Pieces of Home

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. Image

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.

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 Sabrina

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/

Consumerism in the Home

By: Sabrina Lauredent

Consumer products have always been marketed towards a specific audience to effectively influence the potential consumer, and of course increase the sales of the product. Marketing the product is done strategically in the sense that it recognizes or even creates a need within the potential consumer, by reflecting on the current ideals of a period. Corporations and industries, for example, historically target women with products aimed to “lighten” or decrease the difficulty involved in domestic housework, from meals to vacuuming. Corporations even went as far as to export domestic housework to local community kitchens and commercial Laundromats. However these innovations failed to attract many of their intended consumers, as they still preferred to do this work at home. Within “The Roads Not Taken,” Ruth Schwartz Cowan explains that the “allocation of housework to women is a social convention which developed during the nineteenth century because of a specific set of material and cultural conditions” (150). It is embedded in our daily conscious and still hard to change even in contemporary society. Despite advances in technology, duties like laundry, making meals, etc., remained concentrated in the home to preserve what essentially belongs in the home.

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“To lighten the labor of your home,” 1919. Courtesy of Harvard University Library 

This advertisement details the duties of the woman, possibly the wife of the home. Within the ad, the woman can be seen performing various duties around the home from washing, sewing, and so much more.  This woman has various roles in her home and is able to complete them in a timely manner with the addition of an iron, washing machine, and even a fan. These additional supplies allow her to keep her home clean, reduce the amount of labor involved and maintain a proper appearance as the woman of the home. The caption, “To Lighten the Labor of your Home” serves to emphasize that these duties are concentrated in the home, a place of comfort and with the insurance of privacy.

Consumer products and items often establish and enforce concepts of the time. Ted Steinberg, in his article “The Color of Money,” details the evolution of the American lawn and how it essentially enhanced the thoughts of the home and emphasized the American Dream. Lawns were becoming greener and greener and also served as a symbol for suburban culture. The advertisement below further emphasizes the role of the American lawn and the care that was involved in its maintenance.

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“Burgie Beer,” 1960. Courtesy of AdFlip

Here you can see a couple tending to their lawn, the woman cultivating her garden of flowers, protecting her hands from the grass and the man mowing the lawn reaching for a beer. This advertisement furthers the ideals of the lawn while also enforcing the ideal roles of a man and a women, even outdoors. The woman is portraying the ideals of beauty and lady-like behavior with her appearance and use of gloves. The man is partaking in “manly” behaviors as he is performing the traditionally masculine duty of mowing the lawn and rewarding himself with a beer.

Advertisements of consumer products can also serve to reflect paradigm shifts in society. During the period of the late 1960s and on, women’s rights became a main topic of discussion in American society. Women expanded their roles inside and outside of the home, taking on roles in the workforce while also maintaining their role in the home. The advertisement below is for a floor cleaner, and depicts a woman leaning  on a bow with arrows at her side, standing on top of a clean floor within her home. The caption above emphasizes the change in environment for women as they are no longer restricted to the home, they have “more exciting things to do than scrub floors.” The advertisement is building on the changes in society as a way of marketing their product and making it more attractive to its potential consumers. It also serves to establish a new social norm for its audience: that woman can maintain a clean home and an active lifestyle.

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 Armstrong Flooring, May 1967. Courtesy of AdFlip

 

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/.

Finding Your Way Home

Finding Your Way Home 

By Sabrina Lauredent

There are several ways to define home, ranging from “one’s place of residence” to a “place of origin;” home is most often defined in regards to a person’s physical location. However, home can be both a physical and mental location. One definition that encompasses this thought describes home as being a “familiar or usual setting; congenial environment: also the focus of one’s domestic attention” (Merriam-Webster). For many, throughout several generations, “home” is where loved ones, places, smells, and more reside; it could be the house on the hill, a spot in the coffee shop, or a moment in time. Overall, home can be described as a place in which one feels comfortable, relaxed, the place one stays until they leave, if they ever do. Either voluntarily or coerced, the act of leaving home inevitably leads to the feeling of homesickness; the yearning for comfort and familiarity.  Upon leaving home, each group in every generation, across all cultures, did their best to find their way back “home” to overcome their homesickness. Through writing, songs, dances, clubs, or even Skype, people have attempted and often succeeded in bringing parts of their past and culture to the communities they resided in.

Though far from home, often thousands of miles away, migrants, travelers, students, etc. brought pieces of home with them to their new settlements. Whether it was a shrine, artifact or pictures of their family, something familiar existed in an unfamiliar place making them more at ease and more “at home.” Eventually, with the help of these artifacts and connections with communities, new homes were established. Such was the case with several students parting ways during graduation at their boarding school. “…It was not an easy thing to say goodbye to friends who shared a brotherhood and sustained one another through periods of dejection…saying goodbye was a re-enactment of the day the bond with their mothers and fathers was sundered with ‘Goodbye’” (Archuleta et al, 51). Despite calling the place of their origin home, these students were able to create a new home – a place where they were comfortable and familiar – by forming bonds and gaining a sense of community with those around them.

Other cultures were able to find their way “home” by bringing parts of their culture to their new settlement. Such is the case of Chinese immigrants in California as they re-enacted festivals from their homeland. The discrimination Chinese immigrants faced led to the development of communities in which they were able to recreate and practice their beliefs and cultural festivities like the Lunar New Year.

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Chinese Dragon, May 2, 1902. Image Courtesy of The Library of Congress: American Memory: Immigration, American Expansion

The picture above depicts Chinese immigrants in California, participating in a festival featuring their cultural dragon. Each participant is carrying a part of the dragon together as a community.

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Chinese girl of today” Mar. 1922 Courtesy of The Library of Congress: American Memory: Immigration, American Expansion

The photo above depicts an Asian American woman applying traditional makeup for what seems to be a festival. Although in a different country, she maintains her cultural practices through festivities like the one she is preparing for. In a new country she is still able to express her heritage with beauty and pride.

 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.