“Studies Dungeons and Dragons for a Living, Protected by the Goddess of Wisdom”: A Weird
You’re in a birthday party and someone asks you what do you do, what do you tell them?
Well, I always think it depends on who is asking, what age they are If it’s a birthday party. Is it their 7th birthday or 16th birthday or 45th. I would say that I teach sociology then if they ask me further I’d say I’m interested in social psychology, the sociology of culture and mention particular studies of mine, such as the study on senior citizen activists, mushroom collectors, restaurant kitchens, or competitive chest. If it was a 10th birthday party I’d talk about my research on little league baseball. If it was their 16th birthday, I’d talk about my research on Dungeons and Dragons, to try to make a connection between what I do and what they are doing.
What if they ask why you chose those things?
The basic interest that I have for 45 years is the way that group cultures shape social life and permit individuals to engage with each other and coordinate with each other. So all these research projects even though they seem different, all have that group component to them.
The Dungeons and Dragons research, for example, was interesting because what I cared about there was that these young people mostly adolescent boys created a social world and it was a very robust world that they were creating this imaginary world and even though it was fantasy, it was structured by the experiences they had in our world. So, in this research in the late 1970s century, you were able to see some of the sex role issues that were characteristics of the American society at the time.
Thanks, Gary, now to the weird part.
Oh, I thought that was the weird part!
Heh…well…which fictional character would you want to be?
It’s hard to say who’s sufficiently heroic for my purposes because I would say someone like Yossarian in Catch 22. A trickster character who is smart enough to go around the system. A character of that kind; someone that is able to break the rules and is able to survive and thrive in breaking the rules. Right now I’m listening to Gone With the Wind. And this book in many ways is a very offensive book, politically incorrect, sexist, racist, classist but there is something about Clark Gable’s character (Rhett Butler) that is really compelling, another trickster.
Yes, like Hermes! (the trickster messenger of Gods) If you ask me who my favorite character in Greek mythology would be Hermes would be number 2.
Who’s number 1?
Athena! The reason is that Pallas Athena is in 5th grade we had a unit in Greek mythology and everyone was given their own God or Goddess and I was given Athena, she was the Goddess of wisdom. Rhett Butler is a little too controversial because that gets me into a politically and racially difficult area but there is something about those kinds of characters like Hermes.
…Loki (Scandinavian trickster God)?
Yeah, Rhett Butler, Loki, Yossarian. It’s like some of the characters in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods who have the trickster characteristics.
Which band would you want to hang out with for a whole day?
They Might Be Giants, I don’t quite remember the names, but I used to! Cause I used to buy their CDs. There is a certain number of folk singers that I’m partial to.
Which fictional character are you most terrified of?
Well, I can’t choose a living politician…fictional character…well these are odd questions…maybe one of the villains in Dickens…I just listened to the old Curiosity Show and Quilp is an evil dwarf character, he would be one of those people. His greed, his evilness and maybe deformity. Someone villains are villains because in some ways they are good like they are jealous or they have things that one could identify with, like Shakespeare’s Iago, is a villainous character but you can understand his jealousy. It would make him less terrifying than someone you can’t find motivation for. In Dickens, you could think that Quilp is resentful because he’s a dwarf but that’s not the way he is written in that book. Some of Dickens’ villains are particularly villainous because there are no other motivations but evil.
Quilp from the novel The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens.
Which sitcom family would you want to spend time with?
Seinfeld! Or the Sopranos, I mean you have to choose the sweetest family, but there are others that are edgier in various ways. So the Soprano might be too edgy, I’m not sure if I’d feel comfortable.
If you could go back to your younger graduate student self what recommendation would you have?
Maybe get a publicist! I’m half joking and half not. Perhaps my research could have entered the public sphere more than it has. I have written op-eds for the New York Times, but not many. My books have received some reviews in magazines but not many. It would be nice for me to have a larger public profile.
How would recommend for students to do that?
I think with the blogging culture, people can blog and participate in other people’s blogs and that can be an entry point to communicating through newspapers, magazines, other blogs, and there are also other people you could hire to be a publicist. I always wonder if I should have written a book that was deliberately aimed at the public market. If you want to learn more about Gary’s work, click here.
I asked Gary what he likes the most in his office. He answered: “On my shelves, there are a lot of cards and they are all thank you cards from students I worked with and mentored, those cards rather than any one in particular.”