Acculturated http://acculturated.com Pop Culture Matters Fri, 01 Jul 2016 14:52:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Why Are America’s Mayors Taking Mindfulness Advice from Lady Gaga? http://acculturated.com/advice-from-lady-gaga/ http://acculturated.com/advice-from-lady-gaga/#respond Fri, 01 Jul 2016 14:52:55 +0000 http://acculturated.com/?p=51266

Last weekend, American mayors gathered for their annual conference in Indianapolis. As it often does for such conferences, the U.S. Conference of Mayors assembled an impressive array of political leaders, policy experts and industry big wigs. Lectures and panels were held on a variety of issues, ranging from water safety and technological innovation to business … Continued

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Last weekend, American mayors gathered for their annual conference in Indianapolis. As it often does for such conferences, the U.S. Conference of Mayors assembled an impressive array of political leaders, policy experts and industry big wigs. Lectures and panels were held on a variety of issues, ranging from water safety and technological innovation to business development and educational programs. And then the Mayors heard about inner peace and meditation from a pop star.

Huh?

That’s right. The U.S. Conference of Mayors invited Lady Gaga—a pop singer best known for wearing a meat dress to an awards show and for sometimes forgetting to wear clothes at all while running errands–to sit on a panel with the Dalai Lama to discuss inner peace and meditation. All together now: Namastupid!

While the Dalai Lama is certainly an authority on meditation and mindfulness, Lady Gaga is a bit of a head scratcher on this topic. Her qualifications appear to be that she sometimes lights aromatherapy candles and practices yoga. Good enough for the Mayors, I guess.

Yet she’s hardly a calming force. In fact, she likes to shock and agitate. Her music and lyrics are provocative and her videos often feature violent and disturbing images. At 2009 VMAs, she gave television audiences quite a show. Naturally, MTV gave her revolting performance a glowing review:

And then, in a wrinkle no one saw coming, Gaga staggered across the stage as blood began to drip from her ribcage and she wailed the lyrics to the song about media vultures. On the verge of tears, she dabbed at the blood, wiped it on her face and collapsed into a heap while a dancer wailed in agony and gently laid her down center stage.

Hanging listlessly by one hand, Gaga rose above her dancers and, blood smeared on her face and caked on one of her eyes, stared lifelessly at the stunned crowd while the sound of camera shutters filled the air and a golden halo was projected on the big screen behind her.

In recent years, Gaga has been working on her image. Her performances with singer Tony Bennet received wide praise and broadened her appeal beyond the younger club-going music crowd. She’s also, smartly, tapped into the social justice movement—advocating for certain political movements and for her fans, whom she calls her “monsters” and declares are just like her (minus the millions) because, like her, they just don’t fit in. Just like Liza Minnelli is a hero to the gay community, Gaga’s a hero to the misfits.

Now apparently Gaga is also a thought leader, taking on heady intellectual issues and appearing on stage with religious, media and business leaders. She was respectful, even ladylike, at the Mayor’s conference. During the panel, the Dalai Lama focused on compassion and selflessness—and without understanding the irony, Gaga nodded and agreed that these are important qualities. She offered her own rambling, pseudo-intellectual answers to questions. At one point former Today show news reader Ann Curry—who moderated the panel—asked Gaga a question about kindness and why mayors should consider kindness when managing their cities. She responded by saying “The really fantastic thing about kindness is that it’s free. It’s the best recourse that we have because you can give and give and receive kindness and the well of it inside you will never dry up.”

Yet, when it comes to being kind and respectful to people of religious faith, Gaga’s well of kindness dried up long ago. Just like Madonna did decades before her, Gaga takes particular pleasure in insulting Christians. Her 2011 video for her song “Judas,” includes Gaga portraying a lustful Mary Magdalene who has the hots for Jesus’ disciple Judas Iscariot. The video portrays Jesus’ followers as jacked-up ravers, his disciples as club bouncers and bodyguards and the foot-washing scene takes place in a hot tub with a writhing and nearly naked Gaga sitting in between a six-pack clutching Judas and a golden thorn crown-wearing Jesus. You know, just like in the King James Bible.

Perhaps Gaga will take her own words to heart and realize just how many of her actions, songs, performances and behaviors demonstrate a deep-seated unkindness and contempt for people of faith. Perhaps she’ll realize the importance of using her talents in less harmful, disrespectful ways.

Maybe she can meditate about it.

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The Antidote to Sexy Selfies: “Selfie Dad” http://acculturated.com/selfie-dad/ http://acculturated.com/selfie-dad/#respond Fri, 01 Jul 2016 13:41:15 +0000 http://acculturated.com/?p=51259

If you’ve ever tried to suggest to someone that they tone down the sexy selfies they post to Instagram and Twitter, you can understand the challenge faced by Chris Martin of Spokane, Washington. Mr. Martin was concerned that the images his 19-year-old daughter was posting online were inappropriate, but she ignored his pleas to behave … Continued

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If you’ve ever tried to suggest to someone that they tone down the sexy selfies they post to Instagram and Twitter, you can understand the challenge faced by Chris Martin of Spokane, Washington. Mr. Martin was concerned that the images his 19-year-old daughter was posting online were inappropriate, but she ignored his pleas to behave more modestly. That is, until Mr. Martin unleashed the weapon all parents keep in reserve: embarrassing their children. He methodically recreated some of her sexiest poses and posted them on his own account.  “I just did it because she kept posting all these sexy selfies and I was like, ‘Just tone it down a little bit,’” Martin told ABC affiliate KXLY. “Well she didn’t. So I thought, ‘Well, I’ll show you what it looks like then.’”

Did he ever:

Mr. Martin posed as his daughter’s online doppelgänger in selfies featuring the same outfits, makeup, poses, and tattoos that she has. He even attempted to master the elusive “duck face” expression so popular in selfies, with hilarious results. His posts contained cheeky hashtags such as #nailedit and #baddad.  (He also mocked one of his son’s selfies).

Mr. Martin’s efforts to bring sanity to the selfie arms race is refreshingly retro, given how our culture rewards the relentlessly narcissistic (Case in point: Kim Kardashian’s appropriately named book of Selfies, Selfish). But his message was quickly embraced by others online; his posts quickly went viral and were picked up by news outlets around the world.

It’s not clear if Mr. Martin’s daughter was influenced by his attempts to publicly shame her to behave more modestly, but it did at least lead to some “father-daughter bonding,” according to Mr. Martin. “There’s just so many bad things going on,” said Martin. “It’s just something dumb to laugh at. If I could make somebody laugh in Japan or Australia, you know, that’s great.” And if he can do it while posing as a duck-faced tween selfie addict, all the better.

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Women Already ‘Lean in’ to Help Each Other – Shouldn’t We Mentor Men Too? http://acculturated.com/shouldnt-we-mentor-men-too/ http://acculturated.com/shouldnt-we-mentor-men-too/#respond Thu, 30 Jun 2016 17:00:12 +0000 http://acculturated.com/?p=51247

Sheryl Sandberg’s push to encourage women to work together by celebrating their mentors and paying it forward by helping other women is a refreshing change from what tends to dominate public discussion of women in the workplace. Rather than casting women as inevitable victims or not-so-subtly using the equality banner to advance a liberal political … Continued

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Sheryl Sandberg’s push to encourage women to work together by celebrating their mentors and paying it forward by helping other women is a refreshing change from what tends to dominate public discussion of women in the workplace. Rather than casting women as inevitable victims or not-so-subtly using the equality banner to advance a liberal political agenda, this effort champions individual empowerment and the benefits of people work together voluntarily. Those are messages we can’t hear too often.

Implicit in videos like this, however, is the idea that women need to be pushed into working together, as if absent such reminders we instinctively see other women as competitors we must defeat. Certainly there are some women who fit the Queen Bee stereotype, but it’s far from clear that women – even in the workplace – are generally more cut throat than men.  Studies disagree about whether women are more or less likely than men to try to undermine coworkers of the same sex, but regardless of the data, there is good reason to believe that workplace culture is steadily improving.

In decades past, pioneering career women may have found it hard to overcome institutional sexism in many workplaces and feared being seen as a part of a sisterhood or as sympathizing too much with the concerns of other women. These women may have been less inclined to help another out of self-preservation. Yet as more women and a new generation of men—men who have grown up steeped in women’s empowerment and who want their wives, sisters, and female friends treated with respect—assume greater power within the corporate world as well as in politics and academia, healthier expectations and relationships will become the norm.

Women also have a robust foundation and history of helpfulness to build upon. Women manning the home front over the ages had to turn to each other for help. Particularly since women require support during and after birth, survival depended on learning how to exchange help during these vulnerable times.

These traditions linger today and are part of women’s natural strength. Years ago, a female friend and I took part in a group discussion of about twenty policy analysts, the majority of whom were men. When the issue turned to childcare and family leave policies, one man described his challenge as a divorced father when he had primary care of his children. What would he do, he asked, if his children became ill when he had a can’t-miss business obligation? My eyes met my friends’ across the room. We knew instantly what the answer was: She was my answer. Faced with such a predicament, I would have called her or another female friend who would have come to my rescue.

Women tend to be more comfortable with asking for and giving help than men are, and there is no reason to think that this won’t translate into the corporate world, if it hasn’t already. Of course, there will always be members of both sexes who are only out for themselves and aren’t interested in helping a younger generation rise. But most women and men are better than that. I’ve certainly had amazing women assist me in my life and career, but I’ve had some great male bosses and mentors too. These men were just as supportive, respectful and encouraging as any woman could have been. They deserve recognition too. And young men in our society, trying to build their own careers while juggling family responsibilities and personal issues that can be just as complex and challenging as women’s, also need support and encouragement from willing mentors of both sexes.

I appreciate Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” sentiment and the positive words of the female stars showcased in her video. But I’m tired of having the sexes divided and I’m tired of the presumption that women are somehow less inclined to help each other unless they are urged to with a schmaltzy hashtag campaign. We should all aspire to help those we can—not out of sense of duty to a sisterhood, but out of basic human decency and that good old Golden Rule that holds we should treat others how we wish to be treated, regardless of their sex.

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Hamilton or “Hamilton”? http://acculturated.com/hamilton-or-hamilton/ http://acculturated.com/hamilton-or-hamilton/#comments Thu, 30 Jun 2016 15:08:20 +0000 http://acculturated.com/?p=51242

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard of the award-winning hip-hop Broadway musical about the Founding Fathers, Hamilton.  Evidently a New York Democratic Congressional candidate, Oliver Rosenberg, has heard of it too. During a debate on the Brian Lehrer show on WNYC this week, Rosenberg quoted Alexander Hamilton to the effect of: “This is … Continued

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard of the award-winning hip-hop Broadway musical about the Founding Fathers, Hamilton.  Evidently a New York Democratic Congressional candidate, Oliver Rosenberg, has heard of it too. During a debate on the Brian Lehrer show on WNYC this week, Rosenberg quoted Alexander Hamilton to the effect of: “This is not a moment, this is the movement . .Foes oppose us. We take an honest stand. We roll like Moses claiming our promised land. Rise up, rise up and vote.”

Unfortunately for Rosenberg, it wasn’t long-dead founding father Alexander Hamilton who said that, but the character of Hamilton in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical, Hamilton.

Granted, Miranda and his musical have become something of a cultural juggernaut, scooping up awards and securing a MacArthur “genius” grant for Miranda. Rosenberg might be forgiven for succumbing to the cultural zeitgeist (he was, however, resoundingly defeated at the polls).

But fans of the musical could see Rosenberg’s gaffe of a useful reminder of the malleability — and potentially misleading simplicity — of popular presentations of American history.

Although a few historians have faulted the musical for not being progressive enough, most have simply noted the production’s inaccuracies in its portrayal of key players in the nation’s founding.  As the New York Times noted, “ ‘The show, for all its redemptive and smart aspects, is part of this ‘Founders Chic’ phenomenon,’ said David Waldstreicher, a historian at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York who last September sounded an early note of skepticism on The Junto, a group blog about early American history.”

Louisiana State University history professor Nancy Isenberg added, “Hamilton may be (a) delight to watch, but let’s not convince ourselves that it honors the discipline of history. When he interviewed Lin-Manuel Miranda, Late Show host Stephen Colbert joked: “I didn’t have to read the Bible, because I saw Jesus Christ Superstar.” That pretty much says it all.”

As we prepare to celebrate our nation’s Independence Day, and perhaps even crack open a copy of Hamilton, the book about the musical, make sure to leaven the hip-hop musical magic with some straightforward history.

After all, at this point, unless you’re a celebrity or a presidential candidate, you’ll never get tickets to see the musical.

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Identity Politics and the Disney Princess http://acculturated.com/elena-of-avalor/ http://acculturated.com/elena-of-avalor/#respond Thu, 30 Jun 2016 13:59:52 +0000 http://acculturated.com/?p=51237

There’s great news in the world of Disney Princesses: We’re finally getting a Hispanic (Latina?) princess, Elena of Avalor. She’ll be coming to a screen near you July 22 on the Disney Channel. I know what you’re thinking: It’s about time! Disney has had princesses for, like almost 80 years, and their diversity record is … Continued

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There’s great news in the world of Disney Princesses: We’re finally getting a Hispanic (Latina?) princess, Elena of Avalor. She’ll be coming to a screen near you July 22 on the Disney Channel.

I know what you’re thinking: It’s about time! Disney has had princesses for, like almost 80 years, and their diversity record is abominable. Heck, the first Disney princess was actually named Snow White. It does not get more problematic than that.

 

You may also be thinking: Wait a minute . . . didn’t Disney already do a “First Latina (Hispanic?) Princess?

Why yes. Yes, they did.

You see, back in 2012 the Disney Channel launched an animated series called Sofia the First and revealed that the titular Sofia was their First Latina Princess.

It didn’t make a lot of logical sense, because Sofia and her parents live in a made-up fairytale world called Enchancia, which is geographically and culturally further removed from the recognizable world than the settings of Mulan, Frozen, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, or most of the Disney canon. For instance, in Enchacia they do not celebrate “Christmas,” but rather a day called “Wassailia.” Which is exactly like Christmas, but isn’t Christmas. So where, in this made up land, are Latina influences supposed to come from? Meh, who cares. Because diversity.

But it turned out that Sofia the First was kind of great. The show was made with the same vibe as an ’80s sitcom. The characters were just complicated enough to be interesting. And Sofia herself was a totally winning princess. It was basically impossible not to like Sofia—a fact so self-evident that even the show’s villains humorously struggled to maintain their animosity toward her.

The only people who didn’t like Sofia, it turned out, were some folks from the Hispanic (Latina?) department of Grievance Central. Princess Sofia, bless her heart, might have been the first Latina princess, but she wasn’t Latina enough. Here’s a CNN account of the controversy from 2012:

Some criticized what they saw as a lack of cultural signifiers or ethnic identity in the Sofia character.

“If Disney were truly to finally step out and directly cater to the Latino community that has been crying out for decades for a Latina princess to represent our girls,” said Ana Flores, blogger for Spanglishbaby, “She would be as Latina as Tiana is black or as Pocahontas is Indian-American.”

Alex Nogales, president and CEO for the National Hispanic Media Coalition, a nonprofit organization that promotes Latino equality in the entertainment industry, believes the Latino community needs more heroes right now that are very identifiable.

“Latinos are taking the blame for everything that is wrong with America. This is not a time to pussyfoot around. If you’re going to promote this to the public, and Latinos in particular, do us a favor and make it a real Latina.”

Elsewhere in the grievance shop, people complained that Sofia had blue eyes and auburn hair, which is, evidently, impossible for someone of Latin heritage.

The agitation spooked Disney so badly that within a matter of days the company memory-holed the entire idea of Sofia being Latina and disavowed the notion that she was ever intended to be Latina in the first place.

It’s crazy, right? But rather than scorning the folks at Disney, you ought to have a tremendous amount of sympathy for them.

Can you even imagine being a creative type at Disney, a sweet progressive artist who genuinely believes in diversity? You get almost no credit for Mulan or Jasmine, because Chinese and Persian aren’t important identity boxes to check on the diversity list. So you do The Princess and the Frog with an African-American lead. And then you get beat up for having her love interest be a Caucasian prince—and you thought inter-racial couples were supposed to be envelope-pushing and laudable. (“A lot of moms had issues with that,” one blogger told CNN. “It felt like it was a slap in the face to black men.”) So you create Sofia as the first Latina princess. She’s really great—her show’s a hit and she goes on to sell metric tons of merchandise. But the backlash is so strong that the company says that you “misspoke” when you said that Sofia was Latina in the first place.

It must be exhausting. That Disney is able to produce good characters and stories in an environment like this is just short of miraculous.

I’m not sure just what Elena of Avalor will need to do to qualify as Latina enough for the SJW set—what if she’s a fan of Rafa Nadal and a Catholic who goes to Mass every day? Would that be okay? (Spoiler alert: It would not.) But however Disney signals that Elena is their (sort-of) First Latina Princess, someone on Twitter will find something wrong her.

The fact that Disney keeps trying to please these malcontents is either a sign of enormous charity or Stockholm Syndrome.

Sofia, of course, would assume the former.

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This is How You Sing the National Anthem http://acculturated.com/star-swain-national-anthem/ http://acculturated.com/star-swain-national-anthem/#respond Wed, 29 Jun 2016 17:06:11 +0000 http://acculturated.com/?p=51213

With Fourth of July approaching, it’s time to brush up on your national anthem singing skills. Lovely as it is, “The Star Spangled Banner” is a challenge to sing, as anyone who has attended a baseball game recently can attest. There are thousands of examples online of anonymous strangers and well-known celebrities stumbling through the … Continued

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With Fourth of July approaching, it’s time to brush up on your national anthem singing skills. Lovely as it is, “The Star Spangled Banner” is a challenge to sing, as anyone who has attended a baseball game recently can attest.

There are thousands of examples online of anonymous strangers and well-known celebrities stumbling through the national anthem. One video compilation on YouTube shows Michael Bolton blanking on the lyrics midway through a performance at a baseball game a few years ago; by contrast, Christina Aguilera brazenly kept belting out the anthem after butchering the lyrics at the Super Bowl one year:

 

If you can’t bother to learn the lyrics and melody of the national anthem when you’re being paid to perform it, what hope is there for all of us average citizens?

This is why a recent viral video of a woman singing the national anthem at the Lincoln Memorial has been so enthusiastically received:

 

Star Swain, from Tallahassee, Florida, offered a beautiful impromptu performance of the anthem while visiting the monument. As she sang, a small crowd gathered and eventually erupted in applause when she finished singing; even the armed guards at the monument thanked her as she left.

After the video was posted to Facebook, one woman commented: “I’m a Combat Veteran and I’ve laid many Soldiers and friends to rest in defense of our nation . . . Every time I hear the anthem it means the world to me, but when I hear it sung with conviction and strength it makes me even more proud to have served this country because people like you make America worth fighting for. . . so thank you. . .”

So as you prepare to celebrate our nation’s independence day, listen to Ms. Swain’s performance and be grateful you live in a free country. And for those of you who need to brush up on the national anthem’s lyrics, use some of your free time in the next few days to memorize this:

http://amhistory.si.edu/starspangledbanner/pdf/ssb_lyrics.pdf

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In Praise of Wimbledon’s (and Others’) Dress Codes http://acculturated.com/wimbledon-dress-code/ http://acculturated.com/wimbledon-dress-code/#comments Wed, 29 Jun 2016 15:17:40 +0000 http://acculturated.com/?p=51202

A larger portion of my closet than I care to admit is taken up by shirts, shoes, and hats emblazoned with Roger Federer’s “RF” logo. Over the years, I’ve put together quite the collection, and naturally, I do have some favorites, namely Federer’s 2014 Wimbledon shirt and his 2012 Wimbledon shoes. They are my favorite … Continued

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A larger portion of my closet than I care to admit is taken up by shirts, shoes, and hats emblazoned with Roger Federer’s “RF” logo. Over the years, I’ve put together quite the collection, and naturally, I do have some favorites, namely Federer’s 2014 Wimbledon shirt and his 2012 Wimbledon shoes.

They are my favorite for two very connected reasons. (1) They’re designed for Wimbledon (my favorite tournament) and (2) they are simply elegant.

Of course, Federer’s outfits are almost always elegant, but his Wimbledon outfits are sublime, due in large part to Wimbledon’s strict dress code. The code requires all white clothing with at most a one-centimeter trim of color. It has been in place since Wimbledon first started, all the way back in 1877. Wimbledon’s unchanging approach to tennis, from its clothing policy to its use of a grass surface for play, says something about our natural inclination to respect the ways of ordering society we inherit from our ancestors. What’s surprising is that in an anything-goes culture like ours, it still survives.

Wimbledon is the only major tournament still played on grass, tennis’ original surface. But there are also quirkier traditions the tournament maintains, such as serving strawberries and cream and taking the middle Sunday off. But the dress code—and players complaining about the dress code—is perhaps Wimbledon’s most longstanding tradition.

This year the dress code made news when several female players at Wimbledon refused to wear the Nike-designed tennis dress created for the tournament. Not only was the dress too short, but its trapeze style meant the fabric interfered with the players’ movements; a few players compared its appearance to a nightgown.

In past years, players have complained about the strictness of the “all white” requirement; even Roger Federer told Tennis World last year, “I find it extreme as to what extent it has got to all white.” Internationally ranked tennis players evidently don’t like being told what to wear, and complain that the dress code is oppressive and limits their ability to express themselves.

To those players I say this: poppycock. The dress code is part of what makes Wimbledon special. The fact that the players have to go out of their way to ensure their outfits fit Wimbledon’s criteria is central to the overarching ethos of the tournament. It adds to the general ambiance of Wimbledon, which remains the only tennis tournament the British royal family regularly attends.

Wimbledon isn’t the only place dressing up gets a bad rap. More and more people are adopting the Silicon Valley mantra of choosing comfort over style. J.P. Morgan is one major workplace that recently did away with its suit-and-tie dress code. However, the fact remains that wearing something that differs from your typical casual attire lends a sense of importance to an occasion. It’s why we dress up for weddings and prom and why we (should) dress to impress at work and church. It inspires something within us that, quite literally, alters our behavior. When you dress your best you feel more confident, serious, and professional. Not only that, but it makes relaxing after work all the better. As you shed your work clothes you shed the stresses that accompanied your day. How can you loosen your tie after a long day if you’re not wearing one?

Dressing to fit the occasion is just one of many traditions that’s slowly and quietly being done away with in the name of “ease.” It’s easier not to learn table manners. It’s easier to wear sweatpants everywhere. And ease equals comfort equals happiness (albeit a lazy and frankly boring form of it).

In Whit Stillman’s film masterpiece Metropolitan, the character Nick Smith makes the argument for tradition. Talking about detachable collars Nick says, “It’s a small thing, but symbolically important. Our parents’ generation was never interested in keeping up standards. They wanted to be ‘happy,’ but of course the last way to be ‘happy’ is to make it your objective in life.”

Years ago, tennis great Andre Agassi just wanted to be “happy,” and summed up this general attitude in his criticism of Wimbledon’s dress code. After a first-round loss early in his career, Agassi gave up on Wimbledon and completely skipped the tournament for many years. Agassi complained that “Wimbledon officials appear to take a haughty, high-handed pleasure in telling players what to do and what not to do” before echoing the invariably childish and narcissistic sentiments of people befuddled by tradition: “Why must I wear white? I don’t want to wear white.”

In Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton reminds us that tradition, far from being a stuffy attempt by elders to control younger generations, is in fact “the democracy of the dead.” Contra Agassi and others who think personal happiness and comfort is more important, tradition “refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking around”—or in this case, those who merely happen to be playing tennis in 2016.

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Jim Gaffigan’s Calling http://acculturated.com/jim-gaffigans-calling/ http://acculturated.com/jim-gaffigans-calling/#comments Wed, 29 Jun 2016 14:46:04 +0000 http://acculturated.com/?p=51194

A few days ago a friend e-mailed me a link to the season premiere of The Jim Gaffigan Show, with the episode titled, “The Calling.” “Would love to know your thoughts,” he wrote. Having taken a master class for professional coaches that I taught last fall (called “Make Your Job a Calling”), he knows I … Continued

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A few days ago a friend e-mailed me a link to the season premiere of The Jim Gaffigan Show, with the episode titled, “The Calling.” “Would love to know your thoughts,” he wrote. Having taken a master class for professional coaches that I taught last fall (called “Make Your Job a Calling”), he knows I am obsessed with understanding what people mean when they say they’ve found their calling—and what difference it makes. What is a calling? How do people discern one, and live it out? To my utter delight, these are all questions that Gaffigan took on in the first episode of his show’s second season.

The show presents a fictionalized version of Gaffigan’s real life: Gaffigan, for those who don’t know, is the wildly successful stand-up comedian and actor known for, in no particular order, (1) his obsession with food, (2) his wife and five children, and (3) his Catholic faith. All three factor into “The Calling.” The episode opens with Gaffigan dreaming that his priest, Father Nicholas, shows up around every corner, each time with a request that Gaffigan serve in the soup kitchen, or speak to a men’s group about fatherhood, etc. Gaffigan is unable to escape and unable to say no, because “then he’ll tell on me. . . to God, and Jesus, and the Holy Spirit guy.” He wakes up from his dream screaming. Later he agrees to a real-life request to play on the church soccer team, and watches Father Nicholas absolutely dominate the competition. As it turns out, Father Nicholas had played on the Zimbabwe national team, was recruited to play with Manchester United, worked as a model for Benetton, and studied at the London School of Economics. Gaffigan, dumbfounded, asks: “You threw that away to be a priest?”

“I’ve been blessed with many gifts in this life,” replied Father Nicholas, “but I realized that I had a calling to serve. . . and I answered that call.”

“I think I would have let that go to voice mail,” responds Gaffigan. But the exchange gets him thinking—perhaps a calling is not for everyone, only for people who do things that are really significant, things that change lives, that impact the world. Did he have such a calling, he wonders, and somehow missed it?

His wife Jeannie weighs in: “Everyone has a calling. You just have to listen for it.” Suddenly Gaffigan, while walking through the neighborhood, hears an audible voice. “God?” he asks. But alas—it’s only Macaulay Culkin, yelling at him through a bullhorn outside a party.

Gaffigan goes back to Father Nicholas. “When you got your calling, was it all at once, like a moment of catharsis? What am I looking for?” The response: “I’m sure it will be revealed to you when the time is right.”

Then, Gaffigan receives a vision. . . from Jerry Seinfeld. Or rather, Jerry Seinfeld in 1992, speaking to Gaffigan when Gaffigan was a litigation consultant, hating his job but loving his Cuban sandwich. “You should be a comedian,” Jerry tells him. But he’s not sure that’s enough—“I think I’ve been doing it wrong,” he tells Jeannie. “I’m supposed to talk about important issues. . . if [comedy] is my calling, I should be using my gift to bring about change. . . make the world a better place. It’s going to be great.” His next routine though, with references to cosmic plans and hunger for the truth, bombs. Until he envisions Seinfeld again, reminding him: “Food you idiot. . . food!” Gaffigan switches his jokes back to his usual fare of pastrami and corned beef, and the belly-laughs follow.

Finally, the show fast-forwards to Gaffigan at the pearly gates, with St. Peter welcoming him—but directing him to the line of people who didn’t follow their callings. “What was my calling then?” asks Gaffigan. Peter checks the clipboard: “You were supposed to be a good father.”

The show first aired on Father’s Day and closed with a dedication “to all the fathers,” which obviously had something to do with Peter’s final revelation. Yet earlier in the show, Gaffigan’s sleazy friend Dave suggested (albeit mockingly), “You could have multiple callings. You could have two callings at the same time.” People resonate with that notion, of having multiple callings. In an early study on this question, we found that nearly every participant in a large sample of students expressed that callings were plural and extended throughout multiple life roles. The longing to discern a calling is not unique to Gaffigan—more than 1 in 5 Americans say they are searching for one—but even theologians point out that callings are rarely delivered in an “a-ha” experience or an audible voice. Instead, as Ryan Duffy and I have written, in Make Your Job a Calling, people striving to discern a calling are better off taking an active rather than passive approach. By leaning on relationships with important others, and carefully considering one’s gifts (broadly defined), obligations, and the world’s needs, people can identify “the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet,” as Frederick Buechner famously put it.

Gaffigan ultimately does this in “The Calling,” realizing that his knack for food jokes gives people more authentic joy than his direct appeals to change the world—and that his responsibility as a dad, though he constantly downplays its impact, is always front and center. Gaffigan is doing this in real life as well, embracing what he’s best at doing and bringing his family commitments and his faith to the fore while his career reaches new heights, rather than separating himself from them. We can see this in every interview with Gaffigan, and in his comedy, and now in the show. In a way, it serves as a rare and pretty impressive example of how to balance these things. We should (apologies for the food pun) relish it.

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Exploring ‘The Shallows’ of America’s Shark Obsession http://acculturated.com/the-shallows/ http://acculturated.com/the-shallows/#comments Tue, 28 Jun 2016 20:00:46 +0000 http://acculturated.com/?p=51176

Death, taxes and Discovery Channel’s Shark Week are all things Americans have come to depend upon as unavoidable realities. While the scientists being interviewed on Discovery’s various hour-long programming specials might think that millions of people are watching because of their desire to equip themselves with working knowledge of a majestic, misunderstood fish, the truth … Continued

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Death, taxes and Discovery Channel’s Shark Week are all things Americans have come to depend upon as unavoidable realities. While the scientists being interviewed on Discovery’s various hour-long programming specials might think that millions of people are watching because of their desire to equip themselves with working knowledge of a majestic, misunderstood fish, the truth is that we want to see large scary animals eat stuff. We want to feel that tingle of fear as the underwater camera pans to the left to reveal a cartilaginous missile quickly closing in on the cameraman’s unlucky position.

Sharks are scary and we like to be scared. Just ask Blake Lively:

 

The latest installment in our on-going cinematic love/hate affair with sharks, The Shallows, was released this past weekend and made its modest $17 million production budget back within seventy-two hours. If ever there was a no-brainer “pitch” for studio execs to sign off on, The Shallows must have been it. I imagine it went something like this: So we are thinking of putting Blake Lively in a skimpy bathing suit on a stunningly beautiful beach, and if we must have a plot we can strand her on a rock formation two hundred yards from shore and put a massive man-eating shark in between her and safety.

The film really is that simple. Lively plays a medical student named Nancy who is struggling with the recent death of her mother and has gone on a journey of self-discovery that leads her to a remote beach in Mexico that her late mother often spoke fondly of before cancer took her. But the picturesque locale and great surfing conditions turn nightmarish when Nancy notices that a giant shark is patrolling the waters of this idyllic bay. Forced to use her wits, and inspired by the realization that life is worth fighting for—even against seemingly insurmountable odds—Nancy engages in an unforgettable battle of wills against one of nature’s most formidable foes.

The Shallows will not be confused with Oscar bait—it’s more like predictable summer weekend box office chum—but if you are looking for some mild shark-driven entertainment, you will not be disappointed. Especially if, like me, you will be combining The Shallows with binge-watching Shark Week.

Where does this captivation with creatures that can devour us come from?

For millions of Americans of a certain age, Steven Spielberg’s Jaws is the Rosetta Stone of shark fear-mongering. My older cousins made me watch this movie when I was about five years old and I’ve never quite gotten over it. When you grow up in the Midwest—far from the daily interactions with dangerous animals that kids in other parts of the country become accustomed to—the notion that there might be something under the water that can end your life is difficult to fathom (outside of a nightmare). This is part of the reason we love kitschy movies like the various installments of the Sharknado movies (the newest one Sharknado 4: The 4th Awakens, premieres in July).

But regardless of where you were born and raised, the instinctual fear of danger lurking “below the surface” is, in part, a very healthy one. Human beings are not built to survive for extended periods of time on the water. It’s fun to venture into the depths for a temporary visit, but our brains are wired to be wary of any place that cannot sustain our brand of life (artificial assistance aside). Think of how many bad dreams you’ve had that include the specific detail of not being able to move fast enough to avoid some form of danger. And now recognize that this is the case every single time you venture into a body of water that contains sharks.

We also know a great deal more about sharks than we used to. With the help of the Internet, we can now track every shark bite that happens worldwide and even track, in real time, the movements of sharks that have been tagged by researchers. Mary Lee, a Great White tagged by OCEARCH, even has her own Twitter account.

Irrational fear of any sort is never a very healthy thing, and as shark researchers are quick to point out (especially during the frenzy of Shark Week), humans are not shark’s natural prey. Nevertheless, movies like The Shallows and Shark Week remind us that we should combine a respect for nature with humility about our place in it, especially when we venture into the ocean.

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Why Kids Need Unstructured Play—And Why They’re Not Getting It http://acculturated.com/kids-need-unstructured-play/ http://acculturated.com/kids-need-unstructured-play/#comments Tue, 28 Jun 2016 17:00:57 +0000 http://acculturated.com/?p=51171

The arrival of summer always makes me feel a measure of nostalgia, but this year the feeling is particularly acute. My daughter just finished nursery school and is scheduled to start kindergarten in late August, which means the next few months represent a bridge between two very different chapters of her life. I realize this … Continued

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The arrival of summer always makes me feel a measure of nostalgia, but this year the feeling is particularly acute. My daughter just finished nursery school and is scheduled to start kindergarten in late August, which means the next few months represent a bridge between two very different chapters of her life.

I realize this transition will seem far less significant as she grows older, and I might not be thinking about it so much except that—to borrow an increasingly popular cliché—kindergarten has become the new first grade.

If you have kids of a certain age, you already know this. If you don’t . . . well, here’s what a team of researchers from the University of Virginia concluded after studying changes in U.S. public-school kindergarten classrooms between 1998 and 2010:

Our findings suggest a shift toward more challenging (and potentially more engaging) literacy and math content. However, they also highlight a concerning drop in time spent on art, music, science, and child-selected activities, as well as much more frequent use of standardized testing.

As the UVA team indicated, there are potential benefits to the new regime. Yet it is indeed troubling that, in their eagerness to make kindergarten more “academic,” teachers and administrators seem to be reducing opportunities for children to explore their imaginations, improve their creativity, and cultivate key social skills. One example, from the UVA study: The share of kindergarten teachers who said they never did theater activities with their students increased from just 18 percent in 1998 to 50 percent in 2010.

Encouragingly, over that same period, the share of kindergarteners participating in daily recess actually grew by 9 percentage points. However, there is abundant evidence that the amount of time devoted to recess has declined substantially in schools across the country. “For many American students,” writes journalist Holly Korbey, “time for recess is at an all-time low.”

All of this has implications for children’s brain development. “The experience of play”—unstructured play, that is—“changes the connections of the neurons at the front end of your brain,” University of Lethbridge scientist Sergio Pellis has explained. “And without play experience, those neurons aren’t changed.” The changes in question promote both cognitive and non-cognitive abilities that help children thrive inside and outside the classroom.

UC-Berkeley psychologist Alison Gopnik has made similar points about the link between pretend play and learning. Citing her own lab’s research, Gopnik has reported:

We found children who were better at pretending could reason better about counterfactuals—they were better at thinking about different possibilities. And thinking about possibilities plays a crucial role in the latest understanding about how children learn. The idea is that children at play are like pint-sized scientists testing theories. They imagine ways the world could work and predict the pattern of data that would follow if their theories were true, and then compare that pattern with the pattern they actually see. Even toddlers turn out to be smarter than we would have thought if we ask them the right questions in the right way.

Here’s something else to keep in mind about free play and learning: In recent years, many American commentators have lauded the success—as reflected in test scores—of Finland’s education system. Fewer commentators have noted that Finnish children enjoy significantly more recess time than their U.S. counterparts.

The bottom line is that, far from being a frivolous distraction, unstructured play is an essential complement to classroom instruction. For that matter, it’s also an essential complement to adult-supervised extracurricular activities. Joining a sports team, taking ballet or piano lessons, and singing in a choir are all great ways for children to pursue their interests, discover their talents, and boost their self-esteem. But when kids invent games, negotiate rules, experiment with different ideas or strategies, and resolve conflicts all by themselves, they learn skills that simply cannot be taught by a teacher or a coach. Watching my daughter play with her friends, I am always struck by the scope of their imagination, and also by their (perhaps surprising) capacity for cooperation.

In this era of helicopter parents and test-obsessed schools, making time for free play—both at home and at school—is more important than ever. Mothers, fathers, teachers, and administrators should all take that to heart as they enjoy their summer vacation and look ahead to the new school year.

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