Socect’s Weblog

Unsettled Thoughts/Works in Progress

Persistently Non-Political

A friend from the United States emailed yesterday and asked, among other things, if I had any thoughts on introducing for classroom teaching issues related to the current elections over on that side of the world. She is teaching an intro to anthropology course (as I am) and as she put it, wants the students to engage in discussion of these things, but to introduce it in a non-partisan way. I don’t think I have much advice for her, but at least it is a way to introduce this blog entry…

I woke up this morning again to more US election nonsense on the BBC. Last week it was the nonsense about unwed teenage pregnancy (yes, that should be nobody’s business – except as Bill O’Reily legitimately points out, if the public is expected to pay for it (for the source of this see link to ‘gross hypocrisy’ below) and/or, as I would point out, insofar as it should be “exhibit A”” that “abstinence only sex education” espoused as policy for all American children DOES NOT WORK… furthermore, the issue in this regard is NOT so much pregnancy and abortion as it is the public health issue of sexually transmitted diseases, in particular HIV/AIDS… but I digress). This week the important issue is nonsense about porcine cosmetics and the deep sexism espoused by America’s number one uppity Negro. Given that these are the issues, it is a good thing that this campaign is not about issues.

I think my friend who lives on the left-hand coast of the United States has the same dilemma I have (her in the classroom; I with this blog). We both have this elections on our mind because it is daily fare in the media of our lives. I’ve been incredibly fortunate, in my own estimation, to have lived the majority of my adult life outside of America, and thus largely immune to the gross hypocrisy and unending nonsense of American politics. But every four years, like a plague of locusts, America’s silly season becomes difficult to avoid.

It is obvious from the posts in this blog that things going on in America’s election cycle are a point of reference for things I think about. But following one of the bright lights of social commentary here in Singapore, I want to assure and assert that this is and will remain a persistently non-political blog. To anyone reading what I have posted to date, it should not be too difficult to figure out where my general political sympathies lie in the American scheme of things. But I really want this blog to be about matters more related to teaching and research; and really do not want this to become a space for political rants.

That said, I certainly think that current affairs are an important subject matter to draw on in teaching about culture and society. How one does this, without being sucked into deeply divisive partisanship, I’m not so sure.

Hmmm… that all is just the tiniest fraction of thoughts gnawing at my mind this morning. But, I’m going to leave it at that for this post.


September 11, 2008 Posted by | Random Walks | | 1 Comment

Culture’s Deep Currents

Culture involves deep currents of symbolic meaning. One imporant point in learning and understanding how culture operates is that anything we say, anyway in which we communicate with others, is bound up in these systems of meaning. They enable our communication; but they also constrain what we can say because we have to operate within the system as given (the system changes, but we cannot change it by fiat; rather only through discourse – which no single person ‘controls’). Symbolic complexity is also the basis for mis-communication and ambiguity. Here is my latest example (in a political rant sent to a couple friends; the main point here is in the last paragraph):

“I don’t want to be mean, but, let me put it this way…
Obama and Bidden are running against a crotchety old Vietnam-war vet whose running mate is a clueless beauty queen with a knocked-up teenage daughter.
Can the Democrats seriously lose this year?
That’s all I could think of when I woke up to the latest on the Sarah Palin fiasco this morning.
I know that portrayal is deeply unfair to McCain-Palin (even if I am not a fan of their politics). But that seems to be the ‘archetype’ or stereotype of Americana that they seem to be falling into (just as Obama has had to prove to white folks that he is King and not Malcom… the other night, he did that in spades – to use a deeply inappropriate metaphor).
Why does so much of the English language have to be so complexly interwoven with the tragic history of racism? For example, the other day as I was watching Barack give his speech, right at the end when the confetti was exploding all over the stage, my five-year old daughter came in. She looked at the tv and asked “who won”? (It DID look like a sporting event, after all.) I laughed and told her “Barack Obama” – pointing him out on the screen. We had a fairly long Q-and-A session about this (of the sort one has with a five year old… her endless stream of questions; my fruitless attempts to find answers that do not lead to another “Why?”). In the course of this, she found “Barack Obama” to be a completely incomprehensible tongue-twister. In the course of the Q-and-A, she finally settled on a moniker for our soon to be President of the United States of America… “Barry Banana” (closest word she knows to “Obama”). I think it is great – utterly hiliarious. Plus, she thinks “Barry Banana” is really wonderful. But then, there is a little nagging voice in the back of my mind remembering ugly episodes involving banana peels tossed and waved at black athletes when I was a little boy growing up in Kansas. And I fret that anyone hearing my daughter and I joking around about “Barry Banana” will take this totally, totally the wrong way. Grrrrr… can’t we all get over it and once and for all relegate racist bullshit to the dustbin of history? Sigh.”

September 2, 2008 Posted by | Random Walks, Teaching | | Leave a comment