Beside/s: Variations on Self-Control

This afternoon, I’ve spent a lot of time reading various accounts of what self-control is and what it does (to us). I want to put these accounts beside each other as I continue to think through why I dislike repeated calls for kids (and adults) to have more self-control. Instead of offering much of my own commentary (that might come later), I want to juxtapose these accounts as a way of posing (a) question(s) or offering an invitation to engage.

Note: These various accounts don’t all use the term self-control, some refer to self-discipline or will-power.

Account One:

Immaculate Heart College Art Department Rule 5

And, my problematizer inspired by it:

Account Two

Paul Tough on Self-Control, Grit and Conscientiousness
How Children Succeed book excerpt

Angela Duckworth, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, has made it her life’s work to analyze which children succeed and why. She says she finds it useful to divide the mechanics of achievement into two separate dimensions: motivation and volition. Each one, she says, is necessary to achieve long-term goals, but neither is sufficient alone. Most of us are familiar with the experience of possessing motivation but lacking volition: You can be extremely motivated to lose weight, for example, but unless you have the volition—the willpower, the self-control—to put down the cherry Danish and pick up the free weights, you’re not going to succeed. If children are highly motivated, self-control techniques and exercises—things like learning how to distract themselves from temptations or to think about their goals abstractly—might be very helpful. But what if students just aren’t motivated to achieve the goals their teachers or parents want them to achieve? Then, Duckworth acknowledges, all the self-control tricks in the world aren’t going to help.

Account Three

Angela Duckworth’s Grit Survey:

Grit Defined:

We define grit as perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress. The gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon; his or her advantage is stamina. Whereas disappointment or boredom signals to others that it is time to change trajectory and cut losses, the gritty individual stays the course.

Account Four

Sara Ahmed and the Willfulness Archive

Account Four

My Thoughts on Self-Control
On Self-Control and the Trouble with Discipline, Part 1 and Part 2

Beside/s: Halloween/Christine

It seems to be turning into a new tradition. During the family Thanksgiving holiday up at the North Shore of Lake Superior, we watch an old movie involving an evil vehicle and then I blog about it. Strange, huh? Last year it was Duel. This year, we watched John Carpenter’s/Stephen King’s Christine. I enjoyed it. Admittedly, the story, much like many of Stephen King’s, offers up a creepy dose of repressed sexual desire and the reduction of women to object (car/”pussy”). Just check out this trailer:

And memorable exchange from early in the film:

George LeBay: Her name’s Christine.
Arnie Cunningham: I like that.
Dennis Guilder: Come on Arnie, we gotta get goin’, huh?
George LeBay: My asshole brother bought her back in September ’57. That’s when you got your new model year, in September. Brand-new, she was. She had the smell of a brand-new car. That’s just about the finest smell in the world, ‘cept maybe for pussy.

But, even though I shuddered at some of the lines and was dismayed by the female characters’ roles in the film (let’s just say that this film doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test), I was entertained and intrigued as I thought about Christine in relation to my favorite John Carpenter film, Halloween.  I’m not interested in devoting a lot of time to thinking through the parallels and contrasts in these films. I don’t have time now and I’m not sure Christine really merits that much scrutiny. Apparently I’m not alone in wanting to skip the in-depth critique. Just try googling critical analysis of Christine. It’s slim pickings. Instead of a lengthy post, I’ll post just a few thoughts that arise when I put Halloween and Christine beside each other.

But. before offering those thoughts, here are brief summaries of each movie (SPOILER ALERT!!):

Halloween: Nerdy girl is taunted by her mean friends over her lack of boyfriend. While these friends have sex (or make plans to have sex) with their boyfriends and are subsequently killed by an escaped mental patient on Halloween night, she babysits and uses her wits (and crafty skills as a knitter) to fend off the killer and live to do the sequel.

(bonus summary) Boy kills sister after watching her have sex. Is locked up in mental hospital. Escapes and returns home 15 years later. Kills several teenagers after watching them have sex. Tries to kill the lone teenage virgin, played by Jamie Lee Curtis. He fails and she lives to star in the sequel and subsequent Activia commercials.

Christine: Nerdy, virginal boy is taunted by the tough guys in his shop class, smothered by his mother and pressured by his best friend to lose his virginity. When he buys an old car named Christine,  his luck changes: he gets a girlfriend, eliminates his shop class bullies and successfully pisses off his mother. Only problem: his car is evil. It tries to kill his girlfriend, brutally murders his enemies and turns him (Arnie) into a deranged sociopath.

BESIDE/S: Halloween/Christine

Halloween introduced the classic teenage slasher trope: have sex or express strong desire to have sex, then die. Laurie’s (main character, played by Jamie Lee Curtis), friends die after either having sex (Linda) or planning to pick up their boyfriend to have sex (Annie). It’s easy to read their deaths just as a warning to teenagers (especially girls) to never have sex (because you’ll die). However, when we put Annie and Linda beside Christine and its female characters:—Arnie’s (main character) car, Christine; Arnie’s girlfriend, Leigh; Arnie’s super-bitchy mom, Regina; and the school slut/”sperm bank”, Roseanne, it’s possible to read it differently.

In Halloween, the primary characters are all women who have their own agency and exist independently of the boys/men in their lives. Wow! I just realized that this film passes the Bechdel Test.  And, when they talk about and engage in sex, they demonstrate a surprising amount of sexual agency. In fact, throughout the movie, the female characters are either initiators of or equal partners in the sex that they have or talk about having. They aren’t just objects of teenage boy’s lust or ostracized as super sluts. Sure, they all are killed (boo), but so are the boys that have sex with them. And it seems significant that Annie and Linda are represented as enjoying sex.

In contrast, none of the female characters in Christine enjoy sex or demonstrate a healthy sexual desire. Arnie’s girlfriend is a virginal prude who refuses to have sex with him. And the only other teenage girl in the film, Roseanne (played by a young Kelly Preston), is described as a “sperm bank.” Hmm….it’s the classic Virgin/Whore complex. Arnie’s mom no longer has or expresses sexual desire. She’s just mean and controlling. The movie seems to suggest that her domineering/smothering parenting is a main reason for Arnie’s geeky, loser status. And, Christine, the evil car that’s “bad to the bone,” is all-consuming in her desire for Arnie, body and soul. Her voracious (sexual) appetite and excessive desire for Arnie is his undoing. In crafting this character, I wonder if Stephen King was wanting to refresh the myth of the vagina dentata (the vagina with teeth)? It might be interesting to reread Barbara Creed’s discussion of it in The Monstrous Feminine (chapter 8).

Wow, writing and thinking more about these movies makes me appreciate Halloween even more.

7 Traits Kids Need to Succeed?

I’m really interested in thinking through and writing about character traits and virtue. It was a big part of my dissertation and has continued to guide much of my research and writing. Partly motivated by my two kids and an interest in reclaiming and reconnecting with my kid-self, I’m particularly interested in kids and character development. I’ve even thought about writing a troublemaking book of virtues for kids (or editing one, at least).

Because of this ongoing interest, I was excited about Paul Tough’s recent book, How Children Succeed–Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character. But, since first hearing about it while listening to an NPR segment back in September, I’ve become a little dubious, especially after reading this article (and tweeting about it):

Today, I came across yet another tweet about it:

As I looked over the seven character traits—Grit, Curiosity, Self-control, Social intelligence, Zest, Optimism and Gratitude—I was inspired to create a new problematizer, combining these traits with a photo from my recent Thanksgiving trip to Northern Minnesota and Lake Superior.

I want to reserve my comments about the book until I’ve read it (I’m buying it for Kindle today). One quick question: How does self-control fit into all of this? Since I’m not a big fan of (over) valuing self-control, I’m wary of it being included as one of the traits.

And, here’s one more question, based on this passage from this article:

character is “not about morality,” says Tough, a Canadian-born journalist. “It’s more about learning a set of skills to help kids achieve their goals.”

What’s the difference between character traits, virtues and skills? I’m fascinated by how we understand these terms differently and what those understandings mean for how we practice (or don’t practice) ethics and/or morality.

A Few of My Posts on Virtue and Kids

On Self-Control and the Trouble with Discipline, part 1 and part 2
What are some “tools for living” and where should they be taught?
What are family values?
Playgrounds, kids and making trouble

The Impact of Twitter

While scrolling through my Tumblr feed, I came across a brief video on the role of twitter in journalism (via Explore):

It’s from PBS’ Off Book, which is “a web-original series from PBS Arts that explores cutting edge arts and the artists that make it.” It’s pretty cool. I think I might watch their video on animated gifs next.

In the video, four journalists discuss twitter’s impact on journalism. Jeff Jarvis argues that journalism needs to “move beyond the article” and think of journalism as not just producing content but as creating an ecosystem. Journalists can (and have/do) use twitter to not only report facts, but to connect and collaborate with others in discovering new voices, verifying facts and participating in the ever-increasing flow of ideas and information made possible through social media like twitter.

Mark Luckie expands on Jarvis’ claims, arguing that twitter is a global resource, an ecosystem of news in which a wide range of folks can participate and engage in creating and verifying news stories. Among other things, journalists can use twitter to find multiple accounts of a story and to crowd-source their fact-checking. He suggests, “journalists should not see twitter as a threat, but as a helping hand on the road to creating better news.”

As the contrarian, Craig Kanalley worries about what is missing when we rely too much on social media. Social media (interestingly, he never explicitly discusses twitter or its unique features, but talks generally about social media) filters our news; we frequently read what our like-minded friends/those we follow share. This provides us with a skewed perspective. Hmm…reminds me of the Filter Bubble. Furthermore, social media provides too much noise; it needs to be mediated by experts (journalists) who can discern what is important and what isn’t. If, Kanalley continues, “the majority of people” are left to their own devices, they will only want to read/hear about celebrities and “things that are funny.” Relying on “most people” to provide and shape news is, Kanalley concludes, “almost scary.” Wow…sounds like some elitism here. Kanalley also briefly discusses the importance of remembering that not everyone is on social media; journalists must take into consideration those people too. His final conclusion: “The important thing for journalists is that we filter through the noise and surface the most important things.”

Finally, Chris Anderson cautions against mythologizing how good news reporting used to be in the past. Using twitter in journalism is not about destroying old (and better ways), but about recognizing that there are all sorts of ways to do journalism and to be a journalist.

In the last minute of the video, each journalist offers a slightly contrasting view on what it means that twitter allows for a wider range of voices to participate in the news process:

Luckie: In journalism, there are isolated pockets of people who have stories to tell. Twitter really enables them to rise to the top.

Kanalley: There are so many voices out there and we need somebody to say, “this is factual information” or “this is what you need to know.”

Anderson: I don’t know if news organizations can honestly make the argument that we are the best anymore.

Jarvis:  It’s not about having professional journalists and citizen journalists, or paid people and unpaid people. Acts of journalism can be performed by anyone.

I love Jarvis’ last line about acts of journalism being performed by anyone, especially how it shifts the practice of news reporting away from an expert identity, The Journalist, and towards a wide range of practices. As I have mentioned before on this blog, I have a problem with “experts” who supposedly serve as the gate-keepers and sources/controllers of knowledge. Maybe that’s why I really bristled in watching Kanalley’s part in the video. Not only does he suggest that most people aren’t critical thinkers and can’t be trusted to determine what’s important/newsworthy, but he continues to champion The Journalist as the ultimate authority. Moreover, his over-generalized comments about “social media” suggest that he doesn’t even understand twitter and its distinctive features. I’m disappointed that he serves as the critical voice of twitter. Twitter, like everything else, has problems that need to be addressed and explored. Why not have someone who knows and uses twitter to talk critically about its limits, instead of someone who offers up their surface-level, gut rejection of “social media”?

A Tentative Conclusion

I appreciated this serious look at twitter’s possibilities for journalism, but I wonder if some of them still hold true, especially in light of the recent, and very disturbing, changes to the platform by its owners. For more on these changes, see Room 34’s great post: On products, services, and the trouble with twitter. Also, check out Dalton Caldwell’s helpful discussion of how twitter is pivoting (which Room 34 links to). Caldwell concludes: “the future of Twitter: a media company writing software that is optimized for mostly passive users interested in a media and entertainment filter.” Again, my question: how will this pivot affect how journalists use twitter, and for what ends? And, how does it limit/shape who can commit Jarvis’ “acts of journalism”?

Love in Fragments: 4 Digital Moments

This summer, I spent some time re-visting footage of my dad talking about our family farm in the upper peninsula of Michigan. I was creating a series of digital shorts that focused on some of my favorite/most memorable farm stories for his 71st birthday. For more on the project, see my post or watch the digital shorts on my Vimeo page.

In the process of editing the 10+ hours of footage, I came across some random clips of playful, loving interactions between my mom and dad. I felt inspired/compelled to craft these fragments of love into brief, one-minute digital moments. These fragments are the initial inspiration for the digital moments project that I’m just beginning. 

Fragment One

Fragment Two

Fragment Three

Fragment Four