Tradition in a Changing Society

By: William Whitehurst

Society has the tendency to go through cycles of changes based on people’s shared values, ideas, attitudes, and assumptions. These cycles of change come with the introduction of new laws, trends, and technologies. A time period can be analyzed by the things that a society holds at a high value. Before this fast-paced sharing of information and vast amounts of technology, people used to build relationships, whether business or personal, through face-to-face communication. The main things they valued included family and loyalty. Today, it is clear that technology and reputation are the two things that our society values the most. Computers, cell phones, and tablets rule the virtual world and make it easy to communicate over multiple platforms. Through these devices, coupled with social media, one is always represented online in some way, shape, or form. Social media has become the biggest platform for personal expression and it is has become all too easy to share personal information. With dozens of social media sites and even more devices, it has become a daily routine for one to post their day-to-day activities. The reason for sharing such personal information in abundance is trying to keep or build one’s own reputation, which is an attitude that is shared by many people. In fact, regardless if whether one is rich or poor, keeping one’s reputation is something that is universally valued. Jackie Siegel can certainly attest to this. Even when her family was going through a rough time, she would still try to keep up the appearance that nothing was wrong. She did this to keep her and her family’s reputation in tact (Queen of Versailles). Today’s society has a need for public gratification and acceptance, and will go through great lengths to achieve that.

The items I selected show us that people are becoming more introverted due to the many advancements in technologies. The steady decline of face-to-face communication is an unforeseen consequence of these new technologies. However, for the time being, the positives outweigh the negatives and technology keeps our society plugged into the outside world at all times. Though it seems that we are straying away from traditional ways of living and communicating, people still value certain practices and traditions. This is why the third item I choose is so different from the first two, yet just as important. As Cvetkovich states, “In insisting on the value of apparently marginal or ephemeral materials, the collectors of gay and lesbian archives propose that affects — associated with nostalgia, personal memory, fantasy, and trauma — make a document significant” (Cvetkovich 112). The meaningful message of this quote is to highlight the fact that anything that causes someone joy, pain, or any type of significant emotion, is deemed as a significant item. This is interesting because although we are all guilty of living in the moment and trying to stay up to date with everything that is relevant, we all as a society still tend to share some traditional values from time to time. We all have that one old, worn, or torn item that is special to us for our own reasons. I think that this is important for everyone in a society to have because it keeps one level-headed and down to earth, just like the Hershey bar did for David Siegel (Queen of Versailles). No matter how advanced the world becomes or how many times our society will change, there will always be an old childhood item that keeps a little tradition sprinkled into our ever-growing technological world.

 

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I chose this item because it is the door into the digital and virtual universe. A computer not only allow you to delve into the World Wide Web, but it also allows you to store any and all documents, music, movies, pictures, and files that you could ever need. This machine is one of the most important items that anyone could have in this day and age. Owning a computer has endless advantages and will give you access to mostly anything you want to find. This is important in a world where information is being created and processed at an exponential level. The main thing that choosing this item highlights is the fact that our society has an intense need for information and being up to date and in the know.

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Today, it has become almost impossible to find a person that does not have a cell phone. The reason for this is because land lines have become a thing of the past and the primary means of communication is through the use of a cellular device. This, in turn, tells us that people need a device that they can have with them at all times to stay in touch with the outside world. There is a massive epidemic of fear of missing out and it has effected a majority of the world.

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I chose this necklace because it is a very important item to me. It represents who I am and brings me back to my childhood every time I look at it. This necklace was given to me as a baby by my grandmother. I have cherished and taken care of this necklace for as long as I can remember. Every single person has such an item that brings them back to when they first received it or to whom it was that gave it to them. Society cherishes personal items that have meaning and place special value onto things that they feel are important to them. This is one of the very few things that has remained unchanged in our society. This is due to tradition and following in the footsteps of our elders.

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/

Selling to our Emotions: How Advertisements Shape our Lives

By: William Whitehurst

Cig Ad

“[Viceroys],” [1950]. Image Courtesy of [assetd]

Advertisements, in many ways, are an enormous part of our everyday lives. Not only do they keep you in touch with what the latest and greatest products and services are, but they also create and display American normalities and ways of living. Over time, companies and advertising agencies became smarter in the selling of their products. They finally found that selling the idea of better living and selling to people’s emotions are the most effective ways to gain and retain the attention of people viewing their ads. “General Electric was not alone, either in these outlandish promotional schemes or in its efforts to develop a successful compression refrigerator; the other major refrigerator manufacturers, just as anxious to attract consumer attention, were just as willing to spend money on advertising and promotion. The electric utility companies, which were then in a most expansive and profitable phase of their history, cooperated in selling both refrigerators and the idea of mechanical refrigeration to their customers” (Cowen 138).

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“[Bell Telephone System],” [1954]. Image Courtesy of [apopofpretty]

This advertisement, by the Bell Telephone System, is a portrayal of women in the home. The ad shows a woman in the kitchen on her brand new pink telephone. Her two children, boy and girl, are happily helping her bake a chocolate cake while she takes a brake from cooking to use her new phone. This is a very interesting ad because it is not telling women that they should have this telephone, but it is implying that women need a kitchen extension phone. If they do not have one, then they will not be as happy as the woman in the picture. Woman also will apparently not be able to run their home properly nor be able to keep the biscuits from burning if they do not purchase this convenient phone, as the ad suggests. The ad then goes on to conform to the typical gender norms by saying, “Since the kitchen is where you spend so much time, it makes sense to have a telephone handy.”

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“[War Bonds],” [1941]. Image Courtesy of [dailystormer]

This advertisement is very interesting because it is a propaganda poster that was used to instill fear into Americans during war times. In times of war, fear is the easiest emotion to sell to. In this ad, it is clear that the creator had every intention to use fear and shock value as their main attention grabber. No one would want their wife under attack, therefore, the only way to save her and protect your family would be to invest in war bonds. This, in turn, would “Keep this horror away from your home.”

Good advertisements make you believe that if you buy their product, it will in some way enhance your standard of living and make you feel more comfortable at home than ever before. “In the postwar years, investing in one’s own home, along with the trappings that would enhance family life, seemed the best way to plan for the future. Instead of rampant spending for personal luxury items, Americans were likely to spend their money at home” (May 157). Being that the home is a person’s personal domain and the place they feel the most comfortable, it would only make sense that companies appeal to this and exploit the emotion of feeling comfortable at home.

Hoover 115

“[Hoover 115],” [1949]. Image Courtesy of [kcmeesha]

This advertisement is an ad that is clearly intended for women. The main message of this ad reads, “Lucky the Lady who owns the handiest cleaner in America.” This is a very interesting ad because not only does it define women as the only people who should be vacuuming and cleaning, but it also suggests that buying this vacuum cleaner is essential for your home and your happiness. According to the ad, “You’ll be happier with a Hoover.” The ad then goes on to tell all the women reading it that it “will really be your pet” and that it is very manageable and easy to use. However, the most interesting part of the ad is where it reads, “Yet what a man-size job the new Hoover 115 does!” This is intriguing because although this ad is targeted toward women it goes on to say that it does a man-sized job, to infer that it is powerful and strong, like a man, and does a good “man-sized” job. This further speaks to the gender roles and ways that advertisements shape our lives.

Instead of analyzing the product or service that is being advertised, people are more concerned with the name brand, how popular it is, and if other people will like the item when they buy it. It has become more about whether it will boost your socio-status than if the product is actually good or not. “In 1964, the comedian Alan Sherman came up with a recipe for achieving instant stature in the suburbs, ‘Just paint your grass,’ he advised. Sherman was joking, but as Newsweek reported, the quest for perfection was no laughing matter: ‘Last week an easy-to-apply green grass paint was selling in some 35 states’” (Steinberg 70). From what kind of vacuum one has to how green their grass is, pursuing the perfection of home is always something that every homeowner is chasing. This is all thanks to advertising and is the reason why domesticity can be understood as an act of consumption.

References:

1. Ruth Schwartz Cowan, “The Roads Not Taken: Alternative Social and Technical Approaches to Housework,” in More Work for Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Heath to the Microwave (1983)

2. Elaine Tyler May, “The Commodity Gap: Consumerism and the Modern Home,” in Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era (1990)

3. Ted Steinberg, “The Color of Money,” from American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn (2007)

4. http://apopofpretty.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/bell-telephone-system1from-well-medicatedcom.jpg

5. http://kcmeesha.com/2011/11/20/old-ads-electrics-and-electronics/

6. http://www.dailystormer.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Anti-Japanese_World_War_II_propaganda_poster_war_bonds.jpg

7. http://asset-d.soup.io/asset/0749/6549_d6a4_960.jpeg

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 True Pioneer: Ray Charles and his Vast Influence on Music

Ray (2004)

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Ray is a 2004 biographical film focusing on 30 years of the life of rhythm and blues musician Ray Charles. The independently produced film was directed by Taylor Hackford and stars Jamie Foxx in the title role. Raised in Northern Florida on a sharecropping plantation, Ray Charles Robinson went blind at the age of seven due to glaucoma. Shortly before going blind, Ray Charles witnessed his younger brother fall and drown in a big metal tub of water. Greatly influenced by his strong and independent mother, who insisted he make his own way in the world, Charles found his calling and his amazing talent behind a piano keyboard. While touring across the chitlin circuit, Ray Charles gained a large following and began to gain a reputation. However, it was with his ingenious introduction of the incorporation of gospel, country, jazz, and orchestral influences into his unparalleled style that earned Ray Charles worldwide fame.

Throughout the film, Ray Charles’ mother, Aretha, sparingly appears and plays an important role in the shaping of Ray Charles. She strictly instilled in him to never be intimidated by his blindness nor let anyone take advantage of his blindness. She was not well educated and had very little money, yet, she insisted that Charles attend the school for the blind, which she knew would help him on his way. Many years later, Ray Charles heads for Seattle after hearing about the club scene. The film portrays Charles discovering his sound in Seattle after he leaves his native Georgia. While in Seattle, he also has his first encounter with the Seattle teenager Quincy Jones. This, along with his friendship with a dwarf emcee named Oberon, who introduced him to marijuana, was one of the most crucial events in his life. One reason is because Quincy Jones is who gives Ray Charles his big break. The second, is because this introduction to marijuana is later the gateway into Ray Charles’ drug abuse which he deals with throughout most of his career.

In the beginning of his career, Ray Charles aspired to sound like one his biggest idols: Nat “King” Cole. However, after much criticism, Charles went back to his roots and decided to fuse his gospel foundations with his current style of rhythm and blues. Thus, creating and discovering a brand new sound that people immediately fell in love with. Essentially, Ray Charles invented what is now known as soul music and can be found in his early recordings such as, “I Got a Woman.” This record is the first record that skyrocketed him in stardom and brought him to national prominence. It was Charles’ first number one R&B hit on Atlantic Records.

Ray Charles reached the apex of his success at Atlantic with the spontaneously composed release of, “What’d I Say.” This song was a complex work of art that combined blues, jazz, Latin, and gospel music all in one. Charles got the idea for this song while performing in clubs and dances with his small band. The song was controversial and some radio stations even banned the song because of its sexually suggestive lyrics. However, the song became a crossover top ten pop record which was Charles’ first record to do so.

Ray Charles went on to record three more albums for the label including a jazz record, The Genius After Hours, a blues record, The Genius Sings the Blues, and a traditional pop/ big band record, The Genius of Ray Charles. The Genius of Ray Charles was his first top 40 album entry in which it peaked at Number 17. This was a landmark record in Ray’s career because this then lead to the end of his run with Atlantic and onto his huge contract deal with ABC-Paramount Records, abandoning his longtime relationship with his label-mates at Atlantic Records.

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His contract with ABC-Paramount Records, which was apparently better than what Sinatra was getting, allowed for Charles to have much more liberty than he previously had. They offered him higher royalties than previously offered and eventual ownership of his masters, which is very rare at that time. During his Atlantic years, Ray Charles was very well known for his own creative and innovative compositions, however, after some time with his new label, Charles had virtually given up on writing original material and had begun to follow a different career path, showing off his range and versatility.

With his first hit single for ABC-Paramount, Charles received national acclaim and a Grammy Award for his most famous song, “Georgia on My Mind.” Charles also earned another Grammy and even more fame for the follow-up record, “Hit the Road Jack.” By late 1961, Ray Charles had grown from his small beginnings in Georgia to one of the biggest and most versatile musicians in the entire world. His small road ensemble suddenly transformed into a full-scale big band. This, of course, was due to his new contract, touring fees, and increasing royalties. Ray Charles eventually became one of the few black artists to crossover into mainstream pop with such a level of creative control.

This success, however, came to a brief standstill in November of 1961, as the police search the hotel of Ray Charles in Indianapolis, Indiana, during a concert tour that led to the discovery of heroin in his medicine cabinet. The case was eventually dropped, as the search lacked a proper warrant by the police, and Charles soon returned his focus on music and recording. He later records his 1962 album, Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music and its sequel Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, Vol. 2, which helped to bring country into the mainstream of music. Shortly after, Ray Charles is arrested for possession of heroin and Charles’ career is once again halted. To avoid jail time Charles elects to go to rehab facility in where he eventually drops his habit of shooting up. While in rehab, he has a flashback of his mother that is the supposed catalyst in helping him fully recover.

The film concludes in 1979 with Charles off of drugs for good and receiving his most prestigious accomplishment. In this year, the state of Georgia officially makes, “Georgia On My Mind,” the official state song. The movie ends with Ray, Della, and their three grown sons receiving applause after Ray performs the song before a live audience.

By the end of his career, Ray Charles accomplished more things than anyone could have ever imagined, all while having to deal with the adversity of being blind and overcoming a serious drug addiction. However, his numerous Grammys and his millions and millions of records sold still does not add up to the more important contributions that he left for the world. Charles’ creation of a brand new genre fusing jazz, gospel, latin music, and rhythm and blues is a much further reaching accomplishment for the music world as a whole. Furthermore, Ray Charles open the door for more African American acts to become more mainstream, and, more specifically, blind African American acts such as Stevie Wonder. Ray Charles’ success is far reaching and touches a multitude of different horizons.

I chose to view the film, Ray, and do the blog on it because I find Ray Charles’ story fascinating. When I first viewed the film back in 2004, I was astonished by one, Jamie Foxx’s spot on portrayal of Ray Charles, and two, how much tragedy, drugs, sex, and violence Ray experienced in his life. I had no idea of how influential Ray Charles was until this film and I also gained much more of a respect for his catalog of music, especially after view his triumphs over tragedy. I believe this film gives a very fair view of his life and career. In fact, he worked closely with the production of this film before he passed away months before its release. The film shows the good and the bad of Ray Charles, therefore, I believe it gave a fair and balanced look. He approved of everything that was being portrayed so I do not believe there is any bias.

References

1. “Why Ray Charles Matters.” Blogcritics. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2014.

2. “Ray Charles Biography at Black History Now.” Black Heritage Commemorative Society Ray Charles Comments. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2014.

3. “Ray Movie Review & Film Summary (2004) | Roger Ebert.” All Content. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2014.

4. “Ray Charles – Biography, History, Bio, Life, Career, Facts, Awards.” Ray Charles – Biography, History, Bio, Life, Career, Facts, Awards. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2014.

The Commodification of Homesickness: A Gift and a Curse

By Will Whitehurst

Homesickness was first thought of as a disease before it acquired its formal definition today. People thought that if an individual was experiencing homesickness they had a problem that needed to be fixed. It was thought that homesickness held people back from traveling the world, finding better opportunities, and maximize their human capital. Furthermore, the media would instill in the population that homesickness hindered men from leaving home, becoming strong independent individuals, and that being homesick shows weakness. For example, if a man was in the military and he showed signs of homesickness, he may be heckled and thought that he was not fit to complete his mission. In Homesickness: An American History, by Susan J. Matt, she explains how the media portrayed homesickness. She notes, “One sign of this anxiety was the attention that newspapers paid to the problem of homesickness, often publishing dramatic accounts of the sad fates of melancholy migrants” (Matt, Kindle Locations 851-853). With this kind of media publicity, it is no wonder why migrants were fearful of leaving home and believed that they were doing something wrong when they did so. Matt notes multiple newspapers that told a multitude of negative accounts of people who were apparently plagued by homesickness. There was a story about a Portuguese boy who threw himself overboard off of a ship while migrating in hopes to find a ship back home. There were also other tales that newspapers mainly focused on, like homesickness prompting suicides. She notes, “For example…In 1819, on a voyage from Africa to Guadeloupe, many of the slaves onboard began to suffer from disease…many of those Negroes, affected with Nostalgia (that is a passionate desire to revisit their native land), threw themselves into the sea, locked in each other’s arms” (Matt, Kindle Locations 859-862). It is very interesting to think about why newspapers and the media wanted to link homesickness with such negative connotations, and when the tide finally changed for homesickness to become something one cherished.

The commodification of homesickness is where it all began. Matt states, “Entrepreneurial immigrants were the first to pay attention to the market opportunities that homesickness represented. They found there was a substantial profit to be made by selling the sights and tastes of home to their fellow immigrants who hungered for them” (Matt, Kindle Locations 3283-3284). Once people realized that they can profit off of this feeling, homesickness became something that one could delve into and enjoy. An advantage that commodifying homesickness provides is the exposure of other cultures through letting them practice parades and rituals for the American population. Instead of thinking of homesickness as a disease or a curse, people now think of homesickness as a feeling, closely related to nostalgia, that gives an individual a bittersweet feeling and a longing for someone or something of the past. It is important to note that homesickness depends on the individual and it is solely a subjective feeling that can effect anyone in a number of different ways. Therefore, although homesickness changed from being a curse to a gift because of commodification, homesickness is still a subjective feeling that can give positive and negative effects based on the individual.

“The night before my eye operation, I was restless, and couldn’t fall asleep. I kept imagining what it would be like to see again. I would be able to see beautiful flowers, dappled colors of butterflies, and golden leaves of different trees, when they turn in the fall. I would be able to see the faces of all my friends, especially the man I love. The moment I could see, I would be so happy that my feet would never touch the ground. Night finally fell upon me, I closed my eyes. Like a moving picture, I saw my village standing alone under the vast oriental sky surrounded by acres and acres of farming land. The name of my village is Xuan-Canh.” (Chapter 1, Page 1)

“At the beginning, the French soldiers were raiding the village once a week, then twice a week. As the days went by, they came back more often. The situation was getting worse. They were not only searching for the Viet Cong, but they destroyed the property, and killed the animals maliciously. When the people returned home after the soldiers left, they found rice thrown on the ground, and parts of the animals were scattered everywhere. They had a big mess to clean up. Since the people were living in fear, they began to think about fleeing from the village. By the end of November, most of the villagers had left. Some moved to other villages far from home; some of them moved into the city where peace was found.” (Chapter 2, Page 19)

Excerpts from “Miles From Home,” 1948.

I chose these two quotes out of the book Miles From Home, by Anna Kim-Lan McCauley, because it supports my main claim that homesickness is a subjective feeling that can effect an individual in a number of different ways. In the first quote, the author is writing in first person speaking about how she felt the night before she was going to undergo an eye operation. It is usually in times like these, times when you are going through something drastic, that one tends to do a lot of thinking and start to long for things that make them happy and comfortable. McCauley starts talking about how much she wants to see her friends, her significant other, and longs for her home village which she describes in great detail. This type of longing is in a positive light and she is using this as a motivation to get through her operation. On the contrary, the second quote warrants a negative feeling when thinking about home. French soldiers used to raid a village that the author lived by, destroying property and killing animals maliciously. When villagers returned home, they would see the parts of animals scattered everywhere. They literally had to live in their home in fear. This is why when these villagers have negative feelings when it comes to homesickness and will always feel differently than someone who did not have to go through the same thing.

“Traditional Chinese festivals provided other occasions where the community gathered together to celebrate. The Chinese in California continued to observe the lunar New Year in the traditional manner. This important festival was celebrated with elaborate display and plenty of exuberance. Songs, music, and theater were regular leisure activities in the community. Chinese theater was an important cultural event…The Chinese American community availed themselves of traditional medicine as did others. The Chinese understanding of plants used for medicinal purposes was an important component of how society treat injury and disease in the 19th century American west.”

Excerpt from “The Chinese in California,” 1850-1925.

I chose to use this excerpt from The Library of Congress because it relates very well to my assessment that through the commodification of homesickness, the American population was exposed to many different cultures such as the Chinese culture that was spread in California. The excerpt highlights the gathering of people to celebrate this vibrant culture. With songs, music, and theater, the Chinese were not only able to express and enjoy themselves, but they were also able to broaden the cultural horizons of others who may not be of the same culture. Additionally, the exposure of these cultures further advantages the peoples they surround. As stated in the article, the Chinese spread very important medical contributions through their understanding of plants. This example solidifies the fact that the commodification of homesickness helped spread many different cultures throughout America.

“Singing Hymns in the Street,” August 18, 1894. Courtesy of Harper’s Weekly

“Singing Hymns in the Street,” August 18, 1894. Courtesy of Harper’s Weekly

This visual perfectly supplements my second primary source and one of my points made examining the themes of the textbooks. This is a picture of a Chinese celebration located in Chinatown, Los Angeles, California. This photo of a Chinese musician playing in the middle of the street for a crowd is the exact example of a different culture being spread by migrants throughout America.

“Emigrants Leaving ,” 1874. Courtesy of Harper’s Weekly.

“Emigrants Leaving ,” 1874. Courtesy of Harper’s Weekly.

I chose to use this photo, from The North American Immigrant Letters, Diaries, and Oral Histories, because it captures an important time in every immigrant’s life. That moment where they are surrounded by thousands of other frantically scrambling immigrants who are just as curious as the next person as to what direction their lives are about to head in. It is plausible to assume that each and every person in this picture is experiencing some sort of homesickness. Most people are experiencing nervousness and a longing for wanting to go back to the place where they spent all of their lives, while the others are experiencing happiness for escaping a situation that may have been harmful to them or their family. Either way, it is either a positive or negative feeling when thinking back on the place they are leaving and it is interesting to ponder which people are experiencing what feeling. One person in the picture that is easy to read is the little boy directly in the front. The artist, perhaps, could have intended for him to look horrified to capture that look as the main feeling being felt by every immigrant in the photo.

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:https://americanstudiesmediacultureprogram.wordpress.com/assignments-the-concept-of-home-spring-2013/