Monday, December 31, 2007

they actually said I have my underwear on too tight. which, of course, I don't.

I read a comment somewhere on the internet where someone argued I took it too far with the comments about stereotypes in relation to a TV commercial. They implied it had been different had it been a documentary.

The point is, I think, that just the opposite is true. When watching a documentary we are prepared that the film makers have a perspective, and a story they want to tell. We understand that what we are presented with is not the truth, but somebody's interpretation of the world.

Whatever can be referred to as "just entertainment", or "just a commercial", (or "just" anything), is far more dangerous. Entertainment is dangerous just because it pretends to be neutral. It pretends to express what is normal, and then it repeats those messages until to us they seem normal. And we see stick thin women and forget that real life women don't look like that.

The commercial that I was discussing was different. It didn't really create negative stereotypes of Scandinavia, or Scandinavians. Instead it created cozy, exotic, and stereotypical images of mismatched European locations.

And it sure reinforced the notion that when it comes to foreign places and people, detail and accuracy doesn't matter. And that in itself is a cultural value that has real meaning.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

this goes for 'swedish massage' too

I found this pretty funny. Someone added my comments about 'Ibsen's Pub' to their own reflections on the misuse of words like latte and entree.

This discussion is really interesting, and kind of tricky. Because I don't think the point here should be to strive for 'authenticity'. That would be impossible. Cultures, languages, and meanings are always changing. What is important, though, is that we understand exactly that. Using an Italian word doesn't make something Italian, it only makes it our version of what we want Italian to mean.

Friday, December 21, 2007


Act I of this This American Life show just gave me this chills.

'ibsen's favorite pub'?

So these are the things that drive me up a wall. Pop culture's general approximations of foreign cultures. I have had hundreds of discussions with people about how images of cultures, people, and cultural identities are created, and how those images come to mean very different things depending on where you are standing.

If you are a member of the group that is described, you often feel slighted. You see a blunt version of your culture presented as if it was the truth. At the same time, if you are not a member of that group, you have no idea that what you are being presented with is a blunt version. You have nothing to compare it to, and you think it's the truth.

The goal in pop culture is rarely to show anything Norwegian, Swedish, Mexican, Black, or Chinese. The goal is to hint at 'exotic' cultures in ways that will be appealing to an American audience. And, of course, that is perfectly understandable. The audience is American, and the context is commercial. Above anything else, it has to be appealing.

What happens, though, is that you alienate people. And you create stereotypes. You alienate the Swedes, the Blacks, the Spanish, the Mexican, the Chinese, the Japanese, or the Norwegian. The list is endless. And you fall back on stereotypes that ring comfortably true only because they are repeated so often.

This commercial (click on the link or on the youtube box above) has been getting on my nerves for a while. It's not a blatant example. The story is kind of cute. But the inaccuracies still irritate me.

The story is that of a father and a son traveling from the US to their ancestral land of Norway to reconnect with their heritage. The voice over goes like this:

So, I asked my dad where he wanted to go for his 60th birthday. Norway, he said, the land of our ancestors. We drank a pint an Ibsen's favorite pub. We sampled the local fare. We got new sweaters. I feel like yodeling. It was the trip of a lifetime, my dad said, until we went to the hall of records and discovered we were actually Swedish. Two tickets to Stockholm please. Whatever your story is, your Citi-card can help you write it. Citi, let's get it done.

The music sounds Anglosaxon to me, rather than Scandinavian. And the father says he feels like yodeling? That's Switzerland, not Norway. Mountains are right, country is not.

Ibsen's favorite pub? Playwright Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906), a man of some means, if he drank, he probably went to restaurants, not pubs. A pub, again, is an Anglosaxon concept, not a Scandinavian one.

Quaint Hall of Records? Likely computerized these days.

And the final shot, where the father and son buy tickets for Stockholm? It makes absolutely no sense trying to get from Norway to Stockholm on a ship. Just look at a map.

Does it matter? Yes it does. It matters because those who do not know have no right to say that it doesn't. Ignorance may be bliss, but it should not be the general standard.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

sure, I'll make sandwiches for the state of california

Next quarter I will be teaching a class at a school where I have never taught before. Today I drove over there to take care of HR and payroll paper work.

And boy did they have forms for me. There was a giant pile in each office.

My favorite form was one having to do with disaster preparedness. I was asked in what areas I have training or experience, the idea being to make employees useful should disaster strike.

I checked the boxes for nursing, mass food preparation, and photography. I also checked the box for driver. When they asked about my vehicle, I said that occasionally I will be driving Dan's truck to campus, so that, yes, I might be able to transport people or supplies.

I am not joking. I liked that form. I liked being reminded of how I could help in a crisis, and I liked being reminded of what I can be relied upon to do reasonably well.

I like being reminded that we are vulnerable. Because we are.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

this is actually only really funny if you teach media theory, but if you do, it's hilarious (if you don't, it's pretty funny too)

From one of my students:
"I have come to be sadly caught up in the idea that I may be a living example of the cultivation theory. This prospect has been haunting me, and I think about it often... why oh why did we have to learn that."

happy lucia day

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

news quiz

If the headline is "Awake & Under the Knife!"
Would that be
a) The National Enquirer, or
b) Larry King?

I feel nauseous now

It's two weeks before Christmas and I am eating candy according to the logic that says that if I eat it all now I'll get it over with and that way I'll have more time to concentrate on healthy soups and grated carrots.

Friday, December 07, 2007


Since I have lived in the US for the past 12 years I haven't seen many Scandinavian movies during that time. Netflix helps me pack them in though.

Today I watched Elling, a Norwegian film from 2001. In the photo you see the two main characters, their new friends, and a 1958 Buick that the guy dressed in overalls has just fixed. It's an unlikely group of friends, and a lovely, charming, movie that is sweet and human in the freshest possible way. (And yeah remember it's Scandinavian so there are body fluids and mental hospitals too here and there.)

Thursday, December 06, 2007

email from robyn

"This is what happens when hippies run schools:
A's graduation from high school -
The school principal sang Bob Dylan's
Time of Your Life to the kids
and they gave him a standing ovation.
It was wonderful."

(Let me just point out that those were Australian hippies. Because (but maybe this is just me) I really don't see that happening in the US. Also, in the picture Robyn sent me the principal's hippie self is disguised in proper business attire, making the entire thing even sweeter.)

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

things I need to remember for next quarter

I had to sit through a two hour workshop today. It was interesting. Still, two hours is a long time.

When you are the teacher you get to stand up and walk around and sit down, whenever you choose. You get to talk and ask questions and tell jokes.

When you are the student you sit. You sit, and you listen. And you doodle, and you write a shopping list. I wrote mine in Swedish today just to confuse the woman sitting next to me.


At the end of the workshop (in overtime, actually) someone was still asking questions.

When you are the teacher you don't mind the overtime questions.

When you are the student you mind.

go to jail in milpitas and you'll wear this

It makes me think of Lucky Luke chasing The Daltons.
The idea is that the outfits will be cheaper than jeans and sweatshirts, and that the stripes will make it easier to spot an escaped inmate. I guess that should be true on both accounts.