Not all of the academic dithering going on over at the University of Central Florida is for the industrial war machine. In fact, sometimes the published results of too-many-students-wondering-aloud-in-a-room can be literally fantastic, buoyed by references to hairbrushes, costumes, castles, talking frogs and playful dinosaurs, the sort of commodified escapism that quietly butters both sides of Orlando's fiscal bread.

UCF received many "serious" science headlines in late November for a psychological study published (online) by the British Journal of Developmental Psychology, titled "Am I Too Fat to Be a Princess?" At its core, the study — subtitled "Examining the effects of popular children's media on young girls' body image" — is just the same old child-psychology science-fair project that it always was, geared toward engendering parenting paranoia for those who use their televisions as baby-sitters (doesn't Barbie make you feel bad?). A sampling of 121 girls, ages 3 to 6, were partnered with 20-something kid-friendly "playmates" (!) to discuss their body issues and watch cartoons. Even at that pre-tween, post-toddler age, 31 percent of the girls said that they "almost always worry about being fat," and an additional 18 percent felt porky sometimes.

All of which is well and good — if not superfluous in its abundance of available precedents — until you start to consider that this particular study may just be a Mousy corporate tie-in.

"The encouraging news for parents is that taking their young daughters to see the new Disney film The Princess and the Frog isn't likely to influence how they perceive their bodies," reports Chad Binette on the UCF Newsroom website.

What? In fact, the results don't exactly say that. The kids were subjected to the "most beautiful girl in town" rhetoric of Disney's Beauty and the Beast in some scenarios, while it was waist-issue-free Dora the Explorer and Clifford the Big Red Dog in others; either way, the kids were equally inclined to stare at themselves in a prop vanity mirror and brush their hair. The Princess and the Frog — Disney's latest multi-culti foray into stereotypes, which not coincidentally opens Dec. 11 — should be a tool, according to UCF professor Stacey Tantleff-Dunn, a teachable moment for parents to open lines of discussion about just what pretty is.

"We need to help our children challenge the images of beauty, particularly thinness, that they see and idolize and encourage them to question how much appearance should be part of their self-worth," says Tantleff-Dunn in the UCF Newsroom piece.

Also, we need you to take them to the movies more often.

We're probably not the only ones who find the prospect of next year's Florida gubernatorial race devastatingly boring. Democrat Alex Sink's aw-shucks veneer of colloquial Southern charm and diluted liberalism is hardly enough to raise a placard over, and Republican Bill McCollum may be a hateful political nightmare akin to a decapitated horse's head under the sheets, but it's a nightmare we're well accustomed to by now. Where's the personality? Where's the pizazz?

Where it always is, really. In Camelot.

According to a Nov. 30 report on the Daily Beast website, Sink's chances could become suddenly clogged by the dynastic hairball of a Kennedy in the near future. Anthony Kennedy Shriver — who lives with his family on Miami Beach, founded the nonprofit Best Buddies in the spirit of his mother Eunice Kennedy and her Special Olympics, and calls Maria Shriver "sis" — has been swirling around in the top-secret political hot tubs of speculation and weighing his options as a potential candidate. Anonymous sources (natch) say that in addition to that whole political legacy thing that the Kennedys are spoon-fed as children, Shriver is actually "embarrassed" by Florida's swampy, go-nowhere politics and thinks his jawline could be put to better use at the top of the Sunshine State.

"He thinks Florida needs dramatic change and he's just not sure the current crop of candidates are up to it," an unnamed source told the Daily Beast.

Is it wrong that this excites us?

And now it's time for another edition of What's Up With Alan™?, our attempt to keep you up to date on the comings and goings of Orlando's favorite congressman, Alan Grayson!

This week's installment finds Master Grayson shivering with menacing anger at the war Kool-Aid being imbibed by his leader Barack Obama, then rushing off to his mahogany-paneled library to pull down that copy of The Art of War from the top shelf. Nobody does insubordination like our Alan!

"Continuing the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq is a terrible mistake," Grayson offers in a press release issued immediately after Obama's scary West Point speech. "We do not need to have troops 8,000 miles from our shore to keep us safe. I hope the president will reconsider this decision."

Grayson goes on to talk some super-liberal common sense, citing what was presented as a victory over the Taliban government there in 2001 with just 1,000 Special Forces troops and, of course, the economy failing back at home.

"We can't afford it anymore," he says. "We have to stop thinking about the well-being of the Tajiks, the Pashtuns and the Hazara, and instead take care of ourselves." Uh, who?

To make his point even more clear, Grayson took to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives to read C-Span's America a bedtime story from Sun-Tzu.

"In war, victory should be swift," he recited. "If victory is slow, men tire, morale sags, sieges exhaust strength, protracted campaigns drain the public treasury. … No nation has ever benefited from a protracted war."

The nation did not sleep very well.

Think Orlando's all tolerant and gay-friendly? Not entirely. On Nov. 20, a bunch of right-wing zealots put out what they call the "Manhattan Declaration," grandstanding about their refusal to join in abortions or euthanasia, sanctify gay marriages, give up their religious freedom and a bunch of related crap that no one's actually trying to make them do.

This was a heavily scripted Washington, D.C., event, seemingly bearing as little relation to Orlando as it does to reality, except that a couple of the prominent names are local.

Nos. 20 and 21 on an alphabetical list of the first 176 signatories — joining such shining examples of Christian gentility as the felonious Chuck Colson and the heads of Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council — are Steve Brown, head of Maitland-based Key Life Ministries, which broadcasts Christian radio blurbs over about 240 stations nationwide, and Robert C. Cannada Jr., chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, which turns out cadres of Calvinists.

The main signers of the Manhattan Declaration spent last week applauding themselves as the heirs of the Founding Fathers and Martin Luther King Jr. and defiers of the Nazis. Colson likened them to a gathering of saints in Heaven, who as we all know are few in number. The Manhattan Declaration now claims about 250,000 signatures, or .08 percent of the U.S. population.


More by Jim Gaines


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