Still mad that no one gave you a party for finishing the Hunger Games series before watching the first movie? Angry that there aren't trophies for knowing who the vice president is? Don't feel bad. Some of the world's most respected accomplishments aren't all that big of a deal, either.
Just look at the arbitrary and/or half-assed process involved in getting ...
#5. A Black Belt in a Martial Art
Our audience research shows that only about 60 percent of our readers are expert martial artists. If you're not one of those, you still know enough to realize that if a dude tells you he's a black belt in some fighting style, you shouldn't mess with him. Popular culture has taught you that this is somebody who has spent a lifetime mastering an art that will let him break wooden beams and human skulls with his bare fists.
That's, like, 10 faces worth of board he's breaking right now.
After all, they don't hand those black belts out to just anybody. There is a sacred and probably ancient standard that only the most dedicated students can meet. Right? Well, not exactly ...
Here's the most important thing to remember about accredited black belts: There is no such thing as an accredited black belt. It's not a college degree; it's a piece of clothing awarded to you by your teacher according to his own subjective criteria, which could be anything from hard work and crazy skills to having a lot of money. Hey, did we mention that any random dude off the street can become a martial arts instructor?
"My qualifications include owning this suit and Googling ' martial arts poses.'"
And as it turns out, the belt color system ranks among such other "ancient" wonders as driving and flying; it was invented barely a century ago. The first belt system was devised at the turn of the 20th century and was implemented for students of judo -- a style famous for literally not allowing the kicking of asses. Ever since, the black belt has served as an effective means of both showing off and making instructors' wages.
But it still means you can kick ass, doesn't it? It's not like any kid can get a black belt just for showing up and paying monthly fees, right? Wrong. Many schools now advertise black belts in a guaranteed time. You pay, then a year or two later you walk out with a black belt, regardless of how often or how well you trained. This happens so frequently that the martial arts community has come to call the schools "McDojos." Ask nicely and they'll tell you all about their birthday party packages while you're there.
"Free toy with every yellow belt!"
Here's one story of a guy who paid cash up front after being guaranteed a black belt in two years. Sure enough, two years later he walked out with his belt without having to spar with a single opponent. It wasn't long before he and his friends realized they were little more than kung-fu break dancers -- it turned out that their teacher had left his own master at blue belt and started his own dojo. Wrong? Sure. Illegal? Not at all.
"For our first lesson, you'll learn how to con suburban parents out of hundreds of dollars."
#4. An Academy Award
Even if you don't watch the Academy Awards ceremony every year, you can't pretend it's not a big deal -- we're betting that you and every one of your friends can name more Oscar-winning actors than Nobel Peace Prize winners. Yet there have been some baffling choices over the years. Pulp Fiction lost to Forrest Gump (in three different categories), Stanley Kubrick never won Best Director for anything. Those were really questionable decisions by ... whom, exactly?
"Alright, line all the nominees up and hand me a whippet. This is gonna be awesome."
That's right, who does decide which actors get a miniature C-3PO while boring the audience with excessive thanks and overinflated egos? Well, the Academy Awards are voted on each year by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, a private club of 5,765 individuals. Membership is invitation-only, with said invitations extended by current members. Those current members are very, very old white males, and they extend new memberships to other old white males.
It wasn't easy to find this out -- AMPAS doesn't publicly disclose its membership. But a newspaper did some digging recently and found some insane statistics. Of the members who vote, 77 percent are male. OK, so not a great place to pick up women. Fine. But 54 percent are over 60 and 98 percent are over 40. The average age of the voters is 62.
And oh yeah, 94-freaking-percent are white.
"I know what Joe America wants to watch in between yacht outings and cotillions."
Statistically speaking, this means that, in a pool of 5,765 voters, there is one black woman under 40. You might think, "But these are veterans of the academy! Peers judging their peers!" Not necessarily. Like herpes, membership with AMPAS is for life, even if you've moved on to a completely different career.
It turns out that a mere 19 percent of members have even been nominated for an Oscar, while an even lower 14 percent have actually won, which leaves a two-thirds majority of old white men (some of whom may no longer even work in the business) deciding which actor/movie/screenplay was the best. Holy shit, no wonder Driving Miss Daisy won Best Picture.
"How could we not award the movie that solved racism?"
Becoming a saint is a big enough deal that you can get entire cities and holidays named after you, even if the latter just winds up being used as an excuse to get drunk on green beer. So even if you're not Catholic, you know that being a saint means you've stamped your name into the pages of history. Wouldn't it be crazy if people were lighting candles and praying for your guidance 500 years from now?
"Our Lady of Perpetual Dick Jokes, please bless this trivia contest."
Well, it actually could happen, if enough time passes and the records get mixed up in just the right way. The process for proclaiming sainthood is, let's just say, kind of lax.
Just see St. Josaphat, who turned out to not actually exist (his legend appears to be nothing more than a Christianized version of Buddha). Or St. Philomena, who was a plain old corpse found in a cave in 1802. It just so happened that she was found in a Roman catacomb with a vial of blood, some drawings of arrows and anchors and the inscription "Peace be with thee, Philomena." Which Christians interpreted as the clear sign of a martyr. It wasn't until 1961 that someone asked "Wait ... what?" and she was removed from the saint calendar, on account of (again) no one knowing jack shit about whether she was even a real person.
We always figured there was a more thorough vetting process required to earn a statue.
How can mistakes like that get made? Well, here's how becoming a saint works: First, you die. Second, five or more years later, someone in the Catholic church nominates you for sainthood. Third, a bishop investigates your life. All he needs to know is that your "writings have been found to contain nothing contrary to faith and good morals." If everything is cool, your cause proceeds to a special group of Vatican higher-ups who do nothing but oversee canonizations. They check the bishop's research, verify miracles, make sure you weren't really a devil worshiper, etc. Easy enough.
Except sometimes they're not doing it five years after you die, but 500 years. There's only so much you can discover about people who lived and died before the printing press existed. And we're not talking about historians writing a fact-based report of, say, the guy who got the world's first documented case of porn-induced carpal tunnel syndrome, complete with eyewitnesses, screenshots and incredulous doctors' notes. We're talking about preachers, church members and administrators declaring long-dead people saints. Like, worthy of holy days and for-real-interceding-to-Jesus-on-your-behalf saints.
Which is why you -- yes, you -- could be considered a candidate for sainthood 500 years from now, even if you haven't been to church since Easter 2003 and you totally organized a pro-choice rally on your campus that one time. If future churchgoers find your diary and decide that "I <3 WEEDZ LOL" was an agricultural prayer that miraculously made crops grow, you're in. And that still puts you ahead of those saints we mentioned earlier since, you know, you actually exist.
So go ahead and take the day off, drain a fifth of vodka, puke on the neighbor's lawn. You've earned it.