Saturday, November 22, 2014

Unconventional Behavior

One of the "Classic 39" Honeymooner episodes is entitled, "Unconventional Behavior."  In it, Ralph and Ed agree, reluctantly, to invite their wives to join them and travel to the Raccoon Convention in Minneapolis.

In the second half of the episode, the men find themselves on the train without their spouses. Initially, they suspect that the women are elsewhere on the train and begin to review the various gimmicks they have brought along to dazzle their Raccoon brethren.  Bulging eyeballs, guns that squirt, funny masks, and something Norton just picked up on the way to the train--handcuffs.

The handcuffs are the piece de resistance as far as Norton is concerned. You latch them to an unsuspecting brother Raccoon and pretend that there is no key.  To prove the point, Norton attaches the handcuffs to Ralph.  When it comes time to extricate himself, Norton tries to do what he has been told to do in the store, i.e. say 1. 2. 3. boomf.

Problem is that while in the store, the magic word boomf separated the handcuffs. On the train, the two are attached and can't decouple. The rest of the episode is about how they are stuck together. And at the end of the skit, they realize that the reason the women are not with them, is that the boys got on the wrong train.

I'm in Chicago.  The national conference for those who examine what I do in universities is being held here this weekend.  The first time I went to this convention it was, in fact, in Minneapolis. This was 1978.   I like going to this conference.  It is enormous.  As many as twenty concurrent sessions every 75 minutes.  If you are interested in Health Communication, Mediated Messages, Nonverbal Communication, Presidential Rhetoric, Sports Communication, Interpersonal or Group, Crisis a type of Communication and someone has given or will be giving a paper on it this weekend.  (I will comment that there were not enough sessions this time on Sport Communication).

A question that I have been mulling for the last few hours is this:  How different is this group than the Raccoons to which Ed Norton and Ralph Kramden belonged?  We are more educated for sure.  A Ph.D. here or an aspiration to get one, is the ticket for entry .   And we did not bring bulging eye balls or funny masks to the sessions, but I'm not sure that beyond this, the group is that much different.

At the very first academic convention I attended, I went back to my room after a few hours--and wrote the following little poem.

At conventions folks come to attend; to pontificate and contend, with peers.
An excuse for a weekend away, a time for the heart to convey//allay--its fears.

(At this time in my life I was writing these little ditties regularly. It is meaningful I know--and not in a good way--that I rarely do this anymore.  Not sure why).

Like I said, I enjoy going to this particular conference.  There is a good deal that I listen to that is worthless, but almost always something I listen to that is valuable.  Yet, I continue to wonder if we are just better educated Raccoons.

It is almost forty years since my first trip to Minneapolis.  I see some of the people who were the elders at that time.  They look older.  Go figure.  How is it that except for when I catch a glance at myself in the reflecting walls all over the Hilton, I feel I am the same age as I was in 1978?

As was the case in Minneapolis. the place is flooded with young-uns.  Young Ph.D.s and graduate students hoping to make a name for themselves.  I recognize the lot, as I was once them.  Their duds are different.  When I started coming to these--for a time right after the "revolution"-- folks were, counterintuitively, conservatively attired.  Now jeans are as normal as ties.  Profanities are uttered in the course of academic discussions.

It is interesting that so much of what is said in the coffee shops and lounges is exactly what had been uttered forty years ago. What people are teaching; what are the chances for tenure; where are people being hired; who is the son of a bitch making completing the degree difficult.

There is an exhibition hall where textbooks are displayed.  I have a few books out so it is heady to see my titles displayed and hear salesperson say how swell they are to prospective adopters.  And if you want to be obtuse for a few moments you can become buoyed hearing the salesperson blow smoke at you.

Adjacent to the exhibition hall are poster sessions. There, young whippersnappers, talk through studies they are doing.  I go to a number today.  I see a young woman and then a young man who are very enthusiastic about their work.  I listen to the young woman but for the first five minutes I can't get past the fact that she has a hook in her nose.  She is very attractive and what I would like to say to this 20 something person is, "why are you wearing that ridikalus hook in your nose".  And then the fellow, equally handsome, speaks about something which, coincidentally, I know quite a bit about.  What he is saying is not that profound and, while not egotistical, he is speaking as if he discovered the wheel. Similarly the woman with the hook has spoken about a phenomenon that is not real new.  And I begin to feel embarrassed because I wonder if at age 26 I was spewing wisdom enthusiastically that proved to someone who had been around the track, just how unwise I might have been.

So, are we Raccoons?

In some ways no.  We are better educated; don't think throwing balloons with water out of a window is hysterical.  And many of the papers I heard do or at least can make a difference in what we know about Communication.

But in some ways, we may be just Raccoons without the uniforms.  We frolic differently after the sessions are over. But we frolic. Probably knock them back as good as the Raccoons.  And I think symbolically we are handcuffed to assumptions about how we should be.  To boot, we sometimes. like Ralph and Ed, find that we are heading in the wrong direction.

No comments:

Post a Comment