Saturday, February 23, 2013

A Literary Approach...to Movies? Yes.

On Christmas Day 2001, my sister and brother-in-law invited me to see The Fellowship of the Ring with them at our local cinema.  We arrived quite early; so much so that we had to sit on a bench outside the theater and wait for the cleaning crew to come out before taking our seats.  When we did get in, there was nothing but white on the movie screen; my brother-in-law joked, "This is the short film before the movie; it's called Polar Bear in a Snow Storm!" As other folks trickled in, the normal pre-film advertising started, and even the trailers included an ad for the Nintendo GameCube, which, as a Nintendo fan, I liked.  When the lights went down, it wasn't long until I became really antsy.  I kept looking at my watch, wondering how long I was going to have to sit there, and the dramatic pauses after each line continually drove me insane.  For years after that, I repeatedly said that I despised the world of Middle-Earth, simply because of that experience.
However, just last year, I bought the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy on DVD at a yard sale in my neighborhood.  What changed? I realized that the problem I had wasn't with the movie; it was my attention span.  At the time, I was not much of a movie watcher; I had a favorite show--Diff'rent Strokes--but, when that wasn't on, I was usually spending my spare time playing video games or on the Internet.  With most of my entertainment--that is, pretty much everything except sitcoms--I preferred to do it a little at a time.  That probably stemmed from my Mac CD-ROM, Super NES, and Game Boy Color games, almost all of which had some sort of "save" feature.  Instead of attempting to finish them in one sitting, which would have been quite grueling in most cases, I simply played them for a little while, then "bookmarked" my progress on the game's cartridge or my hard drive to come back to it later.  The same concept probably goes even farther back to the days when I read like crazy; I couldn't have finished those thick books in just one sitting.
Since then, watching movies a little at a time has become standard procedure.  In fact, I didn't care for the second and third Harry Potter flicks the first time I saw them, partly because I was trying to watch them in one sitting.  (The other reason? I hadn't finished watching the first one, so I had trouble understanding the next two!)  Though some movies are easily watched all at once--for example, The Avengers had me hook, line, and sinker almost from the start--most of them, even some of my favorites, are ones I just can't view in one sitting.  Thankfully, technology, both new and old, makes it easy to do that.  VHS tapes stay in the same place unless you rewind or fast forward them; DVD and Blu-Ray players usually remember your place on a disc unless you take it out, and Mac and Windows computers will "save" your stopping point; and, the Videos app on iPods, iPads, and similar devices will keep your place if you switch apps or turn the device off.
To many people, that sounds ridiculous; how could anyone not be able to sit through just one whole movie? Frankly, I sometimes wonder how most people can sit still long enough for multiple movies, which seems to be a common thing.  Who knows? Maybe, if I hadn't been raised on books and computer/video games with save files, me not watching movies all at once wouldn't be the case; still, that's the life I live.  Such traits is why this blog is called Siobhan Thinks Differently.
Any comments?

P. S.: This is an attempt to express my thoughts without coming off as staunchly defensive or preachy.  Did I do it?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Why Disney? Why Nickelodeon?: Part Two

As usual, when I typed last night's blog post, there were some thoughts that didn't make it, even though I had them in my head while I was thinking out what I wanted to say.  If you haven't seen the original "Why Disney? Why Nickelodeon?" post, I would suggest that you go read it now.  It may be a bit long, but I think it'll answer some questions that many of you have probably been asking.  You read it? Okay, then, let's get going.
I'll start with what I said in the last paragraph about celebrity/show idolatry.  The Bible is pretty clear: Putting anything or anyone before God is a sin.  I mentioned that I was too busy researching my favorite media to even think about reading God's Word; what I didn't say was that, even from a secular standpoint, an obsession is bad.  Some of you may remember this story, but, for those who don't, here it is: When I was taking a computer class during the summer of 2001, my assigned seat was right next to a girl who liked Dragon Ball Z.  I couldn't have cared less about that anime cartoon, but the guy who sat on the other side was fanatical about it.  His adoration of that show was so great, it made her not like it anymore.  Even with myself, people of all ages have simply gotten annoyed because I only wanted to talk about a few topics, if not just one.  It turned away people who could have been my friends otherwise.  It got to the point where my mom told me, "You have a one-track mind!"
As I said, I don't know whether those days are past, but I think the fact that I've stuck to reading the Bible every day for well over a year is a step in the right direction.  Not only that, but many of the people I talk to frequently don't know and/or don't care about my favorite shows.  Now that I'm well-versed in various sorts of entertainment, I can talk wit them about topics that have nothing to do with Nickelodeon or the Disney Channel.  That may not sound like much to you, but, compared to what I was, that's a really good start.
Here's another point: When I was a freshman in high school, the teacher of my Sunday school class decided to do something different by showing a clip from the Michael W. Smith: Worship DVD.  It started with Mr. Smith reading a verse from Psalms; then, he began performing a vocal/piano number that only had one verse and a chorus that simply repeated the phrase, "Everywhere I go, I see You." Mr. Smith would sing that line, and the live audience would repeat it; it happened several times throughout the song.  What should have been a special moment was ruined by two guys who couldn't refrain from mocking the song, and, therefore, the teacher.  No one else had any problem with it, but those two spouting off insults such as, "You could not even know this song, and know all the words to this song!", "People actually paid money to see this?", and "You actually paid money for this DVD?" I felt bad for the teacher; even he said that he was trying to do something different, and, "If this is the response I get..." He wouldn't have said that if those two guys had simply kept their mouths shut.
My point? It seems like that a few people's problems with what I do, including watching Disney Channel and Nickelodeon productions, overpowers the majority of my friends and acquaintances who take no issue with it...yet, those scant few just won't let it go.  To adapt an old saying, they're the squeaky wheels who want the grease...but they're not going to get it.  Seriously, when people come up with inane standards they want me to follow, especially when it comes to taking away what I enjoy, it only makes me want to engage in the activities they disapprove of even more.  Usually, their reasoning doesn't even work; them saying ridiculous statements such as, "You're too old for that; you need to find something more appropriate for your age!" proves that they don't get me, because I am that rebel who does pretty much everything differently.  If I'm the only twenty-five-year-old who is watching Austin & Ally, so what? It's not for those people to decide.
Another point that sort of ties in with that one: I don't remember the exact situation, but a friend, who happened to have his black belt in Tae Kwon Do, once told me that I had to do as he said because he was a black belt.  (What did he want me to do? I honestly couldn't tell you.) Years later, I shared that story with another friend--who, as far as I know, had never seen that guy in her life--and she said, "Don't let people push you around like that, [Siobhan]." That's actually really good advice; unfortunately, there are people who want to "push me around like that," including by taking away what I enjoy, including my favorite entertainment.  Those "pushers" don't have the power to take it away, and I'm not going to give it to them.  The more adamant they become that I shouldn't do, like, read, watch, or listen to whatever, the more I'm going to do just what they don't want me to do.
My final statement is more on entertainment in general: Anybody who has been watching entertainment trends knows that, when it comes to offensive content, there's more of it to go around than ever before.  One need look no further than the recent Movie 43 for a perfect example of how far-gone media morality is these days.  However, there are some recent trends that discerning viewers can actually rejoice over.  The Dove Foundation reported in December 2012 that not only were there less "R" rated films, but movies they approved performed three times better at the box office than ones they didn't.  Plus, they were able to approve 18% more flicks from January to late November that year than they did during the same timeframe in 2011.  I personally noticed something that was a good sign: The DVD of We Bought a Zoo features a "family-friendly language track" that, one would assume, eliminates the profanities that caused the movie to get a "PG" rating.  One can only hope that more flicks will follow suit.  I think entertainment companies are realizing that parents and even some childless adults want more family-appropriate films, TV shows, music, games and such, and, since the one rule of business is to "go where the money is," they're at least attempting to head in that direction.  I'll just have to see how that pans out; in the meantime, I'm going to be watching sitcoms on the Disney Channel, since they're the only current ones that aren't bogged down with sex jokes, profanities, drug references, and other obscene content.  Whether you accept it or use it as grounds to attack me is your call; just remember what Matthew 12:36-37 says about the power your words have.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Why Disney? Why Nickelodeon?

The answer? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!
It has come to my attention that some people simply do not know why I am a quarter-century old and still watching Nickelodeon and Disney Channel shows.  Apparently, people think that I simply don't want to grow up; I choose to watch shows on those networks because I'm a Peter Pan wannabe: I refuse to become an adult and watch television shows that are more "appropriate" for someone my age.  Well, I am here to tell the real story, as I usually do.  As usual, I will have to delve into my history, and will also share some opinions that many people reading this might not agree with.  I'd say that this post would get a firestorm of comments, but, almost every time I think that, it never does; still, feel free to comment.
As a young kid, I wasn't much of a couch potato.  Though I had my moments where I was told to turn the television off and do something else, I spent most of my time in front of a computer.  I had shows that I liked, ranging from Home Improvement to Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers to The Cosby Show to Doug, but Commodore 64 and Mac OS 7 games still took up more of my time than anything else.  That all changed in third grade, when I became fanatical over The Magic School Bus, which started as a book series and later became a television show and a line of computer games, only two of which were Mac compatible; yes, I had both.  The computer became even less of a focus in fourth grade, when I found out about Growing Pains, and, at the end of the year, Scooby-Doo.  I couldn't do much on my computer related to them, since all I had was an antiquated Mac sans Internet, so I spent my time watching them every chance I got.  If they weren't on, I went and did something else, but if I could watch them, I did.
Why did I like those shows that much? Well, first off, they were funny; not only that, but they didn't subscribe to the crude mentality that plagued most shows, even back in the nineties.  I'd always heard that many shows on our cable were "bad," but it wasn't until a nurse's aide, who was taking care of my oldest sister, watched a rather bawdy episode of Ellen about a sex tape, while I was innocently sitting at my Mac playing Operation Neptune!, that I realized what garbage was out there.
As time went on, I got into other media, some of which included shows (Mork & Mindy, Pok√©mon, Weakest Link, and Digimon) and some that didn't (contemporary Christian music and Super Smash Bros. Melee, for example).  In eighth grade, I was pretty much the retro guy, who was known for adoring Diff'rent Strokes.  By the time the year was over, I had also rediscovered Growing Pains and Mork & Mindy; the former even became my number one show just before I started high school.  Whatever the shows were, I liked them for the same reason: they were fun, funny, and innocent.  I didn't care that many of them were older than me.
It wasn't that far into my freshman year when Growing Pains was removed from ABC Family's lineup, which left me with no way to watch it.  For a while, I was so frustrated that I felt like throwing my television in the trash; seriously, without the Seavers, what was there to watch?  However, when a younger kid my mom was taking care of, who happened to be well-versed in all things "kiddie" television, showed me Lizzie McGuire, it had me hook, line, and sinker.  I'd seen the show previously; an episode on ABC's The Wonderful World of Disney was all about Aaron Carter, and it was followed by the BBMak-themed Even Stevens.  Since I couldn't have cared less about either of those musical acts, it made me not want to watch those shows, because it seemed that they were about nothing but such singers.  However, seeing Lizzie, albeit for the third or fourth time, made me a fan.  Gone were the days of living in the past; my favorite show and actress both became current.  Not only was the content even cleaner than most of the classic shows I'd previously liked, but other people my age watched them, and they were still just as fun and funny, if not more so, than Growing Pains and such ever were.
Over the years, I discovered Even Stevens, That's So Raven, Phil of the Future, and The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, as well as Nickelodeon's Drake & Josh, all of which entertained me immensely and provided me with many laughs and smiles.  I knew many of my friends were watching shows that had plenty of profanity, sexual content, graphic violence, drug use, and such, but I had no interest in joining them; I was happy with, not to mention proud of, my viewing choices.
Towards the end of my senior year, I ditched the Disney Channel as a sacrifice for the infamous "Rewind"; I had given up my celebrity crushes for her, and Ashley Tisdale, who starred in Suite Life, was number two; yes, Anne Hathaway was numero uno.  Upon finding out of her significant other a few months after graduating, I went back to them, but, for some reason, I was still somewhat hesitant to watch the Mouse network.  When I did one day--completely out of boredom--I laughed so hard that I realized I had been missing out.
The next few years were strange for my television tastes.  I went back and forth about American Idol at first, but really got into when Carly Smithson was on there, and my interest intensified even further after Siobhan Magnus joined.  That wasn't the only reality show I liked; I also watched HGTV's Design Star, if only because contestant Lonni Paul caught my eye.  Still, a kiddie show won out; however, it was Nickelodeon's iCarly this time instead of any Disney sitcom.
I'm sure you all know how I ended up becoming a fan of VICTORiOUS; long story short, watching the pilot after the Kids' Choice Awards on Nick got me hooked.  For a while, I largely avoided Disney's shows, but, in the wake of my two favorite Nick shows ending, I ventured back, and was glad I did.  Good Luck Charlie, Dog with a Blog, Shake It Up and A.N.T. Farm were all equally entertaining and more innocent than Carly and Tori's shows, but the one that really got me interested was Austin & Ally.  Not only is the show cute, clean, and fun, but it stars Laura Marano, who was my favorite kid on the first season of Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader? (You didn't know those kids were actors and actresses? How else do you think they fooled the adult contestants into thinking they couldn't "save" them, when they actually could?) Between live television and the "Watch Disney Channel" app on my iPad, I have watched plenty of those new-found shows over the past two months.
No matter what kind of shows they were--reality/competition or sitcom--or where they aired--major network or cable channel--the one thing I liked about all of the past and present favorites was their clean content.  If they'd been bogged down with the same salacious garbage as Friends or Will & Grace, I wouldn't have supported them.  True, some of them did have their moments--"The Breakfast Bunch" episode of VICTORiOUS was terrible, and I muted the TV and watched a movie on my iPad during Lady Gaga's raunchy performance on one of the Idol finales--but, for the most part, they stayed clean.
You may ask why most of the shows I liked/like were/are intended for kids.  Simply put, it seems that Disney and Nick shows are the only ones I can find these days that don't have the inappropriate content.  Oftentimes, when I read or hear about what's appearing on the major networks or even other cable stations, I'm so shocked that I want no part of it.
That brings me to an important point: Why do I not spend much time with media that is intended for people my age? Simply put, most of it is garbage.  Think about it: What kind of media can "young adults" experience that the Disney crowd--ages eight to fourteen--largely can't? Give up? Movies that are rated "R".  Still, even though I am well past the "legal age" to watch such a film, I avoid them like the plague; if the secular standard says they're "only for mature audiences," what would God's standard be?  The only media intended for people my age that is morally decent are shows that are meant for everyone, such as Jeopardy! (not that many young people bother with it.)
Unfortunately, it seems that most people my age, including Christians, don't subscribe to that mentality.  Instead of using discernment, they'll just watch whatever they want and think nothing of it.  Christian actor Kirk Cameron had this to say in a Plugged In article:

Pastors and counselors are worn out trying to get through to these kids, who have their affections rooted in both the church and the world. Our young people feel they can attend a Sunday service or a mid-week youth group event, then go to a party and gossip or sleep with their friends without any qualms of conscience. They have no problem lifting their hands and swaying to the latest praise-and-worship CD, then turning around and singing along with Eminem. And when they want to dress like a prostitute and act like one, or watch ungodly movies and television programs, they think parents and pastors shouldn’t have any problem with that. As long as kids feel justified in their pursuit of "personal fulfillment and ultimate happiness" we will always be two steps behind, chasing after them, eating the dust they have kicked up as they pursue the idol of Personal Pleasure.

Yes, he was talking about teens, but that was written in 2003, so those kids he was speaking of are "young adults" now.  It seems that they are still chasing that idol; they couldn't care less about what the Bible has to say about such matters.  As a random commentator on the Plugged In Facebook page said, "It seems that entertainment is one area where the Devil has a foothold." I couldn't agree more with that statement.
I will conclude with two thoughts.  First one: Most people, including some non-Christians, have a weird sort of reverence for a church building.  I've heard people young and old make statements while in a church building such as, "I can't say those words here," "We're not listening to that in church," or, "I have some things to say, but this isn't the place for it." What most people don't realize is that the church isn't a building; the people are the church.  So, when you're watching or listening to something that you know wouldn't be allowed to be shown or played during a church service or within a church's walls, if you're a Christian, you have to realize: If you're watching it, the Church is watching it, because you are the church!
Last point: Though many would agree that the innocence of my media diet is a good thing, I know, as do some of you, that there was one big problem with it: I was making the entertainers and/or their characters into idols.  Though the secular definition of "idol" seems to be "someone you look up to," I took it beyond that.  In fact, one friend I hadn't spoken to in a while asked me when we reconnected, "You still worship that one actress?" I had plenty of time to find out all kinds of trivia and other information about my favorite shows and their stars, but couldn't get around to reading the Bible unless I was told to by my mom or literally sitting in church or Sunday school.  For me, what Hilary Duff was doing was more important than anything else, including what God had to say.  That's actually changed; I have been doing daily Bible readings with audio Bibles for over a year now, and was surprised at how much I didn't know about God's Word.  To be frank, at first, I didn't take it all that seriously; I would listen while I was preparing and eating lunch, and usually didn't "rewind" when I missed something.  Once, I even did my reading during the commercial breaks of a show I was watching.  Now, I always have God's Word in front of me--in most cases, via an iPod or iPad app--while I'm hearing it, so that I can have total immersion.  I started with the New Testament, then went back to the Old; I am currently working through Ezekiel.  Not only that, but my media diet is much more diverse; whereas I previously didn't "have the time" to read even what I was assigned to--whether it was the Bible or a piece of literature for English class--I now read, watch, and listen to various entertainment, ranging from science-fiction novels to classic rock songs to superhero cartoons to old-school mysteries to current pop songs to teen-centric stories...and it doesn't stop there!  That said, idolatry is still a bit of a struggle for me; it is for all of us, though.  Whereas I may struggle with "worshiping" celebrities and shows, others' struggles are with the "worship" of sports, relationships, work, and countless other things.  I'm trying to be a fan of my favorite entertainment and entertainers without being a fanatic; I think I'm doing pretty well, but I'm always in denial about myself.  I never knew I was obsessed with anything until others told me I was.  Oh, well; at least I'm giving it my best shot.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Learning to Love...Myself? Hopefully.

Today is Valentine's Day, where everyone tells their significant other, "I love you," sometimes accompanied by a gift. There are plenty of weddings or marriage proposals that occur on this date, and everyone who went to a public school remembers passing out those little cards. Though love--whether romantic or otherwise--is important, it shouldn't be something limited to just one day out of the year; still, most holiday traditions present ways to show a loved one how much you care about them.
Though I am a lifelong single, I often try to do things to show my friends and family that I care about them. My mom is always very happy when I come home from the library or a yard sale with a new book, CD, or DVD for her. Not only that, but, when the holidays or their birthdays come around, I either give my friends printed cards, if I regularly see them in person, or I send them an e-card, both of which I make on Print Shop. Of course, being the original that I am, I take a different approach than most people would. Instead of cupcakes with candles or winking Santa Clauses, I often use celebrity images--usually of my favorite actresses--and/or fictional characters, such as Yoda or Harry Potter's Fleur Delacour. Everyone who receives one of those homemade cards appreciates it, and I'm glad to show others that I love them. However, when it comes to showing love, there's one person who has never received enough of it from me: myself.
When I used to ask others why I hadn't been in a relationship yet, one female friend used to always tell me, "YOU don't love you, so how can you expect anyone else to?" I once came across a book titled How Can I Learn to Love You, When I Can't Even Love Myself? Some of my single female friends probably asked--and may be still asking--a turnaround version of that titular question: "How can I learn to love you...when you don't even love yourself?" Though I try to be a tolerant person, there are some character traits I see in others that endlessly irk me. Probably tops on my list is being conceited. One example is shampoo maven Paul Mitchell; I haven't ever used his products, but his commercials annoy me, just because he comes off as a stuck-up rich guy who only hangs out with gorgeous hair models. Even an old friend of mine used to constantly remind me and his siblings that he was the "best in the state" at a sport, because he had won a state championship, but he didn't act like a champion in other respects; when he whined like a baby on his fourteenth birthday because he lost a round of the Nintendo 64 classic GoldenEye, it was like seeing Michael Jordan or Mark McGwire crying in a bathroom stall after losing a game of checkers.
As you'd expect, that's how I try not to be. However, many times, I end up being the exact opposite; a downer who considers myself worthless, talentless, and stupid. Instead of loving myself too much, it seems that I don't love myself enough. Both situations may sound extreme, but there's a reason for that: People with Asperger Syndrome, such as myself, mostly operate in extremes. We either do something too much, or we don't do it at all; we either go too far, or don't go far enough; we either adore it, or we despise it. The right way of loving yourself is doing it in moderation; not thinking you're better than everyone else, but also not thinking of yourself as worthless scum. However, doing anything in moderation has never really been my strong suit, so, based on Proverbs 16:18, I chose the lesser of two evils by disliking myself instead of thinking I'm the greatest thing since sliced bread.
There's a problem with that, though: According to Jesus, the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39). Though Bible scholars and readers usually focus on the first three words of that divine instruction, the last two are just as important. David's infamous proclamation in Psalm 139:14 only proves that point even further.
So, what's a chronic extremist such as myself to do? First off, saying that I can't practice moderation is incorrect; I'm reminded of a scene from The Wonderful World of Disney's Noah, which was a modern adaptation of the story in Genesis, where the present-day ark-builder finds that "can't" was literally cut out of their dictionary by his late wife prior to her death. Sure, exercising moderation may be difficult, but that doesn't make it impossible. Also, there have been times where big-time downers were just as annoying as Paul Mitchell; I'm reminded of an old friend whose every statement sounded as negative as a Linkin Park song. True, he had been through some hard times; his marital troubles, which led to separation and, later, divorce, broke the hearts of many who knew him. Still, his comments on nearly everything were redolent with despair, and, to be frank, it was a bit frustrating at times. I would say that people like him, as well as the Paul Mitchells of the world, are both Tim Taylor-style examples: they show me what not to do.
One thing I've heard over the years is, "You don't have any self-respect." Though it's been over half a decade since someone spoke those exact words to me, the general meaning has been delivered to me from friends and others in various ways. Usually, people have said that because I did something no one should be doing, but wasn't the least bit embarrassed when I was caught doing it, or because my hygiene skills were not up to par. In recent years, I have tried to become better about that, but breaking bad habits that I've pretty much had my whole life has proved rather challenging.
I'd like to think that I'm a happier person--and, therefore, love myself more--because of recent changes in my life. I used to have my parents drive me everywhere I wanted to go; now, I take the bus to work, and walk to places in my neighborhood when I can. Previously, any item that I wanted that wasn't available at a yard sale had to be handed to me, due to my lack of income; now that I have a job, I can buy what I want with money I earned myself. In years past, I was frustrated because I had too much spare time on my hands, and sometimes took it out on my friends; having a job and filling my spare time with entertainment changed that. Yes, I am proud of my achievements, but I don't want to become overly proud of what I've done; remember Proverbs 16:18? Loving yourself just the right amount seems to be a tightrope walk, at least for me. Doing it too much is sinful; however, not loving yourself is an insult to the One who created you. I'm hoping that maybe, just maybe, I can learn to have better self-esteem without becoming a Paul Mitchell clone.
I will end with two points.  First one: When you see something on television you don't like, for whatever reason, you at least have a desire to change the channel.  If you can't find something worth watching on television, you might put a DVD or video on, or turn on the radio, or read a book, or find something online to do.  Well, at the end of the day, I have to look back at what's happened since I woke up and ask, "Do I like what I see?" A day like today is a good one; I got quite a bit done at work today, and my newly refurbished iPod came back.  However, if I lost my temper, or made an unkind statement to or about someone, then that makes for a bad day, but it's my own fault.  If I'm going to love myself, I have to be someone that I can love, which goes back to the Golden Rule: doing to others what you would want them to do to you.
Last one: Let's say you were attending a surprise birthday party for a friend. You're hiding in the shadows, and the birthday boy or girl comes in, and you all yell, "Surprise!"...when your friend immediately walks out, gets in his/her car, and drives off without a word. Wouldn't you be offended that he/she refused to attend a party where tons of people came to celebrate him/her? Well, I hate to say it, but that's how I've been. People wanted me to celebrate who I was, what I could do, what talents I had, and the adversity I've overcome...but I was too busy despising myself to even think about doing it. I have friends and family who love me; now, it's time I learned to love myself. It'll be a hard road, but I know I can do it. Can you help me with that?