Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Modern Viewpoints Superimposed on Stories Set in the Past

Charlie Wulke

Steve Wexler

English 313 HON


Throughout history, there has been a binary system, a kind of over-arching dichotomous key that has ruled society and has affected its members. Similar to other binary systems, including: cat and mouse, prey and predator, king and servant, etc., society has expressed a similar master/slave relationship where the woman is subservient to the man. This relationship most likely started during the age of the Cro-Magnons, when only the men had to provide food for their mates and offspring due to their greater size and strength. This tradition continued as time went on, shown in the knights defending and providing for their ladies, and the farmers who would provide and farm for their wives and children. Through this consistent and unwavering line of tradition and values, men and women were brought up knowing their position in life, and knowing what was expected of them. Presently these “roles” have been brought under challenge and subject to reconsideration or revision, and new stereotypes have emerged where anyone can create the future that they desire. Television, a relatively new medium for expressing information, has mirrored these changing values. In the same way, these values have also been duplicated in the modern books that are being produced. This essay will examine these new changes of roles for women as portrayed in these two mediums: television and books, in particular through the Love Saga, a collection of eight movies that follow the lives of a family as they brave the dangers of frontier life, and The Ranger’s Apprentice, a series of books that tells the tale of medieval life with a fantasy spin on the world.

Roles, in particular through their impact upon space and place, describe the usual associations of the different sexes to different places and jobs. Doreen Massey proposes, “gender relations vary over space: spaces are symbolically gendered and some are marked by the physical exclusion of particular sexes” (Barker, 377). In a conservative or rather more traditional viewpoint, a woman’s gender role in society is to raise the children, take care of the house, and to run social events. The spaces separated that her from other members of society and distinguished her position within that society normally included the house, a coffee shop where she could meet with her friends and chat, possibly the school for teaching or for dropping off and picking up her children. This sphere of life was left almost exclusively to the women. In contrast, the men would stereotypically work to make a living and therefore support the family, stay in relatively good physical shape, and to hang out with his comrades and associates. The space that the gentlemen most often use include: the office, possibly a study, the gym, sports field, TV room, among many places. These spaces have been cultural codes that have been upheld in the past but have undergone many changes in this modern culture.

Television has mirrored many of these different spaces and places in its many myriads of shows that have graced the screen. Some show that defined these roles would be I Love Lucy. This show, among many others, in captured the values that were prominent in the time, such as a lack of discussion about sex, to the effect that they slept in different beds during the show, also Lucy fit the stereotypical view of women by appearing simple and yielding to her husband, no matter the case that they were discussing, within reason of course in conjunction with her additional attempts at employing her womanly wiles to turn his head and change his decision. John Fiske, a media scholar and most notably know as the Professor of Communication Arts at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, proposes that, “Codes [of television] are links between producers, texts, and audiences, and are the agents of intertextuality through which text interrelate in a network of meanings that constitutes our cultural world” (Rivkin 1088). What he is saying illustrates the carefully chosen language and the codes that are cleverly expressed through the text in television so as to mean something unique to each of the viewers because they interpret it through their individual view of the culture. Therefore in examining I Love Lucy, Lucy fits the type of character that would be expected out of the women of the time, she was the slightly dim-witted woman who relied on her husband often enacted to an exaggerated extent so as to make it more comical, therefore fitting the prescribed values of the time.

The Love Saga is a collection of movies that appeared on the Hallmark Channel that commenced with its first installment in 2003. These movies are set to take place during the 1800’s in the Midwest of the United States during the time of the frontier movement. It depicts the intricacies of the lives of a family through several generations, though their difficulties as well as their joys. Though these movies portray life as it would be in the 1800, it avidly places emphasis on 20th century values such as the power, independence, and strength of women, as well as a total reliance upon God—a value that has been emphasized by Christian groups clear to this present day. Despite the interspersing of the more modern values, the story does portray the lives of the women with natural reactions to events that were common in that time period, some including: a marriage of need to a stranger after the death of Aaron, the new husband of one of the main characters named Marty, out of need to be able to live together until the winter abated, the taking of a teaching job by Missy to help earn money to aid the family in their struggle for survival, the need for Willie to ask permission to date Clark’s daughter, and of course the many uses of horses or plows and subtle arcane advances of medicine that mirrored that time period. At that time period, the “spaces” that were natural to women would have included the home, and the school house. No other places were known as the woman’s domain, because the men dominated the area. During this time, the woman was really the “second” sex. Like de Beauvoir, a French writer, existentialist philosopher, feminist, and social theorist, stated, in the world, there is a Master/Slave relationship in society (de Beauvoir). In this time period, and throughout most of history, the relationship was where the women were lesser then men. Many of the character in the Love Saga represent this viewpoint, as it was the most widely accepted viewpoint of the time period. In Love’s Unfolding Dream, Sadie Kent submitted to her husband, Charles, and felt regret when she began to learn how to read behind his back. Before she began to read, it appeared that his opinion of her mattered more then her desire to learn, and thus she felt obligated to fear the prospect of reading. It was only through the determination of Missy, the teacher, that she actually started to learn. This submission to her husband would have been expected of her. Thus, despite the modern ideas and values, this movie still is a rather accurate depiction of the difficulties of life in that era, and the adaptation of people in that environment.

In contrast to the women portrayed in the Love Saga, the women from the modern cult TV show, Sex and the City, are very much embodiments of the stereotypical and slightly derogatory “modern woman.” Unlike the normal, “spaces” that women were considered to normally occupy or complete, these women are single and work in the professional world. They do not fit the “stay at home mom mold", and definitely do not even consider trying to be married. They seem to assume that guys are more there if they need them rather a necessity or obligate part of their existence. In the particular scenes from the Season 1, Episode 7, “The Power of Female Sex,” the different characters discuss their private “uses” for men, which strikingly, this use never seems to be for the use of a partner or treating them as if they deserve any respect. This is a very different view of gender roles because instead of the man being the boorish character that always needs to be in control of the situation, which part now seems to be acted by the woman. This is further accentuated by Amalita who constantly seems to use the men in her life as people to get money from or to get sexual pleasure from, however she then dumps them when she does not need to get them anymore. This obsession with sex and money was a role that formerly was the vice attributed only to men but is now seemingly also being associated with the women. There is also the scene about women using the men for money and using their own sex as a bartering chip, which seems to produce a double standard. This modern perspective on the identity and role of women, displays them empowered, and yet also as ruthless, for they do not try to adapt to the way men live, but rather they opt to pull ahead and imprison them, the men, and the same way that they were traditionally, as women, imprisoned.

The modern woman is portrayed very differently in these two television productions. Looking at the women in the Love Saga from the aspects of the women in Sex and the City, they would appear as super conservative and not liberated at all. However, Belinda, a woman who decided that she would become a doctor, became one and thus surpassed everyone’s expectations in that area. She decided to branch out of the normal space of feminine occupation to an area of her dreams and desires, one such role that generally was thought only a man would have the intellect or tenacity to fill. From that historical viewpoint, this would be considered unheard of and very progressive, in fact, such that Drew Simpson, a lawyer from New York in the movie, questioned Belinda’s sanity or mental competency with an inquiry, “Why would a woman want to suppress herself to such a physically and mentally taxing line of work? I think you would find that the majority of men would find themselves uncomfortable being treated by a member of the weaker sex.” (Love’s Unfolding Dream). This conservative viewpoint would have been the normal space for women, at home taking care of the husband and the children.

From the liberal, modern viewpoint, she would be seen as a traditional almost overly conservative character, for, despite her revolutionary attitude to become a highly advanced and educated woman of science, she does get married and when her husband dies, she remarries, which would conform to the normal actions of women in that time period needing a husband for protection, income, or some other sort of social clout or acceptance in society. This is a foreign concept for a lot of Sex and the City because not only do the four women hold professional jobs, they also partake in sexual intercourse when they desire it and none of them stay married for an extended period of time. Furthermore, they can act as though they are above the social niceties and stigma because of the very much more progressive and accepting culture in which they live and operate. Despite her not sleeping promiscuously with every desirable man in her path or manipulating the affections of such men to meet her desires, Belinda does, however, fit the mold of the “modern woman” because she does show a certain amount of outspokenness that belies what should be seen in her given time period and physical location. Derrida, a French philosopher, discussed the ability to know an object based on our knowledge of another object. In essence, there is a force that differentiates elements into binary opponents (Rivkin). We only know how modern and rebellious of an individual Belinda is based on her bearing with her mother and in particular her grandmother. Marty, married for convenience based on the standard and expected behavior of the time. She was a strong woman, however, that would have been normal for the women of that time period. Instead of show her emotions at the death of her husband, she instead chose to grieve silently, instead of making a fuss and trying to fight the situation, she accepted her lot philosophically, and furthermore instead of requesting to stay with her love, she accepted that he had not asked her to stay and was prepared to head back to New England instead of pushing her lot and attempting to stay. This greatly differs from the character of Belinda, for she was outspoken, and very opinionated. When she wanted something, her pushed her way and convinced her adversaries to accept her viewpoint. This is seen many times in the way that she handles Doc when she wants to be a doctor, Drew when she want believes that she doesn’t have to comply with the social norm, and that is the way she is with her patient Mrs. Stafford-Smith.

Not only do television and other the visual medias levy, question, accept, and reject the varying role of the women in a given example of society, but the written media through books do too. The book series, The Ranger’s Apprentice, is a teen or young adult fantasy series that takes place in a country similar to Medieval England. It follows five young wards of the castle, as they grow, and succeed in their particular vocations for which they were chosen. The main character is a young boy who is chosen to follow a mysterious group of “special ops” spies known as the rangers. One of his best friends is an intelligent young girl, named Alice, who is an apprentice to the diplomatic corps. Throughout this collection of books, Alice repeatedly works very successfully and efficiently in her element despite the discouraging of many men who felt that she was “meddling in a man’s world.” An example of these viewpoints came from the lord of a castle to whom she was sent to deliver a message. He abruptly pulled her aside and said, “She’s a woman, meddling in a man’s world where she has no place…Let me give you some advise…find a husband and learn to cook. That’s all women are good for, cooking and raising the babies” (Flanagan). This blatant disregard for women and especially for those unmarried partaking in a diplomatic sort of occupation would have been common place for men during the Medieval Age because that was not what proper or socially accepted or acceptable women did, rather they cooked, reared the children, and took care of their husbands. Alone, the idea of a woman maintaining a professional vocation, especially doing so while not marrying, would have been preposterous. Such an occurrence would therefore not have been accepted and she would have been shunned and cast out from the society. Simply put, the women during that time period did not have rights to do what they wanted.

On the contrary, due to a stark difference in the attitudes in the more modern time and place, the characters from Sex and the City would have supported the actions of Alice, because she took it upon herself to enter the work force and work in a professional area where men would normally maintain their dominance. Furthermore, the abandoning of the practice of a woman seeking out a husband would also be attributed to a more modern perspective on life, not one that was accepted in the past, but one that would fit the same lifestyles that are portrayed in the image of the “modern woman.” This modern look at life using a medieval setting shows the values that are important, not in the setting of the book, but rather a reflecting of the values and norms of the time that in which the story was written, the modern and more progressive time of the present. This cavalier attitude that Alice shows in her chosen way of life would not have earned her the respect of the kingdom, but rather the scorn and hate of many.

Thus, despite the time period in which a tale is told, the biases from the era in which it is written often shine through in the lives, thoughts, and actions of the many characters. The more traditional view of the women was upheld very cohesively in I Love Lucy partly because it was written while that mindset was still prominent. However, even in a more “traditionalist” film series like the Love Saga, there is an element of the modern woman in the character of Belinda that cannot be completely hidden amidst the author’s attempts to maintain the overarching traditional nature of the times. This can also be seen in the character of Alice in her seemingly blatant disregard for the traditional mannerisms, spaces, and roles of the women in Medieval times by maintaining her profession as an unmarried diplomat. The modern twist was not even subtle in its inclusion. It was meant as an affront to the beliefs of women and possibly even a reality check for individuals believing that this feminist change and revolution was only occurring in the recent eras. Finally, through the show Sex in the City, all pretense and barriers claiming to be traditional are ruptured and the essence of a very exotic and promiscuous present day is exploited on the screen making a somewhat exaggerated statement about the reality of the “role of the woman” and how it truly has been changed. This then leaves only a few thoughts and questions about the role of women being truly about the perception or about the reality. One thing is true, that while writing about a historical character may be accurate, one’s own opinion and viewpoints will always be fused to the nature of the character, no matter the time period in question. Hence, medieval or not, Alice will always be truly a modern woman and Lucy not.

Works Cited

Barker, Chris. Cultural Studies. 3. Los Angeles: Sage Publications, 2008. Print.

de Beauvoir, Simone. "Simone de Beauvoir The Second Sex, Woman as Other 1949." MIA Philosophy Resource from Andy Blunden. Web. 16 Dec 2009. .

Flanagan, John. The Burning Bridge. Philomel , 2006. Print.

Love's Unfolding Dream. Dir. Harvey Frost." Hallmark: 2007, Film.

"The Power of the Female." Sex and the City. HBO: Television.

Rivkin, Julie, and Michael Ryan, eds. Literary Theory: An Anthology. Malden: Blackwell, 1998.

Comparing Taming of the Shrew and Feminafesto

Charles Wulke


I seem to find that Katherine, Shakespeare’s female lead in his comedy, Taming of the Shrew, seems to fit the stereotypical housewife especially through her monologue near the end of the play. In this monologue, she seems to be addressing the facts that seem to prevail in that patriarchal society; she knew that she would have to be submissive to her husband, and understood her role in the relationship. I find that she is a rather smart lady though. In comparison to the culture that Barker or Waldman lives in (a culture that men’s source of living in many instances are office jobs, jobs that can be done just as easily by a woman) the life that Katherine lives is one where the harsh reality is that a lot of the work that the men do to maintain their families is hard work. She advises the women reminding them that

“And for thy maintenance commits his body

To painful labor both by sea and land,

To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,

Whilst thou liest warm at home, secure and safe,”

and therefore, it is through common sense and a realization of how good she has things, she is able to accept the position as the house keeper. This traditional thinking seems to fit in with ideas that Barker talked about in Chapter 7 especially pertaining to the fact that she fits the stereotypical role as a domestic housewife, the type that was maintained the prominent understanding between heterosexual couples until the feminist movement and the rise for equality throughout the workplace.

In history, sex has followed a binary system. Using Saussure’s principles, men would be part of a binary with women creating structure in society. DeBeavoir then took the binary principles farther and applied it to a “master/slave” relationship with the men being the privileged sex. In Feminafesto, Anne Waldman seems to attack this binary system. She very clearly follows a feminist mind set and seems avidly against the patriarchal society. She feels that people should not be judged based on gender but based on energy, the force and that is inside you. She seems to fall under the difference feminism, a category of feminism that Barker brings up in Chapter 9. She acknowledges that there are differences between men and women, however, she feels that these differences should be overcome by and lead to transgender writing. Interestingly she begins to criticize many classical books that have withstood time, because of the characters that the women are portrayed as. I feel though that many of these images go equally for the men too because there seem to be a finite number of characters that portray the men as well. Just examining the Bible, there are many men who are portrayed as weak, murderers, easily tempted, adulterers, heroes, villains etc. Character molds are part of human nature, trying to find an area in which people can fit, and eventually people get grouped into these molds. Despite some of my slight disagreement with some of her arguments, I do find that it is time for the “second sex” to join the primary sex and both lead a life with equality.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Social Construction and Sex and the City

Charles Wulke

Steve Wexler

English 313 HON


Social Construction and Sex and the City

Social construction has provided a certain amount of order and a blue print for future generations to follow; however, it does change over time. Doreen Massey proposes, “gender relations vary over space: spaces are symbolically gendered and some are marked by the physical exclusion of particular sexes” (Barker, 377). In a conservative viewpoint, a woman’s gender role in society is to raise the children, take care of the house, and to run social events. The spaces separated to her normally included the house, a coffee shop where she could meet with her friends and chat, possibly the school for teaching or for dropping off and picking up her children. This sphere of life was left almost exclusively to the women. In contrast, men work to make a living and therefore support the family. The space that they use include: the office, possibly a study, the gym, sports field, TV room, among many places. These spaces have been cultural codes that have been upheld in the past but have undergone many changes in this modern culture.

The women from the modern cult TV show, Sex and the City, are very much models of the “modern woman.” Unlike the normal, “spaces” that women were considered to normally reside in, these women are single, and work in the professional world. They do not fit the “stay at home mom mold", and don’t even consider trying to be married. They seem to assume that guys are more there if they need them. In the particular scenes from the Season 1, Episode 7, “The Power of Female Sex,” the different characters discuss their private “uses” for men but it never seems to be for the use of a partner or treating them as if they deserve any respect. This is a very different view of gender roles because instead of the man being the boorish character it now seems to be acted by the woman. This is accentuated by Amalita who constantly seems to use the men in her life as people to get money from or to get sexual pleasure from, however she then dumps them when she doesn’t need to get them anymore. This obsession with sex and money was a role that men used to be criticized for but is now replaced by the women. There is also the scene about women using the men for money and using their own sex as a bartering chip, which seems to produce a double standard.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mendacity, Lies and Ambiguity

Mendacity, the quality of being untruthful or having the tendency to lie, is a theme that resonates throughout Tennessee Williams’ play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. The art of lying is also examined in one of Mark Twain’s short stories, Was it Heaven? Or Hell?. Both authors discuss the detrimental effects of lying especially lying through the character’s hypocritical actions. Ambiguity is the other tool that Williams uses effectively throughout his works. It is used to increase the dramatic tension within the play and add realistic aspects for life is not black and white, there is always some grey. Through out the duration of this essay I will be discussing Williams use of ambiguity as well as his dislike of mendacity.

This play is about a Southern aristocratic family who is getting together for Big Daddy’s (the father) 65th birthday. It begins with Brick, the “favorite” son of Big Daddy, spent his time drinking. His wife, Margaret is childless and wants to have a child so that they can secure their chances for the inheritance. Gooper, the other son, works with his wife, Mae, at impressing Big Daddy so that they could win his inheritance. Throughout the duration of the play, the characters try to protect and not upset Big Daddy through repetitive lies via their behaviors as well as their words. At one section in the play, Big Daddy forces Brick to give a reason for his alcoholism. Brick attributes his alcoholism to mendacity. Big Daddy responds with stories about the mendacity that he has had to put up with his business as well as the mendacity in his family. In this play

Similarly, lying is also a major theme in one of Mark Twin’s short stories, Was it Heaven? Or Hell? In this story, a small family consisting of a mother, her daughter, and their two elderly aunts, faces a problem for the mother is suffering from tuberculosis and is on her death bed. In this small family, morals are taught to an extreme even to the degree that when the young girl confessed that she lied, the two aunts felt it necessary to disturb the bedridden woman about the small trouble. The mother’s doctor chided the aunts for their careless behaviors and for their tactless disruption of the ill mother. He rebuked them for their false-righteous actions saying that though they were “correcting” one lie, that the two of them lie constantly through their thoughtless and even hurtful actions, not always through their words. He then dared them to abandon their false niceties, and try to help their sick niece and to help others and not bother them with all the problems happening around. This meant, if they had to utter a lie to help easy the suffering of a person, that should be done rather then focus on their self-centered interest of “saving their souls”.

The doctor really has the personality and understanding as Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Both men were fed up with people “buttering up” or being presenting a façade and false image to others and trying to lead exemplary life on the outside, while always maintaining ulterior motives to their actions. In Was it Heaven? Or Hell?, the doctor had to deal with the mendacity of the two aunts who refrained from lying with their mouth, but lied through their actions or through their false kindness that they showed to others. In the same way, Big Daddy was annoyed with May and Gooper who tried to hypocritically curry favor between them and Big Daddy so as to receive his inheritance. Likewise, Margaret appeared to want to get pregnant so that she could be the principle recipient of Big Daddy’s inheritance. The mendacity that was expressed by the characters in this family is one of the many things that Williams was trying to address and critique.

Williams’ apparent dislike of mendacity and hypocrisy resonated through this particular play. Mark Twain reverberates the same vibes throughout his short story about false righteousness, and lying through one’s actions. Michael Josephson, founder of the Josephson Institute provided a rather interesting view on the subject of lying. In his commentary called “If You’re in a Hole, Stop Digging,” he brought to light the idea that despite the natural tendency of humans to cover up the truth so as to distance them from the discomfort it may cause. This cover up is almost always worse then the original problem, and eventually the truth will come out. This is true in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, when Brick is finally forced to examine his relationship with Skipper, and to come out from hiding under the guise of an alcoholic. Similarly, the truth that the aunts refused to confess to the dying mother about the illness of her child, in Was it Heaven? Or Hell?, eventually would be brought forward when the mother meets up with her daughter in heaven. In both circumstances, the perpetrators’ actions would be uncovered and yet they postponed the inevitable.

The hypocrisy characters of Mae, Gooper, and Margaret in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and the two aunts in Was it Heaven? Or Hell, both exercised a certain sense of truthfulness, it was just not the whole truth. Ferdinand De Saussure, in his Course in General Linguistics discusses the signs and signifiers of the verbal and non-verbal components of language. In essence, the word “a” in English can be an article normally referring to one item; however, in Spanish, this same word means the preposition to. Though it is the same signifier, what is signified is very different. Using his knowledge and understanding, it is arguable that the things that they were doing was the correct and truthful thing from their point of view. But just as “a” can mean many different things from different points of view, their actions may be not as admirable as they wish them to be interpreted.

Similarly with Saussure, as the mother’s illness worsened, the two aunts began to take care of her. Regrettably, after visiting her mother, the young daughter also contracted the illness. Keeping with the dare of the doctor and in attempt to not bring along undue pain, the two aunts began to fabricate the condition of the young girl, refusing to tell of her illness. At first, the girl was able to write notes to her mother to keep the mother’s hope up, but as the girl got sicker, the aunts began to write notes to the mother in her stead. The notes were laced with alluding to the reality of the situation, however, it was told in such a way that from the point of view of the mother reading them, the girl seemed to be feeling fine. In this way, the notes signified one idea in the situation of the aunts and signified a very different idea for the mother. The double connotation of these letters sent by the aunts is successful because of the ambiguity or vagueness of the words used. Mark Twain uses ambiguity to great effect to propel his story and add some effect to it, just as Tennessee Williams uses it to add drama to his own works.

Ambiguity, the art of vagueness, is a tool that is utilized by both authors to enhance the duplicity and similarly the sense of care and sensitivity shown by the characters. Tennessee Williams uses it to add drama and to leave the viewers the opportunity to decide what they feel about the characters and the plot. Examples of the use of this ploy include the possibility of Brick having homosexual tendencies toward his late friend, Skipper. Also there is the possibility of Brick bedding with Margaret at the end, to rectify her lie of being pregnant. This same use of ambiguity is exploited in Mark Twain’s short story. Throughout the story, the two aunts lie to the mother by being ambiguous with their words, and not explaining the full truth of the situation. Furthermore, at the end of the book, an angel comes to question their motives and to establish whether they were destined for heaven or hell, a question that is left to the discretion of the reader.

Thus, it is through the reading and understanding of these works, the reader can understand the author’s view about the mendacity shown and illustrated by and through these characters. In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Williams articulated his dislike for mendacity in the current era. Likewise, Mark Twain used his books and short stories to display his apparent for false righteousness an hypocrisy especially concerning lying. Finally, it was through their writings, and the employing the use of ambiguity to add drama and to allow the audience to impose their own views on the situation, that they were able to better reach their readers and better broadcast their opinions and ideas to a larger audience, so that they eventually could have that they were able to better reach their readers and better broadcast their opinions and ideas to a larger audience, so that they eventually could have a bigger effect on a greater amount of people.

Works Cited

Josephson, Michael. "If You’re in a Hole, Stop Digging 613.3." Michael Josephson Commentary. 07 Apr 2009. Josephson Institute, Web. 12 Oct 2009. .

Twain, Mark. "Was it Heaven? or Hell?." The Complete Short Stories of Mark Twain. Ed. Charles Neider. Garden City, New York: Hanover House, 1953. Print.

Williams, Tennessee. "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." The Theatre of Tennessee Williams. Volume 3. New York, New York: New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1990. Print.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Society Surrounding Coffee

A few days ago, I found myself sitting at a Starbucks Coffee location, about three o’clock in the afternoon, watching the groups of people who came into the establishment. As I began to pay attention to the people, I began to focus on the styles that the different people exuded, as well as the many ways that the different people interacted with each other and with the people around.

As I sat at my table near the front, I saw two girls, probably in their early teens skip in. They projected a certain amount of friendship and happiness through their demeanor. Soon following, a young mother walked in with two children: a boy about two years old and a girl who looked about four. The children seemed to have a genuine love for their mother for they constantly were hugging her and running around her legs. In contrast, later I saw a thirty to forty year old man with his young, teenage daughter. She hung back from him while he ordered the drinks and did not come very close to him throughout the extent of the ordeal. Another couple that deigned was a teenage girl and boy. The boy seemed to have a honest interest in the girl and constantly followed her around wherever she went. They talked for a while before they ordered and then sauntered out after they finally ordered and received their drinks. Quite the opposite, a further couple who entered was a middle age couple. They seemed to have lost their fascination with each other as they walked to the barista, ordered a refill of their drinks, and slowly left when they were done. Other couples that came to the establishment included more mother/daughter or mother/son pairs, and three teenage girls who appeared to be hanging out. A large percentage of the customers during my stay were singles. There were multiple, young to middle aged women and men, there were a couple teenagers, including one who stayed by herself in the corner, on her laptop, tuned out from the world, and the other group were a few elderly people. Throughout the period of time I spent there, though, the bulk of the customers appeared to be adult women ranging between the ages of late 20-early fifties.

The first couple I am going to analyze is the two teenage girls who walked into the Starbucks. These two girls seemed to personify the “typical” teenager, influenced by the culture. They, both, wore short jean shorts and T-shirts, probably bought new at department stores and of the usual “fashion” of the upper to middle class. This look probably developed as culture from above, for it would coincide with the type of dress that huge department stores would impress upon them. Further, taking in the fact that they live in a rich neighborhood and they would be in on the latest styles and trends, they would be more easily influenced by top of the line items. Their friendship seemed to portray what Brick, the Peter Pan-like character trying to live in his childhood from Tennessee Williams’ play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, called a “true, pure friendship.” They seem to radiate a certain amount of innocent joy and fun being in each other’s friendship having the ability to hang out and without a care. Their friendship did not seem tainted by conservative social prejudices. In the society of La Canada that they were probably brought up in, this trip to Starbucks was just another hang out which would be a normal sighting in the well to do neighborhoods in this area.

Another group that came in consisted of a young mother and two young children. The relationship that they portrayed seemed to be a mutual love between the mother and her two children. This small family was out at this period, probably because the mother was taking her children out on a ride and the father was probably at work. This view really captured the “traditional” American household: the wife in charge of rearing the children while the husband was out earning a living to support them. This could though be an image of the strong, modern woman living a single life with her young children. That would fit with this new rise of independence and the desire to equal the man in everything that they due. There were other groups that followed the same format as this group. There were more groups of a mother with her young children, which seemed to place this grouping as a “normal” sight to see.

The next couple, a middle-aged man and his young teenage daughter appeared to present a very differing picture to the “family life” displayed with the last group. As Jacques Derrida presented, we only know something based on our knowledge of something else. Therefore, we would only know something is abnormal when it is compared to something that is thought of as normal, or put another way, we only know something based on the fact that it is different from something else. This couple differed from the couples before because neither of the individuals seemed to be totally interested in each other’s company. Also unlike the previously stated parent/child groupings, instead of the mother being there, it was the father, and instead of the children hanging around, this girl kept to herself. Possible explanations for this change, maybe the culture, that once you are a teenager, you are meant to be preparing to live on your own and therefore, you spend less time with your parents, also, due to the economic crisis, the wife in this family may be working because it is easier for her to get a job, or because they live in the upper to middle class, the husband is able to take time off to attempt to spend time with his daughter.

Another group was a young teenage couple; both individuals were probably about 16 years old in high school. At a time where there is a rise of romantic movies with teenagers of opposite sexes getting into relationships, this scene would not be considered out of the ordinary or strange. The following of these relationships of younger individuals would be part of culture from above because through the media, they are being shown how to lead their lives, which would now require being emotionally involved with someone. Coincidentally, the guy seemed to fit the stereotypic hero, for he was a guy who didn’t seem to hold back his emotions. Quite on the contrary, he seemed to constantly try to attract the girl’s attention. He attempted to impress his feelings upon her, however, for an outside observer, he almost came across as a goofy character with his movements and gambits to try to win her over. The girl did seem to be attracted to him as well. Her body language assumed a somewhat dismissive façade, which poorly covered her happiness at the prospect that she was the object of attention. Through the culture from above, the teens see the relationships promoted in the big screen and decide (possibly unconsciously) to play it out like they see it. This scene played out further as they pursued their own objectives for some time allowing other customers go in front of them. Eventually they ordered, filled their waiting time with talk and more of the girl playing disinterested looking at the glasses on display while the boy followed behind. Also, this young couple conformed to the traditional roles as men treating the woman as de Beauvoir had talked about, for he was decidedly, the leader, and as the one in charge, he paid for her drink and opened the door in and out, in the same way, following the rules of chivalry. Finally they headed out, after getting their drinks.

The next group differed greatly from the preceding group. Thought the group make up was the same, a male and a female, their ages differed: both of them being in their 30’s, and their body language towards each other was quite different. They didn’t seem to do very much talking, and they kept a distance from each other. It was still pretty clear that they were a couple, but they appeared to pretty indifferent about the other person. This is kind of like the stage after they were in love when they are used to their partner and takes the relationship for granted. It is possible that they were having a hard day, that they were at a hard part in their relationship, or that they just don’t show their emotions very much, this seemed radically different then the media and movie culture propagates.

As the people ordered the drinks, I saw Saussure’s theories in action concerning languages. Where at one point, people ordering drinks at a restaurant like McDonalds would order a large, here at Starbucks it was called venti. These different words, or collection of sounds, though very insignificant and basically meaning the same thing were totally different due to the place and situation that they were used. It is not normal to go to Starbucks and order a large, just as it is not normal to go to McDonalds and order a venti.

Through the observations that I faced during my stay at Starbucks, I was able to conclude a lot about the people who live in this area. The people who go to Starbucks at three o’clock include some mothers to go get their daily drink of coffee, many teenagers coming back from school, as well as couples going for a time together. The different relationships that are presented serve as a small incite to the greater view of the society and the effects that different forms of the media may have on this current generation.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Jeopardy Analysis

As part of the Cat on a Hot Tin Roof group, I was the person in charge of the actual making of the presentation. After the initial breaking into groups, we immediately started to choose a format for how we would present the information. Within a week it was decided that we would put together a Jeopardy game and each of us were going to provide a category. Besides putting together my category, I began to set up a format on my computer as a medium for the game because I had the most experience on the computer (as far as I knew). Subsequent to the choosing of the method in which we would use, we then gathered together one time as a group (outside of class) where we discussed the different categories that we would cover and how we could incorporate themes and group discussions. Since there were only four members who showed up at the meeting, we got a chance to discuss possible categories, and then, in class, we got a chance to review with the other group members what was discussed and they chose the categories that they would cover, which for me was symbolism. At that point we left the creating of the categories to the different group members and I became the nagging, monomaniacal group member who pursued the group members who hadn’t sent me their categories. After that, I incorporated them into the Jeopardy “game” that I had created. Finally, 8:30 PM on Sunday, my pestering paid off, for I was sent the last category and was able to finish up the presentation, ready for class. Then, we gathered before class, did a final rundown on how we would present it and set it up in the room.