October 8, 2004

What one young blogger thought after watching tonight’s presidential debate…

Democracy is killing our country. Everyone hails democracy as though it were a god. Our leaders are even willing to wage a war to spread it. But it’s really a cancer.

Plato nailed the problem with democracy in The Republic. Democracy, he wrote, errs by treating all men as though they are equal—when the truth of the matter is that all men are not equal, at least not with regards to their intelligence and values. But in America, everyone—despite their intelligence, despite their values—is given the same amount of political power as everyone else: one man, one vote. Thus, the man with a 90 IQ is given as much say as the man with a 110 IQ, the bigot as the just man.

In most areas of life, we acknowledge that people are unequal. For example, we would never say that everyone is equally qualified to be a doctor or an auto mechanic. No, we realize that only a certain number of people are suited to perform these jobs. Yet in politics we disregard the obvious fact of human inequality.

I think our forefathers were on the right track when they only allowed property owners to vote. Sure, there were some flaws in that system, but at least it ensured that most voters were educated. But, over the past hundred years, we’ve gradually given suffrage to a larger and larger percentage of the population. And look where that’s taken us.

The real problem with America is not that we have bad leaders, although we certainly do have bad leaders. The problem with America is that we have a political process that enables and in fact encourages bad leaders to come to power. Let’s face it, the masses are moved by emotional appeals. Therefore, when you let the masses vote, you make demagoguery a political necessity. The candidate most likely to win is no longer the man who has the best plan and can best articulate it; rather, he’s the guy most adept at stirring people’s passions.

If we had more of an elitist system, then the political discourse in this country would be elevated. If a greater portion of the electorate was rational, then politicians would be forced to focus more on issues and less on sound bites—and, as a result, the quality of our candidates and thus leaders would increase. The candidate most likely to win might no longer be the most handsome guy or the guy who looks best on TV, but the man best suited to lead.

So what do I propose? I think people should be forced to pass four tests before being allowed to vote: one that would judge their ability and willingness to think logically, another that would somehow determine their character (this would be a tricky one), a third that would rate their knowledge of the Constitution, and a fourth that would judge their knowledge of national and world events, both past and contemporary.

Such requirements wouldn’t solve all our nation’s problems. I realize that. But given the fact that all men are inherently unequal, I think they would be an improvement over our current system.

October 6, 2004

Cute Movies

Today I thought I’d rank my favorite cute movies of the past ten years. Before doing this, though, I should describe what a cute movie is. First, let’s look at cute. Cute is one of those qualities that’s easier to describe than define. Your grandma wearing her Easter bonnet is cute; your brother making armpit noises is not. Spin the Bottle is cute; Truth or Dare is not. A hiccup is cute; a week-long bout of diarrhea is not. Family Circus is cute; manga is not. Old Yeller at the beginning of the movie is cute; Old Yeller at the end of the movie is not. You get the idea.

Cute movies can be discussed in all social settings. You wouldn’t be embarrassed to talk about such a film with your mom. They don’t contain graphic sex or violence, rarely use the f-word, and only discuss “objectionable topics” through innuendo. They’re almost always romantic comedies and they always have beautiful, Cosmo and G.Q.-looking characters. And cute movies always end happily, as their protagonists never have shortcomings or obstacles that can’t be overcome in ninety minutes.

Now cute movies are not my favorite genre. In fact, I usually don’t enjoy watching more than two cute movies a month. I see two main weaknesses with such movies. First, in many ways they are dishonest about reality. For example, many people in the real world have acne. But when was the last time you saw a zit on Sandra Bullock’s face? But more importantly, people in the real world are darker, more complicated, more troubled. Life is often filled with disappointment and loneliness—from FADE IN to FADE OUT. By downplaying this side of human nature and life in general, cute movies often fill their viewers with false expectations about reality. My second complaint of cute movies is that they’re usually very formulaic. Within the first five minutes of a cute movie, we know who’s going to fall in love with who and what obstacles will get in their way. Did anyone watching Sleepless in Seattle (save for maybe Brainless in Boise) really doubt that Tom Hanks’ and Meg Ryan’s characters would get together?

Despite these flaws, however, I think much can be said in favor of cute movies, and this is why I like watching them—at least every now and then. First, they are often a nice retreat from what my friends’ mom calls “rough” movies. I love Quentin Tarrantino films, but it’s sometimes nice to escape into a world of innocence, a world devoid of drug deals and murders and f-words. Second, although cute movies are in some ways dishonest, in other ways they are more honest than many dramas. For many modern films convey pessimistic worldviews: life sucks, relationships are always headaches, things never end happily. But reality, while often filled with bad, contains just as much good. Good deeds are sometimes rewarded; people do sometimes change; people often do fall head-over-heels in love and live happily ever after. If nothing else, cute movies remind us that life does have silver linings, at least sometimes.

And now, without any further delay, here they are, my top dozen favorite cute movies of the past ten years. (It was too tough to narrow it down to ten.)

12. You’ve Got Mail. In all honesty, I like My Big Fat Greek Wedding more than this film, but I had to put a Meg Ryan movie on the list—and Sleepless in Seattle is eleven years old.

11. Clueless and 13 Going on 30 (tie). The first movie, starring Alicia Silverstone, sets Jane Austen’s Emma in a most unlikely setting—a 1990s Beverly Hills high school. I haven’t seen it in several years, but remember it at as being both instructive and hilarious. The second movie—I’ll admit it—is basically an inferior, female version of Big. Nevertheless, Jennifer Garner is so good in it—so charming and energetic—that you can’t help but like her and enjoy every second of the film.

10. Maid in Manhattan. I absolutely love this retelling of the Cinderella story, starring Jennifer Lopez and Ralph Fiennes. Lopez is just perfect in this role as a down-to-earth mother and maid in a ritzy Manhattan hotel. It’s also refreshing to see a romantic comedy that features a Hispanic protagonist and an interracial love story.

9. Serendipity. John Cusack has the uncanny ability to shine in cute movies while, at the same time, remaining a man’s man. The script in this film is great; the story is always one step ahead of us, always giving us new surprises as we watch Cusack and Kate Beckinsale put their future in the hands of Fate—of which Beckinsale is a fervent believer and Cusack a resolute skeptic.

8. Legally Blonde. With most actresses, this would have been a decent, above-average film. With Reese Witherspoon, however, it became a classic. All of her mannerisms are so perfect and…cute that we can’t resist falling in love with her ditzy, kind-hearted character, who heads off to law school in hopes of winning back her ex-boyfriend.

7. While You Were Sleeping. The movie that will eternally redeem Sandra Bullock for the atrocious Hope Floats. When the man that she admires from afar falls into a coma, his family mistakenly thinks that she’s his fiancee. She tries, but doesn’t have the heart to correct them and during her many visits to his hospital room ends up falling in love with his brother, played by Bill Pullman.

6. Father of the Bride 2. The only non-romantic comedy on my list. The writing, the cinematography, the acting (mainly Steve Martin and Diane Keaton)—everything is just perfect. Every time I watch, I get in the mood to have kids.

5. Notting Hill. It doesn’t matter what this film is about. It’s written by Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bridget Jones’s Diary, and Love Actually) and stars Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts. You can’t lose.

4. Two Weeks Notice. Again, how can you go wrong with Hugh Grant? (I would have put more of his movies on my list, but most of them are a little too “rough” to fall under the cute category—e.g., About a Boy, Bridget Jones’s Diary, and Love Actually.) In this film, Grant plays a free-spirited, self-absorbed millionaire who, against his own will, ends up falling in love with an uptight, selfless liberal activist, who is played flawlessly by Sandra Bullock.

3. Never Been Kissed and The Wedding Singer (tie). Two great Drew Barrymore movies. The first one, which co-stars Michael Vartan, is incredibly corny, but it always makes me smile and the ending always brings tears to my eyes. (Happy tears, of course, for cute movies always end happily.) The second co-stars Adam Sandler, who is surprisingly likable as a romantic lead. It takes place in the 1980s and its numerous jabs at that decade (all done in love) are extremely funny. It’s also sweet and heart-warming—and, again, it’s ending brings tears (of joy, of course) to my eyes every time.

2. Sweet Home Alabama. Reese Witherspoon’s feisty, tomboyish character is one of my favorites of all-time. And, in my opinion, no romantic comedy has had a better ending since When Harry Met Sally.

1. Ever After. Another retelling of the Cinderella story, this one starring Drew Barrymore and Dougray Scott. Barrymore’s character is a true hero—courageous, selfless, passionate. As she goes about trying to convince the prince of the inequalities of medieval society, we, along with him, can’t help but get swept away by her ideals and inner beauty. But, then, of course, the evil stepsisters get in the way and… If you haven’t, you really should see this one. It’s a fun watch and will be encouraging to your soul.

October 1, 2004

More Thoughts on Profanity

A few weeks ago, I gave a philosophical argument against profanity. I wrote that a word is profane if it (1) trivializes that which is sacred (e.g., saying “goddammit”), (2) denigrates that which is good (e.g., using locker room terms to describe female body parts), or (3) encourages its speaker and/or hearer to have impure thoughts. Today, I’d like to revise some of my comments about point 3. Here’s what I wrote regarding point 3 in my original essay:

Language is profane when it encourages its speaker and/or hearer to have impure thoughts. A good example of this is the f-word. Although it has many different meanings, its primary meaning, both denotatively and connotatively, is that of impure sexual intercourse. Now there are times when it’s appropriate to think and talk about sexual immorality—e.g., for purposes of education and moral instruction. However, it’s wrong to think and talk about it more than necessary. And when we use the f-word, this is exactly what we’re doing.

I now believe that that was a really foolish thing to write. I don’t really believe this and I don’t think that many other people do either. Hearing the f-word doesn’t cause me to have impure thoughts any more than smelling a fart reminds me of roses.

So why, then, is it wrong to use the f-word? I think one would be wrong if he used it to offend another. (And this is why I don’t use it around others—because many are offended by it.) And one would be wrong if he used it to describe the act of intercourse. For in doing this, he would be denigrating that which is good. But is it wrong to use the f-word as a term of emphasis? If it is, I don’t see why.

If someone has any ideas, I’d love to hear them.

Some of you may be wondering why I’m so fascinated by profanity. I really have no answer, but if you’d like to psychoanalyze me, please do. And by the way, if you think that my fascination with profanity is a reaction against the strict religious upbringing I had as a child, you’d be wrong. I had no strict religious upbringing as a child. In fact, my upbringing was only very mildly religious—and what I had was of the progressive sort.