Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Just Don't It

During the 40 minutes or so it usually takes me to traverse the ten miles from work to my apartment (L.A. has bad traffic, who knew?), I have a fair amount of time to take in the city's roadside sights. Lately, I've been seeing ads for this new Reebok "Run Easy" campaign cropping up all over town, and I find I'm kind of fascinated by them.

Have you seen these things? The whole point of the campaign seems to be based around encouraging people not to work too hard, which is either a brilliant marketing ploy or the dumbest move ever for an athletic wear company. My favorite ad features a picture of an exhausted marathon runner collapsing by the side of the road, with the words "What Are You Doing?" plastered across it. Other gems include "Why are you hitting the wall? It hurts." and "Run + Puke +Run=Crazy"

It's clearly meant to be the antithesis of Nike's hard-charging "Just Do It" slogan, and I kind of get it. Most of us have no real aspiration to compete in a triathlon or scale Mt. Everest. If you're like me, you're proud of yourself if you manage to make it to the gym a couple of times a week and not fall off the treadmill. (Believe me, it happens). There is a certain irony to companies like Nike marketing their unattainable iron-man image to a nation of people sitting on the couch in their pajamas watching Joey Fatone cha-cha his little heart out.

But, seriously, what does it say when even our sports equipment requires only minimal effort from us?

In Boston--where I spent my halcyon student days--Marathon Monday is a city-wide holiday. Thousands of runners clog the streets, while even more drunken revelers toast the athletes as they sweat and pant their way towards the finish line. As one of those drunken revelers, it would never have occurred to me to go up to one of the runners and say "what are you thinking?"

I'm quite sure I thought it...but I would never say it.

It's a little troubling to me that even advertisers for athletic companies are deciding that it's in their best interest to appeal to our inherent laziness. Maybe I'm overthinking it, but in a culture where becoming the next Pussycat Doll is a viable career path and to win a million dollars you only have to prove that you're smarter than a fifth grader, do we really need to be instructed to lower our standards even further?

While it may not rank high on my list of life to do's, running a marathon is a huge undertaking and an even bigger accomplishment. Regardless of what the good people at Reebok seem to think, I believe that people who set goals and push themselves to excel should be congratulated, not mocked for their efforts.

Except for Joey Fatone, he totally deserves to be mocked.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

For What It's Worth

It's been one of those weeks.

When something like Virginia Tech happens, it's hard to really focus on anything else. It's one of those all-encompassing events--the kind of tragedy that forces us to forget the b.s. and come together in a spirit of national unity and shared grief.

That is, until the shock begins to wear off and it's time for recrimination and the parsing out of blame. Fault has to lie somewhere, right? Is it the university's, for failing to shut down the campus in time? The mental health system's for not locking the shooter away before he went completely nuts? The media's for rewarding psychotic killers with instant celebrity?

The one thing that plenty of people--including our president--are quick to point out is that it's certainly not the fault of our nation's gun laws. After all, guns don't kill people. People kill people. Some have even suggested that the tragedy could have been avoided if the school had been more lenient in allowing students and faculty to cart guns around campus for their protection. (I myself find the idea of arming thousands of college kids who spend half their lives inebriated less than reassuring. Although, it certainly would make pledge week more interesting.)

Even Democrats have backed off from calling for stricter gun laws because, apparently, you can't even run for president in this country until you've established your hunting prowess and posed for your obligatory photo op dressed as Elmer Fudd. Some political analysts speculate that Al Gore's tough stance on gun control was part of what cost him the 2000 election, and who wants to relive THAT national tragedy?

So, it's up to the rest of the world to hold us accountable for our sins. The day after the shooting, the Associated Press ran a story summarizing the international outcry against our open-gun policy:

"While some focused blame only on the gunman, world opinion over U.S. gun laws was almost unanimous: Access to weapons increases the probability of shootings. "

When a gunman killed 35 people in a Tasmanian tourist resort 11 years ago, the Australian government responded by changing the laws to prohibit automatic weapons and handguns. Last year the U.K.--a nation of about 50 million where handguns are banned--had 46 gun-related homicides. By comparison, New York--a city of about eight million--had 590. And that was in a good year.

Yes, we have a Bill of Rights in this country and it's a sacred document, but it's also a living document. If we suddenly discovered that--like the characters in "Harry Potter"--we all had the ability to kill each other with a word, I'd understand the need to revisit our concept of freedom of speech. When the founding fathers drafted the Second Amendment "Glock" wasn't exactly a term on their radar.

Maybe it's unrealistic to think we can magically make 200 million guns disappear from this country (we being only mere Muggles, after all). But we should at least be talking about how we're going to crack down on their availability.

After all, it's pretty difficult to imagine the shooter at Virginia Tech (or at Columbine or Nickel Mines, Pa.) wreaking the same amount of destruction with a tire iron. Maybe people do kill people, but guns certainly drive up the body count.