Monday, March 30, 2015

On the Issue of Pride

Most of us have something of which we're proud.  I'm not talking about being proud of your son or daughter because he/she was valedictorian of his/her high school class; I'm talking about a trait that you yourself hold that everyone who knows you knows about, and is something you feel is worth celebrating.  Maybe you're proud to be an American, or a citizen of whatever country from which you hail.  Maybe you're proud of your religious beliefs, whatever they are.  Maybe you're proud to be an alumni of whatever high school or college from which you graduated.  Maybe you're proud to hold whatever occupation you do: librarian, stay-at-home mom, police officer, etc.  Maybe you're proud of your political affiliation: Republican, Democrat, or whatever else.  Maybe you're proud to be a fan of a certain sports team or figure: the Philadelphia Eagles, Jeff Gordon, the L.A. Lakers, or whoever else.  No doubt you've seen bumper stickers, shirts and other apparel, and especially Facebook posts showing such pride; maybe you are one of those people yourself, and happily show off those traits to the entire world.  I'm not knocking that; in fact, I do the same thing...with entertainment.  Anybody who knows me knows what I like to watch, listen to, and read...and what I don't; most of them also have at least a decent idea of why.  For many of you, the first thing you found out about me was my favorite entertainment, or, at least, my favorite entertainers, aka the celebrity crushes.  Though I'm past those days, I still wear my tastes in entertainment on my sleeve.  If you've been paying attention to my Facebook posts, you probably not only know what shows I currently watch, you also know which ones I used to watch, even if you've never heard of them previously.  You might even also know random details such as who my favorite Super Smash Bros. Melee character was, or the random circumstance that led to me discovering superhero cartoons.  When I've said entertainment is my look at my Facebook history will make it obvious that I wasn't kidding.

Therein lies the problem, though: While it's great that I have something positive to be known's a problem when I start to turn snobbish about my favorite entertainment.  I doubt you know anyone who watches all the various shows I do.  My rule is: As long as it's not morally offensive, it's fair game.  That's why my entertainment diet ranges from decades-old classics (Mork & Mindy, Hart to Hart) to '90's favorites (Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Diagnosis Murder) to various Disney Channel sitcoms (ranging from Even Stevens to I Didn't Do It).  Sure, you might know someone who watches some of those shows--or, at least, used to--but such a broad taste in entertainment is rare; at least, in my experience.  The reason I choose to consume such entertainment is because I believe it's the right thing to do; these days, too much immoral filth is coming down the entertainment pipelines these days.  Such trash would have been banned a few decades ago, but is now everywhere you look.  It's hard to walk into a store that sells entertainment--other than a Christian bookstore, such as LifeWay--and refrain from seeing a book, magazine, or DVD cover that objectifies someone--usually a woman--or implies something obscene.  Just like other businesses, entertainment producers are interested in making money; if consumers--such as myself--use their money to support the right kinds of entertainment, that will cause more of it to be made.

While I know what I'm doing entertainment-wise and why I'm doing it, there are plenty of people, including Christians, who don't subscribe to that mentality, and will watch anything short of outright pornography, if they even are that discerning.  A comment on the Plugged In Facebook page called entertainment "one area where the Devil has a serious foothold," and I completely agree; Christians everywhere are watching shows and movies that would make Jesus weep in anguish.  I can't say that I've stayed on the moral path completely entertainment-wise; I have willingly watched some movies that could be classified as trashy, such as Satisfaction and Mean Girls 2...but, I regret doing so to this day.  Still, many people consume such media without another thought...which, to discerning viewers like me, is a problem.

As much as it pains me to admit it, I think my pride in my entertainment has gotten to the point where it bothers others, almost as if they feel that I look down on them because they don't do what I do.  Some years ago, the teacher of my high school Sunday school class was using a CD of stand-up comedy for a lesson; as he was setting it up, I asked him if the performer of the album was Mark Lowry.  He said it wasn't, and the class quickly asked me who that was; when I replied, one of my classmates said, "You shouldn't think you're better than us because you know who that is and we don't!" I quickly countered with, "Did I say I was better than you," to which she immediately retorted, "No...but you implied it!" It wasn't my intent to convey any such message; it was just a simple question.  Still, looking back, I can kind of see what she was saying; I tended to be a bit snobbish with my different entertainment diet...and I still do.

Back in 2000, I once saw a conversation between an older church member and a young guy who was new to the church that broke my heart.  The young guy asked the older guy about some computer/video games, and the older guy huffed and said, "No! I'm a Christian! I don't play those games!" and walked off in disgust; as the older guy walked away, the young guy said, "Well, [another fellow church member] is a Christian, and he plays those games!" It was very unsettling, especially since the older guy was supposed to be acting as a father figure to the younger guy, who essentially had no father.  Looking back, I can kind of understand both sides of the issue.  Gaming may not have been that older guy's thing, and it may have been a point of contention for him...but there was a better way to express such feelings than coming off as snobbish, as if he was "too good" for such an activity.  I don't really have much room to talk, though; I've spent years looking down on those who did things I didn't, especially sports fans.  Yes, my entertainment diet is different from most others'...but that doesn't make me superior!

The one thing I wonder is: How do I discuss what I do and don't do--even outside the realm of entertainment--without coming off like a snob or a jerk? I have my reasons why I don't do the "normal" thing...but, unfortunately, my approach makes it appear that, by doing what I do, I am superior to those who don't do the same thing...which is pretty much everyone! It's a mystery I've never been able to solve.

In conclusion, I will say this: Celebrity obsession is a big thing these days.  I remember a joke article in the twenty-fifth anniversary issue of CCM titled "Signs You Might Be An Amy Grant Groupie," which had a few ones only Christian music fans would get, and some that were so generic they could apply to anything, i.e., "You’ve been stopped before by people you thought were total strangers, and they say, 'Hey, I know you, you're "The Amy Grant guy"!'" It may have been humorous to the editors of that music magazine, but, some people do take their "love" for famous people to great lengths.  I remember reading a story in Reader's Digest that went like this:
Last Thanksgiving, my niece came home with her school project: a beautiful autumnal leaf with the words "I am thankful for my mommy" printed on it.
Her eyes tearing, my sister said, "This means so much to me."
Her daughter nodded. "I wanted to put ‘Hannah Montana,' but my teacher wouldn't let me."
Whether or not you laughed at that, now that I think about it, I can't find something like that humorous...because, when I was a kid, that was me, and it wasn't the least bit funny to my family members.  Over the years, I seriously hurt various people's feelings, especially my mother's, because I seemed to care more about my technology and my entertainment than I did them.  Even just a few years ago, after an incident my friends know the story of all too well, a former friend lamented, "That's just great! Some actress you're never going to meet gets more respect than a real-life friend! Yes, I'm being sarcastic!" That's one of the reasons I started my Midweek Salute meme: to give respect to people who actually know and care about me, instead of singing the praises of people who have never met me, and likely never will.  It's great that I've found a hobby...but, it shouldn't overtake the things that are truly important, such as family, friends, and God.  I could say that fixating is just a trait of my condition, but, I'm past that now; it's time to let such habits go...for good!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Why I Do..., No. 3: Why I (Generally) Avoid Sports

Unless you don't know me very well, you probably already know that I've never been a sports fan...though the reasons why may be unclear.  I used to say that it was because I wasn't raised around them, but not only is that not a valid excuse, it's also not exactly true.  Other reasons I've given have been everything from, "I just don't understand them," to...well, there's too many to list.  I realize that such an opinion puts me at odds with many people, especially those who share my gender.  To be honest, I do know quite a few guys who either don't care for sports or are only minor fans--that is, they like it, but they rarely watch it or keep track of it--but, there's no getting around the fact that the majority of the United States population loves their ball games.  I had said at the start of this series of blog posts that it was meant to help me understand why I do what I do as well as inform you of the same; now, I'm ready to share some thoughts I've compiled in my mind as to why I've never been a sports fan.

First off: I'm just not a rough-and-tumble kind of guy.  I have never taken kindly to being physically hurt, even in a painful way; when I was younger, I used to always threaten to call the police on others and have them charged with assault if they got the least bit physically rough with me.  I'd like to say that tendency has gone away...but, I still find such behaviors just as bothersome.  I wouldn't call 911 on someone for hitting me, but I definitely wouldn't be too happy about it.  It's not that I'm averse to physical contact; if you've seen me at church, you know I'm hugging and shaking hands like crazy every time I go there.  I don't even mind a tap on the shoulder, as long as it isn't done with malicious intent; I just don't want to get rough.

You probably know that, over the years, I've had many different heroes: actresses, singers/musicians, cartoon characters, video game characters, etc.  What you may not have realized is that none of them were known for attributes such as physical strength or other athletic traits; at least, not in a realistic way.  I never admired sports greats such as Michael Jordan or Sammy Sosa that much; in fact, I barely even knew who they were.  More to the point, I never aspired to do things that would involve great physical strength; it was never in my plans to become an athlete, a soldier, or even an Eagle Scout, the latter of which was much to my sister's chagrin.  People tried to help me learn such skills, but it never went anywhere...because my heart just wasn't in it.

I remember a scene in The Princess Diaries where Mia is struggling as usual in gym class.  When she seems overwhelmed by the other kids kicking soccer balls, the P.E. teacher says, "Just block one, Mia! Just block one!" Mia replies with, "I can't do this; I'm a girl," to which the teacher--a woman--responds, "What am I, a duck?" Mia quickly answers with, "No! I're an athletic girl. I am a synchronized swimming, yoga-doing, horseback-riding, wall-climbing-type girl.  My hand-eye coordination is zero." It's true that many women are athletes; even non-traditional sports such as figure skating require serious talent and strength.  I'd consider Kristi Yamaguchi--look her up if you don't know who she is--to be just as much of an athlete as anyone in the NFL.  Still, just as the celluloid princess said, there are different types of girls...and I'd go as far as saying there are different types of guys as well.  Some are meant to be soldiers; others, actors and/or singers; still others, librarians.  (Okay, so, I'm not technically a librarian, but I do plan on becoming one someday.)  Some would call guys like me wimps, but, even Romans 12:6-8 talks about all of us having different gifts, aka talents.

Second off: I have trouble understanding the intricacies of sports.  I'm not talking about the rules; I'm sure that, with practice, I could understand the workings of the games.  What I'm talking about is the rivalries.  Since I wasn't raised in a home where we always rooted for one team, I'm at a loss to figure out what makes one better than another.  You could tell me why your team is the best, but another friend could make an argument that's just as convincing for a completely different team.

All the way back in 2000, the Virginia Tech football team made it to a big championship, an occasion that had people all over my area talking.  Not only did our local ABC affiliate bombard viewers with advertisements celebrating it, but my mom even watched the big game, and she isn't any more of a sports fan than I am.  It turned out that Tech lost...which came as a shock to me.  With everyone around me singing their praises, how on earth could they lose? I later realized that I viewed it as a good-versus-evil kind of thing.  Virginia Tech may have been a big deal around where I live, but, they weren't the Power Rangers or Spider-Man, nor was the opposing team Rita Repulsa or the Green Goblin; it was a college football game, not a battle to save our planet from utter destruction.  That right there illustrates the subjectivity of sports: Who are the good guys? Depends on who you ask.

Third off: I'm too sensitive for sports.  This kind of ties in with the first point, but, it applies to being a spectator as well.  Some of you may remember this story, but, I'm going to share it anyway: All the way back in December 1999, I went with my church's youth group to a Hampton Roads Admirals hockey game.  They were playing against some team I'd never heard of; Johnstown, or something like that.  At first, the Admirals were winning...then, Johnstown got ahead...then, towards the end of the game, the Admirals got in the lead again.  The crowd was going wild, and I was happy for them...but, at the same time, I wondered how Johnstown felt, and kind of felt bad for them.  If you're a sports fan, you're no doubt saying, "There's no emotions like that in sports." I understand that completely; that's why I'm not a fan.  It's different when we're talking superheroes vs. supervillains; the latter are usually bent on world destruction or other dastardly plans, which is exactly why they need to be defeated...but, if your team loses the big game, would that cause the entire United States to be enslaved? Didn't think so.

Fourth off: I don't quite understand the appeal of sports.  All over the world, sports are a big deal; even other countries celebrate their athletes just as much as we do ours.  Some guys watch nothing on television but sports.  I once heard a discussion between two teachers and a classmate at my high school about a rumor that Cox--the only cable provider in our area at the time--was considering making ESPN a digital-cable-only channel.  One teacher, who was a big-time fan of the Philadelphia Eagles, said such a decision would cause him to switch to a satellite provider.  The classmate of mine argued that ESPN was the main reason every male subscribed to cable...and, for the most part, he was probably right; however, the only cable channel I really bothered with was, of course, the Disney Channel.

It's not that I haven't tried my hand at sports; I have...but, when I did, I didn't enjoy them.  Many of you reading this are probably sports fans to a degree, but, I doubt you would want to be grilled about it.  Back in the late '90's, someone--an adult, not a kid--took a rather critical tone with me after he saw Wheel 2000 for the first time, which was one of my favorite shows at the time.  I got a bit flustered because he seemed to be tearing into me just because I liked it and he didn't.  The same is true of sports: You may like it, and I don't...but, I doubt anything you say will convince me to become a fan, just like I probably couldn't make you a fan of the Disney Channel.  Instead of trying to "convert" me, what a true friend would do is simply accept it.

Now, for my conclusion: I realize that sports has been a hot button issue with me for quite a while.  I used to believe it should be banned from the country, if not the world, only because I didn't like it.  However, that's not right; that would be like the Disney Channel going kaput only because some nameless individual most people know nothing of didn't like it.  If one single person were responsible for the end of professional sports, he/she would likely be the most hated individual this planet has ever known.  I also used to assume all sports fans were fanatics...but, I eventually realized, that, when it comes to fanaticism, I've got no room to talk.  You may know someone who is obsessed with a certain football team, but my fixation on Hilary Duff when I was in high school could have eaten their "obsession" for dinner.  More to the point, I was against physical activity in general; I just didn't see the need for it...but, now, I do.  Not only does physical strength come in handy in many situations--i.e., helping someone move--but too much sitting around and watching television and movies or reading books can make you gain weight; it's done just that to me! I'm not a kid anymore, and, if I'm going to stay healthy, I'm going to have to get up from the recliner and do something active.  I'd rather not participate in sports, but I still need to do something that helps me get healthy...and exercise seems like the best thing.

Any comments?

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Why I Do..., No. 2: Why I Watch the Disney Channel

In November 2002, I discovered something that changed my life forever.  About two months prior, I had been dismayed to discover that ABC Family had replaced Growing Pains, my favorite show at the time, with 7th Heaven, leaving me with no way to watch the Seavers.  I spent the next several weeks in a state of despair.  In fact, I even considered throwing my TV set in the trash can; without Mike and Carol, what was there to watch? However, that all changed when a kid my mom was taking care of at the time showed me a little television program called Lizzie McGuire.  I'd had some slight experience with it before, but, seeing it with an open mind made me realize what I was missing.  It didn't take long for me to watch every single episode of the show up to that point, which was rather easy, considering Disney Channel showed it every day.  I also became a fan of other shows from the Mouse network, including Even Stevens and That's So Raven.

Some people probably thought it was a fad; after all, how often had I gone from having a number one favorite thing only to despise it soon after? That wasn't the case here, though; even though I didn't watch it all that much for a while, I enjoyed it every time I did.  I wanted to see the shows in their entirety, but, I couldn't make it work with my schedule, partly because of technology issues; specifically, a broken DVD recorder and no DVR.  I have been watching the shows on iTunes lately, and am really enjoying them.

So, what's the appeal of Disney Channel? There's actually more than one reason why I like it.  First off: The Disney Channel is clean.  These days, it's getting harder and harder for parents to find morally decent entertainment for their kids.  Even "PG" films are increasingly getting edgier, and go beyond what many discerning viewers--parents or otherwise--would approve of.  However, Disney is well-known for its dedication to family friendliness, and people everywhere know that, if it's associated with the House of Mouse, it's likely morally decent.  True, that isn't always the case; some recent Disney products have had some shocking moments, such as the vulgarity that was in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.  Still, for the most part, you can count on the Mouse for clean content, and that's true for their channel as well.

Second off: The Disney Channel is entertaining.  I know some people don't think of it that way, but, I do; seriously, it's very cute and funny.  The Mouse network has provided me with plenty of entertainment; even before Lizzie, it was how I originally got into Growing Pains, which was well before the incident mentioned above.  I wouldn't keep watching it if it didn't entertain me.

Third off: The Disney Channel's products are well-made. I often say in my entertainment reviews that no one does a sitcom or telefilm like the Disney Channel, and I believe that to be true.  Their productions easily stand up in quality to anything on the other, they have a dedication to morality that you can't really find anywhere else.  Even some of Nickelodeon's "kiddie" shows are rife with adult humor.  As long as the Mouse network keeps it up, I'll continue to be a fan.

I do have a couple of concluding points to make.  First off: Over the years, I have been well-known for my "crushes" on Disney actresses, ranging from Hilary Duff to Demi Lovato to Olivia Holt.  It's true that they did hold a certain appeal...but, now that I think about it, I think it was more their characters I liked than the stars themselves.  Actors and actresses usually get identified with a certain character, regardless of whatever else they do; however, the truth is that there's no guarantee that they're anything like that facade, whether the person they portrayed was good or bad.  That's why I don't do that anymore; seriously, the way someone acts in a movie versus the way they act in real life are two different things.

Second off: Though I may be known as a Disney Channel fan, I don't sit around and watch it all day! I remember reading an article over a decade ago where a then-twelve-year-old girl said, "I come home from school, and I turn on the Disney Channel, and I don't watch any other channel." That's not the case with me; in fact, I rarely watch live television, Mouse network or otherwise.  The new episodes of Disney Channel's shows tend to air on Sunday nights, when I'm at church; that's why I usually end up watching them either on demand or on my DVR.  I also watch many shows--not just Mouse network ones--on my Mac and iPad, either by converting them from a DVD or getting them from iTunes.  Honestly, I can't stand the way Disney Channel plays their episodes to death; I recently had two young people at church tell me that, every time they went to watch I Didn't Do It, it was the same episode.  I think they should try and vary their programming more; maybe show reruns of old favorites or air kid-friendly movies, like they used to do back in the day.  Though I love the shows they air on there, I don't want to see them a million times; that's why I stick to watching it on my own time.

Any comments?