Crucial Minutia
it's the little things...
Ethan Todras-WhitehillEthan Todras-Whitehill is a freelance writer who covers technology, travel, and subcultures. He contributes regularly to The New York Times and several national magazines. He writes the Punch-for-Punch column, which appears on Mondays.
Ethan Todras-Whitehill
Punch-for-Punch: Do You Know The Contra Code?
3 Comments | posted April 23rd, 2007 at 12:01 pm by Ethan Todras-Whitehill

Konami’s ContraI noticed the familiar grey box peeking out from J.T.’s half-closed chestnut entertainment center. It looked out of place among the Thai lamps, sleek electronic piano, and exposed brick walls of his penthouse loft, but there it was: a Nintendo Entertainment System—the original.

I dropped to my knees on the carpet and began shuffling through the games. My eyes lit onto a giant, flaming “C” and I pulled it out. “Contra. Sweet.”

J.T. smiled. “Yeah, but do you know the Contra Code?”

I looked at him like he was crazy. “Up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, B, A, select, start. Of course.”

He nodded sagely. “Ok,” he pronounced. “You are a man.”

*     *     *

Most guys in their 20s and 30s know the Contra Code. (It has its own Wikipedia entry.) And for many of them, it may just be the closest thing to hugging their male friends they have ever known.

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Ethan Todras-Whitehill
Why Japanese Culture Is So Weird
3 Comments | posted April 19th, 2007 at 04:56 pm by Ethan Todras-Whitehill

Hello Kitty FashionIf you’re anything like me, everytime you see Dragonball Z, Akira, Princess Mononoke, or any hentai you—ahem—accidentally come across, you wonder, “What is up with Japan? Why is their culture so weird?” In a feature in this month’s Atlantic Monthly about the popularity of anonymous group suicide in Japan (subscription required), the first plausible theory I’ve heard is offered:

“Japan lost the war to the Americans,” [Hideaki Anno, creator of the popular Neon Genesis Evangelion anime series] explains…Since that time, the education we received is not one that creates adults. Even for us, people in their 40s, and for the generation older than me, in their 50s and 60s, there’s no reasonable model of what an adult should be like.” The theory that Japan’s defeat stripped the country of its independence and led to the creation of a nation of permanent children, weaklings forced to live under the protection of the American Big Daddy, is widely shared by artists and intellectuals in Japan.

This is mentioned in the context of anonymous group suicide, but for me it goes a long way towards explaining Hello Kitty fanatics, large-iris manga contact lenses, and viral slapping videos. I mean, this stuff is weird!

Ethan Todras-Whitehill
Punch-for-Punch: The Emotional Significance of Sports
19 Comments | posted April 17th, 2007 at 02:43 pm by Ethan Todras-Whitehill

Second semester Junior year of college is pretty much the universal “study abroad” semester at Tufts, my alma mater. My year, nearly half the class did a semester abroad, including my two best male friends (of cliff-jumping fame). My relationship with my then-girlfriend, H, was on the rocks, partially because without my male friends, I was so socially dependent on her. I lived in a basement off campus, and was fairly depressed. But instead of turning to alcohol or marijuana, I became addicted to sports.

Field of DreamsWednesday Night Hockey. Monday Night Football. Sunday Night Baseball. March Madness. Even the freaking NIT. My heart rate rose when I happened upon a West Coast baseball game, which usually went until 1 or 2 am. If a team I actually cared about was playing, I squealed with delight.

The thing is, if men have an emotional language, sports is it.

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Ethan Todras-Whitehill
Punch-for-Punch: What Men Can Learn From Wenches
3 Comments | posted April 09th, 2007 at 02:08 pm by Ethan Todras-Whitehill

“A good wench is so hard to find,” laments King Phillip, sitting on his throne, speaking with Hank Hill. “You are fortunate. Yours seems sturdy. If I had her in my employ, it would solidify the bond between our two kingdoms.”

In the King of the Hill episode “Joust Like a Woman,” Hank Hill is trying to make a big propane sale to Phillip’s traveling Renaissance Fair. But Phillip refuses to drop character, speaking only with thee’s and thou’s in a British accent. (He’s voiced by Alan Rickman.)

Phillip’s kingdom is a misogynist’s fantasy. Women are put in the stocks for “the crime of offering her own opinion,” paid less than men, and have no rights. To help Hank make the sale, though, his wife Peggy agrees to work for Phillip. Upon discovering the inequalities, she goes to speak with Phillip, who ignores her unless she addresses him as King. When she asks him if he’s familiar with the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, he asks how could he be? After all, it is but the year 1590. Peggy tries to organize a revolt of the wenches by throwing tomatoes at Phillip, but the other women abandon her at the last second. To keep Peggy from the stocks, Hank agrees to fight a joust for Peggy’s honor—and the propane account.

“Take off that crown! I’m kicking your ass!”

*     *     *

Here’s the thing: men are in trouble in our society.

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Ethan Todras-Whitehill
Women Prefer Sought-After Men, Men Eschew Sought-After Women
6 Comments | posted April 04th, 2007 at 12:26 pm by Ethan Todras-Whitehill

Ok, so this one is straight from the thanks-science-for-proving-something-everyone-already-knew department:

The Royal Society of London performed an experiment in which they showed men and women photos of the opposite sex. Photos of guys were paired with pictures of women either smiling in their direction or with a neutral expression on their faces, and vice versa. The study found that women were more likely to find a guy attractive when he had a positive female expression turned towards him, while men were less likely to find a woman attractive in the same circumstance. The guys, however, preferred a guy who was neutrally regarded by women. The study concludes that “within-sex competition promotes negative attitudes among men towards other men who are the target of positive social interest from women.” (From The Atlantic Monthly.)

Men & Women Attractiveness Study

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Ethan Todras-Whitehill
Punch-for-Punch: Don’t Listen To Darth Vader—Your Feelings Lie
1 Comment | posted April 02nd, 2007 at 11:27 am by Ethan Todras-Whitehill

empirestrikesback.jpg“Luke, I am your father,” Darth Vader informed Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back. “Search your feelings—you know it be true.”

For men, I would argue, feelings are a pretty piss-poor place to find truth.

After my scarring spring break trip to Cancun freshman year of college, I started dating a girl, H. The whole thing nearly fell apart because I followed Vader’s advice and trusted my feelings.

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Ethan Todras-Whitehill
Punch-for-Punch: Danny Tanner vs. Alcibiades in Cancun
6 Comments | posted March 26th, 2007 at 01:54 pm by Ethan Todras-Whitehill

My freshman year of college, I went to Cancun for Spring Break. This was a mistake.

I went with my hallmates. We were three nice guys, decent-looking, average builds. At our college, we were considered fine specimens. But in Cancun, we figured, we’d clean up. Our first act in arriving (besides purchasing a bottle of tequila), was to sit down and figure out a “point system” so we could determine who “won Cancun.” Should kissing a girl on the dance floor be worth more or less than kissing in a hotel room? Is a threesome the same if—well, you get the idea.

Don’t worry; we got what was coming to us.

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Ethan Todras-Whitehill
Egyptian Bluetooth Prostitutes
4 Comments | posted March 22nd, 2007 at 11:02 pm by Ethan Todras-Whitehill

How do you find a prostitute in a Muslim country? Why, stroll into the local Marriott and turn on your cellphone’s Bluetooth, of course.

I was in Cairo this past January, stopping at the hotel to use the ATM. My sister’s friend pointed to the courtyard as we passed and casually mentioned that it was probably “full of prostitutes.” I craned my neck, but didn’t see any scantily clad or over-makeup’ed women. It turns out that in Egypt, at least, since Bluetooth technology was introduced a couple of years ago, the age-old dance of Jane and John has a new step. Islamic culture frowns on brazenly approaching the opposite sex, male or female, so sex workers and sex seekers merely go to the same location—an upscale hotel lobby, or certain local coffeeshops—and make their arrangements over the radio waves.

My companion said that her boyfriend, who is Egyptian, will look at his phone every now and then in a coffeeshop and go, “Oh, no. Here they go again,” with little kittenish messages popping up on his phone.

The really weird thing? Islamic sex workers often wear the head-to-toe black burkha, far more covering than the average Egyptian woman’s veil. So, next time you see one of those photos of black-veiled women that our media loves to show us of Islamic countries, just remember: she could be a prostitute.

Ethan Todras-Whitehill
Punch-for-Punch: Don’t Be A Pussy
6 Comments | posted March 19th, 2007 at 04:13 pm by Ethan Todras-Whitehill

“Come on, guys! You barely need to get any air!” Trent called up, leaning against his ski poles fifty feet below us on the snowy slope. “Just enough to clear those rocks!”

Matt, my beanpole-shaped college roommate, took one last look over the edge and called back, “Sorry, Trent. My vagina hurts.” He skied around the precipice and came to stand with Trent and the girls below.

I nodded. Smart move on Matt’s part to go there; Trent would have no worse insult to add. I leaned over to look at the small cliff he had just jumped over. Mind you, this would be the second cliff I would jump off on this run if I did it—the last one was a five foot drop onto the steep, slushy slope that we had just skied down.

I couldn’t see the rocks very well, but it was a patch at least a few feet long. They were jagged, unforgiving granite. If I mistimed my jump, I could break my skis, my legs. But if I made it—Matt hadn’t done it. He usually took more risks than I did. I could leapfrog him, if only for that day, on the cojones scale. I carefully stepped my way back up the slope to get some approach speed. I peered down at the rocks again.

“Oh, just do it!” Trent yelled. “Don’t be a pussy.”

*     *     *

Pussy. In one form or another, it is the ultimate trump card a guy can play.

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