In the last few days, I’ve seen a few stories about horror movies that take place in McMansions (see here and here). Are McMansions inherently scarier than smaller and older houses? I’ll offer a few arguments for each.
On the side of McMansions:
1. Bigger houses allow more room for weird things to happen and more space for bad creatures to pop out of. The victims have room to run away and utilize rooms they may not have entered in weeks (because the house is just that big!).
2. Perhaps residents of McMansions and all of their faux wealth (according to critics) are more deserving of bad things happening to them or are more naive and innocent. Either way, there is something about McMansion owners that makes them better targets for these films.
3. It is really about a commentary on the foolishness of buying and living in McMansions. Perhaps the horror is the inevitable result of American individualism and consumerism.
On the side of smaller and older homes:
1. They are more claustrophobic. There is nowhere else to go.
2. They are older so there is more potential for odd backstories (think of all of those old owners) or odd places (unused cellars, crawlspaces, attics, etc.).
3. The homeowners may be of a different demographic – they don’t have the wealth to live in McMansions or new homes – so there is potential for different kinds of story lines beyond wealthy and pampered teenagers or young couples who have “made it.”
I think McMansions are an easy target for horror movies and other cultural critics. Most Americans don’t live in them but they symbolize the kind of well-off life that contrasts with darker stories. Of course, dark things can happen in all kinds of houses…
Sociology is a field of study that can be paired with a lot of other disciplines. For example, combining sociology with art can lead to some interesting outcomes, including this example of a photographer working with families that moved into an old chocolate factory in Brazil:
Eight years ago, 60 families occupied the “Galpao da Araujo Barreto,” an abandoned chocolate factory in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil. Prior to setting up in this place, these families lived on the city’s dangerous streets.
Since 2009, I have been documenting the factory. From my studies in sociology, I understood that this was a unique community: Here was a large sub-culture within the city that behaved as one extended family. They built a microcosm in which the problems of drugs, prostitution and violence are tackled with the support of the community.
Sebastian Liste, 26, is a photographer currently living between Brazil and Spain. He is focused in developing long-term projects that mix his unique visual approach with his background in sociology to explore personal and intimate stories.
It would be interesting to hear Liste describe further how sociology better helps him understand this community and his art. It seems that sociology and art can often have the same ends: the betterment of society. This is achieved in different ways. Art seeks to tell more stories or expose the conditions of people. Liste’s pictures on this particular webpage humanize these Brazilians who live in somewhat unusual conditions within an old factory. Sociology looks for data and theories that shed light on how to tackle social problems and in this situation could provide insights into the structural position of this group within Brazilian society and how their interactions benefit or hinder the social advancement of the group. Put together, photographs could reveal how this group moves forward in a post-industrial world (evidenced by the old factory) through human bonds that have now been separated (to some degree) from former lives on “dangerous streets.”
A mathematician thinks about the differences between stories and statistics and the people who prefer one side over another:
Despite the naturalness of these notions, however, there is a tension between stories and statistics, and one under-appreciated contrast between them is simply the mindset with which we approach them. In listening to stories we tend to suspend disbelief in order to be entertained, whereas in evaluating statistics we generally have an opposite inclination to suspend belief in order not to be beguiled. A drily named distinction from formal statistics is relevant: we’re said to commit a Type I error when we observe something that is not really there and a Type II error when we fail to observe something that is there. There is no way to always avoid both types, and we have different error thresholds in different endeavors, but the type of error people feel more comfortable may be telling. It gives some indication of their intellectual personality type, on which side of the two cultures (or maybe two coutures) divide they’re most comfortable. I’ll close with perhaps the most fundamental tension between stories and statistics. The focus of stories is on individual people rather than averages, on motives rather than movements, on point of view rather than the view from nowhere, context rather than raw data. Moreover, stories are open-ended and metaphorical rather than determinate and literal…
I’ll close with perhaps the most fundamental tension between stories and statistics. The focus of stories is on individual people rather than averages, on motives rather than movements, on point of view rather than the view from nowhere, context rather than raw data. Moreover, stories are open-ended and metaphorical rather than determinate and literal.
This is a good discussion and one that I think about often while teaching statistics or research methods. Stories are often easy for students to grab unto, particularly if told from an interesting point of view. In the end, these stories (particularly the “classics”) have the ability to illuminate the human condition or interesting concerns but don’t have the same ability to offer more concrete overviews of the typical or common experience. Statistics do offer a different lens for viewing the world, one where individual experiences are muted in favor of data about larger groups. Both can miss important features of the reality around us but offer different angles for tackling similar concerns.
Both have their place and I would suggest both are necessary.