Can “Up” Make Masks Masculine?

November 6, 2020
Posted by Jay Livingston

A lot of people in this country still refuse to wear masks. In most places, no laws require masks, so anti-maskers will have to be persuaded. But how, especially now that those same people associate masks with weakness and femininity? Appeals to altruism run up against American individualism. As the subway rider in New York said this week when other riders repeatedly asked him to wear a mask and even held out masks for him to take, “I live by my principles. . . I don’t wear a muzzle.” (The full story is here )

One strategy that seems to have caught on is “Mask Up.”

(Click on the image for a larger view.)

These campaigns remind me of “Don’t Mess With Texas.” Now it’s an all-purpose slogan, but it originated in 1985 as a campaign to get “Bubba,” the stereotypical Texas truck-driving male, to stop tossing beer cans and other litter onto the highway. Highway beautification had the same problems as masks. It required that the individual inconvenience himself for the sake of a goal that benefited only the general society, not himself, and in a way that was not immediately visible. In addition, the goal highway beautification reeked of flowers and femininity.

A slogan like “Let’s Keep Our Roads Beautiful” wasn’t going to cut it. But “Don’t Mess With Texas,” with TV ads featuring Dallas Cowboys linemen, combined masculine toughness with state chauvinism.*

Covid is a far more serious problem than litter, but the strategy is the same — masculinity and local patriotism.  The pugnacious “Philly Never Backs Down. Mask Up” seems too similar to “Don’t Mess With Texas” to have been a coincidence. But it’s the “up” that I find most interesting. “Mask Up.” to my ear at least, sounds more masculine than “Wear a mask.” I’m not sure why. Maybe the “up” implies a bold action, like an athlete suiting up for the big game, a game for which he is also amped up, revved up, and even juiced up.

“Listen up,” says the coach in the locker room just before he gives his speech to get the team psyched up. To “Listen up” is active than to merely “listen.”

The Texas campaign reduced highway litter by 72%. Unfortunately, I don’t know any research showing the effect of “Mask Up.” 

* See my 2009 post Lone Star Litter and Values.

Sarah Loves Biden, So Does Barbara

November 2, 2020
Posted by Jay Livingston

The Times ran a quiz (here ) where you have to guess people’s voting preferences knowing only their names. For  example,

The trick is to guess the correct demographic variable that goes with the name and with political preferences. If you know that Biden does much better among young voters and that Sarah skews younger (median age 33), this one’s easy. Similarly, Betty (median age 77) goes for Trump by a whopping 26 points.

But age isn’t the whole story. Here’s the Times chart  of the most common male and female names, but I have added indicators showing the median age for each name.

 (Click on an image for a larger and clearer view. I put in the yellow age
markers by hand. Their location may be slightly off

Barbara may be old, median age 70, but she’s strongly for Biden. In fact, among these twenty names, it’s only among men that age goes with increasing support for Trump.

Of course, the most common names will be older. Today’s youthful Noahs and Emilys are the leading edge of those names. Not until they are older and with decades of as yet unborn Noahs and Emilys coming behind them will they outnumber Richard and Jennifer. The median age of these 20 names is 56 compared with the national median of 38.

The Times shows preferences of the 110 names worn by at least 30 people in the sample of 17,000. The most pro-Biden men are younger — Anthony (37), Samuel (27), Justin (32). But so are some of the most pro-Trump men — Aaron (32), Ryan (31), Joshua (36). The most pro-Biden guy is Patrick; he favors Biden by a 42-point margin.

Among women, the most pro-Biden is also one of the oldest. Dorothy (age 79) favors Joe by better than two to one. Following her are Catherine (58), Margaret (69) and Jane (68).  But the most pro-Trump women (Cheryl, Debra, and Donna) are also in their mid-sixties.

Gender and median age for a name are easy to know. Race and social class, not so much. But in a few cases, these peek through. The Times notes that Debra goes for Trump by 24 points, Deborah leans to Biden by 10 points. The age distribution of these names is almost identical.

But there’s a social class difference. “Debra is a trendier spelling that . . .was more popular with younger parents, often those without a college degree. Deborah. . .is the sort of old-fashioned name that appeals to older parents with bachelor’s degrees, especially in the Northeast.” I would also hazard a guess about Tiffany and Taylor on the one hand, Maura and Margot on the other.  

Charisma from the Crowd

October 28, 2020
Posted by Jay Livingston

Andrew Gelman had a brief speculative post (here) on the major criterion voters use in choosing a president. Are they looking for a savior or are they hiring someone to do a competent job? It would be hard to find better embodiments of these types than the current candidates, but for some reason, Gelman does not mention them. He sorts past presidents, and here’s the scorecard:

Saviors: Trump, Obama, Clinton, Reagan, Roosevelt

Hired to do or continue a job: Bush 2, Bush 1, Nixon, Johnson, Truman

I’m not quite sure how I’d characterize the other elected presidents from that era: Carter, Kennedy, Eisenhower.  
In case you hadn’t noticed, these categories match two of Weber’s types of authority — charismatic and rational-legal. But what determines the type of authority the president embodies? How much is the person, and how much lies in the circumstances of the historical moment?

In looking at Gelman’s line-up, which I pretty much agree with, it seems that the Saviors were elected when things had gone terribly wrong. They showed personal strength, but their charismatic authority lay not just in their personal qualities; it came from our need or desire for them to have charisma. We made them saviors because we needed them to save us from recent disasters. FDR, Reagan, and Obama followed economic crises. (The inflation of the late 70s was not exactly a crisis, but everyone felt it every time they bought something.) In addition, the Iraq war and the Iran hostage crisis were highly visible failures in foreign policy. (I’m less sure about Clinton. I don’t see him as being personally charismatic, nor was his election a reaction to a huge failure. We re-elected him more for the job he was doing than for the person he was.)

And then there’s Trump. His relation to his supporters is certainly charismatic. But what is he saving them from? Under Obama, the economy was steadily recovering, and there were no glaring foreign policy catastrophes. Social indicators — crime, abortion, teen pregnancy, drug use — were all going in the right direction. Trump insisted that everything about the Obama presidency — NAFTA, Obamacare —  was a “disaster,” but what moved his supporters was not the reform of policies on trade and health care. Instead, Trump is saving them from something less specific — the feeling that the position of dominance they had long taken for granted was slipping away. For years, “taking back our country” had been a theme in Republican politics (see my 2011 post Repo Men). Trump was the savior who would restore their glory days.

If Trump’s election in 2016 was all charisma and no crises, Biden in 2020 is the opposite, a man with no charisma in a time of crisis. His supporters might have preferred a candidate with more charisma, but they will be satisfied if they hire someone to do a competent job, someone who is not Trump.

Who's Zoomin' Who?

October 20, 2020
Posted by Jay Livingston

It was one of those news stories that, to a sociologist, cries out, “Goffman, Goffman.” Jeffrey Toobin, the New Yorker magazine’s staff writer on legal matters, got caught with his pants down. On Zoom. The Times said he had “exposed himself,” which is not what Goffman means by “the presentation of self,” at least not most of the time. Vice (here) was more specific.

The New Yorker has suspended reporter Jeffrey Toobin for masturbating on a Zoom video chat between members of the New Yorker and WNYC radio last week. Toobin says he did not realize his video was on.

The Zoom meeting was an election simulation with New Yorker writers each playing the role of some person or group. At one point, the group split into two — Democrats and Repulicans — for strategy sessions in separate breakout rooms. 

At this point... it seemed like Toobin was on a second video call.... When the groups returned from their break out rooms, Toobin lowered the camera. The people on the call said they could see Toobin touching his penis. Toobin then left the call. Moments later, he called back in, seemingly unaware of what his colleagues had been able to see, and the simulation continued.

Mr. Toobin, meet Mr. Goffman:

The answer to this problem is for the performer to segregate his audiences so that the individuals who witness him n one of his roles will not be the individuals who witness him in another of his roles. . . . When audience segregation fails and an outsider happens to upon a performance that was not meant for him, difficult problems in impression management arise.” (Presentation of Self, p. 137, 139.)

Goffman, writing in 1956, was talking about face-to-face encounters, where the person aware of their own gaffe also knows who else in the room has seen it. Zoom allows for a temporarily blissful ignorance that is not possible in face-to-face interaction.

“I am quite sure that Toobin didn’t realize that the people on the New Yorker call could see him,” [New Yorker writer Masha] Gessen said in an interview. “I suspect he thought that when the breakout rooms started, he was disconnected and he didn’t realize we’d all returned to a live camera.” [NYT ]

And if he didn’t know, nobody was going to tell him. Tact, as Goffman notes, requires that we not call attention to something that might cause embarrassment to someone else.

By the standards of the wider society, perhaps only the discredited individual ought to feel ashamed; but, by the standards of the little social system maintained through the interaction, the discreditor is just as guilty as the person he discredits-sometimes more so, for, if he has been posing as a tactful man, in destroying another’s image he destroys his own. [“Embarrassment and Social Organization,” 1956.]

Goffman implies that this norm of tact applies mostly in the moment. Once the interaction is over and the particpants have moved on, that norm is much weaker. Someone might even blab to the press. So the Vice article, in keeping with the journalistic norm of more or less identifying its sources, says, “Two people who were on the call told VICE separately . . . “

Embarrassment, presentation of self, audience segregation, tact, and inattention — the Goffman lecture in a single news story.

By coincidence, the same day that this happened, Sacha Baron Cohen, appearing as Borat on the Jimmy Kimmel show, got Kimmel to take off his pants, though Kimmel then hid discreetly behind a couch. (Here, starting at about 11:00)