 32 oz package of 18-5-12 Time Release bamboo fertilizer, sold by Lewis Bamboo).

I hope they like their new home, and survive their first winter. It will be exciting to see the new canes shoot up in the spring! Some species have been documented to grow nearly four feet in twenty four hours (but only during their spring growth phase). Although we're planning to cap the new growths at not much more than ten feet, in the hope that the plant will redistribute its energy to filling out instead of shooting up. I was concerned about covering that 6-10 foot gap above the fence in our yard sooner rather than later, but in hindsight, I might have chosen a shorter yet bushier species instead. Still, we'll see what happens as it grows.

Visit lewisbamboo.com to learn all sorts of fun facts about bamboo, or even get your own!

31 August, 2017

Dorm You Remember Me

When I look back on my college days, I have to remember that it wasn't all sunshine and rainbows. I'm no stranger to the manipulative effects of nostalgia. I specifically remember standing in my dorm at one point, senior year, and thinking to myself, "I'm going to miss this. The bad parts will fade into obscurity, and the good parts are the ones my mind will keep coming back to. But there were bad parts. I had the worst depression of my life during these years. I'm still not completely over it. Yet, overall, I enjoyed it. I had fun."

And I still look back on those years fondly. For better and worse, I was on my own. For the most part. It may have been a bubble. But I could lead my own life. I decided when to get up, when and what to eat. It was my own responsibility to get to class. I alone would suffer if I didn't make it. It felt like having my destiny in my own hands, and that if things went wrong, it was my fault, and my fault only, and within my control to change. No parents shepherding me around.

And I was surrounded by peers. People who, generally speaking, were not poor. Were not dumb. They had dreams and aspirations, and they had the potential to achieve them. And I had friends. True friends. Although not many of them, but it only takes one or two. I had friends that came and went during my earlier school years. But it was different then. We were just kids. Hanging out at school. Occasionally at our parents' houses. In college, it was my life. My choices.

I suppose I could have that now, out in the real world, now that I'm an adult. But it's different. This world is different from a college campus. People working the daily grind, not expanding their consciousness on a daily basis. You don't have all your basic necessities huddled together within walking distance, in a pristine, groomed landscape. You have to drive around places. Through the urban decay. Among people who are not the cream of the crop, the best and the brightest. Among people who aren't making it very well in life. People who are sick, poor, dumb, and without passion.

And you've become one of them, just struggling to get by. Wasting your time and your talents searching for an opiate to dull the pain and the boredom - regardless of whether that's illicit drugs, or something less physically destructive, like absorbing yourself into a world of fantasy, under the guise of an alternate identity. The results may look different, but the reason is the same. And they both take you away from that ideal utopia that was drilled into your head by your parents as you were growing up. You're so smart. You're so attractive. You can accomplish anything, if you put your mind to it.

Well, I suppose two out of three ain't bad. Except nowadays it seems like being smart and attractive in a sick, sad world is just another form of torture exacted by a cruel and indifferent god. Well, maybe the smart part. Being attractive still and always has been a nice life hack to getting things you don't deserve. And maybe my principles are being dulled by the wisdom that comes from life experience, but I'm not bothered by that, because I favor pretty things myself. Maybe that makes me superficial, but there's nothing superficial about being happy, and if that's what makes you happy, well...then why the hell are you so sad?

28 August, 2017

The Pursuit

The one thing I just can't understand about life is that, within all of this misery - some of it self-inflicted, much of it not - when we find something good, something we like, something we enjoy, and that makes us happy, we always come up with reasons why we can't have it. We don't have enough money, there aren't enough resources to go around, our health won't permit it, it's not "appropriate", it's not compatible with what the other people in your life want or need...

Happiness is so hard to come by. When we happen upon it, why can't we let ourselves enjoy it? I mean, I know there's a balance to life. Even the very laws of physics impose certain restrictions, and human emotions are not logical. You have to work, you have to take care of your body, and your mind. You have to treat other people with respect, too. But beyond that, life is something we construct for ourselves. (I mean, this thing you call "society"? It's just a bunch of hairless apes playing house. Money is so important, and yet it only has as much meaning as we collectively agree to ascribe to it). And it's so short. And there are bad parts to it that we just can't avoid. So why can't we structure it so that we can at least capitalize on the good parts?

I honestly can't say whether the fact that I seem unable to live the life I truly want to lead is more because I'm trapped in the prison of my own mind, or if it's more the result of society imposing its laws and regulations (designed to subjugate the many for the benefit of the few). No doubt both forces are involved. Life is just a long series of compromises.

26 July, 2017

The Excesses of Advertising

Or "Shared Endorsements"

Maybe it's not so strange that this is the second post in a row on this blog on the subject of advertising (and I swear it has nothing to do with me watching Mad Men - as the internet has changed everything in this field), but it seems pretty ironic to me, because it's not something I concern myself with very much. Until lately, I guess.

You see, a lot of people complain about companies violating your privacy online. I've always maintained a fairly liberal approach to the sharing of information. Perhaps I've been naive - I mean, I know information of any kind can be abused, but I genuinely think these companies are just pursuing their commercial agenda - to increase profits. Not that that, by itself, is a good thing (I am anti-capitalist), or doesn't involve a lot of potential harmful side effects, just that it doesn't necessarily mean that they're maliciously trying to screw us over. And, frankly, I like getting targeted ads about things I've searched for and am interested in.

But I just got a Walmart ad on my Facebook page for something my roommate googled (anonymously, by the way) on her phone earlier in the day. And this might just be the last straw. See, I don't mind the internet sending me targeted ads based on my interests. What I don't want is it sending those ads that are meant for me, to somebody else. Even if it's because we used the same internet connection. People share internet connections all the time. It doesn't mean that I want what I do on the privacy of my own computer to be shared among the "household" (especially if that household includes the apartment across the hall, or everybody else leeching off of a communal wifi hotspot).

And, I mean, you can go through and turn off a bunch of settings on this or that service (provided you can figure out who the offender is - is it Walmart? Is it Facebook? Is it Google?). But how can you possibly know that you're not missing something? Besides, what I'm really concerned about is not the behavior on my screen, but the behavior on somebody else's screen, and I can't change their settings. I don't actually want to change how the company caters their service to me, I just want to make sure that information isn't leaking out somewhere it doesn't belong. In other words, I don't necessarily want to stop getting ads, I just want to stop my ads from being sent to other people. I tell you, I have half a mind to stop using Google altogether and instead choose a different, more obscure search engine with a better reputation for privacy and anonymity (hello, DuckDuckGo).

Look, I'm an open and honest guy. I'm also guarded - I don't open up to just anyone (my semi-anonymous internet life notwithstanding). But I view honesty and transparency as a virtue in and of itself. I'd love to live in a world where nobody has any secrets because nobody needs to have any secrets - because everybody accepts each other for who they are. But that's not the world we live in. I don't want my neighbors potentially knowing intimate details about my life - like, say, medical conditions I might have, or some of my more fringe sexual interests (especially in this backwater, conservative community) - because I searched for related items on Google or other sites.

I've always been of the opinion that I don't care if some faceless goon in a warehouse on the other side of the planet knows certain details about my life in order to better direct relevant ads to me as part of some impersonal, corporate strategy. But I don't want people I run into in my daily life - whether they're people I know, but haven't opened up to the point of telling my deepest, inner secrets to, or strangers who have no business knowing that much about me in the first place - having access to any of this private information. See, it's not my concern that these companies collect this information. That's natural. It's my concern who they give it to. And until now, I thought that only included shadowy government organizations, in cases that are probably more or less warranted (no, I don't trust the government, but I'm also a realist - I know they're not out to get me). But now, it's personal. Consider the camel's back broken.

P.S. I like the conveniences of the modern web, but this is beginning to get ridiculous. I posted an image to Facebook recently, and the site automatically attached my real name to my face. I didn't approve of this. I deleted the tag, of course, but that doesn't change the fact that some machine out there has the ability to identify pictures of me on sight - a machine that knows my real name, and god knows what else it may have gleaned from scanning my Facebook account (at the very least).

Although, again, I'm very open in my life - I don't broadcast, because not everyone wants to know (and this information isn't appropriate in all situations), but I wouldn't hide the fact that I like to pose for pornographic pictures from anyone if they asked me directly. I just don't want random strangers on the internet, who I might enjoy having an anonymous "acquaintanceship" with online, to necessarily have my real name, home address, and social security number without me volunteering that information (which I would normally only give to people I trust on a case by case basis).

I guess you could say I'm having mixed feelings about the personalization of the internet. There are definite advantages, but drawbacks too. I'd like to be able to trust that mankind will approach these changes with dignity and respect, but I know too much about human nature to convince myself of that delusion. At any rate, it's an interesting time to be alive. For better or worse.

P.P.S. At the intersection of targeted advertising and facial recognition, I was googling (oops, my mistake) facial recognition technology and I came across this chilling gem: "Microsoft has patented a billboard that identifies you as you walk by and serves ads personalized to your purchase history." Great, so, now when I'm walking down the street I can have the fact that I recently bought adult diapers (not really, but it's a plausible and embarrassing scenario) broadcast on a huge screen for everyone in the vicinity to see. Horrifying.

18 June, 2017

The Limits of Advertising

I got to meet a celebrity this past weekend, which was exciting. But what's sad is how easily I could have missed this rare opportunity, if not for pure happenstance. Consider this: I'm a horror fan. And not just a casual horror fan. The kind that has reviewed hundreds of horror films for a personal blog dedicated (mostly) to horror. Furthermore, I'm a dedicated fan of The Walking Dead (both TV and comic). And while it would be cool to meet, e.g., Andrew Lincoln, or Norman Reedus, or what have you, I'd cherish more the opportunity to meet an actor who plays one of my favorite, if less popular, characters. At the top of that list would be Madison Lintz - who played Sophia and featured in one of my favorite and most heartbreaking scenes from the early seasons of the show - whom I have, in fact, met - a few years ago. But next in line would be Addy Miller, who, despite only featuring in a single scene, is the sort who, you might say, makes an impression. She was the first walker any of us ever saw, in the show's beginning minutes, even before the opening credits rolled in the pilot episode (setting the unflinching mood of the series). She was the "teddy bear girl" in pajamas, shuffling around in her bunny slippers, that Rick meets at the gas station. You can buy Halloween costumes modeled after her.

For kids and adults!

What I'm saying, basically, is that I'm exactly the sort of person you'd want to target in any kind of marketing strategy for an event featuring a celebrity appearance by Addy Miller, as I would jump on that opportunity without hesitation (as demonstrated this weekend). Yet I found out about it purely by accident, on the off chance that I happened to be visiting the mall one week prior to the event, and saw the sign for it before it was too late. Can you imagine my disappointment if I had learned after the fact that, beyond my wildest dreams, Addy Miller had been right in my metaphorical backyard (and trust me, this is the middle of nowhere - nobody comes here), and I had missed out on meeting her?

I'm sure that the people running this event were hoping for a good turnout (participation yields profit, which also ensures that things like this can happen again in the future), and were trying to reach out to as many people as possible who might have been interested in coming. But it just goes to show the limitations of advertising, that a person like me - your ideal mark - could have so easily slipped through the cracks, if I hadn't happened to decide to visit the mall that day. (Otherwise, I would have been out of town on the day of the event). I'm guessing that the event coordinators were counting on random passersby in the mall to notice the sign and decide to drop by, because "why not, it might be fun!" Meanwhile, I'm the sort who'd be planning ahead and looking forward to it, and I might not have even known it was happening!

Is there a more efficient solution to the problem of targeting advertisements to the people who are most likely to respond to them? I don't know. Granted, I'm pretty socially isolated - I don't hear a lot of word of mouth buzz, and I'm not tied in to a lot of networking services, either; so maybe it's my own damn fault. Surely it would have helped if I'd been following the mall's Facebook page. But I don't care to check Facebook every day. And what about all the fluff I'd have to sift through? I mean, I could be following Addy Miller's schedule of appearances (if she has such a thing), but out of the, I don't know, hundreds of appearances she makes in any given time frame, how few would even be relevant to me? For all I know, there's only been the one hit in the last seven years since she was on the show!

Besides, how would I have even known that this was something I wanted to look for? Out of all the possible things I could be interested in, great and small? While it's an opportunity I wouldn't have missed, it's not something I was prepared to, for example, drive to the New York Comic Con for. I feel like you'd need some kind of a smart service that knows my interests and where I live, to cater to me personally. Which is kind of the way advertising is going these days, what with sites saving your browsing history and such. Like, the fact that I just spent an hour googling Addy Miller should clue my personalized ad-crawling bot in to the fact that I might be interested when she's scheduled to show up at a mall within a ten mile radius of where I live, that I visit semi-regularly. Ya know?

I know, doomsayers like to cite this as an example of how we're all being spied on for nefarious purposes; but while the possibility that this data could be abused is very real, I don't think most major corporations are necessarily doing it for those reasons, and there are potential advantages to be had. I mean, I'm not unconcerned that with the right motivation, the government could probably put a pretty damning profile together on just about anyone, based on a selective interpretation of their browsing habits. Given a choice, I'd rather have privacy than convenience (because no matter how closely a government agent scrutinizes your life under a microscope, he's not going to get the full, human picture). But it's worth looking at both sides of the coin. Naivety and malice are not equivalent, even if they do end up accomplishing the same objective sometimes.

Oh well, I guess I can just count this as an example of the happenstance in life, and how serendipitous it can be to find yourself in the right place at the right time.

Oh, and maybe how it's totally worth it to get out of the house sometimes, too. ^_^;

30 May, 2017

The Warm Thrill of Confusion

I hate politics. I wish they would just go away already. But we live in extremely politicized times, and it's becoming ever harder to stay silent. Which sucks, because most people are idiots, and should really just keep their damn mouths shut. But that's precisely why I think it's counterproductive for smart people to keep quiet and let the idiots dominate the conversation, even though I'd really just prefer not to get involved in this fools' game. I honestly can't decide whether it'd be better to step aside and watch Homo sapiens destroy itself, or make a futile gesture to insinuate myself into their nihilistic pursuits. But as an alien who has been stranded on this planet, with no way of getting home or even contacting my kind, my fate is inextricably linked with the fate of these overly self-important apes. And so what other choice do I have? Even if, in the long run, it changes nothing.

As much as I try very hard to avoid the news (as the new Yardbirds sang, "please don't tell me 'bout the news"), I just can't seem to escape it (thank you, Facebook - which, like some stereotypical Thanksgiving dinner, can't decide whether to be a forum for friends and family to keep up to date on their lives, or a place for everyone to vent their political frustrations and practice armchair activism). And so, Entertainment Weekly (which I browse casually for updates on TV/movies that might interest me - but only because my roommate subscribes to it) reports on the recent Ariana Grande tragedy. It's terrible that there is senseless suffering in the world - I get that - but I'm concerned with how we react to it. And I've been concerned at our approach to terrorism since at least the aftermath of 9/11, which happened over 15 years ago already. Allow me to juxtapose two short passages from the article as an effective demonstration of the point I wish to make:

"One music-industry veteran tells EW that...'the zone of security [eventually] ends. It's outside the venue where it gets tricky. If this happened in New York City, you don't get patted down going into the subway.'"

"One music-industry source tells EW, 'With security, it depends on the show and where you're going. Sometimes you get wanded and sometimes you don't. I would certainly hope that would change. Everybody needs to think about security measures going forward.'"

So, let me get this straight. An attack happens outside of security checkpoints, and our response is to make those security checkpoints even stricter? When it's clear that this specific action would not have prevented or even lessened the severity of this attack? At the very least, I'd think that the fact that these attacks keep happening (the article itself lists three other serious attacks that have occured just in the past few years), might prove that the countermeasures we've elected aren't having much of an effect. Who is responsible for re-evaluating the efficacy of these social control programs? Years ago I linked a paper on so-called "Black Swan Criminology" - the theory that shit happens, and that it's tragic, but reactionary policies (enacted with fanfare while emotions are still running high) are often only effective at assuaging people's fears - unfortunately by restricting their liberties - while not actually accomplishing anything to prevent these crimes from happening in the future. We have separation of church and state (if we at most only pay lip service to it); we should have separation of social policy and emotion, too.

Here's my reactionary diatribe:

The police state and terrorism have a symbiotic relationship. An authoritarian government loves a successful terrorist act, because it gives them an excuse (that no one will question, at the risk of seeming unsympathetic) to enact more Draconian measures to further control its citizens' lives, while not actually making the execution of terrorist acts any more difficult (because that would be counterproductive). Meanwhile, the public goes along with this, mumbling the Orwellian chorus of "not letting the terrorists win" while simultaneously contributing to the terrorists' goal of whittling away at our freedoms, because they're too stupid to know the difference. But it's not their faults, because they've been trained by an education system (that runs suspiciously like a prison) adopted from a totalitarian regime, to memorize and recite back anything their instructors tell them, while suppressing independence and critical thought.

I realize this makes me sound like a conspiracy theorist, but it doesn't mean the government and the terrorists are working together (necessarily) - it just means that they have similar aims. And if your government has similar aims as terrorists and that doesn't horrify you, then you need to go sit in the corner and think long and hard about that for a while.