Sunday, February 26, 2006

Immigrant Economic Engines and Late Night Comedy

…On evening comedy television in “America” immigrants are threats to “our” jobs and “our” security or they are ignorant indios who can’t speak proper English. On primetime and late night comedy Mexicans are pariahs and not the people who oil the U.S. economic machine…

…Since the 1980s the service industry in the U.S. has grown reaping tremendous profits from workers born in other countries. Foreign-born workers serve citizen interests as cooks, servers, and busboys in all types of restaurants. Day laborers assist homeowners trying to make repairs or improvements to their homes and yards. Homes, office buildings, and college campus buildings are built by the same immigrants who comedians call ignorant or dangerous…Let’s not also forget that the immigrant presence provides jobs for lawyers, doctors, and agents of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Thousands of ‘citizens’ rely either directly (e.g., border patrol agents) or indirectly on immigrants for their paychecks…

…Many essays in the book, Immigrants Out! (Juan F. Perea, editor), point to the similarities of periods of increased nativism in U.S. history. Clearly, older racist rhetoric plays an important role. Well-established stereotypes contribute to seeing immigrants as Others to be disdained. However, racism seems to be a divide and conquer tactic within in a larger strategy that pits capital and greedy capitalists against workers…

…We have few opportunities to understand the importance of Mexican and other immigrants to our society. Rarely, do we get an opportunity to ask “what if there were no Mexicans in the United States?”

From The Anti-Immigrant Impulse in U.S. Comedy
A Day Without a Mexican
Immigrants Out!: The New Nativism and the Anti-Immigrant Impulse in the United States

Coming to American Medicine

…Cultural nuances are why a Hmong man would be insulted if a doctor looked directly at him during a lengthy conversation and why a Salvadoran woman who feared mal de ojo , or the evil eye, would seek a folk medicine healer, a curandero.

At Bailey's, where 10 percent of patients speak Arabic, Farsi or Urdu as their primary language, cultural norms were the reason a breast self-exam program for Muslim women several years ago took place before regular business hours and involved only female staff. The center agreed that no male employees would be on the premises.

"It all gets down to basic respect," said Christina Stevens, program director of the Fairfax County Community Health Care Network. "And it's better medicine."

Even for those on the receiving end of routine encounters, the experiences can be unsettling. Lubaba Mohammed, a young Ethiopian woman who lives in Prince George's County, was taken aback by the information she was asked during medical appointments. The doctors' manner seemed so forward, she said…

…An article last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association cited "the need for significant improvement" in physician training. It detailed a survey in which a quarter of more than 2,000 final-year medical residents said they were insufficiently prepared to deliver care to new immigrants or those with beliefs not in line with Western medicine.

"You make assumptions about patients based on how they look, how they speak, the clothes they have on, and, truth to tell, patients make assumptions, too," said Yolanda Haywood, an assistant dean at George Washington University medical school. In keeping with national accreditation standards passed in 2001, the school incorporates cultural questions into a required four-year course, the Practice of Medicine.

Dealing with varied backgrounds and beliefs takes time, which the pressures of managed care do not easily accommodate.

From the MSNBC article.
Newsweek article: "When Cultures Clash"
Stanford University film, "Hold Your Breath"

Friday, February 24, 2006

Pop Culture Gets Serious…Istanbulywood: Valley of the Wolves

A Turkish TV show goes silver screen to become Middle East blockbuster. Starring Gary Busey and Billy Zane.

It is rabidly anti-American, and it is the biggest draw in town.

In one scene, trigger-happy US troops massacre civilians at a wedding party.

In another they firebomb a mosque during evening prayer. There are multiple summary executions.

And for the first time, the real-life abuses by American soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison are played out on the big screen.

This film poisons the climate in a way that enhances jingoistic nationalism among Turks. Even the doctor - played by Gary Busey - is evil, removing human organs from Iraqi prisoners to send to patients in the US, Israel and Britain.

"Our film's a sort of political action," explains script-writer Bahadir Ozdener at the production company's stylish office on the Asian side of Istanbul.

"Maybe 60 or 70% of what happens on screen is factually true. Turkey and America are allies, but Turkey wants to say something to its friend. We want to say the bitter truth. We want to say that this is wrong."

In a mainly Muslim country that has enjoyed a long strategic partnership with the US, Valley of the Wolves has sparked intense interest.

The US ambassador to Ankara was quizzed for his reaction to the film on a major news channel; even Turkey's foreign minister has felt moved to comment on it. Both were anxious to appear conciliatory.

But the film clearly capitalises on a wave of anti-American feeling that peaked with the Sulaymaniyah controversy, but began to swell with preparation for the invasion of Iraq.

Middle East expert Cengiz Candar says the incident in Sulaymaniyah added deep insult to injury in Turkey, where there was already strong opposition to the war across the border.

Source: BBC article.

Other sites:

Valley of the Wolves official site.
Internet Movie DataBase entry.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Education as commodity

"College education" is one of those concepts slathered in meanings, expectations, and symbolism. Today the breadth of degree choices are astounding; AAS, BS, BA, MA, MFA, MD, MSc, MA, MB, MBChB, PhD, DPhil…letters add prestige, assumptions, salary increases, career advancement, maybe a shot at an academic job.

Although awarding of degrees for higher education is an ancient practice dating back to the Greeks, the modern series of academic degrees as they are known today formed in the nineteenth century, a product of increasing specialization, standardized education, industrialization, scientific advancement, and economic expansion.

Wikipedia lists entries for higher education, undergraduate, graduate, PhD, and doctorate degrees. They also list an informative entry for higher education which includes this:

In most developed countries a high proportion of the population (up to 50%) now enter higher education at some time in their lives. Higher education is therefore very important to national economies , both as a significant industry in its own right, and as a source of trained and educated personnel for the rest of the economy; it is often argued that in a modern economy the quantity and quality of such human capital is the most important factor underlying economic growth.

What was once a 'dedication to learning' has become a commodified cog of economic growth, at least in the United States. So its no wonder that with such high economic stakes, especially for individuals, a certain level of cheating has accelerated in the past decade.

David Edmondson, CEO of Radio Shack, could be called a poster-executive for this growing trend.

Claire Babrowski, RadioShack's recently installed acting CEO, may have found that her impressive curriculum vitae came in for closer scrutiny than usual when acceding to her new post. She's got David Edmondson, the former incumbent, to thank for that.

The revelation of Edmondson's resume as a cock-and-bull story--including claims of earning two college degrees for which the school he attended has no records--has led to his resignation, though Edmondson's brief statement Monday sidestepped the issue: "At this time the board and I have agreed that it is in the best interest of the company for new leadership to step forward so that our turnaround plan has the best possible chance to succeed, as I know it will," he said.

While Edmondson isn't the first to pull such a stunt, he certainly won't be the last. That senior officials and executives, public and private, risk their careers on faked diplomas is telling. The perception of holding an advanced degree can hypnotize normal skeptics into not checking records. The symbolic meaning of letters appearing after a name, or not, can also overshadow expectations and intellectual muscle. While it seems that Edmondson only acquired two semesters of undergrad ed, his co-executives seemed entranced and happy enough for several years with the CEO's performance. Sans a degree, Edmondson's illusion of attaining a college education seemed to work just fine as he functioned within Radio Shack's corporate structure.

Like the media, books, music, and movies, brick-and-mortar institutions of higher learning are facing disintermediation via online universities. Why stop your life to move to a university town and drudge away for 4-8 yrs for that piece of paper when you can log in after dinner and email your presentation before Niteline? Lectures on iTunes, "smart rooms" equipped with remote cameras for distance students…why collect tuition from 30 students when you can set up some cameras and collect on 300? Revenue beckons.

At the same time the perception of education has changed. As Edmondson and other recent cheats demonstrate, saying you have such-and-such degrees, including even diploma-milled PhDs, is all that's needed for advancement. No checks required. More alarming is that a degree-faker wouldn't be recognized for their lack of intellectual rigor as they perform their jobs, public or private. That the letters and fake diploma are enough to dupe many says much about the state of higher education, as well as the dream-state level of symbolic value these commodities are publicly perceived as.

But then, what if you're honest--snake your way through the system, spend years in the academic castle and achieve your PhD, DPhil? Does employment within the system await?…60 yrs ago the answer would be yes! Today its "NO". For every 3,000 PhD graduates there are only 800 academic jobs. What about leaving academia with an academic degree to pursue careers in private industry? This would be a great idea if not for academia's and the public's perception of the letters "PhD". Academics will dismiss you like chattle for "not cutting it" and private employers will equate the letters p-h-d with "too expensive" and "not relevant".

I personally know four PhD's who are considerably underemployed or unemployed. History major, anthropologist, special ed, and biologist…working as copywriters, insurance salespersons, etc. I'd considered a PhD myself, but after working with PhDs, and knowing others who cannot find employment in their fields, I considered the ROI not worth it [My measurement of ROI included income, but the clincher was quality of life. After all that work and expense, only 800 jobs per 3,000 students? Could I live with my doctoral-self working at Wal-Mart?] and instead happily pursued an MA with studies in applied areas for good measure.

So "get thee to a phd program" —as one commenter suggested— is quite a narrow, arrogant/slobsnoby point of view. PhD programs are terrific, if your life is set up for them, if you can live on learning alone, thirst for the public perception attached to it, or have an uncle whose a dean at your local U. Like any other subgroup, it has its limits, conformities, beliefs, prejudices, and baggage. It is not an intellectual halo. Any degree, any education, is really about what you do, or don't do, with it.

There are many accomplished professionals whose intelligence and innovative-thinking eclipse their meager college degrees. There are others who's natural talents are so profound they don't bother with college. Perception works in many ways. A person's perception of their own value is just as important, perhaps more important, than the value a culture assigns to them. Belief in self makes all the difference, and in an increasingly commodified higher education system it can be the factor that makes or breaks you as you wind your way through the hallowed, but somewhat dank, hallways of an academic education out into the sunlight of the real world.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Moderating Comments

Just a note-to comment on Consumption you'll need to register. If you would like to provide spirited commentary, complaints, compliments, or just fun banter, I'd like to know who you are. Its only fair. Such is the case when I post to other blogs. This is not done to stifle comments, but only to allow for fair discussion.

This blog doesn't tow the old anthropology line. Its a place for "tales for a *modern* anthropology", a forum for interesting topics that can provide food for thought and discussion, and also dissension [which is defined as "disagreement among those expected to cooperate"].

The current state of the anthropology discipline puts great weight on expectations of peer cooperation, forced agreement, and plenty of barn-burnings and discrediting of those who find much to disagree with and choose to speak up. Anthropology in 2006 is not the healthiest of humanities disciplines. Most are aware of universities questioning their anthro department's relevance, cuts in funding, merging of anthro depts, and loss of prestige in the larger scientific community. The public face of anthropology also suffers as we are greatly misunderstood by the public, who are the ones behind much of public university funding.

While the occasional TV show projects us as modern-day Quincys or sitcom Jane Curtains, the majority of anthropology PR is non existent. We are Indiana Jones or shovel-wielding "bone-diggers" to most.

Although physical anth and archaeology are blooming, cultural anthropology is faltering. Applied anthropology continues to grow outside the core university culture in areas some consider less than "pure"--obscured from everything but the most peripheral anthropological vision.

The current state of cultural anthropology is ironic. If ever there was a time humanity needed anthropology's depth, it's now. But I don't hear anthropology. I hear sociology, poli sci, military strategists, pundits, and talking heads. Don't understand? Just google "War on Terror".

"Consumption" exists in every culture, past and present, but it is only the last century's globalization/westernization pressures that has raised it to a culture-crushing artform. Such culture change ripples affect everyone. The affects of globalization, new media, technology, and advertising cannot be ignored. My studies of these topics made me question the discipline's relevance in, and contribution to, the modern world. The ipodded, myspaced, information-overloaded world. I found research inroads there anemic. Thus, this blog--fun, unusual new media topics, tech, globalization, ads, and criticism of the current state of cultural anthropology.

If you're allergic to anything new, questioning outdated systems, or open mindedness, and feel your education and/or experience insulates you with know-it-all smugness, why are you here? You should get busy with your own blog.

If you're curious, open minded, and think creatively, you might find something here of interest. I encourage your comments whether you're an anthropologist or just play one on TV. I don't pretend to have answers, but I believe this new media tool can foster intelligent discourse and creative thinking. So enough on this…lets explore!

Sunday, February 05, 2006

McLuhan and Carpenter: Mid-20th Century Collaboration

Anthropological studies are unique in their lack of cross-disciplinary collaborations. Imagination, creative out-of-the-box thinking? No. Boring, tedious, self-absorbed studies that give sleeping pills competition.

Endless undergrad anthro courses, offered to fulfill multicultural requirements, focus on the usual overexposed cast of characters—Mead, Leakey, Goodall, etc.—great anthros of their time, but the icon parade just gets old. Uninspiring, somewhat removed from our budding ipodded, TiVoish 21st century lives. Potential 21st century Goodalls get turned off fast from the tedium…and lack of collaborations with other disciplines.

Other sciences thrive on collaboration. Sociologists constantly tune themselves into other fields and latch on, elucidating points of study that are current and relative to living now. Biology also has its collaboration stars, and reaped such hybrids as nanotech and omic studies. But anthropology continues its relevancy slide in university budgets because the discipline seems less and less congruent to practical 21st century application. Yanomamos and Masai make great PBS specials, but how does that relate to my car payments, job interview skills, or globalized economy?

Sure there were collaborations, grudgingly in some cases I suppose, but you never hear of them in undergrad or grad anthro classes. Perhaps the internet is changing that. Old school, embedded in stone anthros are losing their control over the focus of anthropology via the internet, possibly the best thing since sliced pita.

Hidden anthro information, long forgotten from study, comes forth to the light of day. Including interesting collaborations long buried by those who's lack of imagination launched a thousand snoozing students.

One of the most interesting anthropological collaborations that never gets discussed is between the anthropologist Edmund Carpenter and the media prophet, Marshall McLuhan. Who knew? McLuhan, father of media studies and 50 yrs ahead of his time, recognized anthropology as a useful tool towards furthering his analysis of media, and its lasting changes in the public zeitgeist.

Here's a link that discusses the Carpenter/McLuhan collaboration in detail, including quotes from their short-lived journal, Explorations in Communications. Apparently they became lifelong friends. Certainly a terrific example of the POTENTIALS collaboration has to offer the anthropological discipline.

Don't know much about Marshall? Here's some more Marshall Media:
McLuhan at Wikipedia.
Marshall's 'official' website.
20 min. mp3 soundclip of McLuhan on Dick Cavett in 1970.

Remember: the media IS the message :)