The College Math Requirement: Another Critique of Higher Ed (and a bit of public ed)

Since when could we use a calculator, anyway?

Since when could we use a calculator, anyway?

I thought today I may return to my critique of higher education, prompted by a great email conversation I had with a friend and fellow blogger. While chatting about various issues of feminism, I happened to inadvertently stumble onto a topic we happily disagreed on: the math requirement for undergraduate freshman in college.

Yikes! Stick with me! I know I said the “math” word, but bear with me and try not to focus too hard on taking notes. This will NOT be on the test.

What happened in our conversation is that I brought up how much I disagree with what I believe is the archaic and elitism-steeped, algebra-enforced gateway to a college degree. Specifically, I criticized that my university required students of accounting to complete math courses up to pre-calculus- a requirement that I think is overt, unnecessary, and undermining to students. My friend disagreed and said she would prefer hiring an accountant that had demonstrated the ability to think on a level that could defeat a pre-calculus class.

I couldn’t agree more with her. About the necessary ability to think, that is. What is disagree with is that math classes, especially high level abstract math, measures anything more than a student’s amount of free time (no family or job!), income, ability to take tests, and short term memory.

In short, I think the current math requirement (from algebra to calculus) is invalid; it just doesn’t measure what we think it does about students. I think that it instead measures something quite expected about universities: elitism.

Wake up! The next parts will be on the exam!

Ok, I lied. Now, what was that about elitism and invalidity? Here’s some food for thought:

In both these New York Times articles: Why Americans Stink at Math and Is Algebra Necessary?, both an emeritus political science professor of New York University and Elizabeth Green, the chief executive of a journalism site for public educational change called Chalkbeat, weigh in on the nature of the math requirement as well as the way America teaches math itself. It probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise that the U.S. currently sucks at teaching math to students. I mean, how did you do in your public school math lessons? Chances are, you were about on par with me: not great. But we excelled in other subjects, right? Yep, there’s the issue.

First off, the U.S. teaches math in a way that doesn’t click with American students. While there are great examples of how successful math can and is taught elsewhere, such as Japan, the U.S. continues to burden its students with an ineffective system of empty, inapplicable memorization and silent note taking. U.S. public schools seem to be more concerned with how learning should appear, rather than how learning is best accomplished. In Japan for example, maths tend to be group focused; where students can bounce ideas off each other and build an internal, personal understanding of why concepts work (why is that the right answer?) and why some do not. Of course, this environment may not look American enough to fulfil U.S. educational ideals. I mean, children should still be seen and not heard, right? Groups? Bah!

So then, with an ineffective system of teaching math in public school, the vast majority of students begin a college career without the ability to do math as expected in yet another ritualistic, sit-and-shut-up, note-taking fashion.

And, just in case you may believe that the inability to do school-style math is just a tendency for lazy, self-interested, independence-loving Americans, check this out:

The unschooled may have been more capable of complex math than people who were specifically taught it, but in the context of school, they were stymied by math they already knew. Studies of children in Brazil, who helped support their families by roaming the streets selling roasted peanuts and coconuts, showed that the children routinely solved complex problems in their heads to calculate a bill or make change. When cognitive scientists presented the children with the very same problem, however, this time with pen and paper, they stumbled. A 12-year-old boy who accurately computed the price of four coconuts at 35 cruzeiros each was later given the problem on paper. Incorrectly using the multiplication method he was taught in school, he came up with the wrong answer. (From Why Do Americans Stink at Math)

So, when faced with an American, public education-style math method, this perfectly competent, unschooled boy failed. This is what I mean by invalid- the math requirement is likely not measuring a real ability to reason or think. This may be an epistemological kind of problem.

In Is Algebra Necessary?, it is suggested that the math requirement fulfils more of the elitist needs of a university than to serve to educate the public, which is becoming more and more necessary for a decent living and continued upward mobility in the U.S. While no one is saying that math should be given up altogether (not even me!), the requirement has served to be a detriment more often than it may be proving a set of skills or academic readiness. Take this for example:

Algebra is an onerous stumbling block for all kinds of students: disadvantaged and affluent, black and white. In New Mexico, 43 percent of white students fell below “proficient,” along with 39 percent in Tennessee. Even well-endowed schools have otherwise talented students who are impeded by algebra, to say nothing of calculus and trigonometry.

California’s two university systems, for instance, consider applications only from students who have taken three years of mathematics and in that way exclude many applicants who might excel in fields like art or history. Community college students face an equally prohibitive mathematics wall. A study of two-year schools found that fewer than a quarter of their entrants passed the algebra classes they were required to take.

“There are students taking these courses three, four, five times,” says Barbara Bonham of Appalachian State University. While some ultimately pass, she adds, “many drop out.” (From Is Algebra Necessary?)

So, while the “onerous” math requirement is busy weeding out everyone- including minorities and other marginalized populations- from gaining a foothold on the


…really? Why didn’t they tell us this years ago?!

fleeting American Dream, the associated cost is staggering. Consider that in order to take these required math courses, many students must take pre-requisite after pre-requisite, sometimes 2-5 extra classes, all at full cost (including the time invested) with textbooks. Not only can this add an extra year or more to a student’s college career and student loan expenses, but it is well known statistically that the longer a student spends in college, the less likely that they will ever finish their degree- and this goes double for non-traditional students with jobs and families (estimated to make up at least half or more of the current student population today).

By now you are probably thinking, “Yeah but, at least STEM careers need to have that heavy math requirement! I mean, who will build our rockets, bridges, and cell phone components?” Well…

Nor is it clear that the math we learn in the classroom has any relation to the quantitative reasoning we need on the job. John P. Smith III, an educational psychologist at Michigan State University who has studied math education, has found that “mathematical reasoning in workplaces differs markedly from the algorithms taught in school.” Even in jobs that rely on so-called STEM credentials — science, technology, engineering, math — considerable training occurs after hiring, including the kinds of computations that will be required. Toyota, for example, recently chose to locate a plant in a remote Mississippi county, even though its schools are far from stellar. It works with a nearby community college, which has tailored classes in “machine tool mathematics.” (From Is Algebra Necessary?)

…so yeah, I’m not sure that argument holds water even for the great, lofty STEM degrees. What about those STEM careers, anyway?

A skeptic might argue that, even if our current mathematics education discourages large numbers of students, math itself isn’t to blame. Isn’t this discipline a critical part of education, providing quantitative tools and honing conceptual abilities that are indispensable — especially in our high tech age? In fact, we hear it argued that we have a shortage of graduates with STEM credentials.

Of course, people should learn basic numerical skills: decimals, ratios and estimating, sharpened by a good grounding in arithmetic. But a definitive analysis by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce forecasts that in the decade ahead a mere 5 percent of entry-level workers will need to be proficient in algebra or above. And if there is a shortage of STEM graduates, an equally crucial issue is how many available positions there are for men and women with these skills. A January 2012 analysis from the Georgetown center found 7.5 percent unemployment for engineering graduates and 8.2 percent among computer scientists. (From Is Algebra Necessary?)

So there’s that bit of sha-bang. Ok, ok. So, if I’m not arguing to simply wipe the math requirement or public math off of the American educational map, what can be done to make this all more realistic, equitable, and open?

Very recently, NPR released this article about a new way of teaching math in college: Who Needs Algebra? New Approach To College Math Helps More Pass, focusing on math that is less abstract and more applicable to students. And, its working.

…the Quantway course is organized around concepts important for immediately useful topics: personal finance, health and civics.

This may sound like the old debate over replacing “pure math” with “applied math” or “business math.” But Karon Klipple, who directs the Pathways project, says what’s even more important to this new approach is changing how teachers teach, and how students think about math — and even how they feel about it.

Pathways tells instructors to emphasize “productive persistence” — using good study strategies, and trying hard. They talk explicitly with students about calming math anxiety. They try things like putting students into study groups whose members are responsible for following up if one of them skips class. (From Who Needs Algebra?)

While probably not perfectly ideal, this new perspective on math to students is refreshing and appears to be opening doors to allow more students to achieve their degree, which again, is becoming the new necessity over the previously golden high school diploma. Personally, I still believe the culture of teaching math needs to be seriously rethought; too much responsibility for failure is placed on individual students, as if they all suffer from math anxiety when they fail. I have a feeling that the unschooled Brazilian boy who failed at the very same math he does every day didn’t know what math anxiety was, much less suffered from it.

While there are gaps and surely more needs to be done to address this, the math requirement remains a cruel, unnecessary gateway that forces students to rethink their education, time, money, and sanity. Even worse, it is likely a systemic, society-wide issue that has been foisted onto students as their personal failure. Even this blogger had to change her college degree choice due to the mountain of pre-requisites to attain a specific math credit- and it wasn’t even a STEM degree. All that, and I am fully proficient (even intuitively) at algebra when I sew and knit. Measuring the ability to think and reason? Probably not. Measuring the control over universities as gatekeepers to their precious degrees and further, their guarded careers? Yep, probably.

A Change of Focus: Life and its Necessary Chaos

So, I feel like it has been one hundred-thousand years since I’ve blogged or written. It certainly has been awhile, exaggeration notwithstanding. As may be expected, plenty has gone on over my absence interval, including a grad school/university administrative hiccup that resulted in a devastating last minute loss of an opportunity, but rather than focusing on this nonsense, I wanted to discuss a far more important change.

My husband and I finally decided to get pregnant.

Are you sure this is such a good idea?!

Are you sure this is such a good idea?!

Currently, I am 33 weeks, and for all of you that view the whole “weeks” thing in pregnancy time as a mystery (as I did!), that’s 33 weeks out of 40. I am eight months along with about 6-7 more weeks until my expected due date in early November.

This decision was a very difficult one, when viewed in terms of how long it took for us to be comfortable with the idea. With a deep sociological background (both of us), parenting looked to us like a losing proposition. Certainly an exercise in futility…and perhaps even masochistic. Parenting to us, thanks to mainstream media, disconcerting sociological literature and such, seemed to be dangerous, thankless, and even arrogant (who am I to raise a human being?).

So, what brought about the change in perception…or perhaps, expectation?

For me, a strong factor was the utter and final disappointment in higher education. And no, I don’t mean that I simply decided that a child would be a welcome distraction or amusement while university failed me. I decided that I wanted to invest in life. Essentially, I was sick of playing ideological, empty-identity games in graduate study and decided that spending a term investigating a bit of real life was called for. Higher education has a way of appearing to be much more important and satisfying than it actually is, and I no longer felt that I was willing to engage in, or was emotionally/psychologically interested, in the great illusion.

Some of you may be asking by now, “well, isn’t parenthood full of the same illusions, expectations, and let downs?”

Sure, I agree. Parenting seems to be abounding with the very same frustrations as graduate study. Certainly to my husband and I, parenting appeared to be a lose-lose situation. And, to top it off, and expensive one that leaves you with a self-absorbed ingrate. Plus, parenthood may just destroy your perfectly good marriage.

But here is where my experience in higher education finally pays off in the real world.

As it turns out, there are parents everywhere who are equally uncomfortable with the me-centered societal norms of raising children, and who actively practice methods to resist these influences. Yes indeed, just like a sociological grad student or researcher, these parents subscribe to frameworks that can shape their behavior and parenting style. I’m not just talking about the authoritarian, authoritative, permissive, and neglectful parenting styles of psychological study. I mean specific frameworks that, like theoretical and methodological frameworks, shape your interaction with your subject. If you’ve ever heard of Free Range Parenting, you understand what I am talking about.

...what we (especially me) are trying to avoid as a parent.

…what we (especially me) are trying to avoid as a parent.

My husband and I are very interested in a parenting style called RIE Parenting. Prior to the birth of our child, we are reviewing the various foundational books on the subject and discussing how we feel about the elements of this framework. For my husband, he feels strongly about the essentials of the style, which focuses on a basic and sustained respect for babies as competent, self-engaged and self-teaching individuals. RIE parenting encourages gentle, careful observation to learn baby’s cues and self-control to allow baby to express themselves and develop self-reliance. As much as I feel like this is a powerful and effective parenting style, it runs a bit counter to my own experience with parenting as a child. Due to this, I am working hard to challenge my own presumptions about parenting and gain new perspectives on how to raise children in a way that I feel is responsible and ethical. Plus, unlike my husband, I tend to be a structure-focused, somewhat tunnel-visioned person, which worries me if my child prefers to be independent, self-motivated, and easy-going. I don’t want to inadvertently smother or undervalue their natural personality.

It’s not easy though, to challenge yourself to such different ways of thinking. Especially when it involves your own child.

With about 6 weeks to go, I am looking forward to applying the RIE parenting study I have been committing to. I’ll have to bring you along on this little journey of ours so see how this framework affects our new family! Will it work? Be a total disaster? Completely ineffective for my child and their needs? What if a change in parenting will be necessary after we begin? What a cliffhanger! Either way, I invite you to stay tuned. This will undoubtedly get interesting.

When is a life finally “together”?

Recently, I was wondering what it means to get your life “together”. I’m sure you hear it too; especially when you see commercials concerning young people and for-profit education. I heard a young mother, who was probably in her very early 20s, say about a national medical assisting school: “I was so excited when I made the call [to the school to enroll]. I felt like I was getting my life together”.

So, what does it mean to get your life “together”? Better yet, how do you know when you’re there? When you’re “together”?

If we leave it up to for-profit schools, a person is only “together” if they are engaged in overpriced, questionably-accredited education. Apparently, being a parent or a loved one, earning an income (regardless of where you earn), and generally being alive and healthy doesn’t quite cut it in the “together” department.

This, I think, raises a precarious but important question: if we rely on the media or other institutions (like higher ed, for example) to let us know when we’re “together”, wouldn’t it be quite in their interest if we never made it to that point?


So then, this has been a reminder to rebuke, reject, and downright deny any other entity instructing you of when you are “together”. Leave that to the experts: ourselves. Maybe, this is as good as it gets. And maybe, that’s just fine.

Disneyland: Where Commercial Dreams Come True

A magical land of sales, branding, and products peddled by the apathetic, underpaid, and costumed

A magical land of sales, branding, and products peddled by the apathetic, underpaid, and costumed

My husband and recently headed down to Palm Springs, CA. For him, it was yet another business trip. For me, I was looking forward to the short drive to Disneyland which we had planned to do after his business responsibilities were finished.

Yes, that’s right. I wanted to go Disneyland. Now, you may wonder what a 30-something year old with only her husband and no children in tow (or that existed, for that matter) wanted to do at Disneyland. Well, the reason is sentimental. The first time I ever heard the most genuine, child-like laughter was at Disneyland, and I just wanted to hear it once more.

It was years ago, when Al and I visited Disneyland together, under the pretense that neither of us had been here when we could control the experience we had. You know what I mean; the crazy family Disney trips where “fun” was so diffused among all the people involved that no one was really satisfied. Well, we were there to reclaim what we were sure existed there at the park, without the cranky, tired adults.

After a rather tumultuous day that really was too long (you may think all day at the fun park is awesome as a child, it’s just downright exhausting as an adult) and generally uncomfortable (crowds don’t bother you as much as a child either, apparently), we stood in line for the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. In case you are unaware, the ride is somewhat roller coaster-like but without any loop-de-loops that cause spontaneous loss of both equilibrium and lunch. We boarded the ride rather quickly, since it was the tail-end of the day, and the train began to hustle and jostle down the tracks. I was having fun, in a general sort of way, when I heard this wonderful, pure, child-like laughter ringing away beside me. My husband Al was utterly enjoying the experience in a way I couldn’t seem to myself. His joy was unabashed for those few minutes on the zooming train, and I was so taken by the sound of it that I forgot to pay attention to rest of the ride.

Since that day years ago, I knew I wanted to return to Disneyland and experience that unbridled joy with Al again. You see, I’m a serious sort of person. I actually have trouble experiencing fun because I am analytic and critical; a consequence of both my upbringing and my educational background which interferes with my ability to just enjoy something for enjoyment’s sake. Al, on the other hand, can and does. My intention to return to Disneyland was to hear the sound of his sweet, shameless laughter again.

Unfortunately, Disney had decided to change in the meantime. In a BIG way. Well, perhaps it had changed slowly and perhaps others didn’t notice like I did, but to us, it was a massive, uneasy change.

The park was practically busting at the seams with vendors, merchants, and stores. There was so much commercialization that Al and I had trouble navigating around the park, even though it was a Wednesday afternoon, school was in, and no holidays were in sight. Every street, thoroughfare, and pathway around the park was teeming with sales. It was so outlandish that Al and I had to take shelter in the “Tomorrowland” pizza restaurant to collect ourselves, modeled after the film Toy Story’s “Pizza Planet”.

As we munched on our slices of pizza, whose quality best matched the “Totino’s” variety but literally cost us nearly $30.00, we discussed how we couldn’t believe how saturated the park was with stores. Neither of us could remember it being so crowded with vendors and sales opportunities when we were there just a few years before. In fact, Al reminded me that it actually took us searching around for a store to purchase a souvenir the last time we visited the park.

This problem of the past had apparently been solved, ten times over.

By the time we left the pizza joint, we were both struggling to hang on to the reasons we had come to Disneyland in the first place. Over the past few years,

A theatrical show featuring the "Princesses", our ready and willing role models for little girls, and in some cases, adults.

A theatrical show featuring the “Princesses”, our ready and willing role models for little girls, and in some cases, adults. (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Disney had become an immense conglomerate of a business, which now included ABC, Hyperion Books and brands such as Marvel and LucasArts. Everywhere we looked, images and references to Iron Man, the newer, child-centered Star Wars films and animations, and Thor reigned supreme in “Tomorrowland”, while “Disney Princess” had rather appropriated whatever resources were available in “Storybookland”. Older animations, such as Dumbo, Pinocchio, and The Sword in the Stone which apparently had limited brand appeal had given way to the plethora of princess-inspired junk that was offered at every single turn, nook, and cranny. Honestly, I don’t know how Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride or the Davy Crockett Canoes have survived. Nearly every little girl at the park we spotted was swathed in some kind of Disney Princess gear. Oh, and the boys didn’t escape the masterwork of branding either. I know I saw at least one fully-costumed Iron Man child, and most of the others were decked out in t-shirts, hats or even backpacks covered in various promotions.

And, that was only the beginning.

Al and I charged away to get to the Big Thunder train ride. Earlier, I had explained to him just why I wanted to visit Disney again, so if nothing else, we both wanted to accomplish that much. We crossed the park into “Frontierland” where we were dumbfounded as we walked past a true-to-life “Mammy” standing in her long skirt and perpetual apron outside of the “Big Bayou” creole/Cajun restaurant, overlooking Tom Sawyer’s Island. Apparently, it isn’t just porn that remains the final bastion of overt racism, but Disneyland too.

We swung around a section of “Frontierland” heading for the train, noting how many new restaurants had seemed to literally “grow” up in the spaces between other buildings, like dispersed plants scraping a living out between two rocks. Both of us frowned as we walked on; neither of us could find the train. I couldn’t hear the roaring of its heavy, segmented body on the old, metallic tracks, and we couldn’t find them either. It wasn’t until we nearly circled around the train ride completely before we spotted the sign attached to a tall, makeshift wall:

“Big Thunder Mountain Railroad closed for maintenance (or something) until early 2014”.

I felt like I was suddenly in the movie Vacation.

Yeah. That was pretty much it for me. I couldn’t help but cry. I hadn’t even thought about checking to see if the one ride I wanted to re-experience with Al was even available before we came to the park. But, by then, the super-commercial joke was on me.

Both of us decided to leave. We hadn’t gone on a single ride but we DID have the lingering “joy” of two slices of $30.00 pizza and water, so cutting our losses was making more and more sense. We headed out through the main thoroughfare, jam-packed with shops and lingering, indecisive consumers with insistent children covered in Disney branding.

But, just like in Vacation, the fun wasn’t over yet.

As we walked, I couldn’t help but notice that we never seemed to actually exit the park. I couldn’t believe it, but as we left, we were quickly absorbed into a new abomination called “Downtown Disney”. Literally, it was an outdoor mall that had taken up residence directly outside of Disneyland, presumably because the shops out here were unable to infiltrate the park and instead, set up shop as close as possible.

After leaving the commerce-saturated park, Al and I were then forced to trudge our way through and entire outdoor mall, laden with shops that carried even more Disney products and brands, among other retailers. The whole ordeal was so insulting, I almost didn’t react to this sign I happened to see while we were escaping the mall:

...what did I expect, anyway?

…what did I expect, anyway?









What a disappointing trip.

The Many Facets of Japanese Love Hotels

I’m very happy to say that my required biology class in order to complete my entrance into the master of social work program is finally behind me. I completed the last exam last night and am now free for a few weeks to figure out what I got myself into.

In the meantime, let’s discuss something else.

While I was leaving class after the exam last night, I was casually talking with some classmates about a controversial topic to many westerners: Japanese love hotels. I thought I’d talk about it with everyone today.

"Love Hotel Hill" in the Dougenzaka area of Shibuya, Tokyo- picture from

“Love Hotel Hill” in the Dougenzaka area of Shibuya, Tokyo- picture from

Have you ever heard of a “love hotel”? If you have, and you’re a westerner, you probably heard that they are places where people can have affairs with no questions asked and people in the sex industry can practice their trade without it falling into legal question. “Prostitution” is illegal in Japan –that is, “intercourse with an unspecified person in exchange for payment”- isn’t legal, which is how Japanese law defines prostitution. However, the sex industry is differentiated in Japanese culture from “prostitution”, and accessible spaces for different types of sexual expression exist, such as love hotels (moral outrage and backlash does still occur, however). This is due to the fact that Japanese law doesn’t equate sexual actions that do not result in vaginal penetration with sex. Due to this, a world of sex play that includes oral sex and various fetish-style sexual behaviors, are fair game. In fact, soaplands, a place where a person can receive a personalized “bathing experience” via a lovely and –skilled- woman, have noted a distinct increase in older adult customers and Chinese tourists as of late, and they even come armed with ED medication. You can read about it here.

Despite how these areas are generally regarded in the western imagination, the meaning and function of love hotels appears to be far more complex than any binary, right-and-wrong, cultural or social explanation.

In Sarah Chaplin’s 2007 book, “Japanese Love Hotels: A Cultural History”, Chaplin discusses the concept of a love hotel as a meaningful part of a changing culture of Japan, heavily influenced by the post-war occupation and subsequent Japanese postmodernization. She calls love hotels, “…a democratic and accessible place at the service of the general public, the love hotel offers a powerful window on the changing nature of the Japanese relationship both to their own culture and to other cultures, which has become embodied in the design and use of the love hotel” (Chaplin, 2007 p.4). And while love hotels and other spaces for sexual activity in Japan are easy to criticize by westerners, it is important to remember that love hotels and other sexually-charged areas are common throughout the world, although they tend to be associated with Japan.

However, I didn’t plan on discussing how people in the sex industry intersects with love hotels or any moral or ethical issues therein, but how some married

A menu/sign, typical of a love hotel, listing the rates and services within the establishment

A menu/sign, typical of a love hotel, listing the rates for using the establishment

couples utilize love hotels. Yeah, I said married couples. I thought I’d demonstrate how these spaces can and are used in ways that westerners may not expect, just as some food for thought. Turns out, love hotels aren’t just for “illicit” sexual activity, but are actually among the only ways for some couples and married people to gain privacy for intimacy.

In a most fascinating article in Asian Studies Review by Ho Swee Lin in 2008 entitled, “Private Love in Public Space: Love Hotels and the Transformation of Intimacy in Contemporary Japan”, Lin discusses how many couples rely on love hotels for their own intimate lives. Thanks to typically very small living spaces and many Japanese homes utilizing shoji doors (that use paper as a barrier), privacy between couples can be complicated to the point where sex can disappear. In these cases, a few hours away in a love hotel can keep a marriage or relationship alive and flourishing. As it stands, sex in Japan is often problematic, as working long hours as well as company socializing over drinks and food afterwards, are not only normal but quite expected. This creates a situation where being home with energy and time for sex can be rare. Entangled further by a lack of privacy can make sex impossible for some. In this way, love hotels are an important resource for not just the sexual expression of strangers or clients, but also couples and married people.

A love hotel with no windows, presumably for privacy located in Kabuki-cho (from wikipedia)

A love hotel with no windows, presumably for privacy located in Kabuki-cho (from wikipedia)

Additionally, and among the most interesting points Lin discusses, is how the very separateness of a love hotel, as a different and distinct space from the home, empowers women to pursue love and relationships without compromising their independence. Without bringing a lover into the home to engage in intimacy, women who are in relationships with children from prior marriages or who just simply want relief from the persistent social pressure to have certain types of relationships, can control how intimacy takes place in their lives and in their children’s lives. The love hotel can enable women to remain in control of their family lives while not compromising their own sexual needs or desires.

So then, the sex industry in Japan -and probably everywhere- has unexpected roles in many people’s lives. I hope this article has created a more diverse way of looking at the sex industry in Japan, love hotels, and the concept of contemporary love and sex. It’s unfortunate that in many cases, the way westerners come to understand eastern culture is to hear only the most grotesque and extreme, so I hope this discussion has provided some “rounding-out” of the concepts and a more intermediate notion of the role of love hotels in Japan.

What do you all think?

Fear of Change: Zombie Apocalypse and Monster Plagues

Are you ready...for change?

Are you ready…for change?

My husband Al and I are gamers, I suppose. We play video games together nearly every night, with titles ranging from the new Tomb Raider to Borderlands 2, the Assassin’s Creed games and one of my personal favorites, Skyrim (The Elder Scrolls). I don’t like to call myself a “gamer” per say, I don’t care for the string of assumptive baggage that follows the label, but I do say it on occasion for clarity sake. Last night, we started a new game we had been anticipating –with very good reason- called “The Last of Us.”

“The Last of Us” was developed by Naughty Dog (known for its very successful “Uncharted” series featuring the –somewhat- charming Nathan Drake) and published by Sony Computer Entertainment, released just in June of this year. The game is described as a “post-apocalyptic urban” horror, with a plague rendering the globe into a survival landscape chock-full of things that want to eat you, tear off your face, or anything else to get you dead. Horrifically dead.

But the game –even though it’s one of the most phenomenal I’ve seen so far in many technical and play aspects- is not really what I wanted to discuss today. Rather, the theme of “The Last of Us” is what I want to focus on. One that is shared by a plethora of other contemporary media types: games, movies, books… Yeah, that theme. The one about the world suddenly going haywire; coming to a grinding, terrible halt that scares the crap out of everyone, full of indiscriminate and instant death. Where one moment you are putting your child to sleep and brushing your teeth for bed, thinking about tomorrow and your tiresome job- and the next- your neighbors are trying to eat your face after devouring your child in front of you.

I’m talking about a sign of the times.

Just so we are all on the same page...

Just so we are all on the same page…

Just like Huxley’s Brave New World reflected fears about very real and eminent threats to what many felt were safe and familiar (growing mass production, totalitarianism, reproductive engineering, etc.), so much of today’s media reflects contemporary fears and apprehension about the pace of change. And that pace is higher than it has ever been in human history. Thanks to a shrinking of the globe due to technologies that bridge gaps between people and facilitate nearly endless communication, technological and social change is incredibly fast. Break neck, even.

So fast, many of us can’t keep up. And this can make a person…nervous.

So what do you do, in an environment that feels out of control, vaguely dangerous, and just confusing at times? You consume mass amounts of media that echo that sense of sudden and unpredictable change.

You watch those big, epic films where the world becomes a zombie apocalypse and play video games where a seemingly normal life is interrupted by a

by a nightmarish catastrophe, pulling out all the stops and leaving you feeling just as gutted and emotionally wrecked as the character you play. I mean, did anyone else feel this way at the end of the introduction in “The End of Us”?

A poster from, that kind of...well..sexualizes the hell out of catastrophic disaster

A poster from, that kind of…well..sexualizes the hell out of catastrophic disaster

I am fascinated how our media today is such a mirror of the contemporary world. I know, this isn’t exactly news. When hasn’t the media been a reflection of the contemporary world? But wow, we live in a really interesting time. Decades from now, maybe longer, people may look back and characterize our time as one of such change that the entire population was preoccupied with it, even when experiencing leisure time. Change was the god of our time, they’ll say, and everyone worshiped with utmost sincerity. I mean, hey, just Google “zombie apocalypse”. Go ahead. Surprise yourself.

Anyone else noticed this interesting trend in media, or elsewhere? How does this kind of media make you feel? Does it make you feel prepared for impending disaster…? Perhaps does it make you feel that disaster is further away if it can be contained and made cleaner in the media? I mean, has anyone else seen how the whole zombie apocalypse thing is romanticized and even sexualized…?

Are we really looking forward to the zombie apocalypse…?