Archive for the America Category

Is Our Depression Culture-Bound?

Posted in America, Clips, Culture, Science on January 22, 2017 by frankbures

cover_2From Poets & Writers Magazine:

Growing up, I only knew that my grandma had been “sick.” Later I heard more, and learned that she had taken her own life. But it wasn’t until I started researching a book about culture-bound syndromes that I uncovered the fuller version: Late one night, in 1968, my grandma woke up, opened a bottle of barbiturates, swallowed them all, then climbed back into bed. The next morning my grandfather found her body next to his. She was fifty-six years old. They had been married since she was sixteen and he was nineteen.

At the time the doctors said she had a nervous breakdown, or sometimes that she was depressed. But that meant something different to the doctors than it meant to her family. And as I researched my book, it started to become clear that even today it probably means something different to everyone around the world.

Rates of depression vary widely. In Korea or Japan you have a one in fifty chance of having experienced major depression over the past twelve months, while in Brazil your chance is one in ten. Symptoms vary too. According to Handbook of Depression, a textbook on mood disorders, Koreans and Korean Americans experience manifestations that others would never consider related to depression: constipation, abdominal cramps, heartburn, stiff joints, sore muscles, and increased heart rate. In cultures where excitement and happiness are considered normal, people with major depression show low energy and blunted emotional response. In cultures where emotional control is considered the norm, the opposite is true: Intensified emotional responses are a common symptom of depression. The British psychiatrist Christopher Dowrick, author of Beyond Depression: A New Approach to Understanding and Management, has suggested that depression itself should be considered a culture-bound syndrome.

Read the rest here.

Read more about Culture-Bound Syndromes in The Geography of Madness

Norway’s Prodigal Son

Posted in America, Clips, Culture on January 16, 2017 by frankbures

img_2017-01_jeff-johnson_reindeer_03_gLast year one of our neighbors, Jeff Johnson, announced that he was traveling to Norway to compete in a reality TV show called Alt for Norge . The concept was intriguing: Members of the diaspora return home to experience (and compete in) the culture they had mostly lost. The show has been a massive hit in Norway, and I undertand other countries are expanding the franchise. Keep an eye out for casting calls in an ethnic enclave near you! Jeff talked to me about the experience for Minnesota Monthly:

“I’d never seen any reality TV show of any kind, so I didn’t really know what it was about. I was told that it can be very competitive, but for us that was not the case. None of the people on the show wanted to do any backstabbing, and whenever someone had to leave we cried like a bunch of grandmothers at a funeral. I was not prepared for the depth of emotion that show pulled out of me.”

“I grew up in a rural North Dakota farming community. My uncle went to first grade not knowing a word of English. My father spoke fluent Norwegian every day of his life. Have you heard of the Laws of Jante? They’re a series of laws written by a Danish author about Norway in the 1930s: Don’t think you can teach us anything. Don’t think you have anything valuable to say, and Don’t think anyone loves you. It pervades Norwegian culture. On the show we had a ceremonial burial of the Laws of Jante. I was bawling my eyes out, because that was basically my childhood.”

Read the rest here.  (Photo by Joe Trelevnen)

Brief lessons for 2020

Posted in America on January 11, 2017 by frankbures

A version of this ran in the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

Things we learned don’t matter in 2016:

Polls don’t matter
Pundits don’t matter
Debates don’t matter
Fact checking doesn’t matter
Facts don’t matter
Honesty doesn’t matter
Newspaper endorsements don’t matter
Tax returns don’t matter
Medical records don’t matter
Flip flopping doesn’t matter
Approval ratings don’t matter
War chests don’t matter
Grabbing genitals doesn’t matter
Ground games don’t matter
Experience doesn’t matter
Competence doesn’t matter
Policy doesn’t matter
Foreigners don’t matter
Being compromised by the FSB doesn’t matter
Hair doesn’t matter

 
What matters?

Charisma matters
Entertainment matters
Panache matters
Promises matter
Narrative matters
Rural America matters
Emails matter
Patronizing matters
Elitism matters
Hopelessness matters
Vision matters
Bubbles matter
Tribalism matters
Turnout matters
Identity matters
Religion matters
Race matters
Gender matters
Anger matters
Fear matters

New Strings Attached

Posted in America, Clips on January 10, 2017 by frankbures

img_2016-11_philanthropy_main-illo_gA story about the evolution of philanthropy from Minnesota Monthly:

Young donors also have different priorities from past generations. They’re less inclined to give to arts and culture, religious causes, or umbrella groups such as the United Way. Instead, they lean toward animal welfare, the environment, and civil rights. But according to Jason Franklin, who studies philanthropy at the Johnson Center, this change may or may not be permanent.

“If you begin giving on a large scale early, you’re still exploring who you are, where you’re going to live, and what issues you care about,” he says. “So your giving tends to be more exploration and experimentation. What we don’t know is how we will be more like our parents when we get to our parents’ age, and how we will always be different because of generational experience.”

Read the rest here.

Beyond the Machine Age

Posted in America, Clips, Culture, Geography of Madness, Science on August 10, 2016 by frankbures

From Undark:

It used to be that when I looked in the mirror, I saw many things: a body; a collection of cells; a fantastic kind of machinery. I didn’t see these things because they were a reflection of reality, or because the body and brain are, in fact, machines. I saw them because I was born in America, and that is my culture.

In our country, we have what’s known as a mechanistic understanding of our bodies. We imagine ourselves to be machines made of meat and bone. We see the doctor as a mechanic whose job is to find the broken parts and fix them. For at least a century this has been our primary metaphor for talking about sickness and health, about how our bodies work and break down. In its popular 1960s television special, National Geographic flatly described the human body as “The Incredible Machine.”

The body is incredible, but my view of it as a machine — the validity of that metaphor — started to break down in the process of researching my book, “The Geography of Madness,” about the so-called “cultural syndromes.”

“Of course, one cannot think without metaphors,” Susan Sontag wrote in her 1989 essay, “AIDS and its Metaphors,” “But that does not mean there aren’t some metaphors we might well abstain from or try to retire.”

Read the rest here.

newbod

Eating Alone Together

Posted in Africa, America, Culture, Travel on July 29, 2016 by frankbures

the-rotarian-column-dinnerFrom The Rotarian:

There is a new ritual in American life. It goes like this: Whenever you invite someone to dinner, you must inquire about any special dietary needs. Because today, it seems that nearly everyone has drawn a line around foods that cannot pass their lips.

This could be because of allergies, moral qualms, lifestyle choices, health issues, or simple preference. The person might be a vegetarian who eats fish, a carnivore who hates carbs, a glutton who avoids gluten, or a time bomb waiting to be set off by a nut. (Asking ahead makes for a more pleasant evening than calling an ambulance.)

Hospitalization aside, one reason for this shift has been the moralization of food. Our dining choices have become identity choices, a way of saying, “This is the kind of person I am,” or “This is the kind of world I want to live in.”

This is a luxury of our age. The hunters, villagers, and small bands of Homo sapiens in times past would have thought it extremely strange, and possibly hostile, to assert one’s preferences in this manner.

Read the rest here.

The Lobster Coffin of Ghana

Posted in Africa, America, Art, Arts in Africa, Travel on July 25, 2016 by frankbures

MIA LobsterRecently I was asked to write a short piece about something in the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s Africa collection. Most of the pieces are old, carved wood artifacts that border on archeological. Then there is the lobster coffin:

The first dead person I ever saw in daylight was a young boy lying next to a road in Tanzania. It was early morning and we were driving south on the country’s main highway when I saw the crows fly up out of a ditch. I craned my neck to see what they’d been eating. He was lying face down, arm stretched over his head, shirt pulled up under his armpits. The driver saw it and hit the brakes.

“Was it a dog?” someone asked.

“It was a person!” the driver said. He turned to me. “Did you see it?”

I nodded.

Stopped in the middle of the road, we decided to tell the next policeman we saw and drove on. But by the time we saw a policeman we were hundreds of miles away from the boy and there was no point. We passed him by and never spoke of it again.

Read the rest here.