Friday, November 18, 2011

Because it's necessarily personal

Instead of discussing this week’s readings, I want to reflect on the presentations we saw in class on Tuesday. Both were awesome and very interesting – kudos, classmates!

Emily, Marc, Ayonfe and Katie’s presentation struck a bit of a nerve with me (in a good way) as those of you in class may have noticed. They discussed the new imagined communities – not just nations anymore, but diasporas, telenovela fans, gamers, and members of religious groups, regional areas, etc. Bonus points for keeping it interesting, engaging, and interactive… (hint, hint, Prof. Hayden).

In class I reflected on the sports world as an imagined community of its own, and then mentioned one of the more awful effects we’ve seen of that community in recent news – the Penn State scandal. I discussed the apparent separation this imagined community caused between some fans and what could be called American society’s morals (or generally accepted human morals, perhaps?). I brought up the example of Shayna’s Facebook share of a Jon Stewart clip showing the rioting and protests that followed the ouster of the team’s head coach following allegations that he didn’t do enough after hearing about the alleged child sexual abuse committed by assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. The clip includes footage of protesters indignant over their beloved head coach having suffered such an unfortunate fate. Stewart’s reaction – and mine – was disbelief that this was THIS was the cause of the anger and sense of betrayal being protested. Not, say, the possible rape of young children.

(Nota bene: Because I need to keep believing in some amount of good in my fellow humans, I'll trust this is not the majority view of the university or its students, and I do not mean to make an example of athletics in general or of Penn State by bringing this up. But even treating it, as I’d like to be clear is my intent, as the example of a select few individuals caught on camera – it boggles the mind how any person can be so blinded by their imagined community that they ignore or defend what society considers to be grave and egregious mismanagement of an unspeakable crime.)

I keep writing other things and realizing I've gotten too personal, but this is an issue that cuts me too close to my own heart to bear. I honestly can't say much more. I just want to ask that we take a moment to recognize this with horror. That we think about how the cases that are reported are only the tip of the iceberg, that we condemn the fact that utter mismanagement of allegations of sexual harassment, assault, and abuse are likely the norm rather than the exception. That we realize many of these unspeakable acts are occurring in places that don't have a highly developed HR department and a set reporting structure like Penn State does. And that we reflect upon how our own imagined communities affect our choices.


  1. Allison,

    Thank you so much for the kudos. I'm so glad you found our presentation informative and, most of all, relevant. I was surprised when you brought up the Penn State example in class, because it was something I hadn't even thought to connect to the idea of the "imagined community." I think you're absolutely right, though—sports fandoms can certainly serve as their own "imagined communities," and you can even see specific cultures and types of behavior appear within them. Unfortunately, in this case, some of those in the Penn State community have allowed their loyalty to the team to get in the way of compassion. It makes you wonder: isn't this the way atrocities happen on a larger scale? While I don't mean to compare anyone to the Nazis, it could be that the sort of fervor that blinds some Penn State students is the same kind, in lesser form, that allowed so many atrocities to occur under the Third Reich. After all, that was nationalistic fervor, and as we argued in our presentation, other types of imagined communities are augmenting the national in terms of importance in people's lives.

  2. Thanks, Marc. I'm pleased to have been able to throw a curveball at you guys :) Imagined communities don't stop there (or necessarily anywhere?!), of course, and as social creatures, we humans are often so excited/desperate to be part of a group that we are led away from our true feelings into (what else) groupthink. It's easy for each of us to think we don't make decisions based on the communities we're a part of (whether by choice or not), but we all do. Our identity and experiences shape us.

    Now that I say that, I wonder what kind of interesting research could be made on people who switch from one imagined community to another, very different one... Mitt Romney notwithstanding. Even though it's something of an elite(ist) privilege to choose and change our communities, the transformations from one to another are surely accompanied by an intense set of emotional and cognitive changes.... hmmm. Perhaps a topic for a different day/class :)