Archive for the ‘Social life’ Category

Raced and gendered (and classed)

July 30, 2015

On the 27th, in Charles M. Blow’s op-ed column in the NYT, “At Sandra Bland’s Funeral, Celebration and Defiance”:

Bland didn’t demur and knuckle under. Some have criticized her for her stance during the traffic stop, suggesting that if she had behaved differently, with more respect for the officer, she might have avoided arrest.

Maybe. But, it must always be remembered that the parameters of “respectable behavior” are both raced and gendered. The needle moves to differing positions for different people. That is, I believe, one of the reasons that this minor traffic stop so quickly escalated.

How dare a woman not present as a damsel? How dare a black person not bow in obsequiousness?

I was of course familiar with gendered, but the parallel raced was new to me, though it seems to have considerable currency among politically aware social critics. And, yes, there’s also the parallel classed.

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“part of who we are”

June 27, 2015

One of the developments in South Carolina has to do with the Confederate battle flag flying on the dome of the statehouse there: what does it mean? and should it be taken down?

The full history of the flag is complex, but there’s no question that after the rise of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s it was used as a powerful symbol of Southern resistance to the movement, black people, and the federal government.

Into this terrain walked Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, whose first response was to protest that the battle flag is an integral “part of who we are”, part of the Southern heritage, and as such should be proudly preserved in situ. (His position later moderated.)

The first thing to ask about his statement is: who are the we in what he said? From the larger context, I assume that Graham’s intention was to refer to Southerners in general  (or at least to South Carolinians). But I can’t credit that claim.

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Deserved drowning

May 6, 2015

Passed on by John McIntyre, yesterday’s Wondermark, which is mostly social, rather than linguistic, commentary:

Pointed social commentary from David Malki. In the spirit of Ebenezer Scrooge’s “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?”

(The notion of water vagrants is nice.)

Armenian days

April 27, 2015

Some time ago I came to consciousness in the middle of the night to intriguing music from WQXR (classical music from NYC): a collage of melodies, many hauntingly semi-familiar. Hmm, Charles Ives? Not any Ives I recognized, and quieter and less assertive than you expect from Ives. Unfamiliar and charming.

Symphony No. 50 Mount St Helens by Alan Hovhaness. And that took me to Armenians in the U.S., especially to the west of Boston (near where I lived when I was in grad school); to the Armenian diaspora; and to the genocide, a hundred years ago, that triggered the dispersal of Armenians.

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Apologetic candy

April 26, 2015

On the tv this morning, a (very short) commercial that turned on the apology “Sorry I was eating a Milky Way”. It’s on this site, with an explanation of its content:

A hairstylist, a rodeo clown and a cruise ship captain all completely forget what [they’re] supposed to be doing while eating a delicious Milky Way chocolate and caramel candy bar. Hilarity ensues, but their Milky Ways are just too good for these people to care.

On another site, a set of other “Distracted Chocolate-Eating Ads”:

Although being distracted by a chocolate bar might not be the best excuse for certain scenarios, the Milky Way Caramel campaign shows that this snack may be particularly irresistible. With its gooey caramel center, how could a bride possibly make it to her wedding on time? Or a mother not burn her son’s boy scout uniform with an unattended iron? These situations and more should be excused, at least according to the Milky Way Caramel campaign.

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shtum

April 25, 2015

From the April 18th Economist, in the article “Putin’s targeted strike: The meaning of Russia’s weapons sale to Iran”:

In July 2013 Russia remained silent when an Israeli air strike destroyed anti-ship cruise missiles that it had recently supplied to Syria and were on their way to Hizbullah. And Israel kept shtum last October when Syrian rebels released footage of the involvement of Russian intelligence officers at a Syrian military listening post on the Golan Heights that had been overrun.

Israel kept shtum. With the adjective shtum ‘silent, mute’ — an item that, apparently, few Americans know, unless they have some experience of British English. (The Economist is a British publication.) On the British side, the item is ordinary slang, commonly used in the collocation keep shtum (and in some other contexts). It seems to be derived from Yiddish, though I believe that very few British speakers appreciate that; for them, it’s just slang. So there’s something of a puzzle as to how it became naturalized in BrE but not AmE.

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Three morning names

February 3, 2015

I occasionally post about my “morning names” — names that I wake up with stuck in my head, for no reason I can fathom. Today’s morning name was Jensen Ackles, an actor I’ve already written about on this blog (on 8/21/13). But: on Saturday, the social psychologist Bibb Latané; on Sunday, the actor Pat Buttram (noted for cowboy and hayseed roles); and yesterday, the hayseed performer Judy Canova.

The last two will lead me to reflect on farm folk as comic characters, and the last to the 1937 movie Artists and Models, with its mixture of “high” and “low” characters.

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Hipster chronicles

October 31, 2014

An illustration: the cover of the 11/3/14 New Yorker, Peter de Sève’s “Hip Hops”, with a hipster doing a beer tasting in a hipster bar:

More on the artist and the story behind this illustration later. But first, on hipster.

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doxxing

October 26, 2014

A slang term (also spelled doxing) from the Gamergate controversy (see below), for “researching and publishing personally identifiable information about an individual” (Wikipedia), in a form of cyber-bullying. The Wikipedia article derives the term from dox, which it treats as a clipped version of document, but it seems more likely that dox is just a re-spelling of docs, which is a clipped version of documents, used here with a specialized meaning.

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Cultural commentary

October 23, 2014

A recent op-ed column in the NYT from David Brooks, who fancies himself a critic of the sociocultural scene, on hysterical responses to Ebola: “The Quality of Fear: What the Ebola Crisis Reveals About Culture” on October 21st, beginning:

There’s been a lot of tut-tutting about the people who are overreacting to the Ebola virus. There was the lady who showed up at the airport in a homemade hazmat suit. There were the hundreds of parents in Mississippi who pulled their kids from school because the principal had traveled to Zambia, a country in southern Africa untouched by the Ebola outbreak in the western region of the continent. There was the school district in Ohio that closed a middle school and an elementary school because an employee might have flown on the same plane (not even the same flight) as an Ebola-infected health care worker.

The critics point out that these people are behaving hysterically, all out of proportion to the scientific risks, which, of course, is true. But the critics misunderstand what’s going on here. Fear isn’t only a function of risk; it’s a function of isolation. We live in a society almost perfectly suited for contagions of hysteria and overreaction.

Here we get the trope of Decline — things are getting worse, as hysteria and paranoia spread — combined with the claim of Recency — the decline has been steep recently — all of this, according to Brooks, explained by a social change: the fragmentation of American society as social, cultural, and political groups isolate themselves from one another.

Now, Decline and Recency are, in principle, testable matters. And since Brooks presents himself as a fan of work in social science (he occasionally publishes summaries of social-science research he finds significant, or at least thought-provoking), you’d expect him to provide evidence for Decline and Recency in social hysteria, but no: like so many cultural commenters he merely retails his subjective impressions as truths, and then conjures up an explanation for them.

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