What do the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM) and the typical roleplaying game player’s handbook (PHB) have in common? The character typographies that both articulate are what Kenneth Burke would call “recipes for wise living, sometimes moral, sometimes technical” for fantasy worlds. Burke got this idea of recipes for living by analyzing proverbs through a sociological and rhetorical lens. He concluded that these short, pithy statements were a form of literary medicine, and that their medicinal quality could be found in all things literary. According to Burke, the medicinal quality of proverbs comes from their “naming” function, orRead More →

Relationship advice on the internet is worse than something in Cosmo or Ladies’ Home Journal, mostly due to sheer volume and banality. The 9 Smartest Marriage Tips Ever from Salon bobbed through the data streams today, its author claiming to provide new, useful information derived from experts who ranged from her grandmother to the latest research. The article disappointed on that front. Two things are worth noting, though: Marriage is like a credit card. Indeed. The economic model is a common trope for relationships. Turning this metaphor into a credit card is both crass and dangerous given today’s economy. Too many people spend beyond theirRead More →

The place of public speaking in the general education curriculum is constantly questioned. The image of communication majors in pop culture sheds light on why. Because “it’s kinda hard to put into words.” I experienced a moment of synchronicity to illustrate this. The moment is circular, a snake eating its tail. First, I received yet another email stating professional concern for eliminating public speaking in the general education curriculum. Then, later in the week, I watched a disturbing scene that negatively portrayed the communication major in the popular sitcom, Two and a Half Men.  This moment is circular because I don’t know which is the chickenRead More →

Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death makes a perfect reading for Introduction to Humanities this semester, particularly Chapter 4 (“The Typographic Mind”). Unable to find a free PDF or DOC version online, and unwilling to scan one myself, I opted for the Sparknotes because I am a lazy, bankrupt educator. But SparkNotes are better than a YouTube claymation right? I ran into this amusing, ironic, and depressing exchange on a forum. The exchange is started by a desperate student trying to locate a free copy of the book. The haters accuse him of thievery, point him to the library, or recommend he ask a cuteRead More →

Nonverbal communication expresses power and dominance. In public, professional settings, who gets to touch whom and the nature of that touch play out and define gender relations. Because it’s typically subtle, people are often unaware of this dynamic. When it’s more obvious, those in the “one down” position see it clearly, and those in the power position remain oblivious due to their sense of entitlement. The stereotypical male boss/female secretary and male customer/female waitress interactions illustrate this over and over again. Of course, as gender roles change, the accompanying nonverbal behaviors change with them. Hillary is the perfect example. Let’s track the changes, from oldRead More →

Teaching issues of race and other identity categories presents a challenge in a racially mixed classroom. Student responses to race-related topics are unpredictable, and can send irretrievably shut down classroom dynamics for the rest of the semester. Last semester, for instance,  as some intentionally provocative students claimed that black people really do like fried chicken, others genuinely bought into the stereotype, and the class deteriorated into a discussion about fried chicken, rather than the point of stereotypes. Reigning in these kinds of conversations get increasingly difficult, and conversations get more uncomfortable and tense as conservative rhetoric toward people of color gets more hostile. If theRead More →

The Black Doll, White Doll test was used in the Brown vs. Board of Ed case to contest desegregation. A 17-year-old high school student made a documentary, A Girl Like Me, revisiting this test today to see how much things have changed. Not much. The clip is great to show in class for discussions about race and identity. It’s useful for talking about how communication influences perception and the self. The Black Doll, White Doll test asks black children to choose between a white doll and a black doll, asking questions such as “which doll is the prettiest” (they pick the white doll),  “which dollRead More →

A great team building activity is the spaghetti marshmallow tower. In this activity, students build a tower made out of spaghetti sticks and marshmallows in order to assess their performance and communication skills in a team situation. To build the tower, the students must “buy” their materials (spaghetti = 10 ¢, large marshmallow = 25¢, small marshmallow = 5¢). The tallest tower wins, the cheapest breaks a tie. The rules are that the tower must (a) support a ping pong ball at the top, and (b) stand freely long enough to measure. Often the groups get competitive with each other, which makes the activity entertainingRead More →

Today has been an interesting lesson in stereotypes. Lesson one: A guest speaker from Deaf Services in BR come to the Interpersonal Communication class. He was dynamic and interesting, and the students loved him. The capital D is important to people in the Deaf community, by the way. Deaf culture is fascinating, particularly as it illustrates major concepts from communication studies. I’ve been fascinated about it ever since a friend of mine demonstrated the way that sign language is not a literal interpretation, but a more poetic one.  She did this by signing a song. Audre Lorde once said that it’s good to educate yourselfRead More →