“Growing Up Online”

And we’re back to my love of PBS, Frontline this time, with a special about technology’s effect on teenagers. Especially interesting is chapter two, “A Revolution in Classrooms and Social Life.” I have to admit to being a little miffed at “everybody uses Sparknotes” or “nobody reads books” concepts as a technologically advanced young person who does indeed do her own reading. (Though, I will admit to being overly excited at such available online books services such as DailyLit.com, which sends a user multiple easily consumptive sections of books for free by email or RSS feed if they’re in the public domain and for a minimal fee if they’re a contemporary work.) Sure, it’s been a few years since I’ve been in high school (thank god), but it’s extremely disconcerting to me to think that the advance of technology has left someone in English studies thinking that they don’t have a place anymore. I mean, did mathematicians freak out at the advent of the calculator? I think not. They used that tool to their benefit (even those in love with the abacus), as other technologies can be used to benefit other areas as well.

It is ironic that I watched this online though, no?

Ze link…


New Country, New Flag

Today, Kosovo declared independence from Serbia — the two remaining states of what was once Yugoslavia. Although secession has been expected, this declaration may turn less than pretty as Serbia and Russia promise to deny acknowledgment of the new country.

As I was reading up on the happenings, I came across an article written a week ago on Kosovo’s plan to adopt a new flag. Until now, every celebration and every funeral was marked with the Albanian flag — a rich red background with a black two-headed eagle. Albanians far and near, in the motherland (Albania) or not, have identified with that flag and those colors.

What happens now as a new country tries to identify itself? The writers at The Christian Science Monitor have an idea. See this article, “With Independence Looming, Kosovo to Pick New Flag,” by Andrew Wander for more info. I’ll be very curious to see what happens. . . .

Reasoning with Culture

( . . . in both sentences of the word.)

In “The Science of Fairy Tales,” Chris Gorski takes on the issue of reality and fantasy. Or, well, sort of. The author writes about what possible truths may exist in fairy tales and selects three popular stories with elements that seem to have a basis in reality. She/he asks,

[A]re the most magical moments from some of our favorite stories actually possible? Basic physical principles and recent scientific research suggest that what readers might mistake for fantasies and exaggeration could be rooted in reality.

At first I took this comment to mean a girl named Rapunzel, a mermaid named Ariel, and a young man named Aladdin did indeed, respectively, let down her hair, have stolen her voice, and make fly his carpet — feats that bend our perceptions of the tangible world. But, then, I gave the article a second read and realized this final line is vague enough to mean just about anything. Once “could,” “may,” or “suggest” hedges an argument, what follows could be any bit as hyperbolic as the speaker/writer wants, for better or for worse.

I’ll try not to ruin the surprise of what’s contained in the article — I’m already plenty amused and even appreciative that a science news researcher would attempt to unite folklore and “hard-core” reason. I may never have tied a strand of my hair around candy bars to gauge the strength of my locks, attempted to bend sound waves like light, or released a rug in midair like the napkin that never fails to fly off the picnic table, but, sure, I see these insights have some basis. (I think I’m entirely failing at not giving away the details of the article.)

And, yet, I can’t help but spend a little time with the following line, which is Gorski’s segue into the body of the article and which uses language that initially made me feel as if I’m being beckoned into a funhouse:

So suspend your imagination for a moment, and look at the following fairy tales as a hard-core scientist might.

But, it’s not a funhouse – or, well, maybe it is. We’re entering the realm of hard-core scientific reasoning. We are asked to suspend our imagination in a clear reversal of the popular attempt to suspend disbelief, which we try to do when, say, we enter a movie theater. We suspend our disbelief so we can enjoy the imagination and creativity brought together for our entertainment, for our temporary relief from the daily grind, and for our currency . . . but I digress. For some moviegoers, we suspend our disbelief in order to open ourselves up to ways of thinking and experiences foreign to us, foreign for any number of reasons. We suspend our disbelief to take in, learn, and appreciate.

This approach is not necessarily our default, however. We doubt until there is reason to believe, or we remain indifferent until we become invested. The Harry Potter generation will tuck away their crimson and gold scarves just as older generations would have done with their ruby-red slippers had the mechanism and culture existed in that age to produce and market such paraphernalia.

Let’s not forget, however, that the author is asking us to look at fairy tales as a scientist would. This writer seems to point to scientific reasoning as having little to no use for the imagination. Yet, in all honesty, I’m wondering who could possibly believe that Ariel losing her voice has to do with an average someone discovering sound waves can be bent. Tell me this thought doesn’t take a little bit of imagination, a slight suspension of judgment and doubt.

By the conclusion of the piece, a slight hope began to build for me:

Perhaps some fairy tales are more grounded in reality than others. Or maybe these precious stories are exactly what we thought they were. An idea is fertilized by the imagination and expanded beyond what seems possible. Or maybe science has come so far over the years that scientists are looking beyond the problems of the physical world and into the imaginations of children for their inspiration.

Again, the “perhaps”s and “maybe”s can be frustrating, or they can be hopeful. And my reading of this final line can similarly be frustrating (moving from the problems of the physical world to the problems of children’s imaginations) or hopeful (moving from the problems of the physical world to the reason-bending imaginations of children . . . um, who aren’t really the authors of these fairy tales). Or perhaps this paragraph finally shows that, indeed, ideas do come out of the imagination, and its direction thereafter is up to the thinker. And I can’t help but think of one such method: the scientific method. First a person posits a hypothesis and then attempts to prove it. And an unproven hypothesis is an educated guess, right? And a guess is an idea, no? And do not even proven hypotheses change in value over time as researchers imagine new ways of approaching knowledge and dissecting our physical world? Will time come, again, when we’re told dark chocolate is not really that good for us after all?

I admit I like the idea of culture and science coming together in newish forms, but if the main reason is to bring reason itself to the imagination, I can’t help but feel somewhat uncomfortable. I believe in the intermingling of ideas (I mean, shoot, I’m helping launch a digital magazine named Harlot precisely because I believe in interdisciplinarity and the value of discussion held beyond the university) but not when one category (especially the one less tied down by rules) becomes stifled.

In the end, though, I sigh and think that if a person refers to these particular moments in our popular fairy tales as “the most magical,” perhaps, maybe, possibly the two of us are on different (bent?) wavelengths after all. But I’m not sure which one of us is trapped within an enclosed and muffled space, perhaps with a bonfire projecting strange shapes and figures onto the walls.

Rhetorical manslaughter?

Last week in my narrative theory class we had a wonderful discussion about intention and/vs. meaning. Does a text’s meaning depend upon the author’s intention, or can the text communication meanings that the author didn’t intend to include?  Dr. Phelan brought up the interesting real-world example of this debate: the controversy in the sports community over recent racial comments around Tiger Woods.

Quick summary: Commentator for the Golf Channel Kelly Tighlman made a ‘joke’ on air about young PGA players wanting/needing to lynch Woods to challenge his dominance.  YouTube clip

Uproar ensues, which Woods tries to calm by arguing that he and Tighlman are friends, that she is sorry, and most importantly that there was no “ill intent” behind the comment; she is suspended for 2 weeks.

Meanwhile Dave Seanor, the editor of Golfweek magazine, runs an issue (1/19/08) intended to continue an important discussion about race in the sport — and puts an image of a noose on the cover. Golfweek cover

More uproar, followed by apologies and Seanor’s immediate dismissal.  Apology from Golfweek

So — here we have a case in which 2 messages were sent without “ill intent.” In fact, Golfweek’s editor seems to have intended an honest and complex discussion of this issue in an historically racist sport community, though admittedly with an insensitive prompt. My question is: why was Seanor punished so much more severely than Tighlman? And what does that suggest about intentionality and meaning? Do we need different degrees of judgment? In the legal system, when someone commits a crime intention is taken into consideration (for example, murder vs. manslaughter) — but usually the crime is still punished. How do we determine or judge rhetorical acts? Does intention or effect determine meaning in the real world? What about when the effects (some are harmed, some pleased) vary according to audience?

Judging Greatness

Either I’m on a roll today, or I’m just wasting time. But I came across another interesting something on my way over to Yahoo! to check the weather (in hopes the temperature has crawled above 30).

How do we judge greatness? This question was taken up by Yahoo! Sports as they tried to ascertain how great the Patriots team is. The conversation starts out straightforwardly enough, but then someone asks how the Patriots compare against any professional team in the history of sports. Sure, the question should require a logical-enough answer — athletes run a certain number of yards, throw a certain number of passes, and score a certain number of points. The comparison gets more difficult, it would seem, when we’re talking about different sports, but the members of the conversation seem friendly enough toward the direction of the talk. The Patriots apparently (I really don’t keep track of this stuff) have a perfect record this season, but are they “great?”

I’m not surprised at their answers, but I’m not fond of the idea. It takes a team having all-star players in addition to a stellar record (wow, all these astronomical analogies) in order for a team to be great. In other words, image seems to play a “great” role. It doesn’t seem to matter whether a team of athletes come together to work like a machine. We need to see someone who climbs above the rest, a representative of the team. A face. A name. Individual stats. But how does an athlete get into the Hall of Fame? How much does it come down to image and how much does it rely on the actual numbers related to their performance? Do they have to win the crowd or just win the game? Hmm. I would say winning the crowd. The crowd hears the stats, but they also have to love the player. And yet loving the player without the logic of stats is not enough. Okay, I hope you get the point. I’ll stop before I drive myself in circles.

I’ll be honest, though. The only reason I clicked on the link to this video is because I saw the title, “Best Sports Team Ever?” along with an image of Michael Jordan. “Oh, no, no,” I thought. “If they’re putting the Chicago Bulls up there, they’d better add the LA Lakers. . . .” They didn’t. I’m hurt. Didn’t the late 80s have some of the best games when Magic Johnson, James Worthy, and so many others hit the court? I’m going to complain now. Clearly folks who are trying to properly represent sports history are suffering from a selective memory 😉