March 2009


picture-1Interesting recent article in The Jamaica Observer where UWI folks are using peer ethnography as a way to not only gather the data and the stories for their work but to draw those data and stories into their study through the lens of other street kids. The article focuses on a young higgler youth in Kingston named Blacks. An excerpt:

“When mi turn 16, mi si some people who seh dem a mi family, but mi nuh really know,” he says somberly. “Mi nuh like all di one who seh she a mi mother. As a matter of fact, mi hate har because of all that happen.”

According to Blacks, had his mother done what she was supposed to do as a parent, he would not be living on the streets.

“She come in like she out of her mind. She nuh really understand,” he says, his tone angry. “More time mi just feel pissed off. Mi know seh if she waan duh certain things (differently), mi wouldn’t de yah suh.”

Blacks’ sentiments mirror those of other youths in the 2007 study entitled ‘Force Ripe’: How youth of three selected working-class communities assess their identity, support and authority systems, including their relationship with the police. Youth in that study felt that they were being used by various groups in society, namely parents, the church, and the police.

Funded by the World Bank and managed by the now-concluded Jamaica Social Policy Evaluation Project (JASPEV), the investigations were undertaken by Dr Herbert Gayle as the principal investigator and his colleague from the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, Horace Levy.

“They feel isolated and that people are using them and while it may not be true, the fact is that they feel this way means that it is serious enough for the adults in the society to deal with,” said Criminologist Professor Bernard Headley, in commenting on the study at the time. “It is a matter of trust. It means that something is wrong between us, and them. There has to be mutual trust.”

The work looked at youths between 15 and 29 years old from two inner-city areas and one rural community, and employed the use of peer ethnography. The technique saw young people interviewing each other and then returning to researchers Gayle and Levy, who, in turn, interviewed them. 

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A month or so ago, after coming in to the office from watching Daniel Craig in Defiance the night before, one of the movie’s side-stories emerged as a fleeting hot topic between me and a few colleagues: forest wives. Maybe just one colleague. It grabbed my imagination. It grabbed Andrew’s imagination. I don’t think it totally grabbed the imagination of everyone else. Whatever, we got it: the idea that, removed from the relationships forged through social reality (because you’re hiding in the forest to avoid the SS), a man would take on a ‘forest wife’. Conversely, so as not to seem as if this forest phenomena was a one-way gender thing – the movie was, after all, told primarily from the position of the men engaged in fighting the Nazis – it’s likely that the women in the film reality were, off camera, talking about their forest husbands. What struck us, I think, was not only the catchy phrase (forest wife does sound sort of fun) but also how, when social realities inspire, necessitate or motivate them to do so, people can be very fluid, flexible and creative when it comes to defining, pursuing and living their relationships. And so we joked about office wives, club wives, grocery store wives…all the wives in all the social settings that might be married in and by the imagination.
As a blissfully married man, I won’t be taking any imaginative wives in those places. I’ll leave that up to my unmarried colleague. However, I will admit a soft-spot for occasionally taking on a TV wife. A TV wife, for me, is often my portal to fully immersing myself in and committing to a show. While I’m not sure I was married to them, there have been definite attractions to both Claire and Brenda in Six Feet Under; Karen in Californication; Bette on The L Word (I know, I know); Kate, Sun and the blonde doctor who lived with the Others on the current season of Lost; and, when she’s not coked-out, even Kimber on Nip/Tuck.  I’m currently watching the second season of Big Love, so full disclosure is required. My TV wife is Margene.
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I love Margene because she’s full of energy, she’s hot, she’s (at least in Season Two) an anchor between Barb, Nicki and Bill, she’s an anchor for Benny, she’s fun, she’s a survivor and she’s lots more. A TV wife’s characteristics are central to marrying her, but I’ll skip from those to why I’m writing about my fictional nuptials.
In the literature on communication, performance, theatre and other cultural studies, the act of identifying and building an imaginative relationship with someone on TV has been variously tagged as para-social interaction, subjective dramatic play and inter-subjectivity. The same phenomena occurs while reading a book – and there’s some very insightful essays that look into how this process occurs in romance novels where, in a twist of identification, women readers adopt the position/character of the rogue or romantic male in order to imaginatively engage with the female characters.
What we engage with differs. On Families.com you’ll find a list and discussion of  one blogger’s greatest TV wives from the 1950s onwards. It includes the likes of Elyse Keaton (Family Ties), Jennifer Hart (Hart to Hart), Roseanne Connor (Roseanne),  Tami Taylor (Friday Night Lights) and, of course, Marge Simpson. These women made this woman’s list primarily for qualities that speak to strength of character. Another list on Starpulse.com measures TV wives much the same way. It lists Louise Jefferson, Peggy Bundy, Clair Huxtable, Carmela Soprano and, of course, Marge Simpson. Then there are those who would marry for hotness alone. On Rock The List you’ll find a list of The 28 Most Ravishing TV Wives – fictional women like Mary Tyler Moore, Linda Evans, Eva Gabor, Cheryl Hiens and, in hindsight, my first TV wife: Elizabeth Montgomery from Bewitched.
Based on their character, quality and beauty and through the narratives emerge between how they are written and how we write them, TV wives could – and should – be a model for building brands and customer experiences. Then again, I’ll take Margene (until the next wife?) and my own imaginative aspirationalism over that of a sneaker, a soft drink or a mobile phone any day. Sorry, Bill.

You know He would approve. Make sure watch through them all.

Forget product mash-ups. How about radical new applications…the kind that would have Popeye cigarettes rolling in their grave. And how about the furtive glances to make sure who ever he borrowed the camera from in his family don’t catch him in the act.