Monthly Archives: November 2011

Has our entertainment declined?

It has been several months since I have been sufficiently enticed by a movie’s trailer and synopsis to want to make a special trip to the theater to see it. Technology has advanced to the point where any special effect can be created with plausibility; virtual worlds look real and we can experience them in three dimensions.

While the much-lauded Avatar was beautifully portrayed and contained a notable message, it doesn’t leave an indelible imprint on my mind as did the more basically animated Disney movies of my youth. The “classic” cartoons I watched at five years old – Bugs Bunny, Wil E. Coyote and other Looney Tunes – seem to have more character and substance than the artfully drawn but surface shows filling today’s children’s heads.

Is this nostalgia, or is the quality of entertainment in decline?

The other day I was browsing Netflix. Again, it takes a lot for me to want to push play and stare at a screen for a couple hours. Usually I wind up watching a documentary, independent film, foreign film, or historical drama. Most movies are just so banal as to seem a complete waste of time. I came across an older film, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), starring Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman and based on a play by Tennessee Williams, and gave it a try.

It was riveting. The entire movie takes place in one house; there are no car chases, no drugs, deaths or sex. No murders or affairs or alternate realities or wars. Just a family and a dying father: intelligent, dignified, nuanced, and true-to-life dialogue from characters so complex and wonderfully acted as to become real human beings. Just watching the interplay and the faces; the way the script hints at myriad human emotions, was remarkable. Near the end, as the aforementioned dying father finally comes to terms with his son (Paul Newman) at the climax of the film, I actually cried. And I hardly ever cry.

Also, and I have noticed this in other classic films like Gone with the Wind and The Long, Hot Summer (also from 1958 and starring Paul Newman and his real-life wife, Joanne Woodward) – they are inordinately sexy. Yet, the word ‘sex’ – let alone much more graphic and commonly heard words – is never mentioned. In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Elizabeth Taylor plays a sensual, young wife who is simply dying to go to bed with her reticent husband. You can tell by the way she looks at him and looks at their bed; and the way she says the phrase that gives the movie its title: “I feel like a cat on a hot tin roof!”

What she is saying is that she is wildly horny, as is Joanne Woodward’s character in The Long, Hot Summer. But instead of being cheap and crude, their sexuality is sparkling, sophisticated and strikingly real. Their frustrations, delayed gratifications, complex relationships, morals, dreams; all create a multi-faceted, pulsating woman who is hard to forget.

Similarly, I rarely go wild over a contemporary novel. My favorites are Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky; I love Goethe’s Faust and Homer’s Iliad. Of course, there are towering contemporary geniuses like David Foster Wallace. There are many amazing books and movies. I just feel like the intelligence and quality has somehow, in some way, degraded. Most of today’s “entertainment” does not challenge me intellectually or resound with my inner self; it rarely provokes thought, inspires deep emotion or stays with me in any significant way.

I myself could never hope to craft the prose of say, Dante or Byron. And it makes me wonder how malleable our mentalities are. The ancient Greeks believed that every human being should strive for arête, an excellence in mind, spirit and body. Knowledge, wisdom and aesthetics were actively pursued. And our finest philosophies and most timeless plays were produced from this matrix.

I think that the way children are educated and their environment can encourage or hinder their growth, much like how a plant flourishes only under ideal conditions. The standard public school system does not stimulate deep, creative, abstract thought as did exposing them to Latin, Greek, music, art, history, geography and other classic subjects and expecting mastery as opposed to memorization.


Mercy Mercy Me

In 1971, Marvin Gaye wrote these lyrics:

Oh, mercy mercy me
Oh, things ain’t what they used to be
No, no
Where did all the blue sky go?
Poison is the wind that blows
From the north, east, south, and sea
Oh, mercy mercy me
Oh, things ain’t what they used to be
No, no
Oil wasted on the oceans and upon our seas
Fish full of mercury
Oh, mercy mercy me
Oh, things ain’t what they used to be
No, no
Radiation in the ground and in the sky
Animals and birds who live nearby are dying
Oh, mercy mercy me
Oh, things ain’t what they used to be
What about this overcrowded land?
How much more abuse from man can you stand?
My sweet Lord
My sweet Lord
My sweet Lord 

What was cause for concern and sorrow four decades ago is cause for sheer heartbreak and horror now. Yesterday I read an article on Yahoo, intended to be purely informational, detailing what seafood you shouldn’t eat: Tuna, farmed salmon, imported crab and shrimp, Atlantic flounder, sole and halibut … pretty much most everything you find in the average grocery store and restaurant. Farmed salmon “are crammed into pens, which leads to the growth of diseases and parasites that require antibiotics and pesticides … [and] fed pellets that contain pink dye.” Other fish are also not only in danger of extinction from overfishing (and other man-made catastrophes) but contain high levels of mercury, BPA and other toxic chemicals.

Today on Aljazeera I read this article entitled “World’s oceans in peril.” From oil spills to overfishing to climate change to the great floating garbage patches … it is just an overwhelming tragedy. Not only are we at the point where it is a serious challenge to find healthy seafood that won’t poison us, but we are wiping out the ocean’s creatures and the beautiful blue world itself.

Drink up some passion

There are myriad delicious flavors of tea. Made with leaves and infused with herbs, spices, flowers and fruits, each variety is packed full of antioxidants and unique health benefits.

But one of my all-time favorites, and one I’d like to recommend, is Passion by Tazo. Caffeine-free, it is made with hibiscus flowers, passion fruit and mango, licorice root, orange peel, cinnamon, rose hips and lemongrass.

I am attracted to its sweet taste, but it turns out it is providing me with a mugful of vitamin C and countless other health benefits, everything from calming nerves to lowering blood pressure to enhancing cognition (click the links above to learn more).

I was reminded when I visited a wizened herbalist at the weekend farmer’s market that there are many natural spices/plants/roots/flowers that can heal. I would love to learn more about what each one can do and then apply them as needed.  Tea drinking is common in India, Japan and in other cultures, but I think many of us in developed western societies are unaware of the power of plants to heal and enhance and make well.

Perhaps you can explore these natural remedies, not only to heal but to prevent future ailments, refresh your skin and provide natural mood, energy and immunity boosts, in place of drinking coffee, artificial drinks (soda, energy drinks, anything with high fructose corn syrup, refined sugar, etc.) and relying on over-the-counter pills and medicine.

A few years ago I decided to never take any pills or medicine again. But, I did take Advil for menstrual cramps. Recently I have discovered that there are natural remedies for that as well! Do some research and you will find a wealth of good-tasting, nice-smelling, pleasant ways to treat your body right. Now doesn’t that beat the two pages worth of devastating side effects on the ubiquitous ads for yet another toxic and expensive pill with a manipulatively clever name?

Listen to yourself

The U.S. health and fitness industry, which includes the weight loss industry, is worth $60 billion a year. There are infinite plans, pills and programs; many people struggle on a daily basis to regulate caloric intake and mindlessly go for anything with “Low Fat” plastered on it.

Interesting that before the Industrial Revolution, there was no such thing as ‘organic.’ Everything was grown in nutrient-rich soil, without pesticides, and all meat was free-range and untainted. There was also really no such thing as exercise, at least how it is now construed. People were naturally active on a daily basis.

I suppose my point isn’t all that profound: just that you don’t need any special regimen at all. You just need to walk and run and move more, every day. You don’t need to have a dietitian or a book or a celebrity or a commercial or a product package to tell you what to eat. You just have to use some common sense (just because an avocado is filled with fat does not mean it is bad; whole unpasteurized milk is superior to skim milk laced with antibiotics) and try to listen to what your body is telling you.

If you are free from addictions to MSG, salt, sugar and other processed foods and additives, then you can follow your cravings to what your body may need. For example, if you find yourself craving sweet potatoes, you may be deficient in vitamin A. If you love clam chowder, your body might be appreciatively gobbling up all that iron and zinc. Love tomato sauce-slathered pasta and orange juice? (Yes.) You may need to stock up on Vitamin C. Even wanting to indulge in dark chocolate means that your body may require a little burst of mood-boosting serotonin.

There are endless good things to eat and drink, each filled with unique and miraculously beneficial compositions of minerals, amino acids, antioxidants and/or nutrients. And to have them all on hand 24/7 at the corner grocery store — I know I have the Industrial Revolution to thank for that.

I would just like to point out that there is no need to pay for any person, program or pill, or to even count calories. It’s all about the quality of ingredients and if the food product is pure and unadulterated. If you eat only high-caliber, whole foods, and eat only when you are hungry, and follow your cravings, plus walk a lot more than you sit, then you should not have much of a problem with your weight, metabolism or health.

I love butter (and other farmer’s market finds)

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Today I went on a long 15-mile bike ride loop to the Yellow Green Farmer’s Market, Hollywood Beach and home. Pure heaven. Now I have tons of little treats to enjoy until I go back again for more.

Two perennial favorites are shea butter, enhanced with turmeric and imported from Ghana, and salted Amish butter, which comes from a Wisconsin farm in a huge block and tastes a thousand times better than regular store-bought butter.

I also got essential oils from India to burn over a candle (China Rain and Dragon’s Blood); looseleaf rooibos and dandelion tea (for antioxidants and detoxifying); Maca powder from Peru to add into smoothies; and two clear quartz crystals, which I subsequently had to cleanse in the ocean and are now being purified by the full (ish) moon.

Live without Dead Time

The latest Adbusters print magazine urges people to live without dead time.

For many people, this means do not get trapped in a sedentary, passive lifestyle where you are literally programmed by the media and advertisements (or, poisoned with infotoxins; read more here and here).

Not too long ago, people were much more active. They grew things, built things and created things with their hands. They walked almost everywhere. I am not anti-progress, but I do decry the car-work-couch cycle that many Americans fall into.

Unfortunately, my job requires long periods of sitting, which is linked to higher rates of cancer. I recently started practicing yoga, which felt amazing, dissolving all the accumulated tension and knots from hours and hours of sitting at a desk. Giving up TV also helps, opening your mind to the world around you.

The last time I watched TV, I was in a condominium gym, a small windowless room lit up by fluorescent lights. As I walked on the treadmill, a commercial came on urging people to stop drinking cranberry juice and pop a pill instead. It was saying, forget what your mom told you. Now  you can get the same bladder protection in a more modern and convenient way. Needless to say, I found it repugnant (as I do most commercials). That night, in my dreams, a phrase came to me: “I live in an artificial ad world.”

It is difficult to have true authentic adventures, to avoid advertisements and to truly live in our modern, industrialized landscape. That is why I want to travel and to eventually live … somewhere else.

Reveal your inner essence

Express your Inner Pocahontas

Halloween is over, which means that, for the vast majority of us, it will be a whole year before we get to dress up and become another persona (unless you’re into role playing wink wink).

When you picked out your costume, were you trying to achieve maximum scariness or maximum sexiness? Make people laugh or wonder at your clever creativity? Or were you just trying to find something quick and cheap for a night before going back to your regular, workaday self?

Or, did your costume express a hidden side of your psyche? Perhaps what compelled you to don what you did expressed something about your inner personality that you don’t normally get to show (the subconscious Id?).

This year, I was a guerrilla fighter/revolutionary warrior. For years I have had dreams where, in a post-apocalyptic world, I have to fight to defend myself and my family. I sneak around and hide, my sole motivation being survival, my body filled with adrenaline and pushed to do things I normally wouldn’t imagine. Sometimes I’m in ruined suburbs or demolished buildings; other times, in the forest. I feel the rush of adventure and the overwhelming strength of my spirit and body as I use my intelligence in a very primitive way. It feels good.

So I believe this persona expressed an aggressive, physical side of myself that normally has to be latent and subdued. Last year I was a Native American, which I feel also expressed a side of myself that likes to be very free-spirited and independent and connected with the natural world. I considered being a French Maid, but it just seemed so blasé, so self-subordinating and one-dimensional.

Music/Arts festivals like Burning Man and national parties like Carnaval also encourage cathartic, freeing self-expression. We need more of those!

Here is a list of 10 major parties around the world that not only inspire revelry and debauchery, but can also unleash your inner self.