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Posts tagged "Performancism"


Performancism 101: A Conference Breakout Preview

Here is the first of this year’s conference breakout previews–sneak peeks into what we’ll be talking about during the breakout sessions at Mockingbird’s NYC Conference April 14-16.

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Sometimes it seems like our culture sees its students as mythical creatures, glowing embodiments of youth and drive; they represent who we as a society will be “tomorrow.” Often the social structures of our student bodies reflect the structures in society more generally, and no where is this more true than in the stress-inducing standards of performance-based living. For students, achievement is identity. Sound familiar?

Students currently live in a no-fail world where any misstep feels like a plunge off the cliff of college admissions and the good life after that. A 4.0 GPA is no longer enough. To get where they (feel they) need to go, they need extracurriculars, Advanced Placement classes, awards, and honors. Consider The Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success, which encourages college-aspiring students to begin recording their achievements in an online portfolio–in ninth grade, four years in advance. One high school guidance counselor calls it an “arms race,” while over at The New Yorker, Matt Feeney declares this lifestyle as “poisonous,” saying that it not only affects students, but also parents: “I’m starting to resent the prospect of having my family life colonized and deformed by a system that, though it works through educational channels, doesn’t serve educational ends, or exacts extreme costs in exchange for a meagre educational payoff.” Ella Gonzalez, at The Huffington Post, writes: “If you happen to be entering your senior year of high school, first I’d like to say, congratulations and I am sorry,” followed by, “You are not in control of anything.” Various admissions blogs discuss suicide and the threat of it, post-rejection.

920x920Some say, fear not: admissions reforms are in the works. But as discussions about limiting extracurriculars and AP classes occupy the news, Feeney asks: “What new and more exacting model of self, in other words, will colleges be urging their teen-age aspirants to approximate?” Reform of the law cannot fulfill it, and any attempts to do so will inevitably result in the high-pressure lifestyle of what we’ve come to call “performancism.”

At this conference breakout session (2:15, Friday April 15), we are going to look at how fear and the need for control contribute to performancism, particularly among students. We’ll talk about stress and how we cope with it. We’ll point some fingers. And maybe, too, after all that, we’ll find a cure.

Pre-register here!

Passionate vs. Cool: Performancism in College

Passionate vs. Cool: Performancism in College

Set to start my senior year of college, a few interactions from my first semester in Charlottesville still stick with me. One was a question my advisor asked me as I anxiously slumped into a chair in his office for the first time. The second is a comment I made over lunch with a professor I respect and am hugely intimidated by.

The question that sent me squirming in my seat was a seemingly simple one: “What are you passionate about?” … Crickets. He prodded, offering up easy suggestions for an 18-year-old male: sports, food, money, girls … “Sex?” he even asked, in…

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ORG XMIT: VTBUR101 In this Tuesday, April 19, 2011 photo, Ashley Koetsier, 21, of Woodstock, Vt., reads about a college student who died by suicide from a small laminated plaque attached to a backpack on the green outside Davis Center at the University of Vermont in Burlington, Vt.  Active Minds, a student group dedicated to promoting increased dialogue about mental health and incidents and impacts of sucide, placed 1,100 backpacks representing victims, dozens with personal stories of student suicide. (AP Photo/The Burlington Free Press,  Ryan Mercer) MAGS OUT; NO SALES; MANDATORY CREDIT TV OUT

Penn Faces and Campus Tragedies: More Notes on an Epidemic

Here’s why I didn’t want to write about Julie Scelfo’s recent article “Campus Suicide and the Pressure of Perfection” in The NY Times:

It is not because we’ve written about the phenomenon too many times already–though we have. It is because writing about it again only serves to underline how futile-seeming these kinds of reflections are. Who wants to spend an afternoon basking in despair? Or mitigating the despair by placing oneself above it all? It is deeply unpleasant.

This past year Charlottesville witnessed four undergraduate suicides, and I’m not sure I can muster the energy to cartwheel yet again over the…

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Alfred Hitchcock: Artist of Anxiety

Alfred Hitchcock: Artist of Anxiety

Alfred Hitchcock agreed to sit down with François Truffaut for a five-day interview in August 1962. The Frenchman aimed to pick the master’s brain and snag some good tidbits for interested cinephiles. Gradually, their conversation started to flow and the product was a wonderful book. In its introduction, Truffaut calls Hitchcock an “artist of anxiety.” While he is pointing at his knack for touching on our “nighttime, metaphysical anxieties,” I found the examples of Hitchcock’s own daily worries very interesting.

Here’s Hitchcock on his anxious desire to keep everything running according to plan:

I’m full of fears and I do my best…

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Thou Shalt Never Feel Bad: Inside Out for the Ivy League

Thou Shalt Never Feel Bad: Inside Out for the Ivy League

Sadness is having a cultural moment, and that makes me happy. Much of this is thanks to Pixar’s Inside Out, that rare film which deserves all the success and acclaim being heaped upon it.

There are any number of reasons to laud the movie, as DP pointed out a couple weeks ago. Its artistic merits are beyond question, but so are those of, say, The Box Trolls (seriously!). What makes Inside Out so remarkable is its message. Pete Docter, et al, are saying something that strikes the almost impossible balance of timely, courageous, and, well, true. Which is that sadness, grief,…

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Mining Netflix: Performancism and The School of Rock

Mining Netflix: Performancism and The School of Rock

Did you watch the Golden Globes on Sunday? One of the biggest stories from this year was the accolades given to Boyhood, an epic-of-the-ordinary that took 12 years to film. We wrote about Boyhood back when it came out, and if you read that post you’ll get a sense of why its director, Richard Linklater, won top honors on Sunday. Oddly enough, though, as Linklater was bestowed his award, my twitter feed was not filled with applause for Boyhood, but for another project of his: 2003’s School of Rock.

Why in the world would School of Rock be so well remembered over a…

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Dostoevsky Talks Romans 7, Original Caprice, and Performancism

Dostoevsky Talks Romans 7, Original Caprice, and Performancism

From his Notes from Underground, in which the great Russian author’s disturbed protagonist questions ideals of human progress, enlightenment, secular humanism, and other naïvetés of the nineteenth century – but timeless, too:

But these are all golden dreams. Oh, tell me, who first announced, who was the first to proclaim that man does dirty only because he doesn’t know his real interests; and that were he to be enlightened, were his eyes to be opened to his real, normal interests, man would immediately stop doing dirty, would immediately become good and noble, because, being enlightened and understanding his real profit, he would…

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The Dopamine Thrill of Winning and Suspended Animation

The Dopamine Thrill of Winning and Suspended Animation

Did you get to check out The Atlantic piece DZ quoted in last week’s weekender, “Parents Ruin Sports for Their Kids by Obsessing About Winning”? As soon as I read it, I knew taking a closer look was inevitable this week in Mbird sports!

DZ was right, the title is anything but subtle. In the piece, Lisa Endlich Heffernan admits to her own proneness to turning athletics into an avenue for performancism, not just for her child but for herself:

Every sports cliche you can think of, I have uttered: teamwork, respect for the coach, being part of something bigger than yourself,…

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Bible Wednesdays: Jesus Heals the Man at the Pool (from Competitive Urges)

Bible Wednesdays: Jesus Heals the Man at the Pool (from Competitive Urges)

This week, we turn to John 5:5-8 for the story about a pool, a paralytic, and Jesus. 

“Do you want to be made well?” This is the classic question usually asked by discussion leaders on this passage. They mean, by this, that we can be made well by Jesus if only we ask. This view is shallow. It’s shallow because it ignores the deep-seated psychological truth that almost no one, in practice, actually wants the help that God offers. No one can ask honestly, no one can ask sincerely with anything other than “I believe; help my unbelief” in mind.

Anyway, Jesus…

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Another Week Ends: One Way Love, Platonic Tennis, Curmudgeon Law, Downton Anti-Snobbery, Ecumenical Shipwrecks, Dr. Hook, House of Cards and Justified

Another Week Ends: One Way Love, Platonic Tennis, Curmudgeon Law, Downton Anti-Snobbery, Ecumenical Shipwrecks, Dr. Hook, House of Cards and Justified

1. The hits just keep on coming. Spring Conference speaker and friend Tullian Tchividjian announced his next book this morning and the title will be familiar to some of you, One Way Love: The Power of Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World. Tullian, of course, is paying tribute to the definition of grace that PZ coined in Grace In Practice. If the rest of the book is at all like the intro (and I have a strong feeling that it is, wink wink), then this is something to be very excited about:

The good news of God’s inexhaustible grace for…

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The Harsh, Hopeful Ballad of Urban Meyer

The Harsh, Hopeful Ballad of Urban Meyer

This one may make you cry. Even if, like me, you don’t know much about college football. I’m referring to the jaw-dropping story by Wright Thompson about (in)famous Ohio State coach Urban Meyer that ESPN Magazine ran in August. It is easily the most powerful account of Law and Grace I’ve read this year, not to mention a touching look at father-son relationships. The piece paints a stark portrait of “performancism,” i.e., what it looks like when one’s self-worth is synonymous with one’s achievements, when failure is not an option–in theological language what’s known as “works righteousness.” Of course, performance is…

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The Fame Formula: The New Performancism of Children’s Television

The Fame Formula: The New Performancism of Children’s Television

A very interesting article by Bryan Lufkin over at The Atlantic about the seismic thematic shift that’s taken place on children’s networks like Nickelodeon and Disney. Lufkin calls it “The Hannah Montana Effect”, citing several primetime slots  currently being occupied by 30-minute programs about the everyday lives of rich and famous, dream-achieving youngsters. It’s a little weird, considering the 90s were filled with shows about average, no-count, oddball children. Doug Funny had a C average, kept getting beat up by Roger Klotz, had a green friend Skeeter, and could never move past friendship with Patti Mayonnaise. The protagonist of Hey…

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