Archive for the ‘Social life’ Category

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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Two from Out

September 20, 2014

Yesterday, it was The Advocate; today, it’s another LPI publication, Out (or OUT) magazine, again with two pieces of interest for this blog in the latest (October 2014) issue: one on straightsplaining, one on gay bookstores.

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floater

September 9, 2014

In the NYT Sunday Review on the 7th, a “Room for Debate” feature on “Why Don’t Americans Take Vacation?”, with commentators weighing in on the topic. It’s a pretty dire discussion, emphasizing how (with the destruction of the clout of labor unions in the US) a great many workers have very few, if any, benefits; family-friendly company practices and benefits are especially meager. In particular, there are vacations. From John de Graaf, answering the question in the main title: “Many Feel Trapped by Work”:

Vacations in the U.S. are among the shortest in the world, and a quarter of American workers get no paid vacation leave at all. Then, to add insult to injury, surveys find that 40 percent of us leave vacation days unused – three to seven days on average. Why do we do it?

de Graaf gives three contributing reasons, two of which have to do with company failures to cover for employees on vacation.

My early work experience included some time on a newspaper that published weekdays and Sundays — a context in which employees couldn’t just take off on vacation, since the paper had to get out, every day of the week, with current news. Things were managed in several ways, like staggered vacations, but one part of the system was the use of a “floater” (that would be me) who would fill in wherever hands were needed.

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Everything changes after Labor Day

September 1, 2014

A Leo Cullum cartoon from the 9/9/02 New Yorker:

 

The idea that men shouldn’t wear white after Labor Day has been much disputed, but here’s another Labor Day stricture, recognizing that (US) Labor Day is conventionally the end of summer.

(Hat tip to Michael Palmer.)

Cullum (who died in 2010) drew a great many gag cartoons that have been posted on this blog.

The ice-bucket challenge

September 1, 2014

A Shannon Wheeler cartoon in the latest (9/1/14) New Yorker:

 

An exquisitely topical cartoon, of the sort that the magazine has published since its early days. It’s hard to believe the cartoon will make much sense to people in a few years, when the news story has faded from public memory. But at the moment…

 

 

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Annals of community and conversation

August 22, 2014

On Slate on the 20th, a piece by David Auerbach, on “The First Gay Space on the Internet: It was called soc.motss, and it anticipated how we use social networks today”. Framing the piece:

Since the early 1980s, there have been many LGBTQ spaces on the Net: newsgroups, bulletin board systems, or BBSs, mailing lists, social networks, chat rooms, and websites. But the very first LGBTQ Internet space, as far as I’ve been able to find, was the soc.motss newsgroup. And it hosted conversations that had never been seen before online — and that arguably remain in too short supply even today.

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Accents?

May 19, 2014

From several sources on Facebook (but ultimately from the Oatmeal webcomic), this item:

 

This is accent taking in all aspects of a variety of a language, not just the phonological aspects. In this case, phonology is barely involved (though you can imagine some of it, using stereotypes of upper-class British pronunciation)): it’s all about lexical choices, register/style, and conversational topic (leaning heavily towards the sexual) — obscure, perhaps archaic, and pompously rakish.

(This is another case in which I don’t really know whether the item is to be classified as a cartoon, or what.)

Five for Friday

May 18, 2014

Five items, several of which lead to more complex topics: a Harry Bliss cartoon that I caught, reprinted, in the Funny Times for May; a Zippy on art forgery; a One Big Happy with a kid eggcorn; a Zits with alliteration and rhyme (and the sexual marketplace); and a Rhymes With Orange on consonants and vowels.

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Shared culture

April 27, 2014

Frank Bruni in an op-ed piece in the NYT on April 8th, “The Water Cooler Runs Dry”, which began:

If you’re closing in on 50 but want to feel much, much older, teach a college course. I’m doing that now, at 49, and hardly a class goes by when I don’t make an allusion that prompts my students to stare at me as if I just dropped in from the Paleozoic era.

Last week I mentioned the movie “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” Only one of the 16 students had heard of it. I summarized its significance, riffling through the Depression, with which they were familiar, and Jane Fonda’s career, with which they weren’t. “Barbarella” went sailing over their heads. I didn’t dare test my luck with talk of leg warmers and Ted Turner.

I once brought up Vanessa Redgrave. Blank stares. Greta Garbo. Ditto. We were a few minutes into a discussion of an essay that repeatedly invoked Proust’s madeleine when I realized that almost none of the students understood what the madeleine signified or, for that matter, who this Proust fellow was.

And these are young women and men bright and diligent enough to have gained admission to Princeton University, which is where our disconnect is playing out.

The bulk of that disconnect, obviously, is generational. Seemingly all of my students know who Gwyneth Paltrow is. And with another decade or two of reading and living and being subjected to fossils like me, they’ll assemble a richer inventory of knowledge and trivia, not all of it present-day.

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Communicators

April 27, 2014

Two cartoons today — a Zits and a Bizarro — about communicating:

(#1)

(#2)

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