Don’t use the brand’s name in vain

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Passionate brand loyalists condemn popular child curse words

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. January 6, 2016

Cheez Whiz, the delightful brand of cheese spread, is getting a lot of press recently as a group of brand loyalists have gathered together—from coast to coast like butter toast—to rise against the blasphemous use of the brand’s name.

A survey conducted by the Consumer Packaging Press found that the most common brand name used to cuss is, in fact, Cheez Whiz: 75 per cent of children under the age of 13 had used the name in a way of expressing anger 2 or more times. The second most common is, of course, Fudgee-O, with 40 per cent. In third is Gray Poupon, as in: “Aww! Gray Poupon! We are out of normal mustard!”

Delicatessen and linguistic expert Susan Rumchata said: “It’s not the brands’ fault that they have such hilarious names that blend so well with traditional swear words. The responsibility falls on the parents. They need to understand that at an early age, their children are learning more colourful language—let them—if they need to call out Jesus, let them! It’s more Jesus’ fault than it is the Cheez Whiz people’s.”

It has been well documented that some time ago there lived a guy named Jesus Christ. He was an entrepreneur who made a lot of good bread, wine, and woodwork. But due to his poor business acumen, supply couldn’t meet the demand. Consumers would say, “Jesus Christ!” in vain—a lot of vain—when their orders failed to ship. Not long after the company launched, Jesus Christ Inc. went bankrupt and the founder was crucified.

Cheez Whiz brand loyalists—they call themselves Cheez Wizards—see a clear parallel between what happened to Jesus Christ Inc. and what is happening with Cheez Whiz today.

Cheez Wizards spokesperson and single mother of four Brie Pumpernickel said: “You know what it is? It’s bad PR. You know what kills? It’s not global warming or terrorists or processed-cheese. It’s bad PR. And all that starts with our children. We must teach our children to respect brand names. This will ensure that the brands that serve us continue offering the same high quality products we want. Do we really want to live in a world without Cheez Whiz? I ask myself that every morning after making breakfast for my four Cheez Wizards.”

Safeway jam aisles were literally jammed with Cheez Wizards last Tuesday as a public protest took place. The sole purpose of the rally was to erase the phrase “Cheez Whiz” from the English vernacular as anything other than the name of the product. Anyone of any age that uses the brand’s name in vain will be sentenced to an eternity of dry, whole wheat bread. It’s some kind of hell, for sure.

Rumchata reminds us that there are plenty of lame-ass swear words out there for those moments when you have to curse in front of children: “‘Fiddlesticks’ is always a good one. ‘For Pete’s sake’ is great too. I’ve never encountered a Pete or Peter who was bothered by it. Anything that rhymes with ‘duck’ also works. You know, you stub your toe and you just shout, ‘Duck!’ It’s as satisfying, I’ll tell you that much. People will crouch over though, it’s weird.” She added: “Words are weird.”

Dear refugees from Vietnam

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My advice for new immigrants

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published for the 1976-themed issue of the Other Press. January 13, 2016

A few years ago, my mother’s side of the family emigrated to Canada, France, and the United States from their home country, which had been torn apart by the Vietnam War, in the hope of starting a new life. So here I am now. What my family went through must have been tumultuous and frightening. Hopefully they can put those experiences in the past.

The following is some advice I have to give to not just my family, but to all immigrants, from all over the world, because there is so much to learn in this new world.

Language: One of the first things I would tell them is how important proficiency in English is. It’s true that Canada is a multicultural country, but only in select parts of it. The majority of Canada is still predominantly English speaking. Having a strong command in English is the first step to getting work that isn’t in a kitchen or warehouse.

Owning property: Homeless to homeowner in a few years. It can happen. This is the country of opportunity. Get a job, save up, and buy property. Invest in the suburbs surrounding the urban core, where property prices are very reasonable for families. Canada loves immigrants, and our population will surely boom, thus increasing the value over time.

Travel: I don’t believe travel is a practice you learn in your latter years. I think it is the best form of education both personally and socially. I understand that being immigrants means that at one point they were put through an arduous trip, but traveling in all forms is an opportunity for growth. My family members are citizens of Canada now, but they could be citizens of the world (even though there is much to see in Canada).

Hobbies: In developing countries, hobbies are for survival. In the developed countries, hobbies are for survival too, but in a more personal way. In this new world, my family works, comes home, watches television, goes to sleep, and repeats those steps. They don’t have hobbies per se. My mom is a practicing Buddhist, so she is a part of some communities, but she doesn’t have any personal projects—except for raising me, I guess. I believe personal projects, be they reading books, building miniatures, learning to cook, or working on puzzles, are a substantial record of accomplishments. Finding an area of interest to focus on helps create an identity, not just for other people to view you, but how you view yourself.

Refugees, like my mom, are still finding homes and creating their lives in Canada. They walk among us every day. In this country, there is so much freedom, and I wouldn’t want any new citizen to squander it by living only to pay their bills.

Dialogue of irrationality

Bruce Almighty (2003)

Spiritual conversations should not be taboo

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Previously published in The Other Press. July 3, 2014

I’m getting older in a secular society—or at least one that acts that way. I’m not sure if I’m simply surrounded by intellectuals who deem themselves unreligious, or if those who do have faith don’t wish to speak critically with me about it. I fear that the polarizing attitudes towards religion are causing a lot of built-up tension between us, and that the don’t-ask-don’t-tell approach to our spirituality is causing more prejudice than we would care to admit. While we have become more open-minded with scientific discovery, cultural differences, and sexuality, we are still placing unfair judgement on those who have religious faith.

“I’ve felt it,” is a common reply I receive when I question someone’s religious belief out of curiosity, “you haven’t.” I feel a bit of shame when I get such a response, as if I’ve done something wrong, or I’m simply undeserving of the specifics. Perhaps both are true. Yet more often than not, the response seems to come from a defensive place, as if I doubt their values by questioning their faith. Which also might be true.

If I continue to probe for more details, the conversation becomes more heated and contentious. It becomes an argument. Why is that? Why can’t we have an honest debate about religion today? Why do we still have our feelings hurt?

When I ask questions about religion or about one’s spirituality, it’s not my goal to disprove them. I understand that it’s not a science experiment. It’s pretty clear now that nobody can disprove God.

What I want to find out is why my dear religious friends and families, who I share so many similarities and interest with, cannot see eye-to-eye in this one particular area of life. I want to know why the concept of heaven can bring comfort to one group of people, while the concept of reincarnation can bring comfort to another. I want to know why some religions demand celibacy, while others nurture freewill. Yet when I ask these questions, I’m often met with contempt.

On some occasions, I am welcomed into churches and temples to partake in rituals I know nothing about. I ask those around me what the process is all about, and the answer is usually “just because…” It’s a tradition. And that seems like a valid reason for religions to continue existing. It binds those with faith to a comfortable constant. The real world might be changing, but there is at least this one—albeit irrational—thing that’ll keep them grounded. It’s comforting.

It makes me smile when I see someone truly believe in something. I surely don’t have the same discipline. I’m easily swayed with logic and evidence, with lust and jealousy. That doesn’t mean I’m a bad person. That just mean I’m not religious… or even spiritual.

Here is an example: I want to ask those who have withheld their virginity until marriage how they do it. How do they defy temptation? How do they even exist in this live-for-the-moment society? I want to ask these questions so that I can understand myself. I want to understand my own belief system. I want to be convinced. Yet, all I am at the moment is intrusive.

Sacred cinema

The bible shouldn’t be Hollywood’s only source for religious inspiration

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. April 8, 2014

I belong to a growing demographic of non-religious North Americans. Although I came from a Buddhist heritage and live in a country with a large Christian population, my curiosity stems further than my beliefs, my family’s beliefs, and my neighbour’s beliefs.

I have always been a sucker for stories, even if they have a moral at the end, and some of the greatest stories ever told are locked within sacred text: the Bible, the Qur’an, Sanskrit, Torah, etc. Tapping into these ancient texts will open our eyes to a world we are often ignorant of, and I believe that will be a significant step toward global tolerance.

We North Americans enjoy watching comforting movies, stories that we’re familiar with. But exploration is equally as entertaining. Noah offers a lot of epic scenes that make the job for the marketing team easy, but I also know that there are millions of other stories based in other religions that could contain the same amount of drama, special effects, and even Russell-Crowe-in-sandals scenes. As someone who has no defined religion, I’m more inclined to see a movie about an unfamiliar story than one constantly used in analogies.

I don’t believe religious movies are meant to convert someone’s beliefs. I believe that they’re simply created to entertain, earn a profit, and start a conversation about something that is losing effect in Western culture.

Religion turns a lot of people off these days, which is upsetting since religion is a significant part of the human identity. We should embrace it. Not just one religion (Christianity), but all of them. If we want to be a global community, we should explore all cultures, heritages, and of course, religions.

Harmony needs to start at home, and movies have always been a medium to bring people of all classes and beliefs together. Hollywood has made many weak attempts in telling stories from foreign sacred texts; that’s because they always try to find a Western perspective. It’s true, casting Keanu Reeves in a story about Buddhism is a recipe for chuckles. The key to adapting a story properly is honesty. Instead of catering to an audience, the filmmaker needs to simply tell the story the way it’s meant to be told, while finding the cinematic appeal.

Hollywood needs to team up with those of other cultures to create these impactful movies. They have to find the soul of it—the heart of the religion. By communicating the essence of those stories, the audience will be able to see how unique tales can shape so many different people from all reaches of the world. In our own comfortable way, we will be enlightened. It might not change our mindsets, but for a brief moment we can see from another’s point of view, and isn’t that what filmmaking is all about?

The right to bear religious symbols

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Attire, accessory, and attitude don’t change your religion

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor

Formerly published in The Other Press. Oct. 2013

How does one practice their religion? Do they practice in their house, church, temple, or cathedral—or could they do it while commuting to work? Surely they don’t practice at work, right? Of course I’m talking about Quebec’s charter of values and how, if it passes, civil servants will no longer be allowed to wear religious articles of clothing including turbans, kippas, and overt crucifixes.

Religion has played a large role in my life, and it’s not my intention to argue against it. I’m not against religion. In fact, I wish I had faith. Sadly, although I was brought up as a Buddhist, I cannot honestly call myself one.

What I do want to express is a social commonality. That doesn’t mean tolerance or intolerance, or being anti- or pro- anything; it simply means a culture we can all agree upon.

For example, my father is a smoker. When the regulation passed to have smoking banned in public areas, he became a monster and he’s not—he’s just a dude trying to relax. People who wear religious articles aren’t monsters either, they’re simply expressing their faith and practicing a tradition that they’ve known since they were young. It upsets some, but so does a bit of cigarette smoke.

“Suck it up,” some smokers said initially—the same thing those advocating religious symbols in public sectors are saying now. “It’s not harming anybody.”

Harm is not the point. Commonality is the point; a mutual understanding is the point. If you entered an Asian person’s home, you would graciously take off your shoes. That’s a custom and an understanding. Your shoes are clean and it doesn’t hurt anyone for you to keep them on, yet you do it out of respect.

Canada has an ambiguous culture. It’s more of a mosaic than a mixing pot, and different communities have different conventions. That’s great, that should be cherished, and people should be delighted that we have such diverse communities.

But we need commonality as well to help establish a general culture as our cities, provinces, and country continues to grow. The mindset of Quebec isn’t to alienate. Instead, they’re trying to develop a central place to bring everyone together, where everyone feels welcome, and where no animosity is displayed. This is a good thing. And this is the first step towards having a province that really understands itself. It might feel ruthless, but in generations to come, you’ll see that it’ll bring them closer together.

I worked at Starbucks for over a year and I had to wear a green apron. I wasn’t thrilled, because green isn’t my colour. But I was under Starbucks’ roof, I was being paid Starbucks’ money, and the Starbucks customers recognized the standards—that was how they knew I worked there. It didn’t make me who I was, it didn’t change my beliefs that capitalism is just another form of slavery, but I accepted it because that was the corporate culture.

We might think that commonality is harmful; that it will cause us to lose our heritage and roots, but I believe it’ll help us to understand our history better. Why do we do certain things “just because”? Commonality allows us to question our traditions, habits, ethics, and values and ask the ultimate question: are we doing the right thing? Am I actually less of a person—less myself—if I go without certain things? Does it benefit the hive and not just the honeybee?

All through life, I have mistaken my wants with my needs. I get my priorities mixed up, and I feel many others have as well in regards to this religious symbols debate. Your ideals don’t have to change, your personality doesn’t have to change, and if it helps the general population approach civil servants with ease, I don’t see why they shouldn’t appeal to them. After all, have a little faith.