Recently on Twitter, I was reflecting about the everyday encounters where the study of religion (and really “religion” as identity formation) becomes a topic of conversation.
In case it’s TL;DR, the long and short is that I’m convinced that there’s plenty of opportunity for scholars to contribute to public discourse if we hold vigilant in our commitment to observation and intelligibility. To me, the minute that we insist upon our expertise at the expense of our willingness to explain our point is when we’ve shifted a potential exchange with someone into an effort to change the other.
And while I prefer to see change as a social fact rather than an intrinsically bad thing, there is something disturbing about clearly veiled efforts at affecting change. They are all well and good when they go unnoticed, like the way I hand my kids a sealed salt shaker when they want to add more seasoning to their food. But when we know how this works, we label these acts differently–manipulation, lying, bait-and-switch, etc.
Several days ago, I was wooed to my local thrift store by their promise of deep holiday discounts. As I was shopping, an employee made an announcement over the loudspeaker that went something like this:
“Shoppers! Don’t forget to check out our latest and greatest selection of ugly Christmas sweaters, perfect for your Ugly Christmas Sweater party! They’re located on the west side of the store under the “Christmas sweaters” sign.”
I happened to be one aisle over from that very sign and saw several older, presumably working class women shopping in that section, looking at one another with shocked faces upon their mutual discovery that what they had presumed was a fantastic deal on a nice holiday sweater was now someone else’s joke. Whether such a sweater ended up in their carts I do not know, but it was a very interesting examination of how certain types of defamation can be called “humor” while others simply remain defamation. Continue reading “Ugly Christmas Sweaters and Bubba Teeth: On Holidays and Class-Based Humor”
A culture is not a costume. That sentiment has become a common theme on social media and student newspapers (here from James Madison University and here from Chapman University, for example) with the approach of Halloween. The sentiment makes sense with people, primarily identified with a majority community, masquerading for fun as a stereotyped member of a minority. The history of using minority images for entertainment and benefit of majorities is long and painful, including the blackface minstrel shows of a century ago. Such costumes reinforce the costumed person’s majority status as he/she masquerades as something other, thus demonstrating differences in power.
However, accusations of cultural appropriation also can become assertions of power and control from some in minority groups. In the video embedded below, the narrator describes cultural appropriation as “when you hijack a part of a culture without permission, not out of respect or tribute.” Continue reading “What Should You Be on Halloween?”
A recent occurrence of misrecognition reminded me of two Culture on the Edge blog posts written this past summer (see here and here) in which Russell McCutcheon wrote about what it might mean to see the ordinary as curious in one post and another on public conversations on the role of identity in the movie, The Lone Ranger. In the former post, McCutcheon asked a simple question underneath a picture of Baka people performing for Pope Benedict XVI as he departed for Angola, “who is wearing a costume?”
If we take seriously theories of performativity and the role of the discursive in processes of identification as forcefully articulated by thinkers such as Judith Butler, then we know that something like Halloween occurs every day where we un/consciously present who we are/aren’t/want to be to the social world in which we participate in. Continue reading “Trick or Trick?”