Thursday, October 10, 2013

Covered: A Sociological Film About Tattoos

I show the film Covered in my Introduction to Sociology course. The filmmaker is Beverly Yuen Thompson, a sociologist at Siena College. The film is 58 minutes. I show approximately 35 minutes of the film and use the remainder of class time for discussion. I've shown it to three different classes and what stands out is the variety of reactions I get from students. I had the mistaken assumption that the current generation of college students would be "all in" about tattoos. I figured they would think tattoos are cool, period. In reality, students have mixed reactions in talking about tattoos. Keep in mind the film focuses on women who have a lot of tattoos (you perhaps gathered that from the movie title. It's called Covered, not Little Tattoos You Won't Even Notice).

I highly recommend showing this film to students. The first part of the film focuses on reactions that women get in public and from family members. One woman in the film talks about the frustration of being stopped by strangers who ask about her tattoos: "I'm not a mannequin that you can just come up and look at the merchandise," she says. Another participant in the film used the phrase "tattoo etiquette" in saying that the public hasn't yet figured out how to respond to people with a lot of tattoos.

A really interesting part of the film shows disapproval from family members. There's a great scene featuring the filmmaker with her mother. One of the tattoos Thompson has is of her father, who doesn't know she has tattoos. "If he found out," her mother says, "he'd probably have a heart attack." In an interview of another mother and daughter, the daughter says she wants to get a tattoo of her mother. The mother replies: "No...It's no good for me.....Do it when I die."

Another excellent section of the film focuses on the experiences of women as tattoo artists. They talk about breaking into what has traditionally been a male industry. One tattooist talks about not always being taken seriously when customers walk through the door. She says: "Even today, after almost thirty years, sometimes I'll be tattooing a man, and people will walk in, and they'll ask the man the question." Another tattooist mentions that she is asked "Do you tattoo guys?" She laughs and wonders if people ever ask male artists if they tattoo women. On the other hand, artists talk about the positive response they get as tattooists. One says that women are more comfortable getting tattooed by women (especially in a "risque" area of their body). Another artist notes there are "possessive husbands or boyfriends that won't let a man touch their girlfriends or wives." An artist suggests that the stigma around women tattooists has lessened since she began her career. So the industry landscape has changed and continues to change.

When I ask students to respond to the film, I hear several different comments, but have observed a few themes. Some students will say they like tattoos if they have meaning.These students dislike "random" tattoos. This usually leads to other students jumping in and saying that all tattoos have meaning, even when the meaning is not obvious and apparent. Other students wonder if it's possible to get a job if they are heavily tattooed. That sentiment leads to good discussion and elicits different perspectives. Students have also talked about disapproval from family members after getting tattoos. Others beam with pride when they talk about their tattoos and the tattoos they would like to get in the future. In all, the film opens the door for students to think about the sociology of tattoos. I love the film and am inspired by the creative approach Thompson takes to doing sociology.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

America is in a Slump

I am grumpy. I think it has to do with America's celebrities, politicians, and op-ed columnists. I think we need new ones. Give us new celebrities, better politicians, and fresh op-ed columnists. Bring us a new fast-food industry. Gift us with an improved cultural infrastructure. I would probably still be grumpy. But there's caffeine for that. I did shake off my grumpiness for a few minutes today while driving around town in my Hyundai. I spent those few minutes rocking out to Bad Company. This probably does not help my credibility. The end.

P.S. On a more serious note, America is a low-wage society.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Fantasy Football -- The Case of C.J. Spiller

I have never played fantasy football. Everything I know about it is based on what I hear from friends who participate and from listening to sports talk radio. I do watch the NFL--something I feel conflicted about, one reason being the violence and damage that players experience. I am a Buffalo Bills fan. Simply put, I root for the home team. I live ten minutes from Ralph Wilson stadium. I'm in a better mood on Monday when the Bills win on Sunday. That's how it goes for a lot of us in Western New York.

After the Bills earned a surprising victory against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday (September 29), I listened to some of the post-game chatter on local radio station WGR 550. I heard host Sal Capaccio (@SalSports) draw attention to the insults that fantasy football fans were hurling at Bills running back C.J. Spiller on Twitter. What he said on the radio is similar to what he wrote on Twitter:

On the radio, Capaccio sounded genuinely outraged at what people were tweeting about Spiller. He didn't want to repeat what people were saying on Twitter. He pretty much suggested that listeners see for themselves. In all, Capaccio came off as sincere in condemning people who said hostile things about Spiller. And why were fantasy football fans upset at Spiller? He rushed for 77 yards against the Ravens without scoring a touchdown--not a good day in fantasy football land. From my perspective, Spiller played fine. Aside from regularly playing with injuries, Spiller recently has had to cope with a tragedy involving a family member. With this in mind, I don't think most fans of the Buffalo Bills would be angry with Spiller for "only" rushing for 77 yards. But Fantasy Football fans play by different rules. They apparently get very serious and angry if players on their fantasy teams don't perform in a way that satisfies them.

Out of curiosity, I searched "CJ Spiller fantasy football" and other similar phrases on Twitter and saw a range of reactions to Spiller's performance against the Ravens. I won't embed the negative tweets in this post. You can do the same search if you want to see what people have said (and are still saying) about Spiller. Instead of the actual tweets, here are some examples of what came up in my search:

-"I hate you CJ Spiller."
-"Thanks for nothing CJ Spiller."
-"Do you enjoy being a shitty fantasy football player and tanking your career?"
-"Thank you for getting hurt and being a horseshit fantasy player."
-"Get your shit together, you're killing my fantasy team."
-"You need to get it together and get me more fantasy points bro."
-"CJ Spiller is the absolute worst first round fantasy pick in history. I hope he tears his ACL so I can force myself to bench him."

There are actually ones more hostile than what I've included. I wasn't shocked to find that people write things like this on Twitter. What did surprise me was that many of them were tweeted at C.J. Spiller. Until I searched, I didn't know that people actually say these things directly to the players. I suppose this means that some people feel entitled to say hostile things to players via Twitter.

Also interesting, though, was to see a lot of people tweeting supportive things about Spiller. By comparison, it looks as though there might actually be more people writing positive things about Spiller and directly to Spiller. Here are a few examples of people keeping it positive (and notice that Spiller seems to be taking this in stride and able to put it in perspective):

Football players probably don't get enough credit for how they handle personal attacks. Even accounting for the point that professional football players are public figures, and taking into consideration that being on Twitter makes it possible for fans to communicate with players in a nasty manner, this does not mean that players deserve to be spoken to in such terrible ways. But I am probably just a naive person who thinks that people should be treated with respect and dignity. I suppose that's a fantasy too.