Saturday, July 17, 2010

Propaganda in the American World

While perusing Yahoo News the other day, I stumbled across an article: Iowa Billboard linking Obama, Hitler removed. The Iowa Tea Party group had put up a sign that likened Obama, Adolf Hitler and Vladmir Lenin as “radical leaders [that] prey on the fearful and naïve”. After reading the article, I was surprised, shocked even. The billboard was a perfect example of propaganda. And I will admit that I was surprised to see something like it, here in the United States, in 2010. As I’m sure most Americans will agree, the billboard was ridiculous. Comparing Obama to Hitler and Lenin? How is Hitler, founder of the Nazi party and the man responsible for the Holocaust and its 17 million deaths comparable to our president, Barack Obama? I was horrified by this notion. Mr. Obama IS our president and we may disagree with or dislike him, but advertising that Obama will be the next Hitler or Lenin is ridiculous. In my opinion, and I hope most will agree, saying Obama is comparable to Hitler, is an outrageous lie. I’m sure the Iowa tea party group knew this, but they did not create their advertisement to publish the truth. They put up their sign to inspire hate.

This Iowa billboard exemplifies extreme propaganda, and that is what makes it different from other political advertisements. This sign did not show true statistics or facts, nor was it put up simply to dissuade people from supporting Obama. It publicized a false analogy between our president and the evil Hitler, and its intent was to shock Americans and encourage them to fear President Obama. What’s ironic is that the headline of the billboard (“Radical leaders prey on the fearful and the naïve”) is more applicable to the Iowa Tea Party group, than it is to Obama. They put up an obviously radical, shocking advertisement with the intent of frightening Americans into hating Obama. The billboard paints Obama as the enemy, and puts him in the same boat as Hitler, a man generally feared for all his evil work. The idea of someone similar to Hitler running our country conjures up terror and the Tea Party wanted to convince people that this is the case; we should all hate Obama, he’s going to be the next Hitler.

In any case, I was shocked that this propaganda had been released, as I found it so utterly ridiculous. But, did all Americans feel this way? Would this extreme and untrue billboard actually convince anyone? Can we all see through its falseness? I certainly hope so and I have faith that we Americans can see its absurdity.

~ Olivia

Friday, July 16, 2010

East Coast, West Coast

This summer I have found myself spending a considerable deal of time in New England. I have always loved this area of our country, where I had family before they moved out West five years ago. However, it was only this summer that the acute differences of the East Coast from the West dawned on me.

For starters, the uniform. In California, people gravitate toward flowy, bohemian looks, as is often the local trend. The clothes show more skin. Personal style also seems to differ more substantially from person to person. In certain areas of New England, however - Hyannisport, Nantucket, not so much the larger cities but more the quiet beach towns - one look rules out the rest. The khakis; the Ralph Lauren polos; the unfathomably white, freshly-pressed dress shirts; the apparent lack of denim - all the stereotypes run true. In the land of high-profile politicians such as the Kennedy clan (whose famed compound is located in Hyannisport) and John Kerry (whom I sighted in Nantucket), everything is clean and crisp and, I have to say, pretty good-looking. It is strange, however, to see such a universal style of dress.*

*[As for Nantucket at least, the physical isolation of the island may contribute to its striking uniformity in style.]

The homes, too. Once again, way more uniformity than on the West. The houses are overwhelmingly Colonial: white with green doors and windows, white with navy doors and windows, and variations thereof. While homes in California, Arizona, and Nevada often seem predominantly mission-style, you also see more traditional models.

Lastly, the East Coast seemed to have a significantly less whiny attitude to the weather - at least compared to me and my clan. After arriving in Hingham, Massachusetts to around 99% humidity and 110-degree heat (yes, I'm from the Bay Area, this is a complete exaggeration), I was shocked at how curly my hair was, how slick my skin was, and how eager I was to locate water fountains and air-conditioning. In seasonless San Francisco, the weather - or lack thereof - is rarely a consideration. But in Hingham, there are about a million fans in each room, and plenty of snow shovels come winter. They're tougher there; they adapt better. I found myself full of admiration for their adept handling of the circumstances.

All this, I'm sure, sounds familiar. It's exactly what you've heard before: the East is the land of the prepsters, and the West is the land of the hipsters; when Californians are wakeboarding and stand-up paddling, New Englanders are sailing; etc., etc. But what are the more subtle differences you've noticed from coast to coast? I'd love to hear. In the meantime, keep reading.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Is Nothing New?

In every issue of the fashion magazine InStyle, there is an article detailing the latest buzz-worthy see-it-everywhere get-on-it-now trend, from gingham to boudoir. In the corner of this two-page article there is a small column, aptly titled "Is Nothing New?" Here the author offers three or so representations of the latest trend through history. I believe it was last summer that the most ubiquitous look was safari, popularized by the spring/summer runways. And under "Is Nothing New?" was a young Lauren Hutton wearing her usual endearing gap-toothed grin along with a safari blouse. And Yves Saint Laurent's collection a couple decades back, in which he popularized the safari jacket.
Now I want to ask our readers this question: is really nothing in fashion new? It seems that so often fashion is really just a recycling of looks of the past, perhaps with a slightly more modern twist. Everything has been seen before, and is now reborn again. Every other month fashion columns shout: "Eighties revival! Crop tops and acid-wash jeans are all the rage - again!" "Woodstock returns - fringed vests and patchouli are back!"
This love of the fashion past is reflected in the nation's obsession with the fashion of Mad Men, the show on AMC about an advertisement agency in the early 60's. Watchers drool over Betty Draper's bright red lipstick and perfect hot-roller curls, falling in love with the look of the era. Meanwhile, fashion writers chronicle their adoration of Joan Holloway's shiny pumps and her modestly-cut yet form-fitting shell dresses, touting her style as "the look of understated sex appeal." It seems that in fashion, everything before is better.
I am now holding the latest issue of Marie Claire, for lack of anything better to read. On the cover is Dakota Fanning pronouncing that she is "not a little girl anymore." Around her picture are eye-catching headlines: 293 ways to update your look. The shocking latest crime against women: honor killings have come to America. New diet plan - eat your way skinny. Under all of these features is the same theme - that since this magazine is new, its articles are all about new information, new ideas, new horrors, new discoveries. Dakota Fanning is newly adult, here is how you update your style, this is the latest kind of crime, this is the newest diet.
I begin to flip through the glossy pages. First ad: Guess models, scandalous as usual, with a retro twist: the female model wears a voluminous bouffant-style wig, and the male model is a reincarnation of Elvis, all slicked-back hair and 50's charm. Ah, and a psychadelic Ray-Ban ad boasts peace signs, "NO War!" pins, and groovy colors. Oh, and there's Beyoncé wearing Old-Hollywood earrings for a L'Oreal promo. This fashion magazine brags of spanking, 100% new content - and delivers quite the opposite.
Which begs the question: is that such a bad thing?
Technology has transformed our world into something very different than that of the twenties - or even the eighties for that matter. Computers weigh 0.00009 ounces and phones do the impossible. Meanwhile, fashion seems to be a lone time warp in our modern world.
On one hand, it is perhaps frustrating that, no, not that much of what we wear is really new. But it also seems somehow right that fashion pays homage to the past so often. After all, what other institution does the same?
It is fact that we live very modernized, forwards-looking lifestyles. But the one thing that seems to keep peering into the past is fashion. The world of fashion is incredibly unique because of its nostalgia, its profound respect for times long-gone. It is, in many ways, dutiful, vowing to remember the past. With every collection that throws us back a few decades, designers salute their predecessors. When we go bananas over retro trends, we acknowledge how much we have to learn from those who came before us - from those who didn't live in a get-it-now, insta-satisfaction environment.
There is a certain comfort in the preservation of those days in our clothes. Yet more importantly, the reason history is taught in schools is so that we do not let memories we can learn from simply fade away. And every time we slap on a Depression-era newsboy cap or a pair of Wayfarers, we remind ourselves of exactly this. We announce to ourselves and to the world that we will never forget.
Is this a laughably romanticized view of the catty, often superficial, profit-based world of fashion? Let us know; we want to hear your thoughts. In the meantime, if fashion's your thing, check out this great video of Ralph Lauren's Spring/Summer 2010 show:
I stumbled upon it shopping online a while back and fell in love with both the clothes (much of it was, predictably, inspired by the late '30's) and the corresponding music (the amazing "Ramblin' Man" by Hank Williams and the solemn "Where They Never Saw Your Name" by Eilen Jewell, both of which I have happily added to my iTunes library). We'd love to hear your favorite collections of this year or years past, and know your ideas about fashion in general.
Additionally, let us know what topics you want to hear about. We're open to new ideas and discussions.

- Meredith

Pets and Oxytocin, the Cuddle Hormone

I was reading a book the other day called The Super Stress Solution. It addressed the different cocktails of hormones in our body that contribute to or alleviate stress. One oft-mentioned chemical was our old friend oxytocin.
Oxytocin, otherwise known as the love hormone or, my personal favorite, the cuddle hormone, is released with a person's touch. It multiples in women after giving birth or breastfeeding, and in the brains of both women and men after a massage or an embrace. Thus, it represents the scientific side of human bonding, both romantic and between a mother and her child. It has been known in studies to stimulate feelings of serenity, happiness, and love, dampening fear and stress and nurturing trust and security; oxytocin also bears the power to prevent depression and long-term anxiety issues. Whether the standard human levels of oxytocin differ in autistic individuals is being explored, as there is a suspected relationship between the hormone and recognition of human emotions.
As is clear, oxytocin is an empathy hormone of sorts, physically fostering connections between people. This definition raises a question, however: is oxytocin only released by a human's touch? What about people and their pets - does hugging Fido have similar benefits to hugging a partner or a friend?
Studies have already proven that pet owners live longer and are less prone to depression. More specifically, scientists have shown that those of us with dogs or cats have better overall cardiac health. After holding pets, people had healthier blood pressure and lower levels of stress.
I'm generally not a touchy-feely person. But when it comes to my many pets, I can never get enough snuggle time. I find that holding my bunnies or petting my puppy makes me feel at peace and even blissful, and it causes me to wonder: is this a possibility? Could the power of pets to release oxytocin in our brains rival that of a human's? Could the touch of an animal be therapeutic? If so, does one kind of pet have more of an effect on oxytocin than another - for example, mammals versus non-mammals, big animals versus small?
It's worth a look. In the meantime, science forgotten, no one doesn't love cuddling with a puppy when times get tough. Álit encourages organizations which bring pets to hospitals and nursing homes. If you're interested in making someone's day, look into the animal-visiting program at your local hospital, and share the wealth of your loving pet with those who need it most.

Weddings: Part I

A few weeks ago, I was reading a magazine and came across an article by Hollywood diet guru, who wrote in great detail of the art of "crash-dieting" for a special event. "There are certain times we all just need to look our best," she explained, "and that's where an occasional crash diet comes in." She went on to offer an example. "Take your wedding. This is the day you've been waiting for your entire life. We all want to be picture-ready at our nuptials; after all, the big, beautiful wedding is every girl's dream."
"Every girl's dream?" Really? Because a big, beautiful wedding has never been my dream. In fact, the idea of a wedding has never been something even mildly interesting to me. And when I came across a statistic the other day, I found myself wondering why weddings even exist.
The average cost of a wedding is $27,800. Twenty seven thousand and eight hundred dollars.
Now, this number wouldn't be so appalling if you imagined an upper-middle-class couple with little debt and proper savings. But in reality, when you compare that $27,800 with the average yearly income of a young newlywed (many of whom are still paying off school debts or even working their way through grad school), and take into account our current economic climate, it's a shocker that people are still bothering with these things.
Since weddings are one-day ceremonies, and don't affect a married couple's day-to-day quality of life, one would think they would be the first thing to go in a debt-burdened country like ours. Doesn't it go without saying that a wedding is not going to make you happy? And that if a big, beautiful wedding is really your main dream in life - a dream you're willing to sink deeper into debt for - don't you think you may have some reassessing to do?
Now, don't get me wrong. Weddings aren't all that bad. They get you nice pictures. There are lots of nice things to eat. Both the bride and groom look nicer than usual. Weddings are, in summary, nice. But I firmly believe that we need to shift the category of extravagant nuptials from necessity to luxury. If they're going to cost a whopping $27,800, they need to be reserved for those who can pay for them.
I have attended all of one wedding in my lifetime that I can actually remember. And what I remember most about this wedding was not its romance or bliss. No, I remember the price tag, as the couple themselves described it: over $100,000. And before you start to say, "Ah, they've gotta be rich, if they can pay for it, let them go for it," reconsider. They were not rich. The bride didn't have a job. The groom was - get this - in grad school. And this is the fortune they dropped on a five-hour show-off marathon of celebrity photographers and exotic soup dishes.
In the movie Valentine's Day, Ashton Kutcher's character notes that "love is the only shocking act left on the planet." Correction, Ash - love is not alone. Weddings are the most shocking acts left on the planet, and for me, the least understandable.
Now, enough of my ranting. The question to ask yourself is, "Is this how I want to begin my marriage - steeped in unpaid bills and financial stress?" If the doomed-marriage deal is what you're going for, congratulations for you. But I know for a fact that many girls have bigger dreams than that big, beautiful wedding. And I say, kudos to them. Now if only we could all adopt a little sense.

- Meredith