AKD - 2012

March 31, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

We had our annual Alpha Kappa Delta induction ceremony Thursday evening. ΑΚΔ is the sociology honor society, and the students who join are not only the best and brightest (ΑΚΔ has a minimum B+ average requirement), but they’re the ones who have some commitment to sociology.  They’re the ones we like to have in class.   At the ceremony, we get to see them a little more dressed up than usual, and we get to meet their parents, if only briefly.

From left to right
  • Pamella Salgado
  • Jessica McCabe
  • Francheska Martinez
  • Samantha Gowe
  • Nadia Ibrahim
  • Tiffany Holoubek
  • Brienna Rauhauser
  • Atika Rahaman
  • Benjamin Rhodes
Our speaker was Jenn Lena, author of the recently published Banding Together: How Communities Create Genres in Popular Music.  Jenn has done radio interviews about the book, but she says that this was her first “official” book talk.  She used rap as her example of a music that has evolved through the sequence of genre types – Avant Garde, Scene Based, Industry Based, and Traditional.  Good choice, I thought, it’s certainly something students will know. But I was surprised that it was only a few of the parents in the room who knew of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.  I also noticed one of those parents – and no one else in the room – rapping along quietly when Jenn played Run DMC’s “It’s Tricky.”   So rap now has a generation gap; it’s a “traditionalist” genre.  (Jenn also pointed out that it had a genre gap much earlier, with the arrival of gangsta and other variants.)

A great talk.  A great group of students.  A great evening. 
Same time next year.

UPDATE April 1:  After Jenn’s talk, it occurred to me that the Broadway show  “Million Dollar Quartet,” which I blogged about two years ago (here) is really about the transition from Scene-based to Industry-based.  The setting for the show is the scene-based studio of Sam Phillips’s Sun records, but we are looking at the end of an era.  Elvis and Johnny Cash are leaving for industry-based giants like RCA. 

Stacked Bar Graphs

March 30, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

To create stacked bar charts, I usually use Excel.  But whoever* created these used Legos, a children’s diversion, appropriately enough.  Numbers 5 and 8 are based on French -Belgian data**, so you may find them harder to interpret.

(Click on the graphic for a slightly larger view.)

* The farthest I can trace this back is actor George Takei, who posted it on his Facebook page.  I expect that it is zooming around the Internet fairly quickly.

** For original data go here and here.

American Lit – It’s Still the Same Old Story

March 29, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

In Commentary, D.G. Myers (here) asks:
Has the literary scholars’ 25-year worship at the holy shrine of race, class, and gender brought about major changes in the canon?
Since Allan Bloom and probably before, the folks on the right have been wailing that liberal American lit profs were scrapping the canon in favor of politically correct trash.  Myers follows his snarky question with some evidence – the number of “pieces of scholarship” an author has received in the past 25 years, according to the MLA International Bibliography. 
The number in brackets, Myers says, represents  “the rise or fall of each writer when compared to his or her ranking since 1947.”

( 1.) Henry James (3,188 items) [+1]
( 2.) William Faulkner (2,955) [-1]
( 3.) T. S. Eliot (2,659) [+1]
( 4.) Herman Melville (2,579) [-1]
( 5.) Vladimir Nabokov (2,290) [+5]
( 6.) Ernest Hemingway (2,220) [-0-]
( 7.) Edgar Allan Poe (1,958) [-2]
( 8.) Toni Morrison (1,950) [+9]
( 9.) Nathaniel Hawthorne (1,751) [-4]
(10.) Walt Whitman (1,647) [-2]
(11.) Emily Dickinson (1,623) [+2]
(12.) Ezra Pound (1,620) [-3]
(13.) Willa Cather (1,482) [+5]
(14.) Ralph Waldo Emerson (1,326) [-3]
(15.) Wallace Stevens (1,122) [-1]
(16.) Edith Wharton (1,087) [+5]
(17.) Henry David Thoreau (1,076) [-5]
(18.) F. Scott Fitzgerald (1,002) [-3]
(19.) Flannery O’Connor (935) [+3]
(20.) Mark Twain (882) [-4]
(21.) John Steinbeck (823) [+2]
(22.) William Carlos Williams (772) [-0-]
(23.) Saul Bellow (706) [+2]
(24.) Richard Wright (670) [+2]
(25.) Robert Frost (661) [-5]

Can that number in brackets really be change of rank since 1947?  If so, in 1947 Nabokov was ranked 10th, though at that time he had published only two books in English, both largely unnoticed; Toni Morrison would have been ranked 17th in 1947, the year she turned 16.  Myers must mean since 1987, 25 years ago.

But whatever that number means, it does show an increase for all five women and the one African American male on the list.  That increased attention to women writers may reflect an increase in the number of women scholars.  Or maybe just the recognition that Flannery O’Connor was a very good writer (though both she Nabokov dwelt far from political correctness).

But for the most part, the canon hasn’t changed much.  American lit scholars are still cranking out articles on good old Henry James.  The Commentary insinuation that liberalism is transforming American culture, replacing noble classics with tawdry tracts – that moan is utterly predictable (I think
Commentary has a regular section called Geschrei).  But the message in the evidence seems to be: same old, same old.

“Mad Men” Language – Ahead of Its Time

March 28, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

Matthew Weiner, creator of “Mad Men,” was on “Fresh Air” yesterday talking about the new season. June of 1966 as the show opens.  Civil rights demonstrators are in the street.  Things are changing, Weiner says – hair styles, clothes, mores.  And
, he says The language is becoming more modern.”

Maybe too modern.  I noticed the following anachronisms:

1.  Speaking of airline accounts, one of the ad men says
The American Airlines thing isn’t happening. 
The first three words are all right.  But thing (maybe) and isn’t happening (certainly) sound wrong, at least to my ear.

2.  I’m less sure of other advertising terms.  There is a reference to
niche companies and a key demographic
I suspect that these terms come later in the evolution of marketing strategies and language.

3.  Joan’s mother is trying to tell Joan what to do regarding work and family (Joan has a newborn).  The mother refers to her own decision in similar circumstances.  Joan says acerbically 
And how did that work out for you?
This sarcastic phrase is much more recent.  In 2010, Sarah Palin could say, Hows the hope-y change-y thing working out for you?” It was effective and funny not just because of the idea but because the language was fresh, not something that had been around for fifty years. Note also Palins use of thing to make little of something. (I mentioned this linguistic trick in a footnote to a post (here) on the Anti Asian rant in the library,” where the ranter refers to the tsunami thing.”)

4.  Another character uses “Plus” to begin a sentence.  I don’t think that this usage came into fashion until decades later. Plus, it’s grammatically questionable.

5.  Finally the most glaring anachronism: Peggy is pitching her ad for Heinz canned beans to the client.  Peggy describes the ad – dancing beans pirouetting, then the can seen from the top, and finally
We cut to the front, the iconic label.
No, no, no.  In 1966, nothing was iconic.  There were no icons except maybe the statues in Orthodox churches, and these rarely came into the conversation.  If icon was heard at all, it  was more likely as part of the word iconoclast

I’m sure that Matthew Weiner insists that every piece of clothing, every automobile, sofa, and refrigerator, every can of beans that appears on the show be historically accurate.  He probably hires experts to make sure that people are not brushing their teeth with some toothpaste that wasnt on the market until 1980.  Why is he less meticulous about the language in the scripts he writes?

UPDATE:  I wrote this blog using only my own sense of what language was like in 1966.  I did no research.  Now I find that others have also commented on anachronisms in the show.  Benjamin Schmidt in The Atlantic does not mention any of the terms that I noted, but he did pick up others
There are scores of idioms that are strikingly modern. feel good about, match made in heaven, tough act to follow, make eye contact, fantasize about; all are at least tenfold more common today than in Mad Men's times.
Most interesting and least visible (at least to me) is the use of “need to.”  In the 1960s, people were more likely to use “ought to.”   “You need to do something about that account.” (I am making up this example, but it does sound like something Don Draper might have told someone.)  The example Schmidt uses is a real one from Season Two:  “Tell Jimmy I need to talk to him.”  In the real 1960s, “ought to.”

Schmidt adds that the difference is significant. Need implies a focus on the self. Instead of the general moral codes of ought, we now have the language of personal needs. Schmidt provides some systematic evidence. He calculated the ratio of “need to” to “ought to” in scripts from the 60s and scripts from the last five years. In most of the 1960s scripts, the ration is at least ten to one in favor of “ought to.” In the more recent scrips, its twenty to one for “need to.”

( Click on the graph for a larger view.)

UPDATE 2: Philip Cohen, in an unpublished comment on this post, went to Google Ngrams and entered “that work out for you.”  It remains flat through the Mad Men 60s, then rises in the late 70s.  The rise in “that working out for you” comes even later, in the mid-90s. 

Following Philip’s lead, I tried the other terms in this post with similar results.  “Isn’t happening” and “iconic” appeared in the late-60s with less than 1/15th the frequency that they do today.  “Niche company” and “niche marketing” are virtually 0 until the mid-80s.  “Key demographic” starts its rise only a few years before that.  Unfortunately, I cannot figure out how to search for “plus” as the start of an independent clause.  My Lexis-Nexis searches for “niche marketing” and “key demographic” came up empty for the 1960s.  Even niche and demographic are rare.