Do the Fine Arts make you a better person?

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Fine Arts as defined by: literature, theatre, visual art, and music (have I missed any?).

I’m currently reading Arthur C. Clarke and Michael Kube-MacDowell’s The Trigger. It’s a sci-fi about a device that projects a field that renders all nitrate-based firearms unusable, and the political and civil implications of introducing that technology to the US. Along the way there are some fantastic discussions about global disarmament. I’ve read it a number of times and it keeps pulling me back in for another read. But what I’ve also noticed is how it infects my writing with the same sort of optimistic humanism many of the characters espouse. I find myself disinterested in sharp verbal jabs with people at home or online, more interested in reconciliation and cooperation. A similar thing happens whenever I do any reading on rhetorical theory, especially from primary texts like Cicero.

Now, sci-fi isn’t what most people consider as ‘literature’, but for me this book qualifies, which I think is the only necessary consideration, how an object personally affects you…it doesn’t need to be universalized.

When you read a book, a good book, you get into the author’s head, into the story. And if the book happens to be more than just entertainment, if it has a social message, what John Gardner referred to as Moral Fiction, then you might pick up on that too, and be influenced by it, even if it’s only for a short while, even if it doesn’t last beyond the end of the story.

But if you have multiple exposures to this sort of thing, it might have an aggregate effect, might have some permanently lingering effect on your character. Or maybe not. English Lit majors aren’t, IMO, particularly ‘moral’ people. Nor are art history profs or thespians. Perhaps glutting yourself on the fine arts is just as likely to have the opposite effect, to make you snobbish and cloistered. The playwright Henry Miller wrote that “A man with a belly full of the classics is an enemy of the human race.”

Other poster’s responses? I’ve got a book by John Carey that directly attacks this argument, but it’s heavily theoretical and I don’t want to weigh the thread down top-heavy by trying to explain his arguments.

 
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Being pretentious does not make you a better person.

 
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I think it’s more about exposing yourself to other beliefs and looking at the world in different ways. Reading books puts you into the minds of the characters within. It makes you consider things you might not have otherwise. Further, these novels are typically fiction – events that are not always likely or are extreme in nature. They push the definitions of morality and present situations that are not easy to handle. In a way, reading a book is like getting experience in that area, albeit indirectly and not completely. Thus, someone who has read books about struggles and confliction will have a more developed sense for those types of issues than someone who has never thought about or considered hypothetical equivalents.

I also want to call bs on the idea that we glean more value from nonfiction/“classics”. I’d venture to say that fiction is much, much more beneficial and serves a purpose that nothing else does. If you want to learn from nonfiction, read a history book. If you want to immerse yourself in an unknown moral issue and seriously enter past the surface, you need to create and follow that path down where no one has been. Sci-fi especially explores the realm of the “might be” or “eventual” or perhaps long term consequence. The Giver, Brave New World, and Space Odyssey 2001 are all excellent examples of this. Stuff which I find far more useful, thought provoking, and valuable than say … a story about an uneducated boy running away from home down a river with an escaped slave …

 
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“Every reader finds himself. The writer’s work is merely a kind of optical instrument that makes it possible for the reader to discern what, without this book, he would perhaps never have seen in himself.” — Marcel Proust

To put it simply, absolutely. The magnificent and everlasting beauty of the human mind is its ability to stretch itself and consider the impact of itself without actually impacting the world. Introspection is changing the self intentionally instead of passively letting the world shape us. Art is the verb of our minds.

 
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Yeah, I like what both of you guys said. I came across another quote today that meshes together well.

“Why else do we read fiction, anyway? Not to be impressed by someone else’s dazzling language(…)I think that most of us, anyway, read these stories that we know are not ‘true’ because we’re hungry for another kind of truth: the mythic truth about human nature in general, the particular truth about those life-communities that define our own identity, and the most specific story of all: our own self-story. Fiction, because it is not about someone who actually lived in the real world, always has the possibility of being about oneself.”
-Orson Scott Card (another scifi luminary)

Stuff which I find far more useful, thought provoking, and valuable than say … a story about an uneducated boy running away from home down a river with an escaped slave …

I agree there too. Although…if you like speculative/scifi of ideas, you might find one of his other works more appealing. I certainly did.

 
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Better? Maybe not. They’re not ethics training. But they make you a more well rounded person.

That’s probably why there’s this big push in primary schools to make sure kids get the musical training, the electives, the theatre field trips, etc.

Now, sci-fi isn’t what most people consider as ‘literature’, but for me this book qualifies, which I think is the only necessary consideration, how an object personally affects you…it doesn’t need to be universalized.

I consider anything that is well written and thought out, and gains a cult following, literature. Apparently Barnes and Noble agrees; since they have launched their collectible classics series (I’m sure you’ve seen it), a lot of surprising titles have shown up, including the Star Wars Trilogy, H.P. Lovecraft, Anne Rice, and more.

 
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But what’s ethics training? I’ve taken a few classes, read my share of kant and aristotle. If fiction doesn’t make you a better person, they certainly don’t, IMO.

 
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Well, that’s true. I don’t actually believe ethics training really improves anyone, it just kind of lets them know what the consequences are for not following company ethics. But their thrust is making people better, more polite, or whatever. The driving goal of fine arts is entertainment and culture, no?

 
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A side note on the point regarding Aristotle and Kant, and the value of ethics. I have recently made friends with a local professor of philosophy, and while we both appreciate Aristotle, we are at complete odds over the true value of philosophical writing. She looks at it as if it’s far more of a science than I do. I am always caught on here arguing in favor of objective logic, but for all of the stake I put into science and logic, I have always found its application to sociology, philosophy, and other higher level problems to be a severe misnomer. As I consider taking the leap into going to school to teach English, I realize that I do not believe in traditional scholarly thinking. I do not think that the Nicomachean Ethics is an important piece of literature because Aristotle specifically figured any one thing out, or had anything in particularly profound to say in itself. I think it’s an important piece of literature in the same way I think that the Bible is an important piece of literature; I think this thread is talking about it.

The reason fiction is so powerful is because it both allows you to take a trip into someone else’s conceit, but it also doesn’t stop you from writing in the margins and disagreeing with it. You can both empathize and critically react to writing as the hypothesis and not the answer itself. I think true scholarly thinking is the postulations themselves. People tend to hate the papers in the backs of books, but to me they’re true education. People often cite something from a book, whether it’s religious or scholarly, as if it is an edict or an authority, instead of as a challenge or thought experiment. I find this to be the difference between western and eastern writing, and why many people take eastern writing as lofty and impotent. I consider this writing to be far more interactive than the western voice of certainty that even I myself speak with frequently.

 
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The driving goal of fine arts is entertainment and culture, no?

wellll….yes. I guess so. At base.

But there’s always been the desire for it to me more than that too. Yes, shakespeare was to entertain elizabethan nobility, Homer and Pindar were for Greek and Roman state-religious-historical stuff. But I’m reminded of the speech that the William R Murrow character says at the end of Good Night and Good Luck – about television being used to discuss the great arguments of the day, an argument that never ends. He gets a bit preachy near the end, talking about hour-long education classes on primetime tv. But his main point seemed solid.

Edit:

(…)while we both appreciate Aristotle, we are at complete odds over the true value of philosophical writing. She looks at it as if it’s far more of a science than I do. I am always caught on here arguing in favor of objective logic, but for all of the stake I put into science and logic, I have always found its application to sociology, philosophy, and other higher level problems to be a severe misnomer.

My first intro to Aristotle was reading posterior analytics for a political science course that tried to emphasize the ‘science’ part of the name. It was extremely, excruciatingly boring. In fact, most analytical philosophy strikes me that way.

People often cite something from a book, whether it’s religious or scholarly, as if it is an edict or an authority, instead of as a challenge or thought experiment. I find this to be the difference between western and eastern writing, and why many people take eastern writing as lofty and impotent. I consider this writing to be far more interactive than the western voice of certainty that even I myself speak with frequently.

I’m not sure what you mean here. I’ve read eastern philosophy and it’s just as cumbersome and authoritarian, if not moreso. Eastern fiction? Yeah, I dunno.

 
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Artists usually are not good factory workers and most of them are kind of dicks.
Still fiction really does make you question your ethics some times.
I personal like history for nothing tells us about human nature than history.
I also like pizza.
and guns.
don’t forget the cars.

 
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Originally posted by thepunisher52:

Artists usually are not good factory workers and most of them are kind of dicks.
Still fiction really does make you question your ethics some times.
I personal like history for nothing tells us about human nature than history.
I also like pizza.
and guns.
don’t forget the cars.

thanks for the contribution.

 
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Originally posted by thepunisher52:

Artists usually are not good factory workers and most of them are kind of dicks.

They’re damn good waiters though.

 
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Originally posted by Jantonaitis:
Originally posted by thepunisher52:

Artists usually are not good factory workers and most of them are kind of dicks.
Still fiction really does make you question your ethics some times.
I personal like history for nothing tells us about human nature than history.
I also like pizza.
and guns.
don’t forget the cars.

thanks for the contribution.

You are welcome.

 
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Originally posted by onlineidiot1994:
Originally posted by thepunisher52:

Artists usually are not good factory workers and most of them are kind of dicks.

They’re damn good waiters though.

And baristas.

 
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The Fine Arts definitely improve you as a human being. I believe Kasic hits the nail on the head when he says it’s a matter of obtaining new perspectives, which I would consider the most important facet of self-improvement in general. Engaging with media, ideally very polished, cerebral media is one of the two best ways to gain these perspectives. The other, of course, being first-hand experience of the topic in question.

As we all know, though, experience isn’t always possible. For example, my outlook on euthanasia, (which to this day I’m lucky enough to have no first-hand experience with) was shaped largely by reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in high school. This piece of literature single-handedly solidified my belief that people in the direst of circumstances should be allowed the right to die.

In this case, I’d say Fine Art improved both my ethics and my knowledge of the world. I believe that the latter is impossible to avoid when engaging with virtually any medium, high or low, while the former varies based on content, the type of person you are, and your ability to separate, (or integrate) reality and the piece in question.

That said, I have to go off an a tangent here and say I’ve always been uncomfortable with the term “Fine Art”. To me, that term suggests that “this is the stuff that will REALLY change your worldview and enrich your life!”, which just doesn’t compute with me since I’ve read “regular” novels that are core to my being to this day, and literature that I just couldn’t appreciate or learn a great deal from. I hesitate to provide an example here, but The Great Gatsby is an example of literature that just didn’t do anything for me. I get that it’s supposed to be a commentary on the carelessness and excesses of the rich in the 1920’s, but to me it just wasn’t particularly enriching.

I’m going to go ahead and break this post off now for fear of going on forever, and end with posing a few questions to you Janton, if I may, just to elucidate for myself what is kosher for this thread as far as Fine Art is concerned. Does film qualify by your standards? Is electronic music capable of achieving the same level of artistry as classical? Can video games apply? Anime?

I don’t mean to put you on the spot or derail the thread; I pose the same questions to anyone who cares to answer. I just feel it’s important to test the waters of public, (and TC’s) opinion where Fine Art is concerned, since the definition seems kind of fluid. When you ask if you’re missing anything in the OP, I must admit that I have a hard time providing a definitive answer.

I’m especially motivated to question this type of thing because of a game I recently got, The Stanley Parable. I simply don’t know what to make of it… In the context of video games, it’s self-referential in the manner I’d expect from a really good, albeit tongue-in-cheek, piece of literature. “Does it constitute Fine Art?” is actually a question I asked myself while playing it, albeit in slightly different words.

 
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As we all know, though, experience isn’t always possible. For example, my outlook on euthanasia, (which to this day I’m lucky enough to have no first-hand experience with) was shaped largely by reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in high school. This piece of literature single-handedly solidified my belief that people in the direst of circumstances should be allowed the right to die.

Indeed. I read it for the first time while in rehab, along with Ender’s Game. They influenced me with a significant distrust of ‘experts’ put into positions of public authority.

That said, I have to go off an a tangent here and say I’ve always been uncomfortable with the term “Fine Art”. To me, that term suggests that “this is the stuff that will REALLY change your worldview and enrich your life!”, which just doesn’t compute with me since I’ve read “regular” novels that are core to my being to this day, and literature that I just couldn’t appreciate or learn a great deal from.

I mentioned this briefly in the OP but to go along a bit further with it, I think any novel or piece of art that speaks to you personally must be fine art, even if it doesn’t grab other people the same way. Since it’s all subjective anyway, the attempt to provide a canon to it is inevitable artificial.

I hesitate to provide an example here, but The Great Gatsby is an example of literature that just didn’t do anything for me. I get that it’s supposed to be a commentary on the carelessness and excesses of the rich in the 1920’s, but to me it just wasn’t particularly enriching.

See, I liked Gatsby. It’s more than possible you have to be in the right frame of mind to appreciate good books. For me it was Crime and Punishment. I was chasing a girl who put it at the top of her favorite books list so I read it to try to get into her head. It was during Christmas Break and I remember getting extremely depressed and hating the clumsy plotline. Didn’t help much with the girl either.

I’m going to go ahead and break this post off now for fear of going on forever, and end with posing a few questions to you Janton, if I may, just to elucidate for myself what is kosher for this thread as far as Fine Art is concerned. Does film qualify by your standards? Is electronic music capable of achieving the same level of artistry as classical? Can video games apply? Anime?

Again, I’ve mentioned this a little already, but any art that speaks to you, however loosely defined. For movies, I mentioned Good Night and Good Luck above; off the top of my head I’d add Five Easy Pieces, Lost in Translation, The Barbarian Invasions, and Ang Lee’s Hulk. Most of those could probably qualify as art for people, but the last one was almost universally reviled. Obviously I’d add comics to the list, or some comics anyway (ie. the entire line of the Mike Grell 80s Green Arrow). Music’s hard. Hell, anything that doesn’t tell me a story is hard for me to judge. Do I just ‘like’ it or even ‘love’ it but is it actually art? Videogames? Sure. Even flash games. Loved is already categorized as art on kong, but I’d also add Starwish. I dislike most anime but starwish might qualify.

 
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Originally posted by Jantonaitis:

Again, I’ve mentioned this a little already, but any art that speaks to you, however loosely defined. For movies, I mentioned Good Night and Good Luck above; off the top of my head I’d add Five Easy Pieces, Lost in Translation, The Barbarian Invasions, and Ang Lee’s Hulk. Most of those could probably qualify as art for people, but the last one was almost universally reviled. Obviously I’d add comics to the list, or some comics anyway (ie. the entire line of the Mike Grell 80s Green Arrow). Music’s hard. Hell, anything that doesn’t tell me a story is hard for me to judge. Do I just ‘like’ it or even ‘love’ it but is it actually art? Videogames? Sure. Even flash games. Loved is already categorized as art on kong, but I’d also add Starwish. I dislike most anime but starwish might qualify.

Ok, I’ll bite. I don’t think I looked deeply enough into your OP question before, because arts and culture isn’t necessarily just strictly classical theatre and art. Yes, I do think it can make someone a better person, if they are able to truly let it in and absorb a message or lesson. I like that you mentioned some more contemporary pieces, and what you got out of them. I haven’t seen Good Night and Good Luck (you’re referring to the movie starring George Clooney, right?), but I did see Lost In Translation and do have a couple other pieces of modern work that speak to me:

Boogie Nights—don’t laugh; I just think this was a really well done movie and a profound look into an unconventional industry and how they were able to interact and form their own subculture and familial unit(s).

American Beauty—Shows me just how dysfunctional a “perfect family” can be.

The Fight Club—both the movie and the book. Brilliance.

1984—Book, and the movie.

I also have a healthy appreciation for V for Vendetta and (most) of the Star Wars trilogies, both for their entertainment value and for the symbolism and deeper messages they impart.

Now on the subject of Lost in Translation, what did you take out of that movie? I remember the bonding experience between the two protagonists, and how deep love (not necessarily romantic) can form in a place far away from familiar settings, and that understanding can transcend even that of our closest kin.

 
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In answer to the lead question, I would say that art certainly has the potential to make you better. It makes you a more rounded individual, provides context for and helps shape your opinions, and exposes you to differing, and sometimes unique viewpoints. Moral fiction, as you discuss, can offer fantastic social commentary in a way that allows the reader to seriously contemplate the things the author is discussing. All good stuff, but they all depend on a willing recipient to consider those views and perhaps change accordingly.

Fine Arts as defined by: literature, theatre, visual art, and music (have I missed any?).

I dunno – would dancing be a fine art? In that case, theatre may be better off switched with “performance art.” I would also include great oratory pieces. Things like the Gettysburg Address or Lou Gehrig’s farewell, while not really literature, are so damn beautiful that you’d be hard pressed arguing they aren’t fine art. Speechwriting, rhetoric, or however you would want to label should absolutely be included.

It’s more than possible you have to be in the right frame of mind to appreciate good books. For me it was Crime and Punishment.

You have no idea how much it pained me to read that.

 
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Twilight

Now on the subject of Lost in Translation, what did you take out of that movie? I remember the bonding experience between the two protagonists, and how deep love (not necessarily romantic) can form in a place far away from familiar settings, and that understanding can transcend even that of our closest kin.

Apart from Scarlett Johansson’s nicely shaped butt in the opening shot? lol.

I watched it in high school with some friends and it became sort of a group tradition so I associate it with that. Two overly sensitive Americans who go to Japan and hate it. It wasn’t until I was actually in Japan that I realized that movie had prejudiced me against japanese culture. See, I liked the movie so much that I let the various racist jokes and send-ups of Japanese life pass by without critical analysis. I guess I’d call art because it had an influence, it just wasn’t a positive one…it’s comparable I think to the effect watching DW Griffith’s Birth of a Nation has on some people, that it’s a great piece of film-making…and totally a propaganda piece for the KKK. Lost wasn’t that bad, but it was enough so that it forced me stop and think before I get too attached to other movies and miss things I should catch.

Izzen

I would also include great oratory pieces. Things like the Gettysburg Address or Lou Gehrig’s farewell, while not really literature, are so damn beautiful that you’d be hard pressed arguing they aren’t fine art. Speechwriting, rhetoric, or however you would want to label should absolutely be included.

hmm. I mentioned rhetoric in the OP but that was rhetorical theory. I didn’t even think about speeches. Yeah, good point. There’s something called the massey lectures in Canada that are on the radio every year. I used to steal them off the internet and listen to them. It’s not so much what they say (they have a distinct left-wing bias which can be jarring) as how they say it.

You have no idea how much it pained me to read that.

I like Notes from Underground, though I wouldn’t go as far as calling it art.

 
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I’ll frequently pour my way through a sci-fi book, or a film of the same type, basically for idea-hunting. Film and book portrayal of a given tech’s influence on the world is always simple: They change one thing and keep everything else the same, recognisable. The one change they make is of course the tech they’re looking at the effects of. In reality everything is changing all at once, but that would make the portrayal confusing and sometimes difficult to understand.

Everything from Surrogates and The Surrogates (the original books and film are basically the same story, but the film is way, way tamer, and refuses to look at the deeper, darker more murky ethical and social aspects. Hence I prefer the books) looking at the effects of embodiment, through to manga and films like the Ghost in The Shell and Appleseed series, Transmetropolitan, Robot (short story collections) 1-5, The books in the “Ship Who Sang” sequence, the “Tower and Hive” sequence, Otherland books 1-4… It just goes on and on and on.

I’m indebted to a good a friend who gave me a copy of ‘Deus Ex’ as I missed it entirely due to basically my not paying attention to modern videogames. Even this I would hold up there with the likes of Ghost in the Shell, or Strange Days’ or ‘Total Recall 2070’ for its ability to take a profound and detailed look at the way our technology and political landscapes change to mold our future. Didn’t hurt that it hit so close to home either. I spent most of the game playing a personal game of ‘guess which aquaintance the developers were talking to for that piece of scenery’, as I kept recognising different friend and aquaintences’ work.

All of these I consider atwork. They are all compelling, all have something to say; something to deliver. The closer they stick to real-world laws and human nature the better I like them. The more they dig into the meat of the socio-political landscape and how that author / that director feels the tech would alter everything, the more I like it. The more it makes me think, makes me question what I hold dear, and wonder at the wiseness of the course I’m on, the better for me it really is.

Even the funny, naive ones are still art. They encapsulate the thinking of the time. Works like “Computer One” with its belief that computerisation would lead to most of us having 95-100% leisure time by the year 2,000. Works like “Mighty Micro” with its belief that when credit cards become mainstream (showing its age there) petty theft will disappear, as whilst a collection of bills are a tempting target, a collection of credit-card recipts are not.

From our perspective they are funny, but from the perspective of the times; this is what people really believed. It is educational in itself to contrast their beliefs with the reality of how things turned out. Keeps oneself from getting too dreamy and groupie-like with any innovation. The downsides are always worse than those who envisage them give credit for.

 
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OK, I get it, Sci fi and history can make a man better (in a way)
Tell me , where does stuff like this fit in?

 
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Originally posted by thepunisher52:

OK, I get it, Sci fi and history can make a man better (in a way)
Tell me , where does stuff like this fit in?

In the fantasies of every male pakistani under 30, I imagine.

 
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Originally posted by Jantonaitis:

Apart from Scarlett Johansson’s nicely shaped butt in the opening shot? lol.

Oh, it’s like that huh? LOL. You might enjoy The Island for more commentary on her curves. And while we’re on the topic, it’s also one of my favorites—not necessarily a “classic”, but a really great look into slavery, trafficking, and the ethical implications of what money can buy versus the value of a human life.

I watched it in high school with some friends and it became sort of a group tradition so I associate it with that.

Geez, how old are you again? You’re not actually 25 like your profile says, are you? #makingmefeelold

But seriously, have you seen The Fight Club? Probably my favorite movie, and a great insight on consumerism and self. If so, what did you think? I’d love to start a thread on just this sometime.

 
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Oh, it’s like that huh? LOL. You might enjoy The Island for more commentary on her curves. And while we’re on the topic, it’s also one of my favorites—not necessarily a “classic”, but a really great look into slavery, trafficking, and the ethical implications of what money can buy versus the value of a human life.

I saw it, but don’t remember it well. Apart from Lost and Ghost World I don’t actually like Scarlett in movies, and there’s no eye-candy in Ghost World.

Geez, how old are you again? You’re not actually 25 like your profile says, are you?

I’ll be 26 this November. It’s not a new movie anymore.

But seriously, have you seen The Fight Club? Probably my favorite movie, and a great insight on consumerism and self. If so, what did you think? I’d love to start a thread on just this sometime.

I don’t mind the movie. I read the book recently and quite like it. I tried to organize a fight club when I was overseas, but got no takers.