“Oh my god, look at what you did to him”

By now you’ve likely seen the video (maybe it’s already old news, in fact), when a passenger on a United Airlines flight in the US was forcibly removed from the jet in order to make room for United employees. Continue reading ““Oh my god, look at what you did to him””

Naming and Erasing

By Stacie Swain

The framing of tragedies by government officials and state actors in the USA and Canada this past week raise questions regarding the boundaries around “victims” and related categories – “perpetrators” or often in modern times, “terrorists” – and how such shifting boundaries are constructed and contested through strategies of naming and erasing. Continue reading “Naming and Erasing”

Standing in Line at Chipotle (or, the Hefty Politics of Naming)

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Several years ago, at Chipotle, I realized that one of the workers behind the counter was a student of mine, one to whom I’d spoken the week before about his poor performance and a particularly compulsive (and, for me, wildly distracting) propensity to text during class. As we were suspended in an awkward moment where he was asking me what kind of salsa I wanted, another question came out of his mouth as well: Did he still have to call me “Dr. Smith” when he was at work?

My answer, as I remember it, was stumbling and incoherent, comprised of “uh” and the general surprise of not knowing what to say. On the one hand I didn’t really care what he called me, for plenty of my students call me by my first name. On the other hand, though, Dr. Smith was not mentally in the building, so to speak; I was not expecting anyone to call me by my professional title, so I was caught off guard when it came up in a weekend conversation about tacos and corn salsa.   But before I could think much more about the significance of what he had asked and how I had responded, the chatter devolved into guacamole and credit cards, and the exchange was over just as fast as it happened. Continue reading “Standing in Line at Chipotle (or, the Hefty Politics of Naming)”

On Privileges that are Not Universally Shared

privilegeAnyone who knows me knows that I walk my dog early each morning — lately I’m regularly going to a nearby park where, well, Izzy goes regularly as well. But every now and then I change it up a little — variety is the spice of life and all that — and so I park here and we walk there or park over there and then we walk here. Sometimes I park in one of the lots but other times I pull over off the small loop of a road and park on the grassy shoulder. Continue reading “On Privileges that are Not Universally Shared”

ICYMI: Emojis and Dubious Authorship FTW

emoji bible

Maybe you saw the news that there’s a new version of the Bible out? It’s one catered specifically to millennials, the news outlets say, and it makes heavy use of… yep, emojis.

Fun fact before I go on: my computer is drawing red squiggly lines beneath both “millennials” (at least in its plural/collective form) and “emojis.” Not “squiggly” though—who knew…

At any rate, this new Emoji Bible for the social media savvy millennial is making some waves. Some find it a great way to make the Bible accessible to a new generation of readers/users. Others find it disrespectful at best. Continue reading “ICYMI: Emojis and Dubious Authorship FTW”

Academic Style and the Voice of Authority

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I recently finished reading Stephen S. Bush’s Visions of Religion: Experience, Meaning, and Power (Oxford University Press, 2014). The book argues that scholars of religion who focus on power (e.g., those who use the theories of Foucault or Bourdieu) to the exclusion of the role of religious experience and symbolic meaning of emic discourses do a disservice, and that all three — power, experience, and meaning — should be included in an account of religion. He attempts to offer an argument as to why all three are important, and to counter objections that the different approaches are intrinsically at odds.

One thing that struck me about Bush’s writing style was how often he made a number of explicitly normative claims, as well as a number of “should” statements, which were put forward as if they were self-evidently authoritative. Consider the following passages. Continue reading “Academic Style and the Voice of Authority”

Competing Discourses on Life and Death

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According to this news story from a few years ago, a “living” man from Ohio was legally ruled “dead”:

A US man declared dead after he disappeared nearly three decades ago cannot now be declared officially alive, though he has returned home and is in good health, a judge has ruled.

Donald Miller of Ohio left behind a wife, two children and significant debt when he fled his home in 1986.

He was declared legally dead in 1994, then re-emerged in 2005 and attempted to apply for a driving license.

A judge this week found death rulings cannot be overturned after three years.

Judge Allan Davis handed down the ruling in Hancock County, Ohio, probate court on Monday, calling it a “strange, strange situation”, according to media reports.

“We’ve got the obvious here. A man sitting in the courtroom, he appears to be in good health,” he said, finding that he was prevented by state law from declaring Mr Miller legally alive.

“I don’t know where that leaves you, but you’re still deceased as far as the law is concerned.”

What we have seems to be a case of competing discourses. If this man went to the hospital, it seems unlikely that the doctors would direct him to the morgue. On the other hand, from the court’s perspective he is dead and thus not eligible to get a driver’s license. Continue reading “Competing Discourses on Life and Death”

Handcuffed to Authority

Residents of Eastern Pennsylvania can sleep a bit easier now that Eric Matthew Frein was apprehended. Frein is accused of murdering Pennsylvania State Police Corporal Bryon K. Dickson and the attempted murder of another officer, Alex Douglass. Authorities scoured the Pocono Mountains looking for this self-professed survivalist for forty-eight days. On October 30, U. S. Marshalls found Frein near an abandoned airfield, handcuffed him, and placed him in a police cruiser. The man with a hatred for authority had been captured.

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(Photo: AP/Jason Farmer, The Scranton Times & Tribune) USA Today

As it turns out, the handcuffs placed on the fugitive once belonged to Corporal Dickson, as did the cruiser used to transport Frein. According to Commissioner Frank Noonan, authorities “agreed that if we had the opportunity, then it would be fitting to use Corporal Dickson’s handcuffs…when we caught him.” At first glance, placing Dickson’s handcuffs on Frein is, indeed, a fitting response to the fear that has gripped the area. Symbolically, it represents the restoration of justice and safety seemingly safeguarded by the authority of law enforcement – with an added symbolic retribution forced upon the criminal. Perhaps, this handcuff story evokes a retributive sort of solidarity enacted as Dickson lives on in the form of his handcuffs now binding the hands of his alleged killer. But the story might also reveal our particular bondage to a certain vision of authority and justice as natural. Continue reading “Handcuffed to Authority”

Everybody Plays the Fool

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When [Walter] Kirn was just starting his novel-writing career, he met a man who was a bold financier, an art collector, a fussy eccentric, a dog lover and a Rockefeller. They became friends.

But over the years Kirn began to learn that the man who called himself Clark Rockefeller was none of that — not even a dog lover. He was a psychopath and a killer.

How did Kirn fall for the fraud? Was Christian Karl Gerhartsriter — aka “Clark Rockefeller” — extraordinarily compelling? Or was the novelist, like a lot of other people drawn to the imposter, duped by his own desire to have an attachment to a famous name?

So opens a radio story on the curious case of Clark Rockefeller — or, might we say instead, the curious case of people, such as Kirn himself, who believed his friend to be the man he claimed to be. The difference between how we approach this story — is it about Rockefeller (pictured above) or Kirn? — tells us much about the social theory used to tell the tale. Continue reading “Everybody Plays the Fool”

Why Am I Cheering for My Team?

Picture 1While I admit to having issues with the sort of individual, rational thinker that Chomsky presupposes when he’s making his critiques of the (often unseen) politics of dominant institutions, his thoughts on identification practices via sports (the clip is from the 1992 documentary, “Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media”) are worth posting, I think — what with the U.S. national championship in College football just having passed by (Roll Tide), the Superbowl coming up in a few weeks, and also the Winter Olympics in Russia, and all the media hype that comes with each of those. Continue reading “Why Am I Cheering for My Team?”