From Round to Square (and back)

For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project:

A new post appears every day at 12:05* (CDT). There's more, though. Take a look at the right-hand side of the page for over four years of material (2,000 posts and growing) from Seinfeld and country music to every single day of the Chinese lunar calendar...translated. Look here ↓ and explore a little. It will take you all the way down the page...from round to square (and back again).
*Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Seinfeld Ethnography (38)—Dunkin' Joe

Click here for an introduction to the Round and Square series Argonauts of the Seinfeldian Specific.

[a] Yankee Clipper RF
Click below for all "Seinfeld Ethnography" posts: 
Marine Biologist         The Doorman          Opposite George   Newman's Mail   The Bootleg         Marriage
Just Dessert               Sleep Desk             Late Coffee            High Stakes        Motor Oil              Downtown 
Code Cracking           Nonfat Yogurt          Bad Boy                 It's Not You         I Can't Be...          Exploding Wallet
Elaine Flies Coach    The Close Talker     The Alliance           Broccoli               Coated Culture    Dinner Party
George's Friend        Jerry's Haircut          Face Paint             Mustachioed       Smoking              East River
Pool Man                   Dunkin' Joe              Life Lessons          Reckoning          Dog Medicine      Shower Heads
Looking Busy            George Tips             Kramer's Job          Empty Tank
Click here for the reference to the "Argonauts" title, below.
Argonauts of the Seinfeldian Specific
On the high seas of Manhattan, Kramer stalks the Yankee Clipper. He studies him, ponders him, reflects upon his actions, and attempts to distract him. Cosmo Kramer finds his ethnographic prey, analyzes it, and then reports to his fellow ethnographers. It's a veritable social science laboratory report. Take a look.
[b] JoeMar RF
"Oh, he's a dunker...He dunks like he hits." For those of you under the age of seventy, you may only know of Joe DImaggio through the various post-retirement windows of Marilyn Monroe, a never-broken record baseball record, and coffee-makers. If you are under seventy or not a baseball fan (every baseball fan knows all about Joe Dimaggio), you may only know him through the lines of song. The key lines are at 3:05.

Yup, he was that big—a large part of America's twentieth century mythology. The natives of the island of Seinfeld know him, too. Joltin' Joe was New York—as New York as a native of San Francisco could ever be. He led the Yankees to ten American League pennants and nine World Series championships. He was a hands-down, first-ballot Hall of Famer.

[c] Dunkin' RF
Part of Joe Dimaggio's allure, from the beginnings of his career all the way to Seinfeldian doughnut shops, was his ability to tune out everything else. That is how he dealt with the pressure of a fifty-six game hitting streak in the summer of 1941. If you have ever followed a major league baseball player's hitting streak, you know that the news starts to trickle into the mainstream when it climbs to twenty-five straight games or so. By the time it reaches thirty (relatively few hitters have accomplished even that), the pressure is intense. With forty (only a handful have accomplished that), the entire nation is watching, every night, and the pitchers aren't throwing you anything. Dimaggio was able to tune it all out—all the chatter—almost twice as long as most of the successful hitting streaks, and fully two weeks longer than anyone...ever. One of the best "back stories" in all of baseball is that, after the streak ended, Dimaggio hit in seventeen more straight games. He was 73/74 in that stretch of the summer of 1941. If you play baseball, that pretty much lies in the ethereal realms above. Many pundits have described it as one of the few baseball records that will not be broken (soon). This man knew how to focus, whether it was on a 3-2 fastball or his doughnut and coffee. Cosmo Kramer yelping and slamming wasn't going to distract Joltin' Joe.
***  ***
This week, we'll examine the idea of focus. I have not encountered a society (in person or in print) in which I can't find something analogous to what Kramer calls focus in the clip above. That's the beauty of historical and cultural studies, though. There is all the difference in the world between focusing on the pitch count while hitting singles, doubles, triples, and homers, on the one hand, and engaging in high stakes potlatch competition in Alert Bay. As you read these passages, think about Joe at the plate, just ready to jolt the next hanging curve into the gap in right-center field. Just think about it. Dunkin', hittin', potlatchin', witch doctorin' (and even circumcisin') have more in common than we might think. It's all about focus. 

Franz Boas
Grease Feasts (1943)
[d] Conflict AD
The rivalry between chiefs, when carried so far that coppers are destroyed and that grease feasts are given in order to destroy the prestige of a rival, often develop into open enmity. When a person gives a grease feast, a great fire is lighted in the center of the house. The flames leap up to the roof and the guests are almost scorched by the heat. Still the etiquette demands that they do not stir, else the host's fire has conquered them. Even when the roof begins to burn and the fire attacks the rafters, they must appear unconcerned. The host alone has the right to send a man up to the roof to put out the fire. While the feast is in progress the host sings a scathing song ridiculing his rival and praising his own clan, the feats of his forefathers and his own. Then the grease is filled in large spoons and passed to the rival chief first. If a person thinks he has given a greater grease feast than that offered by the host, he refuses the spoon. Then he runs out of the house to fetch his copper to "squelch the fire." The host proceeds at once to tie a copper to each of his house posts. If he should not do so, the person who refused the spoon would on returning strike the posts with the copper, which is considered equal to striking the chief's face. Then the man who went to fetch his copper breaks it and gives it to the host. This is called "squelching the host's fire."[1]

Victor Turner
Muchona the Hornet (1967)
[e] Focus of Symbols AD
This was the Muchona at whom men might scoff—at whom some did scoff, although others who had been treated by him for illness took a different view. Along with other motives less altruistic perhaps, Muchona had a genuine desire to cure the ailing, and help the unlucky by his magical therapy. For instance, he would often say when describing how he first came to learn some curative technique, "I dearly wanted to cure well by means of Kaneng'a [or Kayong'u or some other ritual]." Kaneng'a doctors are often feared, as well as invoked, for they are the authentic "witch doctors" who fight off the attacks of those given to the use of black art against their kin and neighbors. There is an implicit threat in the very knowledge the Kaneng'a doctors possess about the ways of witches and sorcerers. Muchona himself practiced a modified form of Kaneng'a, exempt from most of its terrifying elements. Thus, while most Kaneng'a practitioners collected medicine from the interior of graves, and some would even brandish human thighbones while they danced, Muchona merely took grass from the surface of graves and leaves and barkscrapings from trees growing in a circle around them.

It is difficult to deduce attitudes from the behavior of members of another culture, but I once attended a Kaneng'a of Muchona's in company with a South African artist from Natal who has seen Zulu doctors at work. Muchona was treating an unfortunate woman who was suffering from delusions as the result of puerperal fever. My friend was impressed by what he called the "compassionateness" of Muchona's demeanor. Gone was the rather uneasy pertness and comicality of his usual manner; in its stead was an almost maternal air—kind, capable hands washing with medicine, a face full of grave concern. My friend commented on the "heroism" with which Muchona, at one phase of the ritual, ventured out alone into the ghost-ridden graveyard, far from the firelight, to exorcise the agencies of evil that were making the poor victim writhe and babble nonsense. He subdued his fear to his curative vocation.[2]

Laura Bohannan
Tiv Circumcision (1954)
[f] Levity AD
One day Kako came to tell me that a skilled "cutter" had come to circumcise all the boys in the homestead. I nerved myself to witness, and tried to drum up some enthusiasm by telling myself I was lucky to have the chance. In a tribe where there are no bush schools, no regular circumcision ceremonies, only a conviction that men must be circumcised before they had anything to do with women, an opportunity to see the thing done and make sure that what they had told me was so could only happen by chance. Still, I didn't relish it. However, Accident, who was among those to be operated on, was almost exuberant at the prospect. "Then I shall be a man," he told me proudly. With all the energy of his eight years he round and round the homestead with a boasting shout, "After tomorrow let all women beware of me. Oi! But I shall be a man indeed!"

We met early the next morning—blood, like oil, congeals in the chill of the morning; no one would perform such an operation at noon when the blood flows freely. We all watched Kako manipulate ritual symbols as he ceremonially removed all magical danger from the fourteen boys. If all magical precautions were taken and witches were successfully warded off, there could be no danger in the operation.

Men, women, and children gathered around to watch and hearten the lads. Myself pale and shaken from watching, I paid full tribute to the endurance they showed. Most of the boys bit their lips in silence; any stifled moan that escaped them was drowned in the shouted encouragement of the by-standers: "Have courage!" "Strengthen your heart!" "Now you are a man!" A few, like Accident, managed to gasp out faint bawdiness, "Whittle carefully there. Many women will judge your work!" No matter how feeble the jest, such sallies were greeted with great applause. "Our little brother has a strong heart." "He who jokes under the knife will not fear lions."[3]

[1] Franz Boas, Kwakiutl Ethnography [Edited by Helen Codere] (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966), 95-96.
[2] Victor Turner, The Forest of Symbols (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967), 137.
[3] Elenore Smith Bowen, Return to Laughter (New York: Anchor Books, 1964), 259-260.
Boas, Franz. Kwakiutl Ethnography [Edited by Helen Codere]. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966.
Bowen, Elenore Smith. Return to Laughter. New York: Anchor Books, 1964.
Turner, Victor. The Forest of Symbols. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967.

Wednesday, February 8th
Kramer Talks Life
Kramer and George have a discussion about their lives. Mostly George's. It ain't pretty. Join us next week for cultural approaches to life, companionship, and coming of age. 

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