Cussing Care

For some of us, at least, it’s standard operating procedure to launch an obscenity when we stub our toes, bump our heads, cut our fingers while chopping food, or experience some other unexpected moment of physical pain.

Setting aside the morality or propriety of our bad habits, the practical question is:  does cussing a blue streak actually help to relieve the pain?

323541e1e64f03e581310e505382de0eOne recent study, conducted by Keele University in England, concludes that it definitely does.  In fact, the study determined that spewing crude language has measurable, therapeutic, physical effects.  When study participants were saying dirty words their heart rates increased, their perception of pain decreased, and they were able to endure pain much longer than was the case if they were saying neutral words.  (And if you read the article linked above and see how the researchers set up the study to test their hypothesis, you’ll conclude that you should never, ever volunteer to participate in a psychological experiment at Keele University.)

The study determined that foul-mouthed participants were able to endure pain longer because there is a significant psychological component to experiencing pain, and a person’s mood and other circumstances can have a clear impact.  Swearing triggers an aggressiveness response, and an aggressive mental attitude helps a person deal with pain much more effectively.  (This may be why football players, for example, seem to be able to endure pain during games that many of us would find disabling.)  And the study also found that the pain endurance levels were directly related to the perceived filthiness of the obscenity being used.  “Sanitized” curse words, like the British “bum,” were much less effective than actual obscenities, and the most effective pain relief of all came from using the “queen mother of curses.”

The “F Word” is ubiquitous and, as I’ve noted before, has broad utility in many different settings — but who knew that it was like aspirin in its pain relief capabilities?  So the next time you’ve got a bad headache or hit your thumb with a hammer, go ahead and let the f bombs fly!  Chances are you’ll feel a lot better.

In Praise Of Rudolph

In the pantheon of annual must-see Christmas TV events, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is right up there with A Charlie Brown Christmas, It’s A Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.  (At the other end of the spectrum, of course, is the supremely annoying Frosty The Snowman.)

Of course, Rudolph combined great characters, like Yukon Cornelius and Hermey, the elf who desperately wanted to be a dentist, with great settings, like the Island of Misfit Toys, and great songs, like Holly Jolly Christmas.  But the crucial and underappreciated significance of Rudolph is that it provided many teachable moments for growing boys.  For example, it featured a female character who wore a pink bow — which obviously was how you knew instantly that she was a girl reindeer in the first place.  This was vitally important information for the young boy eager to grow into adulthood.

Of course, Rudolph did a lot more.  It not only put a lot of flesh on the bones of the song, by doing crucial things like explaining what the heck were the reindeer games, it also prepared young boys who were watching for the gentle attention of whistle-blowing coaches and taught them how to react in the unlikely event that a girl ever said you were cute — as shown in the classic scene shown above.

Sure, sure . . . I know that some people argue that the real message of Rudolph is that people should just accept themselves for who they are and not try to hide their glaring red nose with some soot.  They’re wrong, of course.  The young boys who watched Rudolph knew that what it really told you was that if you felt sorry for yourself because you were different, disobeyed your parents, and ran away from home, you were likely to meet a flying lion and an intrepid gold prospector, fight and defeat the Abominable Snowman, and return home in the nick of time to get the girl and save the day.

It’s a great holiday message.

Ralphie And Flash

MCDCHST MG002Some of us just like to watch movies as they are released, and take the finished product for what it is — the version that ultimately was released to the public at large.  Others really like to get into the movies that they love.  They buy the director’s cut, and watch the outtakes and blooper reels, and even read the scripts to spot deleted scenes or places where the actors improvised.

I’m squarely in the first category, but I have to say that I was intrigued when I read this story about how The Christmas Story was written to include a scene featuring our hero, Ralphie, and his Red Ryder BB gun with Flash Gordon and Ming the Merciless.  You’ll recall that Ralphie was a big day-dreamer, and his idle fantasies included a scene where his teacher concluded that Ralphie’s Red Ryder-obsessed theme deserved an A++++++ and another scene where Ralphie rescued the family from a gang of thugs crawling over the back fence.

Alas, the Flash Gordon scene hit the cutting room floor, but not before a space-suited Ralphie was featured in the photo above with one of the actors who was to play Flash, in very alien-looking surroundings.  From the looks of the planet Mongo set, that one scene probably accounted for 50 percent of the movie’s production budget.  How would Ralphie have used that Red Ryder BB gun to save the day?  We’ll never really know for sure.

But that reminds me:  it’s time to watch A Christmas Story again.

Thinking Of Thanksgiving Traditions

For many of us, Thanksgiving is rich with family traditions.  Whether it is food, decorations, or the timing of the big meal, the traditions connect us to earlier times and people who are no longer with us but whose spirits live on, undiminished, in our memories.  The traditions are a big part of why, for many people, Thanksgiving is our favorite holiday.

Recently Mom and the five Webner kids had dinner and reminisced about Thanksgivings of days gone by and some of the traditions that prevailed during our childhoods.

Mom putting little wax candles of pilgrims and turkeys at every place setting at the Thanksgiving table.  A large cardboard representation of a big-breasted tom turkey with deep red wattles on the front door to greet our guests.  Native American headdresses made at school from construction paper, each ersatz feather a different bright color, and from the younger kids drawings of turkeys made from the outlines of their hands.  A cornucopia centerpiece surrounded by riotously colored, warty gourds.

My father, as much of a turkey fiend as the Dad in A Christmas Story, carefully carving the bird and happily munching on pieces as he went along.  Uncle Tony lecturing us that we were really missing something by not eating the heart and liver.  A heartfelt prayer for the year’s blessings and the food we were about to enjoy.  Gramma Webner announcing the turkey was too dry.

A tube of cranberry dressing, still bearing the corrugated impressions of the can from whence it came, lying on its side on a plate and sliced to form perfect wine-colored circles.  A huge bowl of Mom’s hand-mashed potatoes, doused liberally with her thick, homemade gravy.  A mincemeat pie.  Football throws outside on a crisp autumn afternoon to help stimulate the appetite for the feast to come, and sprawling on the couch watching football on TV, groaning at the amount of food consumed but still somehow finding room for a late-night turkey sandwich and a final piece of pumpkin pie and whipped cream.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

The Perils Of Pajama Boy

The Obama Administration is running an ad campaign designed to get people to sign up for health insurance.  Many of the ads target young people — the so-called “Young Invincibles” who are healthy and whose participation in the health insurance exchanges is viewed as crucial to the successful implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

One of the ads geared toward young people has provoked a lot of comment.  It features a 20-something guy sitting on a coach.  He’s wearing one-piece red and black plaid flannel pajamas and drinking a cup of cocoa — likely with a few marshmallows tossed in.  He’s also got a distinctive, raised eyebrow and smirk look on his face.  The ad’s tag line says:  “Wear pajamas.  Drink hot chocolate.  Talk about getting health insurance.  #GetTalking”

It’s the kind of ad that immediately provokes questions and cries out for invention of a back story.  Seriously, do young men really wear one-piece plaid pjs these days?  (And by the way, do those pajamas have feet?)  It’s not a good look, frankly, and most guys know it.  Even Ralphie on A Christmas Story refused to don the pink bunny suit pjs until his Mom put her foot down — did Pajama Boy put on the checked pjs willingly?  Did he get them as a gift from Great Aunt Claire, or, god forbid, did he go out and buy them himself?

Where is Pajama Boy supposed to be?  Does he live with his parents?  Did he get the cup of cocoa from Mom, or does he regularly lounge around his own place in plaid pjs drinking hot chocolate?  Who is he talking to?  He looks like an insufferable know-it-all — could he be lecturing his parents about how they should foot the bill for him to get covered by one of those costly “gold” plans?  Or, is the raised eyebrow his sad approximation of a “come hither” look?  Does this pathetic, misguided wretch actually think a pajama-clad discussion of health insurance over hot chocolate might help him get lucky in the romantic area?

The first goal of any ad campaign is to get people to remember the ad, and the next goal is to get people talking about it.  The Pajama Boy ad obviously has accomplished both of those goals.  (Google “pajama boy” if you don’t believe me.)  Maybe the Pajama Boy ad is supposed to be one of those ironic commentaries that will have laser-like appeal for the Young Invincibles.  Maybe . . . but I doubt it.  I’m guessing that more people will think there’s something sad and bizarre and off-putting about the whole ad.

The Avengers Tear Up Cleveland

I was up in Cleveland yesterday, innocently walking along East Ninth Street, when suddenly I found myself in New York City.  And on a movie set.

A scene along East 9th Street

The Avengers, a movie that is set to open in 2012, currently is filming in Cleveland.  One of the blocks along East Ninth Street has been turned into a scene of awful carnage in New York City, with overturned taxi cabs, chunks of concrete, and flattened police cars.  No doubt it is where the Avengers fight a pitched battle against some super-villains who possess awesome destructive power and are despicable fiends, besides.  Apparently folks working in downtown Cleveland have heard explosions on other days of filming, and on one occasion hordes of extras were sent running down the street, screaming.  Whether it was from the wrath of the super-villain or the latest bad economic news is not clear.

When I was present, there were no sightings of any bad guys or of Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, or for that matter the Vision or the Scarlet Witch — just a street strewn with rubble, cameramen, key grips, and prop guys wandering around, filming cranes and other moviemaking equipment, and some parked vehicles that would help create the feel of New York City — like NYPD police cars, buses, and fire trucks.

Cleveland has been the location for filming on lots of movies, including A Christmas Story, Air Force One, Spider-Man 3, and American Splendor.  Let’s hope The Avengers is a notable addition to that list, and that Hollywood continues to occasionally bring some excitement — and debris — to the City by the Lake.


Making A Federal Case Out Of It

In case you missed it, last week was the first “federal anti-bullying summit.”

According to statistics quoted at the summit, in 2007 one out of three middle school and high school students reported being bullied at some point.  Does anyone really think that percentage is greater than it was in, say, 1970?  Speaking as an overweight, pimply, glasses-wearing junior high school student of that era, I can assure you from bitter personal experience that bullying was alive and well in the America of decades gone by.  Watch A Christmas Story or Back To The Future if you don’t believe me.

So, what has changed?  Just the fact that the federal government now seems to be involved in everything.  And listen to what Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education, had to say about the federal response to bullying, according to the article linked above:  “Duncan promised new coordination among federal agencies, better data to understand the problem and solutions, and more federal funding, especially for those schools with the greatest needs.”

So, we will try to “solve” local bullying problems by getting federal agencies more involved, doing some national-level numbers crunching, and throwing more federal bucks at the schools that apparently are the most inept at dealing with their specific bullying problems.  Does anyone else find this ridiculous, as well as pointless?

Have our local school boards and school administrators really become so feeble and pathetic that they have to look to Washington, D.C. to figure out how to deal with the playground bully?  Ralphie didn’t need the feds to tell him how to deal with Scut Farkas, and Marty managed to take care of Biff without seeking federal funding.  Wouldn’t we all be better off if our local institutions and school principals actually did their jobs and the federal government focused on issues that are truly national in scope and importance?

Therapeutic Cussing

This article reports on a scientific study that purports to find that cursing is good for your mental health and helps to minimize pain. Although the study design seems a bit questionable — I’m not sure that you can draw significant scientific conclusions from the reactions of participants who simply speak curse words and non-curse words while their hands are kept in a tub of ice water — the result confirms what seems self-evident.

If the study is true, then Ralphie’s Dad in A Christmas Story — an artist for whom cursing was his true medium — must have felt pretty good while he fought the furnace, fended off the Bumpus hounds, and tried desperately to glue back together his major award. And, I logically should never feel better than I do when I am out on the golf course, repeatedly dunking balls into the infernal pond on Number 8 West and casting thunderous epithets to the skies.