Archive for March, 2013

Easter Treats

Posted: March 28, 2013 in Uncategorized
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By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

It’s almost Easter, which is that special time of year when Christians like me celebrate the wonder and spectacle of Mel Gibson’s highest grossing film.

Additionally, as someone who likes food (too much), Easter is one of my favorite food holidays. Not only is there always a feast on Easter Sunday, but there is so much candy and junk food! Let’s review:

  • Growing up, my aunt would always make the traditional Easter lamb cake, which is pound cake in the
    Lamb cake
    shape of a lamb, complete with vanilla icing and coconut wool. The finishing touch was two black jelly bean eyes, which made this confectionery representation of Christ look terrifyingly satanic. (Does this also qualify the cake as “sinfully sweet”?) Unfortunately, coconut is one of the few foods I do not like, which left me to scrape it off my chunk of dismembered lamb. Eventually, my aunt started leaving the lamb’s head coconut-free. There was something unsettling about beheading the lamb, even if it was just cake. Thankfully, the evil eyes took a bit of the edge off.

  • Black jelly beans were invented to prevent people from blindly eating jelly beans.

    • Alternate Punchlines:

      • Black jelly beans were invented so people can say, “Well, I didn’t eat ALL of the Easter candy.”

      • Black jelly beans were invented so the few people who like them can be angry about it.

      • Black jelly beans were invented so there is something acceptable for people to spit out.

  • Peeps are like White Castles: they are a great idea until you put them in your mouth.PeepsWhite Castle
  • I’m a fan of Starburst jelly beans. No punchline here. Just gimme some.
  • Cadbury eggs are delicious, but I’m still trying to figure out how they came out of this bunny: 


  • Perhaps the most disappointing treat to find in an Easter basket is the gigantic bunny made of unbreakable, stale-tasting chocolate. If chocolate of this quality were in the shape of a basic square, no one would ever buy it. But mold candy_chocolate_bunnyit in the shape of a bunny and it hops its way into every basket. It’s always the last thing anyone tries to eat, only after all the good candy is gone. Chipping off a piece with your hand is impossible, so it leaves two options: 1) Carve it with a knife like a rock hard rump roast or 2) Risk chipping a tooth by biting directly into the bunny, leaving behind fang marks like a coyote. The bunny will remain half mauled/gnawed until about June when someone asks rhetorically, “Is anyone going to finish this thing?” before throwing it out.

  • I love the Easter egg version of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, because not all Reese’s are the same. The normal-sized, checkout counter ones do have a great chocolate-to-peanut butter ratio. The minis, on the other hand, don’t do it for me; not enough peanut butter. But my Goldilocks fit is the Easter Reese’s for its egg-stra shot of peanut butter.

    • Is it really peanut butter in those things? Is it even real chocolate?

  • I get irrationally excited by the holiday-colored M&Ms. I know this is ridiculous, because no matter the color, they all taste the same. It is also ridiculous, because it’s an example of blatant marketing tricks working on me. Do I buy a pound of M&Ms when the regular colors are on sale? No. But put them in a pastel bag and coat the chocolate in pastel shells, and I jump up and down clapping my hands like a Pee Wee cheerleader before putting a bag in my shopping cart. Well played, Mars.

  • Easter mm

There is so much sugary goodness to find in the Easter basket. So, rather than talk more about it, let’s go eat some. After all, I’ve been gnawing on a chocolate bunny the entire time I was writing this – and I think I chipped a tooth down my throat.


By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.


My sister Theresa’s love for me is extraordinary. She is so solicitous of my welfare that when I call her on her mobile phone, she typically answers not with “hello,” but “is everything all right?” or “what’s wrong?” If something is wrong, by god, she’s going to set it right. The precedent for this aspect of her sisterly devotion seems to have been established when I was in the 2nd grade, though I am sure this extreme form of loyalty emanates from the core of her being.

When I was in the second grade, a boy in my class made me cry: cue Theresa’s wrath. Poor Samuel (his name has been changed to protect his identity) had elected to “flip up” my skirt on the playground (do little boys still do this?). Surprised and embarrassed, I burst into tears. The extremity of Theresa’s response to this injustice typifies her displeasure with any perceived mistreatment of me, known to her as “Tishy.” The next day, Theresa, who was a 6th grader, approached the boy in question, and aggressively dared him to flip up her skirt. His tears were more immediate and intense than mine had been.

Twenty years later, Theresa was no less anxious for my safety. I was vacationing in Puerta ImageVallarta, Mexico, in 2001, and a tropical storm hit the city. I was aware of a strong storm outside the windows of the club where my friends and I were dancing all night. I didn’t realize it was a significant tropical storm until I got a call from Theresa the next morning. She knew more about the storm than I did as she had been anxiously checking the weather channel every five minutes. The only awareness I had of the unusual weather was as we left the club, we saw locals grab fish off the flooded streets to take home for Sunday dinner. The fact that fish were on the street did strike me as abnormal. When my friends and I returned to our hotel, one of the larger trees had been uprooted in the courtyard, but no real damage had occurred. As is so often the case, I was fine, and Theresa worried needlessly.

Theresa’s anxiety is also a storm: a swirling mass of concern and affection and love, awful and beautiful and powerful. Fortunately, the men who have broken my heart have done so stealthily, without attracting her indignation. One word would be enough to summon her to my defense. In a fearsome world, how incredible to have the steadfast protection only a big sister can provide.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

Why do our food tastes change over time?  Is it culture or nature?  Just like all arguments regarding nature vs. nurture, it is actually a bit of both. Natural changes of taste are no big mystery, and not really surprising.  A person despises olives at 10 years old, but finds them irresistible at 30.  Tastes for food and drink transform; desires evolve. We’ve all been there.  More intriguing is when culture forces a change; when nurture is the cause of evolving tastes.  My gradual love of coffee is a perfect example.  


When I was a kid, I remember my Grandpa Jocks would often have a post-meal coffee.   As it brewed, the aroma was wonderful!  Once ready, he poured just a little cream in the black, steaming drink, and stirred it around with the handle of his spoon (I don’t know why he liked to use the handle).   Anything that looked so creamy, and smelled so incredible must be delectable.  At 10 or 11, I finally asked for a taste. The family laughed. I took a sip.  God, it was nasty.


My coffeehouse crew.

Fast forward five years.  I tried coffee again.  This time, I started to go with friends to local coffeehouses on the weekend.  I would order a latte, and it always came with these little, buttery cookies.  It was a good thing those cookies were included, because I needed something to eat before and after sipping the milk-laden espresso.  I used the cookies to hide the acrid coffee flavor. The Italian concoction tasted just as I remembered my grandpa’s brew: Burnt, sour, bitter, with a terrible aftertaste.  But, I kept ordering those lattes. I kept forcing them down.

Why would I drink something I didn’t like? Simple.  I wanted to be a coffee drinker.  Dare I dream it, perhaps I could even become a coffee aficionado.  When I started to frequent coffeehouses with my friends, coffee was going through a rebirth of cool.  It was the early to mid-1990’s, and the independent, local coffeehouse (no Starbucks please) was where young, fascinating, intelligent and, yes, pretentious kids went to converse, and be seen.  In our little town, this coffeehouse crowd was ‘alternative’ from the mainstream,  and drinking coffee at 17 was as important as understanding who was a sell-out in the world of music. Coffee identified you as a member of the group.  I wanted into the club.


My 24 hour college haunt.

By the time I began college, I kept pushing the coffee.   Coffeehouses were still the place I went to be seen, but now for different reasons. In my mind, coffeehouses were ground zero for university intellectualism.  At the 24 hour coffee joint I frequented, graduate students would be working on their dissertations at 2AM; professors might show up between classes to order an espresso; college kids may sit for hours acting like they understood Heidegger or Derrida. Mocha lattes were no longer appropriate in this world. Those who ordered a drink that required a blender need not apply to the intellectual realm. To be a part of this culture, you drank straight coffee. And so I drank straight coffee. I felt like I belonged.

By graduate school, a taste switch had flipped. I loved coffee.  I needed coffee.  I was addicted to coffee….literally. I had physical symptoms of withdrawal if I did not drink my morning cup. No longer did I only drink coffee to be part of a scene.  The earlier desire to partake in a specific cultures started me on coffee. Now, there was no stamping out the desire.  Culture 1, nature 0.

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

(Go here to read Part 1.)

What if memories could be selectively erased?

BrainScientifically speaking, that may be possible. Our brains already work to push away bad memories through substitution and suppression. Also, some studies claim that therapy may make it possible to (sort of) erase memories.

While the literal science/psychology is interesting, I’m more interested in the hypothetical “What if?” scenario.

In film, TV, and literature, there are plenty of stories in which characters are presented the option of erasing bad memories. My favorite example of this, which is also one of my favorite movies, is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. In this film, the main character Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet) both undergo a fictional procedure to erase their minds of each other after their break-up.

Eternal Sunshine

Joel (Jim Carrey) undergoing the mind-erasing procedure in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

It is a fantastic movie for a number of reasons, one if which is how it spurs on self-reflection: if this procedure were real, would you use it? If so, on what memories? And why?

My personal answer to this question is…I don’t know.

I know, quite the cop out. But let me explain.

If I address that question specifically about relationships, the degree to which I’d be willing to pull the trigger on the procedure varies from relationship to relationship. In my fairytale breakup, I have no need to erase anything. Time already erased the bad and left behind the good memories. In other relationships, there was nothing traumatic done to me that requires erasing. And yet, in other relationships there are memories that bother me quite a bit, even long after the fact.

The question becomes this: if a memory bothers me a lot, what else would I lose by erasing it?

Would erasing that memory skew my entire perspective on the relationship? Would this change fundamentally who I am and have become? Would there be mistakes I am then doomed to repeat because I don’t have this knowledge anymore?

In other words, bad memories may be beneficial and productive in some cases.

However, the level of drama (and trauma) I’ve dealt with in relationships is peanuts compared to issues many people have dealt with. For example, let’s move away from romantic relationships.

Every week, my dad and I do volunteer work at his VFW post. He is a Vietnam vet, and members from the post range from World War 2 to current conflicts. Most of the members I know are my dad’s age and fought in Vietnam. Some of them suffer from PTSD and have gone through therapy to deal with the horrible things they experienced. Some have told me a portion of what they went through and saw, and I can’t even begin to imagine having been in their shoes.

From the outside looking in, having never been  soldier myself, I wonder if they wouldn’t prefer to snap their fingers and have all of those memories wiped away. On the other hand, I’ve listened to so many of their war stories, and I’ve listened to them all banter about the good and bad memories of serving, and it is clear that these aren’t just memories; this is a part of their identity. These shared experiences are also what creates the camaraderie between all of the veterans.  If these memories were taken away, would it be like taking themselves away?

So, the questions may become this: at what point does the “productivity” of traumatic memories get outweighed by their negativity? When does the memory stop being a tool to learn from and start cluttering our mind to the point of being a roadblock? When does the memory stop being a piece of our identity and start consuming us?


The only real conclusion I can come to is that these are such personal questions that are impacted by our own variables: our own personalities, how we deal with memories, how we deal with trauma. The question of erasing memories begs for a unique answer from all of us.

So, what’s your unique answer? If you could erase some of your memories, would you do it?

By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty.

Trust me!  Despite all you’ve heard and will continue hearing to the contrary, the title is entirely correct: you’re not what you eat.  Not now. Not last week.  Not next month.  Not next year.

87How can I be so certain?  What evidence do I have proving my contention beyond a reasonable doubt?   Here it is and it’s all very obvious.   Let’s do a thought experiment.  Imagine that this morning for breakfast you ate a big bowl of hot, high fiber, harsh tasting, steel cut oatmeal.

Next, picture yourself getting up from your kitchen table, putting your now empty oatmeal bowl in the sink, running some water in it, shutting off the tap, turning off the kitchen light, and then going to your front closet to get your coat and head off to work.  Lastly imagine putting on your coat, taking your keys out of your pocket, opening and going out the door, and then closing and locking it, before finally taking off for work.

What, you may be wondering, does this have to do with our theme?   Here’s the answer: though you do these things routinely, a bowl of oatmeal can’t.   Thus, you can’t be a bowl of oatmeal and my thesis is proven for you’re not what you eat, at least not the particular morning I have in mind.  And I’m convinced the same thing would be true if instead of oatmeal, you had some eggs and toast or, being in a terrible hurry, you only had time to grab a granola bar before rushing out of your warm comfy abode.

But might a skeptic claim my point’s pretty weak for I’m being much too literal minded.  Our title’s magic phrase doesn’t mean we become an actual glob of oatmeal after scraping  our bowl clean; instead, what’s meant is that our digested meal supplies what our bodies need to keep us healthy.

Yet I continue to hold we’re not what we eat.  Food certainly may influence how we feel and what we want to do, nonetheless the core of who we are isn’t defined by how our body functions as it may or may not be influenced in still not understood ways by what we’ve eaten.

As I see it, putting so much weight on how and what people eat leads to a host of problems large and small.  Slowly, we become preoccupied, even obsessed with food, as does our nation, which is blitzed daily by a media michael_bloombergculture which encourages the obsession.  Mayor Bloomberg’s recent effort to ban the sale of 16 once plus sized containers of soda provides a good example of an aspect of the food obsession now sweeping the land.

The mayor justified his ban arguing it would reduce the incidence of obesity.   One major reason his law makes no sense–and there are many others–is that there’s no data that shows the degree to which 16, or 17, or 18 ounce sodas cause obesity.  In an editorial written a day after a New York State Judge struck down the law, even the New York Times, usually a friend of trendy food regulations, stated that the law was ill conceived and wouldn’t work.

Thus in my view the notion that you are what you eat is both wrong and a symbol of a wider cultural trend which brings more harm than good.   Rather than worrying about becoming what we eat, we’d be better off seeing ourselves as a red red rose, or a dancing star, or the sum total of all we’ve surveyed and, after a good night’s sleep, still hope to survey as our train roars into the future.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

Remember “The Cosby Show”?  If you are too young to answer in the affirmative, you better go check it out on Netflix or Youtube.  Go now, I will wait…..Okay, now that you realize what you were missing, did you see (or do you remember) the episode in which Theo and Cockroach need to read Shakespeare’s Macbeth for an English test?  The two boys talk about girls, clothes, sports, cars and music, but they have no desire to read the play.  So, they look for a supposedly easy out.  The slackers attempt to avoid reading Shakespeare by listening to a recorded version of the play instead.  They get the recorded album (it is the 80’s remember) of Macbeth from the library; they think listening to it will allow them to avert hard-work.  To their disappointment, they find it is not simple to listen to Shakespeare.  With the album of Macbeth out of the picture, the boys stumble upon “Cleland Notes” that provide a quick summary of the tragedy.   Have a look at a couple classic scenes:

“The Cosby Show” always had a lesson.  This episode obviously was attempting to tell kids that hard work (like reading Shakespeare) would pay off, and trying to get around it by doing something easier would come back to haunt you, like a ghostly blood-stained dagger. The show’s moral could be stated even more bluntly: Reading is good.  Don’t avoid it.  Just do it.  Cockroach and Theo need to learn this the hard way. They likely fail the English test.

Who would disagree with this moral? In our society, most parents stand with Cliff and Claire Huxtable, arguing that reading is an absolute good; always the best learning methodology.  But, these arguments don’t hold water. We don’t live in a world of absolutes, and reading is not always a complete good.  The two boys are right.  Reading ‘The Bard’ can be a chore. On the other hand, watching and listening to Shakespeare is unforgettable.

Dear reader, you must understand that I am a bibliophile extraordinaire.  If I have free time, I read books.  I read on the train; in between classes; before bed; with my morning coffee. I love reading.  It is my hobby; my passion.  I agree with Cliff and Claire Huxtable’s unstated moral: Reading provides enjoyment, intellectual stimulation and self-betterment. But, there are just certain things that should be heard, seen or experienced, and not read.  Sit down and read Sophocles to yourself; then listen to or watch Oedipus the King.  The difference is staggering.  Reading the words provides beauty, but watching the tragedy performed is incomparable.

51noqEetVvL._SL500_AA300_PIaudible,BottomRight,13,73_AA300_This topic is on my mind because I am teaching at a branch campus this quarter, and hence, I am in the car for a couple hours a day. When in the car, I listen to audiobooks to pass the time. I would initially grab audiobooks dealing with my preferred topics of study: History, psychology, philosophy.  I found that these books were good reading, but poor listening.  So, a couple weeks ago, I went with something more exciting. I grabbed the 11 CD audiobook of The Odyssey by Homer as read by Sir Ian McKellen.  Boom! Incredible.



This wasn’t my first run-in with Homer.  I read The Odyssey my Sophomore year in college for a Western Civilization course.  Our professor told us on Tuesday to read the 500-plus page epic by that Thursday.  This was ridiculous.  Of course, I read the book as fast as possible, skimming through the ‘unimportant’ parts.  My experience with Telemachus, Circe, Odysseus and the Cyclops was tainted.  Though it has so many recognizable moments, reading the work frantically felt repetitive, and truthfully, boring.

That was 15 years ago. I thought I would give it another go with the recorded version.  Listening to the words, not reading them to myself, clarified the absolute power of Homer’s masterpiece.  The beauty of the language and the psychological introspection of character was magnified ten-fold. Even the repetition (necessary since the work was orally relayed from bard to bard) started to become addictive and beautiful.  Listening to the reoccurring descriptions was a welcome occurrence,  not an annoyance.

The Greeks did not lionize the written word above other methods of pedagogy.  How could they with their cultural inheritance of Homer?  How could they when the tragedies of Sophocles and Euripides were central to civic life?  How could they when Socrates was questioning Athenians in the Agora?  To be honest, Socrates thought quite negatively of the written word.  He was concerned that reading and writing may ruin the skills of conversation, argument and memory.  In this belief, Socrates was far too radical.  Reading is obviously wondrous.   But, the opposite belief that reading is the only correct way to learn is just as radical, and just as wrong.  Theo and Cockroach had the right idea about that, methinks.

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

I sat in my car looking out through the chain-link fence that separated the student parking lot from the university’s airfield. A small plane came in low overhead, cutting through the spring air to land on the runway. The first time I saw this happen LU Planesthree years earlier, it seemed exciting and vaguely dangerous. But after a few years of attending a college with an Aviation major, the planes were like pigeons I could mindlessly stare at from a park bench while thinking.

I just got off the phone with a girl from one of my classes with whom I’d gone on a couple dates. I asked if she wanted to get together again, and I got the “I’d love to but I’m busy between now and…forever” brush-off. Truthfully, I wasn’t all that interested in her. She was my attempt at a rebound, but the rebound just dropped out of bounds.

This left me time to think about the relationship I was trying to rebound from, which was the two-years I spent with my “first true love” that ended a few months earlier on Christmas Eve, when she came over to give me my Christmas present and say goodbye. I hid that present in my closet for months without opening it, as if preserving it would keep the relationship alive in some small way. When I finally opened it, it was a t-shirt of Grumpy from Snow White. Any friends and students reading this may think, “Grumpy? That doesn’t seem accurate for Paul’s personality.” Meanwhile, any ex-girlfriend reading this is saying, “Ha!”

Sitting in the car, feeling desperate and lost, I called my only brother. I had never turned to him for relationship advice before, even though he is nearly nine years my elder. Our conversations always stayed within certain boundaries: movies, music, games, sports. This was uncharted territory for us.

I spewed to him everything that was stirring around in my whiney, youthful, achey-breaky heart, about how she was “the one” and how I would never recover from all the pain I was feeling. He listened attentively (rare for him) and then said something rather perspicacious (even rarer): “It will get better. The pain will fade over time and you will be able to focus on the good memories.”

Of course, at the time I thought that was crap, as I continued to moan about how life as I knew it was over, how I’d be alone forever, and how I’d have to seek companionship by either buying a dog or cloning myself.

However, it turns out he was right. Sure, it was difficult in the short term, as with all breakups. But by the end of the semester, I was playfully running around Brookfield Zoo during a rainstorm, hand-in-hand with my new girlfriend. The next chapter of my life had begun.

Gradually, all the hurt of the previous breakup slipped away, all the pain we caused each other in our relationship vanished, and all that was left behind was a mental scrapbook of our fondest memories.

If there are fairytale romances, this eventually grew into a fairytale breakup for me: we weren’t together, we didn’t want each other, we moved on with our lives, and I got to keep the good memories.

For a while, the outcome of my fairytale breakup made me overvalue my brother’s words of wisdom. In my youthful inexperience, I believed mine was the normal resolution for a serious breakup: bleed for a bit, then heal with no visible scar.

Years later, I’ve now been through more relationships, and watched as many friends have dealt with their own relationships, and this obvious realization became apparent: sometimes the bad memories refuse to slip away, and they linger like boxers landing solid shots to the brain and heart. Not all bad memories will go down without a fight. And others wobble but they don’t fall down.

But – what if there was a way to selectively eliminate these little ruffians from the mind? That very solution has been presented in literature and film, creatively leading to self-examination on some very interesting questions….

(To be continued in Part 2)

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.

Allow me to update Tolstoy’s famous line “happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” and apply it to dating; “all good dates are alike; every bad date is dreadful in its own way.” Since the only good thing to come from a bad date is a fantastic anecdote, I offer some recent treasures from my dating misadventures.

Online dating can feel like the last refuge of the desperate. Like most people, I started online dating reluctantly, after intervention-style demands from friends who disliked the last man I was seeing and want me to find love, the right man, a date. Something. There are two other key factors that propelled my entry into the truly terrifying terrain of online dating. One of my closest friends found her remarkably winning fiancé online. It can happen. And even though I am quite content in my singledom, every now and then I think it might be nice to make two lunches in the morning instead of just one.

I completed a 6-month circuit of online dating. The end result has been that I have arrived at a new low point of interest in men. It seems as though my attraction to men is inversely proportional to getting to know them. This does not characterize my attitude toward all men, just the ones I’ve meet recently. Alas, the well of my romantic optimism has run dry.

I offer a description of two of the men I’ve been forced to consider as potential romantic partners. Names have been changed to avoid embarrassment; each man has been re-christened based on his most strikingly awful personality quirk. I’ll spare you the suspense and assure you there is no “happily ever after,” but there can always be laughter.

The first man I met for a drink had given himself a Master’s degree. I didn’t bother to explain to him that “extensive reading” was not an acceptable academic credential from an accredited institution of higher learning. Don’t get me wrong, a man who reads is the only viable choice for me. However, people are not able to confer diplomas upon themselves, a fact “Make-your-own Master’s Man” was apparently ignorant of. He knew plenty about what he wanted to know, primarily British history. He seemed generally distressed by my knowledge of British history and did his best to discover the century I knew least about (17th) and focused his conversational attention there, if only to be sure I couldn’t challenge him. When he finished his pink martini (alas, not a new kind of whiskey), I ended the date with relief that at least his neighborhood was interesting.

Next in line was a man who sent me a pre-date text to help me identify him in the crowd at a downtown bar. He sent, “I’m at a table to the left, and I am wearing a gray hoodie.” Had I spared a minute to analyze that statement more closely, my expectations for the date would have been recalibrated. Yes, the man elected to wear a gray hoodie to our first date. I suppose I should be thankful that he didn’t have on a backward baseball cap. I do tend to like younger men, but he wasn’t young; he was just odd. “Hoodie Man” exhibited a few more questionable habits, the most troubling being his desire to ask, “what happened, did he spit on you?” Twice. I won’t bother to contextualize that seriously bizarre statement. It seemed to simply be a “go to” phrase that he liked to inexplicably inject into conversation.

 ImageThere were other contenders, but I can skip to the end without much regret because I honestly recoil from memories of certain conversations and exchanges with the handful of other men I’ve encountered. After some reflection (and perhaps too much information shared), my colleague has placed me on “Injured Reserve” for the rest of the dating season. I might be healthy enough to date in the Spring. It’s too early to tell. Currently, I am just hopeful that I will recover more quickly than Derrick Rose.

PS I am allergic to cats.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

Judge me if you wish, but I love using Hollywood films to teach history courses.  You want to know why I love it? Two reasons.  First,  movies provide students with an opportunity to empathize with figures of the past.  Lecture and textbooks rarely are able to bring raw human emotion into the classroom.  Films can do that. Second, movies often get history completely wrong….Wait, what?  How is this good, you might ask?  I find that analyzing the inaccuracies of historical films clarify historical reality since this reality is often more shocking and memorable once we compare it with Hollywood falsehoods.

“This IS SPARTA” from movie and graphic novel

Films dealing with the Ancient Greeks are particularly good for this, since the filmmakers often misrepresent Hellenic culture so blatantly. Two such films  are the 2007 flick ‘300’, based on the Frank Miller’s graphic novel of the same name, recreating with much artistic liberty the Spartans’ sacrifice at the Battle of Thermopylae, and 2004’s “Troy”, which is loosely based upon the seminal work of Western literature, Homer’s “The Iliad”.   Neither of these movies would be considered ‘great’ films.  They are not award winning; critics generally panned them; and, quite honestly, they are a bit tedious.  But, I love to use clips from these movies because of how they represent, and misrepresent, a central tenet of Ancient Greek civilization:  Masculinity and sexuality. 

When it comes to masculinity, “300” has the most disturbing inaccuracy.  One of the most memorable scenes of the 2007 film comes when a Persian messenger arrives at Sparta to threaten the Spartan king Leonidas (actually, there were two kings in Sparta), requesting submission to the invading Persian king, Xerxes.  Leonidas turns the messenger down, explaining why he can’t submit.  Leonidas needs to worry about the Spartan reputation.  He is especially concerned about this reputation since the Athenians have already rejected the Persian offer, and Sparta can’t be shown up by Athens.  Leonidas makes this clear to the Persian messenger by deriding the Athenians as ‘philosophers and boy-lovers’.   After poking fun at the weakness and perversity of Athens, Leonidas then provided a lesson for the Persian in noble Spartan toughness by yelling “THIS IS SPARTA” while kicking the man  down a bottomless pit. 

You can hear the disdain in Leonidas’ voice when he talks about those Athenians; those boy-lovers.  For a modern audience though, there is never any further dialogue to provide an explanation as to what the Spartan king means by this insult. Do the movie-makers believe their audience understands this reference? Or, were they simply using the words of Frank Miller’s graphic novel, since that line originates with it?  Perhaps the movie-makers and Miller think it is obvious; loving boys, and the evident Athenian propensity for it, clearly separates Athenians from the uber-masculine, uber-militant Spartans.  It is implied for the movie-goer that ‘boy loving’ is something strong, laconic, Spartan warriors just don’t do.  Leonidas loves his wife; end of story. WRONG!  As Professor Paul Cartledge has written, the Spartans were a bit notorious among fellow Greeks for loving boys. Reality is that ‘boy love’ was common within all the Greek world, and Sparta was no different.

Achilles mourns for Patroclus

Achilles mourns for Patroclus

Let’s break away for just a minute  for some clarification.  The love of ‘boys’ sounds extremely disturbing to our 21st century ears. ‘Boys’ usually mean children to modern English speakers. But, we need to understand that ‘boys’ in the Ancient Greek context would be understood as young men.  Were they all consensual adults?  No, they were not, though no concept of ‘legal age’ existed for either men or women during this time period.  Furthermore, ‘love’ in the Greek context does not necessarily mean physical acts of love (though that was a possibility).  Loving a young man could mean wanting to be near him; teach him; protect him.  For the Greeks, love of young men was natural, and noble since the highest level of beauty was found in the physical body of a young, athletic male.   This was the Greek world; the Spartans were as much a part of it as the Athenians.

Perhaps not surprisingly, “300” is not the only film to misrepresent Greek culture when it comes to “Greek Love.” In the 2004 film “Troy”, the relationship between Achilles BradTroya_N(Brad Pitt), and his young ‘nephew’ Patroclus is central to the story.  As Achilles refuses to fight the Trojans because of his petulant anger at King Agamemnon, impatient Patroclus rushes into the battle wearing Achilles’ armor.  Patroclus dies at the hands of the Trojan hero Hector, and the killing of his ‘relative’ finally gets Achilles’ blood boiling.  Achilles desire for revenge, and his inevitable defeat of Hector is one of the central moments in Western literature.  Yet, the filmmakers of “Troy” completely misrepresent Homer’s vision. In the original epic, Patroclus and Achilles were not nephew and uncle. They were men who loved each other.   Perhaps not physically (or perhaps so), but they are as close as two men can be. The loss of his male love is what drives Achilles’ blood-lust. Family relations has nothing to do with it.

Our modern interpretations and misrepresentations of the past tell us a great deal about our own culture, but an analysis of why these films differ from Ancient Greek reality would be a whole other post.  However, when discussing this glossing over of ‘Greek Love’ in class the other week, one of my students made an astute comment.  She pointed out that the audience lining up to see ‘300’ and ‘Troy’ are usually composed of young men, and they may not feel comfortable with heroes being in love with other heroes.  I think she is dead-on, and her statement proves that young male masculinity in our society is similar, and at the same time, dissimilar to masculinity in Ancient Greece.  Much like the Ancients, youthful masculinity today is based upon aggression, and these films speak to that.  No need to change Sparta’s love of violence; Leonida’s love of victory; Achilles’ love of glory. But, unlike Ancient Greece, modern masculinity is based upon stoicism towards other males. Dudes don’t embrace each other, much less express the love they feel for each other in words.  It is no wonder movie-makers would be concerned that Achilles’ real relationship with Patraclus would be discomfiting for many  21st century young movie-going males. Heck, many of these ‘brahs’  won’t even sit next to each other in a crowded theater, leaving one seat in-between each wannabe Leonidas.

by Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

If you haven’t heard, the Chicago Blackhawks are off to a historic start. After 24 games, they have yet to lose a game in regulation, which is an NHL record for consecutive games with a point to start the season.

(Also historically, I am bad luck for sports teams, which means the Hawks will lose now that I’ve mentioned this.)

During this streak, ESPN’s Waddle & Silvy have started all discussions of this accomplishment by playing the sound clip from Old School of Will Ferrell’s character yelling, “We’re going streaking!”

The Blackhawks have been a hot topic in sports, because streaks are recognized and celebrated in athletics. From a positive perspective,  it is difficult to be consistently successful without fail. Like the Hawks, the NBA’s Miami Heat are also notably on a 16 game win streak right now. And sports history has many famous streaks, like Cal Ripken Jr.’s consecutive starts streak and Joe DiMaggio’s hit streak.

There are also negative streaks, most infamously in Chicago is the Cubs inability to win the World Series since 1300 BCE when Moses was batting cleanup for them.

Our fascination with streaks is not just confined to sports, though. People talk streaks everyday. We may note how long we’ve gone without taking a sick day at work. We may brag (and flex) about how many consecutive days we’ve hit the gym. Sometimes it gets ridiculous like counting off the number of days in a row we’ve done something common: cooked at home, eaten the same leftovers, watched a movie.

Personally, I have several streaks going right now:

  • Consecutive weeks with a post on The Flaneur’s Turtle. I hope to carry this through all of 2013. I’ll then hold a press conference and retire from the Turtle in early 2014 – only to un-retire 14 times like Brett Favre.
  • Consecutive days of being Polish. I thought this streak was broken for a minute when I discovered how much I like Irish beer and Mexican food, then someone informed me that taste buds alone cannot alter my family heritage.
    • Also, note that this is a personal record and not a world record.
  • Consecutive days without rhythm. Every now and then, I can break out some amazing dance moves. But it has been a while.

Why do we recognize streaks, both good and bad? It seems to stem from the sense that consistency is hard. Doing something well without failing is impressive; doing something poorly without lucking into an ounce of success seems improbable.

I’m only half convinced of my conclusion, so I welcome further suggestions from the Turtle community as to why we love streaks. (And this now breaks my streak of times I was convinced by my own conclusions.)