Something That Makes Me Smile

A Beginner’s Guide to Sherlock Fandom

Here that, Supernatural and Teen Wolf and Inception and Thor and Suits and now Skyfall and…?  This is why I avoid you on the internet. And even though I enjoyed you, X-Men and The Avengers? It’s getting a little boring.

Rating in David Tennant “oh yes”s: 4/5

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Thought Crimes

Something that really aggravates me is when people say hate crime legislation punishes people for their thoughts, for what’s in their heads.  First of all, hate crime laws aren’t the only laws that do so: how about possession of controlled substances with intent to distribute? What is intent if not another word for thoughts? And how about the distinction we make between manslaughter and murder? Again, thoughts!  So punishing people for thinking certain thoughts is hardly unprecedented or unheard of in our legal system.

Secondly though, I don’t think that’s really what hate crime laws are punishing.  When we declare someone guilty of a crime, we do it on the basis of the effects of their actions, not their intentions (thus manslaughter is a crime and victim impact statements exist).  When someone commits a hate crime, the effects are far larger than those of the same actions committed randomly, because there are repercussions for a much larger number of people.  An act of random or personal violence impacts the victim and generally those close to them (family, friends, etc.).  Perhaps in an abstract or indirect way the people physically or geographically close to the crime are affected (higher crime rates affecting property values, for instance), but that’s about it.

A bias crime, however, involves everyone who shares the characteristic(s) of the victim that led to their being targeted.  When one person is attacked because of their religion or race or sexuality, it makes everyone else of that religion, race, or sexuality more aware of their difference and the ways it puts them at risk.  It reminds them of their marginalization.

Along with the psychological effects, there can be physical consequences too: it is a well-established fact that stress is bad for one’s health, leading to heart disease among other problems (which is why African-Americans have higher rates of hypertension and heart attacks than comparable whites), and what could be more stressful than being perpetually primed for attack?  Human bodies aren’t meant to be constantly on guard, and doing so is rough on them.  There are lifestyle consequences as well: members of the targeted population change how they live in ways both large and small, from taking cabs more often to moving cities, in an effort to protect themselves.

Shouldn’t someone who triggers all this be punished for it?  Shouldn’t they be held accountable for all the lives they’ve touched?  Are these really such difficult and complicated questions?

She Don’t Know She’s Beautiful

Lately when I’ve turned on the radio I keep hearing a song about a woman who doesn’t know she’s beautiful.  It’s hardly the first time, and it’s hardly just pop songs that worship the oblivious beauty.  It’s easy to see the appeal, to both men and women.  Few women, afterall, see themselves as beautiful; the idea that maybe they could be without realizing it is incredibly enticing and basically harmless.

Looking a little deeper however, and the appeal becomes more complex.  Maybe this is just me being cynical, but it seems to me that the appeal of such a woman to a man comes down to power.  In our world, physical attractiveness opens doors and counts for a lot.  People seen as attractive make more money and are more likely to get what they want, be it a job, a spouse, or a restaurant reservation.  Certain physical traits that contribute to a conventionally attractive appearance are seen as indicative of positively valued personality characteristics; for example, slenderness is seen as indicative of self-discipline, generosity, and maturity, and blondness of playfulness, good humor, and spontenaity.  Again and again, research has shown that people who are seen as beautiful are assumed to be smarter, more capable, and just better than those who are not.

This power that comes from being physically attractive is known as erotic capital (physical beauty isn’t the only characteristic that confers erotic capital: everything that contributes to a person’s sex appeal and that allows them to leverage it for gains and advantages in other areas is part of it, but physical appearance is obviously a major factor).  In many ways, erotic capital functions the same way as any other form, but it is unique in one crucial aspect: it’s highly contagious.  When a beautiful woman stands next to a less-than-beautiful man, his metaphoric stock rises.  She is assumed to be in high demand, therefore he is assumed to be rich or famous or perhaps exceptionally talented in some socially-valued arena; in other words, to possess a lot of some other form of capitol with which he has bought access to her erotic capital.  He can take advantage of that assumption, leveraging his supposed-capital toward a purpose of his choosing.  This is the meaning of the phrase “arm candy.”

Whether or not a woman is aware of her beauty has no affect on her value as a status symbol.  Her value in this regard rests on the assumptions of people who know little or nothing about her or her companion.  Where it does make a difference is in a woman’s wielding of her own erotic capital.  A woman who doesn’t know she’s beautiful doesn’t know her own power.  She is likely to undervalue herself, and thus her male companion can have the best of both worlds: he doesn’t have to worry about his “arm candy” demanding equality within the relationship, but he can still enjoy her looks and the benefits of her erotic capital.

In other words, I don’t like that song.

The Me Generation

Several weeks ago Newsweek published a letter in which an 88 year old man wrote that Millennials have been “raised in a bubble” and that the recession is just what we need to teach us about the  real world (I believe his note ended with the words “welcome to the real world”).  While obviously offensive, arrogant, and ill-informed, I wasn’t so much bothered by the letter itself as by the fact that it was published.  Newsweek devotes a single page to letters from readers, publishing perhaps 12; one presumes the letters chosen are representative of the many more received.  The fact that this one made the cut means there must have been a whole lot more behind it expressing similar opinions, as alarming, frightening, and frankly infuriating as I find the thought.  One thing it is not, however, is surprising: yes, the level of viciousness and economic confusion was certainly unexpected, but the sentiment is hardly a novel one.

I’m not sure if it’s just the current form of the classic cliche “kids today!” every generation suffers or if the anger expressed toward my generation for our supposed pampering and coddling is more extreme than normal.  I do know that I’m really sick of hearing about how spoiled we are, how narcissistic our parents are, how we’ve grown up in a bubble, over-scheduled and over-supervised.  In this world where even those who “get it right,” who go to high-status schools and get good grades, complete prestigious internships and have packed resumes, have to worry about finding and keeping work, where losing a job can mean losing healthcare, childcare, and even your home, and downward mobility is an unrelenting and ever-present threat, there isn’t the time or room for kids – especially teenagers – to make mistakes.  The consequences are just too severe and immediate. When getting into college and paying for it once you’re there is harder than ever, and has never been less of a guarantee of future financial security, we have to get it right, and we have to get it right the first time, and even then, still nothing is guaranteed.  Is it any wonder some of our parents do everything imaginable to give their children a leg up, to try and ensure a secure future for them?  And is doing so really as reprehensible, and even revolting, as some people seem to believe?

My Pet Peeves

  • Little girls dressed up as brides for Halloween (this has annoyed me since I was in pre-school and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere)
  • Bad stair & escalator etiquette (is it so hard to stay to the right?)
  • White people who complain about “reverse racism”
  • Confusing correlation with causality
  • Using the subtext to excuse the text (just because a piece of art has a potentially pro-gay, anti-racist, and/or feminist subtext does not excuse oppressive elements of the actual surface text)
  • So-called equal opportunity offenders (“It’s okay for me to make fun of gay people because I also make fun of straight ones.” Sorry, but no, that’s not how it works.)
  • Professors who somehow believe they are the only ones giving out work over vacations
  • Change machines that spit out dollar coins in exchange for dollar bills (someone out there is really missing the point!)
  • Being told that if I’m offended by something, I should just not watch/read/listen/etc. to it
  • Shirts with patterns on the front that don’t go all the way around the back
  • Sitting in an aisle seat on the bus next to an empty window seat when there are people standing
  • Describing a given form of bigotry as “the last socially acceptable prejudice” (I’ve heard this about sexism, homophobia, sizeism, ableism and prejudice based on religion or politics so, erm, apparently not)
  • Being told by strangers to smile
  • Stealing from nonprofits
  • Professors who think they can single-handedly stop grade inflation by giving low grades
  • Fake pockets
Hopefully posting these will help me stop being so annoyed by them, or at least take the edge off.