Friday, April 17, 2009

Critiquing Diversity: Jokes Edition

Apparently SAFD is going to keep putting out pamphlets, no matter how bad their previous efforts have been. In that case, I'm going to keep critiquing them, because it is funny. This latest effort, on derogatory jokes, actually doesn't seem all that bad at first glance, but you never know. Let's take a closer look...

Do you think it is okay to tell derogatory jokes? Why?
Good question. Nice, makes you examine yourself, open-ended. Personally, I think it depends on who's talking and the context; I've always held the opinion that if you want to degrade your own race/sex/religion, go nuts. And if you're joking around with friends and everyone knows you don't actually hold that opinion, go for it. But as far as jokes coming from outside your race, or opinions that aren't just jokes, no way. That's when you get to slap a bitch.

Do you think this perpetuates the stereotypes or is a means of acknowledging that the stereotypes exist?
See, this isn't strictly a bad question, but you have to differentiate between the different scenarios in which the joke could be told. If it's between members of that race, than it's actually a difficult question. I would hope that it was an acknowledgment and not a desire to perpetuate the stereotype; I wouldn't want my friends calling me a kike or a moneylender on a regular basis if they meant to spread the information that all Jews are rich. (Disclaimer: I think the current financial crisis proves once and for all that we are not in charge. Jews are good with money. The crisis was caused by lousy financial discipline. Q.E.D.) As far as other scenarios go, friends joking with each other acknowledges that the stereotypes exist; jokes intended to be derogatory, of course, perpetuate the stereotypes.

(Intermission: 'Stereotype' is a very commonly used word, especially here on a LA campus, but no one seems to have come up with a good abbreviation or synonym for it yet. I think this is because of the 't's at the beginning of the syllables, which preclude shortening the word. However, I also think it needs an abbreviated form. Any suggestions?)

Would you say these jokes in front of the victim of the joke?
Well, if I was actually being racist when I said them, then I wouldn't care or would want to insult them. If I was joking around with the person, than sure, I would. But the word 'victim' implies that the person you're telling them about is not complicit in the joke, i.e. you're being racist. So if I was racist enough to tell those jokes and mean them, I wouldn't have a problem with talking in front of the target. (I'm not. Just so you know. : )

How do you respond if or when you hear these jokes?
Firstly, same shit, different day; Liberal Arts campus, people. Lots of social Democrats. Lots of tolerance. Always tailor your questions for your audience. Not a lot of these jokes are told here on campus, at least not in the way where you mean them. The only way this works is if people had them in their home town, which is very hit-or-miss. On the other hand, this question is most likely to provoke a reaction from those same people.
Secondly, let's assume for brevity's sake that these aren't jokes between friends, jokes between members of the same race, etc. If it's clear that they're making fun, or that they're between members of the same race, it's unlikely that random passerby would make any response at all. So we'll consider only truly derogatory jokes, told with intent to hurt.
Thirdly, what are you supposed to do? Get in their face and tell them to stop? Most people aren't that confrontational. If they make you angry, you've passed a litmus test of your own personal tolerance. If they make you cry, well... it's a rough world. If you don't care because it's their own problem, good for you.

What if we stopped telling them?
This is the only real lemon in this bunch. What if we stopped eating from Lowry and started foraging in the forests instead? What if this entire group spontaneously staged a musical by jumping up in a table in Kittridge and singing about diversity? Open-ended "what if" questions have no practical purpose.
But what if we actually did? Well, I'm not sure what the "we" refers to, first of all. Does it refer to the purportedly diverse but actually racist SAFD group? (Kidding. Kidding. But they're saying "we", and I sure as hell didn't write it...) How about Wooster students in general? (As I said, there's not many of those.) Or is it (probably) the broader, more idealistic "we", referring to all of humanity? Well, in that case, we would be one small step closer to total integration. I say a "small" step because eliminating the verbal expressions of racism doesn't eliminate them in the mind. So it wouldn't have much of an effect except to make the joked-about's lives a lot easier.

Speaking of whom, who exactly are we talking about here? Does this cover jokes about race, religion, etc. or is it more broad? Does it also cover jokes about grades, relative intellect, your mom or your lunch? Does it apply to all jokes, no matter the intent? We don't know because these pamphlets are frustratingly vague. Asking people to think "outside the box" is no excuse for not providing a context.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Little Tents Inspire Topics: A critique of our resident diversity group

In the last week or two, a group calling itself Student Advocates for Diversity has been leaving these paper tents around on the tables, supposedly asking tough questions about difficult topics. I think that the questions are idiotic, so I am going to answer them, although in ways that the questioners probably never intended.

There are three tents that people have been left, which I'm going to address in ascending order of intelligence. They'll be like this: Gender, Interracial Dating, Diversity.


Does the media perpetuate stereotypes about gender relations? If so, which ones, and what effect do these portrayals have on the public?
"The media?" What exactly does this mean? Are we talking about the so-called mainstream media, that is the major newspapers and television channels, or television programs? What exactly does this mean? "The media", as I have discussed, is a very broad concept. This, right now, is a form of media.
Bypassing that, there is no real answer to the second and third questions here. The answer to the first is obviously "Yes", and the question "Which ones" varies greatly depending on the type of media. Movies, for example, largely follow the convention of the male hero with a love interest. There's increasing variation in the way this convention is done, but overall this stereotype is perpetuated regardless of packaging. I would say that, depending on the media you choose to imbibe, you can find almost any stereotype of gender relations, from Friends to Desperate Housewives to love triangles. As for what effect these portrayals have, well... doesn't that depend on the person? I'm sure it conditions people to act in those ways, and makes plenty of people angry, but that's really it. And besides, is it a bad thing?

Do you think the media has an effect on how you think?
What a stupid question. Do you think the media doesn't?!

Do you think differently about your boss depending on their gender? How about your professor?
Of course. My experience has shown me that female professors and bosses are more likely to be easygoing, assign less homework, forgive absences more often, etc. Admittedly there are outliers (See Game Theory, 2009), but in general this holds true for teachers.

What advantages and disadvantages do both genders have in our society?
Holy hell. See, this is what I'm talking about. I know they're trying to spark discussion, but could you ask a more broad question? Even if you tried? Anyway, they partially answer that question in the next question...

Did you know that women earn 77 cents to every dollar a man earns?
Um, where did you get that statistic? The tent doesn't say. Where does that come from? Are there studies showing this that you could give me, or is it just hearsay? I tend to be suspicious of statistics with no citations that people give me when they're trying to prove a point, which this question is...

What expectations do you have of gender roles?
In society? This is a fairly loaded question, because if you fall too far one way or the other you can be accused of being either a sexist knuckledragger or a feminazi. The question I have to ask, though, is "In what?". In the home? The workplace? The bedroom? What?

The title of each pamphlet, Let's Talk About It, seems to imply that the group is uncovering some deep secret or unpleasant issue. So far, they've failed to do that, asking embarrassingly broad questions that are impossible to actually answer and generally making very little sense. Let's see if they can do any better with interracial dating.

Interracial Dating
This seemed like an odd topic to cover; after the broad topics of the first two (Gender and Diversity), Interracial Dating is fairly specific. I suppose they were trying to connect more with people by being less abstract, but it still doesn't seem like the sort of topic that would actually get people to think. Consider:

Do you approve or disapprove of interracial relationships?
Not a bad question; certainly better than the cloudy and nonspecific questions of Gender, but still a fairly bad one. For a student at a liberal arts college, relatively 'enlightened', the answer will usually parallel my "I don't care".

Would you partake in an interracial relationship?
Personally, I already have. Otherwise, it would depend if I... liked them?

Do you think twice when you see a dark skinned male and a light skinned female displaying public affection? What about a dark skinned female and a light skinned male?
They're trying to be just a little bit too politically correct here. See, this is why I don't like political correctness, simply because it makes the same thing harder to type, like saying "dead tree innards bound with rawhide with ink on the innards" when what you mean is "book". Similarly, "light skinned male" can be shortened to "white guy" with loss of sensitivity but a rise in ease of typing.

The actual answer is "No".

What comes to mind when you see two people of different races in a relationship? Why?
I really don't have any particular thoughts when I see interracial couples. Really. And why is because it's not a big deal. Product of a liberal suburb, right here.

Does your opinion differ based on the races of a couple?
I'm going to take the opportunity here that it's more common to see white girls with black guys, particularly athletes, than it is to see white guys with black girls. I don't know why that is.


Now we come to the first, and paradoxically final, pamphlet. It's entitled simply Diversity, and features some of the more straightforward and discussion-prompting questions to date, starting with the first (and broadest) one:

What is diversity?
I have no freakin' idea what diversity is. Like most abstract concepts, you think you know what it is until someone asks you, and then you find out you really have no idea what to say. What is diversity? Is it a certain mix of students such that everyone can meet and talk to people who come from cultures different from their own? OK, sure. But how far does that extend? Are you required to represent all possible cultures, or just those who choose to attend your school? If students stay largely in their respective racial/cultural groups, is it still diverse? What about diversity of opinions and ideals? Are you required to have certain viewpoints on campus to provide a proper balance? Does that include opinions most on campus find distasteful (example: racists)? What about social groups most people find distasteful, such as skinheads? It's a fascinating topic because you really don't know what to include and what not to.

Are we, the college (student body and faculty) diverse?
See above. In fact, see above for What makes a student body diverse? too. It's just so hard to answer without asking a bunch more questions.

How can we change diversity?
Not by might and not by power, but by spirit alone (U-rah!) shall we all live in peace!

Thought I'd bring you a little Jewish spirit in this time of Passover. How you change diversity I'm not sure, except by bringing in different people, obviously enough.

Is diversity important?
Absolutely. Being exposed to different ideas and cultures, especially in college, can change your freakin' life.

What have you learned from being in a diverse environment?
Well, not too much. Despite living in the international dorm for the past year, and being on the COW campus for that selfsame year, I haven't absorbed that many new ideas by osmosis alone. Mostly that some international students are great guys and girls, and some are utter douches (I don't actually know any int'l students that are utter douches, but this follows from the end of the sentence) just like anybody else. A little irony there for your diversity.

Do you think everyone has a culture or just some people?
Wow, this is slightly off topic. Well, as I said to the question of whether people are affected by the media, of fucking course. It's impossible not to have a culture, if culture is the sum of your experiences and the society you live in, which I think it is. The only people who fail that are either living on a mountain somewhere or dead, in either of which cases they have a bacterial culture. So yes, we all do.

What makes you unique/diverse?
The sum of my experiences and the fact that I'm human. For example, I've dug up mammoths in South Dakota and swum with barracuda (and spotted whales) in the Bahamas. I've been to California and to DC to see family on opposite sides of the nation. I love classical music and science fiction and will play a game of chess with you any time. Game theory drives me nuts sometimes and makes beautiful sense sometimes. I was president of the United States of Livingroom and the nation of Copperdomia (in a school setting!). I've been friends with a lot of wonderful people. Point is, everyone can list things like this because everyone is unique. I like this question not for the discussion it starts (it doesn't, really) but for the well-being it inspires, remembering all the awesome things that I've done.

This was going to be the end, but a fourth pamphlet/tent came out the other day. Sadly, it is idiotic and talks about a serious subject (Hate Crimes) with incredible naivete. Let me share this with you.

What is a hate crime?
Well, I'm not going to type it out, but the thing paraphrases in GIVING YOU a definition, so I don't feel like it needs answering...

Have you witnessed a hate crime? Did you do something about it?
Wow, not afraid to ask the tough questions here, are we. I mean, hot damn. That is loaded, especially since the only people who tend to witness these crimes are the victims and the perps. That's not so much a discussion question as it is calling you out.

Have you been a victim of a hate crime?
This catches you off-guard with all the subtlety of an axe to the tonsils. What? Have I what? How many past victims do you think came to COW?

Have you committed a hate crime?
What?! Are you serious?! This is like a detective novel, "So, did you kill Ms. Frost?" What kind of answers do they expect to get?

How do hate crimes affect people?
Usually in the form of physical damage.... I mean, this isn't that bad of a question, but after those gems above I'm less inclined to forgive the stupidity. I mean, really.

Well, that seems to be all for now. Publishing and going to bed. Better appreciate this, it's been a week in the making. Zzzzzzz...

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

"11:00 PM to 12:00 PM"

I have some small familiarity with the concept of weaponized pathogens such as are described in the latest episode of 24, so I thought I'd give my two cents on the subject with the episode about halfway over. One, apparently Jack is a dead man. Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is a rare neurological brain disease which is transmitted by prions. It is incurable and always fatal. The version of the disease in 24 has been modified so it can be spread through the air, the nightmare of CDC personnel.
Two, isn't 24 running low on WMDs? We've already covered nuclear explosions, electro-magnetic pulses and such before, and we definitely did biological weapons in either season 5 or 6. What next? Terminators?
Three, it still hasn't been adequately explained why Starkwood is doing what they're doing. It's like, OK. The whole nefarious scheme of Day 7 was based on Starkwood making deals in order to gain space to create and test the WMDs. What the hell are they planning on doing with them? Especially in this universe where the deals you make are uncovered in a matter of hours? They must know that the WMDs will be traced back to them, yet Jonas Hodges (the main evildoer today) doesn't seem too put out. What are they planning?
Four, who ever heard of a weaponized pathogen that wasn't contagious? This means that they want to send a message with a bunch of deaths, rather than just kill as many people as they can. So what's the message that's so important that you can risk your entire business empire, not to mention your lives, to send?

Oh, five: Is there a single person, anywhere, anytime that has gotten an executive pardon on 24 and not been immediately shot? Whatsisname who broke out Tony is a dead man walking. (Written immediately after the last commercial break. Will check back with news of death.)

Or not. The episode ends in a standoff involving miniguns, though, so anything can happen.