The Attack of the Giant Octopus Orientalism. The knowledge or study of Oriental languages, literature, peoples, etc, from a Western perspective. Ask average Americans who have never been out of the country what the word means to them and more often than not they’ll respond with “That’s like, wanton soup and like, orange chicken right? Duh.” An exaggeration? Perhaps. And perhaps here at Cedarville University, exaggerations are an understatement concerning Orientalism. First let me satisfy the rampant curiosities raging throughout America and reveal the trade secret that, no, there is no such thing as orange chicken – not in China, not in Hong Kong, not in Korea, and not in Singapore – my country. Also I have absolutely no idea who General Tso is: probably some American myth started by Americans trying to sell ‘authentic’ Chinese food. And Crab Rangoon sounds like a disease. But I digress. Speaking as someone described as “way too American” when in my own country and “way too Asian” when in America, I’d say life has given me extensive aptitude to navigate the tricky wanton soups of Orientalism. To completely understand my point of view, it is necessary to provide readers with some personal background, so please bear with me momentarily. I am Asian in general, Singaporean in specific, Chinese and Indian by ethnicity. It’s all very complicated and I’ve had people adamantly insist that there is no possible way I can be all four categories at the same time. A very obvious comparison must be made. If I were to make the same categorization of an average American, it would go somewhat like this: White in general, American in specific, and perhaps Irish and German by ancestry. “No! It’s not the same,” some have exclaimed in outrage, “I am first and foremost American!” Well I’m first and foremost Singaporean, but then all the other stuff gets left out and when I say I’m Chinese, then people said they thought I was from Singapore, – yes, my citizenship is Singaporean, just like your citizenship is American – and then we all get into a very convoluted argument that usually ends with me yelling very loudly, all to no avail, of course. Singapore is very much like America in that English is our native language, we’re an immigrant country and we have many different ethnicities present. Not only did I grow up
speaking English, I also, very much like an American, am firmly monolingual. Never mind that I studied Chinese for ten years of my life – the most I can do is order food in a terrible accent. I should also point out that I speak English with a perfect American accent amassed from my one senior year of high school in Colorado and perhaps, looking further back, to when I lived in America for two years as a kid. If I, as an Asian from a country very similar to America, have been received with such ignorance at Cedarville Univer-
sity, how have the other Asians? I could spend days waxing lachrymose concerning the number of times at Cedarville I’ve introduced myself as being from Singapore, only to have a quizzical eyebrow raised in response and then the dawning realization of “Oh, that’s in China, right?” Then the inevitable explanation of my citizenship, my ethnicity, my country, all expertly boiled down to a twominute abstract which then begs the question, “But why is your English so good?” I refuse to give the breakdown of how I did my senior year of high school in Colorado and have lived in America before. Essentially, the rationale behind the question is: my English is good American and there can be no feasible way in which my English could have been good coming from any other country. This is my junior year at Cedarville, and still, new people I meet never fail to ask how I come to have such good English. It is not the question itself but
rather the connotations underlying it that beg offense. Travel most countries in Asia today – India, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka–and all but the most rural areas will have at least a cursory grasp on the English language. When someone poses the question, “Why is your English so good,” they are trapped in the throes of the past, dragging us Asians back down to when our countries did indeed speak nothing but the native tongues, when we were considered second rate to the rest of the world, colonized and conquered. In the 21st century, America is not the only country that has adopted English as a national language. When Americans assume otherwise, they affirm their Stonehenge ignorance. That we are subject to it here at Cedarville, a college that claims ethnic cohesion and acceptance of all, is borderline annoying. The ignorance I’ve encountered at Cedarville has not been restricted to that of the students’. The liberal arts education here would appear to be doctored so that anyone coming into the school without an American background feels instant alienation. Perhaps I speak only for myself as an English major whereas more technical majors such as Engineering, Pharmacy and Nursing might not encounter open discussions concerning Orientalism. I remember a certain literature course and the professor leading into a discussion with the words “Now let us all put ourselves in the position of white Supremacists, which we very well could be thought of as in this modern age and try to replicate how they felt towards slaves in how we feel towards the outside world,” or something along those lines. I sat there battling the urge to leave the class so I could crawl into some dark corner and try to imagine myself as a white supremacist with superiority issues towards the rest of the world. That was the starkest instance in any of my literature courses that confronted me so vividly with my difference in race and nationality. Other literature classes have referenced famous American quotes, literature, and examples in history, expecting students to know and
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Good Thing I got a
Recent attempts by both Democrat and Republican leadership to brand their opposition as vicious perpetrators of so-called “Class Warfare” do not suggest, as the media might have us believe, an especially polar or divisive era in contemporary Washington politics—where leaders desperately enlist words like “terror” and “war” in the service of disparate political ideologies—but illustrate, instead, the bipartisan and calculated sense of war requisite to maintaining statusquo (economic) politics, which these leaders have achieved, cleverly, by exercising and displaying a purely-fictive, illusory sense of displeasure, discord, or purpose. Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) so-called Path to Prosperity (hereafter Path), passed by all but four House Republicans, eliminates funding for Pell Grants, curtails Medicaid, eliminates Medicare, and, according to non-partisan CBO projections, raises the tax burden for 90% of Americans because it so significantly eliminates taxes for those earning over one million dollars (approximately 433,000 Americans). Path cuts the top marginal tax rate for the wealthiest six percent of filers, and brings the corporate income tax to the same rate. Path so significantly and absurdly harms lower/middle class Americans (and pretty much everyone else) that President Obama nearly betrayed his own important role in the Dem/GOP symbiotic (semiotic) game by commenting on it and its short prehistory so honestly and matter-of-factly. He said: “Middle-class families shouldn’t pay higher taxes than millionaires and billionaires. That’s pretty straightforward. It’s hard to argue against that. Warren Buffett’s secretary shouldn’t pay a higher tax rate than Warren Buffett.” This of course after Buffett’s Aug. 14 New York Times oped Stop Coddling the Superrich, which caught fire on the Internet and locates Buffett as another super-image, an icon representing so broad a camp that his contribution to our political climate—like that of McCain’s endearingly simple Joe the Plumber—amounts to a personal marketing gimmick and, perhaps, the publication of some mundane, brokenrecord book (also like Joe the Plumber). Apart from these, Buffett’s article has become so significantly removed from any sense of action—refined by the fires of politics and hyperspace—that his contribution to Obama’s long-forgotten campaign slogan Change! is an illusive and elusive one. The core of Buffett’s article, the idea, was lost when the Dems/ GOP got hold of it. Image-Buffett is to Path as Lennon is to McCartney. Or vice versa. What we don’t see, and haven’t as Americans seen, ever, is drastic, radical socioeconomic reform, favoring the lower/middle class, despite our almost-there President and his c’mon-guys-this-is-obvious rhetoric.
But healthcare reform (equally straightforward) was a bust because the play’s afoot. What the optimistic Marxist might hope is that our almost-there President will cast off the restrictions of campaign anxiety (an anxiety, chiefly, of donor dollars), and will declare war unequivocally (and this time for real) on our 433,000 American millionaires/billionaires, saying to them something like: Don’t vote for me ‘cause I won’t represent your economic interests; I’ll tax you into the middle class, and saying to everyone else something like: I won’t do that to you. He should disregard all this absurd talk of trickle down and donor dollars and how important it is to placate the bourgeois dogs on the tip-top of the Superstructure. But it’s a body politic composed of image, boasting diluted entitlement programs and corporate personhood and Bush tax cuts, and anyway the Marxist can’t be too hopeful because she believes capitalism will continue turning its blind, ugly eye to the lower/middle class until it destroys itself, inevitably, and to that end perhaps the Path to Prosperity would indeed function as the best step forward. Michael Shirzadian
IRONY, DINOS, & Bears “Compassion measures us as humans,” says sculptor Mark Cline, looking up from a life-size replica of the JMU Duke Dog as he applies another layer of plaster to its resinsoaked arm. The mind behind such cultural oddities as “The Town That Time Forgot,” an April Fools’ prank that scattered oversized dinosaur statues across the rural village of Glasgow, and Foamhenge, a scale remake of the Druidical landmark made entirely of foam, is building a duplicate of the famous mascot for the opening of a new restaurant in Harrisonburg. He has agreed to an interview in the sunlit, two-story garage of a studio he works out of, and as he brushes and glues, he tells me stories about his past, undermining with every word the clever social critique on the tourism industry that I had planned. Mark Cline works with manic energy. Sketches of his iconic subject matter hang tacked on a bulletin board at knee level. I ask him how much sketch work he uses in the early stages of development; he produces a Spock analogy to describe the bond he forms with his pieces. “I try to become the piece,” he says, with a smile that disarms me. I expected Kline to either be self-serious in a comical way or funny in his self-deprecation, either a Michael Scott or a Woody Allen. What I hadn’t foreseen was an intelligent, dedicated artist that respected both himself and his audience. The first time I encountered Cline’s work, I thought I had stumbled on a forgotten roadside attraction. I followed a sign labeled “Haunted Monster Museum and Dinosaur Kingdom” up a narrow hill to a movie prop gate with a skinny green slime creature with eye stalks sitting on the top, waving an arm as if inviting me in. It was autumn; fallen leaves blew around me as I walked into the woods. Curious, I picked up a trail that led me to a cluster of buildings centered around a dilapidated house where the grotesque and bizarre met and held hands. A Frankenstein monster with Elvis sideburns in chains lurked on the side porch. Around the corner of the house, a giant chicken stared at me obliquely. Alien tentacles came exploding out the top windows of the three-story house. Equally confused and fascinated, I followed the trail back down to a side clearing, where I immediately fell in love with whatever this place was. Inexplicably, free of context, cartoonish dinosaurs trampled, gored, trapped and terrorized Union soldiers. One victim hung
from the teeth of a T-Rex. Another hid in a tree house from his attacker. An out-of-time paratrooper caught in a tree dangled over the hungry jaws of a giant snake. I had no idea why, and in the quiet gray of late October, I didn’t care. I had found a secret world, and it was mine to write stories about or mock or glamorize as I pleased. Over the years, I continued to visit, occasionally bringing along a trusted friend or two. I started noticing subtle changes: a new stage platform here, a sheet hanging there,
or your family; they just stumbled into your grandmother’s basement looking for a good time. They nudge each other and make quiet jokes at your family photos, a wobbly wooden bench your late grandfather built, and your favorite handmade toys. One of them offers you five bucks for a mediocre portrait of your niece because it would be “so random” on her dorm room wall. When we go to a diner not because we enjoy eating there but because it’s so crazy when the aging waitress yells at the cooks or watch a rap video over and over again because “Can you believe those jackets they wear?” we lose the immediate connection to the experience at hand. We step outside the moment and make a joke of it, isolating ourselves and,
noises in the woods. After an embarrassingly small amount of research, I realized my mistake. The site wasn’t abandoned at all, but functional and alive, with a living creator who could speak for it. The experience has become symbolic for me of my generation’s struggle with the monster of the Ironic, that self-aware posture of crossed arms at the heart of ugly sweaters parties and trucker hats. I am talking about the distinction between genuine engagement based on appreciation and a joking half-love that acts in the spirit of “because it’s funny.” Imagine coming to your grandmother’s house and finding five college students hanging out in her basement. They don’t know you
more importantly, dehumanizing the people at the center of that moment. “I was being ironic,” we say, when we dance energetically, sing with emotion, or wear clothes that we think are ugly. “I wouldn’t really wear this dress,” she says, with the dress on her body. We mean that we don’t want our actions to be judged as sincere or earnest, but that contradiction of intention and reality puts us in a strange twilight zone between action and will, locking us outside of the human experience. The divide isn’t clean cut, of course. Sometimes we should mock bad work; sometimes we ease into the real world by first keeping a distance and then slowly becoming ac-
climated; my ironic purchase of Blondie’s Greatest Hits becomes actual infatuation. She watches bad horror movies because she loves their silliness. My motives surrounding my love for the Dinosaur Kingdom were mixed; I connected to the absurdity of the Abraham LincolnPterodactyl paradox in an intangible way. I went because I wanted to, because the place where an oozing snail crept eternally toward a home that had once clearly been lived in bordered on the sublime. What I had failed to do, however, was recognize that the statues had been made by a real person. I had disconnected myself from the human element that produced it, skewing my view of the monster museum and allowing me to treat it as an artifact, an extension of only me. I now had a chance to connect the creation to a creator, and it complicated all my perceptions. That creator, as it turns out, exudes goodwill and effusive charm and boasts a resume that includes tourist attractions in Virginia Beach, model bathroom sinks for the Broadway production of How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and thirty to forty towering Yogi Bear statues throughout the U.S. for Jellystone Park Campgrounds. He darts to resin buckets and back, gliding around his current project with a focus that can only be described as professional. Laughing, the surprisingly young Kline tells me about how he lost the Jellystone contract. “I was planning to quit anyway,” he says. “I was becoming a manufacturer.” After he accidentally cut off his finger mid-job, though, they fired him. He then immediately backs down from the seriousness of that process. “I am an entertainer,” he says. “That is what I am. Just one who knows how to do artwork.” For an entertainer, Cline demonstrates a remarkable sense of artistic purity, shrugging off offers from film reps and MTV networks alike. He talks of turning down the Bad Girls’ Club and Wife Swap, both of which expressed interest in filming at his attractions, because the self-described family man didn’t know if they would treat his work with decency. He never pursued a career in the Hollywood FX scene, because the movie professionals “are not very nice people.” Cline has set up camp in Natural Bridge instead. He added the Dinosaur Kingdom, as it turns out, to the Haunted Monster Musuem attraction in 2004, after his surprise joke in Glasgow had played itself out. His work in Natural Bridge has helped breathe life into a community that at one time
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Octopus continued to be able to form parallels to the subject matter. My education classes, in preparation for sending us out into inner-city schools, covered extensively the prejudices associated with the white man and how to break those down, how to be ready for possible racial biases when in the environment of minorities. Again, I wanted very much to crawl into some nebulous sphere of the atmosphere and contemplate my identity as an international student, which, far from having been discriminated against at Cedarville, was, worse – overlooked. No doubt application to Cedarville University comes with the understanding that many classes are taught from a Christian perspective, but classes also incorporate strong elements of American culture. Take the general education requirement, Politics and American Culture, for example. I took the pre-test for the class and within minutes, came to the quick and obvious conclusion that I did not know the first thing about American politics or culture. And really, why should I? Clearly the course is catered towards people who have had large exposure to American political culture and most certainly not towards international students who have never had a Constitution in their lives. It seemed unfathomable to my American roommate that I had so much trouble figuring out which Amendment had what freedoms in it or what the Pledge of Allegiance said. Do Americans go around memorizing other countries’ pledges or national anthems? Curious to find out if other liberal art colleges required the same general course of study, I asked four friends from Asia who had completed their undergraduates in America in University of Wisconsin, Madison, Bates College and University of Hawaii at Manoa, respectively. None had to take anything remotely similar to Politics and American Culture.
I do not claim to understand the rationale behind the general education classes we are required to take in order to graduate, no matter our major. Perhaps the board of Cedarville feels that it would benefit us to be able to graduate with a rudimentary understanding of American Politics and Culture. Yet subjecting international students to courses of study wherein a background in Americanism is essential leaves me scrambling around spending twice the amount of time on an assignment than an American student would who has had prior knowledge on the subject matter. Cedarville University has been rallying to increase the number of international students that populate it but only if it reanalyzes its classes from a global point of view will it begin to attract young adults in search of a true liberal arts education. I would not term treatment like I have been exposed to as racism or even moderate discrimination. What I would call it, purely and simply, is ignorance, and that, Cedarville amasses in spades, cultivates it even. Perhaps some might argue that Asians encourage ignorance because they tend to surround themselves with others of their own kind. In response to that I say, perhaps, American Cedarvillians have reinforced Asians in their behavior, making them feel like outsiders and aliens and so they behave like outsiders and aliens, a veritable vicious cycle. There has been many a time when I wanted to surround myself by people who did not gasp and gawk at the fact that I speak good English, by people who attempt to understand me as a person, not just an Asian. What is Orientalism? Orientalism is the ability to look at an Asian and not immediately jump to the conclusion that he or she cannot speak English or is remarkably well versed in some sort of martial art. Written by Jihan Bok. Editorial Illustration by John Rice.
On Tuesday, July 5, 2011, America watched in shocked outrage as Casey Anthony was declared not guilty of murdering her daughter, Caylee Marie. Twelve days later, Anthony was released from prison. She is now a free woman. Then, on October 3, America eagerly awaited the results of another trial. This time, Americans erupted into joy as Amanda Knox was declared innocent of murdering her British roommate. Knox, in prison in Italy for the last 3 years, was released from prison just a few hours later and quickly found her way back to America. These cases both gripped the nation’s interest for several years- the Knox case actually arrested the attention of three different countries- and their verdicts created vehement emotional reactions. Many articles have already been written comparing the accused woman and contrasting the reaction to them. People hate Casey. Americans (though not Nancy Grace) love Knox. Maybe that’s only because Knox was tried in Italy, and we wanted her back. Maybe it’s because people especially despise baby-killers. Maybe it’s because people simply find Knox more attractive than Anthony. The most interesting similarity between their cases, though, is how the American public, not the American or the Italian legal systems, has ultimately decided justice for these women. According to the law, both women are innocent. But everyone knows that Casey A nt h ony, though not imprisoned, will live as a criminal for the rest of her life- hunted down relentlessly by her fellow American citizens. She receives death threats. Many Facebook groups are devoted to persecuting her or bringing her back to court. Unlike Knox, she has been black-balled by the media, responding to the mob of American voices swearing that Anthony will not make any money of her notoriety. But Amanda Knox was welcomed back with open arms, with hints of book and movie deals already in the works. Both the cases prove that Americans no longer believe in the principle of “innocent until proven guilty.” One is simply “innocent until I say so.” And in Anthony’s trial, it did not take long. The public clamored (not so figuratively) for
Anthony’s head during the trial, and this cry only got louder after her acquittal. Even though the prosecution clearly failed to present a tight enough case to convict Anthony (regardless of whether she is guilty or not), the public did not care. They had decided Anthony’s guilt long ago and
nothing could change that. The same thing happened in Knox’s trial, just in reverse. Something must have happened to cause America to stop trusting the justice system, to decide it is society’s duty to step in when the courts seem to fail. What was it? Let me take you back to the 1960 presidential campaign, the first campaign in which television played a significant role. Kennedy embarrassed Nixon just by looking better than him on the tube. That instant, visual impression vaulted him into the hearts and embrace of the American public. As I learned in my Visual Rhetoric class at Cedarville University, images and words make arguments in different ways. Words must persuade readers by weaving facts together. But images ask the reader to make instant decisions- decisions like who we elect president or whether a woman from Florida is guilty or not. Because of a higher rate of illiteracy and the pervasive influence of television and the internet, visual arguments have grown only more and more influential since 1960. Added to the extensiveness of visual arguments is the ever-increasing value of personal opinion. Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and the comments section of YouTube
encourage users to post detailed personal information online. This information includes beliefs, religion, family values, and all manner of personal statements. This plethora of opinion, so readily and freely available, completely transformed modern businessa big deal in a country so economically driven. As corporate America began to cater to these loud voices, the individuals behind those voices realized they had power. Facebook especially gives a voice to those who would have no power otherwise- groups like teenage girls, who some now claim run the country because of their voice as consumers. The internet is primarily a visual place, and like the Kennedy-Nixon debates, social media sites present us with many black-and-white instant decisions. Either you follow someone on twitter or you don’t. Either you like a status or you don’t. You’re either friends with someone or you are not. Either you believe Amanda Knox murdered her roommate or you don’t. These instant decisions combined with the growing power of the individual create a dangerous stubbornness. As Americans we think, “We forced the richest country in the world to revolutionize its business practices. Don’t you dare tell me I’m wrong.” The more individualistic Americans become, the less they cling to or even
care about the institutions in charge of governing them. Notice how few of us show up to vote anymore. Why elect politicians to stand up for one’s views when one can simply tweet them out worldwide in 140 characters or less? When Amanda Knox was freed, twitter exploded- and from America, the response was overwhelmingly positive. Tweets included “it’s good to hear, I didn’t think she was going to make it. #goodforher #AmandaKnoxFree” and “How terrible to be imprisoned for a crime one didn’t commit. How often must this happen?
#amandaknoxfree.” Even Matchbox Twenty got in on the celebration, throwing out a “Congratulations Amanda Knox!” on their twitter page. Richard Roeper even made a joke out of the acquittal: “Amanda Knox is free. Wonder is Casey Anthony is looking for a roommate. #toosoon.” People rejoiced when Knox was let free because the verdict accorded with their own presumed judgments of the case. No one was joking, though, when Anthony was acquitted. People from all walks of life attacked Anthony- reacting angrily to their authority being challenged. From my own friends on Facebook to various celebrities on twitter, the American pledged revenge on Anthony. Model Niki Taylor tweeted “God will judge you Casey! This isn’t over!” and part of a Mandy Moore tweet read “the defense team was abysmal! this is shocking! poor, poor caylee.” Perhaps lost somewhere in all the moral arguments about guilt and innocence, truth and fraud, is America’s judicial history. When the country was formed, it was implicitly understood that to have freedom it was necessary for everyone to adhere to a set of laws to counteract anarchy. The idea that when government fails society steps in to deliver justice is just a few steps away from riots and mob justice, from taking the law into our own hands. Governments are meant to regulate legality, not morality. Both the Anthony and Knox cases are now in the realm of morality- legally, justice has been served. Murder is illegal not because it is immoral (though it is, obviously) but because it has to be illegal to preserve civilization. When governments begin to regulate morality, bad things happen- ask Nazi Germany or any other dictatorial state. If the American government ever begins to cater to those bullying opinions on Facebook and YouTube the way business has, watch out. The snap, instant decisions that visual arguments ask us to make take away our need to think through complex issues. The American people would become a herd. The negative effects stemming from seemingly innocuous things like
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enjoyed the distinction of a focal point in the necessary route west through the mountains, a regional Pigeon Forge. The miniature golf courses and wax museums lost their main clientele when the Interstate replaced the old state road system, but Cline still develops new projects for the area that receive national attention. Not all his neighbors appreciate his work, however. In 2001, Cline’s Enchanted Castle Studio burned to the ground, taking all of his early art and film work with it. According to Cline, the day of the fire he found an envelope in his mailbox stuffed with fundamentalist tracts and a letter from a local religious group telling him to “beware the Lord’s judgment by fire” for his work in haunted houses and monster mazes. Though arson was never proven, Kline still suspects a connection. As Cline articulates his beliefs about prayer and Jesus’ true significance apart from religion, I look in the yard behind us. The Frankenstein monster and the chicken sit fused, grouped in tall grass with a Frosty the Snowman statue, a cow with a hole in her back right flank, and a headless giraffe toppled sideways. 100 feet away, a smiling dragon three times my size reclines with a lute just under the fence that hides the studio from the road. Earlier, Cline had described his youth as an undiagnosed ADHD sufferer in county schools; administrators placed him in the special needs class, where he learned both to set himself apart from the handicapped and to defend and support them. He breaks into a flawless Barney Fife impression, and I realize how many times he must have told this story before. The strange part, the shock of the whole thing, is that I believe him. I see the grotesque, sideshow elements of his work; stories like his would normally make me suspicious. Cline casts a spell, even while applying resin to a fiberglass dog, but it is a good spell. I ask him about irony, that dispassionate distance that makes treasures like the Dinosaur Kingdom an offhand joke at best. We go to places like Natural Bridge in order to access something real, but only from a distance. We assume that whatever we see is as insincere in its intentions as we are. Cline gently suggests an old Buster Keaton clip, the famous one where Keaton stands still while a wall with a skinny door frame falls from behind him; the man casually misses a near crushing. Even now, the clip stirs him, he says, but to today’s audiences the wall doesn’t register as real, even though it is a physical prop made of actual wood. “This is all real,” he says, gesturing. “If you’re not keeping your eyes open, you’ll miss some of this stuff.” Cline is referring to the silly, strange worlds he builds, but I am thinking back to something he said earlier, the part about compassion measuring our humanity, and I wonder if it isn’t in that eager willingness to seek the good in all things and embrace it that we find a way out, an escape. We should still make fun; we can’t take ourselves, or our monster museums, too seriously. My concern, though, is that we have become so addicted to stepping outside the frame of place and time that we can’t access the good anymore, because we can’t fully embrace any moment. Cline refuses to allow his audiences to remain detached. One can accept or reject his work, but they cannot remain indifferent to it. If ours is the age of the detached, the existence of a man like Cline blows that detachment out of the water, offering a laughable, forested America populated with plastic cows, painted mailboxes, and undeniable dinosaur kingdoms. He teaches us that if we can learn to embrace the world at its silliest, we may discover it at its best. Mark Cline’s work can be seen in Natural Bridge, VA, or online at monstersanddinosaurs.com. Please actually buy tickets before visiting, or risk being eaten. John Hawkins, Cedarville University Alumni, 2008
THE VENTRIloquist staff Kimberly Prijatel Editor
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John Michael Mumme
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F I T N E S S
For those of you who have worked re- wrong motives. One commentator notes ill. Most sadly, self-satisfaction complete- wisdom: humans must not reduce God’s tail, you are familiar with the petty jabs that this “Herculean effort to appear ef- ly hinges on whether or not that person prescriptions to arbitrary maxims. The employees tend to hurl secretly at cus- fortless” in our body maintenance only had a “good” workout. Pharisees undermined the purpose of tomers. Work any job long enough and “keeps us silent or nonchalant about the Not surprisingly, compulsive exer- rest by being so uptight about something you will unfortunately secure a hyper- pain we’re in.” Because our culture so cel- cising is often intertwined with eating as basic as gathering food. And Christ’s awareness of customer “flaws”. I remem- ebrates fitness, it is difficult for some to disorders, which 10 million Americans underpinning logic remains the same in ber a specific day when my boss relayed consider the reality of this pain or discuss struggle with today. According to eating the case of physical fitness: we must not to me what irked him about a customer it with others. In Christian circles specifi- disorder specialist Brenda Woods, many exploit something as beneficial as physihe had interacted with earlier. The cus- cally, we tend to delegate accountability people struggling with eating disorders cal exercise to the point that we undertomer’s faults included: “creepily” inquir- to more “black and white” spiritual con- choose exercise as a form of purging be- mine both enjoyment and purpose of it. ing about my absence, possessing an un- cerns, like whether I’ve spent enough time cause “it is more socially acceptable.” ExIf Christ is to showcase His redemptive warranted snarky tone, and, worst of all, in Scripture or have consistently kept up ercise becomes “penance for eating too power through His people, if “rivers of transgressing rules of physical propriety with my prayer life. But when it comes to much”; and the equipment screen that living water” (John 7:38) are to overflow by being “out of shape.” a suffocating, high-priority exercise rou- gauges “calories burned” installs itself in out of the church into a world parched for Now, being an English major means I tine, it’s easier to assume that something this exerciser’s mind as a 24-7 measure of Truth, our priorities and behavior must mentally chew on even the most flippant is wrong with me—that I must approach shame, monitoring that person’s every ac- radically deviate from the world’s norms. insults and this one was no exception. my workout more energetically or with a tivity or meal so the calories burned from Paul’s exerts us in Roman’s 12:2, “do not Eventually I concluded his last phrase better attitude—if I am feeling any kind an earlier workout were not a waste. conform to the pattern of this world, but choice struck me because it was so spe- of “maintenance burden.” It should not come as any surprise by be transformed by the renewing of your cific. It wasn’t the generic (but equally inThe subtly overbearing nature of fit- now that, according to one study, more mind.” Only once we recognize where we excusable) dismissal of someone as “fat,” ness today spawns two ironic negative than half of American women between do conform can we start to eradicate the but jargon that more specifically critiqued effects. For one, such incessant attention the ages of eighteen and twenty-five lies and prejudices that dictate such consomeone’s lack of physical exercise. to body sculpting often generates more would prefer to be run over by a truck or formity. Perhaps Christians must, as one In this one condescending phrase I dislike toward our bodies than less when die young than be fat, and more than two- author articulates, put “our society on couldn’t help but see a microcosm of a we can’t whip them into the exact shape thirds would rather be mean or stupid. the scales” so we will see “the fatness of much more large-scale and unhealthy atIn such a society where “diet and fit- our prejudices, the fitness of our norms, titude toward bodily fitness today. I beness information are everywhere,” but and the thinness of our tolerance.” If we lieve American culture’s fitness obsession “messages of wellness and authentic health as Christians consistently allow Scripture has become such a pervasive ideology are nowhere” (29), have we arrived at a and prayer to saturate our minds, we can that it nearly renders lack of exercise a point where it is impossible to distin- eradicate lies that distort the idea of selfkind of vice and, conversely, exalts physiguish the difference between the two? worth. By instead digging into what it cal fitness as a virtue. But I specifically I think this issue is especially rel- means to have our worth rooted in Christ want to explore how this flawed mentalevant to students on our campus for two and not appearance, we can compensate ity impacts Christians today—particularreasons. First, many experts agree that for the damage that has been caused by ly, Christian college students. exercise addiction is most prevalent on emphasis on bodily value and cultivate a No doubt the media both fuels and college campuses. It’s no surprise that gentle understanding toward un-believfeeds on today’s “aerobic fitness craze author Courtney E. Martin deems the ers or brothers or sisters in Christ who du jour” as a way to propagate distorted college years as “body obsession boot struggle with body image pressure or standards of beauty. Hollywood manucamp.” When students first arrive to exercise addiction. The counselors at CU factures one celebrity after the other, like college— “fresh and clean, and totally, counseling services desire to help anyone commodities in high demand, to fit (quite completely freaked out” (215) — they struggling with these pressures, and they literally) the prototype of “buff ” or “thin.” plunge into a sea of insecurity in which have already helped many students here Constance Rhodes, author of Life Inside everyone is clamoring for attention and on campus let go of unhealthy eating and the Thin Cage, recognizes that for womacceptance from each other. A student’s exercise habits by consistently speaking en specifically, “Television programming intense need to be accepted, combined truth to them. continues to project images that glorify a we want. Indeed, “an era of exercise has with high-stress academic lifestyle, leaves When we do engage in physical exerbarely-there body” (134). brought more obsession and self-hatred physical exercise quite an attractive cop- cise, we can do so in a way that welcomes It may be easy for the rest of us (Chris- rather than less” (71). And it is often this ing mechanism. Exercise becomes an community and emanates genuine enjoytians especially) to “villainize” the celeb- judgment of oneself that becomes the outlet for stress and a method of control ment that is free from any kind of expecrity lifestyle and dismiss it as foreign to engine accelerating the impulse to judge over weight, which becomes an illusion tations or unrealistic standards. Then we our own; but these distorted values and others, even with such seemingly minor of control over what feels like a destabi- can be the “fragrance” of Christ (2 Cor behaviors have so diffused within society insults as “out of shape.” A kind of air- lized life. The other reason I believe this 2:15), dispelling the odor of desperate that the pressure to achieve an ultra- thin borne condescension can loom through- issue pertains to students on our cam- maintenance, constant comparison, and or muscular body is tangible to believers out the fitness center, and feelings of in- pus is because Christians can especially secret shame that often surrounds the and unbelievers alike—no matter how adequacy linger with a contagious nature fall prey to equating fitness with virtue. high priority of fitness. distanced either group claims to be from that rubs off on others as easily as the I can’t help but think that the religious Exercise can be a wonderful thing, the media. Indeed, the importance that germs that linger on the elliptical. word used earlier—“penance”— oper- and our infinite variety of physical acour culture allots to body upkeep has beBut perhaps more ironic is the fact ates for Christians, to varying degrees, in tivities reflects the creativity that God come disturbingly normalized and rarely that the centrality of fitness in the priori- the area of exercise. The Christian logic endowed us with. It is lovely to be able challenged; one expert even suggests that ties of believers and non-believers alike that we must be “good stewards” of our relish a jog in the morning or bike ride in this “increased tolerance for thinness actually undermines the original intent bodies is fragile and often misinterpreted, the evening, to get caught up in a game of and ambivalence about excessive exercise” of health. People become so “corseted un- becoming an easy way to augment guilt basketball with friends, or to coordinate has become one of “the biggest changes der tight external constraints… through at not working out or to justify exercise your bike pedaling to the beat of the muin our collective consciousness.” diets and exercises” that they comply routines that are more spiritually de- sic in spin class. Creativity should lead To think instinctively that this change with the “social prescriptions of specific structive than physically beneficial. Also, to beauty and enjoyment, not captivity. in society’s tolerance is a good thing, be- body sculpture to the point of jeopardiz- the idea of perfection can too easily in- 1Timothy 4:8 says, “For the training of cause exercise is a good thing, would only ing their own health”. Essayist Mark Greif tertwine with the idea of sanctification in the body has some benefit, but godliness affirm the aforesaid argument. This toler- also pinpoints this irony, saying that “ex- the Christian’s life; Christians often be- is beneficial in every way, since it holds ance of excessive exercise has spawned ercise flirts with a will to annihilate the come overwhelmed with a sense of hav- promise for the present life and also for thoughts and behaviors that are far from unattractive body rather than to preserve ing to perfect every area of their life as an the life to come.” Here God does not nebeneficial. There is no way around it: for its longevity” (69). And a full-blown love attestation to their spiritual progress, and gate the benefit of exercise; He recognizes one to maintain what he or she perceives affair between this will and exercise can body becomes an easy, tangible target for it but at the same time subordinates it to as the “perfect” body takes great time, result in compulsive exercise, or exercise perfection. the cultivation of a healthy spiritual life. great energy, and a great toll on mental addiction. In Scripture, Jesus pinpoints a hu- When we as Christians make an effort to and spiritual well-being. As a person’s Over-exercising will yield not only a man tendency to which we will always be exercise our minds as Paul advises in Roworkout intensifies from 4 to 5 days a slew of physical “overuse syndromes”— susceptible—the tendency to so uphold mans 12:2, reevaluating our motives in week, from 25 minutes of running to 35 including stress fractures, low heart rate, rules and regulations that we miss the every practical pursuit, then we harness minutes of running, to having to burn amenorrhea, and osteoporosis—but point of them. A Christian’s understand- fitness toward its original purpose, which 100 calories more than yesterday, one emotional and relational problems as ing of bodily stewardship is not exempt Puritan Richard Sibbes says well: “This motive slowly becomes the slave driver well. Compulsive exercisers will let exer- from this blunder. I can’t help but think is a sign of man’s victory over himself, of that person’s exercise regiment: main- cise dictate social life to the extent they of Mark 2:27, when Jesus tells the Phari- when he loves health and peace of body tenance. will turn down social events so as not sees, after they scorn Him for picking and mind… chiefly for this end, that he Yet many gym-goers today neglect miss a scheduled workout, exercise alone grain in the fields, that “The Sabbath was may with freedom of spirit serve God in the possibility that exercise can become to maximize the intensity of their work- made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” doing good to others.” a kind of bondage when governed by the outs, and even exercise when injured or Here Christ gives us simple but profound
“exercise flirts with a will to annihilate the unattractive body rather than to preserve its longevity”
Criminal continued choosing whether to “like” someone on Facebook or not have made obvious by the public reactions over the acquittals of Anthony and Knox. Two questions: how many Americans have, with no bias, examined the evidence in the trials to make a personal decision about either woman’s guilt? Yet, how many of those same people have an immovable opinion on both trials? As Americans, we need to examine whether the death of “innocent until proven guilty” will harm the country. The answer needs to be more complex than yes or no. Further, as Cedarville students, we need to go against the grain- not follow the herd instinct instilled in us through our extreme exposure to visual arguments. But the newly empowered
individual voice- that is something we can use to our advantage. Whether on social media sites, through the printed word, or anywhere else, our knowledge of this problem gives us an obligation to share it with our fellow men and women not just in America, but around the world. Perhaps we could raise a new generation of culturally aware Americans and leave the stain of ignorance behind us. That would be a step towards true social justice. John Michael Mumme