By Sabrina Lauredent
A home is not merely a location or a house; it is the compilation of family and individual values, meaningful trinkets collected through the years, and other artifacts that would make one comfortable. Historian Jules Prown describes this compilation as material culture or “the study through artifacts of the beliefs-values, ideas, attitudes, and assumptions of a particular community or a society at a given time.” Material culture gives meaning to objects in one’s home beyond outwards appearance or its ascetic contribution to the space; it can provide insight to the owner’s character and preferences. It has the potential to tell the observer what the owner values or believes, where they have been and what they do. Of the many artifacts in my apartment I call home, a watch, newspaper clipping, and picture frame are the most representative of my character and achievements. However, everyone does not collect the same specific artifacts or similar types as it varies by individual experience and forms of expression.
The current dominant view in American society is the American Dream, the idea that if one works hard enough they will be able to indulge in their riches. It is a dream that has lasted generations but varies in execution. Within the documentary The Queen of Versailles, viewers are able to get a glimpse of the lives of Jackie and David Siegel and their luxurious journey from “riches to rags.” The couple’s accumulation of cars, dogs, chairs and hotels, or rather their “stuff” is a symbol of success and achievement. Similar to the concept of trophies, their stuff serves to show others what they are able to afford/spend, and this behavior is not just limited to the Siegels. Many, including myself, often reward themselves for their hard work and advancement in society. The watch below is more than something that tells time or a beautiful bracelet; it is a symbol of adulthood and responsibility. This watch, though nowhere near as luxurious as the one Jackie Siegel may have, is the first “big” purchase I made with the money I earned and I consider it my first real investment. Since I paid for the watch on my own, it also serves as a symbol of independence and a large step into adulthood.
Despite the predominant belief of the American Dream, many people in our nation are creating their own journey to success, redefining it in ways relative to themselves. People are now creating their own dream different from the previous dream, but still a dream nonetheless. Inn the article “In the Archives of Lesbian Feeling,” Cvetkovich describes how one female group was able to write their happy ending in their own “non-Hollywood” style. “These girls make a ‘whole world’ out of a parking lot and kisses, in defiance of what usually counts as fame and fortune in popular fantasy and world history…Without going anywhere, they are as ‘famous’ as Hollywood stars and as adventurous as…the explorers who colonized the world” (Cvetkovich 131). Instead of replicating the scenarios prevalent in society or creating the “perfect” ending, these girls made the experience all their own and so much more enjoyable. They are deviating from the norm in a way that is productive to their cause and goal and establishing a new perspective in society; they are forging a new path to happiness. The frame below represents my ideal college experience which included the perfect group of friends and overall happiness. The figures are drawn in to represent my friends.The final artifact that exists in my home is a newspaper clipping from the Daily Targum that describes a program I helped start called “RU Appreciation” in which students would give thanks to those that support them through their journey at Rutgers. To many others it is just a newspaper clipping, but to me it is my biggest accomplishment at Rutgers as I became more than my RUID number and finally recognized by a large portion of the Rutgers community, establishing it as my second home away from home.
This post was completed as part of an assignment interpreting the “material culture” of home, and how objects, keepsakes, and ephemera from our domestic lives contribute to our social identities. For additional information on the assignment, please visit: https://americanstudiesmediacultureprogram.wordpress.com/the-concept-of-home-spring-2014-the-archeology-of-home/