Everyday Sociology and Critical Theory

We live in a world where social relations and interactions have been structured for us. Here is a place where we can begin to examine a few and consider how those structures function.

Howard Stark was a worse father than Odin. Pass it on.

nightwing-butt-wonderful:

p>spookylittlesleipnir:

descartes-and-thosecartes:

freudian-slut:

anideaforamoth:

ecokitty:

ras-al-cool:

I see your Odin and Howard Stark…

And raise you one Brian Banner.

^^^ Oh snap, that’s hard to beat.

Let’s just throw Harold Barton into the list here.

Jesus, the Avengers should just be called the ‘My Dad’s a douchebag’ club.

At least they had dads.

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Omg batman YOU DONT EVEN GO HERE

Poor batman

(Source: captaincommunist, via imawhatever)

36 Things You Obviously Need In Your New Home

beben-eleben:

A Fire Pit IN THE POOL

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A Door That Turns into a Ping-Pong Table

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Chilled Produce Drawers in the Kitchen

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A Wine Cellar Trap Door

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 A Sleepover Room

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A Door Handle That Automatically Turns Off Electricity and Gas When You Leave

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A Swing-Set Dining Table

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A Built-In TV for the Bathtub

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A Glass-Encased Fireplace

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 A Loft Hammock

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A Hot Tub That Flows from the Inside to Outside

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A Huge Round Bedroom Window

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A Stained-Glass Door

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A Library Staircase/Slide

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A Bone-Shaped Pool for Your Dog

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(via imawhatever)

"Gran Torino" Through a Postcolonial Reading

After taking an English class in postcolonial literature, I began to see my world in much more critical terms.

Gayatri Spivak’s essay “Can the Subaltern Speak?” had the most profound effect on me. In this essay she calls the reader’s attention to the oft-used trope of “white man saves brown woman from brown man.” (A postcolonial reading of literature will allow the reader to view the ways that “brown men” have been constructed as lascivious.) This trope allows us to look at the political discourse surrounding affairs in African, the Middle East, and Asia in a critical light. Suddenly we can conceive of centuries of evangelism and warfare in a new, and sometimes difficult, way.

For example, the events which were discussed in terms of “saving,” take on a connotation of colonizing. This is especially true when we look at the language that Americans, in particular, have used about Muslim women in Middle Eastern countries, who wear the veil. American media constructed the image of the veil as symbol of their oppression. The veil also allowed us, Americans, to other all Muslim women. However, some Muslim women vocalize their choice to wear their veils as a sign of solidarity with other Muslims around the world, to draw attention to the discrimination that Muslims face, to experience a personal relationship with their spirituality, and to feel from from masculine objectification. If we actually tried to deconstruct the veil as a symbol, what we would find is that a) in a dry climate, the veil functioned to protect the face and throat from harsh light and wind, and b) that women who belong to other religions, but share a similar climate, also wear veils. This includes Hindus and Christians. Lastly, in this process of deconstruction, we would call to attention the fact that the Catholic Church, other Christian sects, and Hasidic Jews require women to cover their heads/hair. (Being raised Catholic, I can only reference this religion specifically. I may be incorrect about other religions. If so, I hope that any of my readers will correct me.)

With some of that background in mind, I move on to the discussion of culture, instead of political, discourse. While the second (although technically a prequel) Indiana Jones, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, immediately comes to mind as a story to which we can apply a postcolonial reading, I want to take this opportunity to take the more difficult path.

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Gran Torino, starring Clint Eastwood, received an excellent review and was nominated for an Academy Award. This film is about an old, white, Polish man, Walt Kowalski, living in Michigan who must cope with his wife’s death, his unappreciative family, his racism, and ultimately his legacy. To whom will he bequeath his cherished Gran Torino when he dies? While these heavy issues weigh upon his mind, Kowalski confronts the changing character of his neighborhood. The neighborhood has become increasingly a Hmong community. (The Hmong are an ethnic group, based in Southeast Asia, but not limited to any specific country; some live in Laos, others live in Vietnam. They are hill people, as Sue, the young, Hmong neighbor explains.) Kowalski, expressing stereotypically old views of different races and ethnicities, is suspicious of his Asian neighbors. However, he gradually comes to know the family and the culture, and ultimately falls in love with his neighbors.

However, there are multiple instances where we see Spivak’s trope, “white man saves brown woman from brown man,” emerge. The first happens when Kowalski defends Sue from a group of young, black men who are verbally, sexually harassing her. They draw on slurs which are simultaneously racist and sexualized. (Think, “Me love you long time,” made famous in Full Metal Jacket when spoken by a Vietnames prostitute.) Kowalski defends Sue, he uses vicious, racist slurs, violent threats, and a gun to scare the men off. While Sue criticizes the men for drawing on the stereotype of Asian women as passives, subordinate, and sexualized, it is ultimately Kowalski who must come to her defense. The way that he is able to scare other men, functions to allow him to assert his masculine identity as more real, and therein, superior to their masculine identities. When considered within the context of race, we can understand that Kowalski implies white masculinity is superior and more authentic than (urban) black masculinity. In this scenario, Kowalski is the “real” man, and the rest, in their fear, become effeminized.

The other scene, and actually it is not a scene, but rather the entire plot of the movie, which is so problematic under a postcolonial reading, is the relationship between Kowalski and the Hmong gang of deviant youth who terrorize the neighborhood. They assault Sue’s younger brother, and rape Sue. This is made even worse by the understanding that one of the men in the gang is Sue’s cousin. (So the rape is incestuous as well). Kowalski threatens the gang in much the same way that he threatened the group of black men. Ultimately, he arrives at the realization that he cannot beat this gang. Perhaps he believes he is too old. He decides to sacrifice his life, to draw attention to the way he is brutally murdered by the Hmong gang and effectively ensuring their incarceration in order to save Sue and her family, whom he has come to love as his own.

We cannot ignore the fact that the violence that is done to Sue appears to always be sexualized violence. This aspect presents the perpetrators in such a way as to highlight their hypersexuality. The sexualization of the male Other also allows Kowalski to construct his own identity in opposition, as sexuality-less. This in turn allows him to construct his identity as based on rationale, as opposed to driven by, and not in control of, his body.

At the same time, we cannot ignore the fact that the entire plot hinges on Kowalski as the white man who saves the brown community from the brown men who are members of their same community. I am at a loss as to how I can make this clearer. But Kowalski acts like a missionary/colonizer, who assumes he knows what’s best for the Hmong community, and “takes action,” like our society tells us “real” men should.

The repercussions of Kowalski’s actions cannot be ignored. His actions effectively cause the incarceration of a significant number of male youth in the Hmong community. This has the potential to rip apart the kinship ties, which, unto itself is enough to destabilize the community. However, if, as the film presents the information, we believe that the community does not have a strong economic base, then the young men had the potential to make large financial contributions to their families. As men in the United States, they had more earning potential than the women family members.

Futhermore, it is this type of imagery and plot, or as Spivak would say, trope, that has allowed specifically white, middle class police officers, social workers, faith workers, cps workers, et cetera, to explore neighborhoods which are constituted primarily of people of color or of people of lower classes, assuming that a) whites/middle class know the objectively correct way to do any and everything, and b) that people of color do not, and therefore, must be dependent.

At best, the film is problematic. While, as a white, middle class woman, I want to believe Kowalski does the right thing. I want to believe that his sacrifice at the end is good, and right, and selfless, and just, and honorable. At worst, the film is downright racist. Kowalski is another modern day colonizer who first others his neighbors, and then exploits them to construct his own identity, and finally tears apart the seams of the community with violence.

"The Book of Mormon": Trey Parker’s and Matt Stone’s 21st Century Colonial Text

Here is the recording to the song “I Am Africa,” performed in Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Broadway musical The Book of Mormon.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=68JF_H0-fJQ

I have recently finished reading Trey Parker’s and Matt Stone’s The Book of Mormon. This play is about the work of two young Mormon missionaries, Elders Price and Cunningham, in Africa. Their goal is to convert the entire village to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. However, an evil warlord who is hellbent on performing female circumcisions and more important representatives from the Church complicate this mission. Price experiences a crisis of faith, and Cunningham has to improvise, comparing the Book of Mormon to Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. Ultimately, the two elders succeed by converting the village and stopping the warlord. The musical itself is meant to be read as a satire on organized religion.

Criticism of the musical has focused on its messages about religion, faith, and spirituality, as well as the development of the young missionaries. However, I am intrigued by the text as an example of the ways that American writers in the twenty first century continue to lend to colonial ideologies and colonist identities.

Let’s begin by drawing to attention some of the concerns inherent in the plot.

First, the plot itself essentially centers on the development of white men’s spirituality. In order for them to develop their sense of spirituality, they venture into Africa, the “inpenetrable,” dark continent. Missionaries, by the nature of their job title are committed to “saving.” However, they do not address the material needs of a village, such as clean, running water. Instead missionaries address spiritual needs which implies they believe they can concretely know what the villagers’ spiritual needs are.

Second, the representation of the villagers is exactly what an American audience expects to see. They are ragged, starving, diseased, and war-torn. One way that this representation can be read is as a joke on the American audience. However, another reading, and I suggest the more reasonable one, the villagers are presented as stereotypical to function as blanc canvasses against which white identities can be projected, developed, and exercised.

Third, the information presented to the audience about the Book of Mormon and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints seems to have been very well research and entirely accurate. However, it does not appear that as much research was done to accurately represent African villagers. For example, the warlord who is so hellbent on having the female circumcisions performed, based on what I know about female genital mutilation, is a representation of incorrect information. (Again, this is what I know about the subject) Female genital mutilation is a cultural practice in different areas in Africa, usually performed by local women on girls in infancy or as they reach puberty. The tradition is very old, and as Christianity and Islam were brough to Africa, rationale for the mutilation based on the religions arose.

In fact, postcolonial feminists would respond by saying that (especially white) Americans need to mind their own business and stop preoccupying themselves with black women’s genitals. The preoccupation perpetuates the fetishization, exoticization, and eroticization of black, sexualized bodies.

The fact that the missionaries work so hard to prevent the mutilations from taking place shows their concern over black bodies, and their intention to control cultural practices, and ultimately the bodies themselves in a different way. The missionaries, become colonizers of the mind, spirit, and body.

Hugh Hefner and the “Sexual Revolution”

Here’s a link to the article:

http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/lookout/hefner-declares-war-bedroom-politics-124403766.html

Okay, so there are couple things going on here in this one little article.

First of all, I applaud the Hef for speaking out about, criticizing, and condemning the Republican candidates responses to ideas about sex, lust, immorality, and contraceptives. From what I’ve seen on television and the internet, Hef doesn’t usually come out publicly about his political stance. He has a lot of power and hopefully his opinions will influence voters. Because at this point, he and I are on the same team, at least politically speaking.

That being said, I think it’s pretty laughable that Hugh Hefner still believes he’s leading the “sexual revolution.” When Hefner started his business in the 1953, he recalled on a special hosted by the E! network, he wanted to send the message that “nice girls like sex too.” Okay, that was probably a pretty progressive way to think about women in the 1950s, since there had been the ideology that only bad/dirty/nasty girls liked to have sex.

But the times have changed, and the message that Playboy sends to women has not been able to keep up. Playboy objectifies women. The bunny costumes, a signature of Playboy, place women in an animalistic, childlike, subservient, and submissive position. The costumes ask us to think of these grown women as “those cute, little, less than human, sexy waitresses.” Instead of being progressive, Playboy remained stagnant, and as such, actually functions to uphold the existing patriarchy.

If we take a look at Hef’s past girlfriends, and for that matter, the majority of the women one can see on the series E! series “Girls Next Door,” they are predominantly white and blonde. They are relatively thinner than the average woman. And it goes without saying that they have large breasts. The women appear to be concerned with their hair, makeup, bodies, clothing, and shoes. These are not the messages that a genuine sexual revolution would send. A real sexual revolution would send the messages that all women are beautiful. Instead we see the same tired Barbie doll stereotype.

Additionally, the men that are invited to the Playboy mansion interract with the women in such a way as to perpetuate patriarchy. A few men are invited, sometimes older, sometimes famous, but always wealthy. By keeping the ratio of men to women disproportionately lower, men have their pick, so to speak. Women are made into commodities, and if they are looking for a partner in the men, are made to compete against other women. They must use their looks to acquire financial independence. This type of interraction dates back to ancient times.

I kind of like Hugh Hefner, as an individual personality. He always comes off as a sweet grandpa. However, when we think about it, he really is the most glorified pimp in the United States. He has made his fortune off of the sexual exploitation of women. (Probably one of the reasons that we fail to compare him more often to a pimp is due to his being white.) And it is the glamour and glorification that teaches young women that they should aspire to being a bunny.

As I said, I’m happy he attacked the moralistic Republican stance, however laughable I think his ultimate call for revolution is. At the end of the article, a women’s business news site offers a critique (which you can view by clicking on the link above). I agree with the idea of critiquing Hef, but again, I laugh at the way they did it. The site refers to Hef as a “girlfriend collector.” As far as I’m concerned, it is no one’s business how many partners an individual has. That’s besides the point. The people engaging in the relationships are all of the legal age of consent. To impose that there is a right way to have personal relationships is also puritanical and moralistic. Where the site shines is in the criticism of Playboy as an institution which objectifies women. The objectification has, in turn, been normalized and made into something desirable.

Sorry Hef, but the objectification by one individual of another, or for that matter an entire group, is not, has never been, and will never be revolutionary.

Equality of Treatment vs. Recognition of Difference

Last weekend I went to a friend’s baby shower/barbecue, and an acquaintance was there who openly identifies as gay. After the barbecue, he invited my boyfriend and me to go to a gay bar with him. Somewhat jokingly he said that he might even try to take someone home with him that night. My first reaction was, “Well, if he’s anything like the straight men I know, then I’m sure he will try to take someone home.”

Even now, that reaction that I had bothers me, and if I had heard someone else say it, I would have talked about it being a problematic response.

I quickly chastised myself, thinking, “Of course he’s like the straight men I know because being gay doesn’t make a man any less of a man.” And trying to take home an interest is just something men do. (That kind of thinking is problematic as well, I know, and it’s even kind of sexist, but that’s for another post.)

Then I began to wonder why I should assume that gay men’s flirting, pursuing, and dating would be anything like straight men’s. I believe that all people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. So in this way, the treatment is equal. This leads me to my main question. How much does the desire to treat people equally obscure the need to recognize different experiences? I argue, that by assuming the acquaintance would flirt and pursue like any straight man potentially ignores the fact that he does not experience life as a straight man.

Furthermore, when I talk about equal treatment and ignoring different experiences, the implication is that the treatment is based on a standard. The standard is the in-power group’s. Hence, when there is the desire to treat white people and people of color equally, it is based on the white standard. The same goes for men and women. I have heard men comment that if women want to be treated equally in the work place, then they shouldn’t “bitch” about PMS.

Our country, as a heterosexualist country ignores homosexual/gay/queer voices and experiences. There also seems to be the assumption that if the homosexual/gay/queer community does not want to be ignored, than they should conform to normative behavior.

I believe it was Monique Wittig who argued our society has defined the criteria for being a woman, in part, as always being submissive to men. Based on that criteria she continued, lesbians are not women. They are a gender unto themselves.

For quite a few years I have identified as a feminist. I would guess that each feminist has a different relationship with feminism. My relationship includes asserting the connection between being a woman and acting like a woman. I do not mean that I do or should act like a stereotypical 1950’s housewife. Instead I mean that because I identify as a woman, everything I do then I do it as a woman. I am always feminine - how could I not be? For me, this functions as a means by which to reassert agency over my own actions and to prevent others from being allowed to tell me what is appropriate to do and not do.  It is a line of rationale that allows me to own myself and experiences.

However, I have to continue to push one step further. I must remember that I also experience life as white, middle class, (mostly) heterosexual woman. I cannot change that. But also, I cannot ignore the fact that other women do not share some of my experiences. To ignore our differences is to do a great injustice and disservice to all of us.

Conceptions of Gender Change over Time

This is a fun, little article from Cracked.com titled “5 Gender Stereotypes That Used to Be the Exact Opposite.”

The changes that took placed occurred for far more complicated reasons. Cracked seems to use the expression “…and suddenly” quite a bit. But overall this is fun, informative, and makes us think about what we “know” and expect.

An Introduction

This is my second attempt at creating this post.

My first attempt, after five cleverly worded, successful paragraphs, seems not to have appeared.

And now here I am, trying to remember and capture all the ideas I so poignantly typed just a few minutes ago.

At the tender age of 18, having finished high school with an amazing g.p.a., I decided to do what many young adults do: attend a mid-sized, in-state, university, sacrificing quality for closeness to home and (lack of) expense. I chose to major in sociology and English, with an emphasis on literature, realizing the very low probability of ever amassing a grand fortune.

Here I am, four years later, at the slightly less tender age of 22. I have found that sociology and literary criticism and theory have become such great passions in my life, that I cannot escape them. Instead of having an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other, I have a sociologist on one shoulder telling me to look at the trends and general patterns; on the other, is the literary theorist who argues that instead I should deconstruct and look at the exceptions.

I consider it a gift and a burden.

These passions have gotten me through the tedious nature of the university system, which I might add, is not entirely different from the high school system. I find myself most interested in gender theory and gender studies. But in this day and age, looking through only one lens does not cut it anymore. So if and when I write more, I will try to remember to look at the top of multiple lenses, especially including, but not limited to, race/ethnicity and class.

I’m not as comfortable with using queer theory or able-bodyism, but I figure this is as good of a place as any to start to practice.

Furthermore, right now, I’m most interested in asking questions about agency, autonomy, the Body, and hybridity. So any (hopeful) followers I have will see a bit of me poking around in that area.

Well, this second draft, so to speak, may not be as cohesive as the first, but at least it will stick (again, hopeful). I feel like I should end this with some grand remark… Here goes: I look forward to this new exciting adventure of blogging and welcome the exchange of knowledge that may be the product of said adventure.