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Every year its the same story: a small group of bleeding-heart liberals declare war on (terrible) Christmas (songs). For example, last year Funny or Die created a video revealing how rapey “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is. This year, a couple has re-written some of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” to emphasize the importance of consent. Based on this short list, you would be forgiven for thinking that the primary objective in this war is to take down “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” Other songs are also targeted, however.

For example, A.V. Club has a regular feature called “HateSong,” in which people talk about songs they hate (I know, it is a difficult concept to grasp). Last year, Dan Finnerty, who is in a band called Dan Band (that, as far as I can tell, performs primarily in movies) discussed his hatred for “The Christmas Shoes.” As you may know, “The Christmas Shoes” was named “The World’s Most Offensive Christmas Song” in 2010, so Dan’s hatred is well-deserved. Dan’s band also recorded a song called “The Christmas Flip-Flop” to make fun of it, which I suppose demonstrates more commitment to hatred than simply writing a blog post.

Whether you’re full of Christmas spirit or need a 500-reindeer-powered Kringle 3000 to help you get out of bed this time of year, here are some additional posts from the past about Christmas:

2015: Life after murder for Kevin Mcallister

2015: ELF ON THE SHELF!

2015: Preferred pronouns on the shelf

2014: Christmas as social control

2013: Christmas at Fox News

2012: Kevin McCallister, murderer?

2012: Toys for rich and poor

2012: Toys for boys and girls

2012: Thoughts on Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

2011: Holiday advertising gone wrong (a.k.a. the Folgers commercial)

2009: Christmas spells relief


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Fear of students

I recently came across a clear case of plagiarism, which should be simple enough to deal with. Except that situations such as this, as well as giving failing grades, also bring fear about how students will respond. A combination of the sense of entitlement that many students at my current institution have as a result of their social class backgrounds and news reports of horrible events occurring regularly on college campuses always give me pause about doing what is right in these situations for fear of violent repercussions.

This has not dissuaded me so far, but a former colleague of mine reported a situation in which he caught a student plagiarizing and his house was vandalized shortly afterward. There was no definitive proof that the student was to blame, but he had been even more cautious about reporting students in the years since.

Ultimately, I do not think that faculty members are trained well (or at all) in dealing with students who may see the difference between a D- and an F as the sole factor in the potential disruption of their future plans. I fear that this training will be increasingly necessary in the future.


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In some ways, even “family friendly” video games are centered on violent acts. The first moments of Super Mario Bros. (1985), for example, likely involve the player stomping a goomba to death and repeating this act countless times over the duration of the game and its many sequels. There is a qualitative difference, though, between stomping a goomba and shooting a realistic-looking human with a virtual gun. I recently realized the desensitization to virtual violence that can take place over a lifetime of playing violent video games and that it is possible to become resensitized to this violence.

Other than NES games like Contra (1987), my first experience killing virtual humans (and dogs, incidentally) came in the early ’90s while playing Wolfenstein 3D (1992) on my family’s first computer (with a 33 mhz Intel 486 and sans sound card). Its rudimentary 3D corridors were amazing to me at the time and the ability to shoot Nazi guards and see their blood splatter seemed “cool” to my pre-teen self (and his friends). Nothing about the experience (or that of playing Doom (1993) a few years later), however, suggested that killing real people would be anything like it.

Around this time, I remember seeing the game Pit Fighter (1990) in the mall’s arcade and noting its realistic graphics. Pit Fighter used the same digitization process that later made Mortal Kombat’s (1992) over-the-top violence infamous, with real actors playing the parts of its characters. When I eventually purchased a copy of Mortal Kombat, I was sure to get the Sega Genesis version, which had a code that allowed you to see blood like in the arcade. Nintendo seemed to learn that kids like blood, since Mortal Kombat II (1994) was released on the Super NES with blood intact (unlike the virtual “sweat” of the first game), and I bought that version as a result. Again, there was nothing about the experience of playing these games that seemed to reflect real-life murder. Having never been in a fight, I certainly wasn’t going to pull out anybody’s spine or beating heart.

The beginning of college took much of my attention away from video games but I later revisited the Nintendo 64 classic Goldeneye 007 (1997) after buying it at a pawn shop early in grad school. The characters looked like faces pasted on blocks of wood so, again, I never got much of a sense of killing real people. Because of my late arrival I also missed out on the deathmatch aspect of Goldeneye. My first taste of shooting at friends in a video game came with Halo (2001) on the original Xbox. I particularly remember playing on my friend’s huge (maybe 35 inch) SDTV. This, I think, is where my desensitization to virtual violence really began.

During the single-player campaign, Halo players kill multitudes of strange-looking aliens. Multiplayer options allow players to kill each other’s space marine avatars, but helmets and body armor prevent them from looking particularly human. Starting with Halo and continuing with its sequels on the Xbox and Xbox 360, I spent hours killing various aliens, friends, family members, and strangers on the internet. The Gears of War (2006) series on Xbox 360 also tasked players with killing strange-looking aliens creatures from beneath the planet’s surface.

I spent so much time killing aliens and unrealistic-looking humans during these years that I don’t remember thinking twice about killing more realistic humans in games like Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007) and its sequel (although the sequel’s immersion of the player into a terrorist act got some attention from others at the time). I also played these games with family members and didn’t think anything of “killing” them even when they looked like soldiers.

The last game based on shooting virtual people or things that I played before this year was probably Gears of War 3 in 2011. In the meantime, things like teaching, research, and changing jobs took up much of my time and the time I devoted to video games was more likely to be spent killing goombas in Super Mario 3D World (2013) or driving virtual go karts in Mario Kart 8 (2014). Over the summer, though, my curiosity was piqued by articles about Battlefield 1 (2016) and its approach to World War I. The only issue was that I did not own one of the new video game consoles or a PC on which to play it. Instead, I sought an Xbox 360 launch title, Call of Duty 2 (COD2), that focused on World War II and had gotten good reviews upon its release in 2005.

COD2 is what made me realize how desensitized I had been to virtual killing in the past. As an 11-year-old game, its representations of humans are not incredibly realistic, but I was constantly aware that the avatars I was mowing down with a machine gun represented people (a sense I do not recall having when playing its sequels five years ago). While this was surprising to me, it also worked to heighten the cost of WWII in terms of human life, a point that the creators of Battlefield 1 also make in terms of WWI. One important difference between COD2 and Battlefield 1 (which I have not played), though, is the technological advancements of the past 11 years. Battlefield 1 looks incredibly realistic, which might make the experience more jarring for those who are not desensitized to virtual violence while also furthering the desensitization of those who are. Had I not stepped away from virtual warfare for several years, after all, it is unlikely that my response to it would have been the same.

I would not argue that games like this should not exist. By many accounts, Battlefield 1 does a good job of communicating the horrors of WWI in the same way that a good book or film might. I do think it is important to be aware of how these forms of media affect us and our responses to violence, though. This is particularly problematic in terms of video games because, unlike authors or screenwriters, some video game developers seem to have a hard time envisioning solutions to problems that do not involve violence. The 2014 game Watch Dogs, for example, focused on hacking but required players to shoot a large number of people. Other than The Matrix (1999), I don’t recall a lot of movies about hacking that focused as much on gun violence as actual hacking.

This is unfortunate. Not every game involves virtual murder but it would be nice to see more room for genres that focus on other forms of problem solving. (Notably, Portal (2007) focuses on problem solving while also making light of the callous disregard the protagonists of many games have for those around them.) Adding to the problem-solving toolbox might allow more space for players to be aware of the effects their virtual behaviors have on their perceptions of violence inside and outside of increasingly-realistic game worlds. After all, if all you have is a gun, everything looks like a target.

See also: This related article at Slate that was published after I had written this but before it was posted.


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Will they never learn?!

Before watching Disney’s Moana (part of Disney’s more inclusive trend in animated movies) last weekend I saw a trailer for Sing, which features a variety of animals entering a singing competition. Unlike Zootopia, which used animals to explore race relations, Sing seems to use animals because it gave its relatively stale premise a twist. Even more stale is its use of a familiar racist trope. In the trailer, a family of gorillas are thieves in a gang and pressure their son (who just wants to sing) to participate.

How did nobody, from the writer to the director to the actors themselves, realize that it might be problematic to have the “gang members” who end up in jail represented by animals that have historically been used to disparage African Americans (such as Michelle Obama)? And how is it that almost nobody thinks this may be a problem (a quick Google search brings up only one relevant result)?


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Except social class

Over at Orgtheory, Fabio ruminates about the disruptive effects that driverless cars will have for police, stating:

Another way that driverless cars will disrupt police departments is that they will massively reduce police stops. If a driverless car has insurance and registration (which can be transmitted electronically) and drives according to the rules of the road, then police, literally, have no warrant to pull over a car that has not been previously identified as related to a specific crime. Hopefully, this means that police will no longer use moving violations as an excuse to pull over racial minorities.

This might bring the “massive improvement for humanity” that Fabio foresees at some point in the future, but in the meantime I would argue that it will make things worse for those without the financial means to afford a self-driving car because police will pay disproportionate attention to them. This will, unfortunately, include a disproportionate number of racial minorities. As a result, I suspect that things will get worse before they get better.


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The 2016 ASA Scavenger Hunt

Over the past few weeks my inbox has been inundated with people saying things like “You haven’t posted much lately but I hope that you’ll still do the ASA Scavenger Hunt!” and “MAGIKARP DEMANDS TO KNOW WHEN THE SCAVENGER HUNT WILL BE POSTED!!!” and “Find the best Medicare supplement plan.”* Fear not, readers, on the eve of the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting, the hunt is ready to be scavenged. Use a Sharpie to cross off completed items on your computer or mobile phone or, if you prefer, download a PDF version here.

2016 ASA Scavenger Hunt

  1. Attend a friend’s presentation even though it is outside of your area
  2. See somebody playing Pokémon Go during a session
  3. Make a joke about economists
  4. Attend the Sociologists for Justice session on Saturday night
  5. Attend a talk in which the presenter is reading from his or her paper with no apparent preparation
  6. Check out the poster presentations
  7. Time how long it takes the ASA app to load when you haven’t used it recently
  8. Attend a session with fewer than five audience members
  9. Go to a business meeting and sign up for a committee
  10. Overhear a sociologist make a racist/sexist/homophobic (etc.) comment
  11. Talk to somebody about SJMR
  12. Ask a good question in a session
  13. Look at somebody’s nametag in an obvious way
  14. Find the unisex restrooms and rate their implementation on a scale of 1-10
  15. Attend DAN and/or a department reception
  16. Get a free drink at a section reception
  17. Go to the blogging party, say you’re John Smith
  18. Talk to somebody from a liberal arts school about his or her research
  19. Talk to somebody from a research school about his or her teaching
  20. Talk to somebody on the job market about his or her ideal job
  21. Introduce two people you know to each other
  22. For Faculty: Buy a student coffee or a meal; For Students: Accept coffee or a meal from a faculty member
  23. Eat a meal alone, confidently
  24. Talk to somebody whose name you can’t remember
  25. Post on social media about ASA
  26. Catch up with a colleague from another institution
  27. Visit the Space Needle
  28. Spend an entire day in Seattle without attending a session
  29. Get a coffee at Starbucks, ironically
  30. Complain about the heat

*Only one of these is an actual e-mail I received.


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Two tales of tenure denial

The goal of being on the tenure track is to receive tenure and there is lots of available advice about how to do that. There is less information available about what happens when tenure is denied. Even when our colleagues are denied tenure, it can be hard to find out the details while respecting the fact that they likely do not want to talk about the situation. For these reasons, recent guest posts at Historiann and a blog started in May by Jennifer Diascro are intriguing (and often frustrating and devastating).

“Hannah” at Historiann recounts her experience with a Dean who seemed to be against her case from the start, despite the support of colleagues, and her successful appeal the next year. Diascro, who had been previously tenured at the University of Kentucky, details her experiences with tenure denial at American University where the messages she received from her colleagues leading up to the tenure decision directly contradicted their recommendation. Hannah’s account is interesting, but Diascro’s is even more illuminating due to her willingness to post many of the documents from her tenure case at AU.

Both stories have (eventual) happy endings, which probably makes their authors more willing to share their experiences but makes them no less illuminating.


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