Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Turner's Phases of "Social Drama"

This week’s readings brought humor out of the individual’s perspective and into the social realm, as anthropologists Douglas and Turner both analyzed the interactive qualities of humans, directly or indirectly in relation to humor. Since unfortunately I have yet to visit Higher Achievement and begin my service, I searched in these readings to find themes that spoke to my own life or recent experiences. Right off the bat I found Turner’s exploration of “social drama” to be overtly evident in reality, especially in a dorm room of six college-age females. With roommate agreement cards a scary 48 hours away, the atmosphere in my apartment has grown tense, to say the least. In fact, with World War III about to ensue I’ve been thanking my lucky stars that I’m set to study abroad next fall, removing me from the very socially dramatic and life-changingly significant process that is rooming.

Let’s start with stage one of social crisis as described by Turner: “they often begin with a visible breach in one of the major expectable regularities of group living,” which couldn’t be more applicable to the mini social drama I have been an audience to (246). Turner provides examples of the Boston Tea Party or a criminal act that “challenges its main assumptions of unity.” In Newman East 909, the source is cranberry juice. “Who drank all of my cranberry juice?!?!” This was the guttural cry heard from the kitchen this weekend as one of my roommates returned from her stay at home to discover that someone drank all of her juice. Never mind the fact that the rest of us were stuck inside for a week straight with minimal food and liquid…the stolen cranberry juice was an extreme breach in the standards of our group living situation.

Phase two: “Crisis…a turning point in group living, a moment of choice in which sides much be taken” (246). This was the pivotal point in the makings of our social drama. Whose side are you on? The juice hoarder’s or the juice stealer’s? You better have a good alibi if you want to avoid being on one side or the other. After all, rooming is on the horizon. Choosing sides means choosing your future apartment-mates…so think long and hard before declaring your position.

Phase three: “…when those considered representative of the unity and continuity of the group…use their authority and legitimacy to isolate and constrain the spreading conflict” (247). That means it’s time for the mediator (me) to step in. As after all, this is about more than missing cranberry juice. This is about a lack of respect for personal property and an all around tendency toward mooching that occurs alarmingly too often.

“Why don’t we just go to Royal Farms and buy more cranberry juice?”

“Ugh. That’s not the point.” Mediating may not be my strong suit.

And finally, Phase four: “the outcome…whether this be some attempt to restore or reconstitute the group…” (not likely) “…or by an acceptance of the splitting” (247-248). The cranberry juice debacle was clearly the last straw. So here we are today. A room divided. Two incomplete roommate agreement cards in one residence.

“No use crying over spilled cranberry juice,” a friend lamely joked. No one in the room, besides me, the removed and distant mediator, found that too funny.

I agree with Turner, that man is a social creature. I also think the assertions of Douglas apply, and joking has different effects in different social situations. Like how saying “Just kidding!” after an insulting remark does not remove the pain of the insult. And sometimes joking about a sensitive or awkward situation can, rather than alleviate tension, be harmful if it is too soon. It is clear that social situations, depending on the environment and the relationships involved, have different rules when it comes to interaction and especially in terms of humor. As illustrated by Turner and the social dramas of every day life, the “flow and ebb of mutual relationships” is a dimension to life and to humor that adds new complexity (246).

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