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No Shame in Being Paid to Do What You Love

Many of the people pushing this view of ‘you should write just for the love it’ can’t get paid for their writing or have never been paid for their writing.

When I was in community theatre, I experienced this attitude from people who had never been paid to act, design sets, or stage manage. As though to cover up their own insecurities, they insisted that people who are paid to work in the theatre “must not really love it.”
Read the full response on Medium.

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Will Future Historians and Archaeologists Study Social Media?

People have always been writing down frivolous stuff. You think the cave paintings were all deep-thinking art? I’d venture not. And I may be biased, because I’m a marketer, but I see such a rich trove of content on social media - news article shares, musings about life, photos documenting different places - that I imagine digital archaeologists will be thrilled to examine it. Surely it has more information that a bunch of tattered diaries.

Read the full response on Medium.

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Beauty and the Beast as a Feminist Tale

It bothers me so much when people say that Beauty and the Beast is about Stockholm Syndrome. It is about a girl’s love for her father and being able to look beyond appearances — and about how amazing books are. The Beast has lessons to give too. He is a symbol of self-loathing toxic masculinity who then discovers what true masculinity, bravery, and selflessness involve.

Read the original post on Medium.

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Anti-Bullying March for Day of Peace

Believe it or not, for someone so socially conscious and politically active, I’ve never participated in a rally. Today’s Day of Peace rally was glorious. From the incredible music by Be More Heroic members to the chants and cheers of both humans and their dogs at Bo Diddley Plaza to the adorable skits done by students at my research school, Duval Elementary, today’s event was A+! I wore a shirt bearing words such as “slut” and “nerd” and carried a sign that read, “Words DO hurt me.” I was interviewed by a local paper, which was nice, but most of all, I got to see firsthand the passion and joy that stirs the hearts of those who speak for compassion and peace. Let’s face it, those people who rally for hate just don’t have that same joy.

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Public and Visual Anthropology (Research Update)

Snapshots of upcoming guest lecture for a section of the Sex Roles in Cross-Cultural Comparison course at the University of Florida:

The problems with women and Hollywood include massive underrepresentation (TV, however is ahead of the curve, and certainly the better for the likes of Fey and Rhimes), a body-image obsession that pigeonholes actresses and largely limits positive roles to “sexy” roles, the assumption that movies need to be drafted for and marketed to each sex, and poorer odds for women to move into executive positions, financially or creatively.

Some films count on a female vote and aren’t ashamed to show it. Consider the fuzzy yellow trailer for “The Help” featuring witticisms by the black leads and a plucky score (a far cry from the actual tone of the film), or the sexy, glittery trailers for “Magic Mike” and “Sex and the City 2”; others are projected to attract men but include images of shirtless men in their trailers, presumably to encourage the wives and girlfriends to come along. Obviously, the equation of female moviegoers’ interest with their desires for friendship  with women and sex with men is as problematic as the equation of female actors’ and filmmakers’ success according to their perpetuation of female stereotypes of personality and social worth. Either way, there are significant economic and psychological impacts on those women who love film. They are neither as uniform in their approach nor singular in their interests nor small in number as andocentric Hollywood would suggest.

Edit: See the final presentation.

See also my essay on institutional sexism and feminism over at Confluey, and my prezi on violent female characters.

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In Defense of the Social Science Majors

There’s been a lot of discussion recently about the worth of anthropology in the education system and job market. First, let me just say that it is distressing that universities, once the sites of higher learning, have turned so swiftly into job mills that politicians fuss over the market value of majors. Gov. Rick Scott suggests the technical demands of the STEM fields should be subsidized by the less marketable non-STEM majors—leaving humanities and social sciences students with more debt when, as Scott notes, there’s less demand for them. In other words, they can sit in more student debt for longer, just so universities can encourage students into the already-saturated STEM fields. Besides, that strategy may not even work:

In a working paper, Xueli Wang, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has studied data from the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 to find that exposure and success to math at an early age is far more predictive of STEM enrollment than financial motivations. This makes sense: Waving money in front of a high school senior’s face does little if that student doesn’t feel that he or she has the skill set to succeed.   from Pitt News

Moreover, Scott has railed against anthropology, noting that Florida does not need more anthropologists. Besides a total lack of imagination for what anthropologists can actually do, Scott, as well as FL Senator Don Gaetz, are demeaning social sciences by ideologically linking academic study with job preparation. While the two can certainly dovetail, they need not be the same. I recall hearing the opinion generally expressed that trade or vocational school was for those who weren’t smart or motivated enough to attend university. But from the mouths of politicians came criticisms of the universities for being “out of touch,” “anti-American,” or even offensive. Somehow the political rhetoric has shifted from universities’ attacks on academic freedom to their capacity to get people jobs. Universities aren’t just for liberal geeks anymore; they’re for job-oriented real Americans! And where does that leave the vocational schools?

It makes sense to make universities as well-rounded as possible. Elective courses in the arts, dance, sports, computer skills, and other non-academic pursuits can flesh out an undergraduate’s experience. And for the accumulation of resources and networking opportunities, why shouldn’t folks interested in business, engineering, and other technical degrees be able to enjoy a university environment? However, the same extends to folks interested in the social sciences and humanities. And if we’re concerned about the applicability of these degrees, isn’t it better for an art major to attend a university where she can take education courses as well? Or for a poli sci major to be able to take computer courses, in an age when prominence in social media predicted the election results? Rather than dismissing the “soft” majors as useless, let’s foster a sense of interdisciplinarity. After all, when that lab coat wearing, superbly trained science major goes in for job interviews, there’s a couple of presentational techniques taught in introductory theatre courses that will be very helpful.

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Activist Filmmaking

The Amazon rainforest, the sweaty locale of many films, both entertainment and documentary, has many connotations: mystical, dangerous, exotic, native, prehistoric, medicinal, potent, endangered. It is constructed, often as an important area of concern to ecologists and anthropologists, in both news and entertainment media. Some examples of the latter, like Anaconda, have little to offer to society beyond cheap entertainment; others, like Fern Gully, are blatantly pro-environmentalism and conservation (“hippie propaganda,” as one of my more cynical friends puts it). The Amazon certainly deserves special consideration and protection: it is not only a garden of extreme biodiversity, but an important medical and bioregulatory source, and, of course, the home of many peoples.

The Amazon’s size and wealth has called itself to the attention of both those who would exploit it and those who would exoticize it. A prime subject for the curious ethnographer, the Amazonian natives live off the land, showing great mastery of their complex environment, and moreover have shown remarkable political interest and talent. Terence Turner is hardly the only ethnographer to explore the latter; in the early 1990s Joe Kane lived among the Huaorani in Ecuador, and gave voice to one named Moi, who traveled to Washington, D.C. with Kane to speak for the Huaorani whose homes had been devastated by oil development and spills. (Incidentally, Moi also visited my university by request of my professor, who had met him through a colleague.)

The documentation of the problems of damming, deforestation, oil extraction, poaching, and drug trafficking in the Amazon has been shared by anthropologists, biologists, human rights activists, and journalists; yet this essential information, while well-distributed, seems to have not yet supplanted the dual exoticization of and disengagenement from the Amazon. From informal observation of my conversation partners, even people who identify as “eco” or “concerned” aren’t aware of much going in the Amazon besides “deforestation” and “it’s big.”

Although the eco-minded family movies of the 90s and early 00s (Fern Gully, Free Willy, Finding Nemo, to name just a few) have given way to disaster and apocalyptic movies with an ecological twist (The Core, The Day After Tomorrow), the impact of either type of film is something to consider. The label of “hippie propaganda” might not be inaccurate (and I certainly wouldn’t consider it a bad thing).

From a post by Turner:

[I]n a march in Brasilia on April 12 [2010] that targeted all the government ministries implicated in approving the plan for Belo Monte [a new dam in the Kayapo’s region], and called for the cancellation of the project […] they were joined by James Cameron, the producer of Avatar, and members of the cast of the film.

There are clear parallels between the battle of the fictional indigenous people against the attempt by a giant corporation to extract precious minerals from their planet, modeled on the Amazon rain forest, and the struggle of the inhabitants of the Xingú valley against the damming of their rivers to generate power, much of which is intended for the production of minerals such as aluminum for export. In both cases, the collateral damage of the extractive projects threatens to destroy the ecosystem and way of life of the native people, and in both cases, they resist.

Cameron visited the site of the planned Belo Monte dam, and some of the indigenous villages that it would affect, in March of this year, and was so struck by the similarities in their situation with that of the Navi of his film that he committed himself to support their movement against the dams. His return to Brazil with members of the cast on April 12, 2010, to take part in the march in Brasilia, was a public affirmation of his support for their cause. Sigourney Weaver, of the Avatar cast, later led a similar march in New York against the Xingú dams.

One might dismiss the stars’ involvement in such causes as mere face time, an attempt to shine their images, but that Cameron borrowed from generic struggles of the Amazonian people, and then found his (very heavy-handed) eco-propaganda film validated to the point that he was moved to further action, is a very nice conflation of life and art. Avatar, once linked with a real-world corollary, moved from an alien fantasy to a de-exoticized pseudo-documentary (a similar treatment was more intentionally given to District 9, a human rights parable and pseudo-documentary of South African apartheid, wearing the skin of a sci-fi flick).

Cameron’s involvement, as well as Weaver’s, can only help the cause, even if it cannot stop Belo Monte (the construction of which was just reinstated by the Brazilian Supreme Court). As for would-be eco-propagandists, a good rule is to get as close to the real-world while being as unreal as possible, because I’m guessing it sometimes takes talking animals and giant blue people to get people out of their head.

Cross-posted on Confluey.

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Retail Hell: Blame Privatization

Cross-posted on class blog, Misanthropologist.

The study of customer service seems primarily reserved to business-oriented, sociological research, or so my database searches would suggest. However, it is certainly a problem for anthropology. Bullying behavior does occur among adults, and notably in the customer-server sphere of interaction.

Jürgen Habermas notes in chapter V of The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere that as the market has become privatized, businesses became distinct and protectionist; meanwhile, the public sphere experienced “stateification” to the point that the line between public and private became permanently blurred. I believe this blurring accounts for the problems of interaction in the world of customer service: vestigial conflict between public and private, business and consumer, is played out through servers and customers.

According to Habermas, the public service sector was developed to alleviate the imbalance created by increasing social costs upon economic growth (p. 147). This “intervention” also increases tension between oligarchic reality and public consumption. Furthermore, service representatives become the face of an organization to a consumer; their privacy is temporarily suspended, their identity conflated with that of the company or government, for the sake of mediation between disparate levels of production and consumption.

Put simply and applied to contemporary America, state/public agencies and private businesses are often self-contained and run by private individuals, even if the company is publicly owned. Their interests may be at odds with their economic and social costs. They also require the public’s attention. Through public service announcements, advertisements, press releases, and other types of marketing and promotion, they negotiate their relationship to the public. This means that an employee of any type of service establishment is representative of the organization (see p. 153), yet a private person; they interact with the public, which is also comprised of private persons. See the potential for conflict?

Examples: A customer attempts to return an item but is outside the return period set at the executive level. The cashier declines to give the customer money back for fear of losing his job, or having the money taken from his pay. The customer takes the denial personally and insults or bullies the cashier. The cashier defends himself by citing the business’ policy. The customer requests a manager, by whose higher authority is more representative of business interests. The manager is actually more concerned by the business’ interests and fears losing respect, privileges, or even her job if she drives away a customer. She makes an exception to the policy; the customer believes the cashier to be wrong, bullheaded, or just discriminatory by denying the return, but is the only one to walk away feeling resolved.

In addition, the public sphere has devolved from a distinctie sphere of public intereaction into an artifically connected web of private spheres (see pp. 162-64). The extraordinarily wide gap between the producers and consumers contributes to this tension. The closer one gets to the top, the easier to alleviate (hence why customers have learned to call for managers or otherwise escalate the issue). You will see less of the “customer is always right” attitude, although this too has changed from its original conception and has a distinctive American iteration, in smaller or independent businesses.

Although childhood bullying is a more pressing topic in the news, I am fascinated by these tensions and resulting behavior in the public sphere, if only to answer my own questions about how I’ve been treated on the job I worked to support myself through undergraduate to the present. Examples:

  1. A pleasant customer, attempting to make conversation, asked me leading questions about whether I still lived at home, when I graduated high school, and what I liked to do when I wasn’t working. I made the mistake of answering honestly, that I had moved to Gainesville as an adult and had just begun to pursue a Master’s. He suddenly changed in demeanor and said, “Oh, yeah, in what, fish-catching?” [I work in a pet store.] and laughed derisively. I said, “No, anthropology.” He said he didn’t know what that was, glared at me, and was unpleasant for the rest of the encounter.
  2. I get told I “must like working here” several times a week. Yes, told, not asked. Usually this is combined with an overuse of my name (or, if you’re like one customer we have, addressing all employees by the name of our company) and slower-than-normal speech when addressing me.
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Bullying in the Media

My primary research interest, and my intended career, is to work in and study film and theatre as means of social change. Obviously this is a broad area with many applications. One particular focus, and one that encompasses and requires the study of mass media as well, is on the phenomenon of and sociocultural response to bullying in schools.

Bullying has garnered much national attention in the past few years, in part due to the controversial anti-bullying laws passed in states such as Massachusetts and the increased reportage of suicide among young people who have been bullied, such as Phoebe Prince and Tyler Clementi. The media has even adopted a phrase for this horror: “bullycide.”

As many have noted, bullying was given new wings by the advent of social networks and an increased percentage of user-generated content. Current opinion in the field of child social psychology holds that bullies are not “kids being kids,” nor products of broken or lower-income homes, nor inspired by violent video games. Bullies bully because they can and want to. (See the writings of Barbara Coloroso and Jessie Klein for more information.)

Even the entertainment media reflects this change in attitude: no longer limited to childhood adventures in which the school or town bully (singular) is an obstacle or challenge to the protagonists, films like Mean Girls and Bacheloretteand TV shows like “Glee” and “30 Rock” address cruel behavior among teens and adults, in school, work, and social venues.

Thankfully, the same technology that empowered bullies can now be used to stop them, and, we hope, to dispel information and ideologies to cut bullying at the roots.

The media has a pivotal role in the campaign against bullying: by portraying the victims of bullying in a sensitive, if sometimes oversympathetic light, and reporting in full detail the nature of the incidents, they change what would have been a sad but pointless story into a piece of a larger story that is depressing enough to motivate action. Their real challenge, though, is not to demonize the bullies for the sake of a dramatic story, but to report them as people who made costly mistakes that, to an unbiased observer, are able to see how to prevent those mistakes from happening again:

The first step, however, is to dispense with the image of bullies as mere Scut Farkases waiting to be challenged and conquered. Bullies are not adverse object lessons for an educational system; they are the very antithesis of education. They are no more a natural part of learning than is parental abuse a natural part of growing up. (source)

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Anthropology: the Professional, the Philosophical, and the Practical

When I tell people I am studying anthropology, I quite frequently get one of these responses:

  • “So you dig up pots?”
  • “So you study dead people?”
  • “So you look for dinosaur bones?” (yes, really)

It is probably most indicative of a highly professionalized culture, in which disciplinary alignment rarely intersects with job title, that the term “anthropologist” means little to people, but smacks of something archaic enough that people assume its subject is necessarily archaic as well. It’s also partly due to the paucity of anthropologist characters in popular films and TV shows who vaguely resemble real anthropologists (i.e. not many of the hapless characters in scifi flicks on whom the writers have slapped a random scientist label—hello, Prometheus). And the few that exist, of course, engage in wildly unusual quests and work in exotic or hyper-nerdy locations: Temperance Brennan, Indiana Jones, Robert Langdon (symbologist…?).

An anthropology major is number 15 on a list of the majors with the highest unemployment (link).* It doesn’t sound too bad until you review a list of majors at major universities. (here’s my school’s). I wonder if the increasing gap between academia and job placement for the social sciences is at least partly due to a misunderstanding of anthropology. How many jobs have I been turned down for because someone thought I looked at things in the ground? (Hence my necessary return to school.)

Anthropology has a long and, sadly, somewhat sketchy history. It wasn’t until the late 19th century and the likes of Lewis Henry Morgan and John Wesley Powell that anthropology began to be a matter of ethnology, not armchair anthropology of the exotic, nor evolutionist comparative biological anthropology. Later, the blooming generations of Boasian anthropologists began to work for various government agencies, such as the Bureau for Indian Affairs. This was a good moment to be an anthropologist, if only because their insights into other cultures proved useful in native negotiations and in war time (e.g., The Chrysanthemum and the Sword).

In the postmodernist 1980s in America, a new hyper-relativist, activist trend emerged in anthropology that marked the final phase of anthropology in the job market. We had gone from the self-assured, racist, positivist ethnographer, to the state-sanctioned, exoticist, empirical ethnologist, to the doubtful, self-reflective, cultural detectives. Bolstered by people like George Marcus and Michael Fischer, anthropology in the postmodernist flavor, like the literature and philosophy of the time, questioned everything in order to answer a few things, and managed to insult American sensibilities (both anthropologists and non-anthropologists) in the meantime. It’s my guess that this trend greatly affected attitudes towards anthropology in laypeople, such as my religious, conservative aunt, who once railed against political correctness and expected acceptance of “sinful” lifestyles thanks to anthropologists (without having asked me what I was studying in school). It probably also contributed to a characterization of anthropologists as weird or even non-cultured (like Bones, who has little psychocultural connection to the society in which she lives).

Fact is, in an increasingly globalized yet politicized world, in which most people have anywhere from an occasional to a constant connection to global markets of information and products, it’s more important than ever to understand modern anthropology’s fundamental question: why we do the things we do. The same question permeates all fields of anthropology and gives us a scientific yet practical approach to all pursuits. It may not be reflected in the resumés that land on the hiring manager’s desk, or in curricular requirements in universities, or in popular culture, but the ability to reflect on one’s own behavior and their society, to imagine oneself in another’s shoes, to communicate efficiently with someone of a different walk, and to understand the purpose of one’s own and others’ actions, can benefit people in those top-hired areas—business, medical, education—as well as people in the supposedly unhireable majors of art, architecture, liberal arts, humanities, and history.

After all, anthropology is the study of humanity, and last time I checked, every aspect of your  life involves just that.

* Doesn’t look too good in this breakdown either.

Resources: