Chris Uggen's Blog: punk'd

Friday, July 07, 2006


as students know, i'm not exactly the most voracious reader. that said, i locked onto the corner with the sort of guiltily intense interest with which i listen to shirley manson* and courtney love. set in baltimore, the corner is sort of half-ethnography and half-soap opera, written by baltimore sun reporter david simon and ex-homicide detective edward burns.

after reading their journalistic account, i pumped the ethnographers in my department for information. was it accurate? why wasn't sociology this intriguing? they said it had something to do with where, whether, and how the information was gleaned and/or completely fabricated (e.g., how do they actually know that she lit up a kool on the front steps of the stoop?).

ANYWAY, if you know the book, i believe that i dined this friday at the place young DeAndre worked boilin' crabs. perhaps unsurprisingly, a young gun and his entourage tried to punk me in said establishment. the fellow set his drink on my table, barking all manner of offensiveness to his boys at the bar and his girlfriend via cellphone (and, hence, via my face) . i felt like a competing mammal defending my turf, as a rival urinated/established dominance over the territory that included my half-dozen steamed garlic crabs. i was cool (hey, i'm just visitin', and too harmless to be anything but cool these days), though i paid cash and got out of there quick.

baltimore has some major issues, to be sure, but it is truly a great and beautiful american city. i took time from the meetings to journey to fells point, where david simon's late, lamented homicide was shot. john waters also returns to baltimore just as faulkner did to oxford, mississippi. if you haven't read and/or seen the corner and the charm city, both are highly recommended.

* btw, i'm deluded enough to believe that had i remained in madison and connected with butch vig and shirley manson, playing guitars and writing lyrics for garbage, and (let's be honest here) being the only dude in the band with actual hair, we'd be bigger than u2 by now. if i brought tor in on bass, it would be extra large and chili pepper funky. garbage + uggens = anthemic with a beat.


At 11:30 AM, Anonymous sarah said...

What is it about meal times and punking? I got punk'd at the dinner table while interning last night. I make it a practice of mingling with the residents, as opposed to sitting at the "staff table." A 17-year-old serving 12 months for 3rd degree assault fabricated a fantastic story about me getting my ass beat in high school. Another resident fell off his chair, it was so funny. I was laughing, too, actually, as this young man is quite a fabulous storyteller. Probably stand-up comic potential. Yet, there's still something unsettling about having your own (however untrue) butt whuppin' broadcast for all to laugh at...

At 10:22 AM, Blogger Mike W. said...

I'm not familiar with either the book or the series, but it sounds like what The Code of the Street is all about. I think he discusses the importance of status as a 'zero-sum game' that's mostly played out by putting others down, verbally, mentally, or physically.

At least, that may be the case if it's malicious. Sarah, I'm not certain how much malice your young storyteller had when telling that tale, but sometimes bustin' some chops is just bustin' some chops.

At 3:53 PM, Anonymous oblion said...

I just finished a journalistic account about my hometown in the 50's... I could've read it in one night, but used it as my "car trip" book. But it was really interesting and I thought about why it was different from sociological books. First, the book was about how all the gay men in the 50's were rounded up (and got caught by the cops at the bathroom in a hotel) under the sex crime law and put in the state mental institution under the name of sexual psychopaths.

Though he talks a bit about methodology (saying though people asked to be named, but he didn't because he didn't feel it was right) and he clearly uses newspapers and court documents as evidence to tell his story, there's no long theory chapter! He really did have a point about how this law and mentality had long lasting consequences on the men's lives. But the book was about telling a story and not trying to support, not support, or create a theory. So, even though the book was interesting to read, as a trained social scientist, I sort of longed for the theoretical part!

At 11:49 PM, Anonymous sarah said...

Yeah, Mike, I don't know about malice-level either. My instinct says that attempting to parse malicious from non-malicious chop-bustin' may be fruitless in this case. As a social worker, I think this kid is testing my limits as to what I will or will not "take" from him. As a woman who quite rightly would have had her ass beat in high school should anyone have had occasion, well, that's another story...


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