In a previous post, I wrote about my searches on Google’s ngram viewer on the relative historical use of the terms “chink” and “Chink.” Ngram viewer’s dataset only goes to 2008/9, but another Google web tool, trends, tracks the text of web searches (at Google, obviously) since 2004 – yes, trends is a text search of text searches, so for those folks who love self-referentiality, it is in effect a meta-search engine. Since they draw on different data, actual print usage versus web search text, the two tools aren’t directly comparable. Nevertheless, a quick check on Google trends for the term “chink” was interesting.
[Classes ended yesterday so I’m in the process of updating and publishing posts I wrote this fall.]
In May, in the aftermath of the controversy over the use of the phrase “chink in the armor” as a ESPN headline for an article about Jeremy Lin, I wrote a post about the term “chink” and its historical use and origin. This fall I’ve been thinking about the digital humanities and data visualization for my courses and I remembered Google’s ngram viewer. It’s an online tool that draws on the digitalization of books and other print materials that are the basis for Google Books. It allows you to can chart the frequency with which a word (or words) occurs in that database. Because the database includes historical works, in effect the ngram viewer charts the historical use of words in print. I decided to use it to check the arguments I made in my previous post.
Much of the media coverage in the wake of President Obama’s reelection on Tuesday has focused on the United States’ changing racial demographics, their impact on the election, and their implications for the future. These results, however, shouldn’t surprise people who have been observing and writing about these demographic shifts for years.
I’m writing a longer piece about Jeremy Lin’s media sensation and its implications, but wanted to post a few of my notes on what I call the Linsanity:
As a Taiwanese American, a basketball fan since the glory days of the Portland Trailblazers, and a Harvard graduate, I would be remise not to have heard of Jeremy Lin. Through friends and occasional reports, I followed his career off and on before it became the media sensation that became the Linsanity this past February.
Like many others, I am excited at his recent NBA success. Having spent my share of time in gyms and playground pick-up games trying to play point guard, I have also been amused by the superficial similarities—including the deficiencies—of his play and my attempts at the same. It remains to be seen if he can maintain his high level of play through this season and beyond, but Lin has already demonstrated that he is more than capable and belongs on the court.
At the same time, I was also disturbed by aspects of the Linsanity, including Asian American commentary, and what it expressed about race and its contours within public discourse. Sports is an enormous and significant segment of our popular culture, but in relating its history, race apparently still requires a particular note of authenticity.
In Astounding Days, his autobiographical reminiscence of a youth reading science fiction, Arthur C. Clarke recalled that English fans learned that Woolworth’s was the best place to find the pulp magazines where the stories they wanted to read. “According to legend, all these ‘Yank pulps’ invaded the United Kingdom as ballast in returning cargo ships. Presumably it was worth disposing of unsold issues in this way, rather than recycling the paper.” Colorfully entertaining, Clarke’s recollection also illustrated the incidental—and often unseen and unconsidered—consequences of distribution for publishing’s sales and circulation.
One of my favorite passages from Raymond Williams’ cultural criticism and commentary is from his essay, “Communications and Community.” Encountering it in his book, Resources of Hope, it helped me realize the broader sensibility I wanted to take in my dissertation. I printed a copy of the passage and taped it to my monitor with “READ ME!” handwritten for emphasis above while I wrote to remind me to maintain its perspective. Its point, a response to post-World War Two developments in advertising, marketing, and culture and their academic study, remains relevant in contemporary considerations about social media in the age of the Internet.
“For it is a terrifying thought that most of the real work on communications is now being done by advertisers, to discover more effective ways of selling the products of whoever hires them. It is just as bad that almost all our terms for talking about communication come from America, where you among some good sociology a very largely debased and hired sociology. There nothing is an effect or impression, it is always an impact. People even are not people, they are mass audiences, they are socio-economic groups, they are targets. And the aggression within those terms, the aggression within ‘impact,’ the aggression within ‘target,’ is the expression of people who want to control. But the basis of a democratic system is that ordinary people should have control in their own hands, that they should not be targets for anybody.”