Saturday, May 2, 2009

Wolverine, Reality TV and Social Science

  • Wolverine
People who know me know that I am big fan of movies, TV, and books, including comic books. I used to collect, especially X-Men and Spiderman related titles, until the choice became diapers or comic books. It was easy to make the break at the time as the plots of the books at the time went deeply south and Marvel was proliferating titles so it really became hard to follow a single group or character without buying4 or 5 books a month. Anyhow, the past several years have been a bonanza for those with my interests--heaps of good to excellent comic book-based movies: X-Men, the new Batman, Iron Man, etc. So, we saw Wolverine today, and I will not talk about it much for about a week so that my three or four readers are not spoiled. I will say two things:
  1. definitely a fun movie to see in the theatre with all of the noise and effects; and
  2. After seven years in Canada, it has struck me how un-Canadian Wolverine is. Yes, his roots in the books and the movies are in Canada, but the opening montage shows him fighting in American (and Union) uniforms. Wolverine is one of the most aggressive superheroes in the Marvel universe--he has killed; he was prone to beserker rages early on (I don't know how he is portrayed in the books these days); he is a loner, etc. Canadians are surprised that their military is trained to fight and kill; always seek consensus (hence the eh? that is either implicit or explicit); and are pretty calm if they are not Montreal drivers. Perhaps that is why Wolverine spends most of his time in the US.
Reality TV and Social Science:
While biking today, I was listening to my favorite podcast: the Sports Guy, a columnist for ESPN and former poli sci major, about 4-6 years my junior with a similar passion for pop cultural references. His conversation about a favorite Reality TV show reminded me of something I have been thinking about for a few years. I wish I had a research agenda that required experimenting on people. That's right--on people. Malcolm Gladwell's Tipping Point reminds us of the dark ages of social science, with various conversation experiments on people--the Milgram authority/shock experiment; the Stanford Prison experiments; etc. Now, each university has a research ethics board to approve any funded research that involves experiments or people. I have had to fill out the forms so that I could interview military officers about their experiences. My students have had to do the same. So, it would be very difficult or impossible to get approval to do morally questionable research on people today.

And that is why we might want to turn to reality tv game shows. Rather than getting funding from an established foundation with procedures for treatment of human subjects, if one has a question that requires putting people through troublesome situations, there is now an alternative. It does not take much viewing of the various reality TV shows to see that young and not-so-young people are willing to do pretty much anything for a modicum of cash and/or their 15 minutes of fame. We can already learn much from the first season of Survivor about how people react to competition with few rules and modest manipulation. We can learn from the subsequent seasons how people learn and imitate as the strategies of the first season, such as alliances and duplicity, are applied anew or not so anew.

If only I had testable hypotheses about individuals or small group behavior?!

1 comment:

Jacob T. Levy said...

Wolverine has multiple contradictory origins.

This year's... er.. discussions about the appropriate way to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the Battle of Quebec/ Abraham's Plains (which one is it! there's not even continuity across the history textbooks!) make me think that this is something Wolverine shares with his supposed compatriots.