Archive for April, 2010

28
Apr
10

Surrendering to Marriage

Last week marked the two year anniversary of my marriage to Jennifer, and either by accident, or perhaps by some divine fate I just finished reading one of the best books on marriage ever. Surrendering to Marriage by Iris Krasnow is a “no-holds-barred” bare-knuckled account of the pit-falls and failures common to every marriage. It is not a self-help book, or a how-to guide, rather, (as Krasnow herself puts it), a “journalistic approach to exploring marriage.” Krasnow visits marriages the way some reporters visits Beirut, or Baghdad; a war zone waiting to be explored. This is not surprising since she was a Washington reporter for several years.

In Surrendering to Marriage Krasnow begins with the assumption that marriage is likely to fail and she reports all of the sobering statistics to support this, but she also assumes that marriage is a good thing and worth preserving. Krasnow had been married seventeen years with four kids as of the publication of this book. Using anecdotal evidence, and several brief interviews with dozens of married couples Krasnow observes all of the conventional problems that destroy marriage including infidelity (which is more common in both sexes than people think) mid-life crisis, men’s and women’s pursuit of their careers and more money, and lack of communication. There are also several examples in the book of divorced couples and what happened after their divorces. In most cases spouses who divorce from their first husband or wife go on to regret it, and this book gives sobering news about the financial state of people who divorce, and what often happens with the sexy mistress or handsome young stud that people are cheating on with, a few years down the road.

Reading this book has brought me face to face with my own fears and concerns in my marriage, particularly my own shortcomings as a husband. I love my wife, but we haven’t always had a smooth relationship. This last year has been particularly hard on both of us. What I think works in my marriage best though, and what I think will continue to keep us together through lives ups-and-downs is that me and Jennifer communicate a lot, and we don’t hide from our problems.

Marriage is not perfect, and approaching it like a problem that must be worked on constantly is the best way to go. Despite all of the divorce rates, more than ninety percent of American adults will get married at some time in their lives. Their is a reason why even in a free society where sex is readily available to both parties, people still choose to partner up. Part of it is that we don’t like being alone, but more importantly we desire to share our lives with someone meaningful and share in their lives as well. As the old saying goes a life not lived for others is not worth living.

It is easy to neglect our spouces,( sexually, emotionally, financially), but we should never lose sight of why we got married to begin with. Often times the problems are not even with our spouces, they are with ourselves. Something to think about if you are married. I would highly recommend Surrendering to Marriage, especially as Mother’s Day is just around the corner. This is a book that couple should read together, and relate the examples in the book to their own lives.

Thanks for listening,

Jack B.

Sincerely,

Jack B.

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11
Apr
10

Why we Love the Anti-hero; a Reflection of “Breaking Bad”

*( This blog contains information about the t.v. show Breaking Bad, so if you want to watch it, and don’t want me to tell you what’s going on right now, go ahead and move along.)

I must admit that when AMC premiered Breaking Bad  two years ago I had little to no interest in watching the show. I can’t say I was familiar with Bryan Cranston’s work on Malcolm in the Middle because I never really watched the show, and the premise for Breaking Bad seemed absurd. Basically Cranston plays a high school chemistry teacher who gets diagnosed with lung cancer and decides to sell crystal meth in order to make some cash for his family before he dies. Something all of us would do, right? It was hard for me to wrap my hands around this idea which is why I put off watching the show for so long. I mean most people don’t engage in this type of behavior, and as someone who has seen first hand in my own family the dangers of meth usage I figured I could never get behind a drug dealer protagonist.

But I was wrong to wait so long to watch this show. Breaking Bad, which is in the middle of its third season right now, is one of the best shows on television, and it is not a funny, care free depiction of a man who acts out in defiance. This show is about life choices, and how simple decisions make us what we are. If anything Breaking Bad is perfectly moral and depicts the unraveling of a conventional family due to a series of bad choices by its main character Walter White. Like a Machiavelian tragedy, this show hits hard.

In season one Cranston’s character Walter White makes a bizarre but somewhat understandable decision to do something illegal to help his family. Diagnosed with stage three lung cancer there is little chance for his survival. White, a high school chemistry teacher, can barely pay for even one session of chemo, and knows that his wife, son, and new-born baby in tow, will be left with a mountain of debt when he passes on. One day he goes on a drug raid with his D.E.A. brother-in-law (played wonderfully by Dean Winter) and discovers that a former student of his is a small time meth dealer who is making some serious cash. Rather than turn the kid in, Walter bribes Jessie in to letting him work with him, “cooking” Crystal meth. Because White is a brilliant chemist with a background in cell crystalization he is quickly able to make some of the finest and purest product on the street, and this unlikely pair begins to make a lot of money, real fast.

Season one ends with Walter and Jessie facing stiff competition from a drug lord named Tuco, but both men earning a lot of money and respect despite a series of set-backs. It is easy to embrace Cranston’s character in these early shows because we see in him a perfect representation of the anti-hero, a protagonist who doesn’t always do the right thing, but tries to do it for the right reason. One reason why Cranston’s character is so sympathetic is that in addition to being diagnosed with lung cancer we feel sorry for the way this guy’s life has unfolded and the way he gets pushed around. Once, a brilliant chemist working for the government, White watched as a former colleague of his got rich using his research, while White needing a job got stuck teaching high school. He has seen all of his peers surpass him in their fields. His wife (played well by Deadwood star Anna Gunn) Skylar is a control freak who tells everyone exactly what to do, and won’t allow her husband the simplest of freedoms (even putting fifteen dollars on a Mastercard draws her suspicions, and admonishments.) White also has a sixteen-year-old son with cerebal palsy who gets picked on in school, and a second job working at a car wash where his boss makes him clean up and work double shifts. This man is sad, and his life is a failure. It is not surprising that upon learning of his impending death he would want to do some things differently, be bold, and well, break bad. Hell, we all would.

But as Season 2 plays out, and even at times in season 1, we see that Walter’s decisions have consequences, and we begin to see how evil acts begat more of the same. White and Jessie have to kill two drug dealers who corner them and threated their lives. White, uses a chemical explosion to take them out, acting in self defense, but the deaths bring him closer to Tuco, an even more murderous drug dealer. Eventually White and Jessie have to take out Tuco as well, which puts them in the cross-hairs of the Mexican drug cartel. Further complicating things Jessie gets involved with a former heroin addict who he tells about Walter’s money when he gets high one day. The girl decides to blackmail Walter, and eventually Walter comes face to face with her. In one tragic scene this girl gets high and begins to overdose right next to Walter. His first instinct is to save her, but when he realizes he and Jessie would be better off without her, he decides to let her die. Walter becomes evil in this scene, and in a way that is what this show is really about.

In addition to Walter’s conciously evil acts, he is perhaps indirectly responsible for destroying two families. When Walter first meets Jessie, he is a high school drop-out and a drug dealer, but he is mostly a care-free kid with some issues. Walter transforms Jessie into a big time drug dealer and continues to push his limits, making him and his loved ones easy targets. Jessie becomes more evil himself, but there is no doubt without Walter’s involvement he might never have become anything more than a scared kid who gets high.

Walter’s own family feels the brunt of his destructive behavior as Walter continuously lies to his wife and son and manipulates their emotions so that he can lead his secret life. In one episode Walter pretends to have amnesia in order to explain his four day dissapearance (he was kidnapped by Tuco). By constantly dissapearing and lying Walter breeds distrust with his wife and robs his family of any real love at a time when he should be connecting with them more than ever.

By the time season three rolls around Walter’s wife has figured out that he is a drug dealer, his brother-in-law is putting the clues together as well, and White is the center of a very large drug operation in which several powerful people want he and his family dead. By now there is little reason to support this character, but that is the fascinating thing about Breaking Bad. Bryan Cranston has created such a wonderful protagonist that we see ourselves pulling for him in spite of who he is. When White’s wife begins having an affair in the last episode there is a part of you that wants Walter to take the guy out, and your sympathies still lie with a man who has been put upon his whole life. Like-wise when Jessie buys his parents house out from under them, using a  lawyer and shady tactics, there is a part of you that roots for this. At one time Jessie’s parents kicked him out of the house for meth use, and now he uses his considerable meth money to buy his way back in. This is definately a rich irony.

Anti-hero’s exist because we need to challenge our conventional beliefs about what is right and wrong. We know on some levels, maybe all levels that the behavior Walter and Jessie engage in is evil, and yet because we understand their motivations, see it from their perspective, we allow ourselves to get suckered in, to find reasons to justify their actions. The shows creator Vince Gilligan has made his audience complicit in the main characters bad decisions.

There is a phrase written by the great moralist Theodore Dalrymple called “the frivolity of evil.” This means that evil is not one concious act, but a series of bad moral decisions. Most people are not conciously evil, but they do evil in the name of good, or they justify their evil through circumstance and relativity. In Breaking Bad we see just how far two men go in order to achieve what they see as noble objectives, and the more we get behind them the more we allow that we are also imperfect, capable of evil on a grand scale ourselves.

We cannot justify evil action, whatever our motivation. The anti-hero is there to remind us of this. I don’t know where this show is going, and at its current rate the drama is not sustainable. You definately get the picture that Walter and Jessie have placed themselves in a precarious house-of-cards and the structure is falling at any moment. But in the meantime it is fun to watch these two and see just how far they are willing to go. Do either of these men have a soul left to save, and will they continue to break bad? These are the questions that fuel this show, and the answers are the scariest part.

Sincerely,

Jack B.

(* Breaking Bad can be seen on AMC at nine on Sunday’s. Episode 4 of season 3 debuts tonight.)

02
Apr
10

Social Networking Sites should be off limits to children

In the news this week comes the tragic tale of Phobe Prince, an Irish immigrant, and student at South Hadley High School, in Massachusetts, who hung herself after being bullied relentlessly by nine other students. Although Phoebe’s death is tragic it is sad to say that it is not unprecedented. Many people remember the case of Megan Meier, a teen who killed herself after another girl’s mother harassed her on Myspace, using a fake male name to flirt with the girl, then trash her publicly with salicious rumors.

No one knows how many kids have killed themselves in part due to cyber-bullying, but we can guess that many children, going through puberty, reaching adolescence, are bullied at a rate unseen in previous generations thanks to the popularity and power of the internet.

In the past I have had a laid-back attitude when it comes to bullying. As harsh as it can be I do believe that kids who survive bullying can come out stronger because of it, and I do not believe we can police children’s attitudes the same way we can regulate adult behavior. In short, kids will say and do dumb stuff, and mean stuff. When I was fifteen I was bullied relentlessly, and yes, it was hard on me. I also attempted suicide at a later age, not because of bullying, but due to depression that was in part caused by bullying. So I know how it feels. But I also know that bullying can motivate children to grow tougher, and increase their desire to fit in and better themselves. Bullying, despite what it can do to children, does have its place. But bullying in today’s world has gone too far, and what we now refer to as bullying, follows more closely along the lines of harassment.

When I was a kid a bully would pick on you at school, but only at school, and only in certain classes where teachers could break it up if it got too bad. I got into a few fights after school as well, but I didn’t have to, and once I got on the bus to go home that was it for the day. I also believe boys bullying is less severe than girls. A guy might make fun of you but it won’t take long before it results in a fist fight. But girls can pick on you psychologically, sometimes without even knowing it, and their is no end to this. Cyber-bullying, which occurs when kids spread rumors, or make fun of you online, is much worse, especially for girls. No longer do kids have the protection and the sanctuary of home, because now kids can spread hateful messages about you all day, and make them available anywhere. Furthermore cyber-bullying has a permeance that bullying used to never have. In the old days if a kid said something mean to you or about you only a few people heard it, and it was quickly forgotten ( at least until the next school day). But now kids messages can be read by everyone at school, hell everyone in the world really. And these messages do not go away because they stay online and other kids can build on these rumors. Cyber-bullying allows no refuse to unpopular kids. They get hammered daily and from all sides. Someone has to put a stop to this.

I am not in favor of anti-bullying laws for a number of reasons. First of all, as I said earlier, I think some bullying has its place. Secondly, we can’t police children’s attitudes, and this is hard to enforce, even if we wanted to. Perhaps most importantly there is a high potential for anti-bullying laws to be used in excess by school administrators who can’t distinguish between different types of bullying. My friends and I used to make fun of each other, but it was all in good humor. I don’t think if someone had overheard it we should have been brought up on criminal charges.

To some extent bullying has to be handled by parents, and teachers, the same way that it always has. But we can do more, and I can think of one obvious solution. Minors should not be allowed to have their own web pages! No Facebook, no Myspace, no Twitter, none of it. Minors are not entitled to all of the same rights as adults, and schools regularly regulate what children wear and how they behave inside the school district. I realize that social networking sites are the province of individuals, but I do think a law that forbids minor children from creating their own web profiles would not be out of line.

Also in the news recently was the story of child predators using Club Penguin, a site for younger kids to have open chats, to target kids for sexual advances. We know that child predators regularly use the internet and social networking sites to gain access to children. The internet, which is a wonderful tool, has to be used with some standards by minor children. It is a good start for parents and teachers to monitor what sites children visit and what they do on the internet, but it would further improve cyber-bullying and other threats by denying children the right to certain sites.

I am a Libertarian by nature, and I don’t regulate behavior or freedom lightly, but kids are not the same as adults, and we have a societal interest in keeping them safe. I won’t allow my son or daughter to have a Facebook page, or any other page. At the very least it is nothing more than a distraction. Kids should interact with other kids normally, not “chatting” online. At worst, social networking sites are a clear and present danger to millions of kids.

Kids don’t need their own Facebook, however cool it might be. It is a shame we have to regulate children’s behavior, but if nothing else, recent cases shed light on how far kids can and will go without this regulation. I hate to say it, but Kids and Social Networking are two things that just don’t mix. Thanks for listening.

Sincerely,

Jack B.