A Philosophical Look At Opposite-Sex Roommates

I never really expected to revisit the tragic death of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers student that committed suicide off the George Washington bridge after his dormmate videotaped Clementi in an amorous tryst with a fellow male student.  Indeed, I hoped that his death would serve as an awakening toward the importance of sex within the confines of the marital institution rather than a rallying point for the LGBQT community to twist this tragedy to advance its social awareness agenda. 

Beginning this August, Rutgers University will offer opposite-sex living arrangements to its freshman students.  Parents wary of this program may certainly be concerned; the parent cannot override the wishes of the student.  With the goal of creating an “inclusive community”, the ability to select opposite sex dormmates is being heralded as a breakthrough in gender-awareness at the university.  Purportedly, the response is overwhelmingly positive. 

Rutgers’ decision to facilitate co-ed living arrangements likely had its inception long before Clementi’s death.  And with the weight of public support and advocacy groups, it seems unlikely the university will reverse course anytime soon.  Like many social issues, homosexuality and its identity in society is still hotly contested.  Were it as simple as providing studies showing the effect of homosexuality within the college environment and its effect on society, an institution would either ratify or reject the proposal allowing close-quarters opposite-sex living arrangements.  Many political, social, and educational think tanks have conducted such studies – but the results are scattered across the social gambit.  Black is white and white is black.  Consider the entire debate in California regarding same-sex marriages and Proposition 8.  One side presented evidence on the virtues (or lack of detriment) of homosexual marriages, while the other attacked the findings of such “evidence.”  All else being equal, the judge merely considered the argument he judged “more right.”

In that respect, Rutgers has chosen the position it considers “more right.”  Its own studies linked with popular opinion legitimize its decision.

Whether we agree or disagree, a fundamental question underlies the entire debate: is there any one, right answer?   Or does humanity live in a world of gray where black and white are but theories in an otherwise pragmatic world? 

The tendency, I feel, is to ignore the fundamental question and instead look to the practical benefits and consequences.   Rutgers University examined a problem – homosexual exclusion – and fashioned a remedy designed to both fix the problem and serve as a beneficial template for others. 

Most of humanity reasons as such: what is right?  As much as we try to consider the consequences of any one action, we are often left with conflicting studies and opinions such that the end result is either throwing up ones hands in exasperation or recognizing that any true answer is elusive and therefore unknowable.  Likely humanity’s failing lies in its perception that we cannot fully know truth and so, with limited information, we make decisions as rational – and sometimes irrational – human beings.

Were it possible for Rutgers to see the full implications of its decision toward homosexual inclusion in housing, it’s quite possible that it would reject what it currently accepts.

Photographed Human, Photoshoped In-Human – Ralph Lauren’s Brand Marketing

With advent of Photoshop, Final Cut Pro and the bevy of computer programs designed to alter, enhance and correct photos and films, it’s no challenging feat to blur the line between reality and irreality.

Indeed, the discrepancies between the two make for an entangling dilemma.

Amazingly, Ralph Lauren took the picture of 21-year-old Filippa Hamilton (left) and gave her a serious digital makeover. First, they condensed her waist from a size eight to a size zero (I’m not familiar enough with womens’ sizes to know if there is a smaller size than that). Then, they virtually zapped all the muscle from her arms (they were at least careful enough to make sure no bone was showing). Finally, they airbrushed any blemish, blurred any wrinkle, and then attached its copyright to the photo (right).

When all was said and done, it was pushed through the marketing department, mass produced and intended to represent Ralph Lauren’s brand image.

When the company was called out on it, a spokesman quickly apologized for the “poor image and retouching.”

This advertising bespeaks a bigger issue though. Dr. Kimberly Dennis, M.D., medical director at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center summarizes it succinctly:

“The standards society as a whole projects to our young women are unfair, unrealistic, dangerous and even deadly. Advertisements like this most recent ad by Ralph Lauren are blatantly irresponsible and send damaging and deadly messages to girls and young women across the nation.”

She continues, “The continued importance and pressure society places on being thin, especially for women, can take a toll on someone already susceptible to life threatening illnesses, like eating disorders or depression, and can also trigger feelings in someone who has never struggled before. While we recognize a small number of magazines and fashion shows have already taken a positive step in addressing the ‘skinny model’ problem, we urge the fashion industry as a whole to re-evaluate the inhuman images they continue to promote.”

I commend the company for pulling the image, but I question how it was even deemed acceptable to begin with.

What Is True Beauty?

If a picture is a thousand words, what sort of story do the faces on Glamor, Vogue, and Redbook tell?

Those faces might be characters from a fantasy-land replete with idealistic images, wishful thinking, and thinly veiled smiles masking the lofty and unattainable goals of external beauty. And these periodicals with pretty pictures – tempting men, challenging women – can be had at any grocery store or magazine rack for the low price of a Starbucks latte – even cheaper with a yearlong subscription.

Tragically, not only has the marketing industry has tapped into some of the very things that makes us “tick,” it has exploited society and encouraged it to yearn toward these unreachable heights of beauty.

I temper this post with the understand that altering pictures is not inherently wrong. Amateurs and professionals alike adjust light, hue, and saturation to obtain the optimum image. Many even use blur tools to refine pictures to make them perfect.

Clearly, advertisers have a vested interest in promoting products with attractive-looking individuals; consumers respond positively to this.

The danger lies at the flash point – the instant where models-images cease promoting the brand and instead raise a Siren’s song to motivate individuals to reach an impossible beauty.

I’m not sure where this flash point is. I’m sure it varies from individual to individual. And I’m curious – where do you, reader, witness this flash point? When do billboard models cease advertising a brand and instead become a catalyst for young teenage women to sink to bulimia or anorexia? Should we even apportion blame to advertisers? Perhaps parents should serve as more stalwart gatekeepers. But does placing the culpability on parents release the social responsibility of advertisers?

Below, I’ve included a YouTube video of one billboard model. I’ll have more to comment Ralph Lauren’s most recent debacle later this week.

Feeding the White Elephant: Funding Embryonic Stem Cell Research

With the onset of the new president-elect Barack Obama accelerating toward the driver’s seat of democratically controlled Congress, conservatives cannot help but brace themselves for the sweeping reversal of many of Bush’s policies – particularly in regard to stem cell research. Parties on both sides of the aisle expect Obama to issue an executive order ending the government federal funding ban on embryonic stem cell (ESC) research.

With as much progress stem cell research has achieved, applying the brakes to this Bush policy will detrimentally alter forthcoming advancements. Moral issues aside, ESC research has been spinning in a rut since its inception. Fueling its “development” with federal funding will merely exacerbate the problem.

After nearly a decade, human ESC research is much like the wizard in Dorothy’s Oz: facially powerful, substantively empty. With the promise being a virtual panacea, consider the results: there have been zero treatments and zero clinical trials. Total cost: billions. The continuous mantra chanted by its advocates still sounds, “more time.” California committed $3 billion in tax-payer monies over 10 years with the goal of developing a single treatment. Connecticut and Maryland have invested millions as well. They still have virtually nothing to show.

Consider the alternative: adult stem cells have treated over 80 diseases with over 1,300 clinical trials. Advancements in cord blood banking, and induced pluripotent stem cells are leading the way in medical breakthroughs. Recently, European physicians completed the first successful transplant of a human windpipe using (you guessed it) adult stem cells. Plenty more could be said of treatments for leukemia, diabetes, sickle-cell anemia and heart disease.

The government should support what works; it makes common financial sense: invest in known, proven, un-problematic means to advance medicine for a guaranteed rate of return. But channeling that money into decade-long speculation without proven results serves to limit development in medical pioneering. It is essentially pork barrel spending.

ESC research is by no means limited as a “moral” issue. An executive order subsidizing this research merely feeds the white elephant.