Monday, June 1, 2015

This is Water

As our year comes to an end, and commencement season begins, I thought I would return to a question proposed to me at the beginning of the school year. The first week of school, Mr. Bolos and Mr. O'Connor posted a blog about David Foster Wallace's awe inspiring commencement speech entitled, "This is Water". The blog contained an excerpt from the speech: 

“There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, 'Morning, boys. How's the water?' And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes 'What the hell is water?'"

This question of  "what the hell is water?" was proposed to our American Studies class. We were asked to identify the water in which we live. And, as the year starts to close, i feel it is an appropriate time to attempt to identify the water in which I live.

I truly believe that I live in a bubble of upper class members, in a society where people are constantly attempting to improve upon themselves, and in a world where fulfilling and exceeding requirements guarantees an "A".

A still from a video adaption of "This is Water"

I live in a bubble of an upper class community. Yes, I do know that I live in a upper class neighborhood based on average incomes and property taxes. But, with those records aside it is still apparent that the North Shore is an area of a competitive "keeping up with the Jones'" nature. Teenagers except iPhone 6s, fine dining over the weekend, and lavish "Instagram worthy" vacations every break from school. I believe that this "water" has skewed my perception of reality. The reality is that not every Americans can afford to travel out of the country nor unlimited data plans for their iPhones. They are getting fast food for dinner and investing in a flip phone for their 12 year old to make sure she got home from school okay because they cannot afford daycare. This reality was made clear to me as we watched the video "Inequality for All". 

 I also feel that society's "improving oneself, nothing is ever enough" mentality defines my own water. Especially in my North Shore bubble, I feel that there is a constant idea that one must strive further and further: to succeed in high school, then college, then in a job all so you can make the most money possible. And, when you make the most money possible? You make more. Why? Because nothing is ever enough and you can always improve yourself. This is a very American theme to want to improve oneself. I think that this ideal is best exhibited in The Great Gatsby. Nick finds a note of young Gatsby's before he turns into a giant success. The note is more of a schedule and list of "general resolves" that includes practicing poise and elocution, stop smoking, bathing daily, and reading one improving book a week.

By practicing "elocution" and "poise", Gatsby is attempting to climb the social class ladder from lower to upper. He thinks that if her can act proper as though he is a me,her of the upper class, then eventually he will become a member of the upper class. Additionally, reading one "improving book" a week demonstrates Gatsby's want to ride the American Dream bell curve up to the top. 

Lastly, my water's identity is influenced by my education community's belief that fulfilling and exceeding requirement guarantees high marks. Up until this year, I have relied on being an "excellent sheep" in order to receive high marks in school. The idea of being an "excellent sheep" is one of William Deresiewicz's ideas. He feels that America's Ivy League way of teaching does not properly prepare students for the real world. Students are taught that if they fill and exceed requirements then they are guaranteed to succeed. Which, is simply not the case. Just being a "sheep": following directions, rules, etc. does not prepare you for life. In fact, Deresiewicz argues that his students or sheep cannot think for themselves. This idea cannot be more true than at my own New Trier High School. High level students go above and beyond what is required of them. But, they feel that this is enough. Frankly, one can exceed a requirement and still not be able to think critically and objectively. Writing two times the page length for Junior Theme does not guarantee an "A". All of these misconstrued notions have defined the water in which I swim everyday. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Tobacco Cycle

Several recent articles have suggested that smoking is now associated more with lower class Americans. An article from the New York Times attributed this association with the lower class to that of education and finance. A study found that Americans with a high school diploma are less likely to smoke than those without. Higher educated Americans are more aware of the long term consequences smoking breeds. Additionally, those upper or middle class who did smoke have the finances to quit. This may be gum, a patch, or even therapy. Whatever the case may be, it definitely comes with a hefty price tag. Members of the lower class cannot afford therapy to help them quit their habit. And, even if they could, perhaps they just do not have the time to go. These factors majorly contribute to the lower class becoming the vast majority of smokers.

Another article from CNN argues that this increase is due to marketing strategies in lower class communities:

"It is easy to blame people in poverty for making bad choices. But it's more complicated than that. Tobacco companies target these communities to encourage the habit, and the stresses of living in poverty and sometimes hopelessness also cause people to turn to cigarettes."

For these reasons, tobacco companies make larger and more advertisements for their products in lower income and status areas. They also lower their prices in these areas to make their product accessible to their target market.

A Tobacco shop in a lower class community plastered with advertisements. Would you find this in the North Shore?

So, why do upper and middle class Americans care? Well, these Americans actually end up paying for lower class smoker's habit through their taxes. A portion of tax payers' money goes to fund Medicaid for those who cannot afford their own health insurance. As we all know, smoking causes a multitude of health issues. And, those of the lower class are the ones using Medicaid. Hence, upper and middle class tax payers are basically financing lower class smoker's health problems. This financing creates a cycle: Lower Class person smokes ➡️ Lower class person cannot afford health care ➡️ Requires Medicaid to pay health bills due to smoking habit ➡️ Tax payers contribute to Medicaid. And the cycle continues....

The government has tried to regulate smoking. They implement astronomical "sin taxes" on tobacco products, ban advertisements on television and in print, and print warning labels on the product itself. However, it still doesn't seem to stop people. And, there is a question of whether the government can even put these types of regulations on tobacco products. As one tobacco farmer put it,"Tobacco's older than the gummint itself!". 

So, with all this being said, should the government be able to implement these regulations? Is it for the greater good of American tax payers or does Tobacco's seniority deserve respect?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Gatsby and Kane

Two classic American works: "The Great Gatsby" and "Citizen Kane", while taking place decades apart, the two are very similar. Jay Gatsby and Charles Foster Kane are two characters that are the epitome of power. But, the similarities do not stop there. These two men had humble beginnings in the Mid-West. Each coming from modest, lower class families, they leave home at a young age. Gatsby, although his backstory is somewhat unclear, leaves his family to live with Dan Cody a wealthy upper class man of the East who teaches him how to act like an upper class member. Charles Kane also comes from a Mid-West family. At a very young age, his mother comes into money and sends him to live with Mr. Thatcher a wealthy upper class man from the East who will take care of Charles. 

These men both turn out to become enormous successes. They both buy enormous estates and throw elaborate parties. Gatsby's house is so large that hundreds of people attend his wild parties every week. Kane also owns an estate named Xanadu. Xanadu is so large that Kane's wife is unsure of who is actually staying with them. These estates and upper class lifestyles lead the men to not know how to show affection. 

Kane's Xanadu estate

Gatsby uses his wealth in order to win Daisy's affection. He throws these over the top parties and even throws his multitudes of colorful shirts to impress her and win her love. However, he never really gives daisy the affection she wants. Kane does the same thing to his second wife Susan Alexander. He builds Susan her own Opera House, pays for voice lessons, and builds Xanadu. However, all Susan wants is for Kane to love her. Both of these men never received this type of love as children, they only know how to buy people's affection. Sadly, this leads to Susan leaving Kane because she says he can't give her what she wants. 

Gatsby's mansion from the 2013 movie version of the novel

But, perhaps the most paramount similarity between Jay Gatsby and Charles Foster Kane is their yearning to relive the past. With Gatsby, it is very clear that he thinks that he can recreate the past. All Gatsby wants throughout the book is to get Daisy back. He wants to rekindle the love affair he had with her five years ago and truly believes it is possible to recreate the past. Charles Kane also holds onto the past but, in a more covert way. The film opens with Kane muttering his last word "rosebud" and the film centers around a reporter trying to recover what rosebud is. We eventually learn that "rosebud" was his childhood sleigh that he wants to relive his past. His sleigh was the last thing he held onto in his childhood before he was moved out East. Although these two men amount to powerful successes, they cannot help but yearn for the lives they lived when they were lower class, mid-western kids.  

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Mo' Bachelorettes, Mo' Problems

Yesterday, millions of Americans watched as ABC broke bachelor and bachelorette history: having two bachelorettes. The rather risqué decision to have the men vote on which woman they would rather have the opportunity to date was revealed a couple months ago and uproars have taken place ever since. The show was already misogynistic to begin with: having women constantly in bikinis, competing for one man, and then exploiting them on national television. However, two bachelorettes is a new low for the franchise. 

The men were all given one rose used to "cast their vote" as to who they wanted as the bachelorette. They were to walk into the voting room and place their rose in the ballot with their desired bachelorette's picture above. It is incredibly demeaning to have men literally cast a vote to see who they get to date. But, to me, that was not even the worst  part of ABC's decision. 

A male suitor literally places his rose in the ballot box of the girl he wants to date

The Bachelor has been on ABC for 19 seasons while The Bachelorette has only been running for 11 seasons. So, wouldn't the logical decision be to test out a new idea on the show that has been running the longest? But, producers would never do that because frankly a male bachelor would never put up with that. Women are lined up and "chosen" to be a wife on The Bachelor and now, even when it's the women's turn to pick, the men are still picking.

In fact, former Bachelor and Bachelorette alums have expressed their discontent with the show via social media:

With a show that gets millions upon millions of viewers promoting that men should always get to choose their women, I wonder what America will take away from this new format of the show. Will Americans think it will be okay for women to be voted on as a prize to be won? I hope that the alum's tweets will help show Americans, especially susceptible young women, that it is not okay to pit women against one another as a prize to be won. 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A Worse Fate

As news broke that Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was sentenced to death, many Bostonians are feeling unsettled about the conviction. A New York Times article discussed that the city did not know what to make of the death sentence. While some were content that Tsarnaev is being put on death row, the vast majority do not agree with the sentence. Yes, some are simply opposed to the death penalty, but many feel that life without parole would be a more severe punishment: "No one here felt sympathy for him. Rather, many thought life in prison would be a fate worse than death, especially for someone as young as Mr. Tsarnaev, who is 21". 

The graph above depicts American's opinion about what the proper punishment should be for a person convicted of a death penalty worthy crime. 

As you can see from above, Americans are almost split on the issue between life without parole and death row. However, I wonder if the people polled who chose "life without parole and restitution" were morally opposed to the death penalty. 

Personally, I feel that Tsarnaev should be sentenced to life without parole and restitution. I think that the article said it best that he is so young that rotting in jail for over fifty years would be a more severe punishment than death. The reason why I feel that life without parole is a worse sentence is because one cannot escape what he has done. Everyday, he must sit in a cell and think about the people he killed, his brother, and the people he injured. But, if Tsarnaev is not remorseful for his actions, then the death penalty would be a better punishment. I am unsure if Tsarnaev has guilt or remorse, or if he is happy with himself. Sometimes people are so mentally sick that they feel their actions are justified and in this case, I feel, that it would be better to put them on death row. 

What do you think? Does Tsarnaev deserve life without parole or the death penalty? 

Friday, May 15, 2015

Black, White, and Blues

Blues Legend B.B. King passed away last night at the age of 89. King is best known as making blues music mainstream.  However, what many forget is that King humbly began his life working in the fields and attending his African American Baptist church. While he fell in love with the music in the church, he wanted to do something bigger, more powerful. Thus, King began creating electric guitar blues riffs and recording songs. By the 1960s, many other upcoming musicians began to admire and adopt blues due to King's revolution. 

A recent Chicago Tribune article describes this revolution: "a generation of white rock ‘n’ rollers on both sides of the Atlantic began immersing themselves in blues, and King became a hero of sorts to Clapton, Mike Bloomfield, the Rolling Stones and countless others. Amid this rising appreciation for “authentic” Mississippi sounds by a generation that had never set foot on a plantation, King continued to work both sides of the commercial fence". King was able to break the racial barrier of blues music. As the excerpt states, these blues sounds were to whites who "had never set foot on a plantation".

B.B. King and Eric Clapton joining their musical styles and fighting racial prejudice

Through his music, King was able to bridge a racial gap. Becoming an icon to many American's icons, he diminished the negative connotations of his race. Although King is remembered today as a music icon, he should be remembered as something much more: a man who bridged the racial gaps in music. A man who made his upbringing relatable to a mass population. A man who took the sounds of the African American church and made them the sounds of every person regardless of their race. 

B.B. will truly be missed, but his legacy will reign on. 

Friday, May 8, 2015

From Hoity-Toity to Hip: Kale

For the past few years, kale has anchored as the new, hip way to stay healthy. However, this bitter form of spinach requires an acquired consumer. Thus, it has even developed a reputation: kale is for the upper class, the wealthy, the health crazed, the "I can afford a seven dollar juice as a snack". Kale has been enormously featured in restaurants across the nation. But, most of these restaurants are upscale, innovative food stops that also feature quinoa, vegan, and gluten free options which translates to pricey.

The reputation that kale has developed has even served as a marketing strategy. According to a recent article, just earlier this year McDonald's created a commercial making fun of the new foodie trends with the upper class: “'You can’t get juiciness like this from soy or quinoa,” said the ad’s narrator. “Nor will this ever be kale,” he added as the camera zoomed in on the lettuce in a Big Mac". McDonald's is clearly making fun of Kale consumers to appeal to their audience which is lower and working class members. The article even describes Kale as "associated with hoity-toity foodies". The term "hoity-toity" is usually used to describe stereotypical upper class members and is synonymous with snooty and stuck-up.

A still from the McDonald's commercial showing that the Big Mac's lettuce "will never be kale"

However, McDonald's has had a change of heart. As of yesterday, the fast food giant will start to feature Kale in their menu at select locations. While to some this may appear hypocritical, a company representative justified their new menu addition as "completely different" from their BigMac ad. They said that the Kale will be featured in a breakfast bowl, not a burger. But, personally I feel that the company is just trying to appeal to all different types of classes. Their Big Mac commercial helps them maintain their lower class customers while the new Kale breakfast options will appeal to the upper class.

This new menu can also be attributed to McDonald's poor financial record. A recent article stated, "The company signaled its plan for a fresh start after reporting another quarter of disappointing financial results". McDonald's needed to change its image. The new demand is for a "modern, progressive" restaurant. The burger empire took its unfortunate sales record this past year as a cry for change. Thus, the new menu. Perhaps the combination of the upper class praising hip foods like kale and the original menu not selling sent McDonald's over the edge. 

Do you think the new Kale options will appeal to the upper class? Turn away the lower class?