Advertising and the Politics of Consumption

By Alex Swann

As a result of the beauty culture in America, women could experiment in self-presentation through the availability of new beauty products, advertising, public appearances, and new aspirations for what was achievable. Gender roles and stereotypes of gender were deeply entrenched and even as female consumption grew, male dominance still often prevailed. The advertising industry often corrupted ideas of natural beauty and misled women into consuming products that weren’t for them. Also, the gender roles of the post war period were characterised by representations of the perfect American family.

 

Palmolive

“Doctors Prove Palmolive Soap… Using Nothing But Palmolive… Can Bring Lovelier Complexions!”, Palmolive, 1949, Magazine Ad., Advertising & Marketing History, Duke University

My argument is that this advert is contradictory, meant for cleansing but showing a woman plastered in make up. A central theme is ‘loveliness,’ which can’t be only described by physical beauty which is on the advert.

 

NY Rail

 “Easy does it”, New York Central Railway, National Geographic Ad, 1954, Advertising & Marketing History, Duke University

This ad shows a perfect American suburban family, with a male breadwinner and female housekeeper, at a time when females were increasingly becoming more consumers. The advert wants wealthy consumers on their transport, and promises a premium of comfort.

 

monroe

“Tru-Glo Liquid make up”, Westmore Hollywood Cosmetics, Life Magazine, 1952, Advertising & Marketing History, Duke University 

Marilyn Monroe, an icon of natural beauty, sells a cheap product and the false belief to women that if they use it they will be like her. This is a corruption of ‘natural’, a coercive way to use a celebrity to bribe people become part of this culture.

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“Safe Harbors”: On Raising Muslim American Girls

By Sylvia Chan-Malik
 
I am the mother of two mixed-race Muslim American girls, ages 7 and 5.  When my husband and I decided to have children, we agreed upon three things.  First, we would raise them as Muslims, with spiritual and ethical foundations we hoped would facilitate their growth, happiness, and fulfillment through an ability to make good choices.  Second, we wanted them to understand themselves as people of color—or alternately, as non-white—not racial anomalies, but as part of the polycultural center of this nation’s history, present, and future.  As the children of a Black American father and a Chinese American mother, we knew they would visibly be identified as Black, yet wanted—needed—them to understand both the primacy of antiblack racism and the intertwined histories that have produced what folks call “race” in this country, histories of slavery and colonialism, of immigration and exclusion, of struggle and faith.  Thirdly, we wanted to raise brave, resilient, and principled girls who would, in turn, grow up to be brave, resilient, and principled women.  For us, this meant much more than Disney-fied notions of “girl power” or stereotypical notions of female autonomy.   Such an outcome, we agreed, would require us to teach them how to know themselves and God, to crave justice, and to carve straight and honest paths towards their best destinies.   All three points were mutually codependent—one could not be without the other two—and together, these would constitute the moral and ethical foundations of the development of how we envisioned their identities as “Muslim American” women, identities we hoped and prayed would someday lead them to build alliances and seek justice with larger communities of hope and struggle.
 
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Of course, there is what you want, and what actually happens.  Most parents, I think, quickly find they are not the only source of information or guidance for their children.  The world is vast and their eyes are wide, and we live in, as rapper Mos Def says, simultaneously diabolical and marvelous times. So to speak of race and religion, gender and violence, racism and empire with children, with anyone, is a tricky business.  For those who identify as Muslim, in no small part, this is due to the fact that in the past decade, “Islam” has emerged in the nation’s racial imaginary as a series of grotesque orientalist distortions, with the terrorism and the Poor Muslim Woman at the center of these caricatures. Yet it is also because, in these same times, it has become practically impossible to talk about race, let alone racism, in the public sphere, while “feminism” is maligned by both the Tea Party and young starlets, neither of whom would be able to differentiate the second from the third from the “post-“ feminist wave if it crashed into them.  Further, and perhaps most of all, it is difficult because children—at least my children—are literal, contradictory, and wildly, amazingly imaginative: pushing against those boundaries we make to keep them safe, to guide them, to make sense, upholding those divisions we want them to tear down.  They say girls wear dresses and boys are superheroes, but they are Ninjas who do taekwondo and ballet.  They tell me they are “Half-Muslim, half-Chinese, and half-Black,” and look at me with blank stares when I try to explain the difference between race and religion.  They want to wear hijabs to school but not for prayers.  They want to be Broadways stars, artists, architects, doctors, chefs, mommies, and the President.  Someday, they say they will travel the world, but for now, they close the doors to their rooms tightly and dream.  They are protected by their privilege, but also exposed.  Nuance and irony are illusive, paradoxes abound.  And outcomes are always, maddeningly, unknown.

So how to grow these girls—and other girls like them—into strong and confident Muslim American women?  How to teach them Islam as a religion, while also explaining anti-Muslim racism, e.g. that to be Muslim in the post-9/11 U.S. means to be subjected to a process of state-sanctioned racialization?  How to express their connections to a global community of Muslims, while also emphasizing their identities as women-of-color; the continuities and intersections between their lives and Islamic feminists in Egypt, female imams in China, and with legacies of abolition and suffrage, settlement and exclusion, internment and internationalism—with all the brilliant and brave individuals who have peopled these histories?  How to explain sectarian and doctrinal differences within Islam, and the charged domestic, diasporic, and transnational contexts out of which they have grown?  How do we encourage and foster a space for them to experience themselves as what Latin American feminist liberation theologian Maria Pilar Aquina calls “a physical, psychological, and spiritual whole,” to take what African American Muslim feminist scholar Amina Wadud has called a “holistic” approach to their understanding of Islam? How to teach then Islam’s history as an American protest religion, yet, also, ineluctably, that it exceeds politics at every scale of their lives (the body, the masjid, the state, the nation, the world, the ummah)?  Finally, how do I teach my daughters, and others like them, to seek compassion and peace, to choose vast expanses, to fight for justice, to know when to rest and pray, to be fearless and persevere through both triumph and failure?   
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These questions are where I begin, and where I always seem to return, in my work as a teacher and scholar. They drive my research and writing about this history of Islam in the United States, about race, empire, gender, and justice.  As the recent work on affect within scholarly discourse reveals, what we feel is inextricable from state power; that issues of safety and intimacy are, and have long been, determined by frameworks of colonialism, imperialism, and nation-making. Thus, theoretically and practically, I want to know: how do we equip Muslim American girls to become Muslim American women in the post-9/11 United States with what Toni Morrison, in her novel Sula, called “a safe harbor”—a place between girls where they can “afford to abandon the ways of other people and concentrate on their own perceptions of things”?  Can girls like my daughters ever abandon the ways of others and concentrate on and deeply feel their own perceptions of things?  In an age of social media, of the endless news cycle, when we voluntarily carry hand-held tracking-devices and relentlessly document our lives, do safe harbors even exist?  If so, what do they feel like?  Look like?  Are they political, social, cultural, psychological, emotional?  And if one chooses to raise children as Muslims in the U.S., does—should—“Islam” constitute a safe harbor?  In an age of surveillance, terror, white supremacy, is this possible?  What is the relationship between religion and safety, choice and doctrine, belief and will?  And how to tease out these relationships in, to borrow more words from Toni Morrison, the “wholly racialized” spaces of the United States?These are the questions I pursue in my current book manuscript Insurgent Traditions: Race, Gender, and Islam in the United States, 1923-2013.  In it, I explore how Islam and Muslims in the U.S. have been continually constituted through what I call the insurgent traditions of American Islam. The term denotes how being Muslim in the United States is always bound to being insurgent and tropes of insurgency; both in how Islam and Muslims are perceived as insurgent and how to be Muslim and/or to be associated with Islam is to participate in various forms of insurgency, whether voluntary and involuntary, intentional and unintentional. Throughout, I situate Muslim women as central to an analysis Islam’s racialized, religious, and gendered presence in the U.S. and to the formation of Muslim American subjectivities and identities. I  argue that Muslim women in the U.S.—working within, against, and across categories of racial and ethnic difference—have critically shaped Islam’s meanings as an insurgent racial-religious-gendered presence in the national imaginary, and have acted as primary architects and agents of ways of being, feeling, acting, and living “Muslim,” all of which are critical, I contend, to identifying and understanding Islam’s insurgent traditions in the U.S.  In doing so, in my own small way, I hope to carve out a “safe harbor” for my girls and all the other girls like them, one that allows them to have their own perceptions of things and to express themselves vastly and expansively as Muslim American women.

 

Prostitution and its Paradoxes

By Leslie Fishbein

I started writing about prostitution because I found American attitudes toward it paradoxical. The radical writers and artists who contributed their work to The Masses, a socialist literary and political magazine published in Greenwich Village from 1911-1917, and also the subjects of my first book, Rebels in Bohemia, should have condemned prostitution as a product of capitalist greed but instead they glamorized it and celebrated prostitutes as emblems of sexual freedom, as in this 1907 John Sloan painting of elegantly attired prostitutes entering the Haymarket Saloon.

The Haymarket

The Haymarket, 1907. Reproduced image courtesy of Ephemeral New York.

As I explored popular representations of prostitutes, I began to wonder about what prostitutes and madams thought about these representations and how they conceptualized their own situation.  As a result, I began reading their memoirs and interviews and viewing documentary films and docudramas focusing on them. As a result, I learned about the notorious Manhattan madam Polly Adler, whose clients included gangsters Charles “Lucky” Luciano and Dutch Schultz, boxer Jack Dempsey, New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker, and members of the Algonquin Round Table, a coterie of writers and journalists that included Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley.

Adler

Polly Adler shields her face as she exits court. Courtesy of the New York Daily News.

I also began to investigate prostitutes’ rights organizations beginning with C.O.Y.O.T.E. (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics), founded by Margo St. James in San Francisco on Mother’s Day in 1973.

Coyote

C.O.Y.O.T.E. buttons. Courtesy of Busy Beaver Button Co.

Again there were many paradoxes.  C.O.Y.O.T.E. included many non-prostitutes among its membership.  In fact, according to the C.O.Y.O.T.E. records on file at the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe, “in 1975 only 60 of COYOTE’s 8500 members admitted to being prostitutes; most members were educated, white, middle-class women.”  Clearly the prostitutes’ rights movement spoke to sexual and gender concerns of non-prostitute women, possibly even more compellingly than it spoke to prostitutes themselves.  Also, while C.O.Y.O.T.E. engaged in serious and substantial educational campaigns, including AIDS education and debunking the myth that prostitutes were primarily responsible for the spread of venereal disease, the organization used the kind of humor to advance its cause that would be likely to offend potential donors and supporters (as can be seen by the propaganda buttons above).

While sociologists may classify prostitutes as social deviants, my research indicates that often they have influenced mainstream culture.

A case in point is the widespread popularity of the 1961 Hollywood film version of Truman Capote’s 1959 novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s.   While Holly Golightly clearly is a lady of the evening who sustains her bohemian life style by accepting men’s fifty dollar tips for the ladies’ room, Holly has been transformed into an icon of style – what fashionable woman is without a variant of the Givenchy “little black dress” that Hepburn helped to popularize via the film? – and her image has been transformed into paper dolls with which little girls play despite the morally dubious source of support for her fashion.

Hepburn

Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

What I have learned from my research is that initial appearances can be deceiving and that culture and society are often shaped by irrational forces of which social actors are not always fully conscious.

While we tend to be aware of the ways in which prostitutes have been exploited sexually, we fail to realize the degree to which they also have been exploited as a means of addressing social and cultural tensions that we fail to confront directly.

Freedom and the Digital Frontier

"Internet Freedom," Cravens World

“Internet Freedom,” Cravens World

In 1994, John Perry Barlow published a prophetic essay in Computerworld College Edition titled “Jack In, Young Pioneer” (available here), in which he outlined how he and his fellows humans were being

“swallowed by the cultural superorganism of digital technology, a beast now well beyond anyone’s control… slouching off to Cyberspace with us in its belly.”

Even in the mid-1990s, when many American colleges and universities were first establishing email accounts and servers  for students, Barlow was aware that even at that early stage of the digital revolution, most of our everyday lives were governed directly or indirectly through our interactions with what he calls “Cyberspace.” Barlow, who had run a ranch in Wyoming, described his own encounter with new forms of technology as one in which he had no choice but to surrender, since he:

was as culturally doomed as the Tasaday of New Guinea. Technology had so empowered my competitors with fertilizer, growth hormones, and computerized futures hedging programs, that only a few of us were necessary to feed those remaining Americans who still eat beef. Such atavistic practices as mine were like stone axes against smart bombs.

Barlow relies on the myth of the frontier, to explain the significance of the new digital frontier that ” we are all going [to] whether we want to or not.”

He writes that,

“Misfits and dreamers, rejected by or rejecting society, are pushed out into the margins. There they set up camp and maintain what little order they want in it by unwritten codes, the honor of thieves, the Code of the West.

Despite their usual haplessness, they discover resources and start exploiting them. Burghers and boosters back in the civilized regions hear of these discoveries. Settlers, a milder sort, come in with their women and children and are repelled by the savagery and license of their predecessors, whether mountain men, prospectors, or Indians. They send for troops to secure the frontier for the Rotary Club and the PTA. They elect representatives, pass laws, and, pretty soon, they’ve created another place which is boring but which at least appears predictable.”

His cartoon-ish history of society’s conquest of the frontier, and its transformation from a place of independent individuals bound by nothing more than honor, codes, and pledges to the banal, conformity of suburbia, is troubling for a number of reasons, not the least of which for its reversal of causality. Without state investment in railroads, military conquests of indigenous lands, and capital investment from cities such as New York and London, there is no frontier. It is unclear who occupies Barlow’s imagined camps. For every misfit and dreamer who landed in the West, there were many more whose initial arrival on the frontier was enabled by the very forces Barlow claims came only subsequently.

Barlow’s problematic use of the frontier aside – he is certainly not the first – his fascinating personal history, and the backgrounds that explain his initial involvement in debates on the freedom of the internet, are worth noting. He was, among other things (see a fascinating biography, preserved as an artifact of the earlier Internet, here), a lyricist for the Grateful Dead. A favorite song that he wrote is “Cassidy” from 1970.

“Cassidy,” though named after the recently born daughter of the band’s office manager, is also a reference to Neal Cassady, the drug-using, constantly riffing, and always wandering bisexual muse of the Beat Generation, who appears as Dean Moriarty in  Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road. As with many things Barlow, it is a statement about freedom, in Cassidy’s case what being a free spirit might mean to her as she enters the world, and a reflection on Cassady, who had embodied a particular idea of a person who lived freely, in opposition to social norms, yet had died two years earlier at only the age of 41. (Or at least this is one popular interpretation. According to the comments section of this discussion, on the Dead’s official website, cats may have something to do with the story as well. Narrative form in a Deadhead comments section follows its own rhythms.)

A super groovy Grateful Dead poster for a 1967 show at the Fillmore West in San Francisco. I wonder what Barlow would think of the watermark tag on this poster, signifying its "ownership" by the Vault, which will also sell you a reproduced hard copy of the poster. They might own the real property here in the form of the poster they made this quality scan of, but should they be able to claim every reproduction - not matter how intangibly - that is distributed across the internet?

A super groovy Grateful Dead poster for a 1967 show at the Fillmore West in San Francisco. We take for granted the ability to circulate an image like this, using simple functions like cutting and pasting, or with digital files, by transmitting bit torrents, but this ability to reproduce and duplicate cultural information is quite novel. Bootlegging novels in the 18th century, for example, required the ownership of a printing press and therefore significant capital investment in equipment and education in the skills needed to work that equipment. Not so anymore. For a fascinating history of piracy and accompanying legal and philosophical debates about the cultural and intellectual ownership of property, see Adrian Johns’ wonderful book Piracy.

Rather than discourage bootlegging at their shows, which many bands did – at the behest of record labels, who believed that unauthorized recordings cut into potential profits – the Grateful Dead encouraged the practice. As one anecdote goes, the band, upon observing a fan using equipment to record a live performance at the Hollywood Palladium in 1970, instructed, “You, with the microphone, if you want a good recording, you’ll need to move back about forty feet.”.

An NPR segment explores how bands make royalties on their intellectual property.

In a 1994 Wired article titled “The Economy of Ideas,” Barlow noted that

In regard to my own soft product, rock ‘n’ roll songs, there is no question that the band I write them for, the Grateful Dead, has increased its popularity enormously by giving them away. We have been letting people tape our concerts since the early seventies, but instead of reducing the demand for our product, we are now the largest concert draw in America, a fact that is at least in part attributable to the popularity generated by those tapes.

True, I don’t get any royalties on the millions of copies of my songs which have been extracted from concerts, but I see no reason to complain. The fact is, no one but the Grateful Dead can perform a Grateful Dead song, so if you want the experience and not its thin projection, you have to buy a ticket from us. In other words, our intellectual property protection derives from our being the only real-time source of it.

For Barlow, so long as the embodied experience, the one that took place in real time, possessed exchange value,  distributing its analog counterpart only served to promote the real product.

The policy that the Grateful Dead and its representatives pursue today is that Soundboard recordings, coordinated by the band, which have also been released as master versions by record labels, are available, but only streaming and not as downloads. Recordings made by audience members are available for download. All of this is organized on the Internet Archive, the “non-profit  digital library with the stated mission of ‘universal access to all knowledge.'” (The Dead’s page is here.)

The homepage for the Grateful Dead Internet Archive collection of streamable and downloadable music.

The homepage for the Grateful Dead Internet Archive collection of streamable and downloadable music.

 The site is a playland for Deadheads, catering to fans’ collective obsession with cataloging and tracing performance patterns. Nick Paumgarten, a New Yorker music critic and devotee, gives thirteen of his favorite recordings of live concerts here. The 1974 show he references in Oregon has a lovely version of “I Know You Rider.” Be sure to listen at the end of the song to the surreal announcement that fire trucks will be driving around providing water to thirsty Deadheads, who are instructed not to be alarmed by their presence. Despite the site’s rich offerings, as my above link to the YouTube video of “Cassidy” demonstrates – and as Barlow more than anyone knows and appreciates – distribution on the Internet remains a place in which rules of conduct apply only loosely.

Rainey Reitman, "Computer Search and Seizure: A Three-Panel Cartoon," Electronic Frontier Foundation

Rainey Reitman, “Computer Search and Seizure: A Three-Panel Cartoon,” Electronic Frontier Foundation

Barlow is a co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a name that borrows from his influential essay. The EFF is one of the most prominent non-profit defenders of the legal rights and freedoms of Internet “free speech, privacy, innovation, and consumer rights.” Just two days ago, the EFF reported on the testimony it had compiled and provided to a federal judge in the case of First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles v. NSA, on how the National Security Agency “Surveillance Chilled the Right to Association.” The long strange trip continues…