Tag Archives: research

Research: What Counts as a Source?

I’m enrolled in Rowan University’s Master’s in Writing graduate program. I’m currently working on my master’s thesis project, a project which represents the bulk of my final year’s work. The requirement of the thesis is a 30,000 word written work (or equivalent, as some students are pursuing research-heavy academic projects that will come in at lower word counts for the same amount of effort). The type of project is open-ended; some students are writing memoirs or nonfiction pieces, others are doing academic research, and others are writing novels. I’m using the thesis project to write the sixth book in the Arcana Revived series, following the stories of Gabby Palladino and Tock Zipporah, who made their debut appearances in my first novel, Manifestation.

Part of the thesis project, in addition to writing the novel itself, is creating an annotated bibliography of the sources that informed or inspired my work. In the case of a creative work of fiction, such as mine, this can include the works of fiction that inspired me or where I drew some of my ideas from.

But what counts as a “source” in this context? Well, the professor is pretty open minded about that. Our sources can include, among other things, books, movies, news articles, poetry, and in my case, webcomics and video games.

Some of my sources are, naturally, fiction novels:
Jordon, R. (1990-2013). The Wheel of Time. New York, NY: Tor.
Anthony, P. (1977-2014). The Xanth Series. New York, NY: Del Rey, Tor.
Hickman, L., Hickman, T., & Weis, M. (1984-2014). Dragonlance. New York, NY: Random House.
Roberts, R. (2014). Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m A Supervillain. Virginia: Curiosity Quills.
Boswell, H. (2012). Mythology. United States: Artemathene Books.

I listed the various novels that have influenced me in different ways. In some cases, they influenced the way I write about magic (The Wheel of Time, Xanth). In other cases, they influenced how I write about specific elements in my series such as steampunk-style inventions (Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m A Supervillain) or angels and demons (Mythology). Or even how I’m structuring the different novels and collections in my series (Dragonlance). I deliberately chose a wide variety of sources in order to show the various ways that my work has built off of what came before me.

Some books, naturally, aren’t going to be works of fiction:
Stein, S. (1995). Stein on Writing. London: St. Martin’s Press.

In this case, it’s a book on writing techniques that greatly informed the way my novel is written, from the character descriptions, to the dialogue, to the way the chapters are laid out. These variables are as big of an overall influence as any specific works of fiction that inspired me.

But what about a book that, well, isn’t exactly something you’d expect to see cited in a bibliography?:
Martin, J. & Rateliff, J. (Eds.). (2003). Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide. Renton, WA: Wizards of the Coast.

That’s right. I’m citing the DMG, because it taught me a lot about world-building, from designing my cities to developing the politics and culture of my world. I also drew from concepts of the multiverse and various parallel dimensions, which are common D&D tropes. My characters explore some alternate dimensions where the laws of physics aren’t quite what you’d expect, and my designs of those dimensions were heavily influenced by the DMG.

And, of course, there’s another book that I drew heavily from:
God. (1400 B.C.). The Holy Bible. Moses (Ed.) Manuscripts written while children of Israel wandered the wilderness for forty years after the Exodus.

Yes, I’m serious and yes, that’s how I’m citing it in my bibliography. That’s correct APA format for citing a book edited by someone other than the author (Moses transcribing God’s words). And I’m quite serious about the importance of the bible in my writing. My main character, Gabby Palladino, is very religious. Over the course of the novels she’s struggled with falling prey to the seven deadly sins, she’s worried about the state of her immortal soul, and she’s sought guidance frequently through prayer. And from her own persona guardian angel.

But what about sources that aren’t actually books?:
Foglio, K. & Foglio, P. (2000-2014). Girl Genius. Retrieved from http://www.girlgeniusonline.com/

Girl Genius is a webcomic that heavily influenced my other main character, Tock Zipporah. Many of her personality traits as a mad scientist/inventor are based on Agatha Heterodyne, protagonist of the Girl Genius series. Without reading that series, Tock wouldn’t be who she is today.

Then, of course, there’s movies and TV shows:
Johnson, M., Steuer, P., & Adamson, A. (2005). The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. United States: Walt Disney Pictures, Walden Media.
Whedon, J., Greenwalt, D., Noxon, M., Kuzui, F., & Kuzui, K. (1997-2003). Buffy the Vampire Slayer [Television series]. Los Angeles: 20th Century Fox.
Kring, T., Hammer, D., Arkush, A., & Beeman, G. (2006-2010). Heroes [Television series]. Philadelphia, New York: NBC Universal Television Distribution.
Todd, J., Todd, S., & Nolan, C. (2000). Memento [Motion picture]. United States: Summit Entertainment.

I drew different types of inspiration from these different shows and movies. Memento is a heavy inspiration for my newest major character, Jaden Farrell, who suffers from severe memory problems. The Chronicles of Narnia influenced Gabby Palladino, who, as you can see here, is modeled after Susan Pevensie, played by Anna Popplewell. And Buffy and Heroes influenced me as works with superheroes and supernatural forces fighting in grand struggles for the fate of the world.

One last source, of course, might be the one that stands out the most:
Sakaguchi, H., Kitase, Y. & Ito, H. (1994). Final Fantasy VI [Super Nintendo game]. United States: Square Enix.

Yes, I’m citing Final Fantasy in the bibliography for my master’s thesis project. I’ve mentioned the influence Final Fantasy has on my writing before, starting with the concept of magic returning to a world that had lost it. Some of the Final Fantasy summoned monsters, like Shiva, Leviathan, Quetzalcoatl, and Titan, also influenced the types of monsters that appear in my later books. In fact, this video game was probably the most important and influential source of all, more than any of the books I’m citing.

It just goes to show that inspiration can come in a variety of forms. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t draw on unorthodox sources in your research. What you find might just surprise you.


mani_promoManifestation is available on:

Createspace in paperback

and Amazon in ebook and paperback.

Westville Baptist Church, Nothing Like Westboro Baptist Church

I’m not really sure what a “baptist” is. I assume it has something to do with being baptized, though I know non-baptist churches still perform baptisms, so clearly I’m missing something here. Despite this, I decided to visit the Westville Baptist Church this week, hoping for a better experience than the Victory in Christ Christian Center I visited last week.

Westville Baptist 2

The Westville Baptist Church is a small, quaint place. It immediately gave me a more community feel. When I entered there was music playing, but unlike the last church, this music didn’t make me feel like I was in a club. It was simple, easy-listening music about Jesus and love and so on and so forth. There was a small computer displaying the lyrics on a projector screen, but it wasn’t as flashy and overdone the way the big-screen TVs and colored lights at the VICCC were.

Only about 19 people showed up, counting me and the pastor. Most of them were over 60, and they talked to each other like they’d been coming here together for decades. Half a dozen different people said “Good morning” to me and shook my hand. It certainly made me feel welcome.

The pastor stepped up wearing knee-length denim shorts and a flannel shirt. It was far more casual than what I was used to. The pastor at the VICCC was wearing a suit, and the priests at the churches I visited as a kid always wore religious-type robes. Though I’m all about a casual church. I’ve never understood the point in going to church in your “Sunday best.” Wasn’t God all about immodesty and running around the garden naked until we sinful humans gained knowledge about our bodies and learned shame? Casual Sundays seem like the right way to “keep the Sabbath day holy.”

The VICCC opened with a series of sales pitches and video advertisements, along with reminders to hit the gift shop after the sermon. Westville Baptist, on the other hand, opened with prayers for people in need.

Prayers 2

I much preferred the talk about people in need over the sales pitches I got from the other church. This church also didn’t try to con people out of 10% of their income for tithes. When it came time to pass the collection plates at the VICCC, we were subjected to a long lecture about what percentage of our income should go to the church, what should go to our savings, what should be spent on luxuries, etc. This church was silent about all these subjects and passed the plates without a word. The only time they mentioned anything about donations was to bring up a recent accident where someone ran their car into the church, since the repairs had to be funded by donations. This seemed like a pretty reasonable thing to ask for help with.

The sermon here was different as well. At the VICCC, the pastor only spoke for thirty minutes before giving the floor back to more sales pitches. Here, the bulk of the time was focused on the sermon itself, and nothing was rushed.

I got pretty confused during the sermon itself. There was a lot of stuff about a guy named Hezekiah, who apparently was a really cool dude at first and loved God so much that when he was dying, God answered his prayers and gave him an extra fifteen years to live. But then he got all rich and powerful and turned his back on God and that was bad. I’m not entirely sure what the message was, other than “Greed is bad” and “Don’t forget to watch what you get into.” Which seems like a good message and all, though I think some of it was lost on me.

I’m also pretty sure I’m going to hell, since when the pastor was making a metaphor about gardening and pulling out the weeds of your soul, he said, “I really don’t mind getting down on my knees to take care of stuff,” and my first thought was “That’s what she said.” He also later said, “I remind you that you are not junk.” All I could think of was how Tyler Durden said the exact opposite.

Tyler Durden

In the end, I’m not sure what I got out of the experience. There was a lot of stuff in the sermon about how we’re supposed to accept that we are living our lives wrong and that we need to embrace Jesus and follow the path that God laid out for us. And I don’t agree with any of that, because I believe in free will. I can’t accept the idea that I’m supposed to live my life according to someone else’s plan.

There was also some stuff that just made no logical sense whatsoever. Like a passage the pastor read from Mark 7, about how the Jewish priests were all like, “Dude, why aren’t you guys washing your hands before you eat! You’re gonna get sick!” And Jesus was like, “Evil isn’t what comes into the body because it gets absorbed through the stomach, evil is what comes out from our souls through our actions.” And while philosophically the idea of paying attention to your actions makes sense, Jesus still told people they don’t need to wash their hands before eating. My understanding of a lot of the old testament rules were that a lot of them were just good hygiene and common sense. I can agree with the idea that we don’t need to think of hand washing as a religious thing or that skipping it is going to bring “evil” into our bodies, but it will bring bacteria into our bodies. Maybe bacteria are the devil.

They're coming to take your soul and give you the flu.
They’re coming to take your soul and give you the flu.

At the end of the sermon, almost everyone in the church shook my hand and thanked me for coming. I was wearing one of my Rowan University shirts, so I got into a nice conversation with the pastor about education, engineering, and my studies in the master’s program. They invited me to come back again, and everyone was quite friendly and welcoming. Which are feelings I didn’t have at the last church I visited.

Whether I’ll go again is uncertain, but at the very least I feel like this was a more calm and communal than the VICCC. This place, at least, felt like a church, not like a sales seminar.

Imperial Citation Needed

HULK SMASH RESEARCHERS WHO DON'T PROPERLY CITE THEIR SOURCES
HULK SMASH RESEARCHERS WHO DON’T PROPERLY CITE THEIR SOURCES

Research is important in your writing. If you’re an academic writer, you’ll probably spend a lot of time researching academic journals and other dense literary or scientific texts. If you’re a journalist, you’ll need to check your facts to make sure you’re reporting accurate information. And if you’re a fiction writer, you’ll inevitably need to research some pretty strange things for your stories and novels.

The thing with research, however, is that some people don’t tend to verify their sources. Serious academic research requires citation of every source used (usually in APA or MLA format, or something similar). An average news article, blog post, or short story, however, probably won’t have a list of references at the end. You can always just say your Muse is your source, but that won’t tend to fly with an Institutional Review Board.

Even worse is when people don’t bother to check something just because it’s “common knowledge” or something everyone takes for granted. Often, the things people take for granted turn out to be more complex than they think, if not just factually inaccurate. As an example, let’s talk about Imperial Storm Troopers.

Watch out. I'm about to trick you. Don't say I didn't warn you.
Watch out. I’m about to trick you. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Everyone knows the Imperial Storm Troopers. Your droids aren’t the ones they’re looking for. They don’t need to see your identification. And they’re definitely far more precise with their blaster shots than the Sand People. In fact, they’re the most deadly and accurate force in the galaxy.

I know what you’re going to say. I hear it all the time. Because “everyone knows it.” You’re going to tell me that Storm Troopers are the worst marksmen ever to grace the big screen. Their aim is so legendarily bad that there’s an entire TV Tropes page dedicated to it. They couldn’t hit the broad side of a Bantha. They couldn’t even hit a Star Trek Red Shirt.

a-redshirt-and-a-stormtrooper-get-into-a-fightThis bit of “common knowledge” is completely inaccurate, and I’m going to prove it by citing sources from the Star Wars movies.

I’m only going to use the movies, since the books, video games, and other expanded universe offerings aren’t necessarily considered canon in some instances. I’m also only going to discuss Episodes IV, V, and VI, since the Storm Troopers in those movies are supposed to be ordinary humans rather than genetically enhanced clone soldiers (and the clones had FAR better accuracy in Episodes I, II, and III). I’ll keep a running tally as I go along, and by the end, I think you’ll be convinced that Storm Troopers are a deadly force that should never be underestimated.

We’ll start with the following clip, the opening battle of Episode IV:

In that opening scene, there are initially 10 rebel defenders. 7 are shot down right away. 3 escape around the corner but they get shot down moments later. Another 7 reinforcements are there around the corner, but a few moments later we see them captured. Grand total that’s 17 rebels taken down (10 dead, 7 captured). I won’t count the captured ones in the tally since we can assume they surrendered. Grand total only 3 Storm Troopers get shot in that scene. Then Leia gets one more before she gets shot and stunned, so that’s another point for each side.

Score: Storm Troopers 11, Rebels 4

After that the Storm Troopers kill a swarm of Jawas when they’re looking for the droids. That’s when Obi Wan says his famous line about how “only Imperial Storm Troopers are so precise.” I won’t count the Jawas, however, since they die off-camera. Still, this is a battle won for the Imperials.

The next time the heroes encounter the Storm Troopers is when they’re escaping from Mos Eisley Cantina. Han, and Han alone, is outside the Millennium Falcon when the Storm Troopers alive. The Storm Troopers miss him and he escapes. He blasts the building to make some sparks to drive the Storm Troopers back, but he doesn’t hit any of them himself. So this scene is a tie.

Score: Storm Troopers 11, Rebels 4

Then we get to the Death Star. This sequence seems like the worst offenders for people who think Storm Troopers can’t hit anything. Except that the Storm Troopers were missing on purpose.

As soon as the Millennium Falcon reaches the Death Star, we cut to a scene where Darth Vader discusses the upcoming execution of Princess Leia. He says, “They must be trying to return the stolen plans to the Princess. She may yet be of some use to us.” We later learn that at this point, Vader hatched a plan to attach a tracking device to the ship and let the rebels escape. It’s therefore logical to assume that Vader ordered all the Storm Troopers not to kill any of the rebels (either that or he used the Force to influence their minds, but either way, he wanted the rebels to escape). Vader and Tarkin don’t even seem surprised or concerned when they receive the alert that there’s intruders in the cell block. Vader just calmly goes off to deal with Obi Wan, because while they want Leia to escape, Vader doesn’t want her to have Jedi help when she gets away.

So any further battles in Episode IV don’t count, since the Imperials are taking a dive. That leaves a final score in Episode IV of: Storm Troopers 11, Rebels 4. The ship-vs-ship battles during the ending don’t count since we’re gauging Storm Trooper accuracy in personal combat, not piloting skills. Let’s move on to Episode V.

Episode V starts off on the Ice Planet Hoth. Early on, we have a long, epic battle between the rebels and the Imperial forces. By the end of this battle, the rebels flee, and their base is completely overrun:

Unfortunately, there’s not really a lot of “ground troops” fighting. The Imperials use the AT-AT walkers to do most of the damage, and by the time ground troops enter the base, there’s really no one left to shoot at. So the Battle of Hoth is definitely a win for the Imperials, but it’s not something that can really affect the score. Still, every battle the Storm Troopers have been in so far in both movies, they’ve won. Counting the raid on Leia’s ship, slaughtering the Jawas, and raiding Hoth, that’s three major wins for the Imperials. The only time the rebels won anything was when the Imperials let them escape.

The next time we see Storm Troopers is in the cloud city of Bespin. They blast C-3PO to bits, so that’s another point for them. Then Luke arrives and Vader gives them orders to lure Luke to the carbon-freezing room. So when the Storm Troopers see him, they take a few shots at him to drive him off, but they intentionally miss again. Then just after Boba Fett takes off with Han, some Storm Troopers ambush Leia, Lando, and Chewbacca. Chewie manages to kill one Storm Trooper there. So far, that’s putting us at Storm Troopers 12, Rebels 5.

After some lightsaber dueling between Vader and Luke, we see Leia shoot a Storm Trooper. Then one misses Chewie, and both Chewie and Leia kill one more each. Chewie drops two more while R2D2 is opening the door to get to the Falcon. And Lando kills one when they get outside. That puts us at Storm Troopers 12, Rebels 11. Then Leia drops one final Storm Trooper right before the Falcon takes off, and the Rebels catch up, Storm Troopers 12, Rebels 12. Near the end of the second movie and we’re finally tied.

Moving on to Episode VI, we start off on Tattooine fighting brigands and bounty hunters. There’s no Storm Trooper action until we get to the battles at Endor.

Completely gratuitous picture of Princess Leia in the golden bikini.
Completely gratuitous picture of Princess Leia in the golden bikini.

Right before the speeder bike chase, Chewie shoots one Storm Trooper and Han takes another one down in a fist fight, so that’s 2 more points for the rebels. Luke throws a Storm Trooper off his bike to steal it, so that’s 3. Luke shoots one and that one crashes into a tree, so that’s 4. But then a Storm Trooper shoots Leia’s speeder and knocks her off, so that’s 1 for the Imperials. That same Storm Trooper crashes into a tree stump and dies, but that was his own stupidity and not anything Leia did, so no point there. Then the last Storm Trooper throws Luke off his bike right before Luke cuts his speeder in half with his lightsaber, so 1 and 1 there. Grand total, the speeder bike scene is 2 more for the Storm Troopers, 5 for the rebels.

Grand total for the movies is now Storm Troopers 14, Rebels 17.

Unscored Bonus: The last Storm Trooper in that scene got three perfectly-aimed shots off on Luke at the end. The only reason they missed is because Luke deflected them with his lightsaber.

Wicket_RotJ

Leia takes down two more Storm Troopers after she meets Wicket, putting the score at Storm Troopers 14, Rebels 19. Then we spend a lot of time with the Ewoks before we get back to any action.

No shots are fired getting into the back door of the shield generator. But then the big epic final battle with the Ewoks starts. This is the fight where the rebels finally start seriously kicking ass and taking names. Han alone takes down four, five, six Storm Troopers in a row, and the Ewoks are bashing heads like nobody’s business. There’s so many Storm Troopers being dropped in this scene that I couldn’t even keep accurate track of the score anymore.

So let’s look back and analyze the Storm Troopers’ performance across all the movies. Not counting any scenes where we have reason to believe the Imperials were losing on purpose, we have an interesting pattern here. In the first movie, the Storm Troopers have back-to-back victories and they easily kill twice as many rebels as the rebels do them. They continue to have steady victories through the second movie until they very end, when the heroes manage to score some kills during their desperate escape from Bespin. Then, finally, the rebels start pulling ahead in the third movie and they pull off a victory in the end.

To me, this pattern doesn’t show any signs of incompetence on the part of the Storm Troopers. Instead, it shows signs of the rebels constantly improving. They go from a ragtag band of heroes who barely pull off victories in the beginning to eventually become a well-organized force that can finally go toe-to-toe with the Imperial elites. That seems like a fitting way for a trilogy of movies to play out, with the heroes improving more and more as they go along. It shows that they earned their victory at the end through hard work, determination, and perseverance.

Bringing this back to the original point I started this blog post with, I analyzed this carefully, scene-by-scene. It was also a good excuse to marathon the Star Wars movies and spend 6 hours writing this blog post. Hopefully this demonstrates how an assumption can be reanalyzed and seen in a new light. Looking at each of the pieces step-by-step not only showed the inaccuracies of the preconceptions, but also showed a pattern that developed throughout the films. This pattern led to new conclusions which were supported by evidence.

Of course, it’s always possible you’ll have a different conclusion than mine. If so, I hope you cite your sources.

How Writers End Up On NSA Watchlists

Writers tend to research some strange things. Nuclear physics, brain tumor symptoms, the history of ancient Mesopotamia, how long bodies take to rot in the tropics . . . these topics are either the product of a deranged mind or the research material for a pretty interesting novel. Probably a little of both.

A lot of writers I know on Twitter tend to joke around about how we’re all going to end up on NSA watch lists because of our search histories. Well, I decided to delve into my own Google search history and use it as an example of the kinds of strange things we writers get up to, and how it might look to some government agent perusing my history while searching for terrorists.

I'm going to do us both a favor and not show you any of the search results from my more intimate personal activities (i.e. the porn I watch).
I’m going to do us both a favor and not show you any of the search results from my more intimate personal activities (i.e. the porn I watch).

You can access your personal Google search history if you have a Google account (I have one through my Gmail, and if you have a YouTube account that is also linked to Google). Just visit https://history.google.com/history/ and after entering your account ID and password, you’ll see a listing of all the search terms you’ve googled, going back who knows how far.

As you can see on the screenshot above, the history shows not only what search terms you used (“rowan health and wellness”), but also what site you ended up visiting (Student Health Services @ Rowan University). That means the NSA can tell not just what you’re looking for, but which sites you picked out from the list.

So let’s see what kind of trouble I’ve been getting into:

This already looks pretty bad, and I skipped over the more illicit stuff.
This already looks pretty bad, and I skipped over the more illicit stuff.

Irony, ponies, and stalkers. One might almost think that I’ve been stalking a girl who likes to ride horses and I’m planning a clandestine encounter out on the ranch. Either that or I was getting into etymological debates on Twitter.

I may be the only person in the world who will search for Schlock Mercenary, Galaxy Quest, and Mesopotamian and Sumerian language in the same day.
I may be the only person in the world who will search for Schlock Mercenary, Galaxy Quest, and Mesopotamian and Sumerian language in the same day.

Someone might wonder what I’m doing searching for the “Mesopotamian word for slave.” I can assure you, this isn’t some kinky fetish thing (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Actually, “Enkidu” ended up becoming the name of a new character in my current novel. The name basically means “Creation of the Deity of Crafts.” I found it fitting, considering my character Tock Zipporah is a golem-crafter.

Now things are getting a bit disturbing.
Now things are getting a bit disturbing.

And of course, in addition to researching ponies and Mesopotamian slave names, I did extensive research into decay rates of human bodies. As you can see, I spent quite a bit of time visiting multiple websites on this topic. It’s almost as if I’m planning to enslave someone and I want to know how long it’ll take the body to decay when I finish killing her. But that seems unlikely . . . maybe if we go a bit further back, there’ll be something in my search history that will shed some light on this and explain what I’ve really been up to.

I offer no explanation or apology for my search for a Russ troll with red hair wearing a Cubs jersey.
I offer no explanation or apology for my search for a Russ troll with red hair wearing a Cubs jersey.

Well, this certainly looks a bit more incriminating. Nuclear weapon yield, fallout radius, types of nuclear weapons. Either I’m part of a terrorist cell or I’m writing a novel where someone set off a nuke and I needed to research the death count of both the initial blast and the later radiation poisoning. Which might explain the research into human decomposition if I’m trying to find out how long the bodies of people that died of radiation poisoning would last out in the tropical heat before being reduced to bone and ash.

My Geek is showing.
My Geek is showing.

I have no explanation or excuse for this part. I’m just a Star Trek Geek.

Ignore the way the searches for "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" are in juxtaposition to searches about book sex if you want to keep your sanity.
Ignore the way the searches for “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” are in juxtaposition to searches about book sex if you want to keep your sanity.

Okay, this one looks like it would raise some eyebrows. “Books Having Sex”? “Slut shaming”? “Sex is evil”? Wow, either I’m a conservative Christian fundamentalist writing a sermon about the evils of sex in literature, or I was doing research for a recent blog post about sex and infidelity among the characters in romance novels. Either way, this could be seen as a bit disturbing.

I wonder what my mom would think if she saw this search history...
I wonder what my mom would think if she saw this search history…

And lastly, we have research into Mumbai, India, malnourishment, the Indian military, and ethnic cleansing and religious violence in India’s history. When you add this together with the research into nuclear weapons and body decomposition, I must seem like a deranged individual. But I can assure you, there’s a rational explanation for all of this.

All of these searches (well, most of them) make a lot of sense if you know anything about my current WIP. Most of it takes place in a fictional foreign land on a made-up planet. I’m modeling certain details of the culture after India because it matches the ethnic backgrounds of two of my characters, Vijay and Indra Pavari. Due to the onset of global disaster, the people in this country are suffering malnourishment and living in a state of anarchy. Because the disaster shut down the government and most law enforcement and other services, there’s no one to enforce order and people are getting desperate. This has led to ancient feuds between different religious groups being sparked again, leading to violence throughout the country. There was even a nuclear attack in a neighboring country because the violence and chaos has spread worldwide. People in some regions are dying and there’s not even anyone to clear the bodies out of the streets, leaving them to bake in the tropical sun.

During all of this, Indra is developing romantic feelings for a certain someone, but the attraction bears the burden of certain religious taboos about sexuality. Which has a lot to do with all my recent research into romance novels and topics related to love and sex. I’ve been trying to learn as much as I can about developing a romance in a novel, expressing emotions in a realistic fashion, and dealing with negativity from people who don’t approve of your relationship.

See? I told you there was a rational explanation for all of this. Now, here’s hoping the NSA cancels the warrant.

Do you have any unusual things in your Google search history? Or should I be afraid to ask?

Updates on Life and Writing

Hey, it’s been awhile since I wrote a normal blog post about “stuff” instead of academic research, eh?

That’s because grad school CAN and WILL kick your ever-loving ass, and there’s nothing you can do about that. I’m extremely behind on a lot of things at the moment because I’m focusing the majority of my efforts on school. However, aside from school itself (and the academic research I’ve been doing), there is a bit more going on that I decided to make some updates about.

First, my short story Radiance has just sold its 50th copy. That’s cause for celebration. Radiance is the first short released in my upcoming series, Arcana Revived. The first full length novel, Manifestation, is planned for release later this year (once the school semester ends, I’ll be working on that more than anything else). But in the meantime, Radiance provides a preview of the story world, as well as an introduction to a character who will become a major player later in the book series.

Second, it’s my birthday in, oh, about an hour and fifteen minutes. If you didn’t get me anything, I understand. You can get yourself a copy of Radiance as an un-birthday present and I’ll consider that a happy birthday indeed.

Aside from that, I’ll also be updating soon about more short stories I’m working on. I wrote one earlier this spring for my Fiction Workshop class. It follows Callia Gainsborough, one of the main characters of Arcana Revived and love interest of the main protagonist, Gabriella Palladino. Gabby and Tock tend to get most of the spotlight in the novels, which is one of the reasons I love short stories. Characters like Callia, or Maria Vasquez from Radiance can get their own chance in the spotlight, even though they’re second-or-third-billed in the novels. The story I wrote for class (under the working-but-maybe-to-be-changed-title Questioning Angels) takes us a bit closer into Callia’s character in a short but sweet adventure that takes place in between Book Two and Book Three of Arcana Revived. That means it likely won’t be published for quite a long while (after Book Two, most likely), but it’ll benefit from being workshopped in a graduate-level class and going through multiple revisions.

I’ll probably be writing another story for class soon, which will also be part of the series. And of course, there’s still Belladonna, and several other shorts that have each been through a few revisions. They’re all on the back burner right now because Manifestation is in edits and on the verge of being released, so it takes #1 priority over everything else until further notice.

So I think that’s it for now. Expect to see some more academic blog posts in the near future, and the continuation of the Ethnographic Hockey series. And a Very Merry Unbirthday to You!

Reflections on my Interview with Alexander Pierce

As I mentioned earlier, tonight I had an online interview via Twitter with a friend of mine, Alexander Pierce. He was gracious enough to spend some time talking to me about his views on sports and sports culture.

Since the interview was logged on Twitter, you can read the conversation starting here and under the hashtag #HRSI.

Alexander and I chatted online in a casual back-and-forth of tweets, which was part of the purpose of the online format. My goal was to keep things casual and try to keep us on equal grounds as much as possible. Along those lines, I avoided having any direct list of pre-planned questions, and mostly tried to ask him for more information about the specific subjects he brought up. It was interesting to see that he made some comments that were similar to my earlier twitter poll on sports culture, and to the in-person interview I conducted last week. For example, the subjects of sports as religion, as local and national identity, and as a highly emotional activity all came up during this interview.

The interview started off, not surprisingly, with some ice-breaking by talking about sports. When I first asked Alexander how he was doing, it ended up being the first thing that came up in natural conversation.

Alexander_Interview_1The conversation quickly moved into a discussion about the specifics of hockey as a staple of Canadian culture. Alexander explained a few things about how and why hockey is such a popular sport for Canadians.

Alexander_Interview_2Alexander_Interview_3Alexander_Interview_4Alexander_Interview_5We also discussed a bit about how sports can be a way for families to bond. This is a subject that has come up frequently in my research, how families use sports as a way to relate to each other and as a way to have something to talk about. It was similar to what one of my in-person interviewees, Brian, said about sports bars. He explained that sports is something you can talk to anyone about without causing anger or offense (as opposed to taboo topics like politics and religion). It seems that a similar principle is in place when people talk to their family about sports.

Alexander_Interview_6Alexander_Interview_7Alexander_Interview_8One thing that came up during this interview that hadn’t been touched on much in the others is the dark side that can come from sports fanaticism, including parental pressure and sports-related violence.

Alexander_Interview_9Looking over everything we discussed, I see some interesting connections between these various points. The conversation moved from discussions of national identity, to family bonding, to aggression and competition. Which makes me question just how strong those connections are. Are aggression and competition such an integral part of our family and national identity? When considering everything from sibling rivalry to economic competition to long years of war against other countries, it certainly seems that the answer is “Yes.”

This also makes an interesting parallel to what I’ve learned about the relationship between sports culture and Native American culture. If sports culture is so deeply tied together with aggression, violence, and competition, it doesn’t seem surprising that it would lead to conflict with other cultures. A conflict that seems similar to the long history of conflict and aggression that has been directed at Native Americans for centuries.

These comparisons between different types of violence certainly opened my eyes to some ideas about the causes of these conflicts. A culture that is used to such violence (and even cheers it on) seems unlikely to be willing to engage in peaceful negotiations with someone they perceive as threatening their identity. And since sports fans associate their team name with their identity, they may therefore show aggressive behavior towards someone who threatens that identity by demanding the name be changed. Furthermore, the same competitive ideals may lead sports fans to a “win or lose” mindset that detracts from the possibility of compromise or collaboration on a mutually beneficial solution.

As for the interview itself, I definitely found Twitter to be an effective medium. It allowed for a casual conversation that was easy to transcribe. It left me with some questions about how this aggression may be affecting the people it’s directed against, beyond the emotional damage it can cause, as discussed in my interview with Reverend John Norwood.

Hopefully from here I’ll be able to tie some of these concepts in with the academic research I’m doing on the subject. For example, I’ve read several journal articles discussing the specific causes of sports fan aggression and the volatile behavior it can cause. I should be able to make some good connections between that research and the concepts that came up in this interview.

 

Pre-Online-Interview Prep, Sports Culture

I’ll be continuing with the posts about my Ethnographic Hockey field research soon, but in the mean time I’m also making preparations for some interviews in order to learn firsthand from some people on various sides of the ongoing debate about racist sports mascots. I’ll be conducting a total of four interviews over the course of the next month, with the hope of learning a lot about various views. You can already read about the in-person interview I conducted with an avid sports fan, and the telephone interview I conducted with a representative of the Nanticoke tribe in the Deleware Valley.

The next interview will be conducted online. The purpose of this post is to lay out some of the specifics of the upcoming interview. I’ll be discussing the purpose of the interview and the background behind it. Then, after the interview is complete, I’ll be writing a follow-up post talking about how it went compared to these expectations.

This online interview will be conducted via Twitter. I chose Twitter because it’s the online medium I am most active in, and I’ve had some success in the past getting good feedback from people on there. I also find it to be a very effective back-and-forth medium. Despite what people say about the 140 character limit, I find Twitter extremely useful for holding extended conversations. My goal with this interview is to hold a chat (perhaps an hour long) and let the conversation flow where it will. The book PostModern Interviewing suggests that such an active back-and-forth style of interviewing will help construct the communicative reality that myself and the interviewee are operating under, and the interviewee will be “a productive source of knowledge” (p. 74). What this basically means is that the interview itself will be “producing knowledge.”

My goal, therefore, essentially translates into not just a “question and answer” session where I’ll be trying to gain information from the interviewee. Instead, my hope is that our ongoing conversation will open new ideas in both of our minds, prompting us to consider topics we previously hadn’t thought of. I may also raise some of the points others mentioned in my previous interviews in order to ask the new interviewee’s perspective on them.

I’ll also be keeping the interview dialogue open to allow the interviewee to speak from various different points of view. Another important point in PostModern Interviewing is that the standpoint of the interviewee can shift, between, say, them speaking from their point of view as a sports fan, to speaking from their point of view as a male, to speaking from their point of view as an American, and so on. I want to keep the interview as open as possible to allow for the possibility that various different standpoints will come up, and I’ll make note of those when considering the responses.

As for the more concrete details: The first interview I’m conducting will be with Alexander Pierce. I’ve known Alexander on Twitter for some time, and he was eager to share his views when I first started discussing my research into sports. He is a self-professed sports fan who frequently tweets about his team affiliation and other related topics. When I went to Twitter asking for volunteers to discuss sports culture, he heartily volunteered.

The interview will be conducted over Twitter, and if you’d like to follow it, I plan to tweet under the hashtag #HRSI for “Hockey Research Sports Interview” so that the tweets will be easily searchable for later compilation. Also, using a hashtag is a good way to make sure the Twitter 140 character limit won’t be a real issue; any time we go over and need to continue on another tweet, it’ll simply show as a series of tweets on the hashtag. This should also make it easy to follow the interview by searching the hashtag and reading from the bottom up, making for a natural transcription process that will aid later review. I also plan to take screenshots of the tweets, since I will likely be directly quoting some of them later on (possibly using Storify as a medium).

In addition to “sports culture” as a general topic, I hope to discuss things like the controversy over Native American themed mascots, fan/team self-identification, and how sports is related to national and cultural identity (for example, Alexander’s team is the “Toronto Maple Leafs” and the maple leaf is also the symbol on the Canadian flag, so there is a possible connection there).

The interview will be conducted later tonight, April 1st, at around 9:00 PM (assuming Alexander doesn’t tell me it was just an April Fool’s joke!), and will take place entirely on Twitter. Follow me @CantrellJason or check the hashtag #HRSI to see it.

Interview with Reverend John Norwood

As part of my ongoing research into Native American culture and the debate over the Washington Redskins name change, I felt it was important to reach out to members of the Native American community in order to hear their perspectives. As I’ve mentioned previously on the blog, I’m extremely aware that from my standpoint as a white American, I’m incapable to fully grasping the struggles and perspectives of another race. Speaking to members of that community to hear their voices is the best way to learn about their perspectives.

To this end, I reached out to the Nanticoke Indian Tribe in the hopes of finding someone I could speak to about these issues. My request for contact was forwarded to the Chief and Council of the tribe, and I was then contacted by Reverend John Norwood, who said he was asked to respond to my request and serve as the spokesperson on behalf of the tribe. He was gracious enough to speak with me in a telephone interview on Tuesday, March 26th.

After greeting Reverend Norwood and telling him about my research into the name change, I asked him for his thoughts on the debate.

“The position I take on the mascot,” he said, “is that people don’t understand how devastating it can be, even when you are trying to honor the tribe.”

He explained that matters like the use of Native American images in mascots have to be handled sensitively, and that they should be handled on the local level. When Native American images are used at the national level, such as with major sports teams, he said that can make it difficult to teach people about the needed sensitivity. In some cases, the use of Native American imagery is handled properly and respectfully.

“Our southernmost community has a relationship with their school district,” he said, explaining how that tribe has granted permission for their local school district to make use of their tribal images. “That is between that tribe and that school district. But the school does not own the images, and the school is teaching about sensitivity.” The fact that the individual school is addressing the issue with respect and sensitivity, he explained, is an important variable.

“Most of the time it’s not the case,” he added, explaining that many other uses of Native American images aren’t handled properly. “What you have are mascots that do harm to the history and psychological well-being of tribes.”

When I asked him more about how some institutions improperly use the images, he said, “Native Americans don’t have the opportunity to control how the mascot is displayed. That is actually the stealing of heritage. The way it was taken is the same way our lands were taken. Most of the institutions don’t have any link to tribal heritage, and the images used are stereotypical about 90% of the time.”

He then explained some of the issues about the specific ways in which the mascots are displayed. He referenced some of the violent conflicts from the past where many Native Americans were killed. “Indians were being decapitated,” he said. “Whole villages would be decapitated. When people see a floating Indian head, that’s what they remember. If it brings up painful memories and painful history, then that’s offensive.”

This point is one that I haven’t seen raised in the other articles I’ve read regarding the mascot debate. Most of the articles I’ve read tend to speak about how the name “Redskins” is racist and offensive, but the image of the mascot itself is often ignored. Yet it turns out that the image itself can be associated with a violent and traumatizing past.

Reverend Norwood also spoke of the ways in which Native images are often portrayed as caricatures and stereotypes. He told me about how his son played in an intramural basketball league, and when his team played against a school with an Indian mascot, the images painted on the walls were of “a racist looking caricature of an Indian.”

“If an African American had walked in and seen a caricature of an African,” he said, “or if it were a Jewish or Asian image, something would be done about it. When it’s Indian people and we say we’re offended, they say, ‘We’re just honoring you.’ We are dismissed.”

His words reminded me of a number of articles I’ve read in the last few weeks that referenced that same point. People who defend the use of Native American mascots often argue that they do so to “honor” the Native American people. But Reverend Norwood explained that the use of these images in improper, misrepresentative ways does not honor them.

“Only certain people were allowed to do certain things and earned that honor,” he said. “When we say we are offended and these people who say they are honoring us, they dismiss us.

“It is possible to gain the support of a local tribe to bless the use of an image. To truly honor by engaging and understanding that is a privilege. Not a right. Typically, there is an arrogance. The misappropriation of badges of honor.”

What Reverend Norwood was referring to is called “cultural appropriation.” It is defined as “the adoption of some specific elements of one culture by a different cultural group,” but it can also be referred to as “the act of stealing and corrupting.” Along with the debates and protests over the use of Native American images in sports mascots, there are protests over individuals using traditional Native American clothing and adornments as fashion statements. One example that has gained recent notoriety is the band Pink Pony, which sparked protests when they posted photos of one of their band members wearing a Native headdress “that is traditionally reserved for Native Tribal Chiefs and not for members of unsigned Electronica bands.” This is another example of what Reverend Norwood referred to when he said, “Only certain people were allowed to do certain things and earned that honor.”

“It wouldn’t be tolerated with any other race,” he said. “The history of American Indians is unique in this country because we’re the only indigenous people.”

He then explained how his people are often excluded even in the language used by many others in the country. As an example, he spoke about how many politicians will use the phrase, “We are a country of immigrants,” a phrase that was even used by President Obama on Citizenship Day 2013. Yet as Reverend Norwood explained, such phrasing excludes Native Americans who have lived here since long before our current country was founded.

“My people were here,” he said. But he explained that his people have a sense of exclusion, and that they are viewed as a conquered or vanquished people who are often ignored by politicians and the government. “They don’t want to deal with the plight of the tribes today. It’s a huge insult.”

I then asked him about the Washington Redskins as a specific case. “The term is a term we don’t call ourselves,” he said, echoing the words of the “Proud to Be” video released by the National Congress of American Indians. “It’s an insult. The arrogance of the owners is a travesty. If it was any other race, they would understand. We are dictated to, more so than any other individual group. The mascot issue is symbolic of the continuing struggle of American Indians.”

He then continued, “An institution will get an individual group to say it’s okay. That doesn’t matter.” Instead, he explained, a team would need the support of the tribal nations. An example of what Reverend Norwood was referring to can be seen in the recent news about Redskins owner Dan Snyder and his efforts to reach out to Native American communities. As reported by The Nation, Dan Snyder recently released a letter in which he described how he spoke “face-to-face with Native American leaders and community members,” but as The Nation’s article points out, he didn’t speak with the oldest Native American civil rights organization, the National Congress of American Indians. In essence, what this means is that while Mr. Snyder may have gained the support of some individual communities, that support cannot be said to represent the beliefs and views of the tribal nations as a whole.

When I asked Reverend Norwood to explain when a mascot would or wouldn’t be okay or under what circumstances permission would be granted, he said, “When it crosses the line into disrespect, then it’s a problem. It’s a direct insult to your very identity. And when you say that, you’re cast as being unreasonable.

“Opinions vary. Some extreme people will say, ‘It’s all wrong.’ Some say ‘Oh, it’s not a problem.’ Something in the middle is where the real problem is.”

We then discussed the way certain individual schools and institutions could gain permission. “Let’s say you have an area with a tribe that is still active in the area,” he said. “The tribe continues to educate and advise so that the school doesn’t think that they own it.” In this way, he said, the use of a Native American mascot can be monitored by the tribe to make sure they don’t devolve into an insulting image. Without this continued relationship with a tribe, he said, “Mascots will deteriorate into a caricature and an insult.”

As an example, he told me that his local township uses an Indian symbol. “But the township has a formal relationship with the tribe,” he said. “Their engagement and understanding is valuable. That was blessed. That’s okay. This is how we can respect and honor the culture. But I have never personally spoken to a tribal Indian who thought it was okay to have an offensive mascot.” It is important, he explained, for there to be continued engagement between the institution and the tribe, and that the tribe should retain the rights to withdraw their permission in the future, should they feel the need to do so.

“There must be a continuing relationship of respect,” he said. “And if you’re not going to do that, stay away from it.”

But this type of continuing relationship, he explained, can only occur on a case-by-case basis with individual tribes and their local schools and institutions. On the national level, he said, “There’s no tribe to get consent from. They need to change. If you’re using those images, you need to engage them. If you do anything less, you’re doing violence to them.

“I’ve had to wipe the tears off the cheeks of my own children and the tribal children dealing with that. When racism happens, we are all victimized by that racism. All are affected. Our mindset is affected. It has a negative influence on our society and our cultures. We are all victims. We are all victimized by it, in some way, shape, or form.

“Even the head of the Redskins is bound by that,” he said in conclusion. “It kills a bit of his soul. It affects all of us.”

Reverend Norwood also forwarded me a publication by the National Congress of American Indians, titled, “Ending the Legacy Of Racism in Sports & the Era of Harmful “Indian” Sports Mascots.” It is a compelling document that I strongly recommend reading.

Ethnographic Hockey, Part 4: The Dietz & Watson and Horizon Services Zambonis

This is Part 4 of my series of posts detailing my ethnographic study of the March 18th, 2014 Flyers vs Blackhawks game in Philadelphia, PA. You can find Part 1 here, and Part 2 here, and Part 3 here.

When I entered the seating area to find my seat, I stopped for a moment to look down at the rink. It was about 30 minutes to game time. The JumboTron was flashing the names and pictures of various players, while upbeat music played that reminded me of a dance club or rave. After each player’s picture, the JumboTron showed the player’s stats and other bits of trivia knowledge, most of which I couldn’t interpret.

When I looked down at the rink, I saw the teams were on the ice, but not playing. They were gathered on opposite sides of the rink, each team sticking to their own side. Dozens of pucks were laid out across the ice, and the players were shooting them over and over while skating around in circles. They looked like practice shots.

I found a stadium attendant with a black jacket that read “EVENT STAFF” across the back. Her nametag read, “Vida.” I asked her, “Are they warming up?” It was the only explanation I could come up with.

“Yes,” she said. “Then they’ll bring out toe Zambonis to refresh the ice, then they’ll come out to play.”

She stepped away to ask another fan if they knew where they were sitting, then examined their ticket and directed them where they needed to go. Meanwhile, PECO and Dietz & Watson ads played on the JumboTron, while an announcer informed the attendees of the rules. We were told that there was “No smoking,” which seemed reasonable. Then he said that there would be “No abusive language.” That also seemed reasonable but it surprised me that it had to be announced explicitly. After listing a few other rules about rowdiness, the announcer said, “Violators will be escorted from the building.” This made me wonder just how rowdy they expected the crowd to get.

At 7:15, the Zambonis arrived. They were painted all over like NASCAR cars, one with the Dietz & Watson logo and another with the Horizon Services logo. By this point, somewhere between a third and half of the seats in the stadium were already filled. People were talking and laughing, and sitting down to eat hot dogs, pizza, and french fries. Meanwhile, the Dietz & Watson and Horizon Services Zambonis performed their dance on the ice, gliding about in slow coordination, one following a short distance behind the other and a bit to the side so their paths just barely overlapped.

Watching the Zambonis drew my attention to the ice itself. The Flyers logo was clearly visible in the center. It was surrounded by a circle of text that read “Wells Fargo Center.” Beyond that, ads were stamped directly into the ice: Dietz & Watson, Dorado Systems, McDonald’s, and Toyota. The remaining 15 minutes before the game started was an endless saturation of ads, for while the Zambonis did their dance, another ad played on the JumboTron, with Magic Johnson encouraging us all to sign up for Healthcare.gov. This was followed by an ad for “Muppets Most Wanted” before 1-800-Lundy-Law once again welcomed us to the game, and Mr. Lundy closed by saying, “Go Flyers.”

I wondered about the effectiveness of all this advertisement saturation, but I knew that there was a principle of association and persuasion at work here. In his book, “Influence, Science and Practice,” Robert B. Cialdini discusses the power of conditioning and association. This is a way in which positive associations between otherwise unrelated things can affect the way we feel about those things. This can start off with something as simple as a good meal. Cialdini described a study in which “subjects become fonder of the people and things they experienced while eating” (p. 164). The reason for this is because if you are eating good food, you experience positive emotions. Those positive emotions then become subconsciously associated with the event you’re attending, rather than just with the food itself. It was no wonder, then, that the stadium was filled with food stands from one end to the other. Not only was it more convenient (allowing guests to eat here instead of having to eat before the arrived), but the act of eating during a game can actually have a psychological effect of your enjoyment of the game.

This association effect can also apply to other products and people. Cialdini said, “Radio programmers are instructed to insert the station’s call-letters jingle immediately before a big hit song is played,” (p 165) because it creates an association of positive emotion between the station and the song. Just like there would be an association between 1-800-Lundy-Law and the positive emotions fans experienced during the game.

This is an especially strong influence when it comes to sports, and it soon became apparent to me that the association principle taking place wasn’t limited to just the advertisements. Overhead, an American and a Canadian flag hung above the arena, across from banners listing Bruce Springsteen (#53) and Billy Joel (#48) as “Philadelphia Sellouts” in honor of concerts they held at the Wells Fargo Center that sold out all the seats.

Image Credit: Wikipedia
Image Credit: Wikipedia
Image Credit: Wikipedia
Image Credit: Wikipedia

As the countdown to the game grew closer, a group of kids near me began shouting and chanting, “Let’s go, Flyers,” followed by slapping their noisemakers against their hands in a rhythm: 1, 2, . . . 3, 4, 5. They continued chanting over and over, each time with the same pattern to the clapping and noisemaking afterwards. Then, at 7:30, the announcer came on to introduce “Your Philadelphia Flyers,” and all the fans cheered.

“Your” Philadelphia Flyers, not “the” Philadelphia Flyers. This is another example of the influence of association at work. Cialdini also discusses this idea of fan association, stating that people will shout, “‘We’re number one! We’re number one!’ . . . not ‘They’re number one’ or even ‘Our team is number one'” (p. 168). The association felt by fans is so strong that they often use the pronoun “we” to show their identity with their team. Though, it seems this only applied when a team is winning, and that “No television viewer will ever hear the chant, ‘We’re in last place! We’re in last place!” (p. 168) since people will distance themselves from their team after a defeat.

It seems, then, that there are a number of influences at work, all at once, within a single arena. The fans associate their positive feelings–from the good food, to the cheering, to the music–with the team itself, and they associate themselves as being part of the team. If advertisers, such as the announcer from 1-800-Lundy-Law, become associated with those same positive feelings, it seems likely that a similar connection will be forged. A team who has a great time with great food and great friends at a game will carry their positive feelings over to everyone who is “part of the team,” and that includes Mr. Lundy, who shouted, “Go Flyers!” right along with the rest of the crowd.

After musing over the significance of so many associations in one place, I took my seat, and waited for the game to begin.

This story will continue in Ethnographic Hockey, Part 5: American Heroes and the Star Spangled Banner.

Sports Culture Interview, Results, and Reflection

As I recently mentioned, on Monday, March 24th I conducted an interview on the topic of sports culture. I wanted to get the perspective of an avid sports fan in order to learn what his views are on the significance of sports in modern life, and on the debate over the name of the Washington Redskins. This is just one of multiple interviews I’m conducting on this subject, and during the course of the next couple of weeks I’ll be trying to learn from the perspectives of multiple individuals from different backgrounds.

The individual I interviewed was a man named George, who works as a bartender at a local Chili’s. I was introduced to him through a friend, who told me that George was extremely knowledgeable on the topic of sports. I soon found out that this was an understatement, and George ended up sharing a lot of fascinating information with me.

I arrived at the Chili’s early, and I was shown to the bar. While I was waiting for George to arrive, I took some time to look around at the environment. The bar area was quiet, since it was a Monday afternoon and many people were likely still at their day jobs. Two TVs hung over the bar at either end of the room, both playing sports channels. One was playing “Intentional Talk,” a sports talk show on the MLB Network. The sound was muted so the on-screen discussion couldn’t be heard, but the show moved back and forth between the discussion and clips of recent baseball games, along with statistics displayed on screen updating the audience about various games. At the bottom of the screen, a scorebar showed live updates of the scores of various spring training games taking place that day.

The second television was playing ESPN’s “NFL Insiders.” On that muted screen, three men and a woman discussed football stats, while the screen alternated between the discussion and lists of various player statistics.

George soon arrived, full of pep and energy. Since I was interviewing him during his work shift, he spent the first few minutes checking the stock levels of the bar’s supplies and getting his cash register setup. Yet even before I started asking him questions, he already started talking about sports with the other bartender.

“I can’t even hate the cowboys anymore,” he said when the other bartender brought up football. “They’re just not good.”

“Hate on principle,” the other bartender said. The directness of her comment made me smirk; even though I’m not a sports fan, I’ve been conditioned to hate the Dallas Cowboys from a young age, as are most others who live in the Philadelphia area. Rivalries, it seemed, could become a part of the entire region.

“I’m getting too old to hate,” George said.

Once we settled into a serious discussion of sports culture, one of the first things George brought up was this idea of fan identity. He explained to me that Philadelphia fans are well-known, even notorious, for their passion about their teams. “Philly fans are the best fans,” he said. “A sports franchise is supposed to take on the identity of the city.”

That identity is strongest in Philly, he explained, partially because Philadelphia is one of only three cities where all their teams for the major sports (football, baseball, hockey, and basketball) are within the city limits. This immediately reminded me of my recent trip to a Flyers hockey game, where I noticed that the stadiums for all of Philly’s teams are built within sight of each other in a closely-packed sports district. It turns out that only Philadelphia, Chicago, and Denver had such a self-contained set of sports franchises all within their city limits, and only a total of twelve cities even have stadiums for all four major sports within their greater metropolitan area.

George then started explaining the importance of this identity connection between the fans and the city. “The number one thing is not about winning,” he said. “It’s about how you reflect the fan base. Even if you have bad moves for winning, you bring fans into the ballpark.” He then proceeded to explain how some fans might complain about their team making a certain trade or a certain draft pick that they disapproved of, because the decisions don’t always seem like the types that will lead to more wins and more championships. But, he said, the teams made moves that “developed their identity with their fan base.”

I asked him to describe the “Philadelphia identity,” and he began making comparisons to other widely-known Philadelphia cultural icons. “We have Rocky,” he said, referring to the Sylvester Stallone film, which was set in Philadelphia. “People think Rocky. They think the Liberty Bell. They think the art museum. They think the Flyers.” As George explained this, I thought back to my experiences at the Flyers game. I told him about how they had played images of the Liberty Bell on the JumboTron before the game started, along with other images of American icons. Playing those images in association with the sporting even is part of how this “Philadelphia identity” is forged and reinforced.

When I asked him for more details about the identity of the Flyers in particular, he pointed out that their nickname, the “Broad Street Bullies,” says it all. “Flyers are not finesse,” he said. “Flyers have lots of hits, lots of checking.” Other teams, he explained, might have players who make careful, finesseful shots. The Flyers, on the other hand, are more likely to rush the goalie and score in a more forceful manner.

I then asked George how this “Philadelphia identity” and the “Flyers identity” connected with the fans themselves. “Philadelphia fans have sports, but that’s it,” he explained. “That’s our focal point in Philadelphia. It’s sports.” We discussed how, in Philadelphia, there isn’t much else in the local area, like New York’s nightlife or Florida’s beaches and resorts. As an example, he spoke about the Florida Marlins, known now as the Miami Marlins. He said that they are a good team (and have won two World Series championships), but they don’t draw in the fans. In fact, I found that Miami’s attendance was ranked 28 out of 30 in 2013 (with Philadelphia coming in at #8), 18 out of 30 in 2012 (with Philadelphia at #1), 29 out of 30 in 2011 (with Philadelphia at #1), and 28 out of 20 in 2010 (with Philadelphia at #2). The attendance boost in 2012 is mostly attributed to the fact that the team built a brand new stadium that opened that year.

The low attendance doesn’t seem to be entirely due to poor performance, since while the Marlins ranked #29 in performance in 2013, they were #25 in 2012, and #22 in 2011, and #17 in 2010. So why would the team’s attendance be so consistently low (ranking 28th, 28th, and 29th  for the three years excluding when the new stadium was built), when their performance only matched that low ranking in one of those years? George told me that it was because Florida has a culture that is more focused on resorts, families on vacations, and senior citizens who have retired in the area. They simply don’t have the same focus on sports that the Philadelphia area has.

After having learned about Philadelphia’s sports culture and the way culture can vary from one city to another, I asked George what he thought about the Washington Redskins name change debate. He explained, “Fans don’t see the Redskins name as a problem. A very small group of people are offended by the name. It doesn’t make sense. I don’t know if it was meant to be an insult when they came up with the names. Look at what was acceptable language in different eras.”

When we started discussing language and the evolution it’s taken over the years, George pointed out the differences between sports team names during the late 1800s and early 1900s compared to those today. He pointed out that newly formed sports teams, like those found in major league soccer, tend to use more “modern” names, like the Houston Dynamo, the Philadelphia Union, and the LA Galaxy. Since major league soccer wasn’t founded until 1993 (compared to major league baseball which was founded in 1869 and the NFL which was founded in 1920), the naming traditions some from a very different cultural viewpoint. Many forms of language that were accepted in the years when other sports leagues were founded are no longer accepted today. Teams like the Washington Redskins and the Cleveland Indians, therefore, gained their names during an era of language that is no longer appropriate today.

After giving this topic some thought, George said, “Does it make it right, necessarily? No, I don’t think it makes it right. Is it a form of genocide? We as humans take things from the past, and there’s this sense that we’re making fun of something that’s extinct.”

“It’s tough, though,” he added, “because there’s so many arguments. It’s not right, though. Everybody has a tolerance for pain. If you find words painful, you can’t help that sometimes. Is that a form of cultural extinction? Is that what we’re doing to people?”

Since we had begun discussing baseball more than any other sport, I decided to ask George how he felt about the efforts to change the offensive names and mascots like the Cleveland Indians’ Chief Wahoo. A recent Twitter movement has sprung up under the hashtag “#DeChief,” encouraging people to remove the Indians’ logo from their hats, jerseys, and other sports gear. Some fans are now starting to attend games wearing their “dechiefed” gear, while others protest that anyone who doesn’t like the mascot should root for another team.

“They’re trying to go with the ‘C’ more than the chief logo,” George said. “There’s this identity with that. It’s tough. It’s definitely a tough gray area. You feel differently about it every day. There’s tradition, and there’s offending people.”

One of the TVs above the bar had started playing a baseball game, the Cleveland Indians vs the Cincinnati Reds. We discussed the game for a time. Then, just before I left, George said, “Here’s my best advice: Don’t get involved in sports. Too many wasted emotions. It’s fun, though. You have to compete with somebody. Some people take solace in being able to compete with themselves. ‘Can I do this, can I do that.’ But baseball is head to head. There’s somebody else that is going to lose.”

After the interview was over, I had some time to reflect on it and to consider what I learned. I definitely felt that George and I had a good discussion, and he revealed a lot about the nature of sports and identity. I was also pleasantly surprised about how smooth the discussion went, even when we touched on sensitive topics. This was good, since as I discussed in my pre-interview post, I was hoping for an open flow of communication that would help both George and myself to discuss and learn as we went along. George’s introspective questions about the morality of the situation and about cultural extinction led me to believe he was considering ideas he hadn’t considered before, and I certainly know that I was.

Of course, one limitation of this interview was that George is a Philadelphia fan, rather than a fan of the Washington Redskins or the Cleveland Indians. If possible, I may try to seek out a fan of one of those teams in order to learn what they have to say about these debates. Though George did tell me that if the name and mascot of one of his Philly teams were to be changed, he would probably find that upsetting. When I consider everything George said about a sports team being a part of a city’s identity, and how the team works to connect with the culture of the people who live in their area, it makes sense that people would take it personally. The challenge, then, is to address the need for change while still keeping in mind the emotional impact it will have on fans who see their sports team as a part of their identity. From what I’ve seen in many of the online debates I’ve witnessed, many sports fans react harshly, which makes it difficult to have a discussion about the need for change. In fact, a study that I read (Fandom and Psychological Enhancement: Effects of Sport Team Identification and Imagined Interaction on Self-Esteem and Management of Social Behaviors, Keaton, et al, 2014) stated that “When identity or ego becomes threatened (such as after a loss) much research finds that aggressive behaviors occur because highly favorable views of the self are disputed by others” (p. 4). If fans strongly identify with their sports team, and that sports team’s identity is disputed by others, it makes sense that fans would end up taking it personally.

I plan to keep these ideas in mind in my future interviews. I have several others planned this week, and I’m hoping that they will also go smoothly. My conversation with George went well largely due to the rapport we built up early on and how comfortable we became with the discussion. I think it also helped that I was able to share my own experiences with him, such as when I discussed my recent trip to the Flyers game. It helped us to establish a connection and it helped fuel the conversation that followed. With any luck I’ll be able to establish similar connections with the others I interview.