Archive for October 2009

Hurray for an extra hour of sleep!

October 31, 2009

So, tonight, the clocks “fall back,” an enormously gratifying annual ritual that gives me one more hour of sleep.  It’s especially handy this year because it happens to fall on Hallowe’en, a day when many people are likely to stay up a little late and get more out of that extra hour.

I’d be lying if I said I understood why we switch the hours twice a year, though.  I always assumed that it had something to do with putting daylight hours more squarely in the middle of the day, for industries that benefit from natural light.  But, what industries are those, exactly?  Agriculture and farming, maybe?  I have trouble believing that just changing the clocks could meaningfully impact anything — it’s not as if there is actually more daylight as a result, and wouldn’t any industry that is affected by the diminishing sunlight in certain seasons have to adjust more than twice a year anyway?  It seems to me that forcing billions of people to adjust their daily routine by one hour twice a year is more trouble than it’s worth, especially when “merely” millions of people could instead just change when they arrive at work by an hour and leave the clocks alone — it would actually be exactly the same thing for them, except that they’d have to remember that work starts at 8am instead of 7am.

It’s also a bit of an annoyance remembering that not everywhere observes Daylight Saving Time, and the places that do aren’t always in sync about when it happens.  Arizona and Hawai’i are about to shift by an hour relative to the rest of us, which isn’t so bad for Hawai’i —  in a different time zone anyway — but must be annoying for Arizona.  Fortunately, I don’t know anyone who lives there, and can’t imagine why I ever would.  However, I’m personally peeved that the US and EU change their clocks at different times (it was last week for them), because it means that twice a year I have to remember that the usual “eight hours difference to the UK, nine to the continent” rule is all screwy.  It sounds trivial (and, yeah, really, it is trivial), but I consistently mess up phone calls and IM’s with friends there during the almost-month each year that the clock changes don’t overlap.

But, hot damn does it feel great to get an extra hour in autumn!  I’m perfectly aware that it comes at the rather miserable cost of losing an hour in spring, but spring is forever away, and I get my extra hour now.  For at least one sleepy hour tomorrow morning, I will be fully in favour of changing the clocks.


Holiday creep

October 30, 2009

Tomorrow is Hallowe’en.  Yay!  I’m actually not a very big Hallowe’en person myself, but it sure seems like everyone else loves it, and I definitely enjoy being around my friends when they’re having a good time.

And, in that vein, I went to a Hallowe’en party last night, I’ll go to another tonight (several others, if I can find a way to stop by at the party that I almost didn’t find out about), and I’ll probably head out tomorrow as well.  Tomorrow is actually Hallowe’en, of course, but in the oldest tradition of holiday creep, it seems to have extended to include this entire week.  There was a party on Wednesday as well, but I didn’t go, and several parties last weekend were tinged with mild Hallowe’en themes.

It’s not just university circles that are doing this either (because, really, it wouldn’t be especially noteworthy if university students exploited a holiday for all the partying it were worth), but just regular folks.  The customer service representatives at my local mobile phone store were wearing Hallowe’en-tinged uniforms (cape, fangs, cat ears, and whatnot) as early as last weekend.  Yesterday, two days before Hallowe’en, the fraternities and sororities had their annual trick-or-treat, where lots of little kids went from house to house collecting candy and starting small fires.  Today is also Hallowe’en day in elementary schools (as I write this, a teacher friend of mine is probably just pushing the last of the costumed terrors out the door, before she goes to her desk and takes a long swallow from a shiny metal flask).  And, of course, all those little kids will be trick-or-treating tomorrow evening as well, on Hallowe’en proper.  Hallowe’en basically lasts the better part of a week.

Is that a bad thing, though?  No, I don’t really think so.  Hallowe’en isn’t an especially over-milked holiday, to my mind.  It’s officially one day long, but has always stretched to include weekends when the proper day didn’t happen to fall on one.  And, little kids deserve to party a bit at school when the holiday does happen to land on a weekend.  And, besides, for all that time and effort people sometimes put into costumes, maybe they deserve a few extra opportunities to wear them.

But, sometimes holiday creep is not fine.  Sometimes, in fact, it is really absurd.  Today I wandered into my local Pier-1 Import store.  They had Christmas stuff.  I was a little boggled.  Christmas is at the end of December (duh); it is not even November yet.

People already joke about the holiday creep that afflicts the Christmas season (also known simply as the holiday season, partly as an acknowledgement that Christmas is just the most popular of several religiously-inspired holidays during this period, and partly because the enormous holiday machine that is Christmas has somehow become large enough to claim part-ownership of the word holiday itself), but this is more than a little absurd.  Generally, the Christmas season is accepted to start at the end of the US Thanksgiving holiday, a full month from now, but here is a retail store already stocking and displaying Christmas items, many of which have a winter theme that is more than a little at odds with the early-autumn weather in Northern California.  Yep, those light-up plastic icicles will doubtless look lovely next to the barbecue beside the pool while we splash around and enjoy a sunny afternoon.

Now, I cheerfully acknowledge that a good portion of what I’m complaining about is merchant-driven.  It’s been an ugly year economically, and it must be very tempting to make the most of holiday sales surges by stretching the buying period as far as it will go.  But, the simple fact is that store wouldn’t be doing this if people weren’t buying it.  If Pier-1 thought there were any chance that ceramic Frosty-the-Snowmans would sit unsold and take up valuable shelf space, they wouldn’t put them on the shelves.  The optimist in me dearly hopes that those pottery snowmen are being sold to people building bloodthirsty zombie snowman armies for Hallowe’en, bit I think we all know that this isn’t what’s happening.

So, why are people buying Christmas ornaments in late October?  Actually, I think it’s happening for the same reason that stores are trying to sell them in late October.  People traditionally look to the holidays as an uplifting and inspirational time when you can appreciate family and friends and generally soak up some (consumer-driven, corporate-sponsored) goodwill.  Santa Claus isn’t really real, but he’s real if I believe in him.  Or something.

It’s funny.  In a previous post I criticised a pregnancy-kit manufacturer for convincing consumers that they were stupid, and then selling them an item for stupid people.  Really, is the holiday marketing machine any different?  Thanksgiving convinces people that they miss their families, then charges them an arm and a leg to fly and visit them.  Valentine’s Day convinces me that I’m lonely and pathetic, and I spend a fortune on prostitutes.  The Christmas season aggressively convinces people that they are happy (or at least, should be), and then sells products marketed to happy, festive people.  But, somehow, when it’s Christmas, and the media are pumping me full of the social equivalent of endorphins, I almost don’t mind.  Of course, I want to be happy, in a way that I don’t want to be stupid or lonely.  It almost seems like… a service, that companies are trying to lift my spirits, even if it’s only for their own sales numbers.

I’m kind of not sure what to make of that.  Being happy is a good thing, right?  And, if a company’s marketing practices help the consumer at the same time as helping the company, isn’t that simply a positive and healthy business model?  On the other hand, I know perfectly well that my happiness is only coincidental, and that if there were more money to be made another way, the holiday season would instead spend all its efforts convincing me that I’m a werewolf, and then sell me flea collars.  But, I’m not a werewolf, and I am happy (well, happier), and I did feel kind of festive and warm-hearted when I looked at those overpriced hand-painted snowmen.  I didn’t mind at all that it was two months before Christmas, and I only felt a pang of annoyance when I realised that I didn’t mind, and felt gullible about it.

So, I’m uncertain.  Am I supposed to resist, because I know perfectly well that I’m being manipulated?  Or, am I supposed to indulge, because it’s rare that marketing works in my favour, and I should take advantage of it while I can?  My choice today was easy, because even three weeks into December I’d have absolutely no desire for a Rudolph-the-red-nosed-reindeer with a candle in the middle of his face.  Sooner or later, though, I’ll see an element of inappropriate holiday marketing that will appeal to me, and I won’t know how to feel.

How should I feel?  It’s hard to know when the media hype doesn’t do a good job of telling me what to think.


October 29, 2009

Strawberry Häagen-Dazs is really, really good.

I’m just throwing that out there.

Old women at McDonald’s

October 28, 2009

The title of this post sounds vaguely artsy and metaphorical.  It would, I think, also make a good name for a band.  Sadly, there’s nothing especially clever about it: I am actually going to write about old women at McDonald’s.

I’ve loved McDonald’s restaurants since I was a little kid.  I’ve noted before how susceptible I am to marketing an advertising, and my history with McDonald’s is a good example of it.  As a kid, I thought of McDonald’s restaurants as magical places, with delicious food and wonderful characters.  I’m quite aware that this perception was the direct result of an astoundingly effective marketing strategy, but there’s simply no denying that those television ads cut me to the quick.  I know who Mayor McCheese is.  I remember when there were three Fry-Guys (I’ve always wondered what happened to the third one; I imagine they ate him).  I can distinctly recall the advertising campaign that introduced Birdie, the Early Bird, which at the time seemed like a big deal because it was the first time (for me) that a new character was introduced.  My point is that slick marketing made me perceive McDonald’s as a wonderful place, and when I went to the restaurant I really believed it.  When I was little we lived in one of the less affluent areas near the downtown of a major city, and a trip to McDonald’s was a pretty big deal.  If you had your birthday party there, you were officially hot stuff.

All of that is a really just long-winded explanation for why, today, I still quite like McDonald’s.  The food isn’t amazing, but it’s certainly not bad, and in a goofy sort of way it still reminds me of the magic I associated with the place as a kid.  And, this is why it takes an awful lot to bother me at McDonald’s.  Crazy homeless man hollering incoherently?  No worries.  Spilled food on the floor?  Not a big deal.  Long lines and one slow, overworked cashier who doesn’t speak English and has “trainee” in big letters beside her name tag?  Fine by me.  The media machine has done its job, and I’ll still eat my food with a smile.

But there is one thing that can really rain on my magical-feelings-programmed-into-me-when-I-was-a-child parade: the cranky and negative old women who cluster around the restaurant every afternoon and act like it’s their personal clubhouse.  You know who I mean.  I’m not talking about the polite and quiet older lady having a coffee and a small french fries by herself.  No, I mean the gaggle of crowing harpies that spends all afternoon at the restaurant, yelling and gossiping and complaining, and generally making everyone near them feel vaguely embarrassed.  Seriously, they harsh my mellow.

These ladies have nowhere else to be; I get that.  They are lonely, and frail, and probably not very well off, and they just want a place to gather and not feel friendless; I get that.  But, why can’t they be nice about it?  Eating lunch today, I couldn’t help but listen to their commentary on everyone who walked by.  They were like a caricature of high-school gossip queens.  Schoolgirls walking by?  Whores.  Junior high basketball team?  Thugs.  Quiet Asian couple with their two kids?  “Why do they come to this country, anyway?”  If they could have been subtle about it, I suppose I might have been less bothered, but they are loud.  My first thought was an annoyed, “Are they deaf or something?”  Then, I realised, well, yeah, they probably are.  But still, being a jerk quietly is simply rude, while being a jerk loudly is outright mean; people can hear you.  One customer exiting the restaurant struggled briefly with the door, which was a mechanically-powered disabled-access entry, and so didn’t swing freely.  After the customer left, the crowing from the old women on their habitual perch nearby was deafening: “Automatic!  It says right there!  Guess that person doesn’t know what automatic means!  People cant even read signs!  What’s the point of even having a sign of people don’t read it?  Shows you what it’s come to these days, it really does!”

At my local McDonald’s, this group even seems to be endorsed by the store management.  There are big signs (and, we know these ladies can read a sign) informing the customers that the maximum stay in the restaurant is half-an-hour.  I’ve seen this rule applied to groups of kids who came in to eat lunch but were too loud about doing it, and so were asked to leave as soon as their food seemed to be finished.  But, the ill-spirited old women can apparently stay all afternoon.  They even seem to have an official store liaison of some sort.  One older woman appears to actually be an employee at the restaurant, wearing the uniform and occasionally walking around, and such.  Mostly, though, she just hangs out in a booth with her friends, the other mean old ladies.  I honestly can’t tell if she’s a proper employee who never does anything, or is simply some sort of volunteer whom the restaurant allows to show up and officially linger about.  Either way, she seems perfectly fine with asking the high-school kids to leave, but she never has anything but friendly words for her bitter little clan.

It’s not hard to understand why they behave the way they do.  They are lonely, and insecure, and like a bitchy high-school drama queen who has to badmouth and gossip in order to to feel good, they are just looking for attention and self-esteem.  I used to accept the presence of these women with good grace, and treat them as some sort of colourful mascots, magical cartoon characters representing the new, tasty McCranky, or refreshing McBitter, or whatnot.  But, there’s no getting around that all they really are is pissy old women with too much time and too little kindness.  It just isn’t very nice to be around.

This is the point where I should probably stop to think about the impoverished resources for poor and aimless older folks.  A parallel between these old ladies and bitchy young people would probably work too.  I’m also certain that there are things to say here about the nature of gossip and mean-spiritedness, and how that kind of behaviour is  just a cry for love from a lonely and neglected soul.

But, no.  All I really want is to be able to eat a Cheeseburger in peace.  Those ladies can find somewhere else to be mean.

Packaging and selling personal insecurity

October 27, 2009

One in four women misreads her pregnancy test, the television ad tells me.  Every time that advertisement shows in a room full of people, the response is the same:

“Well, I guess one in four women is a complete idiot then.”

(Sometimes, if the room has a brave enough male in it, or simply no women, that response will then be followed by, “Only one in four?”)

And, that seems like an appropriate response (um… the first one, I mean).  A pregnancy test simply isn’t that hard to read.  If women are actually struggling to understand these things, then they must not be very clever.  Fortunately, if you happen to be not very clever, Clearblue offers a pregnancy test that should be idiot-proof, spelling out that you are either “pregnant” or “not pregnant” in fairly unambiguous terms.  What a relief.  There are, of course, some problems with the logic here, not the least of which being that a person who would benefit from an idiot-proof test is probably not going to be clever enough to pick up an idiot-proof test.

The bigger issue, though, is the culture of acceptance that surrounds the ad, and ads like it.  One in four women can’t tell a plus from a minus, or one stripe from two stripes.  Never mind that there are legitimate mechanical (and, admittedly, psychological) issues surrounding the interpretation of pregnancy test results, as a quick Google of evaporation lines demonstrates.  The ad asserts, and the audience accepts, that one in four women is, basically, pretty damned stupid.

Now, first, why would the advertisement do that?  It’s a bit like saying, “Only idiots need our product!  Hey, dummies, come buy this!”  Is that really going to encourage women to buy the product?  Apparently, it is.  The ad could just as easily have said, “One in four pregnancy tests has a hard-to-read result.”  Instead, though, the advertising campaign lays the weight of the error on the women taking the test, and not on mechanical concerns surrounding the product.

This implies that Clearblue considers it more effective to sell the product on the doubt and uncertainty of perhaps-pregnant women than to sell it on the unreliability of their competitors’ testing kits.  The continuation of this ad campaign certainly suggests that it’s working.  Our cynical responses to the ad (“Hah!  Those women are dumb”) also suggests that, in general, the idea that some people aren’t very clever sits just fine with most of us.

I have a problem with this kind of message, because it basically trains us to think that people are stupid.  It doesn’t even train us to think that other people are stupid — it apparently works well enough at making women insecure that it sells pregnancy kits.  The ad actually makes people uncertain about whether they are clever enough to use a normal pregnancy test.

And, yes, the simple fact is that some people are stupid.  I meet them all the time; I know that they’re out there.  But, the thing is, the actual stupid people almost never realise that they’re stupid.  That ignorance is, I assume, part of being stupid.

(time for an awkward pause while I wonder whether that last sentence was tragically ironic)

Almost by definition, if you’re clever enough to wonder whether you might be stupid enough to need a product marketed towards stupid people, then you’re not stupid.  But, a perhaps-pregnant woman (a demographic that is probably not feeling enormously confident and secure in general) nonetheless accepts the possibility and buys the product, and the rest of us accept that one in four women needs it.  We just cheerfully buy into the idea that we, as people, aren’t very capable.  And, that almost seems self-fulfilling — once we’re convinced that we aren’t very clever, then… well, then we aren’t very clever.  As a direction for advertising, it’s brilliant way to create your own target audience.

“Do you find that you unexpectedly think about elephants?  Are you thinking about an elephant right now?  Are you thinking about an elephant, and even if you tried right now, you couldn’t stop thinking about an elephant?  Then you have a problem, and this pill can help!”

Western society isn’t getting dumber; it’s getting lazier.  The television tells us that we’re stupid, and we accept it because it’s easier than fighting it.  Don’t get me wrong — I love TV.  I watch an awful lot of cartoons, and in general I’m a complete sucker for advertising.  Wow, I want a new iPod so much it hurts.  But, I know (or, at least, I think I know) what’s going on, and I try to evaluate advertising — in all its forms — as much on my own terms as I can, and not on the terms that the advertisers try to make me assume and accept.

Maybe it’s ironic that I think that (or think I think it), because in general I’m the consummate consumer, and so the capitalist machine is clearly in fine form when it comes to encouraging me to buy the dream.  But, there is a line.  Sell us cars.  Sell us music players.  Sell us clothes.  But, don’t sell us our own stupidity.  At least have the good grace to leave our own gullibility as a transparent part of the process; packaging it and selling it to us really adds insult to injury.  I think people need to be more sensitive to advertisements that tell us who we are, because of course all they really do is tell us who the advertisers want us to be.

That really shouldn’t be so hard to figure out.  Even a caveman could do it.


October 26, 2009

Today I hung out with a good friend I haven’t seen much of recently, and one of the first things she is asked me was whether I were going to attend a party at her place this Friday.  My response was not as informative as she might have hoped.

“Are you coming to our party?”


After some discussion I understood what she was talking about.  But, the question originally made no sense to me, because I originally didn’t have the slightest idea that they were having a party.  It turns out I had been invited, on Facebook, something like a week ago.

I was actually a little annoyed to discover that they hadn’t bothered to invite me in person, or perhaps through e-mail.  My friend knew perfectly well that I don’t go to my Facebook page very often right now, because I told her as much after the last time she invited me to something through Facebook and I didn’t find out about it until a few days after it happened.  I could easily have formed a habit of missing events if we hadn’t somewhat randomly decided to hang out today.  I would feel pretty left out if my close friends hosted a party and I didn’t even know about it.

But, there is my invitation, plain as day, on my Facebook page.  It certainly seems unfair for me to be annoyed about not having been invited, when I had an invitation sitting there waiting for me.  On the other hand, I also feel that a person doing invitations has some vague obligation to put them where they can be found.  Inviting me through Facebook was a little like sending a wedding invitation to a forgotten P.O. Box — yes, that’s my address, but I’m probably not going to be picking up my mail any time soon.  However, whose fault is that, if not mine?  All of this raises a question: do I have an obligation to check my Facebook?

I have a friend who avoided getting his own mobile phone for years.  He would actually give out his girlfriend’s number and tell me to call her to reach him.  I teased him about his apparently Luddite reluctance to get such a useful item, but he maintained that a mobile phone wasn’t a convenience for him, but rather for the people trying to get in touch with him.  A phone was, he thought, an obligation and a burden, and so he didn’t have one.  At the time his ideas on the convenience of mobile communication seemed silly, but now — hounded on an almost daily basis by the good people at the National Student Loans Service Centre — I begin to appreciate his point.  Like a phone, Facebook certainly offers an awful lot of convenient and useful services to its users, but it also comes with a measure of obligations and expectations.

My phone-less friend eventually gave in and got his own mobile contract.  He didn’t really have a choice; personal phones are common and expected while home phones seem like an antique notion, at least among the gypsy-esque student circles in which we travel.  At some point, his aversion to mobile phones began to seem less like a personal preference, and more like a curmudgeonly and antisocial rejection of common convention.  Eventually, in order to avoid the perception of a Unabomber-living-in-a-shack level of nonconformity, he had to give in and concede that having his own mobile phone was simply the way things were done.

I imagine similar things happened when e-mail first became common.  At first, only people with an interest in technology and communication were using the new service.  But, soon it became mainstream enough that there was nothing special about an average person having an e-mail address.  Now, e-mail is so culturally-ingrained that it’s hard to imagine living without it, and anyone who didn’t have an account would quite possibly be viewed with confusion and derision.  We all have e-mail, and we all expect to be able to communicate effectively with each other through it.  E-mail brings convenience and opportunity in a way that we didn’t have before.

For example, as soon as Rev. Kwame M’chombo gives me my cut for e-mailing him my bank account information to secure the fortune that he is sneaking out of Nigeria, I’ll be able to get the student loan people off my back.

At any rate, I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this.  Is Facebook the newest mobile phone or e-mail, a technology product whose mainstream appeal obligates mainstream acceptance?  My party-inviting friend quite reasonably assumed that my absence from Facebook a few months ago was the result of an unenviable state of homelessness (which left me without permanent internet access), that has since ended.  In point of fact I had relatively consistent access the entire time (the internet really is just about everywhere); instead, I’ve just been generally ignoring Facebook because it’s a reminder that the world continues without me, which can be unpleasant for someone trying to find his place in it.  But, my friend wasn’t thinking about that when she sent the invitation.  Instead, she knew that I had Facebook, and assumed that I would use it regularly, because… why wouldn’t I?  That’s what Facebook is for.  Not checking Facebook would be like having a mobile phone but never turning it on.

So, do I have an obligation to have a Facebook account, and check it regularly?  Have we reached the point that there is basically a social contract, at least among some circles, to use Facebook diligently?  Am I rudely snubbing people if they contact me through Facebook and I don’t respond because I’m unaware?

Certainly, I’m shooting myself in the foot socially by not checking my account — that much is clear.  Since I’m obviously going to continue to miss out on things if I don’t use Facebook regularly, I’m simply going to have to use Facebook regularly.  It feels a little like social blackmail that I have to be overconnected unless I want to risk being underconnected, but I suppose it’s no different from a phone that makes me vulnerable to calls I don’t want, or an e-mail account that attracts annoying spam.  In the end, you have to accept the bad with the good, or you risk missing out on the opportunities that really matter.

Do you think the Rev. M’chombo would accept my friend request?


October 25, 2009

So, this afternoon VH1 went through their “Top 100 Greatest Songs of the 80’s.”  It lasted five hours, a programming monotony that was cunningly hidden by the way the show title on my cable guide changed after an hour to “Top 80 Greatest Songs of the 80’s,” and thereafter descended until a person wandering along after four hours would be pleased to catch the “Top 20 Greatest songs of the 80’s” without realising how much valuable content was lost forever in being four hours too late.

I’ll cheerfully admit that I started watching mostly because it was a lazy Sunday afternoon, and idly reading while listening to music was a pleasant way to end a day spent mostly at the swimming pool.  However, I have to admit that I also really enjoyed listening to music that I often hadn’t heard in years, and there were a few gems that were distantly familiar in a way suggesting I actually hadn’t heard them at all since the 80’s.  There was also a certain slow-down-to-gawk-at-an-accident quality to finding out about the current lives of these former stars.  Did you know that Michael Jackson is working on a new album, with an anticipated release in 2007?  Good job VH1; even your nostalgia is out-of-date.

Nostalgia is an interesting thing.  I’m old enough now to appreciate that my memories are definitely clouded by a layer of… something, that isn’t simply the squint of looking at an object in the distance.  There’s a warm and comforting familiarity to some of my experiences that, objectively and logically, I know perfectly well shouldn’t be there.  I hated high school.  I distinctly remember finding it tedious, aimless, and miserable.  My friends were there, sure, but that didn’t nearly make up for how much I resented being in that building at 8:20 every morning, learning things that didn’t matter from teachers who didn’t care.  Now, that also is a distortion – I’m quite sure that much of what I learned mattered, and that quite a few of my teachers cared.  But, at the time, my perspective was decidedly negative, and I remember clearly enough to know that.  So, why is there a warm blanket around most of my memories of high school, encouraging me to pine vaguely for better days that I know perfectly well were not the least bit better?  I’m sure that for some, life descended into mediocrity and unfulfilling repetition after high school (“When I graduate, my dad says he can get me a job at the Wal-Mart!”), and so they look back fondly at a time that might legitimately offer the happiest memories of their lives.  But, it’s not that way for me, or for most of the people I know.  I suspect that for a majority of today’s young, educated people, things got quite a bit better after high school.  I know that I personally remember being an undergrad with a fondness that seems a lot more reasonable, given that I actually had a pretty good time.

A few years ago I attended the Engineer’s Spring Prom at my school as the guest of one of seemingly very few women in the department, which I suspect earned me dirty looks from some of the unattached men at the event.  This past year’s Engineering Prom had a 90’s theme.  The first one had an 80’s theme.  The one in the middle was a Disco Prom.  Now, there are an awful lot of other possible themes for a dance, but there’s no denying that people generally gravitate to by-gone eras as source for costume and design inspiration.  My prediction for this year’s theme: 60’s dance.  If that’s not it, my money says that turnover should have been high enough for the 80’s to not feel like a repeat, and they go with that again.  I’m sure that other possible themes will be considered – Sci-Fi Prom, Toga Prom, Drunken Sexual-Identity Confusion Prom – but there is something intrinsically comforting about the past, and we always seem to come back to that when given the chance.

All of this makes me wonder: if times are good (and for a roomful of drunken Engineers – some about to graduate with valuable professional degrees, and many eagerly anticipating their first hook-up in perhaps some time – times are good, regardless of what things may be like in the outside world), why look backwards?  I could understand hindsight as the reflex of a troubled time, but we seem to do it whether things are bad or good, whether we are successful or struggling, happy or not.  It’s hard not to see nostalgia as some sort of shelter, a reconstruction of better times to gird us against the inadequacies of the present.  It raises the question, what are we afraid of?  Are people by nature so nervous and insecure that even when everything is going well, the indeterminacy of the present drives us to seek comfort in the certainty of the past?

It’s something to think about.  I’m going to pop a delicious, cold Zima and ponder it for a bit.  I wonder if you can still get the “new” Coke?