Women Accepting Their Roles Due to Consumerism

By Ryan Weiner

 

As more and more families moved out of the cities and into the suburbs, domestic roles started to develop. One of the most influential factors regarding domestic roles was consumerism, as “the amount spent on household furnishings and appliances rose 240 percent”  during that time (May, 157). The increase in such spending led to clear roles in the household as the wives became the ones who stayed home and dealt with all the appliances, while the husbands earned the money to buy the appliances by working. The role of housewife became important to women as “public opinion polls taken after the war indicate that both men and women were generally opposed to employment for women and believed that a woman who ran a home had a ‘more interesting time’ than did a woman with a full time job” (May, 159). This shows that due to the many appliances that were being added to households, lives were being made easier for women and therefore they became accepting of their roles as housewives. Also, women did not want to work in factories or other jobs because they felt that their role in the home was important: a woman could train her children to live in her particular way and she could create an atmosphere of manners around her own personality, which was the chief source of her effectiveness and power (Cowan, 113). Women’s roles in the home became important to them, and as Elaine Tyler May further argued, the home was the place where a man showed off his success by the accumulation of consumer goods and by surrounding their wives with the commodities, the wives lives became more efficient. The women would be content with their role as housewives because the “appliances would ease their burdens” (May, 156-157).  Therefore, consumerism was crucial to women accepting their roles in domestic life as housewives because the new appliances and goods made their lives easier around the house, which in turn gave them more pride in their housework. It allowed for women to focus more on domestic life and accept that the house is where they wanted to be, not in the work force.

 

The following Ivory Soap advertisement was posted in a magazine in 1925. It is directing the commodity, which is soap, toward the woman of the household. It states how the soap will make things a lot easier for the woman of the house, as her day-to-day activities of cleaning dishes, doing laundry and changing diapers, will be a lot more efficient. The ad also makes note of women’s beauty, as it discusses how the soap will preserve their hands. This ad is important because it promotes an important need for women to make most domestic chores easier for them to accomplish. Also, by discussing a woman’s appearance in the ad it allows women to actually have a sense of themselves and what they do.

Your hands can keep their good looks even though they work in the kitchen

 

“Your hands can keep their good looks even though they work in the kitchen,” 1925. Courtesy of Duke University Libraries.

 

The next advertisement was encouraging woman to go to cooking classes. They would not only learn how to use the many new appliances that are in a kitchen, but also gain home management skills. These type of classes were important for woman because with the extreme amount of new purchases taking place, a woman needed to know how to use them to maximize their efficiency. These classes were designed for the purpose of achieving efficiency.

 

Drawing of woman presenting a table filled with cooked foods. An electric range and a blackboard are behind the table.

“Come to Our Free Cooking School,” 1928. Courtesy of American History Classic Advertisements.

 

The final advertisement was encouraging men to treat their wives in a great way for the holidays by buying them cosmetics for their appearance. The ad preys on the fact that men are the ones who earn the money and can afford the cosmetics goods to make their wives look great. The ad wants the men to acknowledge that the women deserve to look good. And the reason they deserve to look good, even though it is not stated, is because the women work hard throughout the year in the home, so the ad is saying that because of all this hard work that their wives have been doing, the men should reward them.

 

This Christmas make a woman happy

 

“This Christmas Make a Woman Happy,” 1944. Courtesy of the Duke University Libraries.

 

This post was completed as part of assignment on how the idea of home and the concept of domesticity has been used in marketing during different historical moments and in the present. For additional information on the assignment, please visit:https://americanstudiesmediacultureprogram.wordpress.com/the-concept-of-home-spring-2014-selling-home/.

Selling America as the Land of Commodities

By Bobby Buscher

“the night before Christmas put Packard-Bell all through your house,” [1956] Courtesy of Ad*Access, John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising, and Marketing History, Duke University.

This advisement for televisions and radios by Packard-Bell appeared in Sunset Magazine in 1956. The spread portrays the typical interior of a suburban home — a stair case leading to a second story, a carpeted floor, modern television and radio set — that is completed with a young son and daughter. During the postwar years, middle-class affluence became more accessible as did the comforts and leisure envisioned with a middle-class social status. The commodity-filled suburban home offered comfort and technological advancement that championed American free-market capitalism over communism.

With the end of the Second World War, America entered the Cold War against the Soviet Union. America’s concern with the spread of communism and radicalism lead former Vice President Richard Nixon to curate a 1959 exhibit of America’s technological advancements in Moscow. Dubbed the Kitchen Debate, Nixon showcased the ideal suburban home filled with the most modern appliances and consumer goods — a house, car, and a television (May, 155). The suburban home and displays of middle-class affluence became weapons against the spread of communism and radicalism. Advertisements and products of the World War years helped foster multiple aims simultaneously: one, the ads supported a free market enterprise; two, they supported suburban and middle-class affluence; three, advertisements associated with technological advancements reduced excreted energy and the amount of time it took to complete a task using the new device; and finally, these advertisements and devices operated as a largely implicit strategy for stigmatizing communism and bolstering American patriotism through offering images and mentalities of comfort and tranquility.

“”Eveready” Radio Batteries visit Eddie Cantor and the Mad Russian,” [1948] Courtesy of Ad*Access, John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising, and Marketing History, Duke University.

The U.S. involvement in World War II ended in 1945, but immediately after, the U.S. enter a second war–the Cold War with Soviet Russia. Analogously referred to as a race between the U.S. and Russia, the Cold War was a technological race between the two superpowers: an arms race and a commodity race. In the advertisement from Time Magazine, “’Eveready’ Radio Batteries visit Eddie Cantor and the Mad Russian,” the “Mad” Russian is satirized for resorting to conducting electricity through the friction between his boots and a rug to charge a radio. The technological and savvy American Eddie Carter advises the crazy Russian scientist about the long lasting sustainability of “Eveready” batteries. The Soviet Union’s quick industrialization and technological advances are still far away from America’s scientific and technological advancements in the ad. From the advertisement’s vantage point, Americans have master electricity, and made it portable through long lasting batteries while Russians apparently have yet to master the principles of electricity and must use friction to charge their portable radios. The American free market has produced technological advancements while the Soviet Union under communism is shuffling its feet to catch up in technological achievements and scientific research.

During the postwar years, popular images of the American family consisted of a nuclear family–mother, father, and a son or daughter. The popular images of the American family were a   middle-class suburban home with a green lawn. The appearance of the lawn was just as important as the appearance of the house or the interior and furniture and appliance found indoors. The lawn was a maker of social status as much as anything else found in the suburban home. The lawns of Levittown, an early suburban residence, were composed of Kentucky bluegrass, and became part of the growing commodity culture of the postwar years (Steinberg, 66).  Many suburbanites vigilantly watched over their lawn, fertilizing, seeding, and water it to maintain the rich and lush dark green appearance. Americans obsessed over the look of their lawns. Companies developed ways to care for lawns that heavily fertilized them to ensure the appearance of a healthy and green looking front lawn. Ted Steinberg quotes Antony Giordano that “People want their lawns to look good so their neighbors will see it. I’ve written $350 contracts in living rooms that didn’t even have furniture–people would rather have a good lawn than a couch” (Steinberg, 75). Americans’ front lawns were so important to the image of affluence and vision of domestic, suburban tranquility that large investments were made to upkeep an appearance of middle-class affluence even if the home was not furnished.

While the American lawn was an exterior beacon of the achievements under an American free-market enterprise, the interior of the home had to be equally dazzling with the latest time-saving devices. Many ideas were proposed to reduce the stress of laundry and cooking dinner. When people formed cooperative groups to ease the work involved in preparing meals and clean clothes, they were condemned as un-American practices. In the early twentieth century, such cooperative enterprises were accused of being “red,” or communist operations. This stigma on cooperative over commercialized work reinforced the “quintessentially American solution to the problem of housework [through] commercialization. Thus the commercialization moved in the home in the form of appliances. In the first five postwar years consumer spending increased 60 percent and home furniture and appliances increased 240 percent” (May, 157). The time and energy saving appliances had “tremendous propaganda value, for it was the affluent homes…that provided evidence of the superiority of the American way of life” (May, 159). The home appliance championed the American free market by offering the American family  their own autonomy and luxury in choosing appliances and domestic technological advancements simultaneously.

The postwar commodity culture offered labor saving appliances, images of tranquility, and a bulwark against the spread of communism and radicalism. America’s technological advancements offered a championing ring for the American free market. The 1959 Kitchen Debate positioned the suburban and middle class consumer culture of the postwar years as the weapon of America against Soviet Russia and communism while simultaneously championing the American free market.  The American suburban home was sold to fellow Americans as the American way and overall goal of Americans.

“American Kitchens,” [1951] Courtesy of Adflip.

At the exhibit in Moscow which showcased America’s technological advancements, Nixon chose to use the American kitchen as the case study for America’s technological superiority. Nixon touted that the modern kitchen with all of the newest appliances will save women and housewives time and energy from the drudgery of preparing and cooking meals as well as reduce the time and effort involved in cleaning. As the advertisement reads, turning one’s old, ugly kitchen in the new, modern kitchen will be “step-saving.” The markers of modern technological advancements are the appliances’ ability to cut down the quality of time and energy needed and exerted.

This post was completed as an assignment for the American Studies course, “The Concept of Home.”  A list of the readings that informed this assignment can be found here

 

Housewife or Houseslave?

Housewife or Houseslave?

By LA Hall

Trade Catalog Image

 

Caption: “Western Electric Company, To Lighten the Labor of Your Home,” [1919]. Courtesy of Harvard University Library Open Collections Program, Women Working 1800-1930. [Trade Catalogs]

The image presented above is evidence that simple advertising was used to attract the eyes of the man or woman of a household to get them to purchase the next innovations in household appliances. The Western Electric Company was trying to find ways to limit energy use but still be efficient. Innovated machines and consumer goods were thriving in the marketplace because the American family sought to stay up with the newest and most recognized products for their homes. In regards to the housewife herself, “Commodities would solve the problem of the discontented housewife, foster pride in the provider whose job offered few intrinsic rewards…” (May, 164).

When you think about capitalism, you might say it’s the way of the land or it’s how the economy gowns and flourishes. But do you ever think who might be doing most of that work? In American society during the mid 1900s up until about 1970 the male was the “breadwinner” and the female was the “housewife.” The focus for a married couple during this time was to maintain a stable home and put the family first, even if that called for specific gender roles. The role of the woman in the household became very demanding inside and outside of the home. She was the caretaker of the home and was the inspiration to her man. The woman became a “greater incentive to succeed in business career(s),” and gave the man a ‘feeling of accomplishment’” (May, 168). So why was she a slave to the kitchen and childbearing duties?

The home became a domain for the man, which he controlled with his efforts to finance everything, which allowed the housewife to purchase commodities for the household and keep things running.

“….a man could display his success through the accumulation of consumer goods. Women would reap rewards for domesticity by surrounding themselves with commodities, they would remain content as housewives because appliances would ease their burdens” (May 156-157)

Electric Image

Caption: “Westinghouse Electric Ranges (Copeman Patents,” [1916]. Courtesy of American History Powering Ads.

Before the rise of suburbia, companies were trying to make appliances that added to the household but used a limited supply of electricity called all-in-one products. The practice that is involved in a model such as the one presented  in the ad is called “diversifying load.” These products would make it easier for one to use appliances in the kitchen while saving energy at the same time. Products such as these would also makes things less time consuming for the housewife, but as times advanced the purpose of the appliances were not to do such things. “Appliances were intended not to enable housewives to have more free time to pursue their own interest, but to help them achieve higher standards of cleanliness and efficiency, while allowing more time for child care.” (May 163)]

The commodities purchased for housework were to aid the housewife in her caring of the house and children, not to give her any escape from her daily duties. To enable her to stay in her place in the home, “the commodities that people bought promised to reinforce home life and uphold traditional gender roles” (May, 158). Even the homes that were built for families were built to keep women at work in the house. “Houses were designed to accommodate families with small children. Builders and architects assumed that men would be away at work during the day and the houses would be occupied by full-time homemaker-mother” (May, 163). The woman had no place of her own in her house. Due to the house set-up, she couldn’t even cook in peace or relax in the living room without worrying about the kids:

“Kitchens were near the front entrance, so mothers could keep an eye on their children as they cooked. Living rooms featured picture windows facing the backyard, also to facilitate the supervision of children” (May, 163).

Household Employment Image

Caption: “Jobs for girls & women If you want a good job in household employment apply at – or write to Illinois State Employment Service,” [between 1936 and 1941]. Courtesy of Library of Congress WPA Posters.

Women did not have a strong presence in the workforce. The public opinion postwar presented the assumption that “a woman who ran a home had a ‘more interesting time’ than did a woman with a fulltime-job” (May, 159). This job advertisement shows how the struggle for a woman to rid herself from household duties is difficult. If a woman would want to bring in an extra income into the home to expand on their families budget to purchase more commodities, she still had to subject herself to the enslavement of the home itself. The ad offers “jobs for girls & women” in household employment. For women, it was a way to make money for things they already did in their own home, and for girls it was a way to practice for what they would be subjected to for the rest of their lives.

If a woman decided she wanted to help the man out and bring in an extra income, she had to make sure not to “disrupt domestic power,” and not to “undermine the authority of the male breadwinner” (May, 159). With women being subjected to the gender role that was set up for them, they often found themselves “feeling trapped and isolated, facing endless chores of housekeeping and tending to children. For them, (the life they lived) was not a life of fun and leisure but of exhausting work and isolation.” The housewife might be a way to describe a woman that stays home and enjoys working in the home, but looking at how hard the woman worked with little reward they might be considered more along the lines of a houseslave.

 

This post was completed as part of assignment on how the idea of home and the concept of domesticity has been used in marketing during different historical moments and in the present. For additional information on the assignment, please visit: https://americanstudiesmediacultureprogram.wordpress.com/the-concept-of-home-spring-2014-selling-home/.

Suburban Insecurities

Suburban Insecurities

By Daniel Paniagua

During the 1950s and by the 1960s, the American suburbs had already bloomed and expanded around every prosperous city and region. Middle-class white Americans were fleeing the city life, in exchange for a suburban life. These Americans were promised a quiet, modern, safe, and secure home outside of the city, but still close enough to commute. But there was a trade off with leaving the city life. The city life is fast paced and there is always something to see or do. The suburbs were the exact opposite. They were boring compared to the city. Nothing to do or see besides your neighbor and his lawn. This boring part of the suburban neighborhood opened up room for new technologies that would occupy and entertain the suburban family. Cars also became a necessity instead of a luxury, which caused a boom in the auto industry. Most importantly, everything became a competition with the neighbor.

Suburbia brought consumerism to a new level, and together they changed the American household. The household became a major target for all commercial markets. The most efficient ways companies and consumer goods targeted and grabbed attention of the suburban white middle class was through advertising. These advertisements were extremely effective,  as the economy of the 1950s and 1960s was an economy mostly based on consumerism and public spending. But what made these advertisements so effective? Why did Americans go on a spending spree? Who were these advertisements targeting? Many ads just show a simple product, but the message is sometimes much deeper. These advertisements target a much deeper, embedded human desire. They target people’s need to be noticed in a positive way. Much of this need is caused by insecurity. People were overcome with fear that if they did not appear as equal or better than their neighbors, they would be looked down on.

In The Commodity Gap: Consumerism and The Modern Home, Elaine Tyler May mentions the suburban ideal surrounding homeownership. May wrote, ” The family home would be the place where a man could display his success through the accumulation of consumer goods”(156). Success was now measured in consumer goods and nothing else. This is exactly what advertisements were targeting. The insecurity that if one didn’t acquire as many goods as their neighbor, they would not be able to appear successful or show off their success. In The Color of Money, Ted Steinberg talks about what the American lawn had transformed into. He discussed a theory that homeowners wanted a darker and greener a lawn because it showed more wealth, success, and status (77). This supports the fact that consumerism was attacking the insecurities of the suburban homeowner. Homeowners all had insecurities about wealth, success, and status, and the consumer market was exploiting that weakness.

Burgie Beer Advertisement. 1960’s. Courtesty of Adflip.com

This Burgie Beer advertisement is from the 1960s. It was originally from a Sports Illustrated Magazine. The picture shows a middle-class white suburban couple doing yard work. The message is clear: Bergie beer is refreshing and relaxing to drink. Both the man and woman seem to be enjoying doing the yard work. Not saying that it is impossible to enjoy yard work and maintaining a green lawn, but as evident in Ted Steinberg’s article, taking care of a suburban lawn become more of a chore. Many Americans grew frustrated spending so much money and time on a lawn that sometimes never grew properly. So why would someone advertise beer with a subject that often invokes frustration? Maybe it is because they know people don’t enjoy yard work, and they are selling an image of enjoyable work if you have a Burgie Beer. Or maybe the message is that after doing frustrating and tiring yard work, you deserve a cold refreshing and relaxing beer. The incentive here would be the beer as a reward for working. Whatever the message, they are using suburbia’s obsession with lawns to sell a product.

 

Admiral TV Advertisement. 1951. Courtesy of Library of Duke University.

This is an advertisement for Admiral TV. It is from 1951 and was originally published in The New Yorker Magazine. The TV grew popular with the suburban home for many reasons. In the city, entertainment was very close – in bars,clubs, parks, or even on the front porch. In the suburbs, there wasn’t any of this. Everything was too far away or not even established yet. The TV became one of  the sole sources of entertainment in the home. The slogan in this ad is “Built for the Future.” This, while appearing subtle, is extremely important. During the 1950s and 1960s Americans had an obsession with having modern and futuristic appliances. A modern and futuristic home was deemed the home of an ideal successful family. Elaine Tyler May mentions this various times. Nixon’s kitchen debate showed us that there was a great emphasis on modern appliances and owning the latest and greatest consumer product (May 155). This established the American ideal to be as modern as possible. Not owning a modern TV or kitchen appliance would put you below others; another insecurity which markets like this took clear advantage of.

 

Fiat Sports Car Advertisement. 1960’s. Courtesy of Adflip.com

This a car advertisement for Fiat from the 1960s. It was originally published in Road and Track magazine. This ad shows a sports car with the image of a good looking woman standing in front of the car. Here the car is being compared to the curves and beauty of a woman. The auto industry increased dramatically over the 1950s and 1960s due to suburbs becoming extremely popular. In the city, everything was within walking distance and a car was not as much a necessity as a luxury. When middle class Americans moved out of the city into the suburbs, the car became a necessity as most Americans now commuted to work. Everything in the suburbs was used to show your success: your house, your perfect lawn, and your nice sports car in the driveway. The car instantly became more than a necessity, and became a major way to show off your wealth. With this competition between neighbors in the suburbs, car manufacturers took complete advantage in order to sell as many cars as possible. But this ad could be targeting a different kind of insecurity: an inner insecurity. This insecurity comes in the form of a midlife crisis. Here, there is a chance Fiat may be targeting a midlife crisis epidemic. Moving out of the cities, many people felt like there was something missing. When children grew up and left, life outside of the city became boring and dull. Many people realized that their life in the suburbs was exactly that, boring and dull. That was the beginning of a midlife crisis mentality and it is often compensated with spending sprees on unpractical items, such as a sports car. This was something that was very common in a suburban home and the consumer market was targeting all those emotions and insecurities.

 

This post was completed as part of assignment on how the idea of home and concept of domesticity has been used in marketing during different historical moments and in the present.For additional information on the assignment, please visit:https://americanstudiesmediacultureprogram.wordpress.com/the-concept-of-home-spring-2014-selling-home/

 

A Woman’s Duties by Carley Chan

Gendered advertising is a powerful and visible force in maintaining traditional and heteronormative views of the “American way of life.” Commercialization was a “quintessentially American” approach to developing the image of the home (Cowan, 103). It was often applied to more than just household appliances, however. Numerous companies exploited the extremely large market for goods that emerged from the establishment of the single-family suburban home as the dominant and favored living arrangement (Cowan, 147).  Products were often framed within the contexts of “homemaker and breadwinner [that] were central to the identity of many women and men at the time,” regardless of whether or not they served any actual domestic purpose (May, 172).

Elaine Tyler May explains this phenomenon in The Commodity Gap: Consumerism and the Modern Home:

The values associated with domestic spending upheld traditional American concerns with pragmatism and morality, rather than opulence and luxury. Purchasing for the home helped alleviate traditional American uneasiness with consumption: the fear that spending would lead to decadence. Family-centered spending reassured Americans that affluence would strengthen the American way of life (May, 158).

By turning all spending into a type of domestic spending, advertisers encouraged consumerism and alleviated the buyer’s remorse that came after. Such an approach is most apparent in marketing towards women. By playing to the fears and pressures felt by “discontented housewives,” nondurable goods could be spun as essentials for a bright domestic future (May, 164). The right shampoo would keep a marriage stable and happy;  a proper tampon would keep a housewife productive and presentable. For every problem, there was a product.

In many advertisements, women were promised an improvement in their relationship to others, whether this be their husbands, children, friends, or neighbors (Cowan, 114). Women were treated not as autonomous individuals, but rather as dependents – thus enforcing the notion of being a part of a “family unit.” This arrangement also profoundly impacted men, whose role as a dependable and capable “provider” as a “source of satisfaction” has also been continually exploited in marketing. Lastly, just as Nixon “articulated the essence of American superiority” through the display of home appliances, advertisers urged women to “keep up with the Joneses” through the purchase of various goods (May, 155, 170) In American Green, Anthony Giordano seems to buy into this idea when he states that “a lawn to a homeowner is like lipstick to a woman,” implying that personal appearance and domestic prowess are directly relatable subjects (Steinberg, 75).

 

“A Mother’s Duty,” 1925. Courtesy of Duke University Libraries Digital Collections.

By marketing to a woman’s motherly instincts, Palmolive shifts the focus away from a woman’s “selfish” desire to own the product for herself by instead framing her daughter as the primary consumer. The ad’s text is almost completely identical to other Palmolive ads of the time period, with the only major difference being the substitution of “your [the woman’s] skin” with “her [the daughter’s] skin.” The ad claims that using Palmolive soap is an essential skincare step that will impact the daughter “all through life,” and it is up to the mother to take the proper “precautions ” to ensure that she will maintain her “skin radiance.” Though it is highly likely that the mother herself will also be using the product, catering to her “duty” as a mother alleviates guilt about spending on an otherwise nonessential product.

A Wife Can Blame Herself If She Loses Love By Getting “Middle-Age” Skin!” 1938. Courtesy of Duke University Libraries Digital Collections.

Palmolive finds its way into the hearts of housewives through this 1938 ad, in which a cartoon woman laments that her husband “never takes [her] out any more,” and fears that he is “ashamed” of her. Her mother speculates that her dry and old-looking skin is the reason he does not want to be seen in public with her, and suggests that her distraught daughter use some Palmolive soap. In the last panel, the wife, her skin so rejuvenated by Palmolive that she turns into a real woman, happily exclaims that “Bob’s so proud of [her] again” and that she has “learned her lesson.” Palmolive again markets their soap as a collective good for the family; more than keeping a woman’s skin radiant and healthy, it is insuring that she is not a disgrace to her man.

“What Men Should Know About film on teeth, and modern ways to end it,” 1922. Courtesy of Duke University Libraries Digital Collections.

This Pepsodent ad provides an interesting contrast between marketing to men and marketing to women. While “men should know” the dangers of teeth film and mouth acid and how to remove them with Pepsodent, the only thing women need to know about toothpaste is “added beauty.” While men are informed that film “breeds millions of germs” and causes teeth decay, women are told that it causes a “stained” and “dingy” appearance which hides the “natural luster of the teeth.” Pepsodent seems to support the assumption that the man reading the ad is a “breadwinner” – a provider whom a woman is both economically and intellectually dependent upon. But, as Elaine Tyler May in The Commodity Gap points out, women’s “lives were functional, not merely ornamental.” In the next paragraph of “The Woman’s Side,” Pepsodent reminds mothers that “children need Pepsodent most.”

“This home shows the wonders of it!” 1917. Courtesy of Duke University Libraries Digital Collections.

According to this ad, Lux Laundry Flakes are perfect for the whole family. Not only does Lux keep a woman’s “blouses and silk underwear pretty,” it also allows her to “use [her] nicest linen every day,” keep her house “radiantly light and fresh” and “delight her heart with the gauziest, the silkiest, the fluffiest for her children.” With Lux, a woman is the ultimate housewife and mother – and everyone knows it. In the ad, other women are impressed and jealous of this young wife’s seemingly decadent lifestyle, calling her a “trifle reckless” for always using her “lovely bridal linen” and assuming that she “squanders a mint of money… buying fresh things all the time.” On the contrary, Lux allows her to be economical while still “keeping up with the Joneses.”

 

This post was completed as part of assignment on how the idea of home and the concept of domesticity has been used in marketing during different historical moments and in the present. For additional information on the assignment, please visit: https://americanstudiesmediacultureprogram.wordpress.com/the-concept-of-home-spring-2014-selling-home/.

Shut Up and Play the Hits: The Carefully Calculated Legacy of LCD Soundsystem

Image

From the outset, James Murphy seemed to anticipate and even prophesize his own downfall: with his first single, “Losing My Edge” (2002), he had already begun to craft a definitively self-aware and self-effacing persona. Lines like “I hear that everybody that you know is more relevant than everybody that I know,” indicate a self-conscious desire to point out his own shortcomings before others can, going as far as to announce that he has lost his “edge” in the first single he released under the name LCD Soundsystem, as if in an attempt to preemptively call himself out before his listeners or critics have the opportunity. His later songs exhibit similar concerns, as in “Dance Yrself Clean” (2010), when Murphy laments that “everybody’s getting younger, it’s the end of an era, it’s true.” His lyrics seem to perpetually return to concerns regarding either growing too old for the music scene, or becoming irrelevant and selling out.

Even the title of the film documenting LCD Soundsystem’s final show at Madison Square Garden, Shut Up and Play the Hits, speaks to Murphy’s anxieties surrounding how his work will be perceived, and for what his career will be remembered (the title also stands in ironic opposition to the lyrics of “You Wanted a Hit” (2010), which responds to its own title with the retort, “Well maybe we don’t do hits”). As illustrated by the tongue-in-cheek self-effacement present in Murphy’s song titles and the documentary’s title alone, even minute details of LCD Soundsystem’s trajectory have been carefully calculated and as such are representative of Murphy’s anxieties around being able to control his image. Shut Up and Play the Hits dramatizes the concerns that have shaped Murphy’s carefully constructed persona, ultimately positing that the anxieties that Murphy expresses in his work are representative of the broader cultural concerns of the digital age and the postmodern moment.

In his final television appearance as LCD Soundsystem, in an interview with Stephen Colbert, Murphy explained that “I’m forty-one, and at a certain point I think it gets embarrassing,” echoing the sentiments found throughout his lyrics, as in “Movement” (2004), when he characterizes himself and his bandmates as “a couple dads and a few friends trying hard to stay in,” or in “All My Friends’s” (2007) image of the jaded performer “with a face like a dad.” Murphy’s work is fraught with worries that he will be perceived as a pitiable “dad” trying to stay in the game past his prime. Murphy cites this concern as his reasoning for ending his musical career as LCD Soundsystem at what would seem to be its peak, demonstrating yet another deliberate move in an attempt to control his image and and address possible criticisms preemptively. Murphy’s valuing of self-awareness and authenticity seems characteristic of the postmodern moment, when the destabilization of identity incites a greater concern for and attention to performance and image-crafting.

Shut Up and Play the Hits dramatizes the documentation of LCD Soundsystem’s final show primarily by juxtaposing footage of the moments backstage leading up to the show, and of the show itself, with footage of Murphy alone in his apartment the morning after. This juxtaposition seems to suggest that this footage of the next day presents Murphy no longer acting in the interest of maintaining a persona, for if there were to be any time that he could abandon his concerns about image crafting, the viewer would assume that it would be the morning after his final show. He repeats to his friends, on the phone and in person, that he is “retired,” after all, as if insisting, more to himself than to them, that he can finally step away from the constant consideration of image and persona. These portions of the film show footage of Murphy shaving over clips of voicemails from his coworkers, imploring him to get some rest, but the documentary later shows Murphy at a series of meetings and interviews, a fact that undermines the idea that the film’s structuring posits. When asked how he feels the day after the show, he replies, “I don’t feel…I haven’t had time. I’ve been running around like crazy,” a response that is significant in that it reveals that despite Murphy’s desire exit the music scene before getting too old, he is still occupied with similar concerns after his “retirement.”

In one particularly representative scene, one of Murphy’s colleagues shows him the award he received in honor of the show selling out at Madison Square Garden: it features a miniature of the venue along with the words “LCD Soundsystem Sells Out.” Murphy remarks, after staring at the award for a while, that “this is a sad object, dude.” The humor lies in the double meaning of “selling out,” and underlines Murphy’s worries about seeming inauthentic. Like the irony that marks many of LCD Soundsystem’s lyrics, the ironic subtext of this scene serves as an example of the tensions surrounding identity and relevance that inform Murphy’s work.

Beyond depicting this overarching anxiety about authenticity and image, however, Shut Up and Play the Hits shows other aspects of the night of the performance as well. Interspersed throughout footage of Murphy and other performers practicing harmonies in preparation for Reggie Watts’s guest appearance, and other scenes of last minute preparation, are several scenes of Murphy ensuring that every member of the performance and crew receives a commemorative wristband, revealing a more sentimental aspect of the night. Murphy states on the phone the next day that “I’m trying to see everyone. Before everyone disappears,” a sentiment that is particularly poignant when juxtaposed with a song like “All My Friends,” which addresses the feeling of longing to see friends who have since separated. These moments of nostalgia and sentimentality redeem what at times feels like a hubristic emphasis on Murphy’s persona, on one hand presenting a more sympathetic side to the fairly calculated portrayal that pervades the film. Of course, the inclusion of these emotional moments is a calculated decision as well, as is the inclusion of any footage in the documentary. While this fact is inescapable in any film, Shut Up and Play the Hits almost seems to suffer due to the prevailing self-conscious tone it sets, for in the process of making calculated decisions to seem authentic, even genuine emotional moments read like deliberate decisions for the purposes of image crafting.

Chuck Klosterman notes in his interview with Murphy for the film that “the timing of [‘Losing My Edge’] was really good because…the internet was causing people to have a different relationship with history, and a young person could suddenly be as fluent, didn’t have to have the life experience” previously required to amass an broad awareness of underground music. Murphy’s refrain of “But I was there,” repeated throughout the song, seems to insist that although, in the digital age, anyone can now possess an intimate knowledge of obscure music without working in a record store, Murphy is not merely an “art school Brooklynite” with “borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered eighties.” Shots of young audience members filming the performance and the crowd around them, eyes glued to the screens of their cell phones rather than to the performance itself, however, suggest that perhaps the digital age has “won out” over Murphy’s idealization of an age when gaining musical knowledge and credibility required more “work” (and, perhaps, that this shift played a part in Murphy’s decision to stop releasing music as LCD Soundsystem).

For all Murphy’s insistence, at every point throughout the process of press, interviews, and preparation leading up to the final show, that this was to be the definitive end to LCD Soundsystem, it seems that saying goodbye has proved more difficult than expected. A more recent release from LCD Soundsystem, the vinyl boxed-set recording of the final concert, was released on Record Store Day, April 19th, 2014. Its title, The Long Goodbye, speaks to more than simply the long delays that can arise when mixing a live album. It also echoes some of the more sentimental moments in the film, illustrating that perhaps the sudden, deliberate end depicted in the film, in which one day LCD Soundsystem sells out Madison Square Garden, and the next day LCD Soundsystem is no more, may not be as realistic as Murphy frames it in his interviews – and that perhaps the end to a musical career has enduring emotional effects, for the performer and his audience, beyond a savvy publicity move. By the end of Shut Up and Play the Hits, however, it becomes difficult to discern whether this release is merely yet another constructed career decision, or a nod from James Murphy to a more authentic emotional connection with his fans.

A True Pioneer: Ray Charles and his Vast Influence on Music

Ray (2004)

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Ray is a 2004 biographical film focusing on 30 years of the life of rhythm and blues musician Ray Charles. The independently produced film was directed by Taylor Hackford and stars Jamie Foxx in the title role. Raised in Northern Florida on a sharecropping plantation, Ray Charles Robinson went blind at the age of seven due to glaucoma. Shortly before going blind, Ray Charles witnessed his younger brother fall and drown in a big metal tub of water. Greatly influenced by his strong and independent mother, who insisted he make his own way in the world, Charles found his calling and his amazing talent behind a piano keyboard. While touring across the chitlin circuit, Ray Charles gained a large following and began to gain a reputation. However, it was with his ingenious introduction of the incorporation of gospel, country, jazz, and orchestral influences into his unparalleled style that earned Ray Charles worldwide fame.

Throughout the film, Ray Charles’ mother, Aretha, sparingly appears and plays an important role in the shaping of Ray Charles. She strictly instilled in him to never be intimidated by his blindness nor let anyone take advantage of his blindness. She was not well educated and had very little money, yet, she insisted that Charles attend the school for the blind, which she knew would help him on his way. Many years later, Ray Charles heads for Seattle after hearing about the club scene. The film portrays Charles discovering his sound in Seattle after he leaves his native Georgia. While in Seattle, he also has his first encounter with the Seattle teenager Quincy Jones. This, along with his friendship with a dwarf emcee named Oberon, who introduced him to marijuana, was one of the most crucial events in his life. One reason is because Quincy Jones is who gives Ray Charles his big break. The second, is because this introduction to marijuana is later the gateway into Ray Charles’ drug abuse which he deals with throughout most of his career.

In the beginning of his career, Ray Charles aspired to sound like one his biggest idols: Nat “King” Cole. However, after much criticism, Charles went back to his roots and decided to fuse his gospel foundations with his current style of rhythm and blues. Thus, creating and discovering a brand new sound that people immediately fell in love with. Essentially, Ray Charles invented what is now known as soul music and can be found in his early recordings such as, “I Got a Woman.” This record is the first record that skyrocketed him in stardom and brought him to national prominence. It was Charles’ first number one R&B hit on Atlantic Records.

Ray Charles reached the apex of his success at Atlantic with the spontaneously composed release of, “What’d I Say.” This song was a complex work of art that combined blues, jazz, Latin, and gospel music all in one. Charles got the idea for this song while performing in clubs and dances with his small band. The song was controversial and some radio stations even banned the song because of its sexually suggestive lyrics. However, the song became a crossover top ten pop record which was Charles’ first record to do so.

Ray Charles went on to record three more albums for the label including a jazz record, The Genius After Hours, a blues record, The Genius Sings the Blues, and a traditional pop/ big band record, The Genius of Ray Charles. The Genius of Ray Charles was his first top 40 album entry in which it peaked at Number 17. This was a landmark record in Ray’s career because this then lead to the end of his run with Atlantic and onto his huge contract deal with ABC-Paramount Records, abandoning his longtime relationship with his label-mates at Atlantic Records.

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His contract with ABC-Paramount Records, which was apparently better than what Sinatra was getting, allowed for Charles to have much more liberty than he previously had. They offered him higher royalties than previously offered and eventual ownership of his masters, which is very rare at that time. During his Atlantic years, Ray Charles was very well known for his own creative and innovative compositions, however, after some time with his new label, Charles had virtually given up on writing original material and had begun to follow a different career path, showing off his range and versatility.

With his first hit single for ABC-Paramount, Charles received national acclaim and a Grammy Award for his most famous song, “Georgia on My Mind.” Charles also earned another Grammy and even more fame for the follow-up record, “Hit the Road Jack.” By late 1961, Ray Charles had grown from his small beginnings in Georgia to one of the biggest and most versatile musicians in the entire world. His small road ensemble suddenly transformed into a full-scale big band. This, of course, was due to his new contract, touring fees, and increasing royalties. Ray Charles eventually became one of the few black artists to crossover into mainstream pop with such a level of creative control.

This success, however, came to a brief standstill in November of 1961, as the police search the hotel of Ray Charles in Indianapolis, Indiana, during a concert tour that led to the discovery of heroin in his medicine cabinet. The case was eventually dropped, as the search lacked a proper warrant by the police, and Charles soon returned his focus on music and recording. He later records his 1962 album, Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music and its sequel Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, Vol. 2, which helped to bring country into the mainstream of music. Shortly after, Ray Charles is arrested for possession of heroin and Charles’ career is once again halted. To avoid jail time Charles elects to go to rehab facility in where he eventually drops his habit of shooting up. While in rehab, he has a flashback of his mother that is the supposed catalyst in helping him fully recover.

The film concludes in 1979 with Charles off of drugs for good and receiving his most prestigious accomplishment. In this year, the state of Georgia officially makes, “Georgia On My Mind,” the official state song. The movie ends with Ray, Della, and their three grown sons receiving applause after Ray performs the song before a live audience.

By the end of his career, Ray Charles accomplished more things than anyone could have ever imagined, all while having to deal with the adversity of being blind and overcoming a serious drug addiction. However, his numerous Grammys and his millions and millions of records sold still does not add up to the more important contributions that he left for the world. Charles’ creation of a brand new genre fusing jazz, gospel, latin music, and rhythm and blues is a much further reaching accomplishment for the music world as a whole. Furthermore, Ray Charles open the door for more African American acts to become more mainstream, and, more specifically, blind African American acts such as Stevie Wonder. Ray Charles’ success is far reaching and touches a multitude of different horizons.

I chose to view the film, Ray, and do the blog on it because I find Ray Charles’ story fascinating. When I first viewed the film back in 2004, I was astonished by one, Jamie Foxx’s spot on portrayal of Ray Charles, and two, how much tragedy, drugs, sex, and violence Ray experienced in his life. I had no idea of how influential Ray Charles was until this film and I also gained much more of a respect for his catalog of music, especially after view his triumphs over tragedy. I believe this film gives a very fair view of his life and career. In fact, he worked closely with the production of this film before he passed away months before its release. The film shows the good and the bad of Ray Charles, therefore, I believe it gave a fair and balanced look. He approved of everything that was being portrayed so I do not believe there is any bias.

References

1. “Why Ray Charles Matters.” Blogcritics. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2014.

2. “Ray Charles Biography at Black History Now.” Black Heritage Commemorative Society Ray Charles Comments. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2014.

3. “Ray Movie Review & Film Summary (2004) | Roger Ebert.” All Content. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2014.

4. “Ray Charles – Biography, History, Bio, Life, Career, Facts, Awards.” Ray Charles – Biography, History, Bio, Life, Career, Facts, Awards. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2014.

The Relationship between Housing Quality and Worker Morale and Motivation When Leaving Home to Move into Work Provided Housing

The Relationship between Housing Quality and Worker Morale and Motivation When Leaving Home to Move into Work Provided Housing
By Mitchell Pokrywa
The relationship between housing quality and worker morale and motivation is one that can be looked at from two different perspectives which I think can have two totally different impacts on the individual. When a person or family is uprooted from their home to move into work provided housing individuals can have varying reactions. Two specify on the two extremes one can either be excited for a new start or on the opposite end of the spectrum one can have feelings of nostalgia for their old home and life.
The two ways I believe one would interpret the system of work provided housing and the incentives that come with is to either use it as a tool of motivation to achieve better housing by becoming more skilled at your job which would make a person more valuable to a company which is reason to deserve better housing. The other way is to see it as a way of discipline if you do not increase your value to the company over time what was given to you can be stripped from the company. Depending of the type of person you are, the way you interpret the system can provide with different results out of the work provided housing system.
“Not all company towns employed such dramatic forms of social control. Industries that needed to attract skilled workers found it to their advantage to create towns where their power was less evident” (Crawford, 30). For a person who sees this as move into provided housing as a new start that person may see this provided housing as an incentive to work harder to achieve better success and skills at their job to obtain better housing from the company.
“They exercised total authority, imposing a system of arbitrary rules the violation of which was punishable by heavy fines. If a miner refused to pay he would be dismissed, his family evicted from their company house” (Crawford, 30). However for a person who is not viewing this move in a positive light and is feeling nostalgia for their own home, this person may not see this as a positive chance to obtain more through better work but as a threat of losing the provided housing if they do not work hard enough. For someone like this I do not feel that they would mend well into this system because of their deep feelings of nostalgia for their old home and way of life.
“You went to work at dawn, got home at dark, and they took out of your pay the rent, and then they operated a grocery store, which was a company store, and they took the cost of your groceries out of your pay, and so on, until you virtually had, you know, there was a sort of self-contained world.”
This article suggests that in this particular company town everything is contained within the town and all the wages are circulated within the town which means that the money given to the workers is essentially all given back to employer. What this represents to me is that this company town is using its power to assure that it makes the most profit from the employers. This doesn’t allow the employees to have the freedom to do what they please with their earned wages. The company is forcing the employees to spend their money within the town using this as form and enforcement on the employees to assert their control over them which can cause mixed reactions from certain employees depending on the personality of the person.
Excerpt from “[Interview of Virgil Charles],” [1995]. Click image to read interview

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This is an image of a company grocery store and this picture shows how the employees all were forced to spend their money within the constraints of the company town showing the power that the employer had over the employees, using the company town as a form of discipline over the employees.
“[A Typical pioneer town],” [1880-1920]. Courtesy of [The Library of Congress: American Memory: Immigration, American Expansion].

“José and Mónica had one of those houses that the Imperial Sugar Company used to give to the workers a long time ago over there in Sugarland. It was a company town, and they lived in a company house. They had about five rooms, that’s all. We were too big a family for that house. Mónica and José had six children, and you have to remember that we had Ignacio and Beatriz and their little Charlie with us, as well as our whole family, including another very small baby: our youngest brother, Andrés.”
When reading this article I took that the family in this company home used this provided company home as motivation. It seemed to me that clearly the provided housing for the family was not adequate for the family in it and the family needed more space. I feel that this shows the company did not provide them with what they needed and this could be used as motivation to obtain better housing through acquiring better skills for work to become more valuable to the company.
“[Lydia Mendoza, a family autobiography],” [1993]. Click image for article

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The picture above is a picture of a company housing of Dupont employees and it shows how the towns were structures and how some of the dwellings differed from others. This to me can be seen as incentives to see what you have and what you could have based on the quality of your work.
“[History of the American West],” [1912]. Courtesy of [The Library of Congress: American Memory: Immigration, American Expansion].
This post was completed as an assignment for the American Studies course, “The Concept of Home.” A list of the readings that informed this assignment can be found here: https://americanstudiesmediacultureprogram.wordpress.com/assignments-the-concept-of-home-spring-2013/

How the Roles of Women and Men in the Home are Portrayed in Media By Mitchell Pokrywa

How the Roles of Women and Men in the Home are Portrayed in Media
By Mitchell Pokrywa

The Roles of women and men in the home have been portrayed differently over time, but a lot of things remain the same today. When you see ads for cleaning products or ads for tools, what do you almost always typically see? You see a happy woman using the cleaning products and you see a strong man using the tools. The point is that these products are trying to target those specific audiences because, for a long time, these types of products have been associated for use by only one gender in the home.
For the most part, the role of a woman in the home was to be a housewife – to cook and to clean and take care of the children. Richard Nixon stated, when describing homes in Moscow, that they were equipped with modern appliances to make the life of a housewife easier. When he stated this, he was saying that there are appliances that are only operated by housewives and that the types of responsibilities associated with those appliances are to be done by a woman and not a man (May, 155).

A man’s role in the family is to provide – to go out and work and make the money for the family. The man is never portrayed as a homemaker because those jobs are not a man’s responsibility. The jobs around the home that are a man’s responsibility are the jobs that require tools and fixing things, or jobs like cutting the lawn. Have you ever seen the commercials for John Deere or for lawn products? They almost always portray a man; showing how proud he is of his lawn. These are the types of activities that are targeted as a man’s job. Reed Funk stated that he only had a slightly above average lawn because he did not want to mow his own lawn after working with grass all day (Steinberg, 65). This showed me that the lawn is considered a man’s area because while he was away at work his wife was not cutting the lawn. Therefore, it is considered the responsibility of the man.

The ads I have below show how the media portrays who is responsible for what in the home, and show how people accept these advertisements as the correct concept of home since they still remain similar today.

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“Lady Berkleigh Pajamas,” April 1950. Courtesy of http://www.adflip.com/.

The ad above struck me as interesting in its portrayal of the woman in the home. It is an ad for women’s pajamas from the 1950s, but what is most interesting is the phrase on the left which states “tailored to a man’s taste.” This shows that the main reason for a woman to buy these pajamas is due to the fact that these pajamas would please her husband regardless if they were pleased with the pajamas themselves. The fact that that is the main focus of the ad points to the idea that the woman is considered to be her husband’s property and that her responsibilities in life are to do what she can to please her husband. By buying these pajamas she can do that, because they are tailored to his tastes and not hers.

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“Cut Rite Wax Paper,” March 1948. Courtesy of http://www.adflip.com/.

The ad above is another interesting ad that portrays how the media defines what they believe is the woman’s role in the home. This is an ad for wax paper and it shows a woman storing food in the wax paper. It also specifically says that more women use this brand more than any other. This is significant because it is only addressing women in the advertisement, giving the idea that the people who use this product are only women because the jobs done with this product are only jobs that are done in the home by women. A man wouldn’t need to be addressed in the advertisement because he would not use a product like this in the home; it is portraying that only women have use for a product like this.

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“La-Z-Boy Recliners,” November 1967. Courtesy of http://www.adflip.com/.

This ad was not exactly as straightforward as the first two, but the image struck me as interesting. This is an ad for La-Z-Boy recliners and in the image there is a man and woman, presumably husband and wife, and the man is sitting in the recliner while the woman is sitting on the floor. This ad seems to be targeting men with imagery showing that this product is geared more towards the working man who deserves a big comfortable chair to sit in after a long day of work, and by showing how this is a man’s chair and not a woman’s chair.

 

This post was completed as part of assignment on how the idea of home and the concept of domesticity has been used in marketing during different historical moments and in the present. For additional information on the assignment, please visit: https://americanstudiesmediacultureprogram.wordpress.com/the-concept-of-home-spring-2014-selling-home/.

ASMCP: The Next Steps

RU busThe main goal of our project thus far has been to research the issues around and the potential remedies of the transportation system at Rutgers University. My personal role has been to reach out to my organization, the Rutgers University Programming Association (RUPA), to see how transportation may have positively or negatively affected our ability to host events for the student body. I have polled my fellow RUPA members, and the general consensus is that the over-crowded and slow busing system at Rutgers makes it difficult to host events on every campus. Most of the members feel that the busing system may deter students from exploring other campuses, and thus reaching diverse events, due to the headache of using the buses, especially on the weekends.

Obviously, this project is still in the early phases of its development, and it certainly needs more research to be done. The first area of research that needs to be focused on is the environmental concern of so many buses on the road. Would more buses, a viable option to fix the overcrowding, harm the environment to an unreasonable extent? Additionally, just how fuel efficient are the buses currently? Many buses sit at student centers for 10 minutes at a time; surely a practice of turning off the bus could save gas and the environment. More research needs to be done to put this part of the documentary into perspective. We should work on contacting professors or graduate students within the University who have done professional research about the environment and the potential harm from bus pollution.

Secondly, research about the safety of the buses needs to be further developed. Overcrowding is more than just a nuisance to students- the amount of people that pack onto buses during peak usage is far from safe. In the event of a bus crashing or breaking down, many students could be severely injured due, in part, to the amount of people on the bus. There is also the issue of crossing College Avenue and other busy New Brunswick streets. Students have be hurt before when crossing, whether they were hit by a car or a bus, and that needs to be addressed. Should we work on the students being educated, or perhaps look into crossing guards or police lookouts during rush hour? These safety issues definitely need more elaboration and research. Contacts could include Public Safety, local police officers, and personal accounts of students.

Finally, more research needs to be conducted on the population management issues. This is where some of my research comes into play. It seems that many students become wary of the transportation system after so many negative encounters that they give up using it almost altogether. Rutgers is a large school, and the fact of the matter is that the tens of thousands of students who attend it need a way to travel between campuses both for class and for leisure activities. Controlling the times of day that students need the bus could be remedied through class time changes, but spreading those out more could be a logistical nightmare. Again, students could be educated about leaving for classes early and learning alternate ways of getting to class (i.e. biking, walking, carpooling with commuters).  In all, the population management issue needs some more research, and certainly some solid quotes from students, to be fully complete.