Remembering #60 on the Eagles: “Iron-man” Concrete Charlie

This week in North Philly Notes, Ray Didinger, author of The New Eagles Encyclopediaremembers Chuck Bednarik.

Chuck Bednarik died early in the morning, Saturday, March 21 at age 89. His passing marked the end of an era in professional football. Bednarik was the last of the game’s true ironmen, a man who played virtually every play of every game for much of his 14-year career with the Philadelphia Eagles.

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Author Ray Didinger, left with #60 Chuck Bednarik at the Eagles Training Camp, 1956

Bednarik played center on offense and linebacker on defense and also handled the long snaps on punts and placekicks. He only came off the field on kickoffs and sometimes not even then because for several years he also kicked off for the Eagles. Still, the man known as “Concrete Charlie” missed only three games in his pro career. His toughness was legendary.

Bednarik played in eight Pro Bowls, the most of any Eagle. He still holds the team record for interceptions by a linebacker with 20. He joined the Eagles in 1949 after an All-America career at the University of Pennsylvania. He helped the team win an NFL championship in his rookie year and he helped the Eagles reach the top again when they reclaimed the title in 1960.

In the 1960 championship game against the Green Bay Packers, Bednarik played 139 of 142 plays. He was 35 years old, the oldest player on either team, yet he played 58 of the 60 minutes and in the closing seconds he was the one who made the game saving tackle on Packers fullback Jim Taylor.

The Eagles were clinging to a 17-13 lead when quarterback Bart Starr threw a pass to Taylor who broke several tackles and was at full speed when he reached the nine yard line. That was where the 6-3, 235-pound Bednarik wrapped him in a bear hug and wrestled him to the ground. Bednarik pinned Taylor to the turf until the last few seconds ticked off the clock.

Bednarik60“He was squirming like hell trying to get up,” Bednarik said. “He was saying, ‘Get off me, you so-and-so.’ When the second hand hit zero, I said, ‘You can get up now, you so-and-so, this (expletive) game is over.’ That was the ultimate, winning that game.”

Bednarik had a similarly memorable tackle earlier that season when he leveled Frank Gifford of the New York Giants to preserve a crucial 17-10 victory. Bednarik’s crushing hit left Gifford unconscious on the field with a severe concussion. A Sports Illustrated photographer snapped a photo of Bednarik dancing over Gifford which made it appear he was rejoicing in the knockout. Not so, Bednarik said. He was celebrating that Gifford fumbled the ball and the Eagles recovered to lock up the victory.

“I was just happy we won,” Bednarik said. “If people think I was gloating over Frank they’re full of you know what. Looking back, that hit might have put us both in the Hall of Fame. I know it was the most publicity I ever got.”

Bednarik was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967, his first year of eligibility. His jersey number 60 was retired by the Eagles.

Bednarik came up the hard way and that shaped his personality. He grew up in the shadow of the steel mills in Bethlehem, Pa. His parents were immigrants from Czechoslovakia so money was scarce. As a boy, he couldn’t afford a football so he made his own by filling an old stocking with rags. At 18, he was a waist gunner on a B-24 bomber flying combat missions over Germany. After each mission, he knocked back straight whiskey to calm his nerves.

The New Eagles Encyclopedia_smAfter the war, he enrolled at Penn where he was a two-time All-America who worked for his meals by waiting on tables in the school’s dining hall. The Eagles made him the first pick in the 1949 NFL draft and signed him to a $10,000 contract with a $3,000 cash bonus. His salary topped out at $26,000 in his final season, 1962, so he worked a second job selling concrete to support his wife Emma and their five daughters.

In his later years, Bednarik was often critical of the modern NFL. He didn’t like all the showboating and he couldn’t understand how players making millions of dollars would play two or three snaps and leave the field to catch their breath. Players today, he said, were “overpaid and underplayed.” He wasn’t politically correct and sometimes it got him in trouble, but for football fans in this area, he will always be an icon.

“Chuck Bednarik wasn’t just a football hero, he was an American hero,” former Eagles coach Dick Vermeil said. “I was proud to call him a friend.”

Searching for Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro

This week in North Philly Notes, it’s “Carnaval in Rio!” Philip Evanson, co-author of Living in the Crossfire, pens an entry on this year’s annual celebration in Brazil.

CARNAVAL is a summons to enjoy ourselves. It is supposed to bring easement, at the very least a few brief days to forget personal and collective worries. It’s out with the Apollonian, in with the Dionysian. Above all, Carnaval means dancing. So what does an old gringo like myself do in Rio de Janeiro during Carnaval? The easy and obvious thing is to be an observer and to watch the televised transmission of the escolas de samba or samba schools as they parade in the Sambodromo of Rio de Janeiro. If you follow the selling of Carnaval in Rio, especially to tourists, the Sambodromo is where it largely takes place. This venue is a couple of long city blocks of viewer stands (there are also VIP boxes), and parade grounds designed by Oscar Niemeyer (1907-2012), Brazil’s master architect and designer of the buildings of modernist Brasília. The complex was completed in 1984, expanded in 2012, and has space for 108,000 spectators. They come to watch 12 schools parade, each of which will be graded on the quality of its performance. Two nights starting at 10 pm and finishing at dawn are necessary so that each school gets 90 minutes but no more to perform. The school with the highest score is the champion. These 12 belong to the “Special Group” membership in which is by no means permanent. Each year the two schools with the lowest scores will fall out to be replaced by two from a group that strives “for access” to the Special Group. Competition between the samba schools in the Special Group, and among schools striving for access is fierce.
Layout 1As a friend pointed out, a samba school parade is a great dancing opera. A visual wonder of luxurious costumes and floats, with dancing and music making provided by several thousand participants. Every year each school offers a new production. There must be a new theme, and a new theme song. You need not join a samba school to participate. Anyone including a foreigner can buy a costume and take part in the performance. But this entails months of rehearsals including at the Sambodromo.

The samba schools and their parades in the Sambodromo have been marketed as the glory of  Rio de Janeiro Carnaval, and they go a long way to allowing the city to claim it has the greatest celebration and party in the world. But there have been troubling issues. A recurrent one has been sponsorship. Many  schools are sponsored by gamblers or bicheiros who virtually own them. Bicheiros originally organized a version of the local numbers racket. However, people bet on animals (bichos) rather than numbers. Everyday there is winning animal. Winning bettors bring their receipt and leave with their payoff. No wait, and no bureaucracy. There is more to gambling in Rio de Janeiro than this popular betting game which though illegal is nonetheless allowed partly because it is said to be rooted in Brazilian culture. However, illegality has led to a corrupt relationship between bicheiros, police and public officials. So it is that gambler sponsorship of samba schools, and the purported influence of bicheiros on samba schools becomes a reason to criticize and even investigate samba schools. There is also an issue of foreign sponsorship. In 2006, Venezuela led by its president Hugo Chavez sponsored the winning Vila Isabel school with the theme “Soy loco por ti America.” It was a  Spanish, not Portuguese title which some people questioned. But sponsorship money and the popularity of Hugo Chavez spoke louder. Nor was Spanish an obstacle to winning. Vila Isabel was judged as having the most original and best realized parade performance, and became that year’s champion. This year the Beija Flor (Humming bird) school, a perennial favorite to win the competition, was criticized for accepting money–an estimated $4.5 million at the current exchange rate–from oil rich Equatorial Guinea. But Equatorial Guinea is governed  by a decades old personalist dictatorship widely condemned by human rights organizations though now striving  to improve its image. Beijo Flor spokespeople argued its script was meant to celebrate west Africa, not Equatorial Guinea, and that the importance of west Africa for Brazil long preceded Equatorial Guinea’s appearance as an independent nation in l968. Would this sponsorship prevent Beijo Flor from being selected once again champion of the Special Group? In fact, Beijo Flor won the prize with a characteristically impeccable parade performance enhanced by sumptuous costumes and imaginative floats (carros alegoricos). However, the contradiction of a substantial gift from a notorious dictatorship to a samba school where participation and creative freedom are supposed to be prime examples of popular democracy was glaring, and the controversy has continued.

While always enjoyable, even astonishing as spectacle, anyone who only watched the Special Group samba schools on parade would miss much, even most of Carnaval in Rio. With all their opulence, artistry and creativity in choreography, samba schools are only part of the party. A bigger part is mass participation in blocos. These are community organized street dancing groups that materialize during Carnaval. In fact, as the famous samba schools have become more commercialized, so have blocos grown in importance and number in reaction to excessive commercialization. Sambodromo commercialization works to exclude rather than include popular classes among the spectators. The high price of admission can reach a thousand dollars and more for the best seats if purchased from scalpers. The samba schools on parade at the Sambodromo are no longer within easy reach of middle and lower class wage earners.

There are currently more than 94 registered blocos scattered throughout Rio de Janeiro and its suburbs, and still more uncounted “rebel” groups not yet registered. Blocos are easy enough to locate by consulting listings in newspapers that state where and when they will gather. Each day of Carnaval, thirty or more will be on the street. Participation is open to everyone, and it doesn’t cost anything. Carnaval for me finally became a matter of seeking, finding and participating in one, then another, then another bloco.

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If you are interested in Brazilian music, check out this related Temple University Press book, The Brazilian Sound, by Chris McGowan and Ricardo Pessnha

Each bloco at the very least has a band, a male singer (some version of a tenor), and a sound truck. Everyone seems to wear some sort of costume (fantasia). None of my blocos required a fantasia which can be as simple as headgear, perhaps a wig, feathers, a pirate’s hat or a king or queen’s crown. I wore an old pink and green hat of the famous Mangueira samba school. And not without some trepidation. The hat is at least 30 years old, a relic that might be better off in a display case. Given its age and good condition, might it not be coveted by a fanatic follower of Mangueira recognizing the hat as something  different from today’s Mangueira paraphernalia, something from the past, and therefore of special interest. History counts when discussing the samba schools. Might someone snatch this cherished hat off my head? As I walked along the street on my way to the first bloco, one car slowed and people cheered this gesture celebrating Mangueira. Other people noticing the hat smiled, gave the thumbs up sign, waved. Nothing untoward happened.

The bloco prepares to move and dance down the street. The musicians and singer warm up, the revelers or foliões keep arriving, and the loud speaker primes us: “Just five more minutes, and we’re on our way.” Finally, there is movement. I decided I wouldn’t shy away from strenuous dancing if I fell in with others who were doing it. I was soon to be tested when a handful of young people dressed as harlequins placed themselves at the head of our bloco and danced with vigor and imagination, and with some improvised steps I had never seen. Some of us picked up the enthusiasm wanting it to continue. Suddenly I was dancing with an energetic woman in her mid, or perhaps late 30’s. Certainly she was much younger than myself. Could I keep up? You watch and match the other’s steps. I even tried to incorporate a step of our dancing  harlequins. This stimulated my partner, and we danced on for a while. Great fun. Finally, I found what I was seeking in the joy and participation of the bloco. 

The neighborhood blocos are more and more becoming the heart and soul of  Rio de Janeiro’s Carnaval. They are magnets that attract large numbers of revelers all over the city. They have I think added vitality to the Rio de Janeiro carnaval, as they are doing in other large Brazilian cities notably São Paulo. Some occupy a special niche such as the Cordão da Bola Preto which was said to attract a million people on the early Friday morning in downtown Rio, even in sun drenched 100 plus degree heat. At the other end of the spectrum is the bloco of Carmelitas (Carmelites) much smaller, but the object of growing interest. The bloco pays homage to the cloistered nuns in the local Carmelite convent with a simple, highly appropriate story that has captivated followers. A Carmelite nun suddenly flees the convent to join the revelers. People start looking for her including the Pope. The bloco does this part of the story on Friday, the first day of Carnaval. On Tuesday, the last day of Carnaval, the bloco is on the street for a second time when the nun returns undetected to the convent. Of course, the bloco is largely celebrating the escaped Carmelite nun and wishes to protect her identity. How?  With their fantasia: a veil of the Carmelite order. “Genial” (ingenious) as Brazilians might say.

Preparing for March Madness

This week in North Philly Notes, in anticipation of the 2015 NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Championship, we bracket Temple University Press’ selection of books about basketball. 

Palestra Pandemonium, by the late, great sportswriter Robert Lyons, features Temple University’s team so we’re especially partial to his fantastic History of the Big Five.

palestra pandemonium compThe most famous basketball tournament in the history of college basketball is the Big Five. And the Big Five was played in the most hallowed halls of college play: the Palestra. Now, for the first time, a complete story of this Philadelphia rivalry is revealed.

Robert Lyons offers the story of the Big Five from its very beginnings in 1955. At that time, many of the Big Five schools—La Salle University, University of Pennsylvania, St. Joseph’s University, Temple University and Villanova University—weren’t even talking to each other, and everyone predicted the tournament would end before it began. Conducting interviews with coaches and players—including famed Temple coach Harry Litwack’s last interview before his death—Lyons offers the play-by-play on how the Big Five became an institution, and how it was ultimately undone by college basketball’s own success.

Lavishly illustrated with photographs of players, teams, coaches, and the Palestra itself, Palestra Pandemonium is an immediate classic, offering a chronicle of the most monumental college basketball tournament. Anywhere.

We wouldn’t even know about basketball if it had not been for James Naismith, who invented the game in 1891.

9781439901342It seems unlikely that James Naismith, who grew up playing “Duck on the Rock” in the rural community of Almonte, Canada, would invent one of America’s most popular sports. But Rob Rains and Hellen Carpenter’s fascinating, in-depth biography James Naismith: The Man Who Invented Basketball shows how this young man—who wanted to be a medical doctor, or if not that, a minister (in fact, he was both)—came to create a game that has endured for over a century.

James Naismith reveals how Naismith invented basketball in part to find an indoor activity to occupy students in the winter months. When he realized that the key to his game was that men could not run with the ball, and that throwing and jumping would eliminate the roughness of force, he was on to something. And while Naismith thought that other sports provided better exercise, he was pleased to create a game that “anyone could play.”

With unprecedented access to the Naismith archives and documents, Rains and Carpenter chronicle how Naismith developed the original rules of basketball, coached the game at the University of Kansas—establishing college basketball in the process—and was honored for his work at the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin.

Temple University Press has published several books on basketball that explore different teams.

Wheelchair_Warrior_sm_compWheelchair Warrior, by Melvin Juette and Ron Berger, shows how the game of wheelchair basketball became Juette’s passion—he ultimately became a star athlete, playing on the U.S. National Wheelchair Basketball Team.

Outside the Paint by Kathleen Yep, takes readers back to the Chinese Playground of San Francisco in the 1930s and 1940s, the only public outdoor space in Chinatown. It was a place where young Chinese American men and women developed a new approach to the game of basketball—with fast breaks, intricate passing and aggressive defense—that was ahead of its time.

Drawing on interviews with players and coaches, Kathleen Yep recounts some surprising stories. From the success of the Hong Wah Kues, a professional barnstorming men’s basketball team and the Mei Wahs, a championship women’s amateur team, to Woo Wong, the first Chinese athlete to play in Madison Square Garden, and his extraordinarily talented sister Helen Wong, who is compared to Babe Didrikson.Outside the Paint sm comp

Outside the Paint chronicles the efforts of these highly accomplished athletes who developed a unique playing style that capitalized on their physical attributes, challenged the prevailing racial hierarchy, and enabled them, for a time, to leave the confines of their segregated world. As they learned to dribble, shoot, and steal, they made basketball a source of individual achievement and Chinese American community pride.

A trio of books detail the lives of the players and coaches of the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association’s Basketball Team, knows as The SPHAs.

The SPHAS sm compThe SPHAS by Douglas Stark, is the first book to chronicle the history of this team and its numerous achievements. Stark includes not only rare and noteworthy images of players and memorabilia but also interviews and anecdotes to recall how players like Inky Lautman, Cy Kaselman, and Shikey Gotthoffer challenged racial stereotypes of weakness and physical inferiority as they boosted the game’s popularity. Team owner Eddie Gottlieb and Temple University coach Harry Litwack, among others profiled here, began their remarkable careers with the SPHAS.Homecourt Cover

Larry Needle’s Homecourtis a children’s book about Red Klotz, who played for the SPHAS, where he won an American Basketball League championship. Ultimately, he played and coached for the Washington Generals against the legendary Harlem Globetrotters for decades. This illustrated book recalls the SPHAS games at the Broadwood Hotel (which now has a historical marker commemorating the team), the team’s coach, Eddie Gottlieb, and Klotz’s post-SPHAS career. It will inspire any kid who loves—or dreams of playing—basketball.

And last, but not least, is The Mogulby Rich Westcott, a biography of Eddie Gottlieb, the coach of the SPHMOGUL comp smallAs. A member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, Gottlieb founded, played and coached for the legendary South Philadelphia Hebrew Association (SPHAS) basketball team in the 1920s and 1930s. Only 5’ 8”, Gottlieb was nevertheless a very good basketball player. But it was behind the scenes where he excelled. He coached, helped form the National Basketball Association, and owned the Philadelphia Warriors franchise for many years. He signed Wilt Chamberlain to his first NBA contract. He also created the NBA’s annual schedule of games for more than a quarter of a century.

Drawing upon dozens of interviews and archival sources, and featuring more than fifty photographs, The Mogul vividly portrays Eddie Gottlieb’s pivotal role in both Philadelphia’s and America’s sports history.

Oh, the Places You’ll Go (as a Temple University Press author)

This week in North Philly Notes, Laura Katz Rizzo, author of Dancing the Fairy Tale, describes “a crazy couple of weeks” in her life as she promotes her book at various events. 

On March 5, I will speak at the Pennsylvania Ballet’s annual Luncheon and Dress Rehearsal, which is being held at 11:00 am at Estia restaurant, across the the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. The event is an opportunity for dance enthusiasts to have a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the world of ballet. Emceed by CBS 3’s Jessica Dean, the luncheon includes a presentation of my new book, Dancing the Fairy Talewhich concentrates on the important contributions women have made to the development of American classical ballet. I hope that Arantxa Ochoa, the principal of the company’s newly established school, and former principal dancer, will be there so she can hear what I have to say about how women bring the heart and soul to American ballet schools and companies. The lunch will be followed by a dress rehearsal of Christopher Wheeldon’s Swan Lake at the Academy of Music.

Dancing the Fairy Tale_sm

Soon after this event, I am taking a group of 10 undergraduate and 5 graduate students to the Northeast Regional American College Dance Festival, at Westchester University, where I will be teaching ballet, partnering and variations…obviously from The Sleeping Beauty. With the research I did for my book on that ballet, as well as the accumulated experiences from my own performance career, I want students to dance the solos I write about. In embodying the protagonist role of Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty, students will get a great entry point into understanding the arguments at the heart of the book: that performers infuse life into characters, and that without the agency of dancers, the roles of the classical ballets would never come to life.

LKR1I will also present some of my new research on “The Architecture of Space as embodied in Neo-Classical Dance Choreography,” work that has emerged from my organization of an interdisciplinary workshop and exhibition featuring the work of New York City Ballet’s photographer, Paul Kolnik and former dancer, Kyra Nichols. This event will take place at Temple’s Center for the Arts on April 16th.  Part of my job as the Temple representative at the American College Dance Festival Association will also be driving a van full of students from North Philadelphia to Westchester, running rehearsals, checking in on students, and making sure the theater crew has all of the needed technical cues from our students.  Honestly, as long as I don’t have to call any cues, I will be OK.  Calling cues is my least favorite job in the theater!

Barbara WeisbergerAfter returning from ACDFA, I have a quick trip to the Society of Dance History Scholars’ Conference at the Peabody Institute at John’s Hopkins University where I will discuss the life of Barbara Weisberger, (in photo at left), the founding matriarch of the Pennsylvania Ballet. She was at all the right places in all the right times in order to be part of many of the significant developments in American Ballet throughout the 20th century.

Baltimore will be followed by a trip to New York City to see the finals of the Youth America Grand Prix and conduct a recruitment audition for any competitors interested in studying dance in higher education!  In the meantime, I am trying to keep up with teaching my classes at Temple University (my favorite activity) as well as work on new research in which I am exploring the intersections between ballet and entertainment wrestling. This semester I am teaching a repertory class where senior jazz musicians and sophomore dance majors are creating a collaborative piece together. I am also teaching a graduate seminar for master’s students about best practices and strategies for teaching dance.

LKR2My new research topic, that of entertainment wrestling, has taken the shape of both a performed wrestling match en pointe in concert dance venue (so much fun to both float across the stage and body slam my partner in the same ten minutes) as well as a book chapter in an upcoming volume entitled Wrestling and Performance. If you had asked me five years ago if I though The Sleeping Beauty had connections to the WWE, I’d certainly have had different answers and a changed perspective from how I see the practices today. Go figure…the world of dance studies takes me to unexpected places each day!

North Korea’s response to The Interview, the Charlie Hebdo shootings, and school violence—is there a link?

In this blog entry, Laura Martocci, author of Bullyingconsiders shame in our culture. And watch this video, where Laura Martocci talks about the relation between shame and bullying. 

Why’d they do it?

Why did Islamic radicals go on a rampage at Charlie Hebdo?
Why did the North Korean government threaten ‘merciless’ action against the US if SONY released The Interview?
Why have American students brought guns to school and opened fire on their peers?

Shame.

A quickly-posted on-line account of the Charlie Hebdo shooting stated:
“MOTIVE: Charlie Hebdo had attracted attention for its controversial depictions of Muhammad. Hatred for Charlie Hebdo ’s cartoons, which made jokes about Islamic leaders as well as Muhammad, is considered to be the principal motive for the massacre.”

EspritdeCorps tells us that “the basic plot [of The Interview] centres on two American journalists acquiring access to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, and that rare opportunity prompts the CIA to ask the reporters to assassinate him. Not surprisingly, when the North Koreans learned that this film ends with the death of their actual leader and that the movie is considered a comedy, they took offence.” (italics added)

Comprehending Columbine compRalph Larkin [Comprehending Columbine, Temple, 2007] cites a report claiming that “people surrounded [Harris and Klebold] in the commons and squirted ketchup packets all over them, laughing at them, calling them faggots. That happened while teachers watched. They couldn’t fight back. They wore the ketchup all day and went home covered with it.”

Shame is the common denominator between these acts of violence, perpetrated against those held responsible for the degradation, humiliation, and loss of face.

Most analysts would hesitate to lump students who have gone on rampages with these two recent acts of terrorism. School shootings are not politically motivated, nor can their perpetrators be situated in a ‘shame culture.’ By positioning American culture as vastly different from both Islam and the Juche-influenced culture of North Korea, and by accounting for recent aggressions in terms of this difference, any similarity is easily obscured  A homicidal privileging of pride and honor seem a stark contrast to Occidential ‘guilt cultures’ steeped in rationality, individualism, free speech and the Christian value of forgiveness.

Unfortunately, this oversimplification denies the legitimacy of shame in American culture, and precludes an ability to fully understand the motivations behind our own ‘home-grown’ acts of violence. Simply put, even though America is not considered a shame-culture, shame may still drive acts of violence within it. In fact, denial may inadvertently promote such acts, because there are no cultural templates that instruct individuals on the processing of acutely distressful states of humiliation. While ‘shame-cultures’ may require individuals to seek revenge / restore honor, guilt cultures remain silent, offering no recipe to ease the degradation that gnaws from the inside, destabilizing a sense of self.

Shame is integral to human nature.
Embodied, it burns into and brands the psyche, even as it inscribes the social flesh.
Shame bears witness to the perversion of the self that I, and others, believe me to possess
As a moral emotion, it is linked to the exposure—and judgment—of who I am.
(That is, transgressions—perhaps merely ‘differences’—are not isolated acts that can be detached from self and remediated).

Viewed this way, the ridicule of one’s deeply held religious or political beliefs, on the world stage, can be  as deeply felt as any humiliation  in the cafeteria.

Rage against those who belittle and denigrate a foundational “truth” that anchors and sustains a cultural or social identity, and/or an individual’s sense of self, is not unexpected. Shame lives in the body. It has a somatic nature, and rage is an equally visceral response to the distress, agitation, and felt threat to identity; to belonging. It is the body’s resistance to psychic annihilation.

The violence prompted by rage marks an attempt to manage the (social and psychological) devastation prompted by shame. By its very ferocity, this violence demands that respect be restored. It promises to mitigate the agony of humiliation and rejection by (re)asserting both agency and authority, reclaiming dignity. It is bodily begotten social redemption—and socially begotten bodily redemption.

Bullying_smAs I argue in Bullying: The Social Destruction of Self, it is precisely the possibility of redemption—or its lack—that drives these acts of desperation.  Shame denigrates, but it is the inability to atone, to make amends and have respect restored/be readmitted to the group that looms large, and comes to overwhelm a number of our youth. Trapped in the fishbowl of their schools, unable to reclaim dignity and restore ‘face’ on a social level, and unable to negotiate the twisting, withering sense of inadequacy on a personal level, they seek only to make it stop.

And in order to do that, they may resort to the same extreme behavior that militants of shame-cultures embrace. This similarity of response is likely rooted in the neuro-firing of our brains.  Recent research and fMRI imaging has shown that the social pain linked to shame and rejection register in the same pain centers of the brain associated with tissue damage. And, when we are hurt, when we are humiliated, ostracized, and excluded, the pain (the threat to our social bond/personal well-being) may be so primal as to override any ‘rational’ responses.

In other words, not unlike physical pain, social pain interrupts cognitive functioning.
It impairs an individual’s ability to process information and self-regulate. 
This neurological response, likely a consequence of the interdependence between emotion and cognition processes, suggests that shame, whether experienced in relation to cultural values or to taunts in cyberspace, can debilitate, even incapacitate, the ability to think and act ‘rationally.’

And, it is the need to alleviate this pain—to restore face and redeem oneself (or one’s culture/religion)—that makes the tragedies in our own backyards not  dissimilar to violence occurring on the world stage.

Understanding Net-neutrality

This week in North Philly Notes, marketing assistant Aaron Long discusses Net-neutrality and the Temple University Press titles that address this timely issue.

Net-neutrality has occupied the nation’s attention, since Verizon’s appeal of the FCC’s old net neutrality rules labeled the prior regulations unconstitutional. Finally after an uncertain year for the internet, Tom Wheeler, a former industry lobbyist and the current FCC Commissioner, made plans to reclassify the internet as Title II utility, allowing the organization to effectively regulate internet service providers and their practices.

Net-neutrality stands for the equal treatment of data across any network. Users connect to any network provider and have equal access to every service available, regardless of the company. The basic concept has been the triumphing slogan of the Internet for decades, allowing startups like Google and Facebook to compete against more established brands and emerge as international phenomenon. Since Verizon’s appeal, internet service providers announced services utilizing paid prioritization of digital content. The matter ignited the nation with every major news outlet reporting on it and one especially funny response from John Oliver on Last Week Tonight. Where he compared Tom Wheeler to a dingo babysitting an infant. Even president Obama urged the FCC to reclassify the internet as a utility under Title II with a YouTube video on the White House’s official channel.

The addition of Title II status marks a dramatic shift in the United States’ policy on internet providers with the potential to drive down prices and increase competition. However, the matter could start a legal war between media juggernauts like Comcast and the FCC agency. To learn more, please review Temple University Press’s extensive collection on the history of telecommunications, the cable industry, and tech policy.

Blue Skies, by Patrick Parsons

blue_sky_reviseCable television is arguably the dominant mass media technology in the U.S. today. Blue Skies traces its history in detail, depicting the important events and people that shaped its development, from the pre-cursors of cable TV in the 1920s and 1930s to the first community antenna systems in the 1950s, from the creation of the national satellite-distributed cable networks in the 1970s to the current incarnation of “info-structure” that dominates our lives. Author Patrick Parsons also considers the ways that economics, public perception, public policy, entrepreneurial personalities, the social construction of the possibilities of cable, and simple chance all influenced the development of cable TV.

Thoroughly documented, carefully researched, yet lively, occasionally humorous, and consistently insightful, Blue Skies is the genealogy of our media society.

Air Wars by Jerold Starr  **Best Title for this Topic!**

air-warsA riveting narrative of the price of politics, money, and ambition, and an inspirational account of how ordinary people can prevail over powerful interests, Air Wars tells how a grassroots movement of concerned citizens at WQED in Pittsburgh was able to overcome enormous institutional influence in their quest for public accountability.

These citizens believed strongly in public television’s unique mission to serve the diverse social and cultural needs of local communities. When their own station neglected this mission in the search for national prestige and bigger revenues, they felt profoundly betrayed.

Jerold Starr exposes the political and commercial pressures that made strange bedfellows of the top officials of public broadcasting, the Democratic Party establishment, Pat Robertson and the Christian Coalition, home-shopping and “infomall” king Lowell “Bud” Paxson, and billionaire right-wing publisher/philanthropist Richard Mellon Scaife.

Far beyond Pittsburgh, Starr looks at how the reform movement has spread to major cities like Chicago, Phoenix, Jacksonville, and San Francisco, where citizen activists have successfully challenged public stations to be more community responsive.

Finally, he outlines an innovative plan for restructuring the public broadcasting service as an independently funded public trust. Joining this vision with a practical strategy, Starr describes the formation of Citizens for Independent Public Broadcasting, a national membership organization with a grassroots approach to putting the public back into public broadcasting.

Reverse Engineering Social Media, by Robert Gehl

Reverse Engineering_smRobert Gehl’s timely critique, Reverse Engineering Social Media, rigorously analyzes the ideas of social media and software engineers, using these ideas to find contradictions and fissures beneath the surfaces of glossy sites such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter.

Gehl adeptly uses a mix of software studies, science and technology studies, and political economy to reveal the histories and contexts of these social media sites. Looking backward at divisions of labor and the process of user labor, he provides case studies that illustrate how binary “Like” consumer choices hide surveillance systems that rely on users to build content for site owners who make money selling user data, and that promote a culture of anxiety and immediacy over depth.

Reverse Engineering Social Media also presents ways out of this paradox, illustrating how activists, academics, and users change social media for the better by building alternatives to the dominant social media sites.

Technological Visionsedited by Marita Sturken, Douglas Thomas, and Sandra Ball-Rokeach

Technological-Visions

For as long as people have developed new technologies, there has been debate over the purposes, shape, and potential for their use. In Technological Visions, a range of contributors, including Sherry Turkle, Lynn Spigel, John Perry Barlow, Langdon Winner, David Nye, and Lord Asa Briggs, discuss the visions that have shaped “new” technologies and the cultural implications of technological adaptation. Focusing on issues such as the nature of prediction, community, citizenship, consumption, and the nation, as well as the metaphors that have shaped public debates about technology, the authors examine innovations past and present, from the telegraph and the portable television to the Internet, to better understand how our visions and imagination have shaped the meaning and use of technology.

Remembering Dean Smith

This week in North Philly Notes, Gregory Kaliss, author of Men’s College Athletics and the Politics of Racial Equality reflects on Dean Smith’s legacy of promoting racial integration.

With the death of Dean Smith on February 7, the world of college sports lost one of the giants in its history, a man who was the standard of consistent excellence during his thirty-six years as the head coach of men’s basketball at the University of North Carolina. With a career 879-254 record, thirty-five winning seasons, eleven Final Four appearances, two national championships, and one Olympic gold medal, Smith clearly excelled on the court.

But, as many have observed, the nation at large has lost someone much more important than just a basketball coach.  For all of Smith’s innovations, from his early adoption of advanced statistical metrics to his creation of the point zone, the Four Corners offense, the huddle at the free throw line, and the tradition of pointing to the passer on a made basket, Smith’s legacy was defined by his contributions off the court.

This Black History Month, it is especially worthwhile to remember Smith’s courage in promoting racial integration in the South.  As a little-known assistant coach in the late 1950s, Smith and his white minister brought a black friend to a popular segregated restaurant in Chapel Hill for lunch.  They were served.  In some ways, that act was as impressive as some of his later stands: with little clout and a tenuous position as an assistant, Smith challenged the racial mores of the community because of his sense of moral rightness.

When Smith became head coach at UNC in 1961, he followed through on his desire to bring black players to Chapel Hill and to the South in general. Although his first attempt to bring a black player onto the team did not work out when the player decided to focus on academics instead, Smith recruited Charles Scott, a tremendously-gifted athlete from New York who played his high school basketball in Laurinburg, North Carolina.

Not only was Scott the first black basketball player at UNC, he was also the first star-caliber black player in the Atlantic Coast Conference during his career from 1966 to 1970. Although the University of Maryland had signed black players prior to UNC, Scott’s stardom made him an iconic figure. In subsequent years, the other schools in the ACC followed suit.

But Smith did more than simply make use of Scott’s basketball skills. In later years, Scott effusively praised Smith for caring about him as a person and for helping him survive the years of racial abuse and social isolation he experienced. Smith also took a courageous stand in encouraging Scott’s political activism with the on-campus Black Student Movement. Many frowned on athletes getting involved in political activism, especially in relation to controversial subjects such as racial equality, but Smith told Scott to follow his beliefs and get involved, a remarkable decision given the turbulence of the 1960s and the still-fraught nature of race relations in Chapel Hill and the South at large.

In later years, Smith pursued a number of activist initiatives that alienated some supporters: from his opposition to pornography and to the sale of alcohol at college sporting events, to his protests against nuclear power and the death penalty. Through it all, he maintained the courage of his convictions and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.

Let us remember, then, the death of a man who sought to make the world a better place according to his sense of justice—a man who just happened to be an excellent basketball coach as well.

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