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   Article One - Jobs and old guys 
   Article Two - Blue-collar sociology 
   Article Three - Symbolic Interactionism goes to "Nam"
   Article Four - McDonaldization of Society   

   (Scoll down for articles)

 Article One - Jobs and old guys

                              Give me a break!
What's going on with the American "great Mid-west" society?  I went back to college after decades of blue-collar work and came out with a couple degrees for my trouble - now in my fifties.  Yet, after putting in dozens of applications since the beginning of 2006, I only get a nibble here and there for a blue-collar position. I put in for blue-collar jobs now and then out of desperation.  I now work three part-time media jobs. Hey, I kept hearing in college and still hear on the news that society does not discriminate against old guys anymore - fine, what ever then!  I am sure, as usual with how society looks at the "agent," the "actor," that would be me - it is of course, my fault.

   There is another term in sociology called "ritualism."  It basically means society muddles along to get its tasks done regardless of who it hurts. It often does this to its own detriment.  I talk to other old people still working, and as it seems in various unfulfilling often part-time jobs.  I get to do this because I am a newspaper circulation guy and I am all over the distribution area talking to people. Most, no, all of the old timers I talk who are also trying to plod out a living via part-time jobs tend to agree with me - age discrimination is alive and well.  Society pats itself on the back and proclaims from on high it is keeping its oldies busy.  Job postings often tout that a particular job would be good for retirees.  No one seems to be able to do anything about it.  There are groups that claim to help, but my take on them is they just are fronts to sell useless insurance. 
   Georg (spelled without an 'e' at the end) Simmel as far as we know is still dead.  He was a German sociologist and wrote his findings on society from 1890 to 1920.  Simmel seemed to be always on the outside looking in to society and academia.  He seemed to both live and study marginality with society. 
   Being both a former blue-collar guy and now an old recently educated guy I am beginning to see what Simmel meant.  Simmel said that in some ways marginality with the society around a person can be liberating.  I guess in other words, if they don't let you in to play, to hell with them and just go off and start your own gig. I am guessing he used loftier, semiotics (words) far more acceptable in academia to describe my dilemma.  

                              Schizophrenic Society  
   Everything I was and everything I trained to use to contribute to society is going to waste. Time is wasting away society.  But now days on top of it being hard to find gainful employment as an oldie, society seems to think and expect us all to live to be 110 years old.  It was satisfied for awhile with the recent phenomenon of the feat of so many living so old.  It was a novelty and centurions would make the newspapers.  But now beyond just living to a very old age, society expects us to be productive until the bitter end to boot - Catch 22. Jeeze! Now, if centurions are unproductive, I get the funny feeling society thinks they are slackers.  Society seems schizophrenic and wants it both ways. 
  I am trained in computer use, writing, journalism, criminal investigation, horticulture, aquatics, emergency medicine to only name a few.  I have not drank alcohol in twenty years.  I exercise daily.  I have never used cigarettes to any extent. I have stayed fit and conquered illnesses that have killed others my age.  I have this reoccuring nightmare that about the time I am crawling off to a nursing home to die or at best sit with apple sauce dripping from my chin, some one will look at my profile and say, "damn, what a shame, we could have used a guy like you over the last 20 years!"

                              Society's lose - my gain
   So here I sit and languish in a stuffy Mid-western town with what I have learned are other people in the same boat but, all at a lose to act on their dilemma. What do you do, file a suit against the "ubiquitous ritualism of letting old people go to waste?"
   So, I have a Web site and an ongoing study of Vietnam the country, people, culture, and war. As well, I now have the beginnings of an ongoing study of Kurdistan the region, people, culture, and war. Here's to you Dr. "Marginality" Georg without an 'e.' 

 - by Bob Keith, June 25, 2006 -

 Article Two - Blue-collar sociology
 The convergence of two generations' distain for jobs that suck
I have to walk past the smoker's nook at the outside door I use to get to the office I report to at the newspaper I work for.  I always ask some poor lone smoker what they do there after some cordialities about the weather. The fellow today was a young guy who just started in advertising sales.  We got to talking about finding a job after college and to my surprise he understood my dilemma of having 35 years of blue-collar experience now with a master's education dumped on top of it.  I drive a delivery van for my trouble.  
   He asked if I liked the job, and being old I can certainly dig up a job or two - or five - that were much, much worse.  He said his friends and family were in a quandary about his entry level job now after college.  But he told them that nothing could match up to retail for awful.  He worked for a big-box store through college.  I said I worked for a regional big-box at one time.  He is almost young enough to be my grandson.  Yet, we apparently have common enemy.  There may be hope for the county after all.

                              Time Bandits
   What is wrong with these retail giants?  As their employees, they schedule you for different work times every week.  One week you work Monday morning. The next week you work Monday evening.  You rarely get the same day off on any given week.  It makes it darn hard to work another job, or even look for another job to boot.  A co-worker of mine who works a second job at, of course, one of the local big-boxes has to give our boss at the newspaper a weekly schedule of availability.  Makes one wonder how the two jobs put up with one another.

                              Not knowing another world
People that grew up in this current world of ubiquitous part-time, open 24-hour a day work places, know no other world.  There once was a time that people worked Monday through Friday usually from 8-ish to 5-ish and called it a day. 
   Some things I am glad are gone from the past like segregation, the Vietnam War, the rotary phone, and some 1960s pop singers to name but a few.  But, the 40-hour work week with benefits I dearly miss.  
   I hear a lot about the wonderfully low unemployment figures.  I suppose these part-time, non-benefit paying jobs many of us work are bolstering up the stats.  It reminds me of the 1970s and early 1980s.  Everyone around here was on unemployment or on welfare - the Midwest rust belt.  No one likes to remember those days.  People seem to pretend they never happened.  I remember being told I was a 'loafer' - the word now replaced by 'slacker.'  What was I suppose to do, build a job from sticks and rocks?  We are all not as apt as Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Edison. Yet, some years later in the 1980s a job interviewer chided me because I worked several temporary jobs rather than opt for unemployment.  You can't win when the agents of society come out of the woodwork to defend its nitwittery.   
   People are often cruel and ridiculous with their enforcement of norms and mores. "If you ain't work'n you must be a loser."  I would silently think to myself, "No, if you ain't got no full-time jobs in your state, your state is the loser."  This is one of the many reasons I left these parts at least twice before in my life. Our greatest export in Wisconsin is our educated youth.  It's so prolific a problem it even has a trendy little title - the "brain drain."  Our university system is one of the best, and it pumps out grads by the thousand but that then seem to only run for their lives to the four corners of the earth immediately upon graduation. 

                              But the stats look great
   Well, now things are suspiciously similar to the '70s and early '80s again. Except, this time we are all employed - it is just at jobs that pay little, work us part-time, rob our time, waste our talents, pay us no benefits, methodically beat down our spirit, and suck out what brains we may hope to have left. But by God the stats are look'n mighty good!  Here's to you my young, new, empathetic friend in sales.

- by Bob Keith, June 29, 2006 -

 Article Three - Symbolic Interactionism goes to "Nam" 

                              South Vietnam in L.A. 
   Surfing the Web in grad school looking for relevant stuff on Vietnam I stumbled on a seminar being held at the University of California - Riverside, east of Los Angles. It would be held in April of 2005 on the campus to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the fall of Saigon and South Vietnam. I did a quick check on Expedia and low and behold there was an airline ticket deal. A couple hundred bucks got me out there and back. A reciprocal arrangement allowed me to stay in a visitor's dorm on the cheap because I was after all, a student too. A cheap rental car capped off he deal. 
   After I got through a couple lectures at Riverside it was obvious it was important to drop in on Little Saigon. It is a Vietnamese district not far from Disney Land. I had read about it before I headed out there but its constant referencing by the speaking guests validated its importance. 
   Immediately I was struck by all the old South Vietnamese flags lining the streets of the Vietnamese community. It was like seeing all the waving flags on the light poles during the Fourth of July only these flags were symbolic of a country that no longer existed. 

                              The assignment of meaning 
   Then it hit me like a brick. Those flags were assigned meaning. It was basically old South Vietnam in exile, and just down the road from Micky Mouse to boot. And then I thought about Dr. Lanny Neider. 
   One of the first classes I took at UW-Whitewater after transferring in from tech school was Social Psychology. The professor of the class was Dr. Neider. He was the head of the Sociology Department - one of the perks of a small college is professors actually teach the classes (as opposed to teaching assistants) and as I found out the department heads do as well. He was salty, well traveled in academic politics, insisted on knowing why things ticked, insisted on knowing how real life applied to the "crap" (his words) we were studying, and probably should be described as old school. 
   Dr. Neider's attack of the subject of social psychology came from the perspective of Symbolic Interactionism. Basically in a nutshell - the assignment of meaning. I am mindful of a communication theory class I took in grad school that also discussed Symbolic Interactionism. It is poetic that both the fields of sociology and communication use the same dead theorists as their base. So sociology as an undergraduate pursuit and communication as a graduate endeavor was not all that big of a leap of faith after all. But I digress. 

                              The symbols still linger 
   So there it was, thirty years later and the symbols of the Vietnam War still had meaning to the Vietnamese in America. And for America as a whole all the symbols and signs we assign the Vietnam era have meaning as well? - The Huey helicopter, the scenes of dense jungle, the GIs ducking behind olive drab sand bags to avoid a stray bullet during a skirmish between the Americans and the ever phantom Viet Cong, the jets strafing with napalm, and the evacuation of Saigon in April of 1975. Many of these images are standard backdrop in the templates of around a hundred Vietnam War movies from 1968 to present. A neighbor of mine flies his Vietnam Veteran's of America flag under his American flag on the pole in front of his house. The V.V.A. flag looks a great deal like the old South Vietnamese flag. Using the L.A. model, a piece of old South Vietnam is just a couple streets over from mine here in my small town in Wisconsin. 
   So Dr. Neider you connected the dots in retrospect. I told Dr. Neider as he was teaching his last class before retirement from the university that it was as shame a guy like him was leaving. He almost seemed to have a perturbed look on his face at the notion someone might think he should stay. "Look," he said. "I've been in college for 35 years, I'm headed up north to try some blue-collar stuff." I hope you made it Dr. Neider.

 - by Bob Keith, April 23, 2006 -

 Article Four - McDonaldization of Society 
   Around 1993 sociologist George Ritzer coined one of my favorite phrases. He came up with the phrase, "the McDonaldization of Society." I wish I had thought of it. Basically, it uses the McDonald's template of having all the prices on the keys, giving the workers set steps to wait on customers and make the food, and even lighting up the pie keys on the cash register to remind the counter-person to ask if the customer wants dessert. The workers are to always be polite and quick but only polite enough so as not to take too long for each customer. Around 1991, Robin Leidner did a field study of McDonald's and actually worked the job and then wrote about it. She found much of the same rituals that Ritzer found. 
   The movie Falling Down took a shot at the ritualism trend. Michael Douglas played a troubled character that had a bit of a dangerous tantrum when he could not get his hamburger the way he wanted it.    
   Now all this is interesting and well and good except what if this robot type ritualized service spills over into the greater society? Wall-Mart stores all basically look the same. Cruise ships herd you about on the ship to their events and activities - one often does not even know they are on water. Suburban lawns are all cut the same and the houses only differ in design slightly, often for blocks or even miles. The car companies convince us to be "individuals" and find our manhood but only if we drive one of "their" monstrous Hummers - regardless that the gas prices are outrageous. 
   Old dead sociologist Max Weber called this "rationalization." That's a $50 academic word meaning we all muck about like robots. O'l Max also coined the term the "Iron Cage" of ritual. Believe it or not he came up with that over a hundred years ago. I believe the cynical term is best used when bureaucracy is so ritualized in its inept rules that it is to the detriment of an individual or even a whole group. 
   Hey, I say hop on a f---'n plane and see a third-world country. You will learn rather quickly we don't need to do half the nonsense we do on any given day here in this country. Although I have noticed some third-world country tourism now likes to herd you to their "special sites." And, they are becoming enthralled with fast food joints. The "Colonel" and his chicken are global man - the Bird Flu be damned. It is best to get out on your own in the third-world - dangers not-with-standing. But it is best to get out on your own here too and just free-lance your travels out from under the ubiquitous ritualism of society. 
   Yet, when it is all said and done, it is still a realatively free country here in the United States. I will defend to my death your right to drive a Hummer until you go bankrupt and cut your lawn four times a week until it cries in pain. 

 - by Bob Keith, July 23, 2006 -
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