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Monday, April 26, 2010

Like Bowling Team Names

Here's an example of excellent, grassroots, media-supported social messaging: bowling team names. I'm in a seasonal bowling league with some good friends from college, and here's what I've noticed about bowling team names (and to an extent, bar trivia team names too) - they are all required, by John Locke's social contract, to be terrible puns. All of them. Pretty much without exception.

So in my league, we've got my team (Split Happens), the reigning champs, Living on a Spare, and so on - a long line of glorious, terrible bowling puns. When my team captain first sent out her email to get our ideas for team names, she didn't explicitly tell us that we had to pick something that was a miserable bowling pun - all of us just knew we were supposed to do that. There was enough support in the social atmosphere for us to have learned through osmosis that this is the convention in bowling leagues.

Where did we get this information? Probably a bunch of different places: A couple of major media products, like The Big Lebowski, Kingpin, and a few other bowling-focused large-budget comedies I saw as a kid made it clear that for those who are not bowling professionals, bowling as a social activity has a certain lack of seriousness that accepts puns. A few episodes of the Simpsons here and there, a few episodes of other major TV shows, and the words and conversations of my parents and adult relations when they took me bowling when I was a kid made me aware that this was the naming convention in bowling leagues.

This led me to wonder - how is that the world that I float in on a day-to-day basis is able to educate me quite firmly about the social conventions of something so trivial, like a bowling league, but it is unable to create a coherent message about consent in sexuality? Obviously, there are less social power dynamics at play in a bowling league than in our overall messages about sexuality, so that's one reason at least that our messages aren't as easily shaped, but it seems ridiculous to me. I didn't have bowling social education in middle school (I had a couple of gym classes where we tried to learn how to score bowling, but I was never very good at it). I did have sex ed, though, and we NEVER talked about consent. We saw a lot of charts of fallopian tubes, but got very little on consent.

Probably one of the major reasons I knew about bowling team naming conventions was the overall spread of media that mention it. No TV show or movie is entirely focused on the specific social interactions of bowling leagues, and the naming of teams therein, but there are enough jokes spread around enough different TV shows that the ideas start to filter down. If I see a joke in 20 different movies about bowling team names, bowling team shirts, and how people act in a bowling league, and those 20 jokes are all pretty consistent in tone and content even though the movies aren't, I'm going to start thinking that there is an overall social convention that I might want to follow when I join my own bowling league. Violence prevention doesn't get that type of media support - I'd be hard pressed to name five movies or TV shows that have a really progressive take on sex and consent. Rape prevention activists don't get a whole lot of support from mainstream media, and we're not making a lot of our own media in the meantime (although we're certainly working on it!). I'm talking social media here, not news reports and blog posts - both of those are great, but when my friends get together on the weekends to have fun and hang out, we don't quote our favorite blog posts (well, not most of the time, anyway). We toss jokes back and forth from our favorite TV shows, movies, and sometimes viral videos, if they are funny enough. Those are the interactions that create community, and one of the biggest tools in our violence-prevention arsenal in the future is going to be the ability to create our own social media that will allow us to start creating a viable alternative social space for people to make jokes, have fun, and share common experiences and loves that aren't sexist and that don't support rape culture.

If we can teach each other how to name bowling teams without ever actually having to bowl, I don't see why we can't make consent in sex just as basic.
Posted by Dave on 04/26 at 10:15 AM

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