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Monthly Archives: April 2013

Three Points for Coming Out! Jason Collins Sets a Cultural Precedent

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Jason Collins
“I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay,” says Jason Collins.
Kwaku Alston/For Sports Illustrated

This story appears in the May 6, 2013, issue of Sports Illustrated.

I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.

I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation. I wish I wasn’t the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, “I’m different.” If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand.

My journey of self-discovery and self-acknowledgement began in my hometown of Los Angeles and has taken me through two state high school championships, the NCAA Final Four and the Elite Eight, and nine playoffs in 12 NBA seasons.

PHOTO GALLERY: Jason Collins through the years

I’ve played for six pro teams and have appeared in two NBA Finals. Ever heard of a parlor game called Three Degrees of Jason Collins? If you’re in the league, and I haven’t been your teammate, I surely have been one of your teammates’ teammates. Or one of your teammates’ teammates’ teammates.

Jason Collins
Jason Collins played with the Celtics and Wizards this season, his 12th in the NBA.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Now I’m a free agent, literally and figuratively. I’ve reached that enviable state in life in which I can do pretty much what I want. And what I want is to continue to play basketball. I still love the game, and I still have something to offer. My coaches and teammates recognize that. At the same time, I want to be genuine and authentic and truthful.

Why am I coming out now? Well, I started thinking about this in 2011 during the NBA player lockout. I’m a creature of routine. When the regular season ends I immediately dedicate myself to getting game ready for the opener of the next campaign in the fall. But the lockout wreaked havoc on my habits and forced me to confront who I really am and what I really want. With the season delayed, I trained and worked out. But I lacked the distraction that basketball had always provided.

The first relative I came out to was my aunt Teri, a superior court judge in San Francisco. Her reaction surprised me. “I’ve known you were gay for years,” she said. From that moment on I was comfortable in my own skin. In her presence I ignored my censor button for the first time. She gave me support. The relief I felt was a sweet release. Imagine you’re in the oven, baking. Some of us know and accept our sexuality right away and some need more time to cook. I should know — I baked for 33 years.

When I was younger I dated women. I even got engaged. I thought I had to live a certain way. I thought I needed to marry a woman and raise kids with her. I kept telling myself the sky was red, but I always knew it was blue.

I realized I needed to go public when Joe Kennedy, my old roommate at Stanford and now a Massachusetts congressman, told me he had just marched in Boston’s 2012 Gay Pride Parade. I’m seldom jealous of others, but hearing what Joe had done filled me with envy. I was proud of him for participating but angry that as a closeted gay man I couldn’t even cheer my straight friend on as a spectator. If I’d been questioned, I would have concocted half truths. What a shame to have to lie at a celebration of pride. I want to do the right thing and not hide anymore. I want to march for tolerance, acceptance and understanding. I want to take a stand and say, “Me, too.”

***

The recent Boston Marathon bombing reinforced the notion that I shouldn’t wait for the circumstances of my coming out to be perfect. Things can change in an instant, so why not live truthfully? When I told Joe a few weeks ago that I was gay, he was grateful that I trusted him. He asked me to join him in 2013. We’ll be marching on June 8.

No one wants to live in fear. I’ve always been scared of saying the wrong thing. I don’t sleep well. I never have. But each time I tell another person, I feel stronger and sleep a little more soundly. It takes an enormous amount of energy to guard such a big secret. I’ve endured years of misery and gone to enormous lengths to live a lie. I was certain that my world would fall apart if anyone knew. And yet when I acknowledged my sexuality I felt whole for the first time. I still had the same sense of humor, I still had the same mannerisms and my friends still had my back.

Imagine you’re in the oven, baking. Some of us know and accept our sexuality right away and some need more time to cook. I should know – I baked for 33 years.

Believe it or not, my family has had bigger shocks. Strange as it seems today, my parents expected only one child in 1978. Me. When I came out (for the first time) the doctors congratulated my mother on her healthy, seven-pound, one-ounce baby boy. “Wait!” said a nurse. “Here comes another one!” The other one, who arrived eight minutes later and three ounces heavier, was Jarron. He’s followed me ever since, to Stanford and to the NBA, and as the ever-so-slightly older brother I’ve looked out for him.

I had a happy childhood in the suburbs of L.A. My parents instilled in us an appreciation of history, art and, most important, Motown. Jarron and I weren’t allowed to listen to rap until we were 12. After our birthday I dashed to Target and bought DJ Quik’s album Quik Is the Name. I memorized every line. It was around this time that I began noticing subtle differences between Jarron and me. Our twinness was no longer synchronized. I couldn’t identify with his attraction to girls.

I feel blessed that I recognized my own attractions. Though I resisted my impulses through high school, I knew that when I was ready I had someone to turn to: my uncle Mark in New York. I knew we could talk without judgment, and we did last summer. Uncle Mark is gay. He and his partner have been in a stable relationship forever. For a confused young boy, I can think of no better role model of love and compassion.

I didn’t come out to my brother until last summer. His reaction to my breakfast revelation was radically different from Aunt Teri’s. He was downright astounded. He never suspected. So much for twin telepathy. But by dinner that night, he was full of brotherly love. For the first time in our lives, he wanted to step in and protect me.

For more (the rest of this article and then some, click below to go to the article on SportsIllustrated.com

Why NBA Center Jason Collins is Coming Out Now

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Categories: Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, Sports, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Surviving and Thriving: and its Socital Differences.

A timely anthropological piece to ameliorate my mid life crisis of consumption-conscience. Now there’s a mouthful. And here’s a mouthful of social-science objectivity.

livinglifepassionately

The purpose of a human is to adapt and survive in their surroundings. I agree with Jared Diamond’s theory about social inequality in that the reason that some people thrive while others survive is because of the resources around them. In a place where there are a higher yield of resources, these people will thrive and grow exponentially while in other cultures with less raw materials to work with will spend all of their time trying to survive. This does not mean that one culture is better than another, just that they have adapted differently to their surroundings. Three main resources that allowed other cultures to adapt better than others are fertile lands, the domestication of plants, and the domestication of animals. Two cultures that are easily comparable in these regards are Ancient Egypt and the !Kung people of the Kalahari Desert.

Diamond states that the reason that some cultures…

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Categories: Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Ethnography, sociology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

From Low Culture To High Art: The Punk Rock Uniform

Featured in the Arts and Leisure section of the New York Times today is a journalistic tribute to context creating pop culture, inspired by the exhibit at the Metropolitain Museum of Art in New York that tells a high fashion tale of couture inspired by counterculture.   Here is the online version of today’s worth-a-read journalism:  Anarchy in the Met
As is the tradition of culture creation, deviant behavior and boundary pushers are the ones who inspire the biggest mainstream trends. This article gives us a bit of context into the inspiration for Punk Rock attire and a great explanation as to why it took off.  The fact of the matter is – clothing is the most visible way for any group of people who share a belief or culture to both identify with one another as well as communicate in shorthand to the “others”.  As far as Punk Rock goes, the biggest statement the Punk movement made, in equal vociferousness with their music, was their uniform.   And to be clear, even though it’s purpose was a juxtaposition to the mainstream, the very specific guidelines for disheveledness and through-the-ringer destructive detail are the definition of a “look” and consequently a uniform – in the same way that hip hop, grunge and hipsters all have a uniform.

There are a number of sociocultural reasons why Punk managed to create such a stir and maintain such an impact.  At the heart of it, however, is the concept of deviance.  Punk was an extreme deviation at a time when the developed world was  grasping on to the golden ladder-rungs of  a mainstream middle class ideal.

Most punk rockers will tell you that the exhibit at The Met is a Devil-Wears-Prada rip off of  authentic angst.  But if you really think about the role of high fashion as art – it’s about the appreciation of human culture’s influence on how we present ourselves to the world.  Granted, couture culture is filled with many whose eccentric personas and big bank accounts separate them from the “uncivilized” masses – but I find that kind of Deviance just as intriguing – the influence that comes with granting artists access defined by traditional monetary means.   It’s one of the things I love about high art – that it’s an exercise in irony.  It’s one of those conversations on the spiral of social dynamics that inspires both the trends and counter-trends that move us forward.

Categories: Anthropology, Art, Art and culture, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, Fashion, pop culture, sociology, Trends, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

When Wants Become Needs: A Narcissistic Rant on the Consumer Culture Tradition of Getting Accustomed to a Lifestyle

Funny Birthday Ecard: It's never too early to start a mid-life crisis.

Over the past several years my life has changed a bit, as life is wont to do.

I went from being a single city-girl to a cohabitating-turned-married suburbanite of sorts. As much of one of those as is possible being a participant observer of my own life.

When I started this blog, one of the topics I was fascinated with was my ethnographic observations and analysis of suburban life and culture.  Interestingly enough, I was born in the suburbs and moved to a more urban area as a child and then did spend my teenage years in a working class suburb.  So the concept wasn’t entirely new to me, but experiencing it as an adult was.

I started recognizing in my life the patterns I had observed in others that I used to judge.  I started seeing my expenditures become very focused on the types of things I would do project work for as a professional consumer anthropologist and my needs becoming characteristic of the types of satire, existential rantings and and otherwise burb-hating dialogues I both hear from and engage in  with my city / hippie / hipster / artist friends.

I started having regular conversations about remodelling, Whole foods, my lawn and gutter service, maid recommendations, which hybrid SUV to buy, re-slinging patio chairs, matching duvet covers to paint colors, etc.   And as my disposable income started slowly dwindling, I refused to allow that to affect my city-girl need for dining out and my personal passion for travel. You see the winding path before me don’t you?

And then panic started to set in as I realized I was building my own cage:  living exactly up to my means – a carefully orchestrated symphony of income and savings (at least I have that good fortune and foresight) and debt that somehow  add up to  a perfect zero at the end of every bi-monthly pay period. I started to question how it was that I was that my two person household was somehow living, for all intent and purposes, from paycheck-to-paycheck off of way more than what most families with a couple kids live off of, yet I was still concerned about having enough money to meet all my needs.

Even being fiscally responsible and keeping a careful budget and carefully planning expenditures,  I still found (and find) myself freaking out about money on a regular basis.  The part that really grinds my guts, however, is the realization that I am so freaked out because I have somehow infected my brain in the traditional American consumer culture fashion into believing that my incremental build up of “wants” had been translated into my brain as “needs”.

Granted, I acquiesced to many of those needs because it is easier than arguing with my wife or my own rationalizations and comfort often ends up winning over logic.  I fortunately avoided the McMansion trap because, not having children, being in the “right school district” (which translates into inflated property values) wasn’t an issue. So, at least my cage doesn’t include a debilitating mortgage.

BUT, I somehow have developed a laundry list of money-sucking needs like:  a lawn that stays weed-free and green, a luxury SUV, premium cable, organic hair care products, expensive groceries, an appropriately fashionable wardrobe, the latest smartphone and other suite of technology (laptop, e-reader, noise-reducing headsets, flat screen TV, Blue ray player), Delivery of the New York Times so I can “feel” the newspaper, a bar stocked with premium booze, season tickets to the theatre and / or Opera, at least one week at the beach house every year in addition to at least one more vacation, designer furniture, art and a host of other “i have to have that” purchases and experiences that end up eating away at the spending-money budget.

If I were to plot my situation on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs I guess I would put myself right up in the “self actualization” part of the pyramid.  I have come to the conclusion that self actualization is freaking expensive if you are not willing to make yourself uncomfortable.  This puts me in a bit of a conundrum which I know I do not hold exclusive rights to.  Is this what they call a mid-life crisis?  I feel like I’m too young for that but then realize If I keep stressing out like this that I am likely closer to mid-life than I would like to think.

And then my inner philosopher kicks in.  One of my favorite quotes of late states ” you can be extraordinary or comfortable but not both”.  Well shit.  Now what?  I suppose the “now what” is really making a point to examine what I believe to be needs versus wants  – because I realize I am becoming a slave to comfort and I will not stand for being anything less than extraordinary.

And as an anthropologist and sociologist I always place myself in the bigger picture.  Thus I wonder if it is possible for a large, complex society (such as the one I and likely anyone reading this blog participates in) to turn back from a rampant consumer culture to something more simple.  I know we are trying.  I see the movements in barter, communal living, local food and other trends related to making life more manageable and less detrimental to our psyche as well as our planet.  But I wonder what kind of cultural disruption it would take to get us there.  I also wonder  what kind of psychological disruption is required for an individual to snap out of the matrix?

Lest my readers think I am complaining, rest assured I am fully aware of the runaway narcissism being poured out in this blog. If nothing else, I behave with integrity knowing exactly who I am.   I am far from in a “woe is me” situation, but my place at the pointy end of the pyramid allows me the luxury of pontification as well as a fancy Macbook to type it on  and an audience of readers who will hopefully have something constructive to say about it.  I welcome your observations as well as your judgement.

Categories: American Culture, Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, Participant Observation, sociology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

What Is A Hipster?

Keeping on the hipster theme, i thought this was an interesting example of cultural discourse. A pretty objective dialogue that really frames the public opinion about “counterculture” and the sociological concept of “us” versus “other”. Whether you are a hipster lover, hater or are one yourself (whether you assume the label or not) it’s an interesting and informative read…

Thought Catalog

The other day I was called a hipster because I like drinking tea. (I’ve been drinking tea for as long as I can remember.) Then the person also said I eat more as a vegetarian so I am definitely a hipster. (I don’t particularly care for the flesh of land animals so I don’t eat them much. But I do love fish.) They then went on to tell me that because I plan on attempting to bike this summer, all I’m really missing is the hipster “look.” (Skinny jeans are not my thing. I might be thin enough but I’ve got an African derriere and jeans are not my first dress choice.) Lastly, they told me because I write on here — Thought Catalog — “the ultimate hipster website,” I am unequivocally a hipster.

I died laughing. Okay, obviously I didn’t die. But the person was a random acquaintance I happen…

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Categories: American Culture, Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, Ethnography, Generation Y, hipster culture, pop culture, sociology, Trends, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Don’t Call Me Ma’am

Love this post! Mainly because I actually frequently apologize to women when I accidentally call them Ma’am (“sorry I called you Ma’am”). And it’s because the word holds a good amount of social commentary. My favorite commentary the writer suggests is that we have many ways to designate a woman’s age / life stage and otherwise value as a human through the way we address her (Miss, Ma’am, Young lady, “Sweetie”, etc.) but very few for men (Sir or Mr.). Interest thought on the social context of language and a hilarious read that many of us can relate to…

Kristen Hansen Brakeman

MA'AMWORKING

(Post Featured on Freshly Pressed!)

There is a single word in the English language that has the power to ruin my whole day.  That word is Ma’am.

I could be having a perfectly fine day – a great day even – the kind of day where my car starts on the first try, my kids get off to school without a ton of screaming and, when I check myself in the mirror I actually think, “Hey, I don’t look half bad.”

Then I stop by the local coffee place and the hipster barista dude, the one who wears the gross earring gauges, hands me my non-fat latte and says, “Here you go, Ma’am.”

Ah, come on.  Really?  Did you have to?

Of course I politely say “Thank you,” back to the little whippersnapper, but in my head I’ve added a very irritated, “Don’t call me Ma’am, d#$%khead.”

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Categories: American Culture, Anthropology, Culture, Linguistics, sociology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sociology of Style on The Procreation Debate

The topic of procreation is one that , as a woman in her thirties, has been a front and center in my world the last several years.  Friends having babies, my wife feeling like, even though she would have loved to have children, that she is too old and has too many potential health risks to do so and gets all weepy every time she sees a toddler.

We talk about how, maybe, I could carry a child (if you are “new” to the blog – it’s time to catch up – your narcissistic anthropologist is also a narcissistic lesbian) if we really wanted to have a family. We have even talked to near and dear male friends about the idea of insemination and co-parenting.

It brings up all kinds of issues, however: the physical trauma, the impact in my / our career, the change in lifestyle (for better or worse or just plain different), the lifetime commitment to another human being and on and on.   And the more friends of ours (gay and straight couples) that have kids the more we think we should “get on it” so our child can have an instant peer group and we can have that support group.   And the more we talk instead of doing, the older we get and the panic sets in and we revert back to planning a beach vacation and buying a new car and vowing to “talk about it later”.

I really appreciate this article from the sociology of style on the modern debate around procreation: the physical, psychological and sociological implications. And I think many of my friends and readers will appreciate the perspective as well.

Your Bumpin’ Body:
The Procreation Debate

 

maternity11

Samantha: Frankly, I think it’s sad, the way she’s using a child to validate her existence.

Carrie: Exactly. Why can’t she just use sex and a nice cocktail like the rest of us?

–Sex and the City

I don’t currently have children, but I hope to someday.  I have several female friends, however, who don’t have and/or don’t want children. Marie Claire recently did an article on Jen Kirkman, a happily child-free comedian who wrote a book on the topic, and whose decision is often greeted with antagonism (and answered with humor: her response to strangers who ask who will take care of her when she’s old? Servants!)

Why do people care so much about the reproductive lives of others? Why are the childless guilted about their decision?  When a single woman “decides” not to have a child, it is sometimes socially “forgiven,” but when a couple decides to forgo pregnancy, they are often looked at with suspicion.  What’s wrong with them? Why don’t they want ‘more’? (And are/will same-sex couples be looked at with equal suspicion?)

Just as there’s a strong argument for having children (i.e. difficult-yet-rewarding, companionship-building, a biological urge), many women choose not to have children for equally compelling reasons: Some simply don’t want the responsibility or lifestyle adjustments (newsflash: they’re expensive and time-consuming); others prefer to focus on their careers; some make the “decision” by default, due to timing and partnerships; still others may make a more political statement with their reproductive choices — avoiding childbirth in an effort not to contribute to our growing global population crisis.

One other looming factor many women consider (perhaps less openly) involves the major transformation of their bodies, not just during pregnancy, but after: Large, full breasts due to the milk production (this may seem like a dream for some, but can also be uncomfortable), an expanded uterus (that should shrink back after about 6 weeks), a larger belly that doesn’t bounce back as easily, especially after multiple pregnancies, and (most devastatingly?) no longer fitting into your coveted footwear (this can be permanent). As Susie Orbach puts it in Bodies, the post-pregnant body is marketed as a body “in need of restoration, conveying a sense that the body is damaged by reproduction.” An ironic image for a life-giving process.

While we like to think that once you make the choice to have a child, EVERYTHING becomes about the child, many women feel that until they lose their “baby weight” and look “normal” again, they aren’t really themselves — which can have significant psychological and emotional consequences. (Fortunately, our bodies are pretty amazing: breastfeeding can be a near miraculous weight-loss plan, not only while you’re actively breastfeeding, but residually, for decades to come.)

Not every woman laments the body transformations of pregnancy.  Some women actually become addicted to pregnancy as a means of seeking attention, feelings of insecurity, or to compensate for parental abandonment. Being pregnant can literally fill a void. It’s even been dubbed the “Octomom syndrome” after the infamous, eponymous example.

FOR MORE on this, including tips on dealing with the physical and mental ramifications of the pregnancy topic or to share your experience (as well as other great content from Sociology of Style click here

Categories: Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, sociology, Uncategorized, Well-being | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Irony of Hipster Media

hipster_shirt

It seems that the irony of irony-loving hipster culture is the media that caters to it: accepting a fate of perpetual self-deprecation and tongue-in-cheek consumption.

Hipsters might not call themselves by name in public or amongst friends – and may even in some cases deny their hipster-ness.  But for the most part, they are a self-aware breed who have become a delightful demographic.  My favorite is what I like to call the “FUBU” hipster content…the stuff by hipsters, for hipsters – created lovingly while the irony slowly eats away at their insides.  😉

Here is some example content:

Hipsterisms.com – it’s “so meta”

Hipster Ipsum – dummy copy text for hipster creative professionals

and, most lovingly, this ethnographic definition of hipsters on urbandictionary.com

But finally, if you don’t click any of the links above, watch this:

 

Categories: American Culture, Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, Ethnography, Geeks, Generation Y, hipster culture, pop culture, sociology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Poking Fun At Our Issues With Packaging

It occurred to me lately that I don’t have to go to “specialty novelty” stores anymore to get a good dose of off-color humor in my product selection. These days you can find such naughty what-nots at your neighborhood hipster variety store or tucked-away indie boutique.

Consumer trends in re appropriating retro pamphlet illustrations and Polaroids like someecards. or that guy who puts the ironic anti-Rockwellian captions on old family photos from the sixties and seventies have been spreading like wildfire. You can buy “Lip Shit” branded lip balm or a tin coin bank with a picture of a girl in 50’s pigtails saying she’s saving for therapy.

Or this stuff here:

20130422-191136.jpg

20130422-200036.jpg

So why are we pushing our boundaries so hard? I actually put it in the same bucket as the Internet meme, sketch comedy and adult cartoons: White Anglo Saxon Protestant children of Boomer and Swing generation parents are creating their own therapy through ironic consumerism that counters the “keeping up with the jones’es , “put on a happy face”, purposely-avoiding -the elephant-in-the-room that is our human condition “conditioning” they got growing up.

In our race to create a picture perfect middle class, previous generations somehow swallowed their emotions so hard they impacted themselves.

Now, however, consumer culture is literally letting lose the bowels of our potty humor and self deprication so we can reclaim our human touch.

That being said, you may want to use hand sanitizer if you are going to shake someone’s hand.

Categories: American Culture, Anthropology, Art and culture, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, hipster culture, Marketing, Millennials, parents, pop culture, sociology, Travel, Trends | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Office Acculturation – Rewind – Art Immitates Life?

As put by one of my “Cultural Creative” respondents in this week in  a research project I am working on:

“This video about sums up that cubicle world we all too are familiar with at times”…

Avicii vs Nicky Romero – I Could Be The One (Official Music Video)

Categories: Anthropology, Art, Art and culture, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Corporate Culture, Culture, Music | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

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