Friday, June 30, 2006

The Bowling Green Prison Experiment

For the final day of my AP training today, the "consultant" (euphemistic for teacher) of our workshop asked us to work on a syllabus, or at least to make a plan for what order to teach stuff for next fall. This is no surprise, since a few days ago she announced that we would be making a syllabus as part of our training. The converstation then veered to another few topics before a lady raised her hand and said: "For those of us not teaching A.P. next year, do we have to do a syllabus?"

The consultant/teacher said with a playfully ironic tone, "This is not something I'll be collecting. You won't be getting a GRADE on it." Everyone laughed at the extra empasis she put on the word grade, as if it were a totally absurd scenario to expect she would give us a grade, though I suspect that most people in the class (er, workshop) half expected her to do so.

I mentioned in my last post that most of the participants present were women. To add a bit of demographic background, most were fairly young. The teacher (er, consultant) is a 25-year veteran who clearly knows how to command a group of people, and is used to being in charge. Verbally, she continued to re-inforce that she was a colleage and a resource, but the unspoken dynamics in the classroom (including the fact that we were literally in a classroom) contributed to an envirionment where a group of people who are used to being in the front of a class as teachers comfortably settled into the role of student. One participant actually referred to the consultant as "Ms. ___" rather than by the first name with which she introduced herself.

Today we had a "workshop day" in which we were told we could work on our syllabi, and she would be available to answer any questions. One of the women sitting near me asked me "Will She be collecting these?" (I capitalize "she" on purpose). I answered by saying "I didn't get that impression," but with a tone indicating that there was no way she would collect them considering she told us the other day that she wouldn't. The woman followed up by asking "So She will just look at them?" "I didn't get that impression, either" was my response, but this time with a little less certitude in the tone.

After this brief exchange, I stepped out of the room to purchase a Code Red Mountain Dew, fairly certain in my conviction that I didn't need a hall pass. While walking, I decided that I wasn't going to do a syllabus that day, that most likely the teacher's (I mean consultant's) idea behind the "assignment" was to allow her an easy Friday. (To be fair, Monday through Thursday she presented a ton of content, and really great stuff). I found this fairly obvious, and wondered why more of my colleagues were stressing out over getting a "teacher pleasing" syllabus together.

I thought back to a speech a grad professor made to a class I was in last year. The class was very hard for those of us in it to get a grip on, because the content was incredibly meandering. Every class was very interesting, but it was impossible to see what the ovearching theme or goals for the course were. When it came time to write a seminar paper at the end of the semester, many were panicked. They asked him tentatively in class what kinds of things he was looking for. He responded by invoking the French philosopher Foucault (who every English grad student knows about), and discussing how the mere existence of social institutions causes people to internalize a set of rules that don't have any overt hold over them. He said that the pressure that we would exert on ourselves to write a quality paper is sufficient and that he didn't feel the need to exercise any additional power. He talked at length about how grade inflation at the graduate school level is a good thing. Then we moved on to the actual content of the class.

Proving the professor's point, some around me had trouble interpreting this speech. They didn't feel any better about what was being asked of them. A rather outspoken individual translated for them: "Write the damn paper and you'll get an A." Of course, this is exactly what the professor said with his speech, but it was such a foreign idea that they couldn't get their minds around it. Or, perhaps they didn't want to wrap their minds around it. To have the burden of writing an "A" paper shifted entirely to oneself might be paradoxically more stressful than to surrender control of the grading to the teacher.

What was so intriguing to me about today's experience was the irony of teachers being so willing to fall back into a student's pespective, when on the surface it would be easier to not stress about pleasing an arbitrary and ultimately toothless authority figure with our work. Of course, to acknowledge that there is actually a llmited amound of power that any one individual teacher can consolidate is a reality that most teachers would not like to confront. Ironically, it might actually be more mentally healthy to stress out about whether "She" will collect our work. If "She" is only a "she," after all, that means that we are actually "he's" and "she's" when we teach, not "He's" and "She's."

Note: The title of this entry refers to a classic experiment that examined how social roles influence behavior. Check out the Wikipedia entry here.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Why Doesn't Johnny Want to Read?

When I was in high school, I had nine English teachers: three men and six women. I never consciously realized this until today.

When I was in college I had four English professors: two men and two women. In grad school I had ten English professors: six men and four women. Among Graduate tutors in the University writing center I worked in two years ago there were eight women and four men (including myself). I am the second male English teacher on the high school faculty I just joined (I'm a little vague on how many women there are). Again, I didn't consciously think about most of these things until today.

I'd been hearing for a few years about how the English teaching field was coming to be dominated by women, but really didn't give it much thought. Then I read this David Brooks column a few weeks ago and was extremely interested, but didn't much apply it to my own life.

Then today I attended the first day of a week-long session for A.P. Language teachers. (I actually had no idea what A.P. Language teachers teach before today, but was pleasantly surprised to find out it was a lot like the way I designed my ENG 101 class I taught last fall at U of L. End digression.) In my group of 20 (I'm not sure whether to call us 20 students or 20 teachers), there was only one other guy, and I strongly suspect he wouldn't have come if he hadn't been from the same school as the woman presenter. I scoped out the other group of A.P. Language teachers and it was about the same, so overall there were 90% women.

If 90% of A.P. Math teachers were male, I think we would have a public outcry (and justifiably so). To clarify, I don't think males are being discriminated against in hiring. I think the problem is that not enough males go into English, which starts with the fact that males don't read as much as females.

Other than that Brooks column, I haven't seen a lot of media attention paid to this trend. Brooks's hypothesis is interesting. He seems to think that the situation is a vicious cycle. As women ascend to positions where they determine what is read, they pick women-friendly literature. I think Brooks is absolutely right that women tend to prefer women writers. My wife is representative of this. She is a non-English major but a voracious reader, and consumers at least 80% female-written books. In Brooks's view, men are the same way: they prefer masculine authors, but are being turned off to reading in general by being assigned too many women writers.

I'm not sure I buy his theory that male authors are being discriminated against (at least at the middle and high school levels, which is where he argues tastes are developed). I also think it's interesting to note that books aren't the only media that are having trouble courting young males. Televison is also having a heckuva time getting guys to tune in--they'd rather play video games.

Which leads me to speculate about an admittedly partial but perhaps novel solution (Puns are awesome. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise). How about video games based on Hemingway, Tolstoy, and Homer? Most classic liteature is in the public domain. Between the mystery and the war and the epic length, War and Peace would make for an awesome video game. After a young male conquers the game, desperate to continue the adventure, he'll pick up the book. Or so the theory goes anyway. If the video game companies get on this now, I might have some fellow male colleagues to bond with some day.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

My Finger on the Pulse

Talk about weird coincidences.

Over the years I've got a lot of reading done during commercials of sporting events I've watched. (Bear with me; I'll get to the coincidence when I get to it). Today I found a new way to maximize my time. I downloaded lots of Superman Returns stuff (mostly interviews from across the Web) and realized that I could get a lot of reading done while waiting for stuff to buffer/load/or otherwise become watchable. I picked up a copy of Chuck Klosterman's "Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs" that just arrived in the mail. ON page 17 I encountered this remarkable passage:

" suddenly occurred to me that there would always be road construction--not always on this particular road, but somewhere. There will never be a point in my lifetime when all highways are fixed...It's completely impossible to envision a day where I could drive from New York to California without hitting roadwork somewhere along the way. It will always exist, and there's nothing I can do about it. And for the first time, that really made me sad." If Chuck ever does a book signing near me I should go just to share with him the point I raised in the post directly below-- just to make him feel better.

A less striking but still odd coincidence occurred earlier in the week, shortly after my post about "how to consume media." I am reading "Total Truth" by the Christian author Nancy Pearcy. On page 57 I ran across this passage:

"Artists are often the barometers of society, and by analyzing the worldviews embedded in their works we can learn a great deal about how to address the modern mind more effectively...a Christian radio personality recently wagged a stern finger at Elvis Presley for the immoral content of his songs, without ever asking whether his songs were good as music (which they certainly were), or raising other worldview questions, such as why popular culture has such an impact. When the only form of cultural commentary Christians offer is moral condemnation, no wonder we come across to nonbelievers as angry and scolding."

I think it bears pointing out that there can also be the same type of secular condemnation, such as the newspaper columnist's blanket condemnation of "The Omen" that I referenced below. Speaking of ways in which the secular world has adopted condemnation, I was also struck by this passage from the same paragraph in Pearcey's book:

"At a Christian college, I once took an English course from a professor whose idea of critiquing classic works of literature was to tabulate how many times the characters used bad language or engaged in illicit sexual relations. He seemed blind to the books' literary quality--whether or not they were good as literature."

I got a chuckle out of this observation, since the trend in secular English departments over the last 20 years in higher education is to take classic literature and tabulate how many times the white male characters oppress women and minorities, while seemingly blind to the books' literary quality.

I'm also currently reading "The Making of the English Working Class" by E.P. Thompson. I'm guessing somewhere in the 800 pages has to be a defense of the Fahrenheit system.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Highway Construction and Emmitt Smith

Last week I had the experience of being thrust into a two hour car ride with a perfect stranger. Rather than being nervous or fearing awkwardness, I looked forward to it, and though we came from different walks of life, this fellow and I had a good conversation. He had some great stories about Indy 500's he had attended that lasted for a large chunk of the trip. There were only two points at which I felt uncomfortable, and I was only uncomfortable because I had to fight my natural inclination to argue. A lot of people like to argue, particularly about important topics. I generally don't like to argue anything of substance, but relish the opportunity to argue trivial points, as you can see from my vehemence a few posts below relating to temperature scales. I'm not exactly sure why that is.

Of all the topics to come up, for some reason my companion raised the topic of Emmitt Smith buying Rolex watches for his Dallas Cowboys teammmates about ten years ago. He proceeded to go on a rant about how that money could have been put to much better use. He also distorted the facts in the course of his rant, as he accused Emmitt of giving watches to all of his teammates, when my recollection was that he only gave them to his offensive linemen (I doubt most people remember the story at all). I fought the urge to correct his facts, and I also fought the urge to tell him I didn't think Emmitt did anything wrong. Instead, for whatever reason, I started talking about recent charitable contributions golfer Phil Mickelson had made. Five years ago, I would probably have engaged in argument.

When our journey took us through some predictible road construction, he started on a rant about how he doesn't understand why there has to always be road construction. Rather than discuss the physics of asphalt (which I wouldn't be able to do anyway), I turned the conversation to current toll rates in Illinois. I thought about his comments later, and I came to the realization that he is only partly to blame for his ignorance about the necessity of roadwork. I also blame the state for using the euphemism "construction" when all they are really doing most of the time is "maintenance." Part of his complaint was that the road construction is never done. Calling it "construction" gives people the false hope that ongoing road work is finite and we will one day be free of it. Calling it maintenance would change people's perception entirely. Homeowners know that no matter how many times they have to mow the lawn, the job will never be over. If we can get roadwork into the same type of paradigm of perception it would help a lot. I think I just might raise this issue next time someone complains about how road construction never ends.

In any event, I am still somewhat bothered by my reluctance to engage in civil debate about these admittedly insignificant issues. A line of demarcation between a friend and an aquaintance may lie in a person's willingness to challenge another's statements for the simple joys of argument's sake. If that is true, looking back, there is a time not too long ago when I regarded everyone as my friend. Now, somehow, I've come to regard a large number of people as mere acquaintances.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Dueling Discourses in Sports

This week offered sports fans the opportunity to watch the final NBA game of the season and the final game of the World Cup for the U.S. National team. I watched both. The major difference between the two? ABC's NBA coverage featured an entertaining game and (typical) boring post-game, while their World Cup featured a boring game and highly entertaining post-game.

I used to be a member (albeit a very minor one) of the Wisconsin sports press corps. What I learned is that in a typical post-game setting, a reporter is basically forced to ask disingenuous questions. The highly paid network TV reporters are no better than I was, as they usually ask questions along the line of "What was going through your head when..." or "How did it feel to..." I have literally heard these questions asked hundreds of times, and I have only once heard a compelling answer (which I will discuss momentarily). In the NBA post-game, there was only one compelling answer I heard, and that is when Stuart Scott asked Avery Johnson (after the obligatory how does it feel question) why they lost. This simple but good question yielded the interesting answer that the Mavericks "fell in love with the jump shot." Of course, instead of following up and asking why they fell in love with the jumper in the 100+th game of the season or asking why the coach didn't do anything to help change this trend during the game, Scott followed this up by asking Johnson what Mark Cuban said to him after the loss, which of course resulted in a non-compelling answer. I've heard a variation of this question dozens of times as well and never once heard an interesting answer.

Reporters should be held accoutable for encouraging a culture of banality, but many people also blame athletes for being boring in interviews. It is not surprising that athletes don't say anything interesting in interviews, though, since American athletes have been raised in a strangely dichotomous sports culture. They have been encouraged by media to engage in trash talking while in competition, but to not making any inflammatory comments to the media. It is especially interesting that this has largely held through despite the influence of hip-hop on pop culture, since rappers love to make their "beefs" public. Sure, a Keyshawn Johnson or a T.O. will slip through and try to change the discourse of the sports world, but all too often the establishment pushes back and they are punished (mostly in the court of public opinion) for breaking the mold. The rules for sports discourse are more implicit than explicit, after all, and the punishments for breaking them are more subtle than blatant. Still, most athletes unconsciouslly know to follow them.

Why do we reward athletes for being boring? I think there are three values being enforced in American sports discourse. One: we value false modesty. Going back to Shakespeare's "Julius Ceasar," we love the theatrics of building a person up over their denials. The only athlete who I can think of who has successfully resisted this charade is Muhammad Ali (and why he got away with it is a topic for another day). Two: We value collectivism. It is ironic given our country's historic anti-collectivist leanings, but in sports at least, there is the idea that a team needs to keep its dissentions internal and never show fractures in unity to the public. Hence, we usually don't get interesting soundbites like "Favre pretty much lost it for us today." Instead we get instances such as when Neil O'Donnell was asked after the Steelers lost Super Bowl XXX if a receiver ran a wrong route. He flat-out lied and said "no", then basically admitted that the receiver did with the great cliche "We win as a team; we lose as a team." Three: the great sports myth that giving teams "bulletin board" material makes them play better. You would think that Joe Namath would have dispelled that myth over 35 years ago, but curiously, his famous guarantee had the opposite effect of putting extra scrutiny on a player whenever he comes close to making the rather innocuous statement that GASP! he thinks his team will actually win an upcoming game.

The discourse that these factors have combined to create is unique to America. I spoke of one time hearing a compelling answer to the "What were you thinking..." clice. It was in this year's play-offs when Jerry Stackhouse was told to miss a free throw intentionally, but didn't know that you had to hit the rim or the opponent gets a free inbound. When asked what went through his mind on the play, Stackhouse's teammate Dirk Nowitzky said "I wondered what the hell he was thinking. Jerry has been in the league a long time and should know better." This was after a win and Dirk was speaking rationally without an excess of negative emotion (in other words this was not the ball-punting Dirk of Finals Game 5). Dirk is from Germany, where their sports discourse is obviously different. In his country, it is acceptable to call a spade a spade. I know this because I remember being impressed that the German soccer coach blamed his goalkeeper for a World Cup loss in 1994 (I still remember the keeper's name: Bodo Iglar. The score of the game was 4-0).

Which brings us back full circle to this week's World Cup coverage. After the U.S. loss today, analyst and former player Eric Wynalda said "Let me be the first to say it. Bruce Arenas screwed up the World Cup for the U.S." Because this is so culturally foreign, just as with the Nowitzki comment, I laughed. Can you imagine even Bill Walton or Charles Barkley saying that Larry Brown or George Karl "screwed up" the Olympics or World Championships respectively? (O.K. maybe Barkley would say that). Or how about Harold Reynolds blaming Buck Martinez for the U.S. loss in the WBC?

Even though Wynalda is American, it seems obvious to me that by virtue of playing a sport dominated by Europeans, he's adopted a European sports discourse. Now maybe if we get beat in a few more Olympics in basketball, hoops post-game shows might become as interesting as the games.

Monday, June 12, 2006

How to Consume Media

Today Mike Nichols had an interesting column in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Although he included some mandatory equivocation, his thesis was ultimately more dogmatic than the type of whimsical meanderings I'm used to from non-political newspaper columns (on a side note, it is fascinating to me how newspaper columns dealing with a specific political issue tend to be dogmatic while those dealing with more hazy abstractions often straddle the metaphorical fence). It also reeked of what I call the "nowadays fallacy," which is the belief that morals or values have been corrupted over time and "nowadays things ain't what they used to be". (Even Plato complained about kids "nowadays" not having the same moral fortitude as their elders).

That said, I re-iterate that it was an interesting and insightful column. He gave his take on the Holy Hill vandalism, which you know all about if you are in southern Wisconsin and if not can learn about through google. He ultimately made the conclusion that the vandals are in many respects the product of a junk culture, the same junk culture that would produce a movie like "The Omen" rather than create more religious shrines.

At its core, of course, this is a return to the on-going debate about how influential the media, specifically the entertainment media, influences impressionable youngsters. I've yet to meet anyone who has explicity stated that they participate in a specific behavior (e.g. smoking) because they saw the behavior repeatedly perpetuated on a pixellated screen. I've long been a skeptic about the supposed power of the media.

On the other hand, Chuck Klosterman argues compellingly that if the media had no influence, billions of dollars in advertising wouldn't be spent. I also recently ran across a quote from Romantic poet William Blake that we "become what we behold." Like many of Blake's aphorisms, this one is hard to argue with. And though they are an aberration, there have clearly been a number of copycat incidents involving dangerous and idiotic behaviors portrayed in movies and television (though off hand I can't think of any involving books).

So how can we protect our children from falling prey to evil? Is it simply a matter of not allowing them to behold evil? Heck, why stop with kids? Should we institute legislation to stop anyone from beholding evil? To invoke Plato again, he argued that art should be banned from the ideal republic in part because it encouraged immorality.

I have a better solution. We should all be critical consumers of media. By that I mean that people should do more than evaluate whether messages are good or bad-- kindergartners can do that. I propose that we all move beyond that and try to consider the "why?" behind portrayals in media-- why are men and women portrayed a certain way? Why are people of different races or cultures portrayed a certain way? What does a movie or show say about power, about class, about human motivations? What archetypes resonate with our culture and why?

Of course, you may argue that such an approach defeats the purpose of entertainment and removes us from the escapism it is intended for. I argue in response that we can have our cake and eat it to. Yesterday I had the joy of watching a Lifetime movie ("Engaged to Kill"). Anyone who says they don't like Lifetime movies have either never seen them or are lying. Of course, most people also recognize them as relatively valueless trash. I certainly enjoyed "Engaged to Kill" as the valueless trash it was, but after watching the movie I ruminated on the message that it sent about class. There was an interesting reverse-Horation Alger aspect of the story, with a rich family momentarily losing everything before regaining it in the end. I tink the film reflected the lack of control that many people in a capitalist system have about their assets, and also captured some of the guilt that comes with being a "have" in a world of have-nots (a doctor was portrayed as failing to save a dying criminal). Rather than destroy my enjoyment of the movie, I think my critical evaluation added to the overall experience.

I also think if more people would find entertainment in critically evaluating media they would be less likely to seek out destructive forms of entertainment, such as violating religious shrines.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Fahrenheit 65

That's the approximate temperature right now in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, and it couldn't feel better. Overcast and 65 is about ideal for me. And though it would feel just as good to me if somebody told me it was 18 degress Celsius, I much prefer the Fahrenheit reading.

I am willing to concede that for the most part the metric system makes more sense than the English system. I am even willing to concede that the Celsius scale makes more sense for the purpose of scientific experiments, but I get really mad by people uncritically repeating the mantra that Celsius makes more sense than Fahrenheit for the purpose of everyday usage (I don't get mad about much, but for some reason this does the trick).

O.K., water freezes at 0 and boils at 100 rather than 32 and 212 respectively. I get that. But that doesn't automatically make it a better scale for everyday use. For the average person on the street, the Fahrenheit scale better represents what you are feeling. "0" means really cold, "30" means pretty cold, "50" means moderate, "70" means warm, and "100" means really hot. In more scientific terms, it has wider gradients which allow for better accuracy (Celsius has tried to compensate by using decimals. Nice try but it still sucks).

That felt better to get that off my chest. Perhaps in the future I'll write about my other pet peeves: people who call our president "George Bush" and people who believe that the word "their" is inadequate as a singular gender-neutral pronoun.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Pomp and Circumstance

Why do some cultural traditons survive and others die?

I went to my little brother's high school graduation Sunday, ten years after my own. It was incredibly similiar to mine, with the major differences being a change from a weeknight to a weekend day and NHS members having a pin rather than a special tassel. Otherwise it was the same boring two hour ceremony, with the high school band playing "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" at both events. To be fair, not all ceremonies may be as bad as Beaver Dam (WI)'s, since BDHS makes a point of presenting a gaggle of scholarships and departmental awards. I went through my program and put a check mark next to each one as it was awarded so I could get some visible representation to how close to the end I was.

There was easily over a thousand people stuffed into a hot gym. I really doubt that many of them enjoyed the process, and many may have complained about some of the more unnecessary elements in private, but there seems to be a conspiracy of silence regarding the public discourse of the event itself. Graduation is a sacred cow and no one would dare challenge the traditions. But I would like to ask a few questions about some of the more absurd aspects.

I feel like "Here Comes the Bride" is being phased out as an automatic wedding song, so why is "Pomp and Circumstance" an untouchable for graduations? An entire generation no doubt thought of Macho Man Randy Savage at their graduations, and it is hard to believe that the song actually outlasted the wrestler. And what's up with the caps and gowns? Whose idea was it that a mortarboard hat that sits lopsided with a goofy tassel hanging down represents a culmination of academic achievement? And gowns? If someone wore a gown like that and walked down the street they would be mercilessly mocked. What makes it any less ridiculous in a formal ceremony, when it should be more ridiculous? And if high school graduation is such an achievenment, why does our culture judge so harshly those who don't attain it?

I whethered my high school graduation, but gave my parents several years warning not to expect me to participate in my college graduation. One time with the cap and gown was enough for me. Now if only I could find a guilt-free way to guarantee that I won't have to sit through a two-hour graduation ever again.

Also, in case you missed it I added an edit to the post below.

Friday, June 02, 2006

How to Eat Fried Worms

That was the title of a popular children's book when I was growing up in the 1980s. It was up there with the Beverly Clearly "Ramona" books and "Encyclopedia Brown" as a staple of elementary school libraries everywhere. I read it as a child, but I don't think it influenced my decision to actually eat a worm as a teen-ager. I also ate (and drank) sundry other things that wouldn't be on the menu at any restaurant. The explanation for why I did those things is fairly simple. If someone offered you ten bucks to eat a french fry, would you do it? To me, a worm wasn't quite as tasty as a french fry, but I've always had the ability to put mind over matter. It was purely an economical decision. However, I failed to consider the sociological dimension of my actions, particularly the long term effect it would have on others.

I've recently been reminded on a couple different occasions of my former habit of eating non-food items, though I haven't engaged in the activity in about ten years. (I think the last time was eight years ago when I ate a spider just to freak out an eight-year-old. I'm more mature than that now). Last week a commentator on my brother's blog, who I never knew personally, remarked that seeing me comment took the luster off a legend. He had previously known me only as a "mythological creature who ate stuff." This week I'm doing freelance radio broadcasts announcing games for my old high school. Both the head coach and the assistant coach were around when I was a student statistician ten plus years ago, and both brought up my former habit.

Now, I could be remembered for many things. I'm probably the only kid in my graduating class who could name the presidents of the U.S.A. in order (not talking about Christopher Ballows or whatever that bald guy's name is). Why am I remembered as the kid who ate stuff as opposed to the kid who knows the presidents?

You could argue that the former is more sensationalistic, but I don't think that totally works as an explanation. Urinating on the Alamo is also pretty sensationalistic. I never did that, but Ozzy Osbourne did. Ozzy did a lot of crazy stuff, and he also recorded some pretty decent songs, but he will always be known to a certain generation of people as the guy who bit the head off of the bat.

I think our culture, at least since Upton Sinclair wrote the "Jungle" has been subconsciously afraid of what is in our food. Very few of us prepare our own food from scratch, so we rely a lot on faith. Evidence of paranoia regarding our food can be found in the large number of urban legends (check and in the intense media attention whenever a legitimate issue of food contamination is found. Heck, I think the children's book referenced above speaks to the issue.

I think most people subconsciously bury their fears, but when some brave soul confronts those fears head on, it shocks them to such a degree that they can't put it out of their mind. It may be, after all, that they've eaten worms without realizing it. To see someone actually eat a worm hits too close to home. My advice: settle down. I'm not sure how to eat fried worms, but they don't taste too bad raw.

EDIT: I've been thinking more about this issue, and have some further thoughts. One question I had previously failed to consider: why would people pay me in the first place to see me eat weird stuff? Most of the people who paid me were (ostensibly) my friends, and they likely wouldn't have taken a great thrill in paying me ten bucks to say, step on a rusty nail. No one would have derived any entertainment from that.

My new theory ties into my old, but with some modification. In making me the site of aberrance, in reifying me as one who consumes the aberrant, they are more easily able to circumscribe themself within a realm of supposed normality. Their subconscious thinking runs along the lines of "I don't eat worms. How do I know this? Because Azor eats worms and I am not like Azor." Reading from this perspective, the money they paid me is indicative of participation in an exchange economy. The money I acquired was insurance against any necessity on their part to consume what they fear.

Of course, I was consciously aware of the futility of this symbolic exchange, and was only too happy to subvert it to my own ends. Unfortunately, my ignorance of the symbolic intent blinded me to the lasting repurcussions of the exchange. I assumed the exchange would have roughly the same lasting value as the regular economic exchanges I entered into. I did not realize that the power of the symbolic exchange would long outlive the monetary acquistions I made, and in hindsight I think that is unfortunate.