Really Wanna Stick it to Fred Phelps?

Fred Phelps, the founder of Westboro Baptist Church, just died yesterday and social media has blown up, as it tends to do with news like this. There’s talk of long-awaited peace, jokes about Phelps’s eternal fate, and plans to picket his funeral. So in the wake of a million other opinions in the forms of blogs, tweets, and Facebook updates, this is the last thing I’ll write about WBC. And you’ll find out why.

If you’re not familiar with WBC, you will be very quickly after a Google search. Just search images and you’ll find tons of pictures of those “GOD HATES FAGS” signs that I’m sure you’ve already seen on the news many times. So it’s no surprise that the death of the church’s founder is a reason for many to rejoice. There are families of soldiers who have had to endure their picketing at funerals, homosexuals who have had to listen to more messages of plain intolerance, and Christians who have felt very misrepresented by their hopeless rhetoric.

But there is practically no one besides WBC that agrees with WBC. Almost everyone would look at that group and say they are radical, disgusting, and wrong. They receive backlash no matter where they go. People are angry at them, and rightly so. So how do we stop a group like them? Do we hold up signs that say “WE HATE WBC”? Do we picket against them responding that “GOD LOVES EVERYONE”?

So you really wanna stick it to Fred Phelps? I propose the best protest against WBC is to do absolutely nothing. Don’t picket their picketing, don’t argue with them, and especially do not give them media coverage. They thrive on the attention, positive or negative. If they see a huge group of people coming out to protest against them, they must be thinking about how awesome it is how many people came just because of them. They’re practically celebrities. So let’s turn things around and not give them the time of day.

I know that’s easy for me to say considering I haven’t been personally affected by the group. I’m not saying that people who argue with WBC aren’t fully justified and I completely understand those who lash out at them. If someone disrespected my loved one’s funeral, I would probably react the same way. But let’s not react. Let’s take a breather, respond, and be the bigger man. If a child is crying, you don’t get them to stop by screaming at them. Don’t feed the troll. Don’t indulge the attention seeker.

In all honesty, this talk of picketing Fred Phelps’s funeral terrifies me. Protests at that funeral are exactly what they’re expecting, I’m sure. If WBC’s goal was to get attention, they’re succeeding. If it’s to spread hate, then they’re definitely succeeding. The truth is that we are just as worthy of love as WBC is. Their message is that nobody is capable of being loving, so let’s prove them wrong. What if we give them water when they’re thirsty? What if we choose not to disrespect their hero’s funeral despite how much they’ve disrespected our heroes’ funerals. It’s easy to build an army against them, but consider this: perhaps we enjoy hating WBC a little too much. As a society, lately we’ve been bonding over the things we hate. Let’s learn to love and teach to love.

Like I said, this would be the last thing I’d say about WBC. I wanna avoid giving them any more attention so they can stay out of our history books, we can just forget about them, and we can make them an inaudible voice of bitterness amidst a sea of voices shouting love.

Relationships and Technology, Part 2 — Risk and Reward

I want to clarify some things about these series of blogs I’m writing. These posts may seem a little technophobic, and maybe it’s because working at a historical farm has made me appreciate the 19th century a little more than I did before. But I swear I’m not a Luddite. In fact, I’m probably a little more addicted to social media than the average 22-year-old, and that’s saying a lot.

These blog posts are more so we can sort of take a step back and see how our society is influencing and being influenced by new technology. I’d love to spend more time looking at how cultures and languages change, and with the Internet, I can only imagine that change has been happening faster than ever. The things that are worrying me right now may not even be a concern for anyone ten years down the road because we may be so immersed in that technological culture that we can’t imagine any different. And that may be the case for us even today. We may be so consumed by our culture that we’re not concerned with thinking about it critically.

So that’s what I want to try to do with these posts: try to see what affect technology has had on how we relate with each other. Since I’ve been raised in this society, I’m more inclined to see the negative. Enjoy!

Less risk, more (or less) reward

I once got addicted to a game called Cookie Clicker. The concept starts out pretty simple: you click on the cookie, you get a cookie. (Not a real cookie. Sorry folks.) Over time, you can start spend cookies to buy grandmas to make more cookies, or factories to produce cookies, or alchemy labs to turn gold into cookies! Soon enough, you’re producing over a billion cookies per second! IT’S WILD!

If you don’t mind a little geek-speak, this is coming from a former crazed Nintendo fanboy. (Now, I’m just a nostalgic Nintendo fanboy.) Go back and play Super Mario Bros. It’s pretty challenging, and if you lose all your lives, you gotta go all the way back to the beginning. The original Japanese version of Super Mario Bros. 2 was so hard, they didn’t even release it in America at first. There are parts of the game that punish you for trying to short-cut (which is why I’ve never played that game again). Now, games give you a checkpoint every thirty seconds. The reward is way too great for the risk.

Ever played Flappy Bird? My high score is four. Not much risk involved in the kinds of games you play on your phone, but the reward is worth the few seconds you may waste. Cigarette addicts know cigarettes are bad for them, but instead of quitting, they might rationalize: “Eh, what’s just one more?” What’s just one more meme? One more tweet? One more second on Facebook? But we know seconds turn into hours, and now sitting and enjoying a good book is impossible because we have to wait until the end for the reward. Why put in the effort when I can get a reward every 140 characters?

So what does this have to do with relationships? Think about it, when you’re texting, it could take you an hour to communicate something that would take you a few minutes to say with a phone call. Also, texting lacks a majority of what makes up clear communication: body language and tone of voice. So then why text? Why’s it practical?

It’s because you’re risking less. What can you do while you talk to someone on the phone? Not a lot. You really just have to pay attention to the person on the phone. But texting makes it easier to multitask. You can listen to music or a podcast, watch TV, read a book, update your Facebook status, drive a car, have an entire Thanksgiving dinner with your family, etc. all while having a text conversation with someone. You could be texting with multiple people at once. And suddenly the person you’re talking to isn’t a priority. They’re a consumer product.

From this little technical advancement that was designed to make our lives simpler, we’ve learned to put little effort into relationships to get what we want: someone to text when we’re bored. Friends have become objects of entertainment, and relationships have been reduced to (abbreviated/misspelled) words on a screen. Just think of all of the new technology that has been designed to help us cut down on human interaction: self-checkouts, ATMs, those touch screens at Sheetz, among other things. That’s because human interaction is messy, challenging, and risky. It slows us down. But maybe we’re missing out on one amazing reward for the risk.

Relationships and Technology, Part 1 — Instant Gratification

In Spike Jonze’s latest film Her, Joaquin Phoenix’s character falls in love with an operating system named Samantha. Now, while it may seem reasonable that anything with the voice of Scarlett Johansson is worthy of love, Her is an exploration of human emotions and technology. It’s a cautionary tale that’s much more subtle than Orwell’s 1984 or Pixar’s Wall-E, but it could be just as unsettling: at some points in the film I would think to myself, Well, what’s so wrong about a guy loving his computer anyway? The film asks questions that may or may not be rhetorical, and in post-modern fashion, the viewer is allowed to interpret a response. And my response is that humans are emotional, reactive, and can’t get along, but desperately need each other. But our technology, as of late, seems to be stifling healthy relationships in people, and here’s how:

Instant gratification

This one’s easy and it’s what people have been talking about since the invention of the microwave. If you’ve seen American Hustle, you might remember the scene where off-brand Jason Bourne gives Bruce Wayne a brand new microwave. Wayne takes it home to his wife, 2013 Oscar Winner Katniss Everdeen, to whom he says, “Don’t put metal in the science oven.” Since the microwave doesn’t run on District 12′s coal, Katniss doesn’t know how to use it, and she ends up making her aluminum wrapped dinner explode.

Comedian Louis C.K. once told a story about when he was flying when they had just introduce in-flight wifi. During the flight, the wifi broke down and the guy sitting nearby started complaining about it, to which Louie thought, “It’s ridiculous how quickly the world owes him something he only knew about for the past ten minutes.”

Our technology has given us what we want when we want it. Before the Internet, if you were watching a TV show and couldn’t remember what other movie you saw that one actor in, you had to just deal with not knowing who it was. Now, we can just pull up IMDB on our phones to find out that the guy who was Kramer on Seinfeld wasn’t in Rain Man.

Like with the new invention of the microwave, we had to learn how to navigate this world on instant gratification. And instant gratification has flowed over into our relationships with people. We are owed a happy social life because it’s so easy to get to. Just make a social media account, and there you go: you know everything someone wants you to know about them. Just text someone to get information out of them. Maybe they’ll be more inclined to give it to you without the boundaries caused by human emotive responses. We want our relationships now and we don’t wanna have to work for them.

My grandfather doesn’t know how to work his cable box because his generation grew up in a more mechanical world of technology. If he can’t get his cable box working, his mindset is he’s gotta unplug the TV, adjust an antenna, do something with his hands. We had to learn and follow the rules of the new technology (no metal in the science oven), but the rules are such a small price to pay for the reward. Which leads me to my next point, which you can read about once I get around to posting it, you entitled whippersnapper!

Impure Thoughts

It seems that just about every time I enter a new workplace, all the married adults talk about how they wanna set me up with someone. But they’re never very specific because, just as I have a problem meeting girls my age, so do they. It’s not that I’m necessarily bad a talking to girls. I just tend to find myself in general locations that they avoid. For instance, I spent my summer in Florida, home to zero women over eighteen and under thirty. Now, I’m living at home in Ohio, and I assure you there are no women my age living at my home. Nor do they live at my work because I couldn’t imagine a rubber factory full of sweaty, dirty dudes appeals as a stomping ground to young single ladies.

The other day, it was outed at the factory that I’m single, so as expected, one of the guys let me know he was making it his mission to find me a helper fit. Now on the inside, I’m like, I could use all the help I can get. I mean, I’ve never been set up with anyone, so what could go wrong? But on the outside, I have to pretend like his offer to help me doesn’t interest me. That’s because when you’re single in this society, it’s way uncool to not wanna be single. But I never know how serious these people are when they say they wanna find me a wife. He started asking me specifically what I want in a woman, and since answering great singing voice, pretty face, and nice legs sounds like I care too much, I had to play it off with a joke: “She’s gotta have naturally pink hair.”

His wife works at a hospital, so he let me know that’s where he’d be pulling potentials from, which is great because, as we can clearly learn from television, ugly people don’t work at hospitals. This coworker of mine also knows I’m a Christian and knows she’s gotta be Christian.

The relaxing part of being a Christian guy in pursuit of a lady is that she won’t think you’re just trying to get into bed with her … yet. I mean, sex is in the picture, but not until after marriage of course. And after you’ve had some children together. Christian dates should never end with the guy walking the girl to her door. That’s a little too close to her bed. In fact, Christian dates should always end as abruptly as possible because we are meant to maintain our purity.

I’m not digging at purity. It’s a really good thing, and we gotta look out for it and look out for each other. But the truth is that not everyone has maintained their purity by today’s standards. Actually, considering purity doesn’t always have to mean sexual purity, no one at all has maintained their purity. It seems like the only kind of purity we can’t get back once we give it up is sexual purity. So I suppose people who have had sex before marriage are doomed to be impure for the rest of their lives? Is that what we’re saying?

Nah, God’s mercies are new every morning. There isn’t much I could say about this, and I’m probably the worst person to talk to about sexual impurity, but I do know God’s making us new creations every moment. Sanctification is constant re-creation all building up to something perfect. Maybe we weren’t pure in that previous moment, but we confess, learn, move on, and choose this moment to live in purity. All kinds of purity.

Don’t Listen to Your Mom

After being away from home for a weekend, I hadn’t seen my parents yet until after I got off of work.

“What’s on your face?” Dad asked.

After graduating college, I put my Youth Ministries degree to good use by working at a rubber factory as the shipping and receiving clerk. Each day, I’m covered in a new layer of carbon black. Dad was asking about that, but Mom seemed more interested the small amount of stubble that was growing on my upper lip. “It’s a mustache,” she said.

I never grow facial hair on purpose. It’s never a part of my daily agenda to specifically not shave. Nor am I ever one to participate in No Shave November. Part of the reason for this is because I don’t particularly look great with facial hair. I’m sure if I had the patience to grow a beard, I may be able to pull it off. It would certainly detract from my not-so-prominent chin. I tend to resent guys with large chins who grow beards, as if facial hair is a nonrenewable resource and they’re using it all up. What are they trying to add to?

For a play in high school, I was once asked to wear a felt beard for my role. It’s probably safe to say that would have looked more natural than my actual facial hair. So when I have facial hair, it could be for any one of the following reasons: (1) my unkempt nostril hair is playing tricks on your eyes (though, from a distance); (2) I missed a spot while shaving; or (3) I haven’t shaved in a day or two. In this case, it was reason number 3.

“It’s cute,” Mom added. Many words are appropriate to describe a mustache. Mom used one that isn’t found on that list, but she’s my mom, and it’s part of her job description to compliment my lack of motivation and interest in impressing people.

I often consider how it’s possible for terrible movies to be made. I mean, somewhere along in the production of the film, there’s gotta be at least one dude who’s like, “Guys, this really isn’t good. I’m not suggesting we give up. I’m just saying there are some things we gotta tweak before this flops on the Hallmark channel.” The only conceivable reason I can think that these movies would continue in production is because everyone involved has their mom over their shoulder telling them they’re doing a great job. It’s really cute. And who wants to disappoint their mother?

Moms are pretty remarkable in that even when you are ugly or boring or just a complete lame-o, they still love you, think you’re handsome or beautiful, and just don’t get why you’re still single. The fact is that your mom’s opinions of you don’t even matter. If they did, we all would be a lot more confident and ads that negatively affect your self-image would be obsolete.

Pop culture would like you to think that the best motivators are the haters. (Or haterz, right? Is that still cool?) Our sole motivation is our desire to prove people wrong. But in reality, you just suck at some stuff, and those people you call haters might actually be right and might actually care and are worried for you. “Listen man, you can do that drum solo if you really want, but it will sound bad and it might embarrass you.”

But of course, the lovers can be dangerous, too. For many of you, your mom loves you, and I’m sure she really means it when she compliments you, but consider the “your mom”s of society that love you without any real cause. At rare times, I can be a witty charmer, and in some moments I can get people to like me and roll with whatever I’m doing. But they might not know I can easily crash and burn. Lovers are dangerous because even you’re at your worst and even when you’re doing what you shouldn’t be, they’re behind you 100% and are down with whatever you’re doing.

It’s cool in our world to fight adversity to the top, but that’s not usually how it happens. Take time to be humble. Ask for help. Listen to criticism and discern whether the compliments you receive are truly positive feedback or just passing emotional comments.

Anyway, my mom’s birthday is soon, and I don’t want her to think this post is her present. Love you, Mom.

Being Human

Some people are bad with faces. Some people are bad with names. But most people are good with at least one of those two. Being good with faces is especially helpful.

“Oh hey, Debbie!”

“Um … it’s Mike.”

“Sorry. I’m bad with names. But I never forget a face.”

At least you get points for remembering a face, right? But I guess all you can prove is that you recognize people you’ve met before. Big deal.

Well for some like me, it kind of is a big deal. I’m one of the few unfortunate people who is bad with both names and faces. At least, at first. When I worked as a day camp counselor a few summers ago, on the first day of each week, I tended to make a mental note of the clothes the kids were wearing to distinguish them. Because to me, seven-year-olds all look alike. I’m exaggerating, but still on the second day when they were all wearing different clothes, I’d have to defer to their name tags. And that’s when I’d realize the importance of how their faces look.

The other day, I went to the mall with my brother-in-law Justin who had to stop by the Apple store. The Apple Store tends to give me the creeps. I was once there when suddenly all the employees started clapping. Then, people shopping in the store started clapping. And the employees who I assume were locked up in the back room and hadn’t seen daylight in months came out and started clapping as they guffawed and limped under their hunchbacks. I presume. I didn’t get a good look. I thought about it, but I couldn’t get myself to clap until I knew why. I never found out for sure, but I assume a girl bought her first iPhone or something, and in our society, reckless spending on overpriced products deserves a standing ovation. Which is why I still want an iPhone.

Anyway, since I don’t like suffocating and drowning in a sea of Apple users, I went elsewhere to sit down and read a book I had just bought. I was sitting in one of two chairs separated by a table and considered that these seats would work better for couples because who would sit so close to a complete stranger? The Hispanic young woman who sat down moments later would. She was talking loudly on her cellphone, alternating almost every word between English and Spanish, and I considered how someone might translate that. Would you just invert it? To me, it sounded almost like gibberish. Would it sound the same to a Spanish-speaker? My 22 years of experience in English and 5 years experience in Spanish weren’t helpful in eavesdropping. So instead, I became frustrated that she was talking so loud while I was reading. The nerve of her being so loud while I’m trying to enjoy a book in the middle of a noisy mall. I left shortly after considering that people walking by my mistake us for a couple and deciding whether or not I cared

When I returned to the Apple Store to wait for Justin and got a closer look at the employees, I noticed that they all looked like their enjoyed their job. And that all the men had some kind of beard and all the women looked like girls I could enjoy a Coen brothers movie with. I theorized that they were all robots because I don’t remember meeting anyone who personally knows an Apple Store employee. While imagining watching No Country for Old Men with the robot girl working at the iPads table, a few people I thought I recognized walked by and made eye contact with me. But I didn’t say hi to them, and worried that they thought I was being rude for ignoring them. But to be fair, they didn’t say hi to me either and could have been worrying about the same thing.

The thing is that you never get used to seeing people out of context. I’m sure those cyborgs in the Apple Store have personal stories that would deeply humanize them to the friend and family groups outside of work that they were built to function in. What if the Hispanic girl who sat down there eventually did become a friend of mine. I mean, it wouldn’t have been a result of that day, but sometime down the road, any number of the strangers we pass by on a daily basis could be friends in the future or at the very least people we accidentally pretend to not recognize in the mall. And what would happen if we all were more intentional about being humans with the humans we encounter each day?

Why I’m not Religious (but Wish I Were)

Being in my twenties means I have a lot of expectations of what I should be right now. This is called entitlement, and it happens because my generation has been spoiled and spoon-fed the belief that we’re special and deserve awesome stuff. Just moments ago, I had a mini tantrum because my laptop was running too slow. Of course, our parents aren’t entirely to blame. The reason my laptop isn’t running fast enough is probably because I’ve been trying to watch the new episodes of Breaking Bad online and may have let my virus guard down. Because if I can’t watch Walter White screw up his family this week, it doesn’t matter what happens to my laptop. And it’s exactly that kind of entitlement that makes me too proud to apply for a fast food job or move back in with my parents, and it’s that kind of entitlement that makes me not religious when I know I should be.

You see, it’s trendy in Christendom to say you’re not religious. Some Christians go as far as to not identify themselves as Christians at all, but rather as Christ followers or disciples of Christ. That’s because religion, as we see it today, is legalistic, tired, boring, too structured, and the cause of wars and killing. Christians have done some pretty crummy things, you know? So we’ve redefined religion as “man’s attempt to get to God,” and have defined Christianity as a personal relationship with God instead of a religion. But I would argue that a personal relationship with God has entitlement written all over it and is probably more dangerous than religion.

I want to point out first that the Bible doesn’t talk about a personal relationship with God, and I’m not sure exactly what a personal relationship with God is. I grew up thinking that if I prayed the right prayer, I’d be entitled to God’s love and forgiveness, and that it was my job to make others pray this prayer too, so they’d be just as entitled as I was. Of course, I wasn’t explicitly taught this, and it’s never anyone’s intention to teach this, but I guess it’s something I implied out of my young ignorance. What I was taught, though, was that I wasn’t supposed to be religious because religion means rules, expectations, hypocrisy, judgment, and just plain uncoolness.

On the other hand, a personal relationship with God seems cool, but think about what it implies. This is your personal relationship with God. God loves you as you are, but we can take that to an extreme and say that God doesn’t want us to be any different than how we are. Which means that when people challenge us to change, we can turn to them and say, “God loves me just the way I am,” and refuse to better ourselves. When people ask us to change our appearance or behavior because they grew up in a different time than us, we excuse it as judgement. But we are not entitled to God’s forgiveness or love. Instead, we are meant to serve one another with God’s love.

Christianity is a family relationship.

And I think the word religion represents that family relationship very well. Religion represents unity, integrity, and accountability. It means that I’ve been adopted into the family of God along with millions of other people who share his purpose, and it should be my joy to come alongside those people in loving God and serving other people.

But it’s not. Because I’m entitled. Because I’m cynical. Because I can’t take that log out of my own eye and realize I’m just as hypocritical as everyone else.

There’s no such thing as a perfect body of believers. Just the other day, I watched a documentary about the abuse the occured in West Africa’s first boarding school for missionary kids. The boarding school was run by my denomination. Everyone has skeletons in their closet, and instead of ditching them or criticizing them when we can’t handle their judgements, why don’t we come alongside them and learn peace and have love that desires the best for them?

So that’s why I want to be religious. I want to serve the widows and orphans in my society, and I want to be at peace with the people it’s hard to love. I’m just as hard to love as anyone else. Call me religious, please. Maybe I’ll get there.

Sincerely yours, The Breakfast Club

I saw Pitch Perfect which featured the song “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by Simple Minds. I saw the pilot episode of Community that was dedicated to John Hughes’s memory. But until a few days ago, I had never seen The Breakfast Club, a film that I had been admittedly skeptical about ever since my last semester in college (which, I assure you, was sooo long ago) when I was working at a program for troubled teens.

You see, this was a wilderness program/boarding school, so while the teens spent the nights in the woods, they would spend a lot of their day on the main campus. On occasion, the students would get to watch movies. No, they never watched The Breakfast Club. (Never in a million years.) But it did kind of shock me that they had seen Holes while in the program, a movie about a program in which the kids kind of overthrow the adults. I’m assuming you’ve read the book because mostly everyone’s been in fifth grade, so you’ll know what I’m talking about, but if you’re in fourth grade, sorry for spoiling it for you. I know Camp Greenlake is pretty corrupt and the adult leaders have some major issues, but having been a counselor in a program, I feel like I was supposed to identify more with Mr. Pendanski than Caveman, which is why I’ve been a little iffy about how I’d react to The Breakfast Club.

I’m no stranger to John Hughes’s work, though I’m also no expert. Who hasn’t seen Ferris Bueller’s Day Off? Every memorable quote in that movie has the title character’s name in it. “Bueller? Bueller? Bueller? … “, “Ferris Bueller, you’re my hero.” Again, sorry for the spoilage, fourth graders. Between saving the world through video games and having a propeller emerge from his head, and then getting kinda fat, Matthew Broderick’s claim to fame was his role as Ferris Bueller, a high schooler who fools his parents into thinking he’s sick to cut class, go for a joyride, screw over his best friend, keep his best friend, and get the girl. And here’s the kicker, he gets away with it. I’m not saying it’s a shallow film — it’s definitely got some depth — but I suppose I expected more of the same in The Breakfast Club – the rebellious teenagers are the heroes and the adults are the blundering idiots. (Never thought I’d say stuff like that at my age. I’m sure sentences like that were cut out of the final version of Taylor Swift’s “22.” “I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling 22, and I’d really appreciate it if those whippersnappers got their act together and became positive contributors to society.“)

The Breakfast Club wasn’t really what I expected at all. I mean, I expected to like it after working through some cynicism and the whole “well, everybody likes it” mindset, but I didn’t think it would have the timeless message it does. With the general rambunctiousness, humor, realistic depth of the characters, and soundtrack (I have an odd mash-up of “Don’t You” and Taylor Swift stuck in my head now), it’s easy to see why it would appeal to teens, but after watching it I realized it’s not a film for teens. It’s a film for parents. I know that makes one of the coolest movies of the ’80s sound “like, totally lame, dude,” but hear me out. I really don’t suppose anything I’m thinking here is new, anyway. Here are three things that I pulled from The Breakfast Club that adults can poison teenagers with.

1. Unmet expectations

Near the end of the Saturday detention, Allison delivers the line, “When you grow up, your heart dies.” That seems to be the tragedy of The Breakfast Club, and it’s the cause of a dangerous cycle that John Hughes made it his goal with this film to try and break. This movie is about the results of unmet expectations and the pressures that adults place on teenagers, and it seems to say that if teenagers don’t meet the expectations of society, they’ll pressure their kids. Andy feels this pressure from his father. Brian feels this pressure from himself.

2. Negligence

Both girls in the movie express that their parents didn’t care about them. Allison is packed to run away because her parents don’t care. Claire, the perfect prep, finds herself in detention for cutting school because it pleases her friends. Without having parents who affirm her, she has to find her sense of self-worth in her peers, and that causes her to look down on others and treat them like crap when she knows it’s wrong.

3. Unsafe environments

John Bender would rather spend his next eight weekends in detention than with his abusive father. But then you see the discomfort and fear on his face when the teacher that he unknowingly sees as his protector is also threatening to hurt him. Detention isn’t even safe. The pressure that John feels from adults isn’t like that of the others in the breakfast club. Adults have failed to provide him with safety and thereby unintentionally pressured him into seeking out different ways to find safety, even if it means looking for it above the ceiling tiles.

The Breakfast Club doesn’t glorify teen angst and rebellion; it explains it, and I think it does a good job. Adults need to be aware of how their actions are influencing the youth in their lives, and they ought to be aware of what’s making them act the way they do. Hopefully my generation will catch on before we have teenagers.

Fundamentals of Cluelessness

When you’re tall, have a deep voice, scrawny, ugly, and wrinkly with gray hair, you tend to be typecasted as Kevin Bacon. But if you’re only the first three, like me, you’d tend to be typecasted as crazy old men. And in high school, the guy in my Mechanical Drawing class freshmen year and the girl I was to audition with for a play would agree I was the first four. And if it had been suggested to them, they probably wouldn’t have had a problem describing me as all of those things.

First off, the guy in my Mechanical Drawing class. I took that class my freshmen year of high school, and loved it. But there were some seniors in it that I don’t remember being particularly fond of, but we never had any quarrels that I could recall before this incident. I can’t remember how it happened, but I suppose it was a result of my big, stupid mouth that used to have a tendency to make strange noises that formed themselves into awkwardly offensive words. I don’t remember if that was a time in which my mouth forgot to filter itself through my brain, but it probably was. And instead of responding to what whatever it was that I said, the senior said, “You are the ugliest human being I have ever seen in my life.”

Sometimes, I would like to say that stuck with me through my entire young adult life and I was deeply emotionally scarred by it, but I just figure I was so dumb back then that I probably deserved it. Not to mention, I wasn’t yet skinny and outrageously good-looking, but instead was in the difficult stage between being obese and my metabolism being faster than the rate at which things got weird when Macklemore supported marriage rights by confessing his third grade curiosity in rap form. I mean, that’s cool man, but I didn’t even know gay was a thing back when I was in third grade. I hardly knew what liking a girl meant. I was still convinced the only use for the little male member was to expel bad lemonade from the body.

Which doesn’t really lead to my next story in any appropriate way. The girl at the audition my senior year of high school. I was trying out for a part in Into the Woods, and was so excited about breaking out of my shell of always playing an elderly man. The director asked me to read for the part of Cinderella’s Prince the Baker’s Wife for the kissing scene. These two nameless characters known only by their significant others come together for a passionate kiss, and now you see the depravity of this specific fairy tale scene. That was all fine and dandy if the two couples that auditioned before me weren’t as bold. The first couple was an actual couple, and when they kissed, no one was shocked. But no one really expected the next guy to just go in for the kill during his audition. The girl was taken aback, but she seemed more flattered than disgusted.

Then it was my and a particularly attractive girl’s turn to read for the parts. Now, up until this point in my life (and even — ehem — this point in my life), I hadn’t ever kissed a girl. So to do it in front of my peers when I wasn’t even sure I knew how to do it was more or less the equivalent of an armless man playing major league baseball just to give it a shot. I thought maybe the reading was going well, but all I could think about was what I would do when the kissing part came up. And my nerves were justified because I just sort of stumbled over the part, said “um,” and ever so slightly leaned into the three-yard gap that stopped us from ever looking like there was any chemistry going on on stage. It didn’t help that every guy in the audience started shouting my name repeatedly and my friends berated me for passing up the chance to kiss not just any ol’ girl — but that one.

When I saw her shortly after the audition, in an attempt to be clever, my mouth once again didn’t get permission from my brain to say, “It’s not you. It’s me.”

My brain pity laughed at the joke until she said, “No, no. It’s really okay,” and my whole adolescence started crying.

I was cast as a crazy old man.

It’s sort of been an unspoken rule to me that I wouldn’t want to kiss a girl that I’m not in a committed relationship with. There’s a lot of power in that kind of intimacy, and I fear that it can be kind of an addiction, right? I mean, once those cooties cross, it’s hard to turn back, and I’m not about to take that step with just anyone unless I know I can stand her long enough to want to love her. Kissing’s fun, but so is not being a jerk about it.

I Didn’t Watch the VMAs

When I was in seventh grade, I started going to a big annual Christian youth conference in Cleveland, Ohio. I’ve gone to the conference maybe three or four times while in my youth group, and they all were remarkably similar to each other. There was always some fun, loud worship band (in fact, one year I attended was the first time I saw Michael Gungor long before he was cool), they had a dramatic skit that was performed in acts throughout the two-day conference, there were lights, loud music, and dancing, and then speakers who would force thousands of teens into their seats for hours on end. But I always enjoyed it, even when they called us to stand up against the evil that was MTV.

Now, I grew up on Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, and in seventh grade, I was still laughing at Spongebob. So when they talked about MTV, I had only a vague idea of what they were talking about. I mean, I knew it had something to do with music, but I was also aware of all the jokes that MTV had nothing to do with music. My musical tastes back then amounted to Relient K, so if it wasn’t Spongebob or Relient K, I just didn’t care. But this conference didn’t let me get aware without thinking MTV was Satan himself set on destroying teenagers for profit.

That may be true, and I can see the appeal to teenagers despite so much material that I’d never want my children to be overexposed to in their developing years, but this conference made MTV out to be the only thing that was dangerous for teenagers. So it would seem that in the silly culture war, our enemy was significantly outnumbered, and to be honest, it seemed kind of unfair. A question comes to mind: are teenagers rebellious because of MTV, or is MTV the way it is because teenagers are rebellious? The answer that I learned in my mass communication classes in college is yes. Both.

Ever since Miley Cyrus came out with that new music video “We Can’t Stop,” and then performing that song the other night at the VMAs, parents and teenagers alike have gone crazy over Miley not being Hannah Montana anymore. And despite the buzz on Twitter about her not having an adequately sized posterior, she has been crowned media’s newest twerk queen. Most people would watch her and think she’s a terrible influence on teenagers, but this video kinda lets us know that even teenagers can tell that there’s something a little off with her.

People are worried about the path that media and society is taking. Comedies aren’t funny if they aren’t raunchier than the last movie. It’s almost impossible to find a funny movie nowadays you could see with your parents that isn’t Pixar. Popular music has been reduced to four chords and monotonous dynamics. (I love singing Rihanna’s “Umbrella” over Rihanna’s “Diamonds”.) Music as a whole is becoming more about image than sound. And it’s causing people like Miley Cyrus to feel like she has to prove to the world that she’s not Disney’s product anymore by proving to the world that she’s everyone’s product.

But the truth is, terrible, low-quality pop media only exists in the now. We look back at classics and oldies as being in the good ol’ days on music and film as if those were the years when media producers actually tried, but that’s not true. The music that was popular back then isn’t the music we hear on classic radio stations today. It was the boring, four-chord, shallow lyrics music similar to the popular stuff today. So in fifty years, people aren’t going to be listening to Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus or Nicki Minaj. The stuff that will survive is the quality stuff. This over-the-top facade of Miley’s will be forgotten about for something else that our teens agree with us is ridiculously unsettling.