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Otium cum Dignitatae

Thursday, September 18, 2008

New Virus Found!

In today's little slice of hell that The Oregonian calls the "How We Live" section (formerly known as the "Living" section, and waaayyy before that, the "Women's" section), well, y'get the comics, and 'Ask Amy', n' Carolyn Hax. You can do The Ziggy Circus (where you transpose the punchlines of 'The Family Circus' and 'Ziggy'), which last week resulted in one where Jeffy is looking at Grandma and says, "I'm into tough love these days. Go lay down on those rocks."

So in the middle of all that, as well as 'News of the Weird' type shit, you can also find Real Scientific Type Findings. In this case, a New York Times News Service story by someone named Sarah Kershaw titled "Can I talk to you about what it means when teen girls talk?".
Amazingly, this is a story about how teenaged girls, in packs, drive each other crazy. No really; their basic communication is neurotic, and leads to psychosis. Well, specifically, "frequently or obsessively discussing the same problem". And someone has decided to call this phenomenon "co-ruminating".

Heh heh. Note the subliminal suggestion that girls is cows (or 'ruminants'), chewin' their cud... And the other thing is, I've been around a few teenaged girl cliques in my life, and can certainly offer anecdotal "proof" that chicks in packs is crazy, all right, but hey; I'm not a scientist.
On the other hand, I'm not seeing, right off hand, who is the scientist in this article. Hm. In the sixth paragraph, it says, 'psychologists and researchers', who apparently are 'examining the question of how much talking is too much talking'. Shame that they don't italicize in your average daily paper.

Matter of fact, it takes nine paragraphs for an actual researcher with a name to show up. America, meet Amanda Rose, an assistant professor of psychological sciences at the University of Missouri, Columbia:
"When girls are talking about these problems, it probably feels good to get that level of support and validation...But they are not putting two and two together, that actually this excessive talking can make them feel worse."

Hmmm...So -girls should talk less! Well, no not exactly; although it was pointed out earlier in the article that boys just don't do this...Which isn't actually true. I've been around a few teenaged boy cliques in my lifetime, and I can tell you that they do indeed work themselves up into a righteous lather about lots of stupid shit. This obsessiveness is a huge part of being an adolescent.
Worse than that, there's even a return in this wonderful pseudo-science to that whole "boys don't express their emotions" bullshit. So when you see boys play-fighting, wrestling, slapping etcetera, do you really think that's just raw, unbridled Id, or is it non-verbal communication? How about the elaborate, ritualized shit-talking that adolescents of both genders do? Folks communicate, and it does not do to label one gender's variety of communication as not communication. It's a fucking self-fulfilling prophecy.

As the article goes on, it starts to doubt itself. Well, about halfway through (after pointing out how The Technology; the email, your instant-messaging, the Facebook there, makes it all worse, of course), it says that "The research distinguishes between sharing or 'self-disclosure,' which is associated with positive friendships and positive feelings, and dwelling on problems, concerns and frustrations."
And I would love to see the pie graph/Venn diagram that some bright young assistant professor made up somewhere as to what makes up a 'positive feeling'. Anyway, "But they also say it is a mixed picture: Friends who co-ruminate tend to be close, and those intimate relationships can build self-esteem." Oh, I see. So why did you write this?

Of course, this is sciency-type stuff so the next line is, "For boys, such intense emotional conversations, which tend to occur less often, did not contribute to heightened anxiety or depressive moods..." Or at least none that we noticed, since we were too busy generalizing...
It is thereafter noted that Amanda Rose's study was published last year and will soon publish another one on the same subject. "Both studies confirm Rose's earlier findings," the paper soothingly notes.

Now that we've got the hard science part out of the way, let's go to the anecdotes! A thirteen-year-old is spoken to, and what she reports hardly sounds out of the ordinary for a girl, an adolescent, or anyone. They talk on the phone all day! And one time:
"My friends think my other friend did something wrong, but she didn't do something wrong. Sometimes it makes the situation worse."
Do you think that maybe that was her response to the question, 'Tell me about a time when co-ruminating made your life worse'? I'm not seeing anything...At all remarkable about whatever the fuck this article is about.

Then we meet a nineteen-year-old who tends to overanalyze situations and ask several of her friends what to do about various things. The varied responses "at times" made her feel more nervous.
Incredible. Then she got a job as a camp counselor, and noted -scientifically!- that nine-year-olds were already starting to obsess about their problems, and...

Um, I don't know, do you think maybe that we live in a culture with enough leisure time and relative comfort that we can view everything as a neurosis or pathology? And spend ridiculous amounts of time and energy discussing same, fueling a multi-million dollar industry that is more than happy to offer some Psych While-U-Shop for increasingly higher prices? Maybe we could develop some sort of pill for this basic facet of the human experience! I have 'kinda nervous about something' syndrome...
That, like all this shit, it's really your parents' fault. Leave it at that.

I'll leave the articulate nineteen-year-old (who is noted in the final paragraph as trying 'to stop negative thoughts') with the last word:
"From sixth grade, it's boys are stupid, boys have cooties. Then it progresses to boys have cooties but 20-year-old cooties. So you might as well change it when you can."

What 'it' is, and how one 'change(s)' it is left for another day.



Blogger Aunty Christ said...

And then there is Lillian R. Mongeau, who writes the occasional "mY generation" piece in the Sunday Opinion section ... Today's article is about weddings. You know how, a few years after college, everyone you know starts getting married, and how no one's ever commented on that in a frustrated/hilarious fashion before? Well, Mongo would like to comment on such a trend in such a way. However, being a horrible writer, she cannot.

The best thing about Mongo as a writer, of course, is the juxtaposition of Very Real Factoids (perhaps gleaned from Minutes of Researching Her Subject on the Internet) with sweeping generalizations that are in no way backed up by any kind of evidence, and in fact are somewhat disproved by Mongo herself, the further she gets into the story. So we find that the median age for first marriages these days is 27.4 years for men and 25.9 years for women. But we also get to consider that couples are "more" diverse (than what? singles? octets?), without any sort of evidence--anecdotal or otherwise--to back it up. If we assume she means that couples these days are more diverse than couples who got married 30 years ago, even that seems strained by Mongo's admission that, among her group of friends, it's mostly whites marrying whites. The basis of this argument seems to be that Mongo knows a white girl who is marrying an Indian dude. So ... that's pretty fricking awesome, y'all! Do we think that maybe past generations also saw people of different races or nationalities get married? We don't even know! Is that important to our little article? What are you talking about?

And Chelsea Cain .. let's not even start on Chelsea Cain.

10:42 AM  
Blogger rich bachelor said...

Ah, Mongo and the em-WHYYY? Gen. Yup. She notes too that there are more people now than ever before who are the product of divorced parents. Probably true, but who cares? There are probably less people living right now who are the product of parents killed by typhoid, mammoth attack or falling boulders, too.

Like you said, she probably Googles herself a lot, and maybe she'll see this. And the whole naming-generations-like-they're-pets or something thing needs to go. It leads to sloppy thinking.

10:16 AM  
Blogger Lillian said...

very smooth assesments. thanks for the constructive feedback. though rich, aunty christ did not actually say that i google myself a lot, you just came up with that. one of the best things about googling my name these days is the stupendous troll comments i sometimes find. it's pretty incredible what people are willing to write in the name of getting others fired up. you two did a good job though, specifically spelling my name all the way out so that i would find it easily, and then switching to writing "mongo" in an attempt to piss me off schoolyard fashion. very clever actually. keep it up, maybe you'll get chelsea cain upset. best of luck!

3:58 PM  
Blogger disco boy said...

"mongo only pawn in game of life".

10:52 AM  
Blogger George Popham said...

I accidentally put this comment in the previous entry when I meant to put it here. But it looks like this territory has already stirred up some shit, on account of a genuine journalist "pooping her pants." When I worked at ______ news paper, I was alwasy struck by how frail the ego's of so many journalist's are and how they consider themselves to be "heavy intellectuals" on account of being publishe in the fish wrappings there. Anyhow here is what I thought about he post, now commented in the right place: You hit all the important parts of this issue. This stuff operates at the level of bird-gut-o-mancy. I love the way you brought out the the manner in which they make these controversial claims and then proceed to qualify them to pieces. And yet we have a brand new prejudice all the same.

We are in a cultural trance right now and the mania for generalization is one huge aspect of it. It gives one a psychological sense of control to speak of completely chaotic systems - like, the human mind, say - as if they were just as straight forward to understand as gross macro-physics. Sure generalizations work well enough for inanimate objects and lunar landings. But that kind of thinking is just a bullshit machine when applied to the human psyche. Future historians will regard it as a type of witchcraft.

6:58 PM  

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