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The Dartmouth
May 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth


We sure could have used Captain Planet this past year. 2005 was a year with some big problems, and a green-haired crusader for conservation and personal strength might have been able to help with all of them. Some of these problems seemed tailor-made for the Captain -- the tsunami that devastated Southeast Asia, the landslide, the earthquake and a couple of pretty terrible hurricanes all would have benefited from someone who can control water, wind and fire. Not to mention someone who stops bad guys who like to loot and plunder.

The captain might have been able to help us stop losing things, too. The Supreme Court lost some justices, Dan Rather lost his job, France lost about 1300 crappy Citroen cars to fires, Saddam lost his streak of 45 straight electoral victories in Iraq (though perhaps that's just as well) and a lot of troops overseas lost more than that. Most of those losses were bad -- some tragically so, and it would have been nice to get a little help in fixing them up.

But more than that, Captain Planet could have done everyone a favor by giving us that stick-to-it-kid wink and telling us "The Power is Yours." It didn't feel that way a lot of the time last year. You would just open up the paper, and boom -- another disaster, scandal or crisis you were mostly powerless to stop.

Of course, the disaster wasn't everywhere. Our tabloids and entertainment periodicals focused on the one sphere where international disaster is hard-pressed to strike: Hollywood. Entertainment Weekly called it's year in review "2005: The Year That Was" (my dad "mysteriously has a subscription now" and "doesn't know how he got on their mailing list." I suspect he might have "mailed them a check first"). A grammatical truism seems better suited to a year where the whole planet was, say, hibernating or on peyote than to 2005. Maybe they thought that "2005: The Year That Was Much Worse Because Everyone Wouldn't Shut Up About Angelina Jolie, Already" just didn't have the proper ring to it.

I could easily spend this entire column ranting against the incessant coverage of Banana-Slugs-For-Lips Jolie, but I won't. For one, I don't really read enough news to take that sort of self-righteous tone. More importantly, however, I think that the widespread fascination with Collagen-Face McTombraider & co. serves a purpose, if a rather sad one.

Between feeling overworked, underpaid and probably trapped, I suspect the majority of people are less than eager to read about their powerlessness. We want people with impossibly big lips, impossibly young girlfriends and impossibly large sums of money (at least, given the kind of work they do) -- if just for a change of pace. In a sense, we want the news equivalent of a couple beers. Paris Hilton, Brad Pitt, and Michael Jackson are our Keystones, Bud Lights, and Beast.

Reading more about the Iraq war for anyone but a true news junkie is like drinking a pint of kerosene -- salty and satisfying at first, but then it just makes you depressed. I sometimes wonder if the isolation from the scary and draining news of the world here in Hanover contributes to how happy and on-balance our student population is. It doesn't seem to impact our consumption of Keystone.

That being said, I'm not sure that we need as much Keystone (in the metaphorical and not the aqueous sense) as we think. Rather, I think we just need to quit swallowing the party line, hook and sinker, about how futile our actions really are. You want futility? British Bulldogs are so inbred that they cannot copulate without a human alley-oop. We have it nowhere near that bad. Although, I'm not sure I could copulate without human assistance either.

Whatever. The point is that even if we don't feel like we can turn the tides of war, stop widespread government corruption or even fill out a tax return -- and even if we're right about that -- no one is so powerless that they must succumb to the tacit defeatism of living vicariously through the Hollywood divorces of the year. At least, not all the time.

Back home, I saw a billboard where people could post their New Year's resolutions, and it reminded me that there is a sort of short-range, interpersonal power that I (at least) tend to forget about. People had resolved to smile at strangers, write more to their grandmothers and one person said they would scratch themselves in public less blatantly (this may have been on a dog's behalf, but I hope not).

In a way, these struck me as the wisest resolutions people could make. If we're going to do anything to combat the feeling that, well, we can't do anything, we have to start with baby steps. My grandmother would probably be glad to hear from me, come to think of it -- I haven't written her since the time I won the fight for the last lifeboat off that desert island we were stuck on.

If you haven't made a New Year's resolution already -- or don't believe in them because people are always trying to do impossible things like "bring about world peace," "learn the meaning of the word 'eschatology'" or "work-out more" -- then I would urge you to reconsider. There are a ton of resolutions that promise to make, in small ways, 2006 better than 2005, and they aren't big, hard or even a lot of work. Write your mom an e-mail once a month. Help people pick up their stuff if they drop it in the library. Initiate games of laser tag with S&S officers before you surreptitiously steal their bicycles. If we can start there, maybe we won't feel like we need a blue-skinned planetary guardian anymore. Until then, though: the power is yours.