A thing to many ; A milestone to others

A Thing to Many; A Milestone to Others

By Daniel Paniagua

 

An individual acquires a lot of possessions over time. Some of them are tools used for everyday living, such as kitchen utensils and hammers; others are luxury items like jewelry and expensive branded clothing. All other things fall somewhere in between. Society has setup norms for what an item means and its function. People sometimes follow these norms unconsciously, so people often consume similar items as everyone else. For example, why do people wear jewelry and own TVs? While this underlying norm that guides people into buying certain things is important and very strong, sometimes an item is transformed into much more than what the normal person understands it for. For that individual, his or her personal item is much more than what it was designed to be or do. This is because emotion becomes infused in these objects, giving them much more value.

Ann Cvetkovich explains in, “In the Archives of Lesbian Feelings: Documentary and Popular Culture,” the idea of an archive of emotion. This goes against a traditional archive where an item is obviously very strong and prominent in an historical way, such as a document by a president or other important person. An archive of emotion is the opposite. It’s just a normal item that has an emotional attachment that then gives it significance. This is the same way many people’s prized possessions  have value. Such as an ordinary baseball, that is passed from generation to generation, or a stuffed animal with an extreme emotional value. One huge emotional attachment is that these items represent a milestone. These items capture and represent an accomplishment and the journey it took to get there. An example we saw in class was the documentary Queen of Versailles starring David Siegel. In the documentary, David Siegel is in the process of constructing his mega-mansion nicknamed Versailles. It is obvious a mansion represents wealth, power, and success and anyone would be proud to own one, but to David Siegel it is worth even more. His mansion is to be a milestone. The journey of his business life has led him to build that mansion. It stands for more than just power and wealth to him. It stands for his personal accomplishment and that reason is why he is so reluctant to let it go. With emotions anything can be transformed into a priceless piece.

 

SEIKO Chronograph Watch

This is my SEIKO watch. I purchased this watch during senior year of highschool. At the time it was worth $500, but I had made a good amount of money through eBay merchanting to afford it. I didn’t have a job, so it was an accomplishment to be able to afford it. This was also my first major purchase with money I had worked for myself. To many people it’s just a watch, but to me it is more and I will never sell it. It’s a milestone for an accomplishment and I wear it proudly everyday. I also treat it as a “first of many” or “the beginning of something great.” Watches are luxury items and can exceed millions of dollars in price. They are often a measure of someone’s success (“Look at that guy’s Rolex,” for example). But to me, I treat the watch more as the beginning of my success, and to remind me that I have a long way to go before I can afford that Rolex and have it next to this watch.

1993 Ford Ranger

This is my 1993 Ford Ranger. This car is my first car that I purchased with money I had saved up from working. Like many people, their first car is very meaningful, even though it is not worth much. I chose this as one object, because I believe that many people have this feeling towards their first car. No one ever forgets their first car and sometimes even it was horrible, people have soft spots and miss their car later in life. Again, this is because a first car captures an accomplishment; many actually. Learning to drive, affording your own car, and the beginning of becoming an individual adult. These emotions can cause a person to value something as much higher than what it means to others.

 

Wooden Model of a Typical Colombian Jeep Carrying Coffee

This is a souvenir I picked up in Colombia when I visited when I was 10 years old. Brand new, this thing was probably worth $3 but it’s worth much more in emotion. This reminds me of where my family is from and my visit to Colombia. I wouldn’t sell it for anything. This is much like an “archive of emotion.” The item itself is not worth much, but the emotions and feelings are priceless.

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/

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/

 

Homesick: Missing a Lifestyle

Homesick: Missing a Lifestyle

By Daniel Paniagua

Nostalgia and homesickness are universal experiences that most, if not all people experience. It is usually associated with missing home and loved ones. Individuals experience homesickness in many different ways, shapes, and forms. But even if it is associated with home, homesickness is too ambiguous to be defined in a simple statement. The first thing that comes to someone’s mind when talking about being homesick is missing home, missing your room, missing your parents or family, and things closely associated with the home itself. While that may be true, homesickness is much greater than all that. A better way to define homesickness would be to miss a culture, a daily routine, work, and activities. Homesickness is missing a lifestyle.

Many people experience homesickness, but not all of those people actually miss a home or family. They miss the way of living they use to experience. Home and family certainly can be integrated into what they miss, but should not be restricted to only home and family. Susan J Matt touches on this idea in Homesickness: An American History. She talks about how spread out homesickness is and how complex it really is. She brings mentions that homesickness is experienced as a physical separation from home and as the passage of time (Matt,34). Understanding that homesickness can be felt as missing a time period, generation, or era is very significant. A very common phrase used in the United States, is “The good ol’ days”. This phrase refers to a nostalgia and homesickness in the form of a passage of time. When people say they miss the good ol’ days, most of the time they aren’t talking about family and home. Many times the family and home is still together, so they can’t be missing that. That leads to missing a different way of living. They are remembering and missing a more relaxed lifestyle, or maybe a better economic situation. They are remembering a different lifestyle, which they enjoyed, and that is what they miss and experience as homesickness and nostalgia.

Excerpt from “The French Canadian Textile Worker”.1936-1939. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

This page is an excerpt from “The French Canadian Textile Worker”. This was written by Philippe Lemay (Author) and Louis Pare(Reporter). This was part of the Federal Writers’ Project which existed during the Great Depression to give work to unemployed writers and reporters. The project consisted of documenting American culture and experiences. This specific document is essentially an interview of a French Canadian textile worker telling his story and connecting it to other French Canadians.

In this excerpt, the older generation of French Canadian textile workers feel homesick and return home for periods of time. They do miss their family and friends, but as the document shows, that wasn’t their primary concern. Their primary concern was their farms. They checked up on their land, worked it, and made sure everything was up to date and fine. But why would these people care so much for their farms, if they didn’t live there and most likely didn’t net a profit from the farm?  If they did, they would have never left. The document mentions that they are farmers at heart and its passed down from past generations. These immigrants are homesick – not for home, but for a past lifestyle of farming. They miss it. They don’t have the economical resources to continue that lifestyle, which forces them to move to the United States. Once a year, they go back to remember what it used to be like. They long for the past; for the past lifestyle.

“A WEEK later I was off to a farm near Princeton, the farmer’s family being my country people. For the first time since I left my home, I saw the country again. With bewildered, hungry eyes, I stood there the first morning, looking around me. My heart thrilled with joy, when, after so many, many months of sickening city life, I again faced those spacious green Fields. The sun was widely spread over the horizon; hundreds of birds were singing and twittering their morning songs, flying from one place to another; tiny little chicks ran around in the yard, digging their beaks into the soft ground, searching for worms. There were cherry trees loaded with ripe white cherries. The grass spread a fresh, dewy fragrance, and everything around was full of life, fresh life, real life!I did not know what to do. I began to jump around singing and whistling in accord with the birds. I felt happy. I forgot that only yesterday I came from the city. It seemed as if I was born here, and grew up among these trees, these spacious fields, these clear skies…In the city where the burden of existence weighed heavily on me, where day in and day out I lived in the ugly reality of poverty, where before me passed, back and forth, the down-trodden, cursed humanity, I had little thought for love. I was wrapped in misery, ugly misery!Here, in the quiet, wavy grass, in the peacefulness of open nature, my heart began to long, my heart craved for a mate, to go hand in hand against misfortune, to fight against untruthfulness, to rise together to the heights, away, away from this hateful, toiling world, where the noblest callings are crushed under the exploiting capitalistic hammer, where humanity and love are turned into dollars –“(Hasanovitz, Chapter 18)

Exerpt from “One of Them: Chapters From a Passionate Autobiography“.1918. Courtesy of North American Immigrant Letters, Diaries, and Oral Histories(Rutgers Library)

The excerpt above is from an autobiography written by Elizabeth Hasanovitz. She is a young Russian Jewish immigrant and around the age of 26 when writing the autobiography. She worked at a garment factory in New York City. The above excerpt expresses her feelings and emotions after saving enough money from working to go on vacation to a farm in rural Princeton, New Jersey. This was the first time she had been to such a rural and open area since she came from Russia. She was extremely ecstatic and  happy about all she was taking in. She mentions that she felt like she belonged there as if she was born there. She is using her experience to remember her home in Russia. She doesn’t mention  family or relatives, a specific item, or place. She just mentions her love and feelings for the rural area and nature. She also mentions how sickening and miserable the city life was. She missed and wanted the free and open lifestyle of living in a rural town opposed to a lifestyle in the city. The lifestyle change is so great for Elizabeth that in the city, she forgot about love, and only when she visited the farm does she remember what it is. She missed her home, she missed a lifestyle intertwined with nature, fresh air, and open fields.

New York, New York. Garment workers in the N.M. dress shop which is now making uniforms for the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC). They are members of local 89 of the International Ladies Garment Worker's Union, predominantly Italian

Garment workers in the N.M Dress Shop. 1943. Courtesy of Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information Photograph Collection (Library of Congress)

This is a picture of a garment factory in New York in 1943. It was taken by photographer Marjory Collins. This shows the crowded working conditions of a garment factory. Many of these workers were under-payed and overworked. The factories themselves were often crowded, filthy, and cold in the winter and hot in the summer. Elizabeth Hasan0vitz from above would have very likely worked in similar if not worst conditions. Working in these conditions caused many immigrants to feel miserable and even more homesick than normal. Many immigrants coming from rural countries, were not ready for such a drastic change in lifestyle and became very homesick. The working conditions exacerbated missing their previous lifestyle.

The American Indian Past. Present /

“The American Indian Past. Present.”,1906. Courtesty of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

This drawing was created by Albert Levering. It shows a comparison between the past Native American and the present modernized and Americanized Native American. The past depicts a native war dance or ritual, and the present depicts an American football game at an Indian Boarding school. The side-by-side comparison makes it very easy to see how different each lifestyle was. Many Native Americans never truly adapted to their new lifestyle. Many were always homesick, even though they were with their families. They remembered their past and their ancestors’ past. They didn’t like football; they wanted freedom. They wanted their culture; they wanted their old lifestyle.

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.