It is foolishness and a public madness to fill the cupboards with clothing and allow men who are created in God’s image and likeness to stand naked and trembling with cold, so that they can hardly hold themselves upright.

Yes, you say, he is cheating and he is only pretending to be weak and trembling. What! Do you not fear that lightning from Heaven will fall on you for this word? Indeed, forgive me, but I almost burst from anger.

Only see, you are large and fat, you hold drinking parties until late at night, and sleep in a warm, soft bed. And do you not think of how you must give an account of your misuse of the gifts of God?

… On the other hand, you question very closely the poor and the miserable, who are scarcely better off in this respect than the dead: and you do not fear the dreadful and the terrible judgment seat of Christ. If the beggar lies, he lies from necessity, because your hardheartedness and merciless inhumanity force him to such cheating. … If we would give our alms gladly and willingly, the poor would never have fallen to such depths.

… But for him, who prays and calls on God, and beseeches you humbly and modestly, to him you will vouchsafe neither an answer or a glance, but at the most, you will give him a reproach and say: “Why does such a one have to live and breathe and see the light of the sun?” And while God says to you “Give alms and I will give thee the Kingdom of Heaven,” you hear it not.

… Indeed, for your charioteers in the circus, you are ready to sacrifice your own children, and for your actors you would deliver up your own soul, but for the hungering Christ, the smallest piece of money is too large for you to give. And if you do sacrifice a penny for once, it is as if you were giving away your whole property. Truly, I am ashamed when I see rich people riding about on horses decorated with gold and with servants clad in gold coming along behind them. They have silver beds and multitudes of other luxuries. But, if they have to give something to a poor man, suddenly they themselves are the poorest of the poor!

from St. Chrysostom’s 21st homily on 1 Corinthians

It is foolishne…


Guns on School Campuses?

I am not generally pro-gun control, more of a moderate on the issue, but the question of conceal-carry guns on college campuses is one that strikes near to me as both a teacher and a student.

Truth be told, even if concealed-carry were allowed in Texas public schools, or at my particular university, the odds are good that it wouldn’t affect me directly, nor would it affect most of my students. However, this issue is more salient at public and open-door colleges, such as community colleges, where I have taught in the past and where I and my colleagues have observed higher incidences of mental and emotional instability, some of which have led to violence (or might have led to violence, had a gun been handy). So, general gun control aside, the issue of schools and guns is one I am interested in.

Jesus Villahermosa at the Chronicle of Higher Education provides some questions school districts and colleges may need to ask themselves before considering applying for a waiver allowing faculty, staff, and student to conceal-carry on campus. A police officer of more than 26 years, Villahermosa points out that “[s]ome faculty and staff members may be capable of learning to be good shots in stressful situations, but most of them probably wouldn’t practice their firearms skills enough to become confident during an actual shooting. Unless they practiced those skills constantly, there would be a high risk that when a shooting situation actually occurred, they would miss the assailant. That would leave great potential for a bullet to strike a student or another innocent bystander. Such professors and administrators could be imprisoned for manslaughter for recklessly endangering the lives of others during a crisis.”

Villahermosa’s questions for colleges (and by extension, school districts):

* Is our institution prepared to assume the liability that accompanies the lethal threat of carrying or using weapons? Are we financially able and willing to drastically increase our liability-insurance premium to cover all of the legal ramifications involved with allowing faculty and staff members to carry firearms?

* How much time will each faculty and staff member be given each year to spend on a firing range to practice shooting skills? Will we pay them for that time?

* Will their training include exposing them to a great amount of stress in order to simulate a real-life shooting situation, like the training that police officers go through?

* Will the firearm that each one carries be on his or her person during the day? If so, will faculty and staff members be given extensive defensive-tactics training, so that they can retain their firearm if someone tries to disarm them?

* The fact that a college allows people to have firearms could be publicized and, under public-disclosure laws, the institution could be required to notify the general public which faculty or staff members are carrying them. Will those individuals accept the risk of being targeted by a violent student or adult who wants to neutralize the threat and possibly obtain their weapons?

* If the firearms are not carried by faculty and staff members every day, where and how will those weapons be secured, so that they do not fall into the wrong hands?

* If the firearms are locked up, how will faculty and staff members gain access to them in time to be effective if a shooting actually occurs?

* Will faculty and staff members who carry firearms be required to be in excellent physical shape, and stay that way, in case they need to fight someone for their gun?

* Will weapons-carrying faculty and staff members accept that they may be shot by law-enforcement officers who mistake them for the shooter? (All the responding officers see is a person with a gun. If you are even close to matching the suspect’s description, the risk is high that they may shoot you.)

* Will faculty and staff members be prepared to kill another person, someone who may be as young as a teenager?

* Will faculty and staff members be prepared for the possibility that they may miss their target (which has occurred even in police shootings) and wound or kill an innocent bystander?

* Will faculty and staff members be ready to face imprisonment for manslaughter, depending on their states’ criminal statutes, if one of their bullets does, in fact, strike an innocent person?

* Even if not criminally charged, would such faculty and staff members be prepared to be the focus of a civil lawsuit, both as a professional working for the institution and as an individual, thereby exposing their personal assets?

Most of these questions deal with the practical, legal ramifications of teachers carrying, as representatives of the public school and by extension the government. I can think of more: Would 18-year-old students in high schools be able to carry? Why not, if you allow faculty? What happens when teachers misidentify threats from their students, or the other way around? Who is liable–the institution, the individual, or the government?

As Tenured Radical observed, “teachers are not soldiers.” It is true that schools and the public education system are obligated to take all reasonable measures to protect their students, a fact that some argue should be used to support guns on campuses. Let’s say that happens: that at my public Texas university faculty, staff, and students are allowed to carry. God forbid, someone shoots up my school, and two classrooms are hit–mine and another teacher’s. Say I have elected not to carry; the other teacher has elected to carry. My students are injured; the other teacher manages to stop the shooter and neither she nor any of her students suffer (a relatively unlikely scenario, but possible). We have both exercised our rights freely. However, will the families of my injured students see it that way? (Some conservatives, I have noticed, also complain about the high litigiousness of people in our society today. I am interested to see their thoughts about the effects of that attitude on this situation.) If the other teacher carried and managed to save her students, will I be seen as neglecting a reasonable measure to protect my students? Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. But maybe it will set a precedent for the future about what exactly constitutes a “reasonable measure.” Perhaps one day teachers may be legally required to carry, or at least required by the colleges wishing to avoid liability. (It’s not difficult to make the case that teaching is a dangerous and high-risk profession, given that in the U.S. we’ve had at least one school shooting per month since Columbine.) Is it possible that it would only be possible to be hired at colleges as long as you were willing to carry, as those in some careers are, such as security guards? Is that right? Is it good?

More, a teacher’s responsibility during a shooting is to secure the immediate area and manage the students. Will focusing on a gun detract attention from these crucial tasks, thereby putting the students in more danger? Will having a gun present actually make people sloppier about security or give them too many tasks to accomplish effectively?

What kind of atmosphere would guns in schools produce? Given that school is mandatory, a public good, would the mission of public education be served by such protective measures, or inhibited? Would teachers really be free to say whatever needed to be said if their students were carrying? (Consider that school has primarily long-term rather than short-term benefits that students don’t see at the time. I didn’t. Many resist being told what to do and how they are evaluated. I’ve had arguments in class publicly with my students about their grades and my policies. Would my student be safer with a gun? Would I be safer with a gun? Neither seems likely, statistically.1) Workplace violence is as much of an issue as school violence, too; what about teachers carrying onto campus? Should schools and colleges be free to restrict rights like businesses? Would students really be free to express ideas contrary to their teacher if the teacher was carrying?

Would students in particularly violent areas feel targeted by such measures, leading to even more of an atmosphere of suspicion and anxiety, thus perhaps producing more violence? Would teachers in these school districts, understandably stressed and anxious, intentionally or unintentionally, subtly or unsubtly, use their gun to intimidate students?

1. University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. “Protection or Peril? Gun Possession of Questionable Value in an Assault, Study Finds.” ScienceDaily, 30 Sep. 2009. Web. 24 Dec. 2012.

Mediated, Part Two: The Wedding Industrial Complex

Finally! A wild blog post appears.

So we have a general idea of what mediation entails. Events (capital E) – fictional or “real” – are filmed, tailored, snipped, and spliced together to present us with a “mediated” view. We see events through particular lenses – and more significantly, we are aware of those lenses, of particular “cultures,” in a way that most people in the past were not. We have what de Zengotita calls a “God’s-eye view,” seeing everything, and what results is that we become used to being addressed. After all, media – whether we’re talking about Facebook, news reports, the weather channel, feature films, video games, TV shows, commercials, magazine covers, and so on (and the list does stretch on) – wants our attention. There is only so much to go around, only so much the human brain can process. We are used to the flattery intrinsic to mediation.

All of that – OK, whatever.

What does it look like?

Say your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere–the middle of Saskatchewan, say. You have no radio, no cell phone, nothing to read, no gear to fiddle with. You just have to wait. Pretty soon you notice how everything around you just happens to be there. […] Nothing here was designed to affect you. It isn’t arranged so that you can experience it, you didn’t plan to experience it, there isn’t any screen, there isn’t any display, there isn’t any entrance, no brochure, nothing special to look at, no dramatic scenery or wildlife, no tour guide, no campsites, no benches, no paths, no viewing platforms with natural-historical information posted under slanted Plexiglas lectern things–whatever is there is just there, and so are you. And your options are limited. You begin to get a sense of your real place in the great scheme of things. Very small.

(See, I told you the list stretched on!)

A sort of sub-conscious awareness of this is embedded even in our casual, everyday language, according to de Zengotita. Consider the following common phrase: “The reality is …” What this phrase means is that real things are not optional; the “reality” is something that can’t be avoided and must be addressed. (The implication, of course, is that things that are optional are not real.)

Those of us in the developed world have the luxury of choosing between options. Multiple entities (mostly consumer businesses) are competing for our (limited) attention, so we are used to being addressed and used to being surrounded by optionality. This is not true of other places and other peoples:

[…] Millions of human beings are trapped in realities so restrictive, so desperate, that the possibility of applying to them what I have to say in this book does not arise at all.

But the issue of the trend remains, for it is global. And so does the issue of mediated reality in relation to the immiseration of these millions, not as it is lived, but as it is experienced by the rest of us, by privileged citizens of the overdeveloped world who can choose to deal with it. Or not.

We can even look at this from a historical perspective. Let’s talk about the “wedding industrial complex” (tongue in cheek, but not so strange as it might appear). Before the nineteenth century, weddings in the U.S. were small, private affairs conducted in the presence of family. If there was food, it was cooked by the mother of the bride. Women would choose a nice dress to wear, but it had to be a re-useable dress. They couldn’t just buy a one-time dress for a special occasion. They were constrained by the lack of options, restricted by what we would call now “the reality of the situation.”

It was around the mid-1800s that “weddings” as business, as Event, became a Thing. (More on “Things” and “Whatever” in another post.) If you remember your history lessons, you might note that this coincided with the Industrial Revolution. With the rise of marketing and cheap manufacturing, manufacturers had to figure out ways to sell people things they didn’t need.

So they sold an image. The white dress, the flowers, the catering, invitations, the guests you barely or didn’t at all know–that whole idea that we are so familiar with, that’s where it got its start. Queen Victoria’s white dress. However, it wasn’t until the 1950s or so that the familiar image really coalesced. It was the creation of marketing geniuses, vendors who had a product and needed to create demand.

Everything about the wedding industrial complex is “optional.” Decisions about what kind of flowers, dresses, bridesmaids, venues, caterers, DJs – so many decisions, so much pressure. The image of the perfect wedding is impossible to attain. It drives people, especially women, absolutely nuts, which you might have noticed if you tune in for more than two seconds to a show like Bridezillas. Because, as de Zengotita put it, mediation is why “the trailer is always better than the movie” – the mediated vision of Wedding is always better than your lowercase-w wedding.

Even anti-weddings are optional. Want to wear a black dress? Want to have your wedding in a bar? Want to have everything homemade? Want to go vintage and evoke “nostalgia” for a bygone era? (Never mind how strange it is that we can be “nostalgic” for something we never experienced except through media. But we all “remember” the 50s, even though we weren’t alive then.) That’s your choice, of course. Using money and products (the “consumer vote”) as a way of identifying yourself – it’s all a matter of navigating the choices, expressing yourself.

Of which more anon.

Customers Who Viewed This Item Also Bought into Mediated Realities

I get most of my book recommendations from Amazon’s Customers Who Viewed This Item Also Bought … feature. Surprisingly, that’s not a bad way to go about it. I don’t know much about the programming or algorithms that Amazon must use to accomplish it, but so far they’ve proven mightily accurate indeed.

Back in October, Customers Who Viewed This Item Also Bought … pointed me to this book:

Mediated by Thomas de ZengotitaThomas de Zengotita’s Mediated: How the Media Shapes Your World and the Way You Live in It.

As interested as I am in media and cultural studies, I was hesitant. At first glance it appeared to be more of a polemic against contemporary digital culture and the age of selfishness and self-absorption (yawn).

While there are some choice comments about self-absorption, what it’s actually about is the phenomenon of ubiquitous, unrelenting representation, and how it affects us.

Zoom in on that cover, if you can. If not on the picture here, then take a close look at the Amazon link. Two people are sitting on a cough, watching TV … watching themselves watch TV. This is what “representation” means. We are constantly surrounded by not just a world, but a world represented: TV, movies, commercials, advertising, and so on that offers us ways of seeing the world, perhaps even to the exclusion of seeing the world itself (and now, as academics, we question whether there really is a world “itself,” accessible without layer upon layer of representation).

De Zengotita opens by discussing the “where I was when the Event happened” story:

Ask yourself this: did members of the Greatest Generation spend a lot of time talking about where they were and what they did and how they felt when they first heard the news from Pearl Harbor? … Did everyone feel compelled to craft a little narrative, starring me, an oft-repeated and inevitably embellished story-for-the-ages reporting on my personal experience of the Event?

No, he says. Oh, there were people who were

physically at Pearl Harbor on the Day of Infamy [who] did have stories of their personal experiences, and told them to each other, to reporters, in letters home … Such stories are primal and anthropologically grounded. But people who just heard about Pearl Harbor on the radio and read about it in the papers didn’t feel inclined to tell those stories because it didn’t feel as if it had happened to them, personally, at all.

It would be easy, in a TV-evangelist kind of way (and how we’ll get to that!), to then “rest your case” about the selfishness and narcissism of our generation, etc etc. But de Zengotita avoids the obvious conclusion – and the also obvious rejoinder that nothing is new under the sun, etc etc – and looks to what might be the cause. The change came, he says, with television. Starting with shows like You Are There and the live coverage of the Kennedy assassination, media began to present us with a sort of God’s-eye view of events – and of Events:

And that’s why people spontaneously told their stories about the Kennedy assassination, no matter where they were physically when it happened. They saw and heard it all unfold, not just on TV, of course … but TV was central … Reams of coverage, endless coverage, amazing coverage—in a way more compelling than if you had been there physically, because virtually you were there from so many different perspectives. You weren’t in one spot, the way you would have been if you were physically there, squashed behind a fat lady, looking in your purse for your sunglasses when the shots went off—you thought they were fireworks at first, until you heard the screaming. No, not like that: you were not there in one humble and limited spot; you were everywhere there, because that amazing coverage put you everywhere there, and more or less simultaneously to boot.

Thus, he says, we are all performers – all Method actors, all engaging in that most ironic of acting techniques in which you try to access your “real” or “inner” self to create the best performance of emotion. (Performance doesn’t necessarily imply insincerity, he points out. But the importance of performance means that we are all hyper-aware of how we appear to others, self-conscious to an alarming degree, engaging in endless reflexivity, seeing ourselves as things to be seen.)

As I read through the book, I keep noticing things I say and do in everyday life that are wrapped in layers of mediation.

Do you say things like “I don’t want to be That Guy”?  I do, all the time. That’s a very mediated thing to say; we are relating to ourselves by way of others’ perceptions of us.

And whenever we tell a child to “be yourself.”

Isn’t that a strange thing to feel is important to convey, when you stop to think about it?

I’m planning to continue, in a series of posts, exploring the ideas in Mediated. I have some special interest in advertising as mediation, and the ways Christianity is mediated (only in media-saturated cultures, obviously), and I am going to try to tie some different ideas together as I work my way through the book.