Sunday, March 20, 2011

We, the Consumers

There are at least five Peter Pan remakes/re-imaginings in production at the moment. I'm a big fan, as I may have mentioned. Not just of the Disney'd boy from Never Never Land, but also of J.M. Barrie and his many other works. There's a great story about my thirteen-year-old self, my husband, his great-great uncle from England and a statue of Pan that I'll have to explain, one day.

Seriously. I'm a Pan Fan.

What I'm not a fan of, though, is the direction we're headed in. I'm concerned, to put it lightly, about the state of my own generation of Americans. I'll be 25 this April. Out of college (barely), making a living (barely), and truly enjoying life as an adult. However, the husband and I are rare in this day and age. We're non-Facebookers, for starters. Novice homesteaders, too. We're so happy our cheeks hurt on a regular basis. We're not exactly buying into the media and the trends, but our friends are.

To avoid a Jersey Shore rant, let me be frank. A large portion of today's teens and twenty-somethings are screwed up. Not all of us, obviously. And some people will find their way out of it as they mature. Not everyone, though. There's a vast, invisible net that has us all trapped in a society based on capitalism and materialism. We all know this, so I'll skip that rant, as well.

We're all becoming so polarized, morally, politically and economically. Why is that? What awful force has crept into our communities and families and ruined the social fiber which kept us strong? We're doing it to ourselves. We, the consumers have bought into this new culture, this new American Dream. We're more interested in our possessions, a bunch of things, than we are about who we are as individuals and as communities, and where we're headed. Distraction leads us away from one another.

So hard not to rant.

Back to Pan.

Barrie's classic tale is a dark one, full of warning to those who are aware. Disney's Peter Pan is the commonly accepted version of the story, for us. There's a movie, so why read the book? Please, read the book. It's about a little boy who didn't want to grow up. He was afraid. He ran away, and was rewarded. Now, he's about to become a popular icon once again, but to a new generation of American consumers and their parents.

I live on a busy street in one of America's largest, drunkest college towns. There are five fraternities within few blocks from my front stoop. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it really is as bad as you think. College isn't about obtaining the best education possible and excelling in a field that challenges and pleases you. It's not about finding a jot that will make you lots of money. It isn't about finding yourself, even. College, for these people, is a five- to six-year "partyodyssey" of materialism, objectification, alcohol, drugs and Facebook. Last night at the Beer Olympics, I watched my friends chug wiffle bats with beer and then spin around and around. We cheered. The bars opened to brisk business at 7 a.m. on S.t. Patrick's Day, but students won't wake up to go to their morning classes. Why are these people here? Why have we allowed this to become okay?

It's been interesting, having this experience of being a "townie" after being one of the college kids who terrorize locals 9 months out of the year. Watching the drunken hordes shamble up and down Harrison every weekend has been an eye-opening experience. As I said before, not everyone falls into this category - but there are a lot of people who do, and they're out there in droves.

So where are the "normal" people?
What do they do while the Pans roam the streets?
Are you all like me, just sitting on the internet distracting yourself?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Book Review: Bitch, Please! by Megan Munroe

"The real war is with our culture. ...
Surrender to a greater good, a bigger purpose, and a brighter future."
(Bitch, Please! 109)
Something exciting came in the mail, last week. Turner Publishing sent me a whopper of a package, full of pre-release literature and an ARC copy of Megan Munroe's upcoming release, Bitch, Please!: How Nice Girls can Succeed in a Bitch's World.

I'll admit it, I scoffed.

Bitch, Please! seemed cliche, but I decided to give it a chance. At first, I felt I owed it to Turner Publishing, them having sent me a fancy folder which included a glossy catalog of their recent and forthcoming releases.

The first day, I read through the first six chapters (they go by quickly!) and then tossed it aside, convinced that the self-help book was indeed a half-baked collection of advice and opinions first voiced by other, more respected women. Munroe gives plenty of space to the words of a spectrum of well-known (and lesser-known) women like Gloria Steinham, Emily Post, Anne Hathaway and more than a few divas.
I think its high time that there is a voice given to all of us who think that doing the right thing and choosing to treat others with respect is a noble way to act. We need a spot on the stage of life that doesn't demand, but rather commands attention through virtuosity. (3)
The first few chapters were amusing and easy to identify with. Yeah, I'm a nice girl! She's talking to me, I thought. But as I read on, I developed a bit of an identity crisis. By the end of the second section, I was wobbling between my confidence that I was a nice girl and the creeping feeling that I was one of the biggest bitches of all. As I read on, I realized that I don't fit into either stereotype. No one is always nice, Munroe asserted time and time again. We've all got a bit of a bitch inside us. The trick is to keep her inside and continue to push yourself to be a worthy, nice person.
Nice is napalm in a society dedicated to making 'mean' queen. It's unexpected, countercultural, and devastatingly refreshing. (12)
Munroe's little book, coming in at just over 200 pages, covers an awful lot of topics. This book has immensely strong bones. It promotes honesty, respect and awareness while calling for those who are overly-nice to add a bit of spice to their lives. Munroe discusses the evils of entitlement in our modern society and alludes to a better life centered on simple abundance and grace.
To succeed in a bitch's world, the nice girl has to understand that it's okay to be the underdog. It's okay to fly under the radar. It's okay to have some mystery about us. If you aren't the center of attention all the time, that could very well be a good thing. (98-9)
Bitch, Please! has the ring of so many other "how to be good" self-help books and gurus. It's easy to cast aside because of the cliche advice, but it sounds so familiar because it's TRUE. Traits like thriftiness, optimism, thoughtfulness, respect for yourself and others and a greater purpose really DO get a person that much closer to their individual form of happiness. To escape the pitfalls of what has become the "normal" American way of life (i.e. BUYING STUFF), you have to buy out, not buy in to what everyone is trying to force down your throat.
Popularity isn't the goal, but you better believe that if you treat people with respect, they will gravitate towards you. Popularity is a built-in by-product of being kind. The nice girl never acts nice to achieve a higher social status; she truly wants to promote common kindness. (100)
I do have a few grievances, and as this is a review I suppose I should air them. Munroe's writing style, at times, reminded me of a crummy Cosmo article. That may have been what she was going for. The problem: this woman has important things to say! Her flippant word choices and bubbly little asides cheapened the gravity of her musings on anti-entitlement and escaping our "chronic consumption" culture. Write to us like we're women, damnit! Most of the time, I wanted her to go further. She mentions yoga and spiritual awakenings and simple abundance here and there, but never really explains them for those who desperately need to see the greener pasture to which she alludes.

Great necessities call out great virtues. The average American woman knows nothing of great necessity. Today we are at a loss for virtue because we lack for nothing. Throughout history, amazing women have fought tooth and nail for the privileges and rights we have today. ... You are of great worth to society. In this world we need women like you who are determined to help, hope, and hold on to their ideals. We need women who smile at strangers, who volunteer their time, and who realize that this earth is a great big place that still has room for improvement. (161)

It's hard to fault one of the few messengers who has the gumption to stand up and fight for the nice girl in a world of bitches. This book is a warning for the nice girl, illustrating the many traps awaiting her (some of which are self-made, some carefully crafted by the media or the girl next door). She reveals the ideas and stereotypes we've internalized as members of the current society.

The biggest surprise: This book's message got to me long before I recognized it for the interesting piece of feminist self-help that it is. It's affected my dreams, the music I've been listening to, the clothes I choose to wear, the food I'm eating and the words I speak. I'd say it's rather influential.

The biggest disappointment: My ARC copy is incomplete! The last six or so pages are left blank, with only the word "Index" perched atop the first of them. If I ever return to this book, I'll have to write it out myself.

This is a one I'll keep on my bookshelf for a long while, flaws and all! That is, except for when I've loaned it out to friends!