Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Internet: A Democratic Technology or Disaster

Today we live in a world of technology or as Chris Barker refers to it, a “digital media culture” (346) where we seem to be living through our technological devices. Ask yourself this: Could I live without my cell phone, internet, television, Ipod, kindle, electronic planner, etc. for one day? or a week? Or maybe even a month? Most of us would like to believe we could do it for at least one day, but the reality is that when it comes down to it most of us couldn’t go even one hour without one of these things.  My next question is whether this is a good thing or a bad thing? Are we being ruled by our technological devices and losing sight of reality, or are we just progressing and learning to live a more ‘democratic’ lifestyle? At the dawn of the internet some argued that it was the latter, that our digital world was allowing us to live more democratically without lines and “open to all people regardless of sex, gender, age, class or nationality” (Barker 348). Others have referred to it as a “utopian space ‘above and beyond’ the culture, history and problems of our time” (Barker 348). Today I see it differently. The internet and our new technology have only opened the doors to new cultures and new variations of the problems we already have along with creating new ones. Our social networks such as ‘myspace’ and ‘facebook’ have created a cyber world in which we all share our lives daily. These networks opened the doors to new kinds of bullies (cyber bullies) and allowed the concept of bullying to soar to new levels often unbearable for the victims. Countless suicides have resulted from this cyber bullying leaving us to wonder is the cyber world really is “free from body scrutiny” (Barker 348)? I don’t think that it is. If anything I believe that the internet and it’s openness has opened the doors to a more cruel world where sex, gender, age, class and nationality are scrutinized even more because people are able to speak more freely without the fear of consequences. Peers are able to harass their classmates without any penalty from the school and often times no penalty from their parents. The internet has become more a place filled with “lost souls in an unnavigable sea of information” (Barker 349) and freedom and resources making the skeptics of the earlier internet more clear as to the implications of this open and endless world. Although I don’t believe these were the consequences they had in mind it still led to some negative outcomes. This free space has made it easier for criminals to do their dirty work, psychos to carry out murderous plans, and perverts to defile their victims. Even though the internet has opened countless positive opportunities is it really worth the awful downside to what the internet has to offer? Maybe a less democratic approach would suit the internet better; an approach that called for more surveillance and censoring to save the youth of tomorrow and our future culture. Perhaps a more censored approach would allow us to still obtain all the wondrous information the internet has to offer while keeping the smut and terror and cruelties out. I know that we as Americans don’t like to be censored or told what we can and cannot see or obtain, but maybe it’s for the best; for the best for our children and ourselves and the future generations to come.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Identity of James Bond

We are all familiar with the character James Bond and characters like him. Bond type characters are the men that every man wants to be and every woman wants to be with; or so they say and make it appear. But what about Bond and his counterparts make them so irresistible and interesting? Well it seems to me that it begins with his ‘social identity’ or the “expectations and opinions that others” (Barker 215) seem to hold for him and other men. Bond type characters mirror what society has come to expect out of the perfect man, he must be: strong, but gentle, confident, but not overly cocky, knowledgeable in as many areas as possible (the more a man knows the more attractive he becomes), “cultured” (in the pre-1960’s sense), “clever and resourceful” (as Goldfinger states in 007 Goldfinger), polite and charming, among many other things. We, meaning western society, have come to expect all our men to be the same masculine beings.  This would account for the many bond type characters, just to name a few: Bond himself, Jason Bourne, Frank Martin, Indiana Jones, etc. So how exactly did this “social identity” come to be? There are many theories, but the one that resonates with me is Stuart Hall’s process of “conceptualizing identity” (Barker 218) in which he believed that there were three ways of doing so. The one that makes the most sense with Bond is “the sociological subject” (Barker 219). Hall believed that the sociological subject “was not autonomous and self-sufficient, but was formed in relation to ‘significant’ others, who mediated to the subject the values, meanings, and symbols- the culture- of the worlds he/she inhabited” (Barker 220: Hall, 1992b: 275). In this case Bond and men like him are a complete figment of our imagination; a creation, unrealistic and impossible to believe that any man could/would be all the things that Bond and his counterparts portray. Which is where another one of Hall’s conceptualized identities comes into play; it is more likely that we are what he referred to as “postmodern subjects” (Barker 220) which states that we are made up of “different identities at different times” (Barker 220: Hall, 1992b:277). Bond portrays only part of what men really are, the sociological aspect, what we as social beings have tried to create; but the realistic man has multiple identities for different occasions. A man is never all of what Bond is at one given time. These created characters have been formed to entertain and to portray the “perfect” man, but we all know there is no such thing as perfect. As with anything, perfection is always followed or accompanied by some sort of flaw. Bond’s flaw is his womanizing, mans-man, playboy attitude; his affection for women is short lived, he speaks to the women around him as if they were inferior, and has no plans of commitment at any moment. These aspects alone would push most women away. Although we have formed this ‘ideal man’ it is impossible to have all of the previously mentioned characteristics without the latter. Therefore, I believe that the Bond type characters were created strictly for entertainment purposes and not as a realistic portrayal of what women really want. What do you think?
            Another way to look at the Bond type character is to take into consideration the social construction of masculinity; or what it means to be masculine according to the culture one lives in. Our western society has “encompassed the values of strength, power, stoicism, actions, control, independence, self-sufficiency” (Barker 302) with ideal masculinity. All of these values fit our Bond characters, but do they fit all of our men? No, definitely not. So does this make our men any less of a man? I believe not. This cultural construction of what it is to be male has been detrimental to our male society; leading them to bare a heavy weight upon their shoulders if they do not meet the ‘masucline’ requirements. It is possible that these Bond type characters and the expectations they put forth for our men have caused more damage than good entertainment. “Terrence Real argues that 48 per cent of men in the USA are at some point in their lives implicated in depression, suicide, alcoholism, drug abuse, violence and crime” (Barker 304). Are men just biologically prone to have these sorts of problems or do they derive from feeling lost because they cannot meet the ridiculous expectations western society has put upon them? Some argue that this is the case; men’s addictions and violent or criminal behavior are “narcotic-like ‘time-outs’ that blunt the pain and anxiety of other needs or longings that cannot be directly controlled” (Barker 305). Because our men are unable to meet these high and unreachable expectations they resort to violence, or drugs, or crime to make them feel better for a short period of time. Barke refers to these men as “damaged goods of industrial society”, so we as a culture have damaged our men with our Bond type characters and expectations. So how do we fix this? Do we do away with our Bond type characters and entertainment? Many would argue yes, but another suggestion is for men to “find new ways of being men” (Barker 306); maybe to look outside the social construct of masculinity and come into one’s own “male” identity. We as a society have to work together to re-vamp the socially constructed idea of what it is to be masculine. Instead we should construct different types of masculinities that fit a more vast range of men.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

What is Identity?

What exactly is “identity”? Is it how we perceive ourselves? Is it how others perceive us? Or is it a combination of both? According to Stuart Hall by way of Chris Barker there are “three different ways of conceptualizing identity” (Barker 218) and those are: the enlightenment subject, the sociological subject, and the postmodern subject. Each of these “subjects” has a different way of looking at how we form what we call our “identity”. Honestly though, how many times have you looked in the mirror and asked ‘who am I’ or ‘how did I become this person’? I believe we all ask ourselves this question at least one time or another in our lives. I know I have. So here are the ways that Hall believed one may form an identity. If one is an enlightenment subject they believe that “I think, therefore I am” which is well known as the famous saying of Decartes. The way that I interpreted this was that the enlightenment subjects believed their identity to be their own, and one without influence and made up completely of reason and conscious actions and reactions; although, I have a hard time believing this to be possible. To me we as human beings naturally want to be accepted. I believe that our lives and personalities or “identities” begin being formed when we are born; by our parents, and then our peers, then our teachers, and then the workforce. This does not mean that I believe we have no free will to make our own decisions; we do, but those decisions we make have been influenced by the information and morals and values fed to us our entire lives. According to Hall’s conceptualization of identities I would guess that my way of thinking would fall somewhere between the sociological subject and the postmodern subject: the sociological subject being one who is completely formed by ones social surroundings and the postmodern subject being “composed not of one but several, sometimes contradictory, identities” (Barker 220). From my experience with people and myself it seems that we often times have one identity when with our family and those closest to us, another when we are in an academic environment, and another when in a new or uncomfortable social situation or employment situation. But I don’t believe that these different and sometimes contradictory “identities” are deceiving; instead I think that this is where the sociological part comes in. We are told from a young age and throughout our growing years that there is an appropriate way to act in different situations. When we are with family and those closest to us it is less important to censor one’s self but when we are in school or work we are expected to act polite, work hard, and put our best self forward. We all know the appropriate way to act and we know how we learned this “appropriate” way but we never consciously think well could I have changed this or made this different? This is why I don’t believe that the enlightenment subject is realistic, nor do I believe we can be held to just one strict way of forming an identity. Much of what we do is done subconsciously, and always through a different channel or avenue that we have be taught or picked up along this road of life. We only begin to consciously think about it when asked questions like “what is identity to you” and “how did you form this identity”. So what is identity to you?

Barker, Chris. Culturl Studies Theory & Practice. Sage, Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore, Washington DC, 2008.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


I’m at Yanni’s Greek Diner on a Friday afternoon around noon. Its lunchtime and most people are arriving for the lunch time rush, yet it’s slightly more empty than usual. The cashier refuses to smile or make eye contact with myself or any of the customers who enter for that matter. There are hanging signs of Gyros, a famous Greek entrĂ©e, and across the wall is a neon lighted sign with the words “The Best All American Hamburgers”. Next to the cash register are plaques and articles declaring “Yanni’s Best” and then to the left of that is a sign made of wood stating “Life’s Short, Eat Gyros” and another above it suspended from the ceiling “Eat More Gyros”. In the background they have music playing through speakers; music such as the Beach Boys and Franky Valley and the Four Seasons. The theme of the diner seems to be an old 50’s diner with booths and cushioned stools at the bar. The walls have a mural of an old drive up diner with the same 50’s style theme. Waitresses on skates and the “All American” couple in the car. Photos of restored 50’s chevy trucks parked outside the restaurant also hang on the wall. By the bathroom hangs an art piece incorporating a photo of Audrey Hepburn from Breakfast at Tiffany’s and photo of Elvis above kids vending machines that hold candy and miniature toys for 50cents. The walls have so much stuff on them yet it doesn’t feel cluttered, instead it feels more entertaining. Above the bar is a flat screen TV mounted on the wall, they have HLN on; the news. Stories about the passing of Amy Winehouse, the Norway shooting, a Chihuahua that fought off convenient store burglars, but there is no sound so no one can really get the full understanding of what’s being talked about. The man in the booth in front of me sits alone, eating his lunch quietly but he seems more focused on his phone than his lunch. He chews with his mouth open and sips from his paper pepsi cup. Above the music and the sound of the grill cooking fresh burgers and Gyro meat are the voices of the waitress and cashier talking across the restaurant to one another, discussing some matter of T-shirts. A young couple walks in and the young man picks up the change the lady in front of him dropped and hands it back to her. The couple next to me is discussing football and the lockout, then their conversation changes to the story on the TV; the Norway shooting. Behind the young couple that just walked in walks in a couple of older ladies dressed in conservative attire but their shorts are bright pastels pink and purple. I can smell the burgers grilling and then the scent of hot peppers and klamata olives follows. The waitress is keeping busy, pre-bussing her tables and making sure the empty tables are ready for new customers. It’s a different kind of diner though; you order at the register and get your own drink from the soda machine; the waitress is really only there to make sure you have everything you need and to clean up. She is more of busser than a waitress. I realize another picture hanging on the wall, but this one is different from the rest. It’s a young woman with a Gyro in her hand but she has an 80’s hairstyle and 80’s style clothing. The mini fridge behind the counter that holds the dressings has an Amp Energy drink logo. As I walk out I hear the waitress/busser yell to me, “Have a nice day!”
            The atmosphere of the diner is what may be referred to as a bricolage, or a creation formed from a diverse range of available things, in this case cultural representations. The aspects of the 50’s and 80’s cultures as well as the American and Greek cultures that are available to us have been meshed together to create one place. This type of bricolage is a “core element of postmodern culture” (Barker 202) allowing the people who eat and/or work at the diner to blur the traditional cultural lines. Although some, such as Baudrillard, see postmodern culture as ‘depthless’ or ‘superficial’ I don’t believe all of it to be this way and the diner is a perfect example of the positive coming from this post modern era. It allows us to experience more than just our own traditional cultural values and interests. We get to enjoy the cuisine of another place, get a feel for what it may have been like to eat at a diner in the 50’s, all while still being comforted with the familiar.
            The people within the diner also give us something to analyze; both the customers and the workers display different cultures, or ways of life. For Raymond Williams, by way of Chris Barker’s book Cultural Studies: Theory & Practice, he refers to culture as “a whole way of life” (42) which when I hear this I think it to include the ways we eat, speak, and how we act in public vs. private places. The gentleman eating alone displayed his “culture” by eating with his mouth open and being on his phone while eating. This can be attributed to the new fast pace American way of life where we have thrown manners out the door and take our work everywhere we go, including when eating. The two older ladies who walked in dressed conservatively display a more traditional American culture because they speak quietly among themselves and are dressed in more of a conservative manner; unlike the female employees who are speaking loudly and across the diner. Obviously, the female employees have adopted a different culture where it is ok to make your conversation public and interrupt the customers dining experience with it as well. I would normally believe that our identity, or the way that we act, would be much more pleasant in a public place; and that what Stuart Hall refers to as the sociological subject and postmodern subject would play a role in how these people acted. Instead they do not seem to really follow any of the social norms that would accompany the expected attitudes of someone in a public diner. This leads me to wonder how these persons have formed their identities.

           Works Cited
Barker, Chris. Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice. Sage Publications, Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore, Washington DC, 2008.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Love and Jerry Maguire

One movie I often heard I just had to see was Jerry Maguire. Not being a fan of Tom Cruise it took me awhile to actually sit down and watch it but when I did I realized why everyone was so interested in it. It wasn’t your average romantic comedy where girl likes one guy but in the end falls for the jerk. Instead it seemed to show the difficulty of being the outsider; the one who thinks differently from everyone else. When Tom Cruise’s character Jerry writes a “mission statement” so far from what his firm is used to doing they fire him. To me while watching the movie and the way the characters interacted, love seemed to be defined by how much one could provide for the other. There was no emotional affection, no giving without the expectation of receiving something in return. The “love” between the characters was more superficial and selfish. For example, the relationship between Jerry and his girlfriend, played by Kelly Preston, was all about their career and the amount of money they made. So when she heard about his mission statement she wanted him to recant what he had said. For those of you who have not seen the movie his mission statement was about doing more for the client and building a stronger and more personal relationship with them as opposed to getting as many clients as possible and treating them like pawns in a chess game. Her reaction made Jerry realize that there was something wrong with their relationship, something was missing. Still he didn’t seem sure of what it was. Being the outside viewer it’s obvious that love and money was the correlation that seemed to make love possible with the characters of this film. The more money you made the more love you received. A great example of this was after Jerry got fired and was trying desperately to keep his clients; but one of his co-workers snaked all of them but one. He of course received all the attention and applause from the rest of the office while everyone seemed to stare Jerry down.
            Unfortunately, Jerry’s attempt to do the right thing and be a better person seemed to backfire temporarily. As the movie progressed and Jerry was forced to move forward with his mission statement alone with only the help of one accountant from his previous firm and his one last client he seems to learn what love really is and what really makes love possible. Through his client and his family and his accountant and her son Jerry begins to realize that love is not selfish or a means of profit. Instead, love is an emotional affection between people where we give and give and give and don’t expect to receive anything in return. Both his client’s wife, played by Regina King, and his accountant, played by Renee Zellweger, continually shows true love. Regina King’s character just wants what makes her husband happy and to make sure he gets what he deserves and has been promised. She seems to push Jerry towards a more honest way of business. Then there is his accountant who stands by his side and leaves her job at the firm, which provides her with more pay and benefits, to help Jerry keep to his mission statement because she believes in him and believes in what he said. All in all the film Jerry Maguire seems to show two different kinds of “love”, a selfish and profitable love and the unselfish and unconditional love.

Monday, July 18, 2011

What is the Politics of Culture?

What is culture? Is it how we dress or act? Or is it what we like? Many would agree that our culture includes these things and more.  It’s also believed that culture is a political means of domination and to others a means of resistance to that domination. But what does that really mean? Does it mean that our American culture, for example, was set up in order to keep our class structure in line? Keep the upper class as upper class and the lower class as lower class with little to no wiggle room? I can see how many may think that and see that our American culture was built on a foundation of some political agenda; but I like to believe that there is more good in this world than meets the eye. So to me culture is who we as people decide to be. Sure there are influences everywhere, both negative and positive, but we as individuals ultimately decide which cultural values we adopt. We all have the ability to make our own choices and think for ourselves. A fashion statement is made when we wear whatever it is we chose to wear that morning with confidence, not just because the skinny “pretty” model wore it in the fashion magazine you found in line at the grocery store. Now don’t get me wrong I do know that often times that is the case; most people do chose to wear what someone in some magazine says looks good but my point is it is our choice to believe them and agree. More often than not when I look at those fashion magazines I see ridiculous outfits for outrageously ridiculous prices that I would not be caught dead wearing.
In America we get to see all different types of “culture” because we are just one big melting pot of religions, ethnicities, classes, and races. We can’t say that America has just ONE culture because we don’t. We have cultures that derive from the different classes: lower, middle, and upper. For example, many would say that graffiti art came from the “cultures from below”, meaning our lower and lower middle class citizens. But that seems to have such a negative connotation for a wonderful type of art that can express so much about the ways of life and struggles of the “common” people. Then we have shopping malls filled with shops like Burberry and Nordstrom that only those in the upper class can afford; I’d group this into the “culture from above”. Yet this makes it seem like it’s better than graffiti art and I must say I don’t believe that is the case. Our status within the class structure is based off of the amount of money we make not the type of person we are. Our social and/or economic status is not what makes us who we are, instead our life experiences and the choices we make, make us who we are. I don’t believe that there is some “Man” who decides how to make who into what he believes they should be. We as individuals choose what our “culture” or way of life is going to be. It is our choice whether we play into the politics behind it or not.