23 posts categorized "Todd Schoepflin"

October 15, 2018

The Behavior of Buffalo Bills Fans: A Mini-Ethnography

Todd SchoepflinBy Todd Schoepflin

Buffalo Bills fans have a reputation. As seen in this Deadspin video, they are known for wild antics that take place at home games. Last season, in his role as an analyst, former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher acknowledged Bills tailgaters by breaking a table during a CBS pregame show. The so-called Bills Mafia arrives several hours before kickoff for tailgate parties.

I’ve attended many Bills games in my life and have fond memories of partying with my peer group in the parking lots surrounding the stadium. We did most of our tailgate partying in our 20s, and I can recall cracking open the first beer during breakfast. Our partying consisted of drinking, eating chili (our gatherings usually occurred in winter), and playing catch with a football. I have no recollection of people jumping through tables in those days. I decided to conduct a mini ethnography to see if this reputation reflected the experiences of fans, at least in my presence.

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July 09, 2018

Labor

Todd SchoepflinBy Todd Schoepflin

What do you see when you look at the picture below? Perhaps nothing is remarkable about this part of my home. I experienced a lot of pain in my back and knees after constructing the tiny patio on which two chairs and a table sit. The chairs are mainly for my wife and me. A small tree used to be in this space. I don’t like to kill trees, but it occurred to me that if we removed the tree we could have a nice area to relax. To be honest, it also a comfortable place to sit with a good vantage point for people watching. Not sinister people watching, just observations of people that I am compelled to make in my lifelong quest to understand what makes people tick. It's also a pleasant space for coffee drinking and book reading. Ts patio

My wife designed our small retreat. After consulting her father for accurate measurement, she determined we needed 25 paver stones, and that’s what we purchased from Home Depot. We aren’t very bright at times, so we showed up with her Kia Sportage to haul the stones and six 50-pound bags of sand. We failed to think ahead, or, you know, do the math to realize that each stone is 40 pounds and that equals 1,000 pounds plus 300 pounds of sand. My brother-in-law bailed us out with his pickup truck. He helped me unload the materials.

The following day, my father-in-law served a dual role as supervisor and co-worker. He instructed me to dig out the area and to make it as level as possible so that we could lay the stones. He returned a few hours later, and, after correcting for a few of my errors (notably, I dug out too much dirt) we finished preparing the ground for the stones. He directed me to set down stones one at a time, usually telling me to pick a stone up if it wasn’t yet level and then signaling to put it in place again after he adjusted the surface.

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April 18, 2013

Social Interactions

Todd sBy Todd Schoepflin

There I was, sitting on a bar stool, having a beer and shooting the breeze with my brother-in-law Jim, and watching people bowl together. I don’t get out much, so it was eventful just to hang out at a bowling alley for a few hours. But a surprising interaction occurred that night. A woman, who appeared to be drunk, touched my face as she walked by me and said something about my eyes that I think was intended as a compliment.

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April 09, 2012

Waiting and Social Interaction

todd_S_2010aBy Todd Schoepflin

In our fast-paced society, waiting is not something that people like to do. For people who rely on public transportation, waiting is built into everyday life. But if your daily routine doesn’t involve a lot of waiting, it takes you away from the rhythm of life.

Put in a situation where you have to wait, maybe you don’t mind it for a bit. You might like a few quiet moments to yourself. Maybe you meditate while you wait. Perhaps you get reflective and write a poem. But there’s so much to entertain us while we wait, like listening to music, tweeting, or exploring for a new app. I wonder if anyone truly likes to be alone with their own thoughts for an extended period of time.

Recently, I had an interesting experience with waiting. I waited, and waited, and waited some more at a hospital with my wife on a day when our son had surgery. Throughout the day, I couldn’t help but notice what people were doing while they waited. And it occurred to me that waiting involves a lot of social interaction.

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September 15, 2011

At the Party

todd_S_2010aBy Todd Schoepflin

The neighborhood was nicer than mine, so I was a little class conscious upon arriving to the housewarming party my friend at work had invited me to. I'm still getting used to housewarming parties. Am I supposed to bring a gift to congratulate his movement up the ladder? What's an appropriate gift? A welcome mat? A vase? A decent bottle of wine?

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June 16, 2011

Why Can't We Have a Straight Pride Parade?

todd_S_2010aBy Todd Schoepflin

Occasionally, when talking about sexual orientation in my Sociology courses, a student will ask “Why can’t we have a straight pride parade?”

It hasn’t happened a lot, but enough students have asked the question to make me want to offer a response. I want to point out that the question tends to come out of nowhere. It’s not as if I lecture on the history of gay pride parades, or offer a sociological analysis of gay pride parades, which might open the door to such a question. Rather, the question gets asked during general discussions of sexual behavior. The question tends to surprise me, so I haven’t yet offered a consistent response in class.

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May 26, 2011

Sociological License Plates

todd_S_2010aBy Todd Schoepflinimage

I have a strange hobby. I take pictures of license plates that I find interesting. You’d probably call them personalized license plates, but I call them sociological license plates. What’s so personal about a license plate that you want everybody to see? A specialized license plate is kind of like a tattoo on your car. In my view, people customize license plates to communicate something about themselves. In that sense, I consider such license plates to be form of impression management.

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April 28, 2011

Dude, You're a Fag: An Exemplary Ethnography

todd_S_2010aBy Todd Schoepflin

I just finished reading an awesome book: Dude, You’re a Fag, by C.J. Pascoe. I’d heard of this book for a while (it was published in 2007), but didn’t know anything about it until recently. What in the world did the title mean, I wondered? Turns out that Pascoe spent a year and a half doing ethnography at a high school in California in order to “write a book about guys” (That’s how she described it to the students). clip_image001

Pascoe gained access to the high school by writing the school district office about her research topics and requesting access to the students. She was granted permission to come to the school and conduct interviews with students. So Pascoe made her intentions and motives clear before she began her ethnographic research. (Some ethnographers conceal their purposes as researchers and deceive the people they’re studying--generally because they don’t want people in a setting to alter their usual behavior by virtue of being watched).

Continue reading "Dude, You're a Fag: An Exemplary Ethnography" »

April 01, 2011

Technology in My Lifetime

todd_S_2010aBy Todd Schoepflin

It’s amazing to reflect on the technology I’ve encountered in my lifetime. I think back to my childhood when I’d go with friends to the mall arcade and play Galaga and Pac-Man. Most of my friends and I owned Atari back then. We’d play Frogger and Donkey Kong for hours on end.

By the time I was in middle school I had a 13-inch TV and a phone in my bedroom. So I had my own space to watch TV and call girls. But privacy was limited in those days: if anyone else in the house wanted to make a call, they’d pick up another phone and suddenly interrupt the conversation. My parents and brother shared the phone line, so someone usually had to wait to use the phone. It was an exercise in patience, and communication with peers was neither immediate nor constant.

The 13-inch TV worked long enough for me to bring it to college in 1990. I remember watching Cheers in my dorm room and the early years of The Simpsons in the recreation room with other freshmen. My freshmen year in college was the first time I wrote a paper using a computer. It was also the year I began using e-mail, mostly to send notes to my new girlfriend.

I kept in touch with people from high school by writing letters and postcards. It was a way of saving money because most phone calls then cost extra for being phone%20-%20then“long distance.” It wasn’t until my sophomore year in college that I bought my first compact disc--so long, cassette tapes! Grunge and hip-hop were the music of the day. Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Dr. Dre, and Snoop Dogg were favorites on campus and in bars.

None of us had cell phones, so social life was usually unplanned. Although I could reasonably guess where I could find my friends if I wanted to meet them, there was no way of being sure where people were hanging out. Plans you made earlier in the day often changed. So a lot of times you just showed up at a house party  or bar and hoped to see familiar faces.

I got my first computer in 1995 and brought it with me to graduate school. I began using the Internet on a regular basis, but the web was only a baby then. I have no recollection of favorite websites in those days, and surfing the web took forever because there weren’t high speed connections. By the time the 1990s ended, I still didn’t have a cell phone.

Fast forward to 2011. It’s hard for me to grasp all the technology we have in the 21st century. Aside from television, Facebook is probably the most powerful technological force in my lifetime. It’s incredible to me that people document their lives on Facebook. I watch in amazement from a distance; I still don’t have a Facebook page.

phone%20-%20now I have enough distractions in my life (television being at the top of the list) so I’ve avoided Facebook. But I definitely understand its appeal. Facebook seems to be proof that we truly are social beings. We thrive on being connected to others and being part of a crowd. People can’t wait to share their latest picture or status update. Whenever my wife tells me to look at something interesting on her Facebook page, I see my peers posting pictures of their children and offering every little detail of their lives. Facebook really has blurred the line between front-stage and back-stage. And Facebook has already secured an important part in history, especially if we consider the part it played in the recent uprising in Egypt. An Egyptian family even named their baby Facebook in recognition of the site’s role in the protests.

We also have the bizarre world of Twitter. I’m not sure what to make of Twitter, but if I had to explain it to someone from another planet, I guess I’d say celebrities seem to love it and everybody (famous or otherwise) has a chance to broadcast their thoughts or whereabouts in 140 characters or less. I use Twitter to post links to songs that I like (or old pop songs that amuse me, like this one) and to try to say something clever once in a while.

On a daily basis I take advantage of technological luxuries like a flat screen television, a cell phone, the netbook I used to produce this blog, and satellite radio. I can’t remember the last time I bought a newspaper; I read my news online. I don’t spend a lot of time in bookstores because almost any book I could ever want is available at Amazon.com. Instead of going to record stores, I use iTunes. I used to go to Blockbuster to rent videos; now I get them through Netflix.

I often think about what’s coming next with regard to technology. What are the future forms of communication? How will technology continue to change the ways we interact? How will it influence what we consume? How will it influence our work? What will be the next Facebook? The next YouTube? What comes after Skype? What will replace text messaging? How big can televisions get, anyway? How small can computers get? How fast can they make the Internet?

Most of us have no clue about the answers to these questions, but anyone reading this blog surely is impacted by technology. How is technology a force in your life? Do you always embrace it or try to limit its power? Finally, how do you imagine it will change in your lifetime?

March 04, 2011

Silence and Denial in Everyday Life

todd_S_2010aBy Todd Schoepflin

Silence and Denial in Everyday Life is the subtitle of a powerfully insightful book, The Elephant in the Room by sociologist Eviatar Zerubavel.  I came across this gem a few years ago and it has since become one of my favorite books.

Surely you’ve heard the phrase “elephant in the room,” which refers to something obvious that is being ignored. It can be a problem or controversial issue that is overlooked for a variety of reasons, including embarrassment, shame, fear, or because the subject is taboo. As Zerubavel explains, silence is a practical way of avoiding painful or controversial issues, and so we might “look the other way” instead of confronting a problem or discussing a delicate matter.

But why else do people remain silent in the face of controversial issues? According to Zerubavel, one answer is norms about remaining silent or ignoring information. For example, think about sayings in our culture about keeping quiet like “Bite your tongue,” “Button your lip,” and “Silence is golden.”

Other sayings that tell us we shouldn’t seek out information: “Ignorance is bliss,” “What you don’t know won’t hurt you,” “Look the other way,” “Turn a blind eye.” There are also common expressions to discourage us from getting involved in matters that supposedly don’t involve us, like “Don’t rock the boat” and “Mind your own business.” elephant in the room cover

Zerubavel uses the example of the policy for gays and lesbians in the military that was enacted during Bill Clinton’s first term as President: “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” Not asking and not telling doesn’t mean there aren’t gays and lesbians serving in the military! It’s a perfect example of ignoring an obvious elephant in the room. As you may know, this policy was recently repealed.

Here’s a scenario as another example of an elephant in the room: Suppose three couples get together who’ve been good friends for many years. Two couples have happy and healthy children but the third couple has no children. It is evident from conversations over the years that the third couple wants to have children, but it is not exactly known why they don’t. Has there been a miscarriage? Can they not get pregnant? Would they consider adopting? As the two other couples’ children run around and laugh and play, tension hangs in the room. The absence of children for the third couple is a sensitive matter. What, if anything, should be said?

It is possible, Zerubavel suggests, that we learn to be quiet about serious things and to be tactful about trivial things. For instance, what do you do if a co-worker you don’t know very well has their fly open? Do you say anything? If an acquaintance has food stuck in their teeth, do you tell them?

Although these are trivial matters, there are norms about being tactful in handling (or ignoring) them. It might be the case that being polite about not so serious things teaches us to be polite about very serious things. This is not to say that anyone who ignores someone’s open zipper will automatically ignore a substantially serious matter; it is only to say that norms in non-serious situations may carry over to serious ones.

Think about all the times you’ve been told gossip and the conversation ends with a reminder like “This stays between us” and “This doesn’t leave the room.” Could it be that, in effect, we are trained to ignore things or keep our mouths shut when it comes to significant and serious problems? Do you feel like a good friend is drinking way too much lately but you don’t say anything? Are you concerned that another good friend is unsafe with regard to sexual activity but you mind your own business? Do you ignore signs that a family member is suffering from an eating disorder?

If so, are you subscribing to the notion that “Some things are better left unsaid”?

In cases like this we might feel like it’s not our place to get involved. But if it’s not our place, whose place is it? Is it possible that we’re too concerned with minimizing conflict and keeping social interaction smooth? I’m not suggesting we always open our mouths because, in reality, some things are better left unsaid. There are times when “loose lips sink ships.” But there are also times when things are better said. For instance, like this campaign says, drinking and driving should never be the elephant in the room.

In a very powerful point, Zerubavel reminds us that silence, in some cases, is consent. If we don’t say anything, we essentially condone improper behavior and the person responsible for it might view his or her actions as acceptable. He gives the example of a woman who pretends not to notice that her husband is molesting their daughter. As he says, her silence enables the abuse because it conveys approval. Zerubavel uses the phrase “conspiracy of silence” to describe this type of situation.

Silence prevents us from confronting (and consequently solving) problems and controversial issues. Breaking a conspiracy of silence can start with an acknowledgment that an issue (an “elephant”) is present and will not go away by itself. This is why, as the author explains, breaking silence can be a moral act.

In the beginning of the book, he provides a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.: “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.” A quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. is appropriate because he exemplifies the importance of not keeping quiet in the face of inequality and injustice. Indeed, civil rights leaders usually don’t look the other way and they actually do rock the boat.

And society is better off for many a leader having challenged the status quo. We can’t forget the fact that disrupting the existing order is a key ingredient in facilitating social change. The quote is so powerful because it implies that it’s not enough to not be a bad person. The so-called “good people” who don’t say or do anything about cruel behavior or longstanding social problems can be thought of as tacitly condoning the misdeeds of others and accepting the consequences of unsolved problems.

We aren’t powerless in the face of disturbing situations or intimidating societal problems. People who engage in protests are an example of people who don’t look the other way. And some people do tackle problems and troubling issues, such as an employee who confronts company wrongdoing (a so-called “whistleblower”). For example, The Insider is a movie about a scientist who takes on the tobacco industry because he knew nicotine is more dangerous and addicting than the industry claimed. Another example of someone who does not ignore an elephant is a person who organizes an intervention to deal with a family member’s drug addiction. Watch any episode of Intervention and you’ll see it isn’t easy to break the silence about a family member whose life has spiraled out of control.

Of course, not all of the examples I mention are equivalent. A couple who has trouble getting pregnant is obviously very different from a man who molests a child. How we respond in troubling situations (and whether we say anything) will often depend on a variety of factors. Furthermore, we can’t protest all of the world’s problems all of the time. But the common point in the examples is that we may too often err on the side of silence. Maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to button our lips. Maybe we should take a more active role in fighting the problems that surround us.

There’s so much to learn from reading The Elephant in the Room. It’s one of those books that can change the way you think, and it might even change the way you act.

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