Sunday, January 16, 2011

Yes, I am supposed to be doing something more important right now.

I'm working on a serious post about fatphobia, medical concern-trolling, and the Wii Fit, but I'm still working on how to say what I want to say about that.  I also have some professional responsibilities to fulfill, which I have already cooked two large meals today to postpone.  (At least my spouse and I will have lunches this week, right?  Can't fulfill professional responsibilities on an empty stomach.)

In the meantime, I share with you: a photo I've been meaning to create for awhile now.  The original, as you might guess, came from our "Trash the Dress" (TTD) shoot (which actually took place before the wedding ceremony due to transit and location constraints).  I've been wanting to do this every time I looked at this particular shot for months--it was just CRYING OUT for the modification, and I'm quite pleased with the relatively subtle final product.

Actually, I'm now kind of considering registering a domain along the lines of or possibly  I bet I could sell all KINDS of ad space on a blog like that, don't you?

Land of the Lost Wedding Photo

(Click through to see the full-size version--I couldn't make it any bigger without breaking the template.  I feel very out of blogging practice.)

I've recently been kind of obsessed with Picnik, but this project reminded me that sometimes, there really is no substitute for good old-fashioned Photoshop.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The importance of reference groups, or, Pon Farr seems like common knowledge to some of us

When I was an undergraduate, I found a t-shirt at the Kirksville, Missouri Salvation Army thrift store featuring a still from Amok Time, the Star Trek: The Original Series episode in which Kirk must fight Spock out of his Vulcan mating frenzy (Pon Farr).  Yeah, there's a reason people keep writing porn about them.  Anyway, I loved that t-shirt.  It was a color I can only describe as "ugly faded brick," but it had Kirk and Spock wrestling on it!  Together with my HighlandBarbarian!Duncan McLeod t-shirt, it occupied a proud, nerdy place in my wardrobe.

I have no idea what happened to it.  I'm pretty sure my sister took my babydoll tee with Hello Kitty and the British flag on it, but who would have wanted my Amok Time t-shirt?  Left with no other explanation, I like to think that it was appropriated by Starfleet officers thrown backwards in time, in need of period camouflage.

I was thinking about it today after a friend sent me a link to a video on Slate about how a recent Dilbert comic thrust Pon Farr into the top Google searches.  I think of Pon Farr on a relatively regular basis.  When I have a particularly vigorous workout, I joke to myself that I have the Pon Farr!  It seems like basic cultural knowledge to me, mainly because I have self-selected into an extremely nerdy friendship group:

chat shot

(Travis and I are also psychically linked, apparently.)

Nerdiness, like so many things, is all about reference group.  Another friend, seeing a car with an IMZADI license plate, could quickly label its owner as a "nerd" because she wouldn't go THAT far (although it then occurred to her that she was at least nerdy enough to understand the reference).  I personally like to compare my alcohol consumption to the Finns and my sexual history to gay men in the 1970s.  I come off very moderate in both respects.

My gold standard for nerdiness is my parents, and they set a pretty high bar.  My father and his high school girlfriend used to write each other notes in Elvish runes that they learned from the appendix in the big red faux leather edition of Lord of the Rings.  I was kind of surprised that he had to Google Pon Farr, but I guess he was never a big Trek person.  There are so many stripes of nerdiness, which is why it would be a mistake to assume any significant overlap between Dilbert readers and people familiar with Pon Farr.  (Personally, I don't particularly think of Dilbert as nerdy, even, though many others seem to disagree.  I guess I would place it a degree or two past Harry Potter, but that's not saying much.)

Of course, the best thing about the video is something that I heretofore did NOT know, being less than totally nerdy: there is a ladies' perfume called Pon Farr available for purchase!  How fortunate that I should discover this with numerous shopping days left before Valentine's Day... and that my spouse is also nerdy enough to know what Pon Farr is.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Discussion of an assassination: ableism & the failure of sociological understanding

I don't have a lot to say about yesterday's assassination (an attempt on Rep. Giffords, but a successful assassination of a federal judge and others) beyond what people are already saying: that violent rhetoric creates a climate of violence, and that our lack of meaningful gun control puts the means of mass violence into the hands of people who are highly susceptible to that rhetoric and its accompanying climate.

As a university instructor who has had some alarming students, I will say I am sympathetic to the administration of Pima Community College for removing a student who disrupted classes and posted frightening videos from the campus, while also recognizing that mental health resources are sorely lacking on almost all campuses, regardless of the size or prestige of the institution.  What resources do exist are often not used, mainly because of a heavy stigma on mental illness.

Much of the discourse about the assassination contributes to that stigma.  First of all, although there seems to be some evidence that PCC, at least, considered one assassin to be "unstable," nobody actually knows anything about his mental health, whether he had a diagnosis and if so, what it was, etc.  So when people throw around terms like "deranged" and "nut," they are making assumptions, and they are also contributing to a discourse that mental illness = danger to others simply by putting this forth as an "explanation" for the violence.  The fact is, however, that most people with mental illness, including such high-profile disorders as schizophrenia, are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators (thanks to @sesmithwrites on Twitter for the link).

I understand the desire to quickly identify a fringe element and make it the cause of a terrible thing that has happened in the world.  This is the same general human desire to claim superhuman agency/self-efficacy that leads to victim-blaming "rape prevention" tips.  "Be a good girl* and nothing bad will happen to you; if something bad happens, you clearly could have been better!"  Like those tips, it is comforting unless and until something bad DOES happen to you, and then it becomes self-flagellation.  The "crazed psycho" is a comforting imaginary other unless you are, or become, part of the group of people who are pathologically mythologized by it.

This is, at its heart, a failure of sociological imagination, a failure of our "ability to recognize the relationship between large-scale social forces and the actions of individuals" (C. Wright Mills).  Mental illness, in fact, is not even associated with an increased propensity toward violence, except insofar as it may contribute to self-medication with alcohol or drugs, as very nicely discussed by Vaughan Bell on Slate (thanks to @sesmithwrites again).  Bell illustrates it with a comparison to our old favorite, death by lightning strike--my husband asked me why people always compare risks to lightning strikes; I said it's because, well, if you had a friend who was terrified of dying from a lightning strike, you would recommend that at the very least, they get some talk therapy for their anxiety, right?  And you are three times as likely to be killed by lightning as by a stranger with schizophrenia (and, of course, vastly more likely to be killed by your own mental illness--suicide caused about twice as many deaths as did homicide in the US in 2007, and most homicides are committed by close others).

Blaming individual mental illness lacks even the dubious support of a correlation between mental illness diagnoses and violence against others.  There is a social system around us that allowed this to happen.  That's fucking scary, because people recognize that social systems are big and difficult to change.  This is why my students in race and ethnicity don't like hearing that personal prejudices are really just a tiny manifestation, and far from the most damaging aspect, of institutional racism.  Social systems allow racism to continue and have harmful effects on individuals; social systems allow us to continue to make ourselves feel "safe" by pretending that mentally ill people are totally distinct from "normal"** people and thereby withhold all kinds of assistance and accommodation from people who would dramatically benefit from it; social systems created an environment in which one young man thought that shooting 20 people was an acceptable way to address his own sense of disenfranchisement and personal injustice.

You can't "fix" that by pronouncing one person "crazy."  It's not a problem of individual biography (C. Wright Mills again); it's a social problem: a problem of history.

We've had problems of history before.  We have them a lot.  You can think about Kennedy here.

RESULTS: Respondents who read the article linking mentally ill persons with violent crime displayed an increased likelihood to describe a mentally ill person as dangerous and violent. Conversely, respondents who read the informative article used terms like 'violent' or 'dangerous' less frequently. The desire for social distance remained virtually unchanged at follow-up in both groups.
CONCLUSION: Two potential approaches to break the unwanted link between negative media reporting and negative attitudes are suggested. First, an appeal to media professionals to report accurate representations of mental illness. And second, an appeal to the adults living and working with adolescents to provide opportunities to discuss and reflect on media contents.

This struck me because I have spent so much time discussing with students media portrayals of Black and Hispanic men as dangerous and criminal, but had never really considered the ways in which mentally ill people are similarly overrepresented in media coverage of crime.  Of course, unlike race,*** media accounts can speculate all kinds of mental health issues regardless of evidence, further contributing to the stigma, and making it even less likely that people who do need help--who, remember, are far more likely to be a danger to themselves than to others--will seek it out.  People look for stories about violence stemming from mental illness; they go so far as to invent mental illness with little or no evidence to "explain" violence, and in turn view their inventions as "proof" that mentally ill people are violent.

Since this has rightfully become a discussion of rhetoric, I just want to urge people to consider the ramifications of ableist rhetoric as well as the rhetoric of treason and "politics as war."  I know it's not easy; I frequently use slurs like "crazy" in speech, although I am trying not to.  Even as a child, I never called anyone or anything "retarded," but I didn't learn to think about the underlying meaning of calling someone "crazy" as an insult, and these things are hard to unlearn.  There are few better times to try, however, than when one is publicly discussing the effects of rhetoric on people's lives.


*I say "girl" because that's how the rhetoric goes, which also contributes to self-blame by male victims.

**I'm using scare quotes here for a reason.

***Except in cases where people invent suspects, and similar; Imaginary Black Men are very popular scapegoats.

My blog, v.5.0-ish

I'm working on a list of 101 things to accomplish in 1,001 days.  One of them is to start blogging again--I miss it, and Facebook notes just aren't the same.

Unfortunately, what finally spurred me to compose a full-length post was yesterday's assassination in Tucson.  I don't want to give anyone false expectations--I am a sociologist, and I do plan to sometimes address serious issues from an academic standpoint.  However, this blog will be pretty eclectic, and not always so serious.

Some things you may expect to read about here (by no means an exhaustive list):
  • Sociology
  • Amateur (like, seriously amateur) photography, often with accompanying Picnikified visual aids
  • Trashy books
  • Books that are less trashy
  • Belligerent rants
  • Crockpot cooking
  • Shoes, shoes, shoes
  • Cross-stitch (yeah... that's on the list, too)
  • Video games (particularly City of Heroes)
  • Mix CDs
  • TV shows
  • Gender & sexuality
  • Teaching
  • My cats
  • Experimental hair (currently, it is Atomic Pink, Cherry Bomb, and Candy Apple)
  • Bicycling (more when it's not freaking freezing outside)
  • Karaoke
  • Las Vegas (my spiritual home)
  • Race & ethnicity
  • Facebook

So there you are.  Tell your friends, assuming they can tolerate shoes.