Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween: Blurring the lines between costume and cosplay

Alright, so you read the title and you thought "What the heck is this guy talking about?  Cosplay is for weirdos.  Halloween is absolutely normal."  Or, you may have thought, "What the heck is cosplay?"  Or perhaps even, "Does this guy have a girlfriend?  Because he really, really needs one."  I will respond to all but the last possible questions on your collective mind.

So folks, I'm going to try and sound smart while digging into the past of Halloween, the history of cosplay, and the present amalgam that they make up, in order to show that though they may seem very different, they are in face becoming nearly synonymous.

We'll start with Halloween.  Surprisingly, it's much simpler.  Traditionally the costumes used on Halloween are of supernatural characters; ghosts and goblins, vampires and werewolves, dwarfs and elves, etc.  Going "guising", as it was called, became popular sometime the late 19th century in Ireland and Scotland, and by the early 20th century the concept had crossed the Atlantic and become vogue in American circles, for adults as well as children.  Mass produced costumes started in the 1930's when trick-or-treating became popular among children.

Now, onto the history of cosplay.  First, a definition, from the ever-wise source of Wikipedia:

"Cosplay (コスプレ kosupure?), short for costume play, is a performance art in which participants called cosplayers wear costumes and fashion accessories to represent a specific character or idea that is usually identified with a unique name."

Ok, so that's a good little review of what it is.  Here's where it gets interesting.  The common conception is that the hobby of cosplay is Asian in origin, specifically from Japan, but costume play was already a hobby in the United States before it reached Asia.  That's right, someone dressed up as a "Mr Skygack from Mars", a science fiction comic character in 1908.  (You can look it up, but he really was a comic book character, and someone really did dress up as him.)

Although it was almost certainly something odd and unknown in those days, now cosplay has become quite prevalent.  Take the recent Salt Lake Comic Con in September for example.  It had over 120,000 attendees, and Stan Lee, the comic legend, purportedly declared it "the greatest comic con in the world."  It was an incredibly popular and huge event...and many of those 120,000 who attended were doing cosplay.

Now, we introduce Halloween a month or two later.  In the past, perhaps we would have expected costumes of vampires, ghosts, the Reaper, Frankenstein's monster, maybe a ninja or something.  But now?  Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, and many other comic book characters are the most prevalent.  That's certainly not part of the classic Halloween tradition.  I mean, last time I checked Iron Man wasn't a supernatural figure.

So what's happening?  Is Halloween just becoming another excuse to cosplay?  That's how the trend seems, but I don't think that many will think of it as cosplay.  And yet, as geek become chic, more and more children and adults will unwittingly start wearing costumes that 20 years ago would only have been seen in a comic convention.

To be fair to all those hard-core cosplayers who are out there, cosplay is a lot more than just dressing up in a costume.  It's acting the role, paying homage to the persona that you are emulating.  Sometimes, those who dress up for Halloween enjoy doing the same; in that case at least, their actions do seem to indicate that they are stepping into the shoes of a cosplayer.

I can imagine you, right now, right brow arched ever so slightly, with smug grin plastered on your face, saying "This is such a dull subject; I simply cannot fathom how it could be of interest to anyone but you" in a rather British, aristocratic accent.

And I can imagine me hitting you in the face with a pie, sticking my tongue out, and saying "I don't care I thought it was cool so there meany-head!"

I'm a lot less mature inside my head.

But either way, I don't mean to bore you this Halloween night with this story.  I hope that you had a great time with friends and/or family.  I hope that you have a great weekend.  But also, I hope that the next time you see someone dressed up, cosplaying as some guy or girl with crazy hair, your first thought isn't "Wow, that guy (or girl) is a total loser".  I hope that you don't mock something that is no stranger than dressing up as a vampire or ghoul just because you don't understand it.  I hope that you don't put down or demean those who honestly enjoy those kinds of nerdy things.

Because we've had enough of that, thanks.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

All's fair in love

Ok, so this is a real life story, which will be told in as accurate a way as possible.  (Names, demeanor, and/or gender may or may not be changed)  ;)

I work at the Harold B. Lee Library, as many of you may know.  If you don't, suffice it to say that it's a big library at Brigham Young University, and I'm a security guard.  Now, usually, this involves sitting at a desk and telling people not to bring Jamba Juice into the library, but this last Saturday I was persuaded to help out a co-worker by working at the BYU-UNR football game.  

I'd done this once before, and while it was a long and exhausting experience, I didn't dislike it.  At least, not that much.  So, with some dragging of my feet, I took my post at the crosswalk between the Marriott Center and the LaVell  Edwards Stadium.  The job was simple; keep the pedestrians from crossing when they shouldn't and/or getting themselves killed.  So, I directed them in a friendly fashion from 5:45 till 8:15, when the game was going to start.  

Alright, that was all kind of back story.  Here's where it gets meaty.  A young man was standing at this crosswalk, asking any and all who passed by,

"I need two tickets!  Does anybody have two tickets?"  

And so on and so forth.  A few stopped and told him that there was a man further down selling tickets, but he glumly replied that he didn't have any money.  A few others asked why he needed tickets, and he said that they were for his mother and sister.  

This continued for about 2 hours, until finally an elderly man came and pulled out two tickets.  I was standing nearby, and as the tickets exchanged hands, I casually asked him,

"Why did you need those tickets?  Is it terribly urgent?"

"They're for my sister and my mom."

He seemed annoyed at my question.  Something seemed fishy, but I dismissed my apprehensions.  After all, the kid had a right to beg for tickets for his family, right?  Maybe they're just really poor , hardcore BYU fans, right?


After about 10 minutes, I spied this youth on the other side of the crosswalk, holding the two tickets up in the air.  I wondered why he would be doing that, and so I crossed over to that side.  

"Hey!  Do you need more tickets?  What are you doing with those ones?"  

He glared at me, and muttered, "I'm selling them."  

I must admit, my jaw dropped a few inches, at least in my mind.  He must have noticed, because he defensively said, "I need a new scooter, alright?"  

I stared at him, aghast.  Then, I turned to the people gathered at the crosswalk.  I was angry.

So I said, "HEY!  Anyone want some tickets?  Two tickets right here, freshly begged off of some guy just 10 minutes ago!  Anyone?"  

He glared at me more fiercely, and the crowd stared at me and at him, looks of confusion and bemusement on their faces.  He turned and scurried away.  

"Good riddance" I said to myself.  

This was not the end, however!  30 minutes later, I see him again, with an older buddy on the other side of the crosswalk.  Tickets exchanged hands, and they began hawking their ill-gotten wares.  

So, I did the only reasonable thing.  I went over and tried to help advertise.  

"Ladies and Gentlemen, we have tickets here for sale, freshly begged from fans like you!  Anyone need some tickets?"  

The older boy (should I say man?  No, he must have been at least 20, but no.) came up to me and started to rant angrily.  

"Hey, looks like we've got a real DOOFUS here!  Yeah, this guy's a real fool!"

Then, he got about an inch away from my face, and hissed, "What's your problem, huh?  We're just trying to make a buck, so back off!"  

"Well, I'm just trying to help you advertise.  What's the problem with that?  After all, I saw you beg those tickets off of other people for your 'family'"

"You wanna punch me, huh?  Punch me!  Punch me, big man!"  

"Why would I want to punch you"

"What's your problem, man?"  

"Oh, just that I believe in human decency and honesty."

He threw his arms up in the air and sneered. "Decency!  Wow, we've got a real doofus here!"

I just shook my head and left, resigned to the fact that he would not be dissuaded from selling the tickets.  There's an epilogue to this story.  After the game, when I was at the same spot, the second boy came up to me, yelling, "How much did you make, huh?  How much did you make?

Okay, so that's pretty much the end of the story.  However, I fear that this is not an isolated event.  It seems that human decency takes leaves when the game starts.  During the game, I saw grown men hurling infantile insults at the players.  Why?  Because they happened to make a good tackle.  I saw a 50 year old man blatantly ignore the words of a security officer and climb under the rails like a child, rather than walk the 15 feet to the stairs.  What is this?  Is there some secret agreement in society that I've never heard of that accepts childish and idiotic acts as long as it's at a football game?

Now, before you just assume that I'm completely naive and have never run into rude people before, let me assure you that I have been insulted, physically spat upon, and punched in the face by very rude and angry people.  But, for some reason it didn't seem to affect me as much.  Maybe because they didn't act like it was something that should be acceptable.

Who knows?  Maybe these specific people are the same way.  But I'm afraid that statistically, many of them are likely members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  And as a member of said church, I expect a certain degree of "human decency" out of fellow brothers and sisters.  A level of decency that condemns the begging of tickets under false pretenses in order to turn a profit.

Was it legal?  Probably.  But hey, I'm no lawyer.  Was it moral?  Absolutely not.  Those who proclaim to be honest in their dealings with their fellow men would not do such a thing as this.  He seemed to view his wheeling and dealing as equivalent to my job.  I was hired to protect people.  He was lying to get gain.  There is no equivalence.

Here's my plan.  If you go to BYU football games, just don't play into the system.  Buy your tickets ahead of time, and try not to buy extras.  If you have extras, try to give them to someone that you know and trust.  Because as long as people keep giving out tickets and buying them like this, the corruption will continue.

And if you happen to be reading this and you deal in this chicanery?

You should be ashamed.  And I hope that you can recognize that before you carry your deceit into something a lot more important.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Internet Privacy! (Or the lack thereof...)

I’m back, and I’ve got a new post for all of my adoring fans! (most likely my Mom and possibly my little sister.)  I realized that hey, life’s too short to agonize over writing great blog posts.  Maybe my blogs will be grammatically wild, filled with a glut of syntactic faults and void of literary merit.  You know what I say to that?
Pppppphhhht!  Yeah, that’s right.  Lickitongue cares not for your haughty English ideals!

Alright, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s get down to business.  (To defeat!  The Huns…)

No!  I’m going to stay focused.  Well, here’s the story anyway.  I was walking around in my uniform as a security officer at the Harold B. Lee Library when I ran into an employee who started to talk to me about an article that he was reading on the web.

He said, “Do you have a smartphone?”

I replied.  “Yes.”

He said, “Do you have a flashlight app on that smartphone?”

I replied, with some trepidation, “No.”  

He relaxed a bit, and said, “Oh.”

I waited for him to continue.

“Well, I’ve been reading about how they are using these apps to spy on us, through our telephones.  Isn’t that something?  Using the devices that we buy to spy on us.”

I smiled a bit and turned around, commenting as I left, “That’s the price we pay, I guess.”
I got to thinking about this, though, since the issue of internet privacy has been tossed around a lot in the past few months.  And here’s what I thought.

First of all, I do believe that we have to pay a price to have access to the knowledge that we have.  Nothing is free in this life, though many of us are led to believe the opposite.  Knowledge gained without any sacrifice is usually knowledge not worth having in the first place.  We have access to a great deal of knowledge through use of the internet and other digital means.  But, generally, to access this information, we have to be connected to the network(s) that provide it.  And that connection can lead to a loss of privacy.

Now, I realize that there are many important pieces of data that we keep on the internet, such as our banking, business, and professional information that we obviously want to keep private.  I’m not going to address that right now, since that’s a whole ‘nother scope of this issue.  I’m just going to talk about the morality of internet relations.  

We can’t have the “best of both worlds” (Sorry, I know that the trope is horribly overused).  I could isolate myself and thus avoid the negative influence of everyone and everything that could possibly affect me, but the second I allow another person into my existence, I run the risk of losing my privacy.  And the risk is multiplied exponentially when I allow (potentially) millions of people to have access to information about myself.  

This in no way justifies the immoral actions of others when they invade my privacy.  In a rapidly expanding technological world, to function in society it is practically a necessity to be connected to the internet.  And I think that it will only become even more necessary.  I can’t imagine our world heading a direction in which the internet will become obsolete, unless it were replaced by some other form of international and intercultural connection that is even more accessible and useful.  

With that somewhat bleak image in mind, it can be frightening to consider the kind of people you can run into on the internet.  Believe me, I’ve been to 4chan.  The mask of anonymity spawns vileness and immorality like a plague, and there is little that any one individual or government can do to stop that.  And I don’t think that is the answer, nor can it possibly be the answer.  

What if my phone got hacked, right this instant?  What would I fear?  Would I be afraid that the cruel messages I write about people I know get posted on the internet?  Would I be afraid that others could see inappropriate pictures that I view?  Would I be afraid of the shame and social stigma that this would cause?  

No, because I simply don’t do things like that.  

The issue is not whether the world will know about the bad things that I do or not, it’s whether I do them or not.  Morally, I could broadcast any horrible thing that I do over the internet or be the only one on earth that knows about it, but in the end, it doesn't matter.  It’s still horrible.  So I shouldn’t do it.  That’s my personal moral code and my decision.  

So, in conclusion, we need to realize that there are bad people on the internet.  And often, they will not care about your privacy.  And although that is lamentable, it is a fact.  So, if you really want to avoid losing control of something embarrassing that you’ve done, just don’t do it in the first place.  Or if it’s already done, don’t post a video of it on Youtube.  

Okay, that was a long rant.  Sorry folks, sometimes things like this happen.  Feel free to comment, at least, if you can.  I’d love to know what you think.  

Friday, September 19, 2014

Let's be friends?

There's a post about hippos in the works, dear fans.  Never fear, it will come sooner or later.

But, today I'd like to talk about friendship.  I'd like to talk about what it means to me, what it means today, and what it used to mean.  

Friendship, to me, is sort of an ethereal concept.  I've always found it hard to define what makes up a friendship, and who my friends were.  This may have been influenced by a somewhat lonely childhood, when, (due to a variety of factors) my closest friends were books.  I loved to read, and I still do.  I found friends in the characters in these books, and I don't mean that metaphorically.  I actually imagined that I could talk to them and that they could talk to me, and I was with them when I read the books that they were in.  I suppose that they were a sort of imaginary friend for me, though conceived more in the imaginations of the authors than in my own.  It was because of this that I struggled with the definition of what a friend was.  Because I never did all the things that I imagined myself doing in my fantasy books with other kids my age, I supposed that I they weren't really "friends.

I've grown now, and I think I know much better what a friend is.  This is largely due to one of my first friends who reached out to me, a boy named Eric Allen.  He came and sat with me when I ate my lunch, and we talked.  I had, as a principle, dined alone in the past, and I was not keen on conversing at the beginning.  But, he recognized the solitude in me and decided that he could help.  He did.  By the time I left high school, I had a small but steady group of friends.  

A friend is someone that you can talk to, someone who is willing to listen to you.  A friend is someone who will come and help you out when your car battery is dead, who will sympathize when you break up with your first girlfriend/boyfriend, who will even cry with you.  A true friend is a rare thing.  

Which brings me to my second point.  What is friendship today?  I was on Facebook the other day, and saw many of my friends who have friend lists that are in the thousands.  

"Wow," I thought, "They must really be awesome, popular people.  I wonder how many friends I have..."


At first, I felt a little dismayed, almost embarrassed.  I mean, I only had a fraction of the friends that they had.  I considered my list of friends, and admitted that far too many of them would be more aptly described as acquaintances, and that I stay in contact with far too few.  Before I sank too far into my general gloom of friendship-failure, I took a moment to think about it.  

What is a friend?  How many of these people am I truly friends with?  I read this article which talked about the study of an Oxford Professor, Robin Dunbar, who suggests that the maximum number of "friends" that we can have is 150.  The whole article is very good, and I'd suggest that you read it, but my point is this; most of the people that you are "friends" with on Facebook aren't really your friends.

Now, before you get out your torches and pitchforks, hear me out.  I'm not trying to insult you or say that all your friendships are built on lies or anything like that.  I'm simply implying that the term friendship can only really be applied to a relatively small number of people.  There are other words for the other people in our lives, such as acquaintances, colleagues, classmates, companions, comrades.  You could check a thesaurus and find even more.

The use of the term "friend" on Facebook is worrisome because it is changing the very definition of what a friend is.  Originally, the word comes from a verb in Old English that means to love or to favor.  Lover has taken on a different connotation in our day, so that's not really appropriate to use with many people (at least, not from my old fashioned point of view), but friend was the word that invoked that sense of love, of loyalty, of deep companionship.  So a friend was something more than the sister of my former roommate's cousin.  I've been reading a lot of classic literature for my classes, and people died for their friends, and did so gladly.  Achilles and Patroclus, Heracles and Hylas, Beowulf and Wiglaf.  That is what being a friend was in their time, and I think that it should be something more like that today.

Now, I don't want you to go and terminate your friendship with anyone who would not take a spear for you and die in your arms, because chances are you don't have that many people who would do that for you.  And if you do, congratulations!  You're one of the lucky few.  I just want to re-emphasize what being a friend really means so that we aren't completely caught in this idea that friendship is a tenuous digital connection whose meaning is encapsulated in the click of a button accepting an invitation to be someone's friend.

So, let's be friends.  Or let's be acquaintances, or peers, or relatives, or whatever it may be.  But let's also understand what that really means.  

(But hey, what do I know about all this?  I'm just a panda.)

Friday, September 12, 2014

Never Forget

Well, there goes that muse again, ranting and wailing and generally making a mess of herself until I finally say, "Alright!  Alright, I'll write it."

I know that I just posted earlier today, and I even promised much more amusing posts in the future on very interesting subjects.  But, as I traverse that Internet as I am wont to do, I have seen many different reactions to the passing of September 11th, a day that has gone down in history as an incredibly tragic day.  (I know that it was yesterday, but hear me out)  

As I observed the opinions of others and their arguments, whether sympathetic, apathetic, or just pathetic, I noticed a few common threads.  First, people tend to begin with describing where they were when it happened and how they felt.  I shall follow suit.  

I was young when it happened, only 9.  I remember that I was in my 4th grade class when the planes hit.  Class was immediately suspended, and the teacher turned on the TV.  Normally, some students would have taken advantage of this moment to chatter to each other, but I distinctly remember the silence.  It was as if we could sense in the air that something immense and terrible was going on. 

By my perception, the 3000 people that died was an enormous amount, almost incomprehensible. Now, though, I read many opinions that wonder why this event is so remembered, since so many more people have died in the War on Terror, the Holocaust, etc.  I want to focus on the most recent events in particular, because we could continue for quite a while about the horrors of wars long past.  

OK, get ready for some approximations.  Between 2003 and 2011, there were approximately 120,000 civilian deaths, depending on where you get your facts.  (That's an average, folks)  So, the amount of deaths from the attacks on Sept. 11th equal approximately 2.5% of the civilian deaths from the War on Terror.  

Is it, then, inconsequential in the face of so many more deaths?  No, of course not.  But why, you might ask, are the other deaths not getting the same kind of attention?  Timing, I think.   

We have roughly 100,000 hairs on our heads.  If I lost 100 hairs a day to a drastically receding hairline, then in about 3 years I'd be completely bald.  But, if I lost 2500 hairs in a single day, my hair lose would be much more noticeable.  That's the idea at work here; it's not the math, it's the sensation.  Any hair loss is lamentable, but rapid and sudden hair loss is memorable.  

Humanity is general is fairly hardened to everyday statistics, no matter how horrible they may be.  This is understandable, since I personally can hardly sympathize with and understand the thousands of ways that humans are dying this very minute across the planet.  It's just too much for a single mind to comprehend.  But what we can comprehend is a single event, a moment when through a series of fateful choices, many lives were lost.  That's why we still remember this day, just as we remember Pearl Harbor, and Hiroshima, and Nagasaki, and any number of other horrible days.

In conclusion, I do not intend to diminish or cheapen the lives of those who died on September 11th or those who have died throughout the recent wars.  They are all humans, and therefore of inherent worth.  What I attempt is only an explanation of my perception of human nature, and why people act how they act on days like these.

May we never forget all the innocent lives that have been lost in our troublesome times.  

A Beginning, of sorts.

Well, this is strange, to say the least.  What has led me to found my very own blog, you ask?  Me, a humble panda of equally humble thought?  Well, perhaps it would be, in part, peer pressure.  Joining the English Society showed me many of my peers that had blogs, and when I researched it I found out that it's not nearly as hard as you'd think. You just fill out some rather tedious paperwork, contact the right people, sacrifice three baby seals on a moonless night, and voilá!  You've got a blog.  

(I jest, of course.  The paperwork was quite lovely, nothing tedious about it.)  

So I suppose the question at the moment is, "That's all very well and good, Mr. Panda, but what exactly are you going to write about?"  And the answer?  I'm not entirely sure at the moment.  Now, as evidenced by the title of this blog, I imagine that I will write about things that I think about that come up in life.  Perhaps something about my life in particular, or something about life in general.  I like to think that (being nothing more than a simple panda) I will be able to rationally and amusingly muse on some of the most important questions in our lives, such as "Why, if Nutella is so good, are there are so few other things made out of hazelnuts?" or even "A narrative on the unappreciated dangers of the African hippopotamus."  

Stay tuned.  I plan to update at least once a week, perhaps more if my must is particularly noisome.  This is not the first beginning of a blog, nor will it be the last.  

But it is a beginning.