It’s Chicago Ideas Week here in the Windy City, which means our fair and not-yet-frigid town is full of who’s whos and big wigs. We’ve got mayors and dignitaries, writers, artists, poets, scientists, actors and activists.
Today a coworker stopped by my desk and asked me about the panel I saw yesterday, “Identity,” and I couldn’t shut up even after it was quite clear he was done listening. There was just so much to discuss! What do I do when I can’t get people to listen to me talk? Write a blog post!
The panel was about all of the ways we identify ourselves and each other, and through six different speakers I got this incredibly well-rounded view on that thorniest of thorny questions.
LZ Granderson kicked it off with a bit of theater. He’s an ESPN commentator who is a black, gay, Christian, single-dad, former gang member, and current country music devotee. He used a bit of theater (big building blocks with those labels) to physically knock around the idea of identity.
Hanna Rosin (editor of XX at Slate) was next, discussing her book The End of Men. Honestly, she was less crazy than I thought she’d be. As I’ve discovered over and over again on the internet, sometimes the value in an incendiary title weighs more than whether it accurately reflects the piece it titles. Rosin was sharp and funny, and her pitch wasn’t so much about the end of men (dramatic as that sounds), but about how this particular moment in history seems to favor (some) women professionally due to a perfect storm of social, political, and economic trends. In fact, contrary to the end of men, she sees an evolution of masculinity (she cited Chris on Up All Night as an example of a caregiving father who is allowed to maintain his sexual appeal).
I thought that the neuroscientist on the roster would be my snooze break, since scans of brains have never really got me going. Instead, James Fallon turned out to be my favorite presenter. He has spent his life researching brain scans of psychopathic killers, looking for commonalities, which he found. The twist, however, was that Fallon’s own brain shares these patterns. After a battery of psychological tests, it turns out that his own physiological profile is identical to the most famous psychopathic killers in history. How’s that for a nature/nurture argument?
There was an artist, Eric Daigh, that I enjoyed (mostly for how uncomfortable his F-bombs made the older members of the audience), and a forensic researcher (the one and only Brooke Magnanti, formerly known as sex blogger Belle du Jour). He talked about portraiture and the myriad of ways a list of characteristics can be illustrated and animated uniquely, and she discussed the history of forensic identification (did you know that finger prints are not actually unique?)
Related Post: Last year’s Chicago Ideas Week.
Related Post: A few hours at the Art Institute