By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

Summer 1 quarter is my time off from teaching. But, as my esteemed colleague Peter Stern stated in his Turtle profile, “teaching is what life’s all about.  Everyone’s on this great green globe to teach and learn and/or to learn and teach.” Or, perhaps to put it another way: You can take the boy out of the classroom, but you can’t take the classroom out of the boy.  Sure, I could just sit on the couch and watch TV, but I really would rather be thinking of new methods, new ideas and new courses.  Thus, most of my first four weeks off have found me elbow-deep in a book or two about a topic that has always intrigued me: Race.  I am working on a course tentatively titled ‘Race and the History of Racism’. The structure of the course is slowly developing in my mind; soon I hope to start transferring my thoughts to electronic documents.

I want to share with you, dear readers, an idea I have for the course.  By sharing this, I hope to get some feedback, and hold my feet to the proverbial deadline fire. I would like to implement the below idea by the time I return to RMU in July. Now, let me explain….

When dealing with the topic of race in America, it is often difficult to move beyond the notion of racial absolutism.  The idea that there are 3 or 4, or 5 or 6 ‘races’ that encapsulates all humans. Such racial absolutism is central to American culture and history.  It is, however, a fallacy and to disprove it we must shatter American notions of racial categories. But, how to do this?  There are many readings, essays or monographs that could do the trick.  But as we all know, a picture is worth a thousand words.  I want to SHOW the cliched rainbow of humanity in all its diverse form to my students. Luckily, technology is here to help.

During the last couple years, psychologists have utilized digital photography to ‘composite’ human faces into national average visages.  By so doing, these scientists have muddied up any simplistic notions of racial identity. Of course, this idea of ‘average’ physical image is somewhat flawed.  There can never truly be an ‘average national look’.  Still, the attempts are incredibly suggestive when viewed together at one time since they illuminate how the world’s population physically blend imperceptibly over created state borderlines. Just glance at the 40 images below, and try not to see the shared humanity.  The faces just blend from one to another.  There is no definitive color line.

average_faces_of_men-741954

But, there is a problem here. These photos are ordered alphabetically, not geographically.  The psychologists miss an opportunity by ordering the pictures this way.  Why not put them on a map so that we can really see the faces physically blend?

Why not indeed?  This is my goal!  Edit each picture, and place them onto an interactive world map.  I am thinking of using Google Earth for this, since it is simple to add images  to this  fully immersive global Googe-Earthmap.  Doing this will illuminate for my students the malleability of race; hopefully, this will lead them to question absolutist American racial concepts.

I really think this has some promise. It may take awhile, but I have quite a few weeks off.  I will give you all an update later on.

Now, off to work!

by Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

Opening my email always results in a range of negative emotions, frequently accompanied by sighs and lamentations (ask my nearest work neighbors). I could change my outlook, but I don’t plan to do so.

I hate email enough to have volunteered to plan a “No Email” holiday at RMU. This would only prohibit emailing people in the same building for one eight-hour work day in August. I can’t wait for all the bureaucratic indignation.

Email reproduces like ungodly rabbits. If I have a “quick question” for someone, it often seems like a good idea to “send a quick email” and then get a “quick response.”

Oh-ho, but it rarely, if ever, ends there. There is the follow-up email, either a valid question that requires yet another email, or the dreaded “thanks,” or, infinitely worse, “thanks for your thanks.”Email1

While I do receive and send lovely, heartfelt emails from friends and family members, they are rarefied jewels glistening in my inbox. Most of us are simply too busy to correspond in this way. Besides, we’d much rather meet and discuss things over a few drinks.

My personal email account overflows with garbage that I must dispose of in the perfectly accurate trashcan icon. In early May, I got an “urgent” email from ProFlowers suggesting that my Mother’s Day flower order required my immediate attention. All the rest of the online shopping I have done comes complete with incessant, complimentary emails; Victoria’s Secret is positively desperate to earn my shopping dollars, offering me a free tote in a weekly email. Then there are frequent flier emails, great, yet I am I always just shy of a free flight.

I ask my students to email me only when necessary. They have the luxury of 24-hour access to an online learning system where I’ve provided all the information they need to complete coursework. I am scheduled to see them twice a week in two-hour sessions, that’s four full hours of contact with me per week, and additional office and on-campus hours. By my way of thinking, I should receive few, if any, emails from students. Sadly, that is not my reality. I attempt to assure them that I can offer more, and more fruitful, assistance when we have a genuine conversation happening in real time, my focus on them alone. I want to talk to my students whenever I am able, in person and in depth.

The main complaint I have concerning work emails is that they always require more work; they are hardly ever an invitation to a party.

Additionally, work emails come at all hours, and some bosses (not mine, thank my lucky stars!) expect people to read and answer their emails all day, all night, at any time. What’s the expectation: a person who works 24 hours? I don’t even own a personal computer, nor do I want one. I spend too much time in front of a screen as it is.

A few labor unions in France recently urged employees to stop conducting business after 6:00pm, reasoning that the work day should have a definite end. It is not an email ban, but perhaps it ought to be.

A true life-work balance is a remarkable difficult, ideally 8/8/8, meaning eight hours for work, eight hours for sleep, eight hours for leisure.eight

Much like unnecessary printing, eliminating unnecessary email should become a part of professional etiquette. Email is one way to communicate, but seldom the best way.

Similar to an invasive species, email will take over if given the opportunity. We ought to act now and cut back superfluous emailing before it strangles the life out of more multifaceted means of communication.

Microsoft Word - Document1

 

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

A disturbing story out of California grabbed my eye last week.  In the town of Rialto, just outside Los Angeles, a school board caught flack for an 8th grade assignment asking students “to debate in writing whether the Holocaust was ‘merely a political scheme created to influence public emotion and gain’, or an actual historical event.  Facing harsh criticism, the board initially defended the assignment, saying it was a way for students to

The 8th grade assignment in question.

The 8th grade assignment in question.

evaluate evidence, and to use ‘critical thinking’ skills.   The schoolboard finally apologized for it’s poor judgement as news spread that the language used in the assignment had actually been lifted from a ‘revisionist’ website.  In the realm of Holocaust studies, ‘revisionism’ is a euphemism coined by anti-Semites and Neo-Nazis for Holocaust denial.  After such an embarrassing revelation, apologies are now flying, and amends are being made.  On Monday, the LA Times reported that the eighth grade teachers who oversaw the assignments will be going through mandatory sensitivity training, including a trip to the Museum of Tolerance.  Hopefully, the physical evidence of the Nazis’ war on the Jews displayed at the museum will illustrate to the teachers why the assignment was a horribly distasteful mistake.

Case closed?

Not quite. This story is about much more than an 8th grade assignment.  There are troubling implications here.

But first, let’s make one thing clear: I don’t think the schoolboard is run by Holocaust deniers, or Neo-Nazis. As the Anti-Defamation League stated, it seems this case is not a sign of a “larger, insidious agenda.” Instead, this is an instance of a group of people making an incredibly bad, misinformed decision.  No evil here; just banal ignorance. But, the banality of the ignorance points to the disturbance. This assignment was intended to be an attempt to get students to use ‘critical thinking skills.’  Critical thinking is a buzzword in today’s world of education. It has nothing but positive connotations, and rightly so.  But, here we see a danger.  Critical thinking skills can only be developed if we can critically recognize when thought and arguments deserve criticism. Not so simply put, we can’t be critical thinkers when we don’t have critical thoughts to critique. To recognize what stances deserve critical assessment, we need to identify what is worthy of discussion, and what is not. There are simply some opinions that are not worth hearing.  

The Rialto school board was ignorant.  They were ignorant that not all thoughts should be critically assessed, and they were even more ignorant of history. They simply took two seemingly disparate views, and told students to analyze them.  After all, to the school board, the ‘revisionist’ website used the language of a critically thought out position. It ‘seemed’ historically sound, which is exactly what the ‘revisionists’ intend. Holocaust deniers want to take advantage of such ignorance; when they do, they win the battle, and help destroy history.  

The other especially disturbing aspect of this story is the method the board used to get  information.  As mentioned, the assignment was taken almost directly from a Holocaust denial website.  The board’s ignorance is chilling, but it becomes dangerous when combined with the accessibility of extreme lies in cyberspace.  Now, I am not a luddite. The internet has  radically altered communication, and accessibility to information largely for the better. But the internet does not separate the noble from the vile. Extreme hate has found a new home on the web.

Teaching my Holocaust course, I realize this, and point out to my students to be cautious when doing research online.  There is a huge array of radical hatred that could be stumbled upon by them unwittingly as they

Nazi Anti-Semitic Propaganda poster found in search.

Nazi Anti-Semitic Propaganda poster found in search.

search out for the answers to assignments in class.  Let me just give you an example how easy this is: If I Google image search ‘Nazi Jewish Propaganda’, I get over 6 million hits.  Most images come from the holdings of Yad Vashem, or the U.S. Holocaust Museum, or some other reputable memorial institution.  But, the image search also can bring me to other, more troubling sites. The 11th image retrieved in this particular search is of a Nazi anti-Semitic poster produced during the Second World War.  If I click on the image, I see that it comes from a page called ‘Zion Crime Factory.’  The small caption to this image states, “Hitler, like Goebbels, understood the reality of Jewish warmongering against the Reich…‘ What we have here is a modern anti-Semitic, perhaps Neo-Nazi site utilizing Nazi propaganda, not to illuminate Nazi persecution of Jews, but to illustrate that the Nazis were actually correct in their persecution.  If my students were looking for propaganda for one of my assignments, they may accidentally stumble upon this site.  Hopefully they would recognize this site for what it was and avoid it like the plague. But, what about all those who had never studied the Holocaust before, and don’t know what they are looking at?

What about 8th graders researching a critical thinking assignment?

By Jane Wendorff-Craps, English Faculty.

When the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts began our curriculum meeting one winter’s morning with a kitty meme from the internet, I thought, “No, no, not here, not now…” though internally I was clapping vigorously with my fingertips. It was so stinking cute I could puke right there in my auditorium chair with the pull up desktop, which strangely (and totally from a 70s timewarp) had a pencil etching of Kilroy.

Coincidentally, or not, our CLA (College of Liberal Arts) team put it upon themselves to have running jokes about kitties, their cuteness, and the sometimes pathetic human need to share and overshare this trendy feline phenomenon: cat memes. It is worse than the cute baby memes, in my opinion, because the baby pictures and videos are real time cuteness, and who doesn’t like to see babies doing what they do best: smile, burp, pass gas, and giggle.

It seems kitty memes have no proverbial line drawn in the sand. Each day on social media, and the televised news programs nonetheless, kitties are doing more than what kitties do. People are setting kitties in baskets of fruit with a title of “Still Life Cats.” Or, kitties are playing the piano with phantom human hands from underneath guiding poor Garfield’s paws as he tickles the ivories. Or, good ole Rover is curled up for a nap in the sunbeam with little tabby furball scrunched under his slobbery jowels… aw, ain’t that cute.

But oh, that is the least of our perturbed psyche expose; animal memes date way back… even before the invention of the internet by Al Gore. When I saw, as the article describes it, the “morbidly adorable work” by 19th century Walter Potter of Sussex, England, I had the Roger Rabbit double-take, eyes bulging out of sockets then springing back on coils, OMG WTF is this kind of reaction. I’ve heard of taxidermy, and I know many people with deer heads on their walls. I’ve read of people who stuff their pet dogs to have a continual remembrance of them after they pass. Heck, every museum I’ve ever visited had stuffed animals on display for whatever exhibit in whatever section, you know, as a learning tool for patrons. However, let us think about what Mr. Potter had to be doing in this image.

kittens1

Tea Time for Kittens?

We have what looks like 12 cute and adorable kitties having tea. No, those are not Beenie Babies set upon Barbie chairs. This is Victorian era craziness at its finest.

It makes one wonder… If the kitties are real, albeit stuffed, are the tiny foods real too. Did the “artist” bake mini crumpets, pour drops of tea in the miniature china tea service, and are those real biscuits on that diminutive Wedgewood?

The worst pursuit of realistic wonder would have to be where he found 12 kittens, all of the tiger variety, and what kind of person would expire a tiny living creature and then stuff it for a bizzaro tea party only more out-weirded by Louis Carroll. Is it a coincidence the two men are from the same era, and even lived their adult lives just miles apart in Surrey and Sussex? Just what is it about south England residents in the Victorian era?

I imagine psychologists are having a hey-day over this one. I’m searching for an article by Freud to show the connection of sexually repressed Victorians and stuffing animals. Or not, I’m not sure I could sleep well after that enlightening read.

kitten2

Fluffy bunnies exhibiting test anxiety.

What is it that humans are fascinated by in the “recreation” of a dead animal and posing it in some form? Hunters do it with their prey, saying something to the extent of “I killed this animal, and it was great, and I am great, let’s show this greatness to all who come into my living room.” Yet, what Mr. Potter did is a step further down the yellow brick road. He didn’t pose the animal in its natural form but in human situations. Was he the perverse(er) version of “the cat lady” who needs companionship of herds of animals in her living quarters? But dead ones. That’s the key point here. I’m alive, you’re dead, therefore I have power over your domain? Could it be the simple reason that Potter wanted to show how humans and animals are so similar? Yet when do cats ever elect to have a tea party? Or bunnies go to school to learn their ABC’s?

I’m having a hard time understanding how Potter is paying homage to the natural world by repositioning tiny animals in typical human activities. For some reason, when men of the past stuffed the now extinct dodo bird for posterity, I feel like that might have been of some service to the human race. Having a museum of kitties, bunnies, and hamsters eating and playing like they were the maker’s faux children seems a bit off (a bit Victorian cray-cray, so to speak). But that’s just one gal’s opinion.

by Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

I’ve been thinking about circles lately, those of man-made origin, built to provide a place for interaction, engagement, and celebration. The mystical togetherness inherent in the circle pervades all cultures and traditions.bonfire

 

 

A circle promotes intimacy

A circle promotes unity

A circle promotes equality

 

 

While I’ve been busy training to be a conservatory docent, a separate group has been training at The Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool, an impressive outdoor space complete with a “Council Ring,” a circular meeting space modeled on Native American custom and reminiscent of many highly fraught, circular gathering spots in the woods I frequented in my youth.

CouncilRing

I encountered wonderful, glorious campfire traditions as a girl at YMCA sleep-away and Girl Scout camp. Fortunately, my family’s home also had a generous property that allowed for bonfire parties throughout our later school years, which between me and my six siblings lasted about three decades.

La_danseMatisse

La danse (I), by Henri Matisse

The circle remains ever-present in interactions with my family and friends. On Christmas, we (Mom, four sisters, two brothers, four brothers-in-law, two sisters-in-law, ten nieces and five nephews and I) form a circle, hold hands, and pause to give thanks and ask for future blessings: a phenomenal moment, imperfect though it may be. All of my friend groups form circles, around countless tables, on a thousand dance floors. Many of my favorite friend circles are shaped by folding chairs pulled together on a lawn, ideally with a fire pit at the center.

When I think like a teacher (which I frequently do), I know circles encourage engagement and provide a powerful tool for education.

I’m launching a seriously fabulous class this term, Summer 1, 2014, at RMU. The class is terrific largely because the students are willing to get into a circle and discuss ideas. Therein lays all the great mysteries of meaningful human interaction: cooperation and communication.

More important than all of the lofty, grandiose promises of the circle is students’ willingness to participate. If students don’t show up, really show up—physically and intellectually—learning just will not happen.

Engaged RMU Students!

My RMU Students engaging in conversation!

Thus, I ask my students to get into a circle, to join the circle, to make a circle: all requests for their active involvement. Teachers need students to join in the process to make education happen. When students comply, when they truly form a circle, a “community of scholars” as I have come to call it, I gratefully seize the opportunity to enjoy the pinnacle of shared experiences, honest dialogue undertaken with the intent of mutual understanding. Another mystical moment, brought about through the magic of the earliest of human knowledge, sensing in that circle, we can all belong, we can all be heard.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

Over the last couple weeks, my wife and I have been devouring the first season of Game of Thrones.  Yes, yes, we are behind the times.  I know the fourth season is currently on HBO.  Please forgive our pop culture delay, and don’t give any spoilers in your possible comments to this post. Thanks much.

Now, most everyone has heard of Game of Thrones by now, and realize that the series is a melange of fantasy/action/drama/political thriller.  The series is set in an imaginary land and time that is inhabited by 1434624mysterious creatures such as dragons and ‘white-walkers’.  But, the show does not revolve around magical beasts. There are no main character elves or dwarves, like in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, or Hutts and droids like in Lucas’ Star Wars.  In Thrones, all the characters are human, and the emotions, the drives, the beliefs are all too recognizable. For a fantasy series, Thrones is strangely, and brutally familiar.  However, this familiarity stems from more than just the characters; the setting, though a make-believe land, feels like earth. The imaginary time period seems like a ‘real’ era of human history.

Game of Thrones takes place in a bizzaro European Middle Ages.

Everything in the show has the feeling of the medieval world; the clothing characters wear; the weapons that they use.  The castles, and/or hovels, characters inhabit.  The social hierarchy that exists, with lords, ladies, priests, warriors and peasants (this is even the terminology.) The political factions that are constantly scheming for power.  All of this, and much more, makes Game of Thrones seem to be a strange fantastical attempt to relive a ‘true’ past. The series is a sort of Renaissance Fair writ large; and writ bloody; and writ sexualized.

Winterfell

A typically medieval scene from Thrones

Game of  Thrones‘  medievalism is not unique. References to the world of the Middle Ages are a common aspect of twentieth century fantasy tales.  The most famous example is Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.  Though mentioned previously that Rings was more fantastical than Game of Thrones, what with hobbits, wizards, orcs, etc, the overriding aura of the two stories are more similar than different.  Like in Thrones, knights, steeds, magic and castles are all a part of Tolkien’s fantasy land of Middle Earth.  Tolkien’s fantasies are not alone. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and George Lucas’ Star Wars, though less obvious than Thrones or Rings, has the Medieval touch as well. Seemingly set in modern Britain, the Potter tales transport readers to the more magical, hidden ancient world of wizards, trolls, castles and ghosts just out of sight of the muggles.  Taking place in a galaxy far, far away on the other hand, the plot of Star Wars revolves around a brave knight (Luke Skywalker) utilizing magic and rare sword skills (only Jedis use the lightsaber) struggling against the forces of pure evil.  To defeat this evil, Skywalker must fulfill seemingly impossible quests. It is an Arthurian legend with a space cruiser. 

Why do these modern fantasy tales so readily depend upon medieval tropes ?  If this question never occurred to you, it is probably because you have always been inundated with these cultural themes.  After a lifetime of fantasy medievalism, we now simply accept the utilization of the historical era’s ideas, language, clothing and notions as a natural part of fantasy tales. It seems so natural in fact, that to plunk down such a tale in a different historical era seems odd, if not absurd.   Imagine if Game of Thrones depended upon Ancient Greece for its influence. Picture in your mind’s eye the Starks, Lannisters, and Baratheons wearing togas. Ridiculous, isn’t it?

The reason this seems absurd has much to do with our understanding (or stereotypes) of the Middle Ages. Whenever covering the period my history courses, I tell my students to think about what terms and ideas they associate with the Middle Ages. They respond as you might suspect.  My students imagine kings, queens, castles, knights, serfs, etc.  But, they don’t stop there. Some students invariably enter the realm of fantasy.  They will tell me that they think of witches, dragons, magic, and wizards when they conjure up an image of the long gone world.  My students understand these things did not exist during the Medieval period, but the ivanhoeideas come to their mind regardless. They just can’t help it.

My students are dredging up more than just the fantasies of Tolkien or George R.R. Martin.  Their associations of fantasy and the Middle Ages are much older than those two twentieth century writers. The early nineteenth century, and the Romantic movement is truly to blame. The romantics’ obsession with the Middle Ages as a time of wonder, magic and heroism must be the starting point to grasping why medievalism entwines so readily with our contemporary fantasies.  Responding to the cult of rationality associated with the Enlightenment, the Romantics created a Middle Ages that was mythical, irrational and magical. These modern Europeans created a legendary memory of the Medieval period that lives on even today. Game of Thrones is just the latest rendition.

 

 

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

Our first 21 years of life are stacked with milestone birthdays, like:

16 (Driving!)
18 (Voting! Oh, and smoking, and armed services, and such.)
21 (Drinking and Gambling! responsibly….)

Today I turned 32, meaning those milestones have long since passed.

Through my mid-20s, one of several reasons why I fell out of love with birthdays is that the milestones are mostly gone. Well, except for when I turn 35 and run for President. And 65 when I collect social security. And 100 when I get my face on a Smucker’s jar courtesy of a then 148-year-old Willard Scott.

Coming in 2082!  Thanks in advance to Willard Scott.

Coming in 2082! Thanks in advance to Willard Scott.

Last year, I changed my thinking. I wrote on The Flaneur’s Turtle about making my birthday special by running my first half-marathon on my 31st birthday. By any normal standards, 31 is not a milestone birthday, but I made it one. I don’t remember what I did on many of my birthdays, but long after my face is on the Smucker’s jar, I will always remember where I was and what I did on my 31st.

Thus, as we get older, the milestones aren’t gone; they’ve evolved.

It is like assigning an essay in an English class. If I limit a class to a single prompt for an essay, many students will find that boring and will be displeased with the limited options. However, there will be little confusion about what is expected of them. The final products will be solid but unspectacular, because I haven’t allowed them the opportunity to do something unique.

On the other hand, if I give a class freedom to select their own topics, many students will be stymied by having unlimited options. Some of the papers will be a mess; yet, others will be brilliant and unique, and those papers wouldn’t exist had I dictated the topic.

The regular milestone birthdays are the essay prompt: we know exactly what we’re expected to do on birthdays like our 21st. The entire event is already prescribed for us. And though many people think their 21st birthday of getting trashed was THE definitive, unique 21st birthday – I’m sorry to say it wasn’t.

All other birthdays are like having no prompt: there are no directions and nothing is determined for us. It may not be easy to find something special and unique to do that day, and the possibility for failure is there. However, there is also the potential for doing something special that goes well beyond the predetermined paths of our traditional milestone birthdays.

For this birthday, I have spread my celebrations around. I once again ran the half-marathon, and a few days before that, I performed on-stage at a Live Lit venue for the first time doing a creative nonfiction/humor piece.

For me, “special” means a challenge, a new experience, a victory, and I will continue to seek out ways to make my birthdays special even though they are not milestones and no predetermined path has been set for me.

At least until 2017 when I am set to start my Presidential campaign.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

I’ve always been intrigued by the complexities of romantic love and relationships, so much so that my graduate thesis comprised an analysis of the representations of marriage in 19th century novels written by women. Research is one thing, dating is quite another.

Popular culture provides a bit more clarity. A favorite line of women worldwide is from “Sex and the City,” of course. The disenchanted and exhausted Charlotte York laments, “I’ve been dating since I was 15! Where is he?”

I hear ya, sister. If my current dating life were a t-shirt slogan, it would read So. Many. Frogs.

Being single in the 21st century involves many challenges; nevertheless, I am a lucky lady. Certainly, I am grateful that I was not born in any previous era, as I would have been forced to live the life of a hopeless spinster (my graduate study included close inspection of the compulsion women felt to marry if only for survival). Remarkably, I was also born into a culture that offers me the opportunity to work and provide for myself, without being dependent on a man. And, I am fortunately in charge of my own reproductive choices. Halleluiah and amen. Thank you, thank you, National Organization of Women!

Nevertheless, sexual liberation problematizes the contemporary world of “coupling.” Ultimately, for most single people, sex is readily available. This is a delightful development, as it enables people to enjoy the sexual life of their own choosing. However, as individuals become more independent in every other way, the only thing people seem to absolutely want, need, or crave from a potential partner is sex, not a relationship. Hooray for the honest, open sex advice the Internet provides, especially the brilliant Dan Savage http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/SavageLove?archives=all

New-sexual-revolution

Sexual freedom reveals yet another difficulty: sex is frequently perceived and prescribed as something individuals want, rather than an experience couples share. D. H. Lawrence’s essay “Pornography and Obscenity” differentiates sex from pornography in two ways. Lawrence identifies a healthy sexual relationship as one that is mutual (while pornography involves coercion or force); furthermore, healthy sexual activity always elevates and celebrates, rather than degrades, the other. Lawrence made these distinctions as a response to his books being labeled pornographic and banned, but the distinctions remains useful, nearly a century later.

Still, singlehood is a good. Indeed, I attended a Chicago Humanities Festival lecture a few years ago about the growing global trend of living alone given by Eric Klinenberg, Professor of Sociology, Public Policy, and Media, Culture, and Communications at New York University, and author of Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone. Essentially, his research concludes that living alone builds popularity the moment it becomes feasible, meaning that the more financial independence an individual has, the more likely he or she is to live alone, for a long time, possibly throughout his or her entire life.

Contemporary life adds yet another wrinkle to the dating tapestry through the paradox of choice. Barry Schwartz
TED talk addresses the ways in which having too many choices results in no choice, at all.

choice

Living in a large metropolitan area provides me with untold number of potential partners. There are so many men! If one doesn’t suit me exactly, why, on to the next! This is not necessarily an intentional strategy, but it does encourage me to move on quickly. My two most recent dates clocked in at 25 minutes and 40 minutes, respectively. This type of thinking does two troubling things: it evokes that horrible MTV dating show (cringe worthy), and, of more concern, feeds the “don’t settle” monster.

Ultimately, in relationships, we all settle. In order for a committed relationship to come into being, both people must agree to accept (perhaps even embrace and adore) one another’s flaws and foibles.

As one of the few truly happily married men I know explains, “it doesn’t work, until it does.”

Perhaps I ought to put that on a t-shirt.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

Perhaps you have heard the name Cliven Bundy lately? Three weeks ago, the Nevada rancher made news because of a stand-off he was having against Federal Bureau of Land Management agents. The BLM had tried for 20 years to stop Bundy from grazing his cattle on federal land. Bundy repeatedly refused, and when the BLM attempted to enforce the law, Bundy took up arms in defiance and was quickly joined by hundreds of proto-militia

Cliven Bundy

Cliven Bundy

members. Or, perhaps two weeks ago you heard about Bundy when Fox News host Sean Hannity repeatedly, and loudly portrayed the Nevada native as an American hero fighting government oppression.  No? Well, if not, then I bet you heard his name last week.  On Wednesday, Bundy gave a press conference that, strangely, led the rancher to pontificate on ‘the Negro’.  Bundy proclaimed:

“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro”…. Mr. Bundy recalled driving past a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, “and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids — and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch — they didn’t have nothing to do. They didn’t have nothing for their kids to do. They didn’t have nothing for their young girls to do.

“And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he asked. “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”

Not surprisingly, Bundy supporters in Washington and New York fled for the hills.  Senators Rand Paul (R -Kentucky), Dean Heller (R -Nevada) and Hannity went from 29234calling Bundy a patriot two weeks ago, to condemning the rancher’s ‘appalling statements’.  Within a few hours, Bundy transformed from the poster child for rugged small-government American individualism, to a disturbing representation of America’s continuing race issues.

Bundy’s words have led to an avalanche of media analysis.  Much of it is directed towards who Bundy speaks for.  Does he represent a larger portion of America that agrees with his racial ideas, but has too much tact, or duplicity to state them quite so loudly? Such questions are important, no doubt.  But, most such stories are often reticent about Bundy’s actual ideas, and their provenance; their history.

Look at Bundy’s most offensive statement (arguably): African-Americans may be “better off as slaves” than living free in 21st century America.  I assume to many, this portion of Bundy’s little speech is absolutely dumbfounding. The man must be off his rocker.  After all, who in the world would believe that anyone would be ‘better off’ in a state of chattel slavery?

Well, during the last 150 years of American history, a lot of people believed such bunk.  Said bunk was so accepted that it was taught as history to American schoolchildren. Bundy’s words are a reincarnation of a past ideology, and a deplorable myth of the ‘happy slave’ that poisoned post-Civil War race relations.

In the decades after the Civil War (and into the mid-twentieth century), notions about ‘happy slaves’ in the Old South held a great deal of sway.  During these years, American culture popularized the happy slave

Aunt Jemima: The happy mammy.

Aunt Jemima: The happy mammy.

 historical narrative through films, textbooks and even children’s cartoons.  Though invented during the days of slavery, this notion of the goodness of slaveowners, and the happiness of slaves was part of a larger romanticization of the antebellum South that swept the nation during the decades of postwar national reconciliation. This narrative painted the ol’ plantation system of slave and slaveowner as one built upon social contentment and order.  Destroyed by the Civil War, the epoch of Southern slavery was memorialized as a golden age of social harmony.

Historian David Blight has illustrated that popular books  in the immediate after years of the war played a large role in revivifying this idea.  These books published in the 1880s-90s portrayed an:

….idyllic world of the plantation system, where everybody knew their place, and where blacks were essentially loyal retainers and happy darkies.

In fact you could argue that the reconciliation of the Civil War, and even the reconciliation of much of the bitterness of Reconstruction, in the popular imagination, happened as thousands upon thousands, hundreds of thousands of American readers, most of them Northerners, [heard] the voice of loyal happy slaves in their ear, narrating these stories about this idyllic, romantic old South that had now been crushed by this unfortunate if necessary war. Oh, and maybe it’s even good — the stories would say — that slavery was ended. It was good for the nation that slavery was ended. But look what else we lost. We lost this ordered civilization, this hierarchical society, this sense of a nation where everybody knew who they were and where they should be. And after all, what were they living in, by the 1880s and 90s, but an urbanizing country, a modernizing country, a complicated place, now full of all kinds of new immigrants…. new ideologies…., and an expanding economy full of technology that people didn’t grasp and couldn’t understand. And when the world gets confusing, and it changes rapidly, they did what most of us do. They harken back to another time. They find another world to live in.

Let me remind you that Blight wrote these words a decade ago; he was analyzing responses to modernity in post-Civil War America.  The idea of the ‘happy slave’ was useful for those who feared the real world in the 1880′s. 130 years on, Bundy obviously took this old wine, and put it into a new bottle, finding some perverted sense in this ‘happy slave’ narrative.

Is Cliven Bundy the only one who holds to such notions?  Hopefully he is….but, I doubt it.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.
Last week I went to get two of my favorite shoes repaired for the warmer weather. One was a pair of Birkenstocks sandals, essentially the only shoes I wear in the summer, and the other my beloved Hush Puppies Mary eco-friendly-starJanes that tie in a bow, well worth a trip to the cobbler.
When I asked the attendant how much it would cost for the repairs, he said the rate was $70, for each pair. Meaning, it would be cheaper to replace both pairs of shoes than repair them. I had a mini-tizzy in the shop before getting a gruff, “good bye,” from the man at the counter.
big green purseI remembered the first time I encountered this trap intrinsic to contemporary consumer culture. I had a Navy pea coat that I loved, perhaps too well. By the second winter of wear, the coat needed a considerable amount of repairs. I took my coat to the neighborhood seamstress, only to be told to “just get a new coat” because repairs would cost more than $100. “But I have a coat; I don’t need a new coat” I futilely explained. Ultimately, I did throw away my pea coat. I can sew. I could have made the effort, but I didn’t.
This conundrum reminds me of Anthony Burgess’ essay “Is America Falling Apart?”
In it, Burgess claims, “Americans are at last realizing that the acquisition of goods is not the whole of life. Consumption, on one level, is turning insipid, especially as the quality of the goods seems to be deteriorating, planned obsolescence is not conducive to pride in workmanship. On another level, consumption is turning sour. There is a growing guilt about the masses of discarded junk—rusting automobiles and refrigerators and washing machines and dehumidifiers—that it is uneconomical to recycle. Indestructible plastic hasn’t even the grace to undergo chemical change. America, the world’s biggest consumer, is the world’s biggest polluter. Awareness of this is a kind of redemptive grace, but it has not led to repentance and a revolution in consumer habits.”

Words written in 1971, before I even entered the scene of conspicuous consumption.
21st century life is convenient and comfortable in boundless ways, but also encourages waste and breeds a habitual indolence, which is why Earth Day is necessary.customers-going-green
This is not a call for guilt. Rather, we ought to channel the positive Earth Day emotion to asking questions about our choices and the impact they have on the planet. What is required is an honest assessment of what makes living a “green” lifestyle challenging, and determining to meet the task with an improved commitment.
As such, throughout 2014, I’ll celebrate Earth Day as I endeavor to become a better and “greener” consumer. Luckily, I’ll have help from agencies and organizations dedicated to protecting the environment.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle tips from United States Environmental Protection Agency.
National Geographic provides helps simplify major purchases with their “Green Buying Guide
Here are Environmental Ratings of Household Tissue Paper Products from Greenpeace (so important not to flush away forests!)
locavoreOther shopping choices can have a positive, rather than negative impact on our communities and the world. The “10 Ways to be a Locavore” list from PBS offers the necessary encouragement to make small changes, rather than expect to transition to a completely new lifestyle.
Earth Day provides a reminder to celebrate the vast splendors of earth, and to follow her example, and begin anew.