Tuesday, March 31, 2015

White Man's Shame

Driving into work this morning, I heard Michel Martin's piece on how black men in the US experience the social fact that many of those around them fear them.  To the point that one panelist noted how he walks the street whistling tunes from Frozen to clearly show how nonthreatening he is. On its own, the discussion provided more sad commentary on the continuing racism that pervades American culture. It also jostled my own memories, bringing up personal episodes I'm quite ashamed of.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Past, Present, Future; Afterlives and Meaning

My last post reminded me of a 2013 Opinionator piece from the New York Times.  I'm going to quote at length because it's provocative and consistently bounces around my head a year and a half after I first read it.  Riffing on the idea of an afterlife, Scheffler states how he doesn't believe in some otherworldly destination, but notes how critical it is for humans to assume that others will live on after us.
Astonishing though it may seem, there are ways in which the continuing existence of other people after our deaths — even that of complete strangers — matters more to us than does our own survival and that of our loved ones.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Three Beards, Social Theory and the Apocalypse

Maybe there's something to the beards.  I've found that Will Forte's new show, Last Man on Earth has some basic elements from foundational sociology and anthropology that could be good teaching tools.  Unlike the more action or horror oriented apocalyptic stories in contemporary popular culture, the show reflects on some of the quieter aspects of an end of the world scenario.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Teachable Moment, Cultural Exasperation

I had to get the news late. Earlier this week, a student responded to a question about what nationalism was. Her take was what I thought better termed patriotism...pride in a nation-state and belief in its explicitly stated values. I was going for nationalism in the sense articulated by George Orwell; nationalists see their own nation as superior to others and “the smallest slur upon his own unit (nation), or any implied praise of a rival organization, fills him with uneasiness which he can relieve only by making some sharp retort.”

Monday, March 16, 2015

Time Travel Blues

For me, the Afghan Whigs were always that band. They’re one of the few that I have consistently listened to since 1994. I bet I haven’t gone more than three months during that time without playing one of their albums.

I not only loved their music, but I loved the essence they evoked and that essence was a big part of the identity that my young self tried to fashion. I first discovered the Whigs with the Gentlemen album in the mid-90s (for a great contextualization, check out this piece on Entertainment Weekly). Being a 20 year old and feeling average 20 year old feelings, the album scratched a very particular itch. For one, who couldn’t find the sheer bad-assery of the Whigs intoxicating? But that swagger was also tempered by pain, torture and resentment that resonated with my rampant 20 year old insecurities. (Once after a haircut, a friend said I looked like Greg Dulli. I must have lit up because my friend followed up with the embarrassing, “you liked that”)

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Pervasive Word Choices

Every once and again I hear a word that I want to incorporate more frequently into my own vocabulary.  These aren't always terribly high falutin' words, just ones that I like the phonetics of. For example, recently, I heard a speaker use the word pervasive.

Great word.  Slides out of the mouth like velvet.  And, it's a word that isn't so specialized in meaning that it couldn't be inelegantly integrated into everyday language, especially in class.  But, it's a hard thing to mix up one's own bag of linguistic resources; habits are habits for a reason.

On the other hand, sometimes certain words find their way into my speech and quickly create a groove that I can't shake.  The other day, when I was ruminating on the dearth of pervasives in my speech,  I was teaching about the ways that language can craft a certain kind of social identity.  During this discussion, I use examples from John Connor's speech in Terminator 2 (ultimately getting at Mock Spanish).  In the excerpt, Connor uses the word, "dickwad."

You know where I'm going with this.  During the scant 50 minutes of this class session, I let slip the word dickwad four times...you might say the presence of dickwad was pervasive.