Monthly Archives: May 2010

The (in)convenience of cultural relativism

This is a concept in anthropology that has always baffled me. Beliefs and their accompanying actions need to be put in the context of that person’s culture. Okay. Done. Now what? Apparently, what is and isn’t acceptable is based on said culture, not a universal truth. I argue that the whole globe can be painted with a broad brush dipped in the same bucket of ethics. Ethics, not morals. Moral relativism is a whole different ball of wax from my perspective, and I will devote a separate post to that.

We Westerners feel pretty sanctimonious about our culture. In many ways, I think we’ve got it right. In other ways, I think there are other countries that are more pragmatic with certain things. A prime example is our consumption. The states are gluttonous consumers. There is no other country that rivals our demand for food and energy, as well as our waste of them. The obesity epidemic is a hallmark of those proclivities. I spent a month in Florence, Italy, and marveled at their almost draconian use of resources. Air conditioning was a luxury there, whereas it is used here with complete abandon and inexplicably turning buildings, buses, and trains into iceboxes.  I’d scratch my head over the logic of that if my hands weren’t occupied trying to keep my upper body warm in the middle of summer. The cars were smaller, thus requiring less gas and dare I say, less reliance on foreign oil. I thought it was wonderful. I was not happy having to pay for potable water where it is free and bottomless in American restaurants. However, that is a small price to pay to lessen the burden on the environment. While we stretch our lips to take in an average piece of nigiri sushi while exercising control over our gag reflex, in Japan they serve morsels that have ample room to dance across the palate. Overfishing, anyone? But, that’s what makes the U.S. so damn lovable. We want more more MORE!

I’ll give the West a break for now. While respect for the environment and its limited resources is vital, there are other more damaging disparities between societies that are, sadly,  protected by the cultural relativism veil—an apt word choice for Middle Eastern civilizations. The American woman may still be chipping away at the proverbial glass ceiling, but it sure beats a public stoning for adultery (voluntary or otherwise), an “indecent” display of skin, or even seeking an education. Try as we might, we have not been able to punish them sufficiently for such an egregious disregard for basic human rights, much less change the idea that women are the inferior gender. Not to gloss over this, but that cultural corruption is governed by religion, i.e., moral relativism. As I stated before it is a different topic, thus, a different post.

The impetus for writing about my views of this subject is from watching a video that went viral this past week. In Indonesia, a two-year-old boy, Aldi Rizal, was videotaped while indulging in his two-pack-a-day addiction. My jaw dropped as I watched this child smoke like a champ while still in diapers. The average toddler is developing hand-eye coordination, but he managed that cigarette as well as a life-time smoker does. Oh yeah, he pretty much is. The father taught him how to smoke at 18 months, and the unsuspecting child took to it like a fish to water.

I’ve watched it multiple times with my rose-colored glasses on. Surely it is a hoax. Alas, it is authentic and an all-too-common reality for that culture. The statistics for children there having their first cigarette as young as five years old is alarmingly high. Of the 230 million people residing in the Indonesian islands, approximately 60% of that population smokes. I am guessing they start young. No wonder Big Tobacco relies on that country for business; they are the fourth most populous country and the third largest tobacco consumer.

In Aldi’s case, I fear the damage is irreparable. Introducing so many chemicals into a developing body may permanently alter his own chemistry—mentally and neurobiologically. I wonder if it is even possible for him to quit. If this keeps up, he will be a chain-smoker by  the age of five and dead of a heart attack before puberty. What is the point of all that? I suspect that when he is potty-trained, he will need a cigarette in order to make poopy. Ugh.

It is very easy for us on this side of the table to say this is wrong; our culture believes in protecting children, not exploiting them. The jury should be in for this one. Children are our future and all that. This may be a passive-aggressive form of child abuse, as they started it but don’t do anything to stop it. Aldi was taught how to smoke not having any concept of health and what compromises it, nor is his mind developed enough to make the connection that the cigarettes are the cause for his inability to romp around with other children, thus making him sedentary and overweight.  However, that pesky cultural relativism gets in the way from stopping the madness.  If this happened in many other countries, the consequences would be punishment for the parents such as losing custody of the child and being sent to jail.  In Indonesia, however, authorities have offered them a new car if they get their kid to quit smoking. A car. They are essentially getting away with bad behavior by being rewarded for stopping it. Still, the parents turned down that offer, as they don’t appreciate the damage they are inflicting on their son. Perhaps the cynical part of me suspects that the fact their child has become a tourist attraction gives them fame that surpasses the allure of any sticker price. Shocking, I know.

Just to drive the point home, lines can be drawn between this and pedophilia. While smoking in children is more acceptable and even encouraged in this country as we can see here, so is pedophilia in other cultures. There are even religions that sanction the latter. Both take advantage of an unwilling participant, i.e., a child who doesn’t have the capacity to understand what is happening. A victim of pedophilia is, by and large, either stunted in sexual development and/or becomes promiscuous and sexually active at a young age. With that introduction to sex, how can a child develop a healthy sex life as an adult? Considering cigarette addiction has a 90% success rate, when it is given to a toddler who has not been around long enough to be exposed to many things, it happens much quicker.  Of course this child throws temper tantrums and bangs his head against the wall: The addiction is stronger than the need for food. Did Ardi have a choice but to play along with his father’s game? Does any child have the ability to put the kibosh on twisted form of play that someone bigger and stronger initiates?

While creating a concept such as cultural relativism is not the root of the problem, it does slap a convenient label on it to explain why we are rendered powerless to change something that we know intrinsically is wrong. Oh, but that was how the people in that culture were raised. Of course! We shant play judge and jury on different perspectives of what is right and wrong. Look down your nose if you like, but don’t forget to turn the other cheek. The bible tells us so.

To be continued.

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The Human Centipuke

All right, I am about a month late on this one. My excuse is that I just started this blog recently. But, my opinion of this horror fest was cemented almost immediately, and now I will share it.

Sigh. For those who don’t know, this nugget of evil was cooked up by the film director, Tom Six. Despite his cool name, I am suspicious of his mental stability for him to be capable of mining the bowels of the human condition to dig up what may be the grossest idea depicted on screen. A German surgeon whose specialty was separating conjoined twins did an about-face upon retirement. An especially creative demon on his  shoulder whispered in his ear that it would be a beautiful thing to defy his life’s work and join three humans into a centipede. Why? Even Freud couldn’t explain that one. No matter. So how does one go about doing that? Well, ass to mouth, of course! And make sure to pull their teeth out for good measure, as well as remove their kneecaps lest they attempt to stand and walk off the set . . . er, escape. How do three people survive such an ignominious ordeal? Well, when the front segment eats, it defecates into the mouth of the middle segment, who then returns the favor to the back segment. Brilliant! And nutritious, too.

Note the statement between the tagline and the credits: 100% medically accurate. Awesome! This can actually be done. And from what I’ve read, the victims can theoretically live for years in that state. A doctor was consulted to figure out how to perform this procedure. I have made a mental note to myself to screen future surgeons lest their minds start floating into loathsome waters while they are cutting into me. I don’t think confirming that they are board certified will be sufficient assurance that I am in sane hands. Now I have more reason to be paranoid. Thanks, Tom.

When I saw the trailer, I was justifiably horrified. So much so that I had difficulty sleeping that night. I could not get the image out of my head, nor wrap my mind around the psychosis needed to conceive of this bizarre concept, much less having the inclination and means to actually inflict it on victims. I was obsessed, but yet resolved to not put myself through the trauma of seeing the movie. My husband fully intended to watch it on IFC On Demand.

As my husband was getting ready to order the movie, I said, All right! I’ll watch it with you. He assured me he wasn’t expecting me to, but after our dinner was sufficiently digested, we settled into the couch and committed the next 90 minutes of our lives that sadly, can never be retrieved. I’ll just cut to the chase and list what was good and bad about this movie.

Positives

  1. The lead actor, Dieter Laser, chewed the scenery to an appropriate level (relatively speaking).
  2. The doctor looked at his watch after he murdered the first victim who was not the right match for the rest of the centipede—good detail, I’ll admit.
  3. The filmmaker did his research to ensure that it was medically possible.
  4. This has the makings of a cult classic, and the quantity of Google hits confirms that.
  5. Just when you think writers are running out of ideas, this little gem comes along.

Negatives

  1. If I have to list them, then you probably shouldn’t be trusted with sharp objects.

Okay, that was a cop out. But really, what can I say that hasn’t already been said? Oh wait. Plenty.

Herr Döktor tried his experiment out on three Rotweilers. The picture he fondly caressed was an obvious Photoshop of one dog in triplicate as a muzzle to ass monstrosity. Outside of my soft underbelly for animals and inability to stomach their suffering, the thing that perturbed me the most was the lack of creativity in the name he gave his canine centipede: My sweet Three-dog. Really? That’s all you’ve got? Pfft, and you’re the genius. Whatev.   

Okay, the dude was obviously weird. Why were you staying there, AND drinking his water? Duh! Of course he dropped a roofie in it. What do you expect? Suck up the chilly rain and save yourselves, you dumb broads. Not all roofie trips are as entertaining as The Hangover, fyi.

For the material the front segment actor was given, I think he did a fine job. For whatever reason, Mr. Six cast a Japanese actor and used English subtitles. Okay fine, creative license and all that. He played the character as sufficiently pissed off and defiant. I apologize for the following spoiler alert , but come on. What is there to spoil in this movie? Who is seeing it for the suspense? Anyhow, he gave an impassioned speech explaining his justification for not tolerating his present state, thus leading up to his grisly suicide. Really, did he need to defend that action? I mean, he had two chicks, albeit hot ones, surgically attached to his ass, and was forced to crawl around with them trailing like some abominable Hell-bound choo choo train. I don’t know, the actor could have saved the energy for a more auspicious work. So sorry, there isn’t an Oscar category for this movie.

I was disappointed in the performance of the two women—the middle and end segments. If I was in their shoes, I’d be reacting much more strongly, oh, like when he was explaining in detail what his nefarious plans were for me. They cried like he was ripping up their wardrobe in front of them. Forget the permanent disfigurement, he’s destroying my Prada dress. Oh, the horror! I also had issue with how well they looked as a human centipede. Call me cynical (and catty), but there seemed to be a purient sexual component to how they were in snug whiteys with their asses pushed out at all times. Where’s the cellulite? Why does their skin look so silky smooth? Were they told to get in shape for their role so that they had the physical stamina to be on their hands and knees for hours at a stretch, or was it to make the centipede look more visually pleasing, i.e., less disgusting? I’m sorry, perhaps I should just whistle past this one.

I was a bit confused when his insect was revealed. His operating room was in the basement, but the bug was in the dining room on the main level. As he was pondering his otherwise mundane existence (outside of the surgical mutilation hobby, it appeared his calendar was free) at the table, he inexplicably decided then to awaken them from their happier place and make them “walk” for the first time. He aimed the mirror on them in rapturous joy at his achievement. This raises a perhaps not so obvious question: How did he get them up the stairs? Did he haul them up in the plot wagon?

This was one of the drawings the highly-educated surgeon made to demonstrate his devious plans:

Yeah, I got nothing.

As for the ending, picture the worst possible scenario. There. That’s it. Let that bugger sink in.

In conclusion, I can’t recommend this movie, nor is it my place to suggest you avoid it like . . . I was about to say the plague, but that sounds like a party in comparison. All I know is that there is not enough bug spray in this world to eradicate the memory of this movie from my brain. There just isn’t. And I hear there are plans for a sequel: a human centipede with twelve segments. Let the good times roll.

Factoids and other questions that should not be begged.

English is a complex and fascinating language. While not the most difficult to write and speak fluently, it certainly has more than its share of speed bumps. There are plenty of references to trace back origins of words and phrases; the butchering of said words and phrases isn’t quite so clear cut. There are some that leave me scratching my head at best. At worst, I am brought to the brink of gnashing my teeth as I attempt silence or a diplomatic correction. Here are several examples of ignorance and apathy in colloquialisms.

Avoid the factoid

I suppose I can sympathize with this one. It sounds like it might be a small fact. However, that was not the intent of this word. The suffix -oid means something that may contain aspects of the original, but not completely, e.g. humanoid is not quite human. Therefore, a factoid is an unsubstantiated claim. Somehow, someway, some boob took a broom and with one bold stroke, made it mean something else. It is generally an innocuous incorrect usage, but say it in front of ones in the know then, Look out! If Timmy falls down the well and you announce it as a factoid, don’t be surprised if his rescue team challenges you. Lassie would probably be barking a fact, but it won’t matter. Timmy will die if you do not get your facts and factoids straight. 

Itchy and Scratchy 

I show no mercy with this one. An itch occurs and is treated with a scratch, perhaps an ointment. A scratch has the privilege of being a thing, an action, and possibly a consequence of that action. An itch is just an itch. It is a noun, not a verb. This verbal goof should have been left at the steps before entering middle school. Don’t vex me with such a disingenuous display of childhood innocence. You should know better.

Tinfoiled again

It’s aluminum foil. Reynolds says so. Let’s apply a premise of economics to this: the high demand for this product requires a more frugal way to supply it. Tin has not been used for this household wonder since World War II—so says Wikipedia. I don’t care that the Brits still use the name. Let’s call a spade a spade, and a multi-functional wrap aluminum foil.

They say what?

My tolerance of this depends on my mood and familiarity of the present company. “They say . . . “. Who might “they” be? Experts? Plumbers? Your neighbors? Zoo animals? Ghosts? Aliens? I don’t get it. How can anyone put faith in a claim from some unknown, disembodied entity? I certainly can’t. Prove it. Give me names; show me witnesses, and then maybe we will discuss that factoid. 

Basically basic

In an effort to conserve space, I’ll give you a two-for-one here. I had an instructor e-mail me that he would not make the class, as he was very sick. “Basically, I was throwing up all night.” I don’t know, that doesn’t sound too basic to me. It sounds like a night of Hell spewing a complex soup into the porcelain commode. Why do people feel compelled to preface or top off a sentence with that word? It is so overused that it lost its glimmer long ago. The word has been rendered meaningless by its common use as a space-filler to give the impression that the person knows whereof he or she speaks. Personally, I’d take “um” over “basically” any day.

As for the second bird, refer to the first sentence of this post. Our language is vast with myriad synonyms, giving us an almost daunting menu of words for seemingly endless combinations and ways to communicate. Please don’t be redundant, it makes me peevish. I have read at least three authors’ works where someone’s eyes were described as “blue, blue”. Oh, I was assuming the character’s eyes were grayish until you doubled up on that adjective. Thanks for clearing that up for me. How about “intensely blue” or “cobalt blue”? Please, anything but “blue, blue”. While we’re at it, you may have gone to your drawing class to draw a drawing with drawing pencils, but I’d much prefer that you go to your art class and focus on your pencil drawing so that you don’t annoy me with your redundancy. Just as an example. 

Know what? 

No, I don’t know. And quit asking me. Just finish talking so I can get some peace.

Europeans and Asians have a point

If you ever get indignant when cultures residing in other parts of the globe look down on us as commoners, aim the mirror on our society. Notice its maddening habit of taking their words and phrases and westernizing them in a misguided attempt to be hip and trendy. 

Somehow, someway, someone (probably the same boob who crucified factoid) noticed the similarity in Hara-kiri, the Japanese suicide ritual, and Harry Caray, the sports announcer. Outside of that, I can’t connect the dots with this one. But wouldn’t it be cute to substitute the latter for the former, just for poops and snickers? I assure you, no, it would not. In fact, what sounded initially like a slip of the tongue from lack of sleep now comes across as an overreaching effort to be funny. Yes, let’s make light of the honor- killing of thousands of Japanese soldiers over the centuries by referring to it as a geriatric, dough-faced, and mumble-assed media personality. He is dead, and so should the bastardized namesake be, as well.  

The morphing of laissez-faire into lazy fare was unexpectedly poetic, albeit still stupid. The French term’s application is mainly in the political, and literally means to “let it be”. Ergo, you can let people change that one up to mean absolutely nothing except to confirm that they are too lazy to pronounce it correctly, much less spell it. Why is being stupid considered cool? Lazy fare is indeed everywhere.

It isn’t ironic

Alanis, you ignorant slut. How dare you encourage the improper usage of the word irony? Having 10,000 spoons when all you need is a knife is annoying. I hurt for you in that regard. But don’t call it irony. The figurative is different from the literal. It can be loosely defined as sarcasm, even. You made millions of dollars on a mediocre song with lyrics that fly in the face of logical thought. Awesome!

Now that’s irony.

Get on your knees and raise a question

I left the best for last, i.e., the one that causes me the most unrest. Does anyone know what “begs the question” really means? Apparently not, because I hear it several times a week, and it never ceases to annoy the crap out of me. Anyone who knows me well, knows that this really sets my teeth on edge.  

If an actual question is being introduced, the question is raised. Raised, not begged. Okay okay, I’ll give a little. I understand how it seems if a question is just screaming to be asked, it must be begging, as well. I was in that place many years ago, but then I saw the light. When something begs the question, it is not followed by a specific question.

        Begs the question: a conclusion based on an assumption.

Sarah Palin is a good Christian, therefore God will love me if I vote for her in 2012. A cold day in Hell aside, this is an example of a statement that begs the question. Meaning, it is a specious declaration open to be challenged. The conclusion: God will love me if I vote for Palin in 2012, is based on the assumption: she is a good Christian. Prove it. What makes her a good Christian? Even if she is, how does that mean that God will love me for supporting her? If Timmy fell down an Alaskan well, my guess is that Palin would not be part of that skeptical search party. She’d be in a helicopter, hunting down Lassie.

Okay, that might have begged the question.