Friday, April 29, 2011

Social Construction (Part 1)

(I may add to this post later)

Many of us get it into our heads that there is a strict, non-obtrusive way of doing things. Where does this come from? Perhaps intuition, parental dictation, peer influence and pressure, divine intervention...the list certainly could go on. In actuality, much of the way in which we behave comes from societal pressure. My students in my Interpersonal Class have heard my thoughts on this and many agree according to their reflection papers. I am not delusional by the way as many of them write that the agree because they figure that they'll get more points if I hear what I what to hear (read what I want to read). However, some part of me hopes that they do take it to heart...that they don't have to adhere to popular culture to be happy. It might not be for ten years after college partying ways have waned to some decree but hey, better late than never. The simple true is that many people behave, react, engage, emulate, and perpetuate certain behaviorisms because they believe it will bring them social acceptance. Unfortunately, they're least for now. One of my final lectures in my Interpersonal Communications class is entitled "Growing Up Masculine, Growing Up Feminine" based on an article rooted in research and written by renowned gender communication specialist Julia T. Wood. Five themes of masculinity and femininity are offered reflecting on how modern assertions explicitly state what makes a man and a woman. While the article stresses caution against such paradigms, I indulge some unfettered passion in order to convince my students that these themes are absolute bullshit.

For the purpose of time and because, once again, I am under the poetic and exhaustive influence of alcohol, I will break this rant into two parts beginning with masculinity.
All hail the great men of modern society who drink, screw, and make others to seem inferior by comparison. I am of course being intentionally sarcastic speaking as someone who can drink a lot, has enjoyed a number of sexual occasions, and has made something of himself in the professional realm. Make no mistake, this is not vanity. Vanity is not self-propelled...its inception comes from trying to impress other people. By no means am I trying to impress you, I am simply making a point. Many men see it as their purpose in life to be the envy of all other men. Certainly this will bring about disappointment as there will always be at least one other person in your immediate surroundings who is better or more "laudable" in a particular category. Men have been convinced since they were boys that in order to be "successful" that cannot only be good at what they do, they must be the best. Therefore, for many men success becomes a comparison issue. If someone else is "above you" or "on top" you are less-than and thus weak. "Weakness" represents the worst fear of masculinity whether it is exuding ANY types of femininity, not being successful, not being aggressive and taking what "yours," not being sexual, and not being self-reliant. If any of these things is self-propelled, that is a virtue a man believes necessary for his survival and the survival of those whom he cares about, then so be it. All power, glory, etc. However, if any of these things is the result of a socially-constructed unspoken mandate of what masculinity is supposed to be, then he has mis-stepped. The idea that a man has to be an aggressive, high-paid, sexuality explicit cowboy is not only lunacy, it's dangerous. There are a number of men, some of whom are people I know, who consider themselves not worthy of attention (especially from women) and have to endure lowered self-esteem. The irony is that men who behave in the way described, often times are doing so in order to compensate for lower self-esteem. I always chuckle a little when some remarks "He must be making up for something" when a guy in a big truck revs his engine. It's true he is making up for something, but I don't think it has anything to do with his physiology. A guy who insists on driving a big truck which in practicality would result in metallurgy or lumber work, needs for people to give him attention. It's the same reason why frat guys wear pink's not people they think they look good in that color, it's because they feel the need to prove something. In this case, they're trying to prove their comfort in their sexuality and "masculinity." A real man has nothing to prove. A real man doesn't need the validity from popular culture. A real man is the unsung figure that does what is best for him, his family, and his friends...and that's the water's edge. Masculinity is self-propelled and does not have a socially constructed factor. 

Both men and women spend so much time (often with futility) to impress everyone else. We all spend a lot of time and effort trying to prove to others that we are worthy when most of them are not paying attention because they're trying to do the same thing. I, for one, do not want to look back on my efforts and chalk them up to frivolity.

In my humble opinion, the virtues to which a man should adhere are strength, integrity, respect, and honor. These are the values that my father instilled in me. They are the values that I will instill in my sons assuming I am lucky enough to have them. If you want the expanded version of my opinions in this matter, I welcome you to take my Interpersonal Communications class (but you'll have to wait until the end of the semester for this particular part). I will welcome your agreement as well as your dissent. Keep in mind I've prepared for it....make sure you do too.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Song Stuck In Your Head Syndrome (Condition not yet recognized in the DSM)

We've all been there before and probably many, many times. For seeminly no reason at all we get a song in our head that just won't leave. Sometimes it happens after having just heard a song and other times it just appears without reason or provocation. Technically speaking though, it isn't the song that's in our head, it's just one part. Often times it's the most annoying part and if it isn't it will be soon. This event can go one of two ways: either it's a song you hate and its repetition in your mind causes you further irritation (like scratching a rash) and frustration, or it's a song you like and will inevitably hate now because you're "hearing" it far more than is desired. Right now "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked" by Cage the Elephant is being ruined for me. My mind seems intent on torturing me as somehow everytime I go to sleep (assuming I'm able to do so) with a song in my head, it's waiting for me with a big FU the moment I wake up. Talking, watching movies, and trying to play other music somehow doesn't hinder it. I'm stuck in a static state of suck. Alliterations kick ass.

"You know at this point it doesn't matter because it keeps running inside my head and the only way I'm gonna get it out is if I blow it out...WITH A BULLET!!!" - Carl, Aqua Teen Hunger Force

Sunday, April 24, 2011

This Is Starting To Sound Like A Country Song (Student Excuses)

Anyone who has been in education is all too familiar with the variety of student excuses. They tend to evolve in their availability. Students in high school for example don't have as much to work with as many have not emancipated themselves from parental control and oversight. In college however all bets are off. Students are able to explore the vast recesses of their mind but regrettably in the wrong fashion. The art of excuse-making has come a long way from "my dog ate my homework." Some of them are getting downright damn creative. You almost want to give credit for effort. The student condition leads them to believe that if they mix together a concoction of common logic (an incidence that isn't too far-fetched which usually involving a vehicle), perceived credibility of limited availability of knowledge (setting the information in a way where the teacher can in no way prove the reason for the excuse didn't happen in the manner described) and of course at least a couple fingers worth of emotion (attempt at guilt and sympathy while turning up the effort with vocal quality and facial expressions). This is what Aristotle would call the perfect blend to maximize persuasion. In this case, to persuade (manipulate) their instructor into a cooperative mindset. The cause might be a missed class, a late assignment, a forgotten test...who knows. The palpable irony however is that if a student put half of the energy into their work that they did into their excuses, they would have As, and I wouldn't feel like I'm developing an ulcer.
It's no coincidence that excuses come in droves only when presentations are supposed to be given and on test days. Due to successes in their art form in high school college students especially expect their teachers to simple allow them to make up tests and presentations at the student's convenience at no penalty. Some college educators allow this. Enablers. Pawns in the every growing instant gratification, entitlement paradigm. Admittedly, I try to give the benefit of the doubt when I can. There are some cases though when the series of events (sometimes over the semester, sometimes all at once) reaches a point that's just ri-damn-diculous. Honestly, sometimes it sounds like a country song which might include the following: dog died, wife left me for the local carney, friends gave up beer, house burned down, truck exploded, lost job, got another job but that building burned down too, van I was living in blew into the river and sank, got herpes from a prostitute, was cleaning my gun and it went off into a convenience store clerk, and how I'm sitting in a cell singing the country blues. Now granted, the excuses I hear aren't quite this bad but you'd be surprised at how close it gets at times.
The 2nd and 3rd most common excuses are the ones that are hard to have them account for: family issues and care problems. I always feel like a jackass when I request evidence of a family member passing but students aren't above figuratively killing a relative in order to get a few extra days for last minute panic studying or paper writing. No kidding, one semester while teaching at Texas Tech, one of my students had the same grandmother die twice (he edited the date on the funeral program). Oops. When it comes to vehicles, if I had a dollar for every student that got a flat tire whether it was it upon discovery that morning or on the way to school, I could retire right now.
The number one excuse is the most readily available: "I'm sick." Students figure that they're covered if they simply send their instructor an email citing whatever is going around at the time: allergies, flu, cold, or the "just not feeling well." It's evidently become fairly easy for students to create doctor's notes so now I need to require a number I can call to ensure that the student actually made a trip to the doctor's office. All this energy, for both me and the student, could be so incredibly better used elsewhere.
Despite how old this can get, it is still fun sometimes to watch students come up with something new. :-D Now if you'll excuse me, there's an Alan Jackson song playing in the distance somewhere, I smell smoke, and I'm not feeling well. :-p

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Generation: "Who Gives A Damn"

I'm growing more and more concerned about the seeming downslide in generational characteristics. Whereas at one point it took decades of time and circumstance to shape the general way we could look at a generation's characteristics, the technological age has bred one distinguishable mindset: who gives a damn. Generation NeXt, as the most recent genegration has been named, is the result of being born into a world of the technological availability of distance and complacency. It's quickly discovered that a person barely has to move at all in order to attain information, play a game, watch a movie, communicate with others, or ironically even physical exert themselves. Smart phones, the Nintendo Wii, Netflix, HBO on Demand, computers and the Internet have drawn many to the idea that little effort, if any, is required in order to get through life. This is contingent however on it's availability which is in no short supply. Parents are more than happy to provide their children with these "distractions" because in essence it takes pressure off of them as well. You don't have to spend as much time being a parent if you plop your kid in front of a TV or computer. Am I suggesting that parents who allow their kids to utilize technology are evil? No, certainly not. The idea however, is to REGULATE the extent and amount. Five-year-olds do not need cell phones. Think of how irradiated they will be before they're eighteen.  The earlier members of the current generation are exposed to the technological availablility of complacency, the harder it will be for them to seperate themselves from it for even a moment. If doesn't seem to matter how many times I tell my students to stop texting in class, they still continue in ferocious obsession. When they're instructed to stop or be dropped from the class, I get looks as though I just killed their puppy. I heard a radio show yesterday morning that talked about a study that was done on young teenagers with regard to technology. All technology other than a land-line phone was taken away from the study group for a few days. The reaction was similar to the withdrawal that drug-addicts experience when they stop using, cold turkey. This suggests a SERIOUS dependency problem.
Technology, while a pervasive and useful tool in networking and communication is producing, in general, a disassocitive society. I think there is a direct coorelation with a breakdown in face-to-face communication, writing skills, discipline, work ethic, and interpersonal relationships. These issues in turn keep the youth dropping out of school, losing jobs, having failed relationships all in which might cause depression and further tangible isolation. Invariably, it leads to the mindset "who gives a damn." The generation of entitlement has given way to a generation of laziness and complacency. The idea that it's too hard because it requires effort so screw it. I'm not suggesting that everyone adheres to such a mindset, but I see it grow with every semester. My colleages and I generally agree that with each passing year, students grow more distant, are less prepared, communicate less, and give up more. This correlates with the growing dropout numbers.
I don't think that technology serves as the single source for modern apathy but I do feel as though it is a substantial part. We've lost a lot of the human face and the human voice in our interactions because of this. Conversations, date proposals, break-ups, and brief bits of information are utilized through phones as opposed to doing what is difficult and looking the figure in the eye. Easy has become practice, and its seeming practicality has become cowardice.