Laughing in the face of death

Last night Olivier and I watched a television documentary which described a recent French research project which reconstructed the Milgram experiment. I was so thrilled to watch this documentary, I don’t get much sociological titillation here, and it was fun to revisit an experiment that American sociologists talk about so often.

The research, which was re-framed as a television game show, with the same number of participants as Milgram, chosen in the same manner, and told that they would be participating on a game show pilot test. In each “show” there was a “questioner” and a “subject” that would receive shocks. Of course, the “subject” was an actor, who pretended to be shocked out of his consciousness by the “questioner”. The “subject” was placed in a small chamber, away from the view of the “questioner,” and strapped into an electrical chair. The “subject” was then given a list of words – two words on each line, each set of words associated with one another – which the “subject” had to memorize in a span of 30 seconds (impossible), asked 30 questions to tell the “questioner” the correct pair of words, and, therefore, the “subject” obviously got each question wrong and received a shock – increasing in value with each question.

You can watch a clip of the show here (don’t worry if you don’t speak French, it’s pretty clear).

One result that was very interesting to find is that as the shock intensity increased, the “questioner” would laugh, in an attempt to externalize their nervousness and to reach the “subject” to let him know that the situation was supposed to be all “fun and games.” The laugh most commonly occurred around the “middle” shock amount and subsequently decreased as the shock (and the cries of the actor) became stronger.

This nervous laugh is extremely fascinating. Normally, the laugh is reserved to demonstrate joy, pleasure, amusement, but it has been reappropriated to express nervousness as well. The first logical explanation for this nervous laugh is that expressed in the experiment – an attempt to bring a light-heartedness to the situation. But it is still a quite disturbing image to watch someone laughing (sometimes hysterically, to the point of tears) while they believe they are shocking someone to unconsciousness, even death. Of course this brings a lot of questions to the surface, such as sadism, an innate aggressive nature of human beings, etc…I’m not sure how much I agree with either of those principles (thought I do think that humans are by nature relatively aggressive beings due to the need for survival), but I don’t think that anyone on this show consciously took pleasure in knowing that they were causing potential pain to the “subject.”

I’d love to hear your opinions about this! I’m eager to read what you have to say.


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A Regretful Absence

The end of February was pretty rough, weatherly-speaking. Let’s just say that I’ve got an issue with grey skies. Can’t stand them; I get tired, sleepy, and depressed. I hate winter. Yes, I have seasonal affective disorder, no need to tell me. I blame Los Angeles for conditioning me to appreciate only sun and 75 F weather. And the two last weeks of February were the worst. No sun, lots of rain, a return to -1 C temperatures and freak snow flurries.

But now, it’s mid-March and the sun has peeked his head out of the clouds to say hello. Spring time is coming! And today there’s a high of 17 C! And it’s obvious that spring is in the air…everyone is getting chipper, new relationships are blooming between my friends, and, to top it off, it’s Saint Patrick’s Day today and so I’m sure there will be some new gossip tomorrow, if you catch my drift.

It’s also internship application season and I feel a bit like I’m searching for a needle in a haystack. But I’m sure I will find something – I have to find something. I’m not ready to move back to my life in the USA quite yet. I’m sending off my first batch of cover letters and CVs this weekend.

Wish me luck!

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Alexander Wang, Fall 2010

I know it was just the other day I blogged about Spring 2010, but I cannot avoid talking about this Alexander Wang show until fall. I WANNNNTTTT, especially that camel cape and coat, grey criss-cross sweater and those boots. Love the velvet, so late 70s rocker chic. C. Ronson also did a really 70s inspired show. Fall is looking good. I cannot wait to wear my “ratty” suede and fur collar jacket allll spring. (Yes, mom, it’s just guna get even ratttierrrrr. 🙂 I’m just trying to be authentic.)

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Smell Update

Today Olivier had some big news for me…something to confirm my suspicions…something to make me feel somewhat more sane…THERE IS A YEAST FACTORY NEAR LILLE! He found out today because someone at La Voix du Nord was talking about the factory.

YESSS. I am not crazy. (Although you might still like to think otherwise.) I knew it smelled like yeast. I guess that’s what you get from working in a kitchen (besides many other wonderful skills) but I am damn good at recognizing smells and tastes.

If you’d like more information about the factory:

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Summer, Summer, Summer, Where are you?

I can’t have summer, but I can listen to this and pretend that I’ve got the beach, the waves, the sun, the sand, and a cold hummingbird cocktail in my hand. And, of course, my friends, we’ll all fly to paradise together and live there for the rest of our lives.

And here’s a recipe for the hummingbird (in case your mouth was watering or you were confused and thought I was talking about the bird)

For one serving:
1 oz bananas
1 oz coconut cream
1 oz creme de bananes
1 oz rum
1/2 oz Tia Maria® coffee liqueur
1 oz strawberries
crushed ice

Please leave me songs that remind you of summer! I need some more sunshine tunes!


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Spring Trends for 2010

Now that a new decade is upon us, and a new season, Spring 2010 will be an interesting time. My predictions for upcoming/persisting trends from the shows I am most excited about.

– 1950s/1960s femme fatale, with a twist. (See Hussein Chalayan)
– Leather used in new ways. (See Valentino PS – that’s not lace, that’s leather!)
– Rocker Chick (See Balmain)
– And one of my favorite shows from the season (and a definite favorite designer in general): Lanvin

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Last Speaker of Ancient Language Dies

This is absolutely amazing and tragic. What does this mean for our world, on a long term scale? How many languages will we lose? How many races and ethnicities will disappear? How much rich culture are we destroying/overlooking/taking for granted? But, then, what can we do to prevent this from happening? I do not have the answers for this, nor do I know where to start thinking. Do you?

The last speaker of an ancient language in India’s Andaman Islands has died at the age of about 85, a leading linguist has told the BBC.

Professor Anvita Abbi said that the death of Boa Sr was highly significant because one of the world’s oldest languages – Bo – had come to an end.

She said that India had lost an irreplaceable part of its heritage.

Languages in the Andamans are thought to originate from Africa. Some may be 70,000 years old.

The islands are often called an “anthropologist’s dream” and are one of the most linguistically diverse areas of the world.

You can find the rest of the article here.

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