INTRODUCTION At the core of Exchanges are the readings and the process exercises and writing assignments that accompany each reading and each chapter. Almost every composition reader includes more readings than can be used in a single writing class, so many readings that the table of contents can feel overwhelming. To help sort through the text, we have summarized the theme chapters and offered some practical advice on pathways through each chapter. For a discussion of Chapter 3, see the second chapter in this manual. The first sample syllabus included in the fourth chapter here shows how the apparatus included in the theme chapters can be integrated into a writing course.
Chapter 4—Social Groups and Shared Identity This chapter examines the dynamics of group membership—how we align ourselves in voluntary association with others, and how society places us as well in groups we have little control over. In consumer culture, group membership is the code by which marketers translate our identities into potential profits; indeed, consumer society tends to segment all sorts of groups into market niches. That mailing list you are on by virtue of membership in the garden club? Marketing tool. You may not see your affiliation that way, of course, and therein lies the intrigue.
Generative Terms group, n
. . . a knot of people . . .
A number of persons or things regarded as forming a unity on account of any kind of mutual or common relation, or classed together on account of a certain degree of similarity.
. . . a rank or grade of society.
A division of things according to grade or quality, as high or low, first, second, etc.
slang or colloq. Distinction, high quality . . .
Background Readings at a Glance The background readings in a sense don’t do justice to this dynamic, since they are organized more in terms of the groups (or groupings, that is, the social process of forming groups according to certain indices) which are their focus. Sexual orientation, race, gender, and generation are the indices of group identity taken up here. Still, within each of the readings, it is possible to trace the twin dynamics at work in shared identity: how different members do or do not easily fit within a group, and how group identity does or doesn’t fit smoothly alongside the rest of society.
“Out of the Closet, and into Never-Never Land.” Daniel Harris. This Harper’s article from 1995 is part of a larger project developed in his book The Rise and Fall of Gay Culture (1997). Here, Harris deconstructs the slick image of “gayness” purveyed by gay-oriented magazines.
“Dividing American Society.” Andrew J. Hacker. This selection from Hacker’s 1992 book, Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal, offers an important historical context for the contemporary state of race relations in the U.S. He also reviews the myth that racial identity has any biological validity.
“Re-Thinking the Nature of Work.” bell hooks. Well known feminist scholar bell hooks has written widely about race, gender and class. In this selection she challenges the view of work purveyed by the mainstream (white middle class) women’s movement.
“Children of the Future.” Roberto Suro. Focusing on the teenage daughter of Latino immigrants, this selection traces how linguistic, social, and economic exchanges offer hope but also imperil traditional values and sense of identity. A journalist, Suro’s excerpt is drawn from his book, Strangers Among Us (1998).
Case-in-Point Readings at a Glance The Case-in-Point, “The Group at the Center: Finding the Middle Class,” focuses the themes raised in the background readings on socio-economic class, one of the most significant groupings in a culture where exchange cuts across every boundary. The readings here look at poverty in a consumer culture, the struggle to live an “ordinary” life when that life costs too much, the responsibility that comes with wealth and privilege (inherited or earned), representations of class in popular culture, and the quest for equal opportunity. The tension that runs through them is what researchers such as Michael Harrington or Paul Fussell have found out about class in America: the distinctly American difficulty of recognizing strict class boundaries defined in economic terms. We view ourselves as a classless society, and though wide differences would separate its various members, the middle class is the group most of us would self-identify with, in perhaps willful ignorance of significant economic disparities.
“America Has a Class System. See ‘Frasier.’” Anita Gates. An article from The New York Times, this piece describes how the tension between the upper-class tastes of Frasier and the working-class world of his father forms the basis of the humor of this hugely popular sitcom.
“Movies Find a Way to Close the Class Divide.” William McDonald. This Times article examines the way Hollywood has mystified class differences in stories in which “love conquers all.” Beginning with Inventing the Abbotts, McDonald finds similar storylines in Fools Rush In and Love Story, to name but two. (It’s easy to see how this article could become a model for a similar analysis of other films.)
“Ain’t No Middle Class.” Susan Sheehan. This 1995 New Yorker essay is a case study of one working-class family whom Sheehan portrays as they make do on the fringe of the middle class. Finely woven, this selection is laden with details and observations that bring its subjects to life.
“An Emerging Middle Class.” Linda Chavez. An outspoken proponent of Hispanic assimilation, Chavez argues in this excerpt from Out of the Barrio (1991) that Hispanic leaders have failed to see that assimilation is the ticket to a better life. Needless to say, Chavez is a controversial figure as she celebrates the virtues of consumer lifestyles, earnings, and career.
“The Yuppie Strategy.” Barbara Ehrenreich. Feminist author and scholar, Ehrenreich’s work has appeared in Time and Newsweek and other journals. This selection from her 1989 book, Fear of Falling, analyzes the group psychology of the yuppie consumer style.
“Bourgeois Blues.” Deirdre McCloskey. Economics and history professor at University of Iowa, McCloskey here challenges the tres chic academic repudiation of bourgeois culture, offering compelling evidence for its redeeming values and social utility.
Points of Entry We are drawn in two directions by the possibilities in this chapter. On the one hand, there are a number of approaches one could take to cultural studies sorts of projects, scaffolded by some of the background selections as well as the case-in-point readings. For example, the pieces about the TV show, “Frasier” and the film Inventing the Abbotts both offer starting points for analyses of representations of class in popular culture. Indeed, while the focus might be different from Harris’s, such an analysis could be modeled on Harris’s deconstruction of images of “gay identity” in gay magazines with the focus turned to class instead of sexual orientation.
The other possibility we see here is the chance to dig fairly deeply into the issues of group identity (and class affiliation). With background material drawn from, say, Hacker and hooks as well as by the portrait drawn in Sheehan’s article, students might be given the tasks described in Net Approaches 1 and/or 2 (p. 208). Online research could lead them to thinking and writing about class issues in relation to specific groups of people or specific locations they may be familiar with. Indeed, experimenting with C. Wright Mills’s method, described in The Sociological Imagination as locating the intersection of history and biography, students can turn in varying degrees to a reflective analysis of their own group affiliations and sense of class identity.
Chapter 5---Advertising: The Discourse of Consumerism Advertising is the official discourse of consumer society. In the flow of ads, everything becomes a commodity to be consumed. The flow of advertising doesn’t (obviously) traffic in careful deliberation or rational thinking. From its suggestive murmur, we pick the meanings that appeal to us, ignoring contradictions and misinformation. Advertising mingles our concern about material needs with image, pleasure, and status. We come to believe we need particular images associated with certain products, and that buying is pleasurable. Ads may lead us to a style of life we never would have imagined, though we may also end up with hefty credit card bills and, just maybe, and imagination and value system that is programmed by Madison Avenue.
Of course, advertising and the rise of consumer culture go hand-in-hand. When production methods outstripped demand, advertising became a way to artificially stimulate desire. Over time, the advertising industry has become a cultural force to be reckoned with, perhaps even more powerful than the film or music industries. We are exposed to hundreds of ads everyday, and the placement of advertising has penetrated all sorts of spaces. (Our current pet gripe: The so-called largest scoreboard in major league baseball, at Cleveland's Jacobs Field, is in fact mostly billboard space.)
Generative Terms advertisement, n
The action of calling the attention of others . . .
A public notice or announcement . . .
To have a strong wish for; to long for, covet, crave.
An act of demanding or asking by virtue of right or authority . . .
The calling for a thing in order to purchase it . . .; a call for a commodity on the part of consumers.
The manifestation of a desire on the part of consumers to purchase some commodity or service, combined with the power to purchase . . .
Background Readings at a Glance The background readings ask us to take a second look at ads, and a careful reader confronts some difficult issues: Do ads show us options that exist in our world, or do they create a world of options for us, defining a set of desires we think of as normal? Is the world we see portrayed in advertising a world we should or must live in? From different approaches, the background readings address these (as well as other) questions.
“The Surface of the Advertisement: Composed and Consumed.” Jib Fowles. Drawn from his 1996 book, Advertising and Popular Culture, in this selection Fowles analyzes the discourse of advertising and the ways advertising interacts with social values, the ways consumers decode ads, and how they ultimately use them.
“Advertising Citizenship.” Irene Costera Meijer. Meijer here takes the (possibly) surprising position that advertising is a productive and useful form of public discourse, one that helps people become active citizens and not just passive consumers. She does so in part by countering critics views on their own terms, applying frames of cultural analysis in the endeavor.
“Shadows on the Wall.” Stuart and Elizabeth Ewen. The book from which this selection is drawn, Channels of Desire, was updated in 1992. In this excerpt, the Ewens examine not so much how individual ads might work (see Fowles, above) but the effect of the continual flow of advertising on people and society.
“Is Nothing Sacred?” Mary Kuntz. This piece first appeared in Business Week, documenting a trend in advertising toward self-parody. Kuntz also looks at projects like Adbusters, a Canadian quarterly involved in “culture jamming” through the production of spoof ads.
Case-in-Point Readings at a Glance In the Case-in-Point, “Public Images of Illegal Drugs: (Un)selling Bad Habits,” readings examine the use of rhetoric, especially the advertising of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America (PDFA), in the crusade to reduce and eliminate the abuse of illegal drugs. A variety of perspectives are presented in the readings, and, in our view, the underlying curiosity here is the implications of turning the discourse of advertising, which for most intents and purposes serves to cultivate addiction-like desire (compulsive consumption), toward this kind of mass behavioral re-engineering. Through the use of public service advertising (PSA), the Partnership has sought to change the attitudes of young people and to get accurate information to young people and their parents about illegal drug use. But are the PDFA’s ad campaigns effective? Can a medium used to sell one drug, like alcohol, be effective in “unselling” other drugs? The readings here present a range of opinions and lots of data.
“Peddling a Social Cause.” Annetta Miller and Elisa Williams. Miller and Williams have written widely in the popular press about the intersection of business and culture. Here they are interested in how, in the industry, public service advertising relates to the world of advertising.
“The Next Front in the Drug War: The Media.” Barry McCaffrey. An op-ed piece from the Christian Science Monitor, this article (one of dozens like it produced by leaders in the war on drugs) lays out a rationale for the emphasis on advertising and the electronic media in combating drug use.
“Victims of Everything.” Jacob Sullum. This opinion piece appeared in The New York Times in the midst of controversy surrounding “heroin chic” in the fashion industry. Sullum is in favor of discussions of legalizing some drugs as a more rational approach to the problem of drug abuse.
“An Overdose of Reality.” Ann Cooper. An article from Adweek, this selection looks at why and how ad agencies became involved in creating anti-drug public service campaigns.
“Hard to Earn: On Work and Wealth.” Darrell Dawsey. An excerpt from his hard-hitting Living to Tell About It: Young Black Men in America Speak Their Piece, this reading examines the drug trade as a source of employment, adopting a view of the business not represented on Madison Avenue.
“America’s Altered States.” Joshua Wolf Shenk. Having written for a variety of journals including Salon, U.S. News and World Report, and The Economist, Shenk here considers his own lifelong struggle with mental illness in relation to drug policy and pharmocology, with particular focus on the extreme and exaggerated images our market-society has created around drugs.
Advertisements. Partnership for a Drug-Free America. Five ads sponsored by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America (“Fried Egg / This Is Your Brain,” “Frying Pan,” “Teeth,” “Drain Cleaner,” “The Power of a Grandma”).
Points of Entry We were pretty conscious of the fact that “advertising” is one of the old chestnuts of the composition curriculum. The truth is, part of the motive for including this chapter in the book was recognizing that this might help sell the book. (Full disclosure.) At the same time, we became fascinated all over again with the dynamics of advertising seen as the discourse of consumer culture, and our students do in fact seem to relish the chance to unmask or decode the secret language of ads. We thought to give the unit a twist by turning in the case-in-point to the PDFA campaign. Since the usual academic response to advertising is to lament its deleterious cultural effects, we hoped to cast it in a new light by looking at public service advertising.
One approach to the material in this unit is to take the critical/analytical perspective offered by Jib Fowles, Stuart and Elizabeth Ewen, and Mary Kuntz, any of whom allow access to thinking about how ads are constructed and consumed. Irene Costera Meijer’s contribution to this discussion would be to challenge the easy conclusion that advertising is a bad thing. Another approach to the material here might be more straight-up argumentative: Does the PDFA campaign seem likely to succeed? Drawing together Case-in-Point readings and ideas from the background section, students can also be guided toward thinking about alternatives to the war on drugs (i.e., legalization), as well as to a strict evaluation of the probable effectiveness of the PDFA ad campaigns in curbing the use of illegal drugs. Writing Project 6 (p. 288) might be a useful frame in which to proceed.
Chapter 6---Entertainment: The Commodification of Enjoyment Citizens around the world know something about the entertainment industry in the United States because they are exposed to it all the time. While our consumer society may have taken the packaging and marketing of enjoyment to an extreme, the activities that make up entertainment are as old as human communities. Of course, entertainment isn’t now—and perhaps never was—about simple engagements between people. The word carries a strong sense of amusement, of arresting another’s attention and diverting it from reality. Entertainment, for better or worse, traffics in the deeply human urge to play. And so on the one hand our urge to play has helped us to laugh at ourselves, to develop technology, and to talk about otherwise taboo subjects, while at the same time the goals of amusement and diversion can reduce serious issues to fantasies or to trivialize them. Further, many argue that the commodification of enjoyment, that is, the packaging and marketing of entertainment, has dispossessed us of the capacity to be producers in our own right: We don’t tell stories anymore, we don’t sing with and for each other; if it’s not on TV, it’s not real.
To engage agreeably the attention of (a person); to amuse.
To muse intently, gaze in astonishment.
To cause to “muse” or stare; to confound, distract, bewilder, puzzle.
To divert the attention of (one) from serious business by anything trifling, ludicrous, or entertaining.
. . . the substance or “element” in which an organism lives . . .
An intermediate agency, means, instrument or channel.
. . . something which serves as the ordinary representative of exchangeable value . . .
Background Readings at a Glance The background readings look at entertainment from various points along this continuum. Of particular importance with the material in this chapter is to recognize the implicit message of entertainment media, which is to discourage us from thinking critically about it. (“Hey, it’s just a movie. Don’t think so much!”) The readings also examine how products and services are produced, shaped by the imperatives of the market exchange.
“Where the Girls Are.” Susan Douglas. Douglas is a professor of media and American studies and a self-identified consumer of mass media. In this selection from her 1994 book of the same title, Douglas identifies patterns in which American women have been “imprinted” by mainstream entertainment.
“The Entertainment Economy.” Michael Mandel, Mark Landler, et al. This Business Week piece from 1994 reports on the emergence of entertainment as a major sector of the U.S. and global economy. In detailing this economic sector, the authors also suggest some questions about the social impact of the new “entertainment industrial complex.”
“The Blockbuster Script Factory.” Jaime Wolf. As a journalist, Wolf reports on the film industry. In this article, Wolf illustrates the process by which a successful movie is produced for the mass market, explaining why the mega-hits often seem to lack a “good script.”
“Life the Movie.” Neal Gabler. A film theorist and historian of the film industry, Gabler turned in this 1998 book to look at the lives of consumers of entertainment, arguing that life has become a medium all its own, and that our lives are increasingly structured by the entertainment media to look like a movie.
“Silence, Please.” Sallie Tisdale. Tisdale is a prolific nonfiction writer. In this Harper’s article, she analyzes how entertainment value has altered the institution of the public library, altering both its core mission and the (noisy) ways people use the library.
Case-in-Point Readings at a Glance Since Snow White in 1937, the Walt Disney Company has entertained children and adults with animated images of girls growing into womanhood. But the Disney heroine has also played a huge role in building a business empire—in 1997, Disney Co. generated over $22 billion in revenue—and an equally significant role in shaping several generations’ perceptions of femininity. In the readings in this Case-in-Point, Women of Walt Disney: Selling Femininity from Cinderella to Mulan, various perspectives on Disney’s achievements are offered, and as these perspectives are articulated, assumptions about entertainment—what it is, its social roles, how we relate to or consume it—are revealed.
“Dissecting Disney.” Scott Heller. Staff writer for The Chronicle of Higher Education, Heller published this article there in 1994. He weaves together the comments of several Disney critics along with reviews of recent scholarly studies of the magic kingdom, hints at Disney’s efforts to control its public image, and looks at an academic perspective that is uneasy about a culture that seems increasingly “disneyfied.”
“Construction of the Female Self: Feminist Readings of the Disney Heroine.” Jill Birnie Henke, Diane Zimmerman Umble, and Nancy J. Smith. These academics examine Disney in order to analyze the role Disney has played in the way young women are understood and understand themselves. To do so, the apply both feminist theory and their own experiences as “media consumers, teachers, scholars, and mothers of daughters.”
“Where Do the Mermaids Stand?” Laura Sells. A professor of communications and women’s studies, Sells analyzes The Little Mermaid and its depiction of Ariel as an idealized image of a young girl. What values does the film locate in this image? How is Disney’s version contradicted by the original tale by Hans Christian Andersen?
“Movie Reviews.” These three review articles find that Disney’s heroines from Cinderalla to Mulan are surprisingly more than thin-waisted princesses waiting for a prince.
“Everything Old is New Again.” James Bowman. (Beauty and the Beast)
“The Pocahontas Phenomenon.” Richard W. Hill, Sr. (Pocahontas)
“Noted with Resignation.” Elizabeth Chang. (Mulan)
“The Disney Doctrine.” Steven Watts. A history professor, Watts published a “part biography and part cultural analysis” Walt Disney in 1997. This selection, Watts focuses on the post-World War II era of Disney productions, linking Disney’s preoccupation with family to the animated features and live-action films the Disney Studio produced in this period.
“A Work in Progress.” Michael Eisner. CEO of Walt Disney Company since 1984, Eisner and his late partner Frank Wells decided to write a book to explain to Disney employees and others what the Disney brand could stand for. This excerpt focuses on how animated movies and TV shows fit into Disney’s game plan.
Points of Entry From our point of view, the salient issue in the chapter is how consumer culture usurps the capacity for creative expression that we are perhaps endowed with by whom or whatever. Mother always told us, “Turn off that trash and go outside and play. It’s a glorious day to be wasting on TV.” The lesson stuck, though we as much as anyone enjoy as a guilty pleasure the offerings on prime time. Post-modern theorists like to talk about how “consuming” entertainment is a really a form of production and creativity. Sure. Whatever. Okay, maybe it does create the occasion for productive kinds of response in conversation with others. That kind of conversation is learned behavior that can be and is readily taught in the context of a composition class. The material in this unit offers some means for engaging in that kind of conversation.
The background readings all invite students in, offering various starting points for becoming more fully conscious of and cagey about the entertainment industry, and entertainment as a dimension of consumer culture. Making Connections 5 (p. 328) offers one likely place to begin thinking about how we consume entertainment. The Case-in-Point readings, focusing on Disney, run the risk of becoming their own kind of cliché: the academic version of a high-brow cultural snobbishness. Fortunately, the pieces by Henke, Umble, and Smith; and by Laura Sells offer a more interesting, complex view of Disney’s products. Framed by Heller’s overview of scholarship about Disney, these pieces afford a critical vocabulary and model a stance toward the subject that students should find useful. Net Approach 1 (p. 377) can show students the amazing extent of Disney’s online presence. Writing Project 2 (pp. 378-379) offers the chance to ground a synthesis of background and Case-in-Point readings in students’ own experiences with an entertainment product.
Chapter 7---Education: Investing in the Future In the United States, the word “education” has been connected to the universal instruction of informed voters and citizens, as well as to the training of workers and consumers. Market competition has created a system of accessible public and elite private schools, sorting individuals into groups based both on merit and the ability to pay tuition. In a democracy, education leads to new ideas and information that may not have anything to do with consumer exchanges or the marketplace. Educational institutions are supposed to offer critiques of the very society of which they are a part. Schools deepen our view of history and allow us to re-imagine present and future social arrangements.
Generative Terms educate, v.
To rear, bring up (children, animals) by supply of food and attention to physical wants.
To bring up (young persons) from childhood so as to form (their) habits, manners, intellectual and physical aptitudes.
To train or discipline . . . so as to develop some special aptitude, taste, or disposition.
Place or establishment for instruction.
A set of persons, who agree in certain opinions, points of behavior or the like. Cf. OLD SCHOOL.
A person who is engaged in or addicted to study.
A person who is undergoing a course of study and instruction . . .
To apply the mind to the acquisition of learning, whether by means of books, observation, or experiment
To follow one’s educational or professional studies . . .
Background Readings at a Glance The background readings explore the sometimes conflicting purposes of education. Should faculty give students what they need in a core curriculum, or should students be free to pick what they want to learn from a smorgasbord of electives? Should education be thought of primarily in economic terms as an investment in anticipation of future earnings? Is schooling mainly about professional credentialling? How can the product that students “consume” in school be tested or assessed for quality? As “consumers” of higher education, what do students have the right to expect?
“Kids as Education Consumers.” Rebecca Jones. Writing for the school members who are the audience of Executive Educator where this selection first appeared, Jones identifies the pressures that are opening public schools to the marketplace and notes responses that teachers and administrators have made to this process.
“On the Uses of a Liberal Education.” Mark Edmundson. An English professor at University of Virginia, Edmundson published this essay in Harper’s, challenging what he calls the “watered down” college curricula that seem to be taking the place of a core liberal arts education, placing blame on a pervasive consumerism that is tainting how we view higher education.
“The Cloister and the Heart.” Jane Tompkins. This selection is the final chapter from Tompkins’s memoir, A Life in School. In it, this Yale-educated Ph.D. tries to synthesize two important metaphors that govern the way we value higher learning: the mind and the spirit.
“Fading Dreams, Enduring Hope.” Chris Liska Carger. While teaching in inner-city Chicago, Carger meets Alejandro, the Mexican-American boy who is the subject of her book, Of Borders and Dreams. In this selection, Carger describes how for Alejandro, becoming educated means negotiating a social process that opens paths to some futures at the same time it closes others.
“Choice Can Save Public Education.” Deborah Meier. A 20-year veteran of school reform work in east Harlem, Meier advocates school choice as a vehicle to improve education. This essay first appeared in the liberal journal The Nation.
Case-in-Point Readings at a Glance The readings gathered in the Chapter 7 Case-in-Point, “Higher Education: Looking for the College Premium,” examine the idea of the “college premium,” that is, the economic bump that can be expected as a result of investing time and money in a college education. The metaphor is telling, suggesting as it does that one can purchase an education in the same way one can purchase material goods. But where does learning fit into that system? Thinking? Figuring things out? In the context of the changing demographics and economics following the post-World War II baby boom, colleges have seen their fortunes wax and wane, and their sense of their mission has been shaped more and more thoroughly in market terms. While all these writers agree that a college education has been and continues to be a good buy, they raise important questions about how education should be paid for, what and how students should study, and what students will ultimately do with their degrees.
“The Undergraduate.” Erik Hedegaard. This article first appeared in Rolling Stone. It is a profile of the alleged No. 1 party guy at the supposed No. 1 party school, Florida State University. The world depicted here is a through-the-looking-glass version of that tradition of higher learning presumed, for example, by Mark Edmundson or Jane Tompkins. The writing is lushly detailed and vivid, and challenges critical students to sort out “what’s wrong with this picture.”
“Drive-Thru U.” James Traub. First published in The New Yorker, this piece analyzes the University of Phoenix franchise, paying particular attention to its strategy for capturing a particular market niche among education consumers—adults looking for functional and quick diplomas.
“The Last Shot.” Darcy Frey. This chronicle of the year Frey spent following four talented basketball players from Coney Island’s Abraham Lincoln High School was first published in Harper’s. In this narrative, Frey examines the different perspectives on the “worth” of a college education and the promise of an NCAA scholarship as a ticket out of the poverty of the old neighborhood.
“Why Young Women are More Conservative.” Gloria Steinem. Co-founder of Ms., Steinem revised and updated this essay for the 1995 edition of Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions. In it, Steinem looks for reasons for the relative conservatism of female college students, and suggests these women still fail to learn to challenge the limits society imposes on them.
“Is Education a Great Equalizer?” Ira Shor. Well-known leftist educator Shor has taught in the CUNY system since 1971. In this excerpt from his 1992 book, Empowering Education, Shor examines the myth that education is the great equalizer that offers to level the playing field in the American exchange.
Points of Entry It is evidently a truism in the textbook industry that the chapter on “education” is aimed mainly at the teacher. We certainly enjoyed assembling the readings in this chapter, caught up as we are in trying to understand our own roles within a higher-education system that seems to endure an on-going process of redefinition. And as teachers we have also experienced those moments when we have recognized we work often at cross-purposes with our students. At best an adult form of parallel play, at worst these moments reveal deeply different expectations for college education. The readings here offer a way to explore that conflict. Making Connections 1 (p. 423) allows students to play opposing views of the role of consumerism in education against each other.
The Case-in-Point readings sharpen the focus of the background readings, offering what strikes us as almost apocalyptic visions of the university today. Between Erik Hedegaard’s portrait of the “number 1 party guy at the number 1 party school” and James Traub’s report on the University of Phoenix (why does he title this essay “Drive-Thru U”?) teachers and students should find much to talk about. Collaborative Exchanges 2 (p. 467) offers the chance to focus on gender as a significant element in our different experiences of higher education. Writing Project 1 (p. 468) invites students to sort through the readings and synthesize a position that incorporates their own experience as students/consumers of higher education.
Chapter 8---Identity in Black and White: Negotiating Personal and Public Selves Our identity—our sense of ourselves, and the person society perceives us to be—is shaped in intimate ways by the history of racialized discourse in the U.S., with the black-white racial divide being the most enduring and fractious. As powerful as the figures of racial identity may be, we are also aware of complexities that are belied by simplistic labels. There are aspects to identity and avenues in our culture that allow and even invite us to reshape the roles that history and society places before us.
Generative Terms self, n
That which in a person is really and intrinsically he (in contradistinction to what is adventitious); . . . a permanent subject of successive and varying states of consciousness.
What one is at a particular time or in a particular aspect or relation; one’s nature, character, or (sometimes) physical constitution or appearance, considered as different at different times.
To determine (something) to be the same with something conceived, known, asserted, etc. . . .
. . . absolute and essential sameness; oneness.
. . . the condition or fact that a person or thing is itself and not something else; individuality, personality.
One of the great divisions of mankind . . .
The fact or condition of belonging to a particular people . . .; the qualities, etc. resulting from this.
The behavior that an individual feels it appropriate to assume in adapting to any form of social interaction . . .
Background Readings at a Glance This unit begins at the crossroads where personal and public aspects of race and identity intersect. The background readings detail how our sense of who we are is defined in significant ways by our racial identity, and the Case-in-Point, Hip-Hop Crossover, examines how the commercial success of hip-hop’s dissemination from the hood to the rural heartland stands to turn this historic, black-white binary on its head.
“Race Right Now.” Farai Chideya. An excerpt from Chideya’s book, The Color of Our Future, this selection draws on demographic information to point to a future in which the U.S. is a “majority-minority” nation and, equally interesting, one in which the simplistic labels of racial identity are obsolete.
“It’s the Little Things.” Lena Williams. An article from The New York Times, this piece examines subtle frictions in day-to-day interactions between whites and blacks, the “little things” that may convey unintended slights or betray unconscious racism. The potential volatility in interracial interactions is everywhere apparent.
“Diaries at an Artist Colony.” Toi Derricotte. Poet and teacher Toi Derricotte documents the treatment she receives from white artists whose appraisal of her shifts when they learn she is black. Delving the emotional and psychic dimensions of racism that “It’s the Little Things” alludes to, Derricotte shows the fissures in her own self-consciousness as a black woman.
“An Overview of Identity Negotiations Theory.” Robert Brooke. This selection moves away from explicitly addressing racial identity, presenting instead an explanation of identity focused on the “negotiations” that take place between an individual and the roles offered her by society. Brooke’s piece provides a frame in which to explore the idea of identity in relation to social practice.
Case-in-Point Readings at a Glance Emerging in the late 1970s from park jams in the South Bronx, hip-hop has in the last 10 years become arguably the most important youth cultural movement since the hippie revolution of the 1960s. It has touched art, music, dance and fashion styles, tinged and revitalized our national vocabulary, and served as a catalyst in the hybridization of cultural expression (most dramatically evident in the sound collages and use of sampling in rap and hip-hop music.) The commercial success and visibility of hip-hop that has resulted from its embrace by white suburban middle-class teenagers becomes the occasion for the readings gathered the Case-in-Point, “Hip-Hop Crossover: The Inner City Comes to the Suburbia.” Each considers the phenomenon of hip-hop crossover, suggesting implications for our conceptions of black and white identity.
“Marketing Street Culture: Bringing Hip-Hop Style to the Mainstream.”Marc Spiegler. This article from American Demographics describes the adoption of hip-hop style in mainstream retailing. Spiegler also explores the motivations of white buyers whose spending drives the market.
“Imitation of Life.” James Ledbetter. This essay was first published in the premier issue of VIBE, the leading hip-hop journal of music and culture. This is an edgy, provocative piece. Ledbetter offers a sharply critical analysis of the motivations of white people who, like pop star Madonna, “wannabe” black.
“‘They Done Taken My Blues and Gone’: Black Talk Crosses Over.” Geneva Smitherman. Throughout her distinguished career, Geneva Smitherman has been among our nation’s leading experts on African-American Vernacular English. This selection from her book Black Talk focuses on the crossover of black language into mainstream (often media) usage.
“Rebirth of the Cool.” Allison Samuels and John Leland. Journalists for Newsweek, Samuels and Leland describe an underground “bohemian” side of hip-hop culture that is anti-commercial and “roots”-oriented and cuts against the grain of the commercialization of hip-hop as a consumer product. (For a fuller appreciation of the scene they describe, we encourage you to look at the photos in the original Newsweek issue.)
“Off the Charts, Off the Covers: For Hip-Hop Acts that Boom, the Media Have No Room.” Armond White. This article from The Nation documents the mismatch between the commercial success of hip-hop artists and the coverage they (fail to) receive in the mainstream rock press. Taking on mainstream mouthpieces like Rolling Stone and The New York Times, White suggests pervasive biases in rock critics judgements of which acts are newsworthy.
“Hip-Hoppreneurs.” Eric L. Smith. This feature appeared in Black Enterprise Magazine. It offers snapshots of several hip-hop or rap acts who have branched into other kinds of business. The article points to the business savvy of the black artists who seize their moment, at the same time reading almost as a blueprint or “how-to” for would-be entrepreneurs.
Points of Entry In our view, the choice of which readings and assignments to start with in this chapter depends on how directly you want to engage the questions of race and racism in relation to hip-hop crossover. “It’s the Little Things” and “Diaries at an Artist Colony” both directly confront racism. “Race Right Now” and “An Overview of Identity Negotiations Theory” approach race and racism more obliquely, diffusing the strong opposition in the black-white binary. Similarly, among the Case-in-Point readings, Lebetter and White put racism in the foreground of their discussions, whereas Spiegler and Smith are mainly interested in the commercial aspects of hip-hop’s race codes. Samuels and Leland and Smitherman are in between.
Teachers who wish for a more cautious approach to the issues inherent in this topic might assign “An Overview of Identity Negotiations Theory,” then focus on discussion questions 1, 2, and 6 (pp. 497, 498) Collaborative Exchanges 1 (p. 499). Turning to “Marketing Street Culture: The Inner City Comes to Suburbia,” teachers could build on the reading of “An Overview of Identity Negotiations Theory” by focusing on discussion questions 3 and 8 (pp. 509, 510), then moving to Writing Project 3 (pp. 539-540).
Chapter 9---Our Places, Our Selves: Where We Come from, Who We Are In a post-Fordist global economy and a highly-mobile society, thinking about “place” may seem anachronistic at best (if not actually symptomatic, the nostalgia of nationalism or the sentimental propaganda which makes use of terms like “heartland”). What could be less post-modern, less transient-seeming, less free-floating, than place? Don’t our great metaphors for presence and duration spring from the discourse of place, figures of speech like “roots,” “ground,” and “depth”? At the same time, place is a key term in our national mythology, constructed as it is on visions of the promised land, great cities on hills, the frontier, Huck Finn’s “territory.” So whether we confront place in its material aspect (rocks and dirt) or as a discourse (“land of the free, home of the brave”), the study of place has enormous resonance in questions about how consumer culture organizes (“places” or “locates”) our experiences and relationships to one another.
Generative Terms place, n
The portion of space actually occupied by a person or thing; the position of a body in space, or with reference to other bodies; locality; situation.
A portion of space in which people dwell together . . .
A proper, appropriate place, or natural place (for the person or thing in question to be in or occupy); sometimes ideal or imaginary region.
That which in a person is really and intrinsically he (in contradistinction to what is adventitious); . . . a permanent subject of successive and varying states of consciousness.
What one is at a particular time or in a particular aspect or relation; one’s nature, character, or (sometimes) physical constitution or appearance, considered as different at different times.
A side, edge, brink, or margin; a limit, or boundary; the part of anything lying along its boundary or outline.
In U.S.: The line or frontier between the occupied and unoccupied parts of the country, the frontier of civilization.
Background Readings at a Glance The readings here are rich in terminology and examples that help us see place as something other than the physical and cultural place we always already are. The writers call attention to how important place is for people, how hard it is to maintain a connection to place in a world where consumption habits increasingly erase borders, and how the characteristics that make up our places evolve with us.
“Conservation and Local Economy.” Wendell Berry. Poet and teacher Berry argues against globalization, stating that “In our relation to the land, we are ruled by a number of terms and limits set not by anyone’s preference but by nature and human nature” (p. 542).
“Neighborhood.” Yi-fu Tuan. An excerpt from a geography book, this selection identifies the key concept that “neighborhood” is construct that corresponds to social relationships as much as to physical spaces.
“The Accessible Landscape.” John Brinckerhoff Jackson. Jackson was a prolific writer who studied the American landscape. (William Langewiesche includes a fascinating essay about Jackson in Inside the Sky: A Meditation on Flight [Vintage Departures].) Jackson’s essay first appeared in The Whole Earth Review, formerly Co-Evolution Quarterly, founded by Stewart Brand of Whole Earth Catalogue fame. In this essay, Jackson looks at how human territories are inscribed as boundaries on the contemporary landscape.
“Urban Landscape History: The Sense of Place and the Politics of Space.” Dolores Hayden. This excerpt from Hayden’s scholarly book, The Power of Place, talks about how “place attachment can develop social, material, and ideological dimensions” (p. 563). Thus, a reading of the urban landscape (not towers and monuments, but neighborhoods, tenements, shops) provides access to heretofore invisible histories of women, workers, immigrants, and others.
Case-in-Point Readings at a Glance Our thinking about the future and our thinking about place seem closely intertwined. In everyday discourse, we present the future as a place, and we imagine our places in versions of a future we hope to see. The readings here in “The Future Is a Border: Crossing a Map of Contested Terrains” examine sites where the future is fast dawning upon us, where the territory of the new century is being shaped as Americans of many kinds negotiate their relationships to one another in particular places. Underlying the case-in-point readings are questions of community: Who are “we”? Freedom and security contend with one another, as do opportunity and tradition, and the patterns of community we inherit from the past weigh on our actions as we create a future.
“Hue and Cry: Writer’s Purple House Has Caused a Stir in San Antonio.” David McLemore. This article from the Dallas Morning News reports on the controversy surrounding Sandra Cisneros’s house in the King William district of San Antonio. Should she have conformed to the gray, brown, or off-white color scheme mandated by the Historical Review and Design Committee, or are shades of purple justifiable given the Latino cultural history of this region?
“The Rusted Iron Curtain.” Robert Kaplan. This selection is drawn from an Atlantic Monthly article describing the U.S.-Mexico border. Kaplan compares and contrasts Nogales, Sonora, to Nogales, Arizona, as he analyzes the false security implied by the concept of an international border here.
“Pocho Pioneer.” Richard Rodriguez. We originally sought a version of this essay that was published in Mother Jones magazine. We are glad the author insisted on this version instead. In these remarks presented orally at a post-NAFTA gathering of international government and cultural leaders in 1993, Rodriguez challenges several common conceptions surrounding the Latino presence in the U.S., suggesting, among other things, that the character of the “pioneer” of the U.S. national mythology includes many hundreds of thousands of Mexicans who for generations have travelled north and south, back and forth across many cultural, economic, and political borders.
“Tribes Reclaim Stolen Lands.” Greg Hanscom. This feature story from High Country News documents recent legal efforts by western Indian tribes to reclaim lands that have been improperly managed on their behalf or in fact taken from them. Hanscom summarizes the history of the “Dawes Act” or General Allotment Act of 1887 which broke up tribally-held land and assigned ownership to individuals, and he offers the perspective of Indian activists, white farmers, and government officials.
“Edge City: Life on the New Frontier.” Joel Garreau. Geographer and author of The Nine Nations of North America, Garreau in this excerpt introduces the idea of “Edge City” as a vibrant new form of community. Forget what you’ve read about the blight of exurban sprawl and office parks; according to Garreau, this is the future, and there is much to celebrate in it.
“How Suburban Design is Failing Teen-Agers.” William L. Hamilton. This New York Times story followed the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School. Hamilton examines whether and how suburban design exacerbates the isolation of teenagers, citing researchers who argue that in the peculiar arrangement of private property that makes up tract developments such as Highland Ranch in Colorado, little room is afforded to community.
Points of Entry There are a couple of interesting ways to approach the material in this chapter. Teachers looking to engage arguments can find plenty to work with here, since for example Wendell Berry’s essay in the background readings is a provocative challenge to a good deal of conventional thinking, and the news articles from the Case-in-Point by McLemore, Hanscom, and Hamilton all lend themselves to formulations of an argument: Should Sandra Cisneros for example be required to re-paint her house or shouldn’t she? (See Exploring Your Responses 4 [p. 579].) Does suburban tract development create undue isolation and does this negatively affect teenagers? (See Rereading Actively question 4 [p. 617].) Are Indian tribes justified in their pursuit of land claims? What if anything do they owe current land owners? (See the New York Times May 16, 2000, for a detailed story about similar cases being pursued by Mohawk, Seneca, and other tribes across upstate New York.)
The impulse for this chapter rose in fact out of our interest in doing family and neighborhood history projects in our writing classes, so naturally we would invite teachers to think along those lines. Writing Project 2 (p. 620) and Writing Project 4 (p. 621) both serve to put students out in the field, exploring the evidence of a visible past in their present surroundings, and thinking about what they find there in terms offered by the readings in this chapter. We encourage teachers to encourage students to think broadly about how they might gather and present their material: Essay forms are fine, but don’t neglect the marvelous opportunities to incorporate media as well as oral histories and other kinds of documentary texts in what students produce.
Points of Exchange At the end of Exchanges, we have included a set of nine sequenced assignments called “Points of Exchange.” Each offers an alternative route through the contents of the book, linking selections from several different chapters to one another.
In formulating these topics, we had two goals in mind. First, we wanted to find ways to make the contents of this book speak to some of the topics we see as central to the issue of critical citizenship. An abiding tension in Exchanges is the conflict between the role of (passive) consumer and the role of (active) critical citizen, and we were looking for sites, for topics where this conflict is visible. Second, we wanted to identify groups of readings that taken together under the rubric of a given topic would form the basis for extended inquiry, pushing students into research that would move them beyond the readings in Exchanges.
Points of Exchange at a Glance “Information and Censorship in Consumer Society.” News divisions are profit centers in corporations. High ratings for electronic media, or circulation numbers for print media, attract increased advertising dollars. In the “information age” in consumer society with 24-hour news cycles, access to information would not seem to be a problem. Or would it? Veteran journalists like Gary Web assert that newspaper publishers are influenced in their coverage by corporate interests and that publishers freely admit this. The truth is published—but not at all costs.
“Freedom, Control, and Responsibility.” A market-oriented culture offers previously unimaginable freedoms. In Consumer Culture and Postmodernism, sociologist Mike Featherstone asserts that consumers can consciously pick a lifestyle; that is, they can select a life project and then purchase goods, services, and images to realize it. Ultimately, according to Featherstone, we don’t choose between fashioning our own identities or accepting cultural constraints on who we can be: We do both. So what are our obligations in taking up roles like the good citizen, the helpful neighbor, the caring family or group member, the respectful user of the environment? What spheres of freedom do we enjoy that are not defined by consumer culture?
“Representations of Gender.” The consumer world treats all of us as equals—as long as our credit is good—but at the same time tries to squeeze us into gender roles that limit, focus, and direct our desires. The readings listed here consider how women and men are represented at work, in the mainstream press and advertising, and in social life. Men and women find themselves playing the roles of providers of services and consumers; they conform to cultural ideals, and they live as individuals with the freedom to make choices.
“Celebrity.” Our consumer culture places a high value on celebrity status. Because we are encouraged by advertising to look for goods and services that make us look, feel, or perform better, we are fascinated by those people who appear to look, feel, or perform the best. According to Stewart Ewen, consumers find a kind of complete wish fulfillment: Celebrities are “someone” in a cultural situation where most of us are just another consumer. A constant media barrage encourages us to live in the imaginary company of stars we will never meet and who will never know we even exist.
“The Wealth Gap.” Those who express confidence in the productive power of the consumer economy point to rising standards of living enjoyed by many classes. Let the operation of global markets continue to produce more prosperous living conditions, these people argue. Others, viewing the inequitable distribution of wealth, call for interventions, for example, adjusting tax laws to reverse the two-decade long trend in the U.S. of cutting tax rates for the wealthiest families. For example, every year the United Nations produces a report on economic conditions around the world. In the 1999 report, the authors point out that while free markets are very efficient, they cannot be relied on for equitable distribution of wealth. Short of governmental intervention, many people urge that we examine our personal values. They point out, for example, that from the standpoint of function, one or two pairs of shoes is all anyone really needs, so why not take the money we might spend on more shoes and donate it to a charity?
“Sustainable Living.” In How Much is Enough? (1992), Alan Thein Durning notes that “Economists use the word consume to mean ‘utilize economic goods,’ but the Shorter Oxford Dictionary’s definition is more appropriate to ecologists: ‘To make away with or destroy; to waste or squander; to use up.’” As a researcher at the Worldwatch Institute, Durning focuses this book on the global environmental threat posed by consumer lifestyles. He marshals an array of evidence that points to social and ecological disequilibriums that result from excess consumption. Durning argues that the global environment simply cannot sustain for the whole population the consumption-based lifestyle now enjoyed by a small minority. The effects of consumer culture on the natural environment are comparable, Durning argues, to a force of nature itself: In 1990, Durning points out, “mines scouring the crust of the earth to supply the consumer class moved more soil and rock than did all the world’s rivers combined.” Can we keep living like this?
“Shopping and the Internet.” In a Business Week article, “Forget the Mall. Kids Shop the Net,” (July 26, 1999), Roger O. Crockett points out that by the year 2002, kids from ages 5 to 18 are predicted to spend $1.3 billion a year shopping online. In a Time cover story (July 20, 1998), “Click Till You Drop,” Michael Krantz compares the Internet revolution in shopping to the mushroom of shopping malls in the 1970s and ‘80s. Krantz writes: “The malls themselves became essential parts of a new suburban design, where castles of consumption shaped town layouts in the same way the Colosseum shaped Rome.” By the end of the 1990s, Krantz goes on, the Internet was proving to have similarly profound effects—not only on how people shop, but on how they relate to one another in “a new culture of convenience and speed.”
“Sprawl.” Michael Pollan in “Land of the Free Market,” (New York Times Magazine, Sunday, July 11, 1999) argues that the debates about sprawl have elevated “‘livability’ to a national issue.” In doing this, sprawl injects two ideas into the national political debate that the right, according to Pollan, thought had faded from the scene. One is the idea that “the personal is political”; the other is “the habit of questioning the wisdom and sovereignty of the free market.” Sprawl perhaps epitomizes how the enormous energy of the market in consumer culture can meet all sorts of desires and at the same time hollow out and sap vitality from human communities.
“Well-Being, Economic Prosperity, and Social Health.” In their book, The Social Health of the Nation : How America is Really Doing (1999), Marc Miringoff, Marque-Luisa Miringoff, and Sandra Opdycke outline the troubled relationship between economic prosperity and social health in the U.S. The authors examine indicators such as infant mortality, drug abuse, and food stamp coverage, as well as the number of children who live in poverty, reported cases of child abuse, teen suicide rates, health-insurance coverage, and the gap between the rich and the poor. They conclude that while the U.S. has enjoyed nearly two decades of economic expansion, the nation’s social health as measured by these indicators has steadily deteriorated. Think about the phrase “well-being” to define the good life. Are we “better off” than our parents or grandparents? Would not each of us wish that our children lead happy, fulfilled lives? What does being better off mean? What does “well-being” mean? What sources of well-being are available to us in our consumer society?