Acculturated http://acculturated.com Pop Culture Matters Thu, 25 Aug 2016 20:00:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 We’re All Losers in the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard Divorce http://acculturated.com/johnny-depp-amber-heard-divorce/ http://acculturated.com/johnny-depp-amber-heard-divorce/#respond Thu, 25 Aug 2016 20:00:29 +0000 http://acculturated.com/?p=52669

Now that the Olympics are over, we can all get back to the competition that Americans really care about—that is, the blood sport that is celebrity divorce. Ratings for the Rio games were down 17 percent from the 2012 games in London, possibly because we were all caught up with the heart-stopping Johnny Depp/Amber Heard … Continued

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Now that the Olympics are over, we can all get back to the competition that Americans really care about—that is, the blood sport that is celebrity divorce. Ratings for the Rio games were down 17 percent from the 2012 games in London, possibly because we were all caught up with the heart-stopping Johnny Depp/Amber Heard sprint to the bank that was occurring simultaneously.

While American athletes who had trained for decades were breaking records and heroically doing pushups after stumbling at the finish line, the Pirates of the Caribbean actor and his second wife were grimly concluding a speedy divorce that followed an equally speedy marriage. The headline People magazine gave their settlement says a lot about how Americans view the business of putting a marriage asunder, at least when celebrities are involved: “Who won the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard Divorce?” was the question the magazine posed, pithily exposing a modern truth: that there is a fault line in every division and no matter how level the plates, someone has to emerge on top.

Unfortunately for readers for whom thinking is an occupational hazard, the magazine declined to answer its own question, leading them to ponder on their own whether a $7 million award that is given to charity counts as a win, or whether the recanting of domestic abuse allegations is worth even more. So let’s do the math.

Depp’s assets were recently diminished by the sale of two Jean-Michel Basquiat paintings worth $11.5 million (and the pending sale of a seven-bedroom, nine-bath home in Venice). But in light of his overall earnings, they were scarcely tapped by the much younger woman to whom he was married for 15 months. Point: Depp.

Heard, who met Depp on the set of The Rum Diary in 2009 while he was still with the mother of his two children, the famously gap-toothed French model Vanessa Paradis, allegedly had no pre-nuptial agreement with Depp, which means that under California law she was entitled to half of what the couple earned since they married in February 2015.

No matter how troubled their brief union, she lost points by filing for divorce days after Depp’s beloved mother died, and also by asking for spousal support, as if the sheer exhaustion of being a beautiful young woman married to a wealthy celebrity for 15 months had stripped her of the ability to earn money. Again, point: Depp.

Then again, she’s giving it all to charity, if you can call the American Civil Liberties Union, which is getting half, a charity (cough cough). Depp, ever the gentleman, reportedly has already sent the first checks, to the ACLU and to Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. But given that Heard first argued her need for spousal support, the late-game benevolence bewilders, and poses the question of who gets the tax write-off, something we all should look into next April. Point: Nobody.

So who won the Depp/Heard divorce? Nobody, for no one ever wins in a divorce. It’s the one game where everyone loses: the partners, their children, and the whole of a society made stable and civilized by functioning families. Both Depp and Heard suffered a loss of public stature, the splintered door of their domestic messiness flung open to the gaze of an eager, cawing audience.

The already foundering institution of marriage suffered yet another cut by the whole debacle; Depp’s union with Paradis, after all, was not formalized with a ceremony and ring, yet it lasted a dozen years longer than the gilded brawl that was the Depp/Heard micro-marriage.

Thankfully, there were no children between them to endure the awkward otherness that their parents’ breakup would have tarred them with, and the years of being handed off clumsily, like oversized packages no one is sure where to put. Depp has said he loves being a dad and would happily have 100 children. For everyone’s sake (and given his anger management issues), let’s hope his next union is with someone past child-bearing age.

The lessons for the rest of us are unclear, although myriad law firms have leapt in to try to find some, publishing blog posts like “3 lessons you can learn from Johnny Depp’s split” and “Depp’s divorce serves as a prenuptial lesson for us all.” (Not surprisingly, they conclude that everyone needs a competent attorney). In the end, what the Depp/Heard debacle shows is that we need a communal vision of marriage that’s more like a sacrament and less like a strange celebrity sport.

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Hey NBC – Don’t Blame Millennials for Your Bad Olympics Ratings http://acculturated.com/bad-olympics-ratings/ http://acculturated.com/bad-olympics-ratings/#comments Thu, 25 Aug 2016 17:00:02 +0000 http://acculturated.com/?p=52659

Apparently, if you don’t want to take the blame for your mistakes, you can just blame Millennials. Everyone hates the self-centered, tech-obsessed, lazy Millennials who do nothing but play Pokémon Go and whine about drowning in their student loans, so we’re a pretty easy group to blame for everything. Frankly, it’s exhausting trying to defend … Continued

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Apparently, if you don’t want to take the blame for your mistakes, you can just blame Millennials. Everyone hates the self-centered, tech-obsessed, lazy Millennials who do nothing but play Pokémon Go and whine about drowning in their student loans, so we’re a pretty easy group to blame for everything. Frankly, it’s exhausting trying to defend Millennials against all the claims stacked up against us (oh wait, I’m whining! #sorry).

The latest swing at Millennials? We’re being blamed for the worst ratings of the Olympics in years. Yep, you read that right. According the NBCUniversal, the ratings for the Olympics were down 17 percent, so the blame must lie with the generation everyone loves to hate. It doesn’t matter that the Opening Ceremonies were an unbearable combination of commercials and Bob Costas commentary, or that the Olympics coverage on NBC was so tape delayed that many people were in bed by the time they aired on the West Coast.

Apparently, the problems with coverage don’t affect the ratings. According to the chief executive officer of NBC, it’s just the Millennials fault for being too wrapped up in Snapchat to watch the Olympics. “We wake up someday and the ratings are down 20 percent,” he said at a conference. “If that happens, my prediction would be that Millennials had been in a Facebook bubble or a Snapchat bubble and the Olympics have come, and they didn’t know it.”

Don’t worry, we Millennials aren’t so self-absorbed that we didn’t know the Olympics were happening (Facebook and Twitter told us the Olympics were on!). There were also a ton of Millennials participating in the Olympics—Katie Ledecky, Simone Manuel, Nathan Adrian, Ginny Thrasher, and Jack Sock, to name a few.

There are many possible reasons for the low ratings the network suffered this year. One is related to social media: Since the Olympics coverage was so delayed, it was easier to get the live results from news sites and Twitter. I didn’t watch Simone Biles’ gold medal floor routine live, but I was able to watch the videos when several people posted them on Facebook later. It was hard to stay up late to watch the Olympics (I had to go to bed since I’m actually a Millennial with a job), so social media was actually helpful to keep up with the Olympics.

Another reason I didn’t watch much of the Olympics: I’m a broke Millennial who can’t afford cable. I would rather try to pay back my student loans than pay an ever-increasing cable bill every month, especially since there are so many cheaper or free options nowadays (and Millennials aren’t the only ones cutting the cable cord). NBC is behind the times. Even if you want to watch NBC online, you still have to have cable.

The one time I went to watch the Olympics “live,” I strategically went to a bar on a night where they have $2 drinks, so I wouldn’t have to pay full price because I’m a typical broke Millennial. I was disappointed in the coverage; the women’s gymnastics events were on, but NBC switched to the “live” swimming event, which turned out to be just commentators talking before the events even started. I didn’t go out to watch the Olympics only to have the action replaced by commentators talking, so I didn’t waste more money trying to watch them live on another night.

Many Millennials, myself included, love watching the Olympics. Despite all the negativity surrounding the Olympics in Rio this year, it’s an amazing athletic ritual and the Olympics are a great way to see athletes unite from all over the world. So it’s not that Millennials are no longer interested in the Olympics or that we’re trapped in a “Snapchat bubble”; the coverage of the Olympics was bad this year, and that’s why it got such low ratings, plain and simple. Quit blaming Millennials for any little thing that goes wrong, and own up to your own mistakes. Or as the trending Twitter hashtag put it: #NBCfails.

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This Year, Let’s End the School Supplies Arms Race http://acculturated.com/school-supplies-arms-race/ http://acculturated.com/school-supplies-arms-race/#respond Thu, 25 Aug 2016 14:00:08 +0000 http://acculturated.com/?p=52647

When did school supply shopping become an insanity-inducing enterprise? Gone, it seems, are the days of the simple bundle of sharpened pencils in a hand-me-down backpack. As parents all over the country are washing and putting away the beach towels and swimsuits and going through the piles of papers that have collected and the emails … Continued

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When did school supply shopping become an insanity-inducing enterprise? Gone, it seems, are the days of the simple bundle of sharpened pencils in a hand-me-down backpack. As parents all over the country are washing and putting away the beach towels and swimsuits and going through the piles of papers that have collected and the emails that have amassed during summer vacation, those with school-aged kids are undoubtedly encountering that now-dreaded piece of paper, or papers, that lists the eighty thousand items their child needs for school.

One friend sent me a photo of the school supplies she bought for three children, two of them twins starting school for the first time ever. It was a mound of plastic bags several feet high.

My favorite parenting blog has multiple threads devoted to raging and hating on school supplies. One is titled, “Vent: School supplies cost me $400.” Another reads, “I’m done with buying all the extra school supplies.”

I myself am already well past the $100 mark for my four year-old beginning public preschool, and that is with opting for everything generic and cheap. I politely declined the school’s request, for example, that I purchase brand-name wipes.

Upset parents are not overreacting; the amount of money and time that frenzied and overstretched parents are expected to spend on school supplies has grown exponentially in recent years.

As Consumer Reports noted this year, six in ten parents will spend more on school supplies this year than they did the previous year. Back-to-school shopping, it notes, “is the second-busiest time of year for retailers (after the winter holidays),” with the average family anticipating spending almost one thousand dollars on school supplies this year.

As The Week recently noted, the National Retail Federation has tracked a 55 percent increase in spending on school supplies just in the last decade. And it’s not like other costs related to raising children, like childcare and college, have declined during that period.

No, school shopping is just the latest way parents are getting slammed by the cost of raising children in a way that is entirely unnecessary.

Why can’t kids re-use old crayons, like they do at my local public library? Their lack of spiffy new wrappers and stubby shapes have never slowed my daughter down from creative drawing. Why can’t kids bring their own plastic cup and wash it at the end of the day, instead of making parents buy thousands of Dixie cups that will only wind up in the trash? And why do kids need the world’s most exotic calculators, when they are likely only using 20 percent of its functionality?

I might be more convinced of the need to spend money on school supplies if America’s schools were actually doing a good job educating America’s children. But as my own city, Washington, D.C., displays for the nation, money spent on education does not necessarily translate into results. D.C. spends more per pupil that any other state in the country, and yet its schools rank near the bottom of the nation.

The tendency to throw money at problems is a uniquely American one. And the exorbitant amounts American parents are expected to spend on their little ones, at a time when wages are stagnant and the cost of basic necessities is rising, feels more like a distraction from a problem—our nation’s lagging schools—than a way to get ahead of it.

And worst of all, it starts out the school year by teaching kids bad lessons about thrift. It’s important that kids value education, but what are we teaching them when they see us grimacing at the cash register about the cost of school supplies before the year has begun? And what lessons are we missing teaching them about reusing and refusing to spend money on frivolity when they show up for the first day of school with overflowing plastic bags full of junk? Finally, the growing focus on school supplies is yet another way to widen the chasm between the rich and the poor. When some notebooks and pencils sufficed, it was a lot harder to tell whose family had money and whose didn’t. (Consider how this plays out over time, too; college dorm décor is now a booming mini-industry, and some college students even turn their rooms into expensively designed spaces that look more like designer showrooms than dorms).

In a time when books about minimalism and simplifying life are topping the bestseller list, schools could take a cue from the culture and aim for a simpler and thriftier approach that is gentler on parents’ pocketbooks. I doubt the kids will notice the difference.

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The Faithlessness of ‘Sausage Party’ http://acculturated.com/sausage-party/ http://acculturated.com/sausage-party/#respond Wed, 24 Aug 2016 20:00:28 +0000 http://acculturated.com/?p=52638

Religion, we are told, is a prickly, sensitive topic to address in public. Unless, of course, you are pot-obsessed “stoner comedian” Seth Rogen and you get Sony Pictures to allow you to publically address it via an animated movie about talking hot dogs who want to have sex with hot dog buns. Ladies and gentlemen, … Continued

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Religion, we are told, is a prickly, sensitive topic to address in public. Unless, of course, you are pot-obsessed “stoner comedian” Seth Rogen and you get Sony Pictures to allow you to publically address it via an animated movie about talking hot dogs who want to have sex with hot dog buns.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you…Sausage Party!

Whatever your feelings about Seth Rogen and his crew – which includes Danny McBride, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson and James Franco – these guys take real creative chances in their work.

Sausage Party is a bizarre, satirical imagining of what the food we eat might be thinking (and talking) about when we are not around. Set primarily inside a local grocery store on the night before Fourth of July shoppers come to purchase perishables for their BBQ celebrations, an earnest sausage named Frank escapes his packaging to be with his hot dog bun girlfriend, Brenda (voiced by Kristen Wiig), and the pair embark on a harrowing journey of self-discovery and crude innuendos. Frank and Brenda, like all other edible items in the store, worship humans, consider them “gods,” and believe that to go home in the grocery bag of a shopper is the equivalent of being ushered into the Pearly Gates of Heaven itself.

But when Frank has his eyes opened to the fact that humans eat the food they select off of the shelves of his store, and that the myth of immortality awaiting food outside the doors of the supermarket was started and perpetuated by older, non-perishable food items, he is resolute in his mission to warn his friends away from the futility of their religious convictions.

Sausage Party has plenty of laughs and silly gags. The animation is not nearly as good as Pixar’s, but it’s good enough to keep its deficiencies from becoming a distraction. And I credit Rogen and his team for attempting to do something so unusual.

But the message of the film – that religion gets in the way of true happiness – is almost as insulting as the way the message is delivered (via talking, horny hot dogs); and it doesn’t help that the messengers are pot-addled millennial celebrities who make millions for telling dick jokes. As a fellow millennial who appreciates different cultures, backgrounds, outlooks and worldviews, I nevertheless found the ethos of Sausage Party to be as empty and vapid as the calories one would get from eating the talking junk food on the screen.

Admittedly, I went into the movie with low expectations. Yet I was still disappointed by how crudely the film treated faith.  For example, when, near the end of the film, the character of Frank the Sausage gets on the closed-circuit television network within the grocery store to deliver his “Inherit the Wind” speech exposing the truth about his civilization’s sham religion, a significant portion of the population become angry at him for tinkering with their simplistic understanding of the world. Frank can’t understand why these close-minded people won’t adopt this truth he discovered (while smoking weed, of course).

The message?  People who are religious are dumb and get angry when you tell them something that conflicts with their worldview. People who are chilled out and not stressed about things like sex, drugs and the ultimate fate of your soul are the smart ones whose job it is to lead the masses to enlightenment. In other words, the underlying message of the movie sounds like the ramblings of a stoned teenage boy who is angry that his parents made him go to parochial school.  So if you decide to see Sausage Party, go for the adolescent jokes; but don’t expect more than the predictably patronizing Hollywood message about faith.

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Turn Off Your TV, Read A Book, Live Longer? http://acculturated.com/turn-off-tv-read-book-live-longer/ http://acculturated.com/turn-off-tv-read-book-live-longer/#comments Wed, 24 Aug 2016 17:00:18 +0000 http://acculturated.com/?p=52624

We live in a golden age of video content, whether it’s TV series funded by streaming networks like Amazon Prime and Netflix or indie Kickstarter-funded movies, of which there are more and more every year. The average person now watches hours and hours of video content every day, and according to Time magazine, although we … Continued

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We live in a golden age of video content, whether it’s TV series funded by streaming networks like Amazon Prime and Netflix or indie Kickstarter-funded movies, of which there are more and more every year. The average person now watches hours and hours of video content every day, and according to Time magazine, although we still watch a lot of broadcast TV, “individuals are spending more hours surfing the web and viewing streaming services.”

The irony? A research study at Yale University found that people who read books have longer lifespans. In fact, “book readers experienced a 20 percent reduction in risk of mortality over the 12 years of follow-up compared to non-book readers.” The effect was marked enough (on average, book readers lived almost two years longer) that the researchers declared that books offer “a significant survival advantage.”

A closer look at the numbers suggests that either everyone’s given up their hobbies in favor of consuming media or that people are just working less (or sleeping less), because not only has consumption of video content and time spent online increased, book buying has also increased annually during the last few years too.

Then again, buying a book and reading a book are two different things. There is a word in Japanese, tsundoku, which refers to “people who buy books and let them pile up, unread.”  If you’re one of these people, you’re not alone (there are even support groups for book hoarders). The bad news is that unless you actually read the books, you won’t extend your life.

The world of ebooks isn’t immune to this tsundoku phenomenon either: e-book publisher Jellybooks found that about 45 percent of e-books aren’t even started after being downloaded. A good completion rate is now 70 percent and some genres see less than 20 percent of readers finishing the e-book they start. Jellybooks suggests that readers are generally more likely to finish a plot-driven genre novel than they are a literary one.

And there’s another factor that’s making this read-more-live-longer news worse for Americans: Turns out that we’re way down on the list of nations where people read the most books. At the top of the list are India, Thailand and China, and even Egypt, Turkey and Germany are ahead of the United States, which only ranks #23 according to the World Culture Index.

In recent years we’ve seen more research showing that reading literary fiction increases empathy; and that having children read philosophy can even improve their math scores.  So we know that reading is good for us; we’re just not doing enough of it.

The TV can wait. Netflix can wait. YouTube isn’t going anywhere. So pick up a book, curl up in a favorite chair, and give it a shot. Who knows, maybe you’ll not only discover a great story, but also extend your life in the process.

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Like Most People, You Would Sell Your Firstborn for an App http://acculturated.com/like-people-sell-firstborn-app/ http://acculturated.com/like-people-sell-firstborn-app/#comments Wed, 24 Aug 2016 15:41:58 +0000 http://acculturated.com/?p=52634

Perhaps you, like many people, have been distracted by the BearCam in Katmai, Alaska, that has captured the public’s imagination recently. If so, you might be forgiven for having skipped over the latest Terms of Service contract attached to that app you downloaded or that new phone you recently purchased. But you might think twice about … Continued

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Perhaps you, like many people, have been distracted by the BearCam in Katmai, Alaska, that has captured the public’s imagination recently. If so, you might be forgiven for having skipped over the latest Terms of Service contract attached to that app you downloaded or that new phone you recently purchased.

But you might think twice about unthinkingly ticking the box after reading about this research study: NPR’s Shankar Vedantam found that “people consented to sharing their private information with the NSA, and to surrendering their first-born as payment for access to a fictitious social networking site.”

That’s right—most people happily ticked the box without so much as skimming the terms of what they were signing. (Some of us have been doing this for years!)  But this lackadaisical attitude isn’t entirely out fault, either. Technology companies make sure that the policies are as long and arcane as possible to dissuade us from reading the fine print. As Jonathan Obar of York University, who conducted the study, explained to NPR, “It would take the average user 40 minutes a day  . . to read all of the privacy and terms of service policies that we encounter related to the different services that we’re using all the time.” Who has the time when there are so many salmon-hunting bears to watch on livestream?

But the lack of concern about what you might be agreeing to is problematic in both the short term (where it reinforces a sense of learned helplessness among consumers of technology) and in the long term, when it could potentially lead to privacy abuses. As Vedanta observed, “People don’t anticipate all the ways that information collected about them can reveal things about them and how it can be used. So people are signing these agreements without reading them because they say I have nothing to hide, but, as Obar says, maybe your grocery store is selling information about your food purchases to your insurance company, which then uses it to make judgments about your health risk.”

Think about that next time you buy Doritos in the grocery check-out line — and the next time you tick a terms of service box without reading the contents first.

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The Men Who Say Sexism Isn’t That Big a Deal Are Right http://acculturated.com/men-say-sexism-isnt-big-deal-right/ http://acculturated.com/men-say-sexism-isnt-big-deal-right/#comments Wed, 24 Aug 2016 14:08:04 +0000 http://acculturated.com/?p=52617

It’s another instance of thought crime. “More than half the men in America don’t think gender inequality is a thing,” tut-tutted Fusion’s headline, underneath the label “Uphill Battle.” The Huffington Post was even brasher: “LOL, 56 Percent Of Men Think Sexism Is Over.” Under fire were the respondents to a Pew Research Center poll released … Continued

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It’s another instance of thought crime.

“More than half the men in America don’t think gender inequality is a thing,” tut-tutted Fusion’s headline, underneath the label “Uphill Battle.” The Huffington Post was even brasher: “LOL, 56 Percent Of Men Think Sexism Is Over.”

Under fire were the respondents to a Pew Research Center poll released August 16. Among them, 45 percent (or 56 percent of men surveyed and 34 percent of women) agreed that “obstacles that made it harder for women to get ahead are largely gone.” Fifty-three percent disagreed, believing that “still significant obstacles that make it harder for women to get ahead than men” remain.

Here’s the key word for the 45 percent: “Largely.” They believed sexist obstacles were “largely gone.” (emphasis mine) That’s not saying sexism doesn’t exist (it does!), but that women now generally don’t confront “still significant obstacles.”

That’s what the data show. Right now, women outnumber men at colleges. A 2014 Pew Research Center analysis found that in 2012, a whopping 71 percent of recent female high school grads were going to college, compared to 61 percent of men.

Unsurprisingly, there are now more women than men with bachelor’s degrees. According to a U.S. Census Bureau analysis of data from the American Community Survey, 30.2 percent of women had bachelor’s degrees in 2014, while 29.9 percent of men did.

And that much ballyhooed wage gap? Well, when you look at factors like women’s decisions about hours worked, occupations and industries chosen, and—oh yes—the fact that some women take time off to care for their children at certain points in their careers, “the difference between average male and female wages . . . [becomes] just 5 cents on the dollar,” wrote my Heritage Foundation colleagues Rachel Greszler and James Sherk in a 2014 report.

Of course, there shouldn’t be any wage gap. But it’s not clear sexism is the culprit here. One lesson I had drummed into my head as a young woman is that women tend not to ask for raises and negotiate starting salaries, like men do. So I forced myself to at least try. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.

Thankfully, more women seem to be getting that message. A report this year from recruiting company Hired.com found that among job seekers using their platform, “women with under two years of experience are asking for an average 2 percent more compensation than men.” And those women were getting results: “Final salaries for junior women hired on our platform are 7 percent higher than junior men.” This bodes well for women eventually closing the rest of that small wage gap.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m grateful for feminism. As a young woman who manages a team of people and gets to work on a news site she cares about every day, I sometimes think of how different (and likely less satisfying) my life would be if I lived in a different era, where I would have faced huge societal obstacles to any such career path.

And I don’t take lightly the statistics that show how outsized the ratio of men to women remains in both politics and the upper echelons of business. In politics, women make up 19.4 percent of Congress, and hold just under a quarter of statewide executive offices, according to Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics. In business, only 4.4 percent of CEOs of S&P500 companies are women, according to Catalyst, a nonprofit. While I don’t think we need to have a 50-50 ratio to achieve equality, it would be nice to see those ratios become significantly less lopsided.

But too often, the conversation about sexism seems to be fixated on numbers like those, instead of examining what women actually want. Sure, some women do want to be senators and CEOs. But the drive to make everything 50-50—and don’t even get me started on the push to make women embrace STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) studies—misses the point that women and men are different, and may even have different ideas of what a satisfying, productive life looks like. Not to be too cynical about our political system, but I’ll wager that most moms (and involved dads) have changed the world in more meaningful ways than most politicians.

Meanwhile, the focus on sexism means that policy issues that are hurting women—such as the lack of educational choice and opportunity in many low-income areas where the public education system is dismal, and the onerous regulations that govern access to jobs, such as Tennessee’s requirement you do 300 hours of training to be a shampooer—are too often being swept aside.

We don’t live in an Eden devoid of sexism. But we also don’t live in an era where women are regularly held back, unable to embrace their talents and share their work to enrich us all. Let’s remember that—and spend less time talking about sexism, and more time on matters that could actually change women’s lives.

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Ryan Lochte Took the ‘Man’ Out of Sportsmanship http://acculturated.com/ryan-lochte-sportsmanship/ http://acculturated.com/ryan-lochte-sportsmanship/#respond Tue, 23 Aug 2016 20:00:45 +0000 http://acculturated.com/?p=52592

It took a weatherman to call an Olympian liar a liar. Last Friday night, the lawyer for American Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte was quoted in the press saying his client hadn’t lied about being held up at gunpoint at a gas station at the Rio Olympics after a night of celebratory partying, though available evidence … Continued

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It took a weatherman to call an Olympian liar a liar. Last Friday night, the lawyer for American Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte was quoted in the press saying his client hadn’t lied about being held up at gunpoint at a gas station at the Rio Olympics after a night of celebratory partying, though available evidence seemed to show otherwise.

Lochte’s mom first told the world about her son’s harrowing experience in a dangerous city. TV host Billy Bush, spotting Lochte on a Rio beach, used his iPhone to record an interview to get the swimmer’s version of the story. And then the lies began to unravel.

Rio officials went digging and Lochte and Olympic pals James Feigen, Jack Conger, and Gunnar Bentz were soon accused of vandalism and destroying a sign at a Rio gas station. Evidence from security cameras showed the athletes were stopped by armed security guards and allegedly told to hand over cash to pay for the damage on the spot. But Lochte held to his story—sort of.

Al Roker, America’s favorite weatherman and most unlikely prosecutor, wouldn’t step back this weekend from an on-air fight with Bush, as Roker insisted that Lochte be called a liar rather than an embellisher of false claims.

If you read the initial coverage of Lochtegate, the mainstream American media quickly slapped the white-male-privilege analysis on the events. Then there were claims of a perpetual juvenile psyche and theories that Lochte is just one of those man-child types we all know today. Others portrayed Lochte as a publicity-loving athlete who can’t help but spin a savvy tale of (false) heroics (“The other swimmers got down on the ground but I refused,” he claimed).

But this inadvertent reality TV star forgot one important thing every millennial should know by now: there are cameras—and camera phones—nearly everywhere on this planet, even one in the hand of just about every athlete at the opening ceremonies. Cameras are mounted outside clubs where high profile celebrity athletes party and even gas stations have their own surveillance technology. And so the lying began.

NBC’s Matt Lauer, who scored the big Lochte sit-down apology interview, seemed willing to play the role of the chiding parent during the interview, letting Lochte spin his new and improved web of fortified half-truths. There were opportunities for gentle self-flagellation and sniffles. Lochte told Lauer that he had “learned some valuable lessons” but he’s still not sure how to describe what happened, since there are so many different ways to explain it, as the New York Times noted:

“Whether you call it a robbery or whether you call it extortion or us paying just for the damages. We don’t know,” Lochte told Matt Lauer Saturday night. “All we know is there was a gun pointed in our direction and we were demanded to give money.”

Roker, however, made the story clear and simple for Bush and everyone else:

“He lied,” Roker, usually the cheerful weatherman, said insistently. “He lied to you. He lied to Matt Lauer. He lied to his mom. He left his teammates hanging while he skedaddled.”

Bush, who couldn’t bring himself to see a full-on sham in Lochte’s tale because he “isn’t the greatest weaver of fantastic tales” eventually agreed that Lochte had “certainly lied about some details.”

Worse, Lochte abandoned his friends. Lochte told Lauer he “took full responsibility” for the incident—but it was his friends who were left in Rio to deal with the fallout and fend for themselves with Brazilian authorities all without the benefit of the man who made the initial fictitious claims. As the gas station video footage shows, Lochte clearly realized he had gotten himself into a little trouble and immediately walks off into the night. The other swimmers stay to pay for the damages that Lochte has since said none of them were responsible for.

When Lauer asked Lochte how he felt watching his scared teammates, Jack and Gunnar, get pulled off a plane for further investigation in Rio, the Olympian said:

“Hurt. . . . I let my team down and you know . . . I don’t want them to think that I left. . . . They were my teammates. . . . I wanted to definitely be there and I wanted to help out any way I could.”

But he didn’t.

There is a moment in the movie Chariots of Fire when Scottish runner Eric Liddell is hauled before the Prince of Wales, and the president and chairman of the British Olympic Association, to discuss his unwillingness to participate in the 100-meter heats in the 1924 Olympics, because it was being held on the Christian Sabbath. Liddell was invited in for a “little chat” to try to resolve the situation. Despite some arm twisting Liddell stands strong and the meeting seems likely to end in stalemate, until the affable Lord Lindsey (Liddell’s friend) bursts into the room uninvited to suggest a possible solution to the problem—giving up his slot in another race to his friend Liddell. Liddell went on to win the gold medal.

Movies aren’t real life. Real life is messier and riddled with misdeeds, major misjudgments, and minor mistakes. But in real life, if we are lucky, we have devoted and honorable friends. Friends don’t back away in the dark of night abandoning us to our worst fate; they burst into a room to straighten out the mess so that we may see another, better day.

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The Significance of Your #FirstSevenJobs http://acculturated.com/first-seven-jobs/ http://acculturated.com/first-seven-jobs/#comments Tue, 23 Aug 2016 17:00:31 +0000 http://acculturated.com/?p=52586

As far as hashtag memes go, #Firstsevenjobs and its derivatives (#first7jobs, #1st7jobs, etc.) is, to me, a fascinating one. I’m hard pressed to find another way to convey as much formative biographical information as is contained in a simple listing of one’s first seven jobs. Of course, I study career development for a living, so … Continued

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As far as hashtag memes go, #Firstsevenjobs and its derivatives (#first7jobs, #1st7jobs, etc.) is, to me, a fascinating one. I’m hard pressed to find another way to convey as much formative biographical information as is contained in a simple listing of one’s first seven jobs. Of course, I study career development for a living, so I’m probably a bit biased. I love asking people to describe the job they hated most, and even more, the job they loved the most. I love seeing a list of positions a person has had and then identifying themes that are embedded in that list. And I love imagining people in their first jobs, wondering what they learned from their experiences. Can you imagine Stephen Colbert working in construction, and then as a bus boy, cafeteria server, library data entry, futon frame maker, futon salesman, or waiter? (It makes me very curious about his futon recommendations). Does it make you at all amused to learn that Sheryl Sandberg was fired from her first two gigs as a babysitter? Good help is indeed hard to find.

Some observers have astutely identified some lessons from what has emerged from the hashtag—that your first job doesn’t dictate what you will do with the rest of your life, for example, or that career paths are seldom linear. Others have oh-so-badly missed the point, attempting (poorly) to argue that #firstsevenjobs advances a self-made man ideology that disguises one’s privilege. To be sure, the role and function of privilege as both facilitator and limiter of career mobility is a critically important issue. But should we avoid reminiscing about our earliest jobs on twitter to avoid perpetuating the rags-to-riches American myth? That seems like a case of privileging guilt to me.

If you want to have a sense of a person’s career trajectory, it’s usually more telling to start with the present and go in reverse chronological order. The first seven jobs, plain and simple? That’s often more of a window into a person’s adolescence. Most of us found our first jobs because they were the most accessible, because our friends were working there, or because it just seemed like an easy way to make a few bucks. First jobs usually have very little connection to one’s eventual career path. That’s not to say they aren’t important, or formative. Research indicates that early jobs help teens develop a sense of curiosity about the world of work. Parents and youth both appraise their early jobs in a positive way, although again, few suggest they had much influence on their eventual career choice. Jobs with a reasonable number of hours help adolescents develop good work habits and the beginnings of useful networking and job searching skills; only when hours become long does employment hinder career development (by negatively impacting educational attainment). All told, when we’re coming of age, it’s the experience of working that matters to our development much more so than what we do and where we do it. Still, it’s fun to share about our first jobs—so do it. Here’s my #first7jobs: corn detasseler, sporting goods sales, dish washer, house painter, personal care attendant, landscaper, teaching assistant.

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‘Pete’s Dragon’ and the Power of Faith http://acculturated.com/petes-dragon/ http://acculturated.com/petes-dragon/#respond Tue, 23 Aug 2016 14:00:15 +0000 http://acculturated.com/?p=52579

It’s an impressive feat. Director David Lowery filmed a live-action remake of Disney’s Pete’s Dragon cartoon, and the finished product stands on its own as a sweet and sincere tale of childhood, imagination, and faith. There’s a kindness and warmth that suffuses the whole movie—much as the tremulous touch of the lost child Pete magically … Continued

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It’s an impressive feat. Director David Lowery filmed a live-action remake of Disney’s Pete’s Dragon cartoon, and the finished product stands on its own as a sweet and sincere tale of childhood, imagination, and faith. There’s a kindness and warmth that suffuses the whole movie—much as the tremulous touch of the lost child Pete magically brightens the fur of the dragon from mossy camouflage to a bright spring green. On top of its lush visuals and folksy score, the movie makes two subtle, soulful points about belief in the unseen.

The movie weaves a modern fairy tale of a lost orphan named Pete (Oakes Fegley), who befriends a fuzzy, forest-dwelling dragon whom he christens Elliot, after a dog in a picture book. For five years, Pete runs wild in the forest, protected and provided for by his big dragon friend, who can fly and blend in perfectly with his surroundings thanks to color-changing fur. Then, a forest ranger named Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) finds this feral child and brings him into the human world. The trials of Pete’s reintegration into human society are handled gently, as he slowly lets go of his wild-child ways (though not before clambering onto the roof of a moving school bus) to become part of a new family, restoring the sense of human belonging he lost when his parents died in car crash. Meanwhile, Grace’s logger brother-in-law (Karl Urban) is hunting Elliot, convinced he can make a fortune off this strange beast he caught a glimpse of. As you might predict, Pete will be torn between his new human family and his faithful dragon pal—though thankfully, the movie doesn’t leave Grace skeptical of Elliot’s existence for too long.

Grace’s father Mr. Meacham (Robert Redford, with the kindliest of twinkles in his eye) is a teller of tall tales, but she never believed his stories about meeting a dragon in the woods. But as Pete reveals more details about Elliot, Grace gives her dad another chance to convince her. The stage is set for a variation on a well-known trope of skepticism: the “invisible dragon” argument from Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World. Sagan posits a conversation between a believer and a skeptic regarding a dragon—the believer keeps qualifying the dragon in the face of the skeptic’s desire for proof (“let me see the dragon.” “You can’t, it’s invisible”). Take that, religion! It’s a vacuous argument, of course, because it assumes the senses are our only path to truth—but belief in the accuracy of our senses is not warranted by the evidence of our senses themselves. After all, if a dragon appeared to Sagan, his first impulse would surely be to think it a trick; so how can he be sure his senses don’t deceive him the rest of the time? There’s a hidden leap of faith in skepticism, and there are more things deep in the woods than are dreamt of in Carl Sagan’s philosophy.

In Pete’s Dragon, there is truly an invisible dragon out there. But how can someone who hasn’t met Elliot know he is real? Robert Redford gives a stirring speech about the magic he experienced on the day he met the dragon. How does he know it really happened? Because the magic persisted, changing the way he sees the world. “It changed how I saw you,” he tells his daughter. That brush with the invisible formed who he is and how he understands the wondrous side of everything in his world. And Grace decides to have faith in this, asking Pete to lead her deep into the woods to meet Elliot. The movie plays this moment with a light touch. But it’s nonetheless a powerful affirmation of meaning that lives beyond a skeptical worldview.

The other crucial moment of faith in the movie comes at the very end, and so going into too much detail would constitute a spoiler. Suffice it to say, I was pleasantly surprised by the way Pete and Elliot’s story ended. You can guess going into a movie like this that there will be a bittersweet moment when child and dragon part ways. When you’re telling a coming-of-age story, there’s always a step of putting away childish things, like Mowgli bidding farewell to his jungle companions and entering the world of man. And Pete does indeed join Grace’s family, leaving the woods and cutting his mane of wild hair. Yet the conclusion of the boy and dragon’s story reminded me of two of C. S. Lewis’s best lines: “Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again” (from the dedication of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe) and “Every year you grow, you will find me bigger” (as Aslan tells Lucy in Prince Caspian).

Pete’s Dragon has the charm and sincerity to be a classic family movie. And it has a theme of faith that should make us glad for it to endure.

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