Materialistic Society Destroying Family Traditions & Values

Materialistic Society Destroying Family Traditions & Values

By LA Hall

I can imagine myself as a contestant on a game show. The game is simple – the host says a word or phrase and the person playing must say the first thing that comes to mind. Something like this:

Host: “American Society”

Me: “Materialistic!”

The reason why the word materialistic comes to mind is because we live and have lived in a society where material things are our most important possessions. It is as if we have become a selfish society and have forgotten about family traditions and values. People now focus on ways to reach top social status and will do anything they can to do so. Once a person receives the amount of desired capital, he or she decides to either purchase a house full of rooms, which will possibly be vacant, or obtain all types of expensive cars and gadgets to look wealthy and exaggerate happiness.

There are many examples of those who illustrate the notion of a materialistic society. We can focus on David Siegel, the owner of Westgate resorts. David, as described in the documentary film The Queen of Versailles, was a child who came from a family who had nothing, but they still found a way to provide for him. He saw his parents struggle and decided he didn’t want to live his life that way. David reached a high level of success and fulfilled his goal of having a substantial amount of personal wealth. The values that he had as a child – remembering his parents giving all they could just to get a chocolate bar – are hidden from his own children. David goes on to get all the expensive material things you could think of – big houses, nice cars, expensive furniture, etc. His children grow up never having to work for anything and become spoiled, while having unrealistic views of everyday life in relation to the rest of the world. Those children never get a proper bearing in the world or the experience that David had, and all traditions and values are lost, creating a generational curse (Queen of Versailles).

Personally, being raised in an unstructured but family oriented household by my grandparents, I’ve learned to keep family traditions and to always hold true to my values. Three of the most vital values/traditions my family holds were to never forget your race/ethnic background, remember those that fought to get you here, and to always fear God. I strive for success daily but I can never reach a level of happiness with material things. I will only be great if I do it while staying true to who I am and how my family taught me to be. No matter where I go, I will always have things that will remind me of my precious family traditions and values. I will do everything I can to make sure my children adopt the same mindset.

Spirit

“Spirt Plaques”, 2014. Courtesy of Apartment Wall.

These are wooden plaques that I have had in my life since I was about three years old. These hung on my grandmother’s walls in our home. As I grew older I always looked to these items for strength and encouragement. When I graduated High School and went off to college, my grandmother made sure I had these with me. She told me that I should keep these with me, always remember that God is watching over me and has me in his hands. I will never forget the value these hold and will pass these along to my children.

POW MIA

“POW MIA Flag,” 2014. Courtesy of Apartment Wall

This is a flag that my grandfather had since the days he was in the army. The letters stand for US military personnel taken as “Prisoners of War” or listed as “Missing in Action”. I have two siblings and my grandfather gave each of us a flag when we were younger to let us know that there are people who might never see their families again and to always be thankful for having ours. I also have this item with me in college and it will hang in my home in the future.

Black Power Salute

“Black Power Salute Poster,” 2014. Courtesy of Apartment Wall

This is a poster that hangs in my room while in college. The poster is a picture of  the black power salute given at the 1968 Olympics. The salute was an act of protest by the African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos during their medal ceremony at the 1968 Summer Olympics. I have this poster because it reminds me about the people that made a way from me. I ran track in high School and this was always an image that I loved and hung it up to show my pride for my people.

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/

 

 

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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/.

A Slave’s Attempt to Return Home

A Slave’s Attempt to Return Home

By LA Hall

African Americans arguably have had the worst case of homesickness, due to the manner in which their migration, or leaving of the home, was performed. Opposed to whites, who voluntarily left their homes for better work, to provide for their families, or for religious passage, or Native Americans, who were pushed out of their homelands to the West, blacks were taken against their own will from Africa, “faced dreadful life-threatening conditions on the over packed ships that transported them across the Atlantic” (Matt 21), and enslaved in unknown territory. After being taken from their land, they were separated from their families during the slave trade. Slavery was a “cultural genocide against [Africans which] physically, ideologically, and emotionally removed [Africans/ from their [native land, sense of community], and tribal[/spiritual] affiliation” (Away From Home, 19). “Slaves expressed a mix of emotions. Including anger at the injustice of their situations, despair at their lack of control, and fear of the future, but a recurring theme in the writings of and about those sold away from their families and their native lands was the desire to return home” (Matt, 21). Slaves lives were in jeopardy as soon as they left their native lands and/or communities,  and they “suffered psychological trauma. Separated from their communities and families, many succumbed to a condition called the ‘fixed melancholy,’ a state of such dependency that they could not eat and soon died.”

How could one even suggest that African Americans didn’t “[posses] true emotional sensitivity and doubted that they loved their homes and families enough to experience much pain at separation from them,” (Matt, 42) when they wanted to return home so badly and longed for their families that they didn’t have patience to wait for their natural deaths. They committed suicide to speed up the process in returning home (Matt, 24). Blacks so wanted to go back to their native lands that many chose death as an option to grant their wishes. Many slaves had the belief that, “after death, individuals were reincarnated in Africa and would be free. Without liberty or income, [their] best hope for returning home lay in death” (Matt, 13). Slaves did all they could to return home. If death was too extreme they would attempt to “to return to Africa,” by fleeing plantations and becoming runaways or fugitives (Matt, 22). Slavery not only created a severe case of homesickness, it presented a whole new definition of home. “… [E]nslaved people began to define home not only as a place in Africa from where they or their parents had been taken from, but as the spot where their immediate family lived.” Before one would try to escape for Africa he/she would attempt to find their family making it even more difficult to return “home.” The word “home” now meant where one’s family might be held captive, where one was taken/traded from, as well as a place in Africa.

Runaway Slave

Runaway Slave,” [1832]. Courtesy of In Motion: The African-American Migration Experience

When death wasn’t an option, many enslaved chose to run away to freedom or home. The symbolic depiction of the fugitive slave appeared regularly in newspapers from the early days. The runaway was generally represented by a man  (rarely by a woman) who carried a bundle on his shoulder in which he had presumably put food and a change of clothes. The slave would be either trying to escape and get away from the treatment he/she was receiving, attempting to find his/her family, or trying to find “home” any way possible.

Robins Family Papers

Excerpt from “Robins Family Papers: 1862 Memorandum on Runaways,” 1862. Image courtesy of Courtesy of In Motion: The African-American Migration Experience

I think it is important to show actual evidence that Slaves did try to run away, numerous times and most failed, but they were persistent to get away. The memoranda presented from the In Motion: The African-American Migration Experience archive gave a deeper look into the act of running away from the slave owners’ view. To the slave owner it was business; to the slave it was a means of survival. The slaves felt they could not live being enslaved and, with great heart, many attempts were made to free themselves. The description by the slave owners that wrote these memoranda were very precise, including what clothes the slaves were wearing, where they were going, what drove them to try to escape, etc. Slave owners knew that what they were doing was wrong and knew that the slaves were homesick, but never the less, they still did all the could to recapture the slaves, punish them publically, and/or attempt to trade them off again. Slaves’ knowledge of the consequences for attempting to escape and failing was not enough to hold them back from getting away.

“Hold of a Ship,” 1854. Courtesy of In Motion: The African-American Migration Experience

“Hold of a Ship,” 1854. Courtesy of In Motion: The African-American Migration Experience

This is an oil-on-canvas painting by Ron Brown. This visual gives an illustration of the terrible conditions slaves faced as they were taken from their homeland to a new land of enslavement.  This is a visual representation of a description of a vessel by Mahommah Gardo Baquaqua: “We were thrust into the hold of the vessel in a state of nudity, the males being crammed on one side and the females on the other; the hold was so low that we could not stand up, but were obliged to crouch upon the floor or sit down; day and night were the same to us, sleep being denied us from the confined position of our bodies, and we became desperate through suffering and fatigue.” The excerpt with the visual gives you a sense of how “homesick” one might be when confined in these conditions/holds.

“Going Back to Family,” 1872. The African-American Migration Experience

“Going Back to Family,” 1872. Courtesy of In Motion: The African-American Migration Experience

This image depicts the story of a slave looking to return “home.” John Thompson, born in Virginia, was sold “down the river” to Alabama. Wanting to reunite with his family, he decided to escape in 1857. He traveled at night on top of train cars, hiding in the woods during the day. He finally reached Virginia, where he was caught and sold again. He managed to escape once more with the help of the Underground Railroad and settled in New York. Learning that his former owner was in town to arrest him, John sailed to London. The persistence of slaves to return “home” was risky, but those that had the strongest desire risked it all.

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