A Different Birthday

Birthday candles on a cake“Celebrating” my birthday a few days ago brought to mind the ways that we mark the passage of time are socially constructed, and thus could be constructed differently. Yet, being socially constructed does not negate having significant consequences. While the movement of the earth around the sun is a reasonable measure for marking time, it is not the only measure that people use.

I have written before about ways our system of dating and designation of each new year is arbitrary yet consequential. But, turning 49 brings such consequences (practical, social, emotional, etc.) home in a different way. n addition to being old enough to join AARP (and maybe get some senior discounts), next year should be my first colonoscopy based on health care recommendations, not to mention the emotional significance of being a half century old. But things could be different, as all of that, the statistics leading to health care recommendations and the counting of birthdays, are not automatic, even if we take them for granted.

I could already be 50, as my birthday marked the start of my 50th year (as well as the completion of my 49th). Both of those designations are based on our system of counting using base 10. If we switch to base 12, I become 41 (or starting my 42nd year). Even better, I can be 31 using base 16. Of course, it can go the other way, too. Using base 8, I am 61, or 110,001 using base 2—but maybe we should just forget that one…

But if what gives me pause at 49 is the pending shift to my 50s (and the various consequences of that), I could simply avoid that emotional trap by simply being more rational (I shouldn’t hold my breath for that) or by switching from one base to another. So for now, I declare that I am 41, and in 11 more times around the sun when I approach 50 in base 12, I will just jump to base 16. Now that sounds like the fountain of youth.

 

Photo credit: Selena N. B. H. “Birthday candles” via Flickr (CC-BY-2.0)

Subtitles

I’ve long found it curious when producers decide a subtitle is needed; those of us in North America addicted to streaming Scandinavian detective dramas might be more than accustomed to reading the bottom of the screen these days (so yes, we now all know what “tack” means), but what about when you’re watching a Travel Channel host talk to someone speaking English in contemporary Scotland…?

Do we really need subtitles, just because it’s an accent that might be a little off our own English register? Continue reading “Subtitles”

“…, built walls out of chain-link fences.”

Anyone following US news over the past weeks surely knows about the effects (intended or not) of the Trump administration’s recently instituted zero tolerance policy on unauthorized border crossings — now, even those claiming asylum status, if not entering at an authorized point of entry, risk having accompanying minors taken away form them, inasmuch as the adults are now being charged with a crime and, once in the criminal justice system, are disallowed from carrying out normal parenting duties.

That these now unaccompanied children are being held in various locales around the US (including tent cities and in what certainly seems to be hastily created facilities in what were once so-called big box stores), with no indication when they will (or even if they will) be reunited with their parents, has caused outrage in the past days among some while, for others, has prompted strong defenses of the policy (which has been described by supporters of the administration as not being a policy at all but, instead, the sad effect forced on them by what they term “a broken immigration system”). Continue reading ““…, built walls out of chain-link fences.””

Marketing the Authentic Taco

As I drive through my home city looking for a place to eat lunch, I feel overwhelmed by advertising that offers what seems to be an endless array of food options. Do I want fresh and healthy or fast and fried? How about vegetarian, seafood, gluten free, halal, burgers, pub food, buffet, Chinese, fine dining, Indian, local, or organic? While my options seem endless, there is one type of food that seems to be available on every street ­‑ “authentic.” And with so many selling it, how does one differentiate between the inauthentic and the authentic? Continue reading “Marketing the Authentic Taco”

Was Gandhi a Racist?

A group of students in Ottawa have demanded the removal of a statue of Gandhi on the campus of Carleton University because he expressed “anti-black” ideas when he worked in South Africa. Others defend memorializing Gandhi because of his legacy of opposing British rule of India, promoting non-violent resistance, and inspiring other movements of civil disobedience, including the American civil rights movement. Within this debate, both sides generally concede the historical details. They disagree, however, about what those details signify, disagreements that center on present concerns, not specifically the past. Continue reading “Was Gandhi a Racist?”

Because YOU’RE an early adopter…

I recently walked past a bus shelter displaying an advert for new flavours of Diet Coke — Feisty Cherry and Exotic Mango — bearing the exhortation “because you’re an early adopter.”

This tickled my inner Marxist.  Maybe I’ve been watching too much Mad Men of late, but I couldn’t help thinking what brilliant advertising this was. Setting aside the fact that Cherry Coke was introduced in 1985 – and what exactly it is that makes this variant “feisty” –  who cares what the product is? YOU should purchase it, because YOU are a trend-setter! YOUR patterns of consumption are so much more on point than others, who admire YOU so much they’ll want to emulate YOU. We, YOUR friends at Coca Cola, want YOU to be a key element in the dissemination of this product. Because YOU are special. Because YOU have a valuable ability to recognize what will be popular before it’s popular. Because YOU are an early adopter. Continue reading “Because YOU’RE an early adopter…”

Naming Things

Screenshot of NPR article on Unification Sanctuary ceremony

Words matter. Which words we use to describe a person or a group can have a significant impact on the image that our description and analysis constructs. In the aftermath of the Parkland School shooting a few weeks ago, a Pennsylvania ceremony that involved the blessing of AR-15s drew considerable response in the traditional media (as in the screenshot above) and across social media. It is easy to see the ways that the narrative about the ceremony became a pawn within the renewed gun control debate, illustrating how narratives are more about the interests of narrators than the specifics of the event. But more than that point (which my colleagues have made before in posts on topics such as sex workers or charges of Satanism) is the significance of the names that different commentators used for this group and ceremony. Continue reading “Naming Things”

“Maybe she’s born with it. Maybe it’s Maybelline.”

Ten faces used in Watkins' perception study, five African women and five Caucasian women, with varying levels of makeup.
Fig. 1 from Watkins’ study, depicting the faces participants judged in the study.

According to the headline of a story posted by Tampa’s WFLA news channel, “Wearing makeup can hinder women’s leadership chances, study says.” As someone who doesn’t wear makeup, and rather than continuing to scroll past the link to see the latest good dog on WeRateDogs (@dog_rates), I decided to find out how this decision apparently increased my odds of being a leader. The study, “Negative Effects of Makeup Use on Perceptions of Leadership Ability Across Two Ethnicities,” which was led by Dr. Christopher Watkins in the Division of Psychology at Scotland’s Abertay University, examined what effect the use of makeup (in this case, termed as makeup used for a “social night out”) had on the perception of women’s capacity for leadership. Though the results of the study show that makeup negatively impacts possible leadership ability, the opening line of the WFLA piece seems to draw out the results’ logical conclusion: “A new study found if women want to be great leaders in the workplace, they’ll need to put down the lipstick and go easy on the mascara.”

However, what interests me here is not that someone like me might be promoted as a supervisor over the likes of the latest Revlon spokesperson; rather, I am drawn to how the presumption of authority relates to how we perceive the world around us. That is to say, since our perceptions construct our reality, then they certainly determine who (or what) we find to be authoritative. In other words, authority is not intrinsic to a person or position. But what makes someone capable of being a leader or an authority is not exactly straightforward. Some might say that it’s a person’s credentials or their previous experience. From this study, though, notice that it’s neither of these things that makes these women capable of occupying a role of authority — it’s the way they look. But why do some physical appearances suggest that a person would be a better leader than someone else? Continue reading ““Maybe she’s born with it. Maybe it’s Maybelline.””

A Man, A Tan, “God’s Plan”

Drake with his right hand up beside his face. An image from his music video "Hotline Bling"

Earlier this month Aubrey “Drake” Graham revealed that the knotting of his purse strings to his heartstrings are all a part of “God’s Plan,” the title of his latest music video.

The billboard hit features him giving out the video’s $999,631.90 production budget to the people of Miami. Gifts ranged from surprise shopping sprees to impromptu educational grants to unexpected spa treatments. The emotional reception shown in the video matched the public’s initial positive reactions.

However, the Canadian rapper’s philanthropy—like the Bible—has since been subject to varied interpretations. You’re likely familiar with the more skeptical takes. Continue reading “A Man, A Tan, “God’s Plan””

Racism Creates Race

White Trade Only sign in Ohio restaurant 1938

As Black History Month draws to a close, the question of dividing humanity according to race remains an active issue in contemporary discourse, as the arbitrary creation of racial differences (out of all the possible differences between people) tells us that race is not a natural construct. Some in the US decry the racial divisions that they associate with racial identifications and events like Black History Month. The National Review denounced such “tribalism” and “identity politics” in the days before Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, holiday last month. These assertions blame continual racial division on this tribalism within minority groups, but the broader history suggests that these racial identifications and community formations are a consequence of racism, a response to the discrimination and marginalization that racism generates, not the other way around.  Continue reading “Racism Creates Race”