Category Archives: popular culture

The Social Commentary in “The Bear and the Maiden Fair”

The Bear and the Maiden Fair by Skribbles

Check out more art by Skribbles at http://skribbles.deviantart.com/

The alternate title of this post would be: The Smallfolk don’t give a fuck.

Anyone who has read A Song of Ice and Fire knows that the characters mention singers and songs quite frequently. Especially Sansa–I’m actually beginning to not hate her. Now most songs/stories that Sansa mentions are from times long ago, the Age of Heroes. We get a lot of the more modern songs from Tom Sevenstrings and Marillion. And most of the modern songs don’t seem to name specific people; the two living characters that have songs about them are Tywin Lannister with “The Rains of Castamere” and Robb Stark with “Wolf in the Night.”

It’s funny then to hear all of the knights or lords talk about doing deeds worthy of songs, when there aren’t that many songs about current events that get popular. In fact, the most popular song in the world seems to be “The Bear and the Maiden Fair.” The only songs that mention specific people are all about kings or great battles of historic significance. “The Dance of Dragons” is about the Targaryen civil war; “The Night that Ended” tells the tale of the last great battle with the Others; “The Hammer and Anvil” describes Prince Baelor Breakspear and Prince Maekar’s battle tactics; and Renly gets his own song with “Lord Renly’s Ride.” None of these songs are about little lordlings that hold fords or battlements in small skirmishes, but the knights still think that somehow they’ll be immortal in song. Catelyn Stark even says: “We’re all just songs in the end. If we are lucky” (Storm of Swords, page 627).

Viserys lies to Dany when he tells her that the Smallfolk stitch dragon banners and await their return. The Smallfolk don’t care about the game of thrones; Jorah and Varys both say as much. And they really don’t. They care about songs like “Seasons of my Love” and “The Bear and the Maiden Fair.” The most popular songs are about things that the Smallfolk can relate to like outlaw gangs, barmaids and bawdy stories, love and bedding, ale and drinking chants, reaving (for the Ironborn), and religion. But Martin chooses “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” to make one of his points about society. It is one of the only songs that we get full lyrics to, and we hear several characters either sing it, mention it, or notice that it’s being sung at a feast. “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” is a silly tale of a bear that goes to a fair, licks the honey out of a maiden’s hair, and then carries her away. Now some people think that this song is really foreshadowing (and a lot of people seem to think that it points to a Sansa/Hound pairing… yuck), but I think it’s social commentary. The use of this tale cements the view that the Smallfolk really don’t care about the game of thrones as long as their own lives aren’t affected, and the actions of the high lords really aren’t that important in the grand scheme of life in this world. Otherwise, they’d be singing about their liege lords all the time, which they don’t–they just gossip. But when it’s time to sing, they sing of bears and girls with honey in their hair.

It could also just be a song about oral sex. *grins*

A full list of the songs can be found here: http://awoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/Category:Songs

edit: 8/30 Added in Catelyn Stark quote
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Talkin’ ’bout my Generation…

What’s my Generation again? While I was browsing Reddit with my morning cup of coffee, I stumbled upon a good article (a nice break from rage comics). And it got me wondering, what generation AM I?

Now, being born in 1986 should classify me as a Generation Y, but both of my siblings are Generation X. I grew up with their taste in music, their games, their movies, their interests. Y is supposed to be defined as Gamecube and Pokemon and Dragonball Z and MP3 players, but I had Super Nintendo, Rainbow Bright, and Disney record hand-me-downs. I agree with a lot of the points made in the linked article about marriage and parenting perspectives. Am I a very young GenX? But then, unlike GenX, I’m stuck with GenY in the horrible, near-impossible job market that the Baby Boomers have set us up with.  Okay, so let’s say that I’m a GenY with a strong GenX upbringing; I’m still screwed by the Baby Boomers, just like everyone else.

I feel like GenY has been harder to classify than other generations, mostly because I don’t think that my age group really can define itself with just one title. The Internet has made it so easy to reach out to and connect with people all over the world based on interests, rather than having friends based on who’s in your neighborhood. And I think that we’ve missed out on a lot of things because of that. We’re so able to focus on our own interests and find like minded people, that I fear that we’re missing opportunities to branch out and do things outside of our comfort zones. When you surround yourself with friends that are just like you, where’s the room to grow and learn about other people’s interests? Maybe that’s why there are so many names for the generation born in or after the 80s: Generation Y, Millenial Generation, Generation Next, Net Gen, Echo Boomers, Boomerang Generation, Peter Pan Generation. What ARE we?

The last two names reflect the crappy economy and the trend to move back in with the parents after doing everything “right” like we were told. We got good grades in high school, did all the after schools activities, got good grades in college, again did all the after school activities, graduated with practical degrees, and find that the world didn’t work the way we were told it would. What really irks me is when I see articles about my “Boomerang” generation, and how lazy/spoiled we must be to move back in with our parents. If the Baby Boomers hadn’t screwed up the entire economy, we wouldn’t have to move back in with our parents. If the Baby Boomers hadn’t spoiled themselves rotten, we wouldn’t live in a country where staying at home a little longer than expected was viewed as a failure.

Ok, you caught me. I am a firm believer that Baby Boomers have screwed all of us over. Big time. The environment (global warming, the giant trash island in the Pacific), their fault. The economy, their fault. US involvement in the Middle East, their fault. The War on Drugs (which is harming us, but hurting Mexico far, far worse), their fault.

It’s left to our Generations–X, Y, and Z–to clean up the mess that our parents made. We will be the ones to struggle to close the yawning wealth gap. We will struggle to make the tough shift to renewable energy. We will live more like war-times, depending on family and close friends to share burdens. And we will get our acts together.  … So that the prosperous generation to follow ours can screw it all up all over again.

Pills vs People

A person in my life has been suffering from depression lately, and it’s so hard to watch. I’ve never really been on the other side of this as much as I’ve been lately. I mean, I recognize that my mother was depressed a lot as I was growing up, but I think she did a pretty good job of hiding it from her kids. I’m usually the one lying unresponsive on the couch, watching life through the TV because I just don’t have the energy to get up and do anything. It’s very strange to be observing this behavior instead of engaging in it, and it’s clarified and strengthened my views on depression, pills, our society, and marijuana.

My friend’s (lets call him Darien) doctors have been prescribing him all sorts of pills. At one point, he was up to 9 a day and taking well over the recommended dosage for most of them. Pills to help him sleep, pills to help him wake up, pills for anxiety, pills to make him sick if he drank, pain pills, etc. Pills. Pills. Pills. Darien was supposed to go to AA to handle some drinking issues associated with all this mess, and his shrink usually couldn’t see him regularly at all. Now I’ve never personally gone to AA, but from the stories I’ve been told, I never will. Cause some of these people have PROBLEMS. Like trading their children for alcohol type of problems. Which is a lot different than just people who tend to drink a lot when they’re unhappy and can’t seem to control it. AA is not group therapy. I would probably come out of it feeling more depressed and needing a drink. Now I’m sorry if this feels like I’m trashing AA; I understand that the program has changed countless lives and really does help people. I’m just saying that it’s not for everyone and it’s not for every drinking/substance abuse problem. And it wasn’t helping Darien. So he was basically sitting alone in his house all day except for a few random doctor’s visits and meetings, popping pills and hoping that it would all get better.

Well here’s a huge shocker: it didn’t. That’s because while pills can be helpful tools sometimes in some cases, they are not a solution to everything, and I wish that our society would realize that fact. In most behaviorial medicine, we don’t even know the full extent of what the meds do! Listen really carefully to that next SSRI commercial on TV; you’ll notice the phrase “<insert medicine here> is believed to <insert pretty picture of synaptic gaps, serotonin, etc>.” My medicine is believed to do something? Like if I believe it will work, it will? I know what they’re really saying: we’ve tested this product out on people like you and we’ve observed these consistent changes. That’s awesome, I’m glad that you’ve recognized some of what these chemicals do to my body. What else are you doing to me that you don’t know about? One of Darien’s medications actually caused him to have more anxiety, and it was such a rare side effect that his doctors at the time didn’t link it to the prescription; they simply tried to treat it with more pills. We’re treating pills with more pills. Seriously?! He got a new doctor, who took him off of about half of what he was taking, and he’s feeling better. Still depressed, but better.

So here’s a little medicine that I’ve witnessed firsthand with Darien. Its side effects are happiness, sleepiness, slight paranoia, and hunger. Oh yeah, you know where I’m going with this. Marijuana. Now he’s only smoked thrice since I’ve known him and all three times have been when he feels like his medicine has failed him and he has to calm his shit down. And you know what? It works. He feels calm immediately afterwards, and he is more productive and motivated the next day. None of his prescription medications do that. Unfortunately, after telling his doctors and the program he was attending that his medicine wasn’t working and not getting any serious response from them, he smoked. He felt better. He was helping himself where they were failing him. And they kicked him out of his program. That’s messed up. I mean, I can see things from their perspective too. It was a substance abuse program, and the participants are supposed to stay clean. But it’s not like he’s a regular user or even abuser of pot, and he kept pestering them about how bad he still felt and they did nothing.

Ok, so even though I think that marijuana is far better than pills for anxiety and depression, I think there’s an even better cure: people. One of the worst things about depression is feeling alone. Darien is alone in the house all day, every day, watching TV. Days begin to blend together, all motivation is lost, and time begins to mean absolutely nothing because it just keeps dragging on. Circumstances like that would drive a completely stable person a little crazy, so what effect do you think it has on a person who’s already a little off his rocker? We are mainly social creatures that need to interact with other people. Even introverts need company sometimes. I fully believe that companions or life coaches are one of the best ways to combat depression. In my mind, they’d be sort of like the companions that old people have sometimes. You know, they help them take their meds, buy groceries, get to doctor’s appointments, etc. But depression companions would help the depressed person work towards their goals and keep them motivated. When Darien’s sister was in town, he was the most active I’d seen him in months. He was sleeping on a more regular schedule, getting up and staying up most of the day, and helping around the house. It’s because he had to entertain his sister and do things with her. A companion would serve the same function. They’d make sure that a good combination of diet, exercise, and activity worked to help the person get their life back on track. I realize that this is probably impossible for most people because it would cost a lot more than even prescription meds (which are already ridiculously expensive), but I still think that it would work the best. Ultimately, it’s going to come down to him wanting to get better and finding the motivation to help himself.

I just really wish that our society viewed depression differently. Doctors overdiagnose people with it all the time and throw pills at them that they don’t need. What people need is to not feel alone with all of their problems in this chaotic and unstable world that we’re in. This is one of the downfalls of being a competitive, dog-eat-dog, capitalist society.

The Fake Feminist

Feminism has been brought to my attention a lot lately, probably because I’ve been reading the “TwoXChromosomes” subreddit a lot. And one thing that weighs heavy on my mind is the “fake feminist.” Now this is a girl that gives all feminists one bad reputation. Let me paint you a picture of this ignorant chick.

First off, she obviously calls herself a feminist. But anyone who knows anything about feminism and men’s rights should be able to see through this lie right away. She only believes in policies that bring down men instead of lifting up women to a level of equality with men. She believes that she should get a job over a man with better credentials because she’s a woman. Anything that isn’t fair in the workplace she blames on the fact that she is a woman, not the fact that she’s completely incompetent. Being a woman is her trump card to everything. She’s in a bitchy mood, but she’s allowed to be ’cause she’s a woman on her period. She tries to dress in power suits and hide the fact that she’s a woman because she claims that she’ll be treated differently if she flaunts the curves God gave her. She claims to not need any help from men because she’s strong and independent and can do it herself, but she gets offended when a man doesn’t hold a door open for her. She uses inconsistent language. She’ll bitch and moan whenever someone uses the word “bitch” because it’s degrading to women, yet she’ll have the audacity to say something like “That exam totally just raped me” and think nothing of it. She calls herself a feminist because she wants to be strong and equal, but she doesn’t know how and would rather drag men down to her level than nut up and play with the big boys. She is usually a spoiled brat.

To all the Fake Feminists out there: You disgust me. I consider myself a feminist, and your actions make me and those like me look like bitches. You’re the reason we have a bad rap of man hating and whining.

Here’s how I believe a true feminist should behave. She’s confident in her looks and knows that dressing in pretty colors, skirts, lace, and frills isn’t making her any less serious. In fact, it doesn’t matter what she wears because she’ll get the job done either way. She’s strong and confident– the kind of woman who can strut her stuff in 6 inch heels or flats or sneakers. She holds herself accountable for her actions and rises to the challenge of keeping up in a fast-paced business world. She juggles a career and a family, sometimes with grace, sometimes with a lot of coffee. Or she focuses on a career. Or she focuses on a family. Doesn’t matter because it’s her choice.  She respects everyone despite their gender, holds doors open for everyone behind her, helps elderly citizens across the street, and saves kittens from trees. … Okay maybe I went a little overboard. But the point here is that she treats everyone as an equal and her attitude towards life demands that she be treated as an equal as well. She is a mature adult who understands that the world isn’t fair and that to blame it on being a woman only adds to the problem and doesn’t solve anything.

Feminism is not about holding men down so that we can rise up. It’s about being completely equal and holding our own. It’s about the choice to be able to do what we want with our lives, our careers, and our bodies. The fake feminists try to take away men’s rights just because they can’t figure out how to live in what they call a “man’s world.” Fake feminists, put on your big girl panties and learn to deal with it because life is not going to slow down for your spoiled asses.

I believe that beside every good feminist is a good partner, supporting her when she needs it and whom she can support when s/he needs it.

Winter is Coming

For those of you that didn’t tune into HBO last night or watch it online later, as soon as you get home from work today watch Game of Thrones. Trust me.

Game of Thrones is the first book of an epic fantasy series called The Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin, and it’s one of my personal favorites. Now you might be aware of my constant disappointment in adaptations of my favorite books, but I think you’ll be surprised to know that I loved the first episode that aired at 9 PM last night. It covered roughly the first 85 pages of the first novel, and although I was surprised by how far it got, I believe it did a good job of keeping all the crucial introductory material. We were introduced to the Night’s Watch, a band of fierce rangers that guard the Wall and patrol the wild lands on the North; the House of Stark, the main good guys throughout the series; King Robert Baratheon, a drunkard king with a good temper and a slightly sick sense of humor; the Lannisters, Queen Cersei Lannister, her devilishly handsome twin brother Jaime, and their dwarf brother Tyrion who is better known as “The Imp;” and the surviving  Targaryen siblings.  Even though we meet a huge group of people in the first episode, we’re still confined to Winterfell, the castle home of the Starks far to the North where they aid the Night’s Watch in keeping the wilds of the North away from the prosperous South. Once the show moves to the capital at King’s Landing, we’ll get to meet a far more colorful bunch.

The first episode did a fantastic job of setting up the main conflicts, introducing us to the world and the main characters, and setting the gory mood for the rest of the series. Now it’s HBO so one has to expect a certain amount of blood and boobs, and Game of Thrones does not disappoint. There are 3 beheadings, 1 scene of gore, 2 creepy White Walkers with ice cold eyes, at least 8 pairs of bare breasts, a few butts, and 4ish sets of people having sex (if you watch it, you’ll understand the “ish”). You don’t have to guess which characters are the good guys and which will make your skin crawl, although you may be surprised by one man later. (I’m trying so hard not to give spoilers here but still stir up some anticipation, guys. I think my boyfriend hated watching it with me because I kept having long sighs or hiding my face before scenes, giving away spoilers through body language.)

The one part that surprised me was the time allotment between stories. You see, there are two continents, and the Stark/Lannister storyline takes place on one while the Targaryen storyline takes place on the other. When reading the books, the story stays on the main continent the majority of the time, probably since there are more characters involved in that plotline. The story shifts to Daenerys and her vile brother every few chapters for glimpses of their life. From what I remember (it’s been a few years since I’ve read the books), it always annoyed me when we shifted over to Daenerys just because the other plotline is so good and her brother creeps and annoys the crap out of me. I expected maybe one scene with them per episode, but they were given a fair amount of time. This is not necessarily a bad thing, just something that I didn’t expect.

While all the actors did a fantastic job portraying their characters, my favorite part of the adaptation so far might just be the scenery. The characters have already come to life for me through the books, so watching the storyline doesn’t bring that much surprise. But I usually skip details about scenery when reading. I mean yes, they describe the Wall as very large and covered in ice, but it’s hard for me to really imagine and grasp images about settings. I just thought of the Wall as a big, frosty Great Wall of China when reading. But ooooooh, that long shot of the 3 Night’s Watchmen coming out of the Wall and riding into the North was absolutely stunning, breathtaking, and overall epic. All of the scenes were beautifully done, paying attention to the smallest of details. I loved it.

In short, if you can manage it, watch the first episode of Game of Thrones as soon as possible. You’ll be hooked, I promise.

In defense of pulp fiction

So lately, it’s come to my attention that there are some serious literature snobs that walk among us. Now I still have all of my English textbooks and reading material from college, but that doesn’t mean that I read Edmund Spenser’s “Faerie Queene” for poops and giggles. I’ll get out my hardcore reading materials sometimes when the mood strikes or when I need to look up a reference, but in general, I read “pulp fiction.” Now I thought I was snobby for still having my lit books, but no, there are people who refuse to read anything but “classics” and nonfiction because pulp fiction books are “beneath” them. I so do not get this attitude.

I’ll keep my argument for pulp fiction short and sweet. Just because most things that a published now aren’t “high brow” doesn’t mean that they aren’t worth reading. They still have similar themes as classics, and they often make allusions to classics. The difference is, they’re more accessible to the general public. And when you’re a writer, you have to ask yourself, is making my message a literary piece of genius and art more important than making that message readable and enjoyable for a larger audience? Honestly, I always veer towards the latter because the purpose of my own writing is to change someone’s life like books changed mine. Even just one person is fine with me. I’m sure the James Joyce is very proud of his “Ulysses,” but most people put it on their shelves to look smart and actually haven’t read it. Hell, I have it on my shelf from my Irish literature class, and I’ll admit right off that it confused the hell out of me and the message wasn’t worth all the digging that it took to get to it, so I switched to SparkNotes a few chapters in. And an entire chapter without punctuation? Oh my god, shoot me now. It was cute for a few pages but after a while I just felt like my brain was melting.

Pulp fiction doesn’t always dumb down messages, it just doesn’t beat you over the head with them like I feel that hardcore literature does. And pulp fiction can open someone’s interest for “higher reading.” I can’t believe that I’m about to defend the Twilight Saga, but I have to admit that it’s done some good for reading in a younger generation. Some of the classics have been redone with Twilight-esque covers and little seals that say “Bella’s Favorite Book” (Wuthering Heights) or “Edward and Bella’s Favorite!” (Romeo and Juliet). Now when I was working at a bookstore, these editions were actually quite a pain in the ass (I hate having identical titles shelved in different sections of the store based on covers or editions; it makes everything so much more complicated). But I can appreciate the fact that maybe Twilight has done something good in terms of getting younger girls to read more classics. 

The point is that pulp fiction has an impact on popular culture which makes it relevant to read. Yes, we should not forget the classics, but unless you’re a lit scholar or professor, reading only the classics greatly hinders your common knowledge. I believe that a healthy dose of both is necessary for a well-rounded individual. Which means that I really have to beef up my nonfiction/classics reading because I generally just read the pulp fiction. I read the newspaper on the Metro ever morning and listen to CNN while I cook dinner; when I sit down to read for myself, I try to escape this world and live in one more fantastic for just a little while. Everyone needs an escape from reality sometimes. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

A Stronger Service

I’ve been feeling pretty doom and gloom lately about the state of affairs in the US and the world. I’m just having trouble believing that we can turn these horrible situations around, and I don’t feel like anything good that I do will make a difference. Mostly because I feel like the solutions are too big for anyone to agree on. I mean Congress can’t even decide on a budget; how are they ever going to decide what policies will actually help us get out of the rut that we’re in?

I have a few ideas.

Service: We boast one of the strongest militaries in the world. I think that America should be known for a different kind of service–a stronger service. I think that programs like City Year should be mandatory across the country for graduating seniors from high school. If every student that graduated high school did a year of volunteer service, think of all the good that would be done for the country. Parks would be clean, affordable housing would be built, schools would be better taken care of and better staffed, afterschool programs would flourish, etc. And those are just the starting ripples in a larger pond. For instance, if one of the choices of service was to help run a variety of afterschool programs, kids would have more chances to find their passions and less chance to get involved in mischievous behavior on the streets. I’m all for nation-building, but I wish that we would focus on rebuilding our own crumbling nation rather than focusing on sovereign nations whose resources we covet. And maybe after we’ve fixed our own nation, we can send peaceful nation-building programs overseas to extend the activities of the Peace Corps. Instead of teaching other nations how to run a military or police force, let’s teach them more about sustainability practices, building wells, farming, building schools, etc. Maybe the world wouldn’t hate us so much if we stopped being the big, bad bully and started being the no-nonsense humanitarians. Let’s redefine “service to our country,” and maybe it’ll start fixing our problems.

The problem with this idea is that there’s absolutely no funding for it. Teach for America is turning down a record number of applicants because it simply doesn’t have the funding for all the people who want to be in the program. Same problem with City Year. Until it’s a nationally recognized ideal that’s given priority in the budget, it will never happen. Until then we just have to make-do with the limited public service organizations we have and the various smaller religious service organizations.

Sustainability: There should be at least one class taught in every high school across the country about sustainability practices. Classes like home economics have been cut from the majority of schools because it’s not seen as a core part of the curriculum. But in my opinion, traditional Home Ec classes weren’t enough. We need to teach people about buying fish only from sustainable environments, how to raise a chicken per household, how to make the most of a square foot of gardening space, how to use eco-friendly living practices like recycling, etc. In my opinion, there should be one class all four years of high school about this. If people knew how to take care of themselves and didn’t rely so much on a crumbling economy and unreliable resources, maybe we wouldn’t be suffering from soaring food prices. Maybe we’d develop a stronger sense of community if apartment buildings in urban areas all had common-space gardens on the roofs. Maybe it would encourage a more collectivist society where we care about our neighbors and watch each other’s backs instead of the dog-eat-dog capitalist world we’ve created for ourselves. So many studies and media reports say that Americans are miserable. Well no shit. We’re stressed, we eat like crap, most of us can’t afford decent healthcare, and we all have this inbreed sense that we’ve got to be able to take care of ourselves because no one else will. The lucky people belong to communities where they do have good support systems, but I’d wager that these people are in the minority.

Anyway, these are just my thoughts for turning our seemingly hopeless situation around. If you have any other positive ideas that make our situation seem less hopeless, please share them. I could use a little optimism. *steps off of soapbox*