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”

Who We Truly Are?

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Did you catch this spoken word piece, by rapper Prince Ea, that was making the rounds online a couple moths ago? (It’s apparent support for the notion of being post-racial received its share of criticism, by the way.) Continue reading “Who We Truly Are?”

Pleasantville and Social Reproduction

This post originally appeared on the Practicum blog.

In Religion & Society—my introductory religious studies course — I regularly use the 1998 comedy Pleasantville to engage in a discussion about how we’re socialized to actively seek conformity to the existing social order. The film is about two teens — David, played by Tobey Maguire, and Jennifer, played by Reese Witherspoon—who are magically transported from the 1990s into a 1950s sitcom; they immediately begin to chafe under the social expectations of small town life. As they start deviating from the social norms of the fictional sitcom world (and encourage others to do so as well), they disrupt the life of the entire town. (If you haven’t seen it, the trailer is below. Note: there are spoilers further down.) Continue reading “Pleasantville and Social Reproduction”

Reason to Believe

Picture 8Did you catch the recent interview with Tom Jones, on National Public Radio? He’s 75 now and still going strong. He has an autobiography out and a new album and was reflecting, in the interview, on how, with age, he’s now able to sing certain songs with more credibility than when he was younger. Continue reading “Reason to Believe”

“I asked God to send me, right away, a hundred million moths that would eat up my Toronto Maple Leafs Sweater”

That’s Roch Carrier, the Quebec author, when he was 10 years old, in 1947.

If you know anything about the history of Canada, or hockey, you’ll know that there’s something wrong with that picture once you hear it was taken in Sainte-Justine-de-Dorchester, Quebec — near Quebec City but also near the Maine border.

Or, to put it another way, it wasn’t taken in Toronto. Continue reading ““I asked God to send me, right away, a hundred million moths that would eat up my Toronto Maple Leafs Sweater””

“How do I pronounce it again?”

Picture 9At least here in North American, it’s likely you’ve had General Tso’s Chicken if you’ve got to a Chinese restaurant. (And fortune cookies, of course.)

Picture 10But who was General Tso? Did he really like chicken? And where’d the dish come from?

This new documentary would be really useful in classes interested in tackling just what it means to assume something is authentic or, better yet, to exemplify how identity is, in fact, a public and always ongoing collaborative exercise — in this case, between cooks, armed with certain sorts of recipes, and eaters, who arrive at their restaurants with very different tastes.

Strategic Ideologies

(1882)_MAP_OF_THE_TRIBES_OF_INDIAPrompted by the discussion surrounding Rachel Dolezal’s NAACP resignation, this series of posts is about how and when we take performativity seriously…, and when it bows to interests in historical or experiential specificity.

Race, as many have pointed out for years, is not biological. This point raises questions about the basis on which it is determined. Is it ancestry, appearance, cultural practice, or something else? That complicated question has come to greater prominence in light of the media circus around Rachel Dolezal and her assertion of an African-American identification. While discussions of Dolezal often focus on the process of self-identification and strategic choices made in relation to that self-identification, I want to focus, instead, on the strategic nature of the act of ascribing identification to someone else. Continue reading “Strategic Ideologies”

They’re Just Old Buildings, Right?

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Prompted by the discussion surrounding Rachel Dolezal’s NAACP resignation, this series of posts is about how and when we take performativity seriously…, and when it bows to interests in historical or experiential specificity.

My brother, Elliot, who died in 1996, was mentally disabled. That’s him above, with my two sisters. And that’s me on the far right; he was 12 years older than me and, as a baby, had taken a particularly bad fall from his highchair; presumably, that’s what caused what, just a couple years later, became painfully apparent to my parents: he had no speech development and began suffering from repeated grand mal seizures. I won’t belabor the tragedy of his life and death, but suffice it to say that in the 1950s there was little choice but to institutionalize him, when he was a young boy, in a government-run institution. So his profound cognitive problems were quickly compounded by a number of physical problems — who knows what all abuse he was subjected to over the course of his life, but from the “cauliflower ears” and missing teeth that soon resulted, well…, it was apparent that life in the institution was horrendous. Continue reading “They’re Just Old Buildings, Right?”

Look How Tall You Are!

Picture1The ease with which identity is presumed to be an inner trait projected outward is pretty easy to document, which makes critiquing it something less than a challenge. For example, I thought about writing a post on the new film “Inside Out” and the popular folk understanding of identity as being an internal quality only subsequently expressed outwardly, such that the social interaction is the effect of a prior and private sentiments.

But that just seemed too easy.

And, besides, the film seems kind’a fun. Continue reading “Look How Tall You Are!”