Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

“It’s the creepiest Christmas song,” one of my co-workers said.

“Kind of date rape-y,” another added.

Of course, they were talking about “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” the 1944 Frank Loesser duet that’s technically not a Christmas song but still is popular during the season. Coincidentally, it’s long been one of my favorites, with a relaxed cadence and impressive scheme — especially in a time of increasingly poppy tunes, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” and its numerous covers have remained rather classy and stylish.

The song has, unfortunately, gotten a bad rap over the years, as my co-workers banter indicates. The root of that reputation lies in a fundamental misunderstanding of the lyrics; they were written in a different era, and more than 60 years later some parts of the song certainly could come across as overly sketchy. While understandable, this misinterpretation represents a tragic loss of the context of the song, alienating it not only from its own time but from ours as well. A closer reading and consideration of the lyrics, however, will provide an understanding and hopefully even an appreciation of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”

I really can’t stay – Baby it’s cold outside
I’ve got to go away – Baby it’s cold outside
This evening has been – Been hoping that you’d drop in
So very nice – I’ll hold your hands, they’re just like ice
My mother will start to worry – Beautiful, what’s your hurry
My father will be pacing the floor – Listen to the fireplace roar
So really I’d better scurry – Beautiful, please don’t hurry
Well Maybe just a half a drink more – Put some music on while I pour

The neighbors might think – Baby, it’s bad out there
Say, what’s in this drink – No cabs to be had out there
I wish I knew how – Your eyes are like starlight now
To break this spell – I’ll take your hat, your hair looks swell
I ought to say no, no, no, sir – Mind if I move a little closer
At least I’m gonna say that I tried – What’s the sense in hurting my pride
I really can’t stay – Baby don’t hold out
Ahh, but it’s cold outside

C’mon baby

I simply must go – Baby, it’s cold outside
The answer is no – Ooh baby, it’s cold outside
This welcome has been – I’m lucky that you dropped in
So nice and warm – Look out the window at that storm
My sister will be suspicious – Man, your lips look so delicious
My brother will be there at the door – Waves upon a tropical shore
My maiden aunt’s mind is vicious – Gosh your lips look delicious
Well maybe just a half a drink more – Never such a blizzard before

I’ve got to go home – Oh, baby, you’ll freeze out there
Say, lend me your comb – It’s up to your knees out there
You’ve really been grand – Your eyes are like starlight now
But don’t you see – How can you do this thing to me
There’s bound to be talk tomorrow – Making my life long sorrow
At least there will be plenty implied – If you caught pneumonia and died
I really can’t stay – Get over that old out
Ahh, but it’s cold outside.

The premise of the song is simple enough: a young woman has been visiting a young man. It’s late in the evening in winter, approaching the time it would no long be socially acceptable for them to be alone. She laments the societal mores that would tarnish her image should she stay too late; he provides possible excuses for her to use with her family, including, of course, that it’s too cold outside to walk home.

Of course, that’s the PG version. The adult version is that they want to have sex, but of course rumors would profligate at “Easy A” levels. Or, possibly, they already have, because she asks for a comb, indicating her hair is mussed from a roll in the hay. Even still, the plot remains both sympathetic and endearing.

The modern interpretation, however, is somewhat different, and relies around the misinterpretation of a single line of lyrics. She agrees to another half-hour, and he pours them both drinks, as people in the ‘40s (and, to be honest, today) are wont. “Say, what’s in this drink?” she asks. Most people I know cite this line when questioning the intentions of the man, and at first glance it could be interpreted to indicate her drink was roofied. But the true meaning is more complicated: just as people do today, she is blaming conscious action on inebriation, providing an excuse, if not a very desirable one, for her advances. Yes, her advances. Both the man and the woman are interested in sex, something that maybe wasn’t explored on “Leave it to Beaver” but which did, in fact, occur.

What proves the plot is less skeevy than modern interpretation would hold? She spends much of the song worrying not about her actually stay over but rather her family’s reaction, including a worrying mother, a pacing father, a suspicious sister, a brother at the door and a maiden aunt with a vicious mind. “But don’t you see / … There’s bound to be talk tomorrow / … At least there will be plenty implied,” she tells the man. “I really can’t stay,” she says, and he replies, “Get over that old out,” as in excuse.

As an example, the below video, a cover of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” by Chris Colfer and Darren Criss from “Glee,” showcases the appropriate tone and delivery of the duet. Colfer, singing the female role, is obviously not scared or worried, as someone who was in a predatory situation would be; rather, he is coy, hinting at deeper desires contrasting with cultural acceptability.

Ultimately, of course, she bucks acceptability: “I ought to say no, no, no, sir / … At least I’m gonna say that I tried / … I really can’t stay / … Ahh, but it’s cold outside.” The final line is sung not back and forth, as the rest is, but rather together in harmony. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” isn’t about overpowering a woman or even really an inner conflict, but rather pushes away socially acceptable behavior in favor of personal desires. Unfortunately, that message has become muddled and somewhat lost to time. Ironically, never before has such a song been so reflective of society.

Photo via Flickr.


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Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy stand opposite each other in a crowd of bubbly, intoxicated socialites, brooding at one another while the band begins its next song. They gently take hands and flutter across the floor, weaving in and out of the people on either side of them, remarking on the size of the room and the number of people in it as their motions keep time with the lonely violin.

Danny Zuko and Sandy Olsson tear into the gym floor in their prom duds, waving at friends and energetically slapping their thighs and clapping their hands as if they were born to hand jive. The room rocks with excitement as the couple gallops across the floor in a sea of rowdy teenagers.

The New Boyz jerk down an L.A. sidewalk with their crew at their heels; all are laughing and spinning and occasionally breakin’ it down for the camera. The group ends up in an abandoned warehouse, which is decorated for a bitchin’ rave, and proceeds to break-dance on the floor to cheers and applause.

This is the group dance. For centuries people have found confidence in the folly of others: a barn dance is only fun when you can hee-haw your way through rows of friends and neighbors; the electric slide pulls you and you, in turn, pull your innocent friend out to the center of the dance floor to cut into the next turn to the left; when you hear the “Macarena,” you ironically put your hands out in front of you, joining the Pavlovian party at your cousin’s wedding reception as they begin that moronic sequence of moves that was oh-so-popular in the mid-90s.

For a group dance to be successful, it must be simple enough for all to participate, yet challenging enough that one would need to practice at home in one’s bedroom at night in order to perfect it. Also, the dance cannot be so boring as to allow its participants to lose interest completely when performing it on the dance floor.

Unfortunately, this leaves little room for improvisation or creativity; it also means that most of the moves in the dance are going to be pretty dumb (hops, slides, turns, rocking front to back, etc.). You could crank dat better than Mr. Tell ’em himself, but you’ll still look like an idiot. The group dance is not meant to make you stand out from the crowd as the next contestant on “So You Think You Can Dance?”; you’re going to blend into the crowd like a polar bear in a snowstorm so no one will see you go left instead of right.

Since these dances don’t scream individuality, it’s a shame when, at a bar, the only songs people get really excited about are the ones that are accompanied by a pre-determined sequence of moves. The song starts playing and, once recognized, people forfeit their identities and slip into a mass of faceless participants who march to the same drum. Mindless and drooling, the zombies slide to the left … slide to the right … criss cross! … criss cross! And turn it out.

We fear our potential to be unique and when we step out onto the dance floor, comfort comes to those who teach others how to dougie instead of inventing their own dougie, or marty or jamie. I can imagine approaching the center of the room like stepping toward the edge of a cliff. The anxiety that comes with the fear that comes with the image in your head of you plummeting to your death, which, in this case, would be your social suicide. You see the choices and you pick the funky chicken.

When I was a young girl in northern Virginia, I used to shamelessly start dancing at parties and weddings, spinning around and giggling, not caring who was watching or laughing at me. Then, as I grew older, it was funnier to do “the lawnmower” or “the shopping cart.” You start it up and all your friends follow suit, mowing up the laminate under your feet on your invisible John Deere riding mowers. It was the day we discovered the shame that comes with our self expression that we stopped really dancing. We were ballerinas from birth, but somewhere along the way we lost the confidence to put on our tutus.

Picture via Flickr.

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Last week, a veteran came to speak to my American studies class about his experience in the US military. This dude was young — I’d say about late 20s, early 30s — but also an experienced soldier, having served oversees for almost ten years. He told us he enlisted as soon as possible, has been stationed all over the world and plans on making a career out of being a soldier. For me, his talk stirred up some complicated emotions concerning masculinity, patriotism, sexuality and my own prejudices.

First of all, the guy was hot. He was dressed in khakis and a pale blue Oxford, with buzzed blond hair and blue eyes. Tall, bulging arms — everything you’d expect from an experienced soldier. His swagger and wide stance evoked images of basic training, firing ranges, football fields, gay porn locker room scenes. This guy was all muscle and coiled energy, and you could feel the class react when he walked into the room. We were impressed. He looked like G.I. Joe.

So already I’m feeling weird. Here’s this guy, the ideal American man with a perfect physique, masculine features, serving in the U.S. military — and then cut to me. Tall and lanky, pale and concave with long hair and concealer on my chin. True opposites. In our society’s opinion, this guy is the paradigm of man, and much cultural pressure works toward getting a guy like me to become a guy like him. He’s what Men’s Fitness wants me to look like.

In my case, there’s pressure coming from gay culture trying to convince me to want to sleep with him, and the pressure increases once he opens his mouth. The southern accent, something I still can’t disassociate from conservativism and homophobia, completes his persona. I see him as a walking, talking representation of every notion of red-blooded America: deeply patriotic, uneducated, blindly passionate about war. And this type of man has been excessively colonized and fetishized by various media. Just look at the Village People or gay porn or high fashion editorials for examples of the masculine muscle stud look. Gay or straight, he’s everywhere, and he’s often portrayed as or implied to be uneducated and of a low economic class. And he’s usually white.

Anyway, all that stuff is influencing my opinions about our guest speaker. I’m attracted to him on a physical level, yeah, but it’s a hollow attraction. I’m aware of my attraction as nothing more than a direct result of being told again and again that masculine men are the epitome of male hotness in America, and that you can’t get much better than the super-straight, strong-jawed southern stud. So my prepackaged attraction is one I try to challenge throughout this guy’s presentation, knowing that within its structure I’m again left out. I’m no muscle stud, so it hurts to think that my gay peers are told repeatedly to lust after the Brawny Man.

The stuff this guy talked about also inspired in me all kinds of different complicated feelings. He described raiding houses in Afghanistan, dodging bullets and explosives, killing “bad guys” (his words). He talked about his excitement to kill people, his aggression on the battlefield, his “hardness” and disconnect upon reentry into civilian life. However, I had trouble feeling any sort of sympathy or connection with a man I saw as a brutal warrior. He approached the subject of killing and battle with a glee I found deeply off-putting. I understand that war is unconscionable to most people, especially those of us who have never held an AK-47 or worn body armor or ridden in a camouflaged tank.  But I still found it impossible to find honor in the business of murder, especially when presented in such a jocular and sarcastic way.

I felt further excluded by his use of “guy talk” throughout his presentation. He cussed, used slang, made jokes about drinking and shooting guns, all strategies that created a “manly” feel in the room. For instance, at one point during his talk, he showed a series of pictures of an enemy fort that he and his troop members had destroyed during a battle. Without warning, charred body parts flashed on the screen, strewn on the sandy road around the fort. Our presenter said, “I hope none uh y’all guys got weak stomachs” as he continued to show us about ten more images of dead Afghanis.

First, I do have a weak stomach, and these images are potentially triggering. A disclaimer should have been given beforehand, and to give one halfway through is unacceptable. Second, to couch the warning in “manly” language makes the warning a challenge, as if it would be unmanly to raise a hand and ask him to stop. He phrased his warning as a joke by implying that of course everyone in the room could “take it,” making it impossible for any of us to voice a protest without coming across as pussies.

After the presentation, there was room for some quick Q&A, which turned into a pretty eye-opening moment in terms of how the class had been reacting to this guy. Throughout the semester, we’ve focused our attention solely on the culture of war and paid no attention to military strategy or weaponry. We learn about social institutions surrounding the military, not the details of battle or the technology employed by soldiers on the field. However, almost every question asked by my classmates was along the lines of, “Whoa, that’s a cool gun in that picture. What kind is it?” It was fascinating to see my classmates try to “man up” to the soldier and ask what I considered to be pretty pedestrian questions.

Because here’s the thing. Most of the people in my class are guys, and most of the guys have only ever experienced war through video games. Here we are sitting under fluorescent lights in a college classroom, avoiding critical questions about war or war culture and instead relying on what we’ve learned from “Call of Duty.” I not only felt excluded from the “guy talk,” but also paralyzed. I didn’t feel as though I could rise to the occasion and ask a bro-y question about guns or armor just as I couldn’t raise my slender, effeminate hand and ask the nice man with the projector to please stop showing us icky pictures of dead people. I couldn’t draw on everything I’d learned so far in this course to ask a question that might further my understanding of what it means to be a soldier today, because I was worried I’d come off as a privileged academic, unable to hide my pacifist politics from a man who is not a college graduate and who has chosen to make this stuff his career.

So I found myself perpetuating the disconnectedness between veteran and civilian. How could I connect with this guy on any sort of human level when, if I had my way, he’d be out of a job? I hate war, do not find it charming or romantic or thrilling in any way – and yet I’m sitting here listening to this guy geek out about raiding homes and killing “bad guys.” Leaving the classroom, I wondered what this said about me as an American. Am I unpatriotic for not following the advice of a thousand yellow bumper stickers and supporting our troops? Am I, or people like me, guilty of causing mental and emotional problems for countless veterans? Am I a bad feminist for not raising my hand and voicing my concerns about the violent images he showed our class? Am I bad gay man in for a life of sexual frustration for finding this hunk attractive, then questioning that attraction until it becomes so removed and abstract that it becomes meaningless?

And where does this leave me? I feel like in this situation I don’t know how to do anything but ask questions. I’m sad and angry about all this, but don’t know how to fix any of it. I want to support my troops, be proud of America, not trap myself by pointing out every societal problem I see until I’m a sterile old queen with no friends.

Maybe I’ll never be a patriot. Maybe I’ll never be a red-blooded American with biceps and a southern drawl. But my reactions to this guest speaker have taught me that I’ll give myself an aneurism if my first instinct to anything challenging is to respond with ire and annoyance. I want to stop getting angry. I want to start looking for ways to find love for guys like the one who spoke in front of my class, to stop using him and guys like him as examples of things I hate about gay culture or American society. Individuals don’t deserve to be sights on which I work out my personal prejudices, neuroses, and frustrations. I want to start seeing people as people — then worry about the rest.

Pictures via Flickr.

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Two days ago, Fedora 14 was released, and I decided to give it a try. In a previous post, I was using openSUSE 11.3, and I was proud of it. Well, I was, but now I have moved on. I shift between Linux distributions as my needs and desires change, and I don’t believe there is anything wrong with that.

All operating systems come with their own ideology, whether their users are actively aware of them or even care. These are all generalizations, but…

Windows users are usually sticking with what is familiar with them. Many don’t know that Windows and PC are not interchangeable terms, nor do they care. They expect everything they see online or in stores to be able to run on their computers, as long as they pay the right price. They either don’t care or don’t notice that every program on their computer tends to look and function in a different way, and they tend to be fine with pouring money and trust into Microsoft’s coffers.

Mac users are willing to pay more money for what they think is a superior product. They believe Mac’s interface is easier to understand than Windows, and they’re forced into understanding that not everything they see in stores can run on their computers. They’re more comfortable with pouring their trust and money into Apple than Windows users, because Apple controls every aspect of the Mac, from the hardware to what kind of software is installed on it to how that software looks. They don’t necessarily know what an operating system is, just that a Mac isn’t a PC, and for many of them, not running Windows is an attractive enough statement in its own right.

Linux users are an entirely different breed of people. They know what an operating system is — after all, they likely installed Linux themselves. They understand that most of what they see in stores can’t be run on their computers, but many are willing to tinker with it anyways just to be certain. They know that buying anything, from buying a printer to a digital camera to a voice recorder, may require research on their part, since these products do not go out of their way to say whether they are Windows or Mac capable, and for good reason: Linux is a mess. Linux challenges the notion that computers are products and that our use of them should be limited to what the computer manufacturer or software designer decides. Linux users want the freedom to compute in the way that they desire, without unnecessary — some would deem scary — restrictions. As a result, no single entity controls or speakers for Linux, nor is there one form of Linux. Sometimes, Linux users themselves are the loudest speakers on behalf of Linux, and for them, that can be empowering.

How do Fedora and openSUSE fit into all of this? Well, they are both Linux distributions. To grossly simplify, Linux is developed by individuals from all over the world, varying from hobbyists to corporations. Since no one entity controls Linux, no one entity collects and distributes the software made for it. As a result, other groups have to fill this role. You can’t go online and download Linux, but you can download Fedora, openSUSE, Ubuntu, etc., which will give you access to what Linux has to offer. Thus, Linux distributions are less like products, like Windows and Mac OS X, and more like communities. I could have taken my openSUSE computer and changed it so that it looked identical to how my Fedora computer looks now, if I so desired.

Why, then, did I switch? This is largely because I’m a curious individual. I will wipe my computer multiple times in one day, just to see what a new Linux distribution has to offer me. I have wiped my computer dozens of times since my last post, and again, I’m okay with that. What ultimately attracted me to Fedora was not its product, but the ideology it espouses.

In this day and age, I see computing as more than the use of a product. In a world where entire relationships can take place, pictures can be taken and shared, research papers can be typed and formatted, bills can be paid and communities can form all from behind a computer screen, to treat operating systems and the software they run as mere products poses a large risk. This places too much power over our lives into the hands of a few companies and the size of our checkbook.

Lets say you type a letter to a friend and save it as a .docx file, the format the latest version of Microsoft Office Word uses as default. Your friend may be using an older version of Microsoft Office and cannot open the file. Sure, they could fork over the money for Microsoft Office, but they may not have that money available. Now lets assume that you want to look back at that letter ten years later, but you can’t because Microsoft has gone out of business and their Microsoft Office format is now unsupported. You’ve now lost access to your own data.

Fedora doesn’t sell itself as the best product out there. Different people have different needs and desires, so there is no reason to try to be all things for all people. Instead, Fedora tries to be at the forefront of open source software — that is, software that is free to use, share, and modify. They desire to be the distribution that makes it easiest to access the latest open source software without going through too much effort to place their brand everywhere. They give users the tools to use open source software to set up their computer however they see fit, and that’s attractive to me. My setup currently looks and functions quite differently from the default setup shown on the Fedora website. Fedora doesn’t task itself with getting its product in the hands of everyone, but instead pushes the advancement of open source software as a whole. All of the art for it and its webpage are created using open source software as a testament to how capable the software is. It also doesn’t ship software that isn’t open source, such as proprietary multimedia codecs. This comes with its own set of difficulties, but I feel good knowing I’m using an operating system that is free to use, free to modify, not trying to limit what I can do and not trying to sell something to me — a peeve of mine whenever I find myself using Windows nowadays.

Is Linux suitable for the masses? Well, yes and no. The software is definitely capable. There is very little that I could do back when I was on Windows that I can’t do now, and for my purposes, the benefits definitely outweigh the setbacks. However, using open source operating systems such as Linux, FreeBSD, etc. requires a certain amount of knowledge that the average computer user currently does not want to have to deal with when the dominant culture around them is comfortable with plunking down dollars for everything. Personally, I rather save money using free alternatives, even if I do have to take the time reading up on them. At the end of the day, Windows causes stupidity, and until the dominant culture changes, Linux is not likely to see mass acceptance, regardless of its merits.

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Last week NPR news analyst Juan Williams was fired for remarks he made on Fox News’ “O’Reilly Factor” regarding Muslims.

Political correctness can lead to some kind of paralysis where you don’t address reality. I mean look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.

Whether you agree or disagree with NPR’s decision, the firing has brought forth discussion about whether such a sentiment is bigoted or not. Associating one thing with another is a classic evolutionary defensive mechanism, Shankar Vedantam writes in Slate.

These automatic associations make evolutionary sense. If one of our ancestors was wandering in a desert and came by a snake curled up next to the only tree on the landscape, her mind would connect not just that tree with that snake, but all trees with snakes. Illusory correlations are all about seeking out group patterns based on rare individual incidents: all trees and snakes and all flights with stomach upsets, rather than that one tree and that one snake, or that one flight and that one stomach upset. Scientists say correlation isn’t causation, but, from an evolutionary point of view, if the snake-tree link is wrong, all that would happen is our ancestor would avoid all trees in the future. If the link was real and she failed to see it, she could get herself killed. Our ancestors constantly drew conclusions about their environment based on limited evidence. Waiting for causative evidence could have proved costly, whereas extrapolating causation from correlation was less costly.

Most people don’t make similar associations between, say, Timothy McVeigh or the Westboro Baptist Church and Christianity because whites and Christians are the majority in America. Muslims are just the latest group to face such correlation; Vedantam notes African-Americans have long faced problems by being associated with crime.

Whenever people who strongly believe in illusory correlations are challenged about their beliefs, they invariably find ways to make their behavior seem conscious and rational. Those who would explicitly link all Muslims with terrorism might point to evidence showing that some Muslims say they want to wage a war against the West, that a large preponderance of terrorist attacks today are carried out by Muslims, and so on. This is similar to our longstanding national narrative about blacks and crime.

Todd Essig, writing in Psychology Today, argues that the unique combination of human psychology and social networking serves to spread hate quickly and efficiently. Hate speech, at least against Muslims, is part of the cultural norm, he says; “No one escapes the pull of cognitive dissonance.”

Consequently—and here is the tragic consequence—once you start speaking hate you will soon start feeling hate regardless of motive. The next thing you know you’ll be getting nervous when you see a Muslim or a person of color—maybe one of Juan Williams’ relatives—at the airport because, of course, you hatefully believe there is a good chance they are a terrorist or a mugger.

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Sixty-three years ago today, Harry Truman went on TV — the first White House broadcast in history — and asked Americans to forgo meat on Tuesdays and poultry and eggs on Thursdays. Such sacrifice, the president argued, would help cut down on grain usage by the meat industry, grain that could then be sent to alleviate the European hunger crisis. It was the post-World War II era in which America established strong precedent of providing foreign food aid.

Not everyone, of course, was pleased with Truman’s plan. The National Meat Industry Council actually went on record as opposed to the plan — not because it would cut meat consumption from seven days to five, but because it could institutionalize eating meat five days per week, a high rate in the ’40s. Instead, it recommended that each American family “reduce voluntarily its consumption of meat, whether it now has meat on the table three, four, five, or six days a week, [and then] the nation will achieve a maximum saving of meat and reduce the demand for grain to feed cattle and hogs.”

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was outright skeptical of the scheme. “Nobody, of course, is to eat meat on Tuesday or poultry on Thursday (the White House last Thursday had baked ham). In other words, you eat poultry on Tuesday and meat on Thursday, and presto—Europe’s hunger is sated and domestic prices come tumbling down. Or something.”

The Truman administration didn’t stop there, however, announcing “the starting of a national meal-planning service, in which experts from the Government and industry would supply information about the most economical and plentiful foods on the market and suggest meals conserving grain and grain products.”

Can you imagine the response were a Barack Obama to make such a request today? There would almost certainly be cries that asking Americans to cut back on meat is an affront to individual freedoms, the government is inappropriately inserting itself into family concerns and the current economy demands fewer restrictions on industry. This is despite a recent prediction by the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization that beef will be the “caviar of the future” when beef can no longer be produced efficiently as the global population soars past 9 billion by 2050.

But the (admittedly hypothetical) backlash wouldn’t be entirely about protecting free-market capitalism. Instead, Bob Cesca writes in the Huffington Post, contemporary Americans aren’t used to or receptive of requests for sacrifice.

Americans simply don’t do “national sacrifice” anymore. During World War II, Americans were asked to ration everything from sugar to oil to cheese — even shoes. Those days are long gone. Today, we’re asked to go to Disneyland or the beach. Or we’re asked to pray.

Turning off light bulbs and lowering the thermostat are fine but have almost no real impact on America’s massive energy consumption. Politicians are afraid to call for true sacrifice because of the feared economic impact and the political suicide.

President Obama wouldn’t dare suggest we eat less beef or buy fewer cars. And definitely not when we’re beginning to recover from an enormous recession. If we were to actually pay attention to a presidential call to personally scale back our energy habits, the abrupt change in consumer spending could create a backslide in economic recovery and, thus, the president’s shot at reelection would be jeopardized, not to mention the reelection chances of any member of Congress who rides along.

Americans’ unwillingness to sacrifice has long been noted as a problem for some time. Jimmy Carter drew fire for saying so in his infamous 1979 “Crisis of Confidence” speech. “In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns.”

His speech today sounds even more ominous as the failures he warns of are the same failures politicians today fear.

We are at a turning point in our history. There are two paths to choose. One is a path I’ve warned about tonight, the path that leads to fragmentation and self-interest. Down that road lies a mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others. That path would be one of constant conflict between narrow interests ending in chaos and immobility. It is a certain route to failure.

Carter’s warning ties in with the conservative period of American politics, from Regan’s 1980 election through George W. Bush, which promised prosperity through not having to sacrifice, Kevin Mattson wrote in the American Prospect last year. “Carter had touched something in the American psyche — the desire to think of oneself as a member of a national community. Still, the conservative road to victory marginalized such rhetoric with attacks on taxes and other civic debts. It is no surprise that decline in talk about civic sacrifice correlated with the decline of liberalism.”

Perhaps in time sacrifice will be forced upon Americans by the invisible hand of the market as beef prices skyrocket and fossil fuels become an increasingly rare commodity. Until then, however, enjoy your steak.

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When I wake up hungover, I often find it useful to perform a quick self-assessment. Where am I? Am I wearing clothes? Are all my limbs intact? Did I take my contacts out? Safety comes first in the world of the Morning After, and fingers and toes better all be there. Those tiny cuts and bruises that appear without explanation after a night of partying can be ignored. Par for the course, I say. The important part is over: you’re alive, more or less. You made it.

What can be said, then, for the house? In the case of 127 Shirley, my dear homestead for this final year of my college career, much. Like her incumbents, she awoke this morning with a foggy head, rattled bones, and a number of war wounds. Is she pissed? Is she weak? Did she have a good night? These are the questions I hope to explore in this post, the story of my house’s first party.

First, your cast of characters. Three people live at the Shirley house: Alex, Elizabeth, and me. We’re all students at William and Mary, studying various artsy-fartsy F-words like film, Foucault, food, feminism, etc. It made sense for us to live together: we’ve all been friends for a while and wanted to save some money by living off campus. The deal? Respect and protect Shirley, the silent member of our gang of four.

And before you ask, yes, we do refer to our house as Shirley. That’s the street she sits on, and the preciousness of the word is what drew us to the location in the first place. And yes, we do act as if Shirley is in fact her own person, a person with a name and a gender and agency and a personality. We’re not above talking to Shirley directly, as in “Good morning, Shirley” or “Whoa Shirley, don’t you think you should take out your garbage and recycling?”

So the four of us, house included, decided to throw a party. We’ve had quasi-dinner parties before, gatherings consisting of a handful of friends smushed around our tiny dining table sipping inexpensive red wine from Trader Joe’s. We’ve had game nights, playing Scattergories or reading tarot — again with more cheap booze. But a full-on, all-out party was something previously unknown to these walls. Could we manage it? Would anyone come? What should be the theme?

That last question was the easiest to answer. Painfully aware of our uber-square tendencies, we knew we needed to throw a party that was the photonegative of prepackaged salads and yoga and SmartWater. And what’s the binary opposite of the College Campus Yuppy, as conceived in the mind of three humanities majors? The Witch!

Cut to Alex, Elizabeth, and me scouring every thrift store in the area for cheap fabric to fashion into pagan pleasure suits. Using Stevie Nicks specifically and the 1970s in general, our goal was to transform ourselves and our house into an earthy, incense-heavy, goddess-worshipping, spell-casting, cauldron-bubbling witch house. Only Florence + the Machine on the record player, thank you very much. By the way, our party happily fell a few days after the Autumnal Equinox. Clearly, the planets were aligned.

Shirley’s guest list started small. We were not about to invite an entire freshman dorm to stampede through our single story, two bedroom cottage. A kegger this would not be. Nope, B.Y.O.4 was the name of the game (bring your own Four Loko), and for the most part the rules were followed.

The first batch of people to arrive were the good friends of ours, quick with compliments about our costumes and eager to get their drank on. Up next were friends of friends, then friends of friends of friends. As tends to happen with off-campus parties, the crowd grew and grew until I recognized only about half of the attendees. Perhaps a few visions of doom flashed before my eyes at this point: strangers fucking in my bed, kids puking in our kitchen sink, our wallets getting nicked, etc — but these passed quickly. I looked around and realized that I didn’t feel out of control or worried. The place was packed, rambunctious, and loud — but not scary.

Around 2 a.m. we reached our maximum capacity, but by 3 the throngs were definitely depleting. Thank the gods, I say, for at this point my sails were sagging shamefully. When our last guest finally left, the three of us went straight to bed.

As for Shirley, she too was a little worse for the wear. Drinks got spilled, a picture frame got broken, and much cleanup happened this morning. All in all, however, we’re pleased. No major calamities. No cops, no noise violations, no theft. A veritable success, and a night I’ll be happy to look back on.

There is a shadow cast by this party, however. Not a point of sadness or depression or anxiety, but a definite something that will affect how I’ll remember last night. Definitely bound up in the experience of throwing my first party are thoughts about aging and maturing. I remember going to parties at the Units and pole dancing in my underwear. I remember yelling with my friends at straight boys, taking part in a strange sort of pre-emptive hate speech inspired by Burnett’s vodka and the excitement of wearing eyeliner for the first time.

But now what? I feel like I’m on the flip of a coin, seeing how the other (older) half lives. I see freshmen wandering around campus and know that I’ve been there, done that — and part of me hates that! I miss being wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, miss not knowing what the hell is going on. Have I joined the ranks of the Old and Boring, now that I live off campus and pay rent and shop for groceries? Can I get blackout and belligerent and reckless when I’m the only one who’ll clean up the vomit in the morning?

So now we’re back to the hangover. Congratulations, body, you’re safe and sound. And you too, house, more or less. But still the shadow lingers, the knowledge that this isn’t how it used to be. I’ve aged, and with that aging comes the tiniest fear that I may be past my prime. I know this sounds trite, sounds melodramatic and over the top. Maybe it sounds obvious, too, like duh of course we age and mature as time passes. Of course senior year won’t be, can’t be the same as freshman year. But that doesn’t make this any less complicated for me, doesn’t mean I’ll wake up and understand how to feel about waking up hungover after a party I’ve thrown in my own house. There’s something icky going on, like I’ve said, something bound up in big boy words like “responsibility” and “maturity.” And so I sit, chugging Gatorade and popping Advil, feeling both too old and too young for all this.

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