Sunday, July 24, 2011

Jordans or Loafers? Dress for Success vs. Dress for Fresh

When I'm in the mall, there is always an eternal struggle that pulls at my heart like a fat man pulls at a still attached chicken leg. Forever star-crossed, I know the decision I'm going to make will affect me for months, maybe even years. Standing next to the Indian dude selling video games out of the little cart that I'm pretty sure Nintendo came out with 20 years ago, a step must be taken, a decision must be made.

Will I drop my hard-earned money at youthful Champs or at  suave Rockport? I think Lebron had an easier time choosing Miami, which was accompanied by betrayal and deceit, but that's another story.

Dressing for success or dressing for fresh is a choice everybody makes everyday. Some find it easy to choose while others, like myself, find it excruciatingly painful. This is because we live in a superficial world where you are judged by your clothes.

Your hat, your shoes, do you tuck your shirt in, do you let people wonder at your brazen chest hair, which ear and what type of earring do you use - it all tells a story. And unfortunately, perception is reality. So no matter how comfortable you are wearing your beat-up yet still usable Chuck Taylor's out at the club, trust me when I say this:

People are watching; people are commenting.

It's a sad truth but one I think deserves some insight. Why is it so difficult to skirt that line between dressing for success and dressing for fresh? Is it even that difficult at all or am I just the crazy one? Perhaps a definition is in order to help organize exactly what is dressing for success and what is dressing for fresh.

Let's get our grown man on first, shall we. Dressing for success, in my humble opinion, is buying clothes that you would wear to these types of events - a job interview, high end wedding, your own murder trial, rigid Southern Baptist church, President Obama's dinner party. Typically, these types of clothes fit your frame, are more smooth than flashy, come in complementary designed pieces/sets, and aren't found (again, typically) at the local seedy swap meet. Not necessarily always built for comfort, but built to make you look like somebody.

Freshness, swag, whatever you want to call it, is equally as troublesome to define in terms of clothing. Universally, dressing for fresh is purchasing clothes that you would probably wear to these events - fraternity/sorority picnic, basketball game, music concert, Miami Beach vacation, Lil Wayne's dinner party. While fresh clothes are more casual, pedestrian isn't the look the owner is trying to convey. Brand name is where freshness is often found but originality and uniqueness are often more desired, leading hundreds of people to trying anything to stand out. These are the clothes that you usually want, but don't need, the clothes that don't wear the man, it's how the man wears them.

Now that both have been defined, here is the core of the problem that seems to plague me and so many others. Can the two mutually coexist?

To me, it's yes and no.

Dressing for success and dressing for fresh are like twins. They can look very similar, but are fundamentally different from each other. This is because business clothes, which often signify your success clothing, tries to bring as much individualism as possible while blending in with the crowd. On the flip side, most fresh clothing wants the wearer to look representable, like this outfit actually cost some money and isn't completely random.

A good example is Polo. Polo shirts have become the poster child for looking professional yet stylish at the same time. You can wear a polo to work and then put that same shirt on, after some heavy cologne probably, and hit the bar.  It's a brand that everyone recognizes and it is virtually worn by all races, groups and ages. You will find a Polo shirt in Donald Trump's closet as well Gucci Mane's. Trump's will smell like crushed dreams and Gucci's will smell like strippers and drank. Point is, the shirts are there.

But all brands aren't Polo, and Donald Trump is not Gucci Mane.

It is still rare to be able to mix fresh and success. Jordans don't belong on suits and Loafers don't go with checkered shirts. It's that simple, no matter who tries to make it play. Lady Gaga can't even make a business vest go with a Hawaiian shirt, and she gets a pass for everything, including being absolutely mad. A full meat dress? Enough said right there.

Now this where my labor pains are fiercest with no epidural in sight. Do you have to choose one or the other? The older I get, it seemingly seems that way.

While I should be exclusively looking for my next new white dress shirt at Dillard's, I'm messing around in FootLocker looking at t-shirts with catchy phrases some dude who watches way too much SportsCenter comes up with. Is that wrong, because it kind of feels that way. As an aspiring lawyer, I should be focused on fitted ties, not fitted hats. But I'm not.

Part of me feels guilty, the other part doesn't. I feel guilty because when I do get older, I'm pretty sure I won't be wearing my colorful design t-shirts anymore, at least not out in public. On the other hand, people have styles and go with what they know. I'm not a grandpa yet and I still like younger looking clothes.

My dilemma is the way it is because I actually recognize the importance. There is a time for watches and there is a time for LiveStrong bands. You can dress for success and fresh - its just going to hurt the wallet. And I guess that's why its so puzzling.

My eyes constantly see people much older than me wearing age inappropriate stuff. You can't tell me its okay for a 53-year-old man to be wearing the same outfit Mike the Situation had on. Not in America anyway.

Are people locked into one or the other because of lifestyle choice? Is it money? Is it purely culture? One second I think I know and then I step outside. There are people my age that dress like they're already retired, but its fine because that coincides with dressing for success somehow. Then there are those who are my age and keep up with trends that only a high schooler could follow, yet its extra clean. I think the line must be drawn in invisible ink.

Still, clothes are important, but they aren't everything. A personality will take someone a lot further than a Prada purse or a Rolex. People engage with each other, not threads. However, knowing the key for dressing for success and fresh is paramount. And depending on what and who you follow, your fashion sense will too.

Is one more important than the other? Again, it depends on who you ask. Still, when Nike starts making suits, someone pinch me.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Child's Play: The Supreme Court and its Video Games

It's 2:00 a.m. and little Johnny and his brother are up on a school night glaring at the tv in their room, trying to be careful and not wake their parents. Their eyes are fixed on the screen knowing what they were doing is wrong. Surely, only this type of action, this type of language, this type of enjoyment was reserved for adults -not kids with Sponge Bob on their butts. Johnny and his brother finally understood why grown men would pay for this kind of entertainment.

All of a sudden, mom pops in and their hearts race because they have been caught red-handed. They don't want her to see whats on that television. They don't want her to see the debauchery her sons have delved into. It's too late and mom is mortified. She thought her innocent boys were now forever sullied by such grotesque filth.

Alas, late night video games had struck again.

Video games have a had a polarizing effect on society. Some view them as recreational devices to relax away on that hot summer day. Some see them as glorified wastes of time that turn your brain to mangled mush. There are other perspectives on video games but I believe the rest of them fall into the two categories I stated above.

No matter where one may fall on the issue, there is no disputing this. The Supreme Court sees them as protected.

In the case Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, the highest court in the land, in a 7-2 decision, ruled that video games are protected free speech under the 1st Amendment. Move over Harry Potter and eat your heart out Gandalf the Grey, Super Mario has showed up to the party and he brought Wii Sports with him. And a mushroom keg.

In what many are calling a resounding victory for the gaming industry, others are lamenting on what this means for society. Thats right, gamers have just as much a right to sit in basements eating stale Doritos and bicker over who stole who's kill on Call of Duty as polite Southern bells have in pouring amaretto sours at their delightful book clubs. Video games are on the same level as books and movies. And it was the right move to make. 

In his opinion, our favorite witty, Quaker Oats-look-a-like Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that video games contain just as much violence as some childrens books, specifically citing Grimm's Fairy Tales. He went on in saying that video games are essentially another form of literature and that there wasn't a compelling link between violence in video games and kids. Scalia reasoned that you can't ban access to a form of media because of uncertain effects it would have on people.

This decision was correct in the sense that video games needed the recogniztion they deserved. They aren't just simply flashing lights dancing around on the screen anymore. They're complex works with deep detail, elongated scripts, and imaginative stories. When certain video games have been transformed into movies and books, like everyone's favorite deathfest Mortal Kombat, its apparent the series has trascended the four corners of a console.

Some video game franchises have been firmly established in American lore because they have become so popular. There are more people out there who know about the exploits of Master Chief than those who remember Atticus Finch. Heck, contemporary video games like Madden will have a greater legacy than James Stewart. I barely know who James Stewart is, truthfully. Google is my friend.

Books, movies and video games are now all intertwined. Video games represent the new kid on the block and with the Supreme Court ruling, have finally earned their stripes.

Remember, at one point in history books, reading really, was seen as blasphemous except for a priviliedged few. Still, you had to use your mind to explore the real depths of the words. Then movies came and gave reading a run for its money. They put things on the screen the masses thought were marvelous, and in the same breath, lacking of value and moral. But, art was art and movies become common nature entertainment.

Now video games have had their feet put to the fire and seemingly walked away without burn. The problem that people like Leland Yee, the California politician who drafted the law, have with video games is that they take it a step further. A step movies and books find themselves often trying to imitate.

Video games give you direct control of your own imaginative perception.

You don't have to come along for the ride anymore. You drive the bus.

We're becoming a more interactive world and video games is an off-shoot of that. Why debate over the meaning of what Madam Bovary's mental issues were while we can just play the game and make it more interesting, if not simpler? There has been a conscious shift in the younger generation to step away from the rigourous thought process that is investing your imagination into something and instead going to buy a  gift-wrapped electronic melodrama deliver one for you. Movies did it to books, and now its seems video games are doing it to movies.

While books and movies will never go out of style, like Abe Vigoda, their dominance as favorites in what I'm calling "art imitating life" category is fading quickly. Movies offer more of the same these days as Hollywood and is lost in its own glitz and greed. A little boy down at the courthouse had this to say the other day. He quipped, "I don't read books, I play Wii." That pretty much sums it up on the status of books.

Video games give unparalled control of the story and plot when compared to books and movies. The problem is that most video games push the very boundaries of what is realistic fantasy and what is sheer nonsense. Books have limitless potential in imagination, but utter lack of visual stimulus. Movies create stunning, epic visuals, but limit your interpretation of the plot in most instances. Video games have both in spades.

And that's the real problem.

Video games are becoming almost reckless in allowing what the player is allowed to do. Combine that with jaw-dropping visuals, advanced technology and a decent enough dialogue and you can relegate the library as that place where hobos go to use the bathroom. Video games are becoming more violent, sexual and overall mischievious. While marketed to towards kids initially, don't get it twisted. Video games are made for adults.

I mean, there was even a game created for the purpose of the player just getting to view digital fake boobs. Not even real life fake breats, digital ones.

Not all video games are the well-crafted pieces of dedication like I make them seem like. There are those that society would be better without, that kids specifically would be better without. But, that doesn't mean its the developers fault that Johnny and his brother got ahold of "Murder Militia Monsters 4". Parenting and the stores which the games are sold at should be barriers enough.

The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) and specific store policies seem to do a fine job as it is. Sorry dude, you're under 18, no purchase for you. But, if the adult purchases the game and thinks he/she is picking up something more similar to Asteroid, than have they got another thing coming. Games today are fundamentally different and its up to the parents to recognize this. They've got to do the research and take culpability over what their kid is getting into to. No law can cover that up for you.

And that's why the Supreme Court ruled the way it did. While there is a discrepency between giving kids the right to purchase violent video games and not pornography as Justice Samuel Alito pointed out, there is no denying that video games are a form of speech. We frown upon kids getting invovled with certain books and movies,but it is still their right to have access, not full access, but access to those items. Video games belong in that category.

We'll see where the road goes from here, but as the generation shifts, and with video games being used more and more for things besides entertainment such as education, they will become more accepted. My lone regret is that video games stymie the youth from creating their own imagination, but thats another conversation. Video games are just as addictive as any book and any movie but the key is to remain balance in partaking any one of them. Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony still deserve the same protection that is afforded to Twilight and any Tyler Perry film. The Supreme Court did the right thing and its only when we stop acknowledging the artisitic, intellectual movement of society that one thing becomes apparent.

Game over.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

#1 Lions or Lambs? The Manipulation of the Student-Athlete

Where there is smoke, there is fire, as the old adage says. Well, somebody fetch one of those twenty-foot fire hoses because it looks like a volcano has revealed itself over NCAA headquarters and a firestorm is well in the brewing.

For the past couple of months, scandal has been the name of the game when it comes to college athletics, specifically college football. And we're not talking about East Great Plains State or Central Middle of a Random Valley University either. Blue blood has been spilled and the vultures are steady gathering overhead ready to pick at the corpses.

Schools with high name-brand recognition such as Ohio State, Southern Cal, North Carolina and Boise State have been caught in the NCAA cross hairs recently. Why? Because the NCAA doesn't like the thought of student athletes having friends with benefits. If everybody can't get some, than neither can the student athlete.

The list seems endless for the cache of items people are willing to hand out to college ballplayers. Cars, tattoos, apartments, hard cash, drugs, food, generous grades, rocket-jet packs with built-in night vision goggles (probably not yet on that last one...but sooner rather than later), there is no shortage of "illegal" perks that the players receive on top of the school sanctioned benefits that most students would never have access to.

So, who is to blame?

Is it the schools and their apparently either ignorant or inept staffs? Should it be those individuals whose blind love and admiration for their players outweighs any repercussions that could possible follow suit for their reckless generosity? Or, is it the NCAA's own fault for cultivating a culture of back-alley gift-giving because of their own overly harsh, asinine rules that mock today's culture?

All of the above are culpable in their own right. Their combined negligence has fostered in an era of untrustworthiness and ethical decay. That being said, there is only one true answer.

The student-athlete.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink. So all these mavericks can lead these young studs to the trough with their promises of gifts and glory, but its the student-athletes decision on whether to take that sip or not. In this case, it might be a few asses instead of bucking broncos.

Let me be clear. The blame game is ultimately pointless and highly disputable. Nobody wins, everybody loses, and ties are far too frequent. However, in my perspective, there is one key factor that most seemingly sweep aside when analyzing the corruption behind collegiate athletics.

All of the athletes are students! Just because you're watched on SportsCenter cut a cool end zone flip or seen dragging monster-truck tires in an UnderArmour commercial doesn't dismiss the student-athlete label. If the pre-med kids were given the opportunity to film spots with the local shady car dealer, don't you think some would leap at the opportunity, too?

The student-athlete is given far too much latitude in being able to hide behind the veil of youthful ignorance and playing the hapless victim. Trust me when I say this, as a guy who has worked with young athletes my entire blossoming career in today's modern America, played sports my whole life, and because I'm in the proximate age group not too far removed from college. These dudes know what they are doing.

They know what they want and how to play the game outside of the lines and hash marks to get it. We live in more connected world than ever. And just because a guy comes from Littletown, Smallstate, where there are white picket fences and wholesomeness oozing out of the wazoo, don't think he can't be sophisticated enough to manipulate the casual city slicker or the forgiving fan base.

Student-athletes aren't dumb, despite what the majority may believe. They wouldn't be in college if they were. They're just way too savvy for their own good. That's what marketing machines and dotting families will do to a teenager's ego.

They build these budding athletes into charming, confident individuals who can carry a conversation and say all the right things. From birth, most student-athletes are conditioned more than just physically; they're being prepared mentally to hoist the burden that others are reluctant to carry:

Making money for others.

Raising a child to become a star athlete is an investment that requires pampering, making deals, and of course, major moola. These parents and companies put so much into kids, coddling them to the point of nausea, because they want the blue ribbon at the end of the race - a cut of that pay check.

A mother lets her son have six cars in five years while ruining her credit? She gets a house out in the country. A shoe company hands out tons of apparel at their own camps and tournaments, costing thousands with no sure return on investment? Exclusive rights to that mega-million dollar deal down the road. Its how the game is played.

So being groomed this way, to hustle and get what they want, why is it any surprise that players break NCAA rules? They don't care. Being selfish is what they know and it often outweighs their decent moral upbringing.

Some players claim lack of funds for their willing contributions to making universities millions of dollars is their reason for rebelling. While there is some merit behind that argument, the overall notion is preposterous.

The basically free education, endless tutors to ensure that education, access to better and healthier cuisine, exotic trips, literally pounds of exclusive, cool clothes/shoes, lavish award banquets, and school-endorsed, price knocked down housing isn't worth anything?? The journalism kid gets a free trip to the library that smells of body odor and broken dreams to study with other kids who are trying to manage to stay in school with no scholarship. Oh, and the diet coke is a buck-thirty. And his car is a rusty-red 1991 Geo Metro.

Then there even those student-athletes that receive a stipend to help soothe the sting of economic recession. Typically reserved for paying housing and non-campus food, that money goes towards more important things. You know, having that new 1080p flat screen or putting butterfly doors on the old school Chevy. Ah, the struggles of making grown-up decisions. 

This doesn't apply to all student-athletes and unfortunately the minority is viewed as the majority. There are some student-athletes that uphold that moniker with pride and resolve. If their career as an athlete doesn't pan out, then they move on with their life and get a job. And if they do make it in the pros, humility is still there riding on their shoulders.

And not all student-athletes are even treated the same. Freshman football sensation gets an occasional free meal at the local go-to spot and high-fives on campus. Seasoned, award-winning gymanastics guy get no recognition and waits at the back of the club line like everyone else. Unfortunately that is founded in what sport makes money, usually basketball and football, while everyone else gets sloppy seconds, leeching off of the funds that the two revenue-producing sports bring in. Still, that doesn't mean gymnists and wrestlers don't get theirs.

Also, each university is different. Some athletic departments make so much money they don't even need handouts from the university. Those schools can afford to offer the athlete more and keep their eyes from wandering and their minds from wondering what misguided adventure awaits in the back of an alumni's limo. Life has never been fair and young adults will be young adults despite all the blessings that lie before them.

I'm sure a big school like Ohio State had more to offer and better trained complaince than Baylor. Yet, while one boils in the cauldron of the NCAA, the other goes about its business trying not to ensure the same fate. And a big school like Nebraska seems to be safe and self-assured about its kids while a Boise State is being grilled for having a sleepover. Only the student-athletes are the common denominator.

Still, the seedy scandals that are erupting across the collegiate athletic landscape will not cease until change at all levels is initiated. Coaches need to be more than just coaches, families need to be more than just green lights, and marketing/ad companies need to quit treating student-athletes like cattle.

Television deserves its own special blame on a side note. The 24-hour news cycle, combined with agents and companies pushing the microwave button to create a bowl of "instant star" isn't helping the situation. Their competitive greed just pushes everyone else to be greedier and it ruins the overall product. Just ask the now talent reduced pro leagues. Cough, cough football and basketball cough, cough.

The NCAA needs to be more than just the nerdy, upstanding teacher who breaks out the paddle to punish student-athletes when they go astray. It needs to educate them on why taking free stuff is wrong and how it does affect others adversely. And that topic is still up for debate.

They need be held accountable as adults. It is more often than naught that a student-athlete's mind is just as mature as his or her body. If the Rhodes scholar isn't getting any slack when he gets a DUI, and heralded as graceful upon returning to the arena of academia, then why should the student-athlete be lauded for doing something similar?

Student-athletes need to get their collective minds right. There is more to life than self-pleasure and cash. The path to understanding responsibility can be jagged, mundane and slow, all things athletes try to avoid. Yet, the journey can often be more rewarding than the destination. I think that has been forgotten by more than just student-athletes.

In the meantime, for those student-athletes who are still motivated to get through college despite all the accommodations afforded to them, there is sure-fire way to get some much needed dinero. It might be more challenging than practicing in 90 degree heat with a surly coach chewing you out, but its money all the same. But if your collegiate contemporaries can do it, then so can you.

Apply for a loan.