Author Archives: qwertyuiop

Immoral Appropriation of Images?

Angela McRobbie’s notion that “representations are interpretations” which Radway mentions in the introduction of Reading the Romance seems pertinent to Casey’s discussion of the image of Che. Michael Casey, rather frustratingly, seems to flip back and forth between describing the meanings associated with Che as a social construction: “We are not passive viewers of Korda’s frozen moment, which for all its beauty is really just a static template. No, quite the opposite we have collectively filled the image with meaning” (5) and, describing it as an image with an innate importance. For example he argues that Korda “had captured the unspoken essence of Che” (45). Though perhaps the latter example just demonstrates that Casey too gets caught up in the glorified and romantic notion of Che as a handsome, powerful, alpha-male, revolutionary.
Casey notes that it is this sensation of seeing the true “essensce of Che” which gives not only the image, of the texts written by Che their great appeal: “The appeal of reading Che’s words….comes from the sensation that they are hearing the pure, unfiltered, voice of an icon” (56). Which leads me to the questions that Che’s Afterlife really raised for me (I haven’t read the whole thing so this may just sound silly.) Dick Hebdige describes bricolage as the practice by which subcultures reassign meaning to various mainstream culture symbols or artifacts. The Che image has come to symbolism many things, yet it is grounded in the notion of resistance to capitalism. I wonder then, to what extent you can appropriate a symbol without knowing the history behind the image. Clearly, this can happen, but to what extent is it more or less powerful to appropriate an image while being aware of its historical meaning. Perhaps powerful is the wrong word. It seems as though it is almost theft or at the very least simply a disrespectful gesture to make use of a symbol which you do not know much about. Particularly in situations such as Che’s image which is grounded in a story which involved a great deal of death.

Relative Taste

I’m having a really hard time with the idea that taste is merely relative. Of course, I agree with Bourdieu that our taste is shaped from an early age and is shaped by a various forms of knowledge. However, despite acknowledging rationally that there is no real foundation for a hierarchy of taste and culture, my gut instinct is that the idea of pure relativity in terms of taste is false. ( I have the same problem with supposed relativity of morals.)
In Jenkins’ Textual Poachers it almost seems that in the cultural studies shift to looking at the individual’s method of relating to and using an object has gone too far. Jenkins argues that “Fan culture muddies” the boundaries between legitimate and non-legitimate culture (or taste) by “treating popular texts as if they merited the same degree of attention as canonical texts.” However it seems clear to me that the fact that fans of star trek are interacting with star trek in the same way academics interact with Dostoevsky does not immediately mean that both Dostoevsky and Star Trek are on equal playing fields. It seems to be that there is a huge discrepancy between knowing and interpreting Dostoevsky’s work because it fascinatingly and imaginatively grapples with huge problems, such as the role of the Catholic Church, the problem of evil, man’s relationship to freedom, etc. etc. and knowing and interpreting a particular chick flick because it fascinatingly and imaginatively grapples with problems of finding and and seducing a goofy, nearly useless husband. (Wow this is really going off a deep and mushy end, but even if you look at food, it seems very hard to argue that something such as Warheads cannot be seen as anything other that worse taste than fresh bread. Bread provides nutrition in a way that warheads don’t and Crime and Punishments provides more nourishment for the “soul” than a chick flick ever could… I know some of you are going to rip me apart for this. In my defense I haven’t been sleeping lately.) Although, to kind of argue against my own point, Jenkins also seems to suggest that fans are not messing with the legitimized hierarchy of taste with the recognition that culture should not be hierarchical. Rather they are “muddying” the boundaries because they believe that the work which they are a fan of is superior to other works. Jenkins gives the example of a fan of Beauty and the Beast who paints a history of TV shows which is dominated by particular works that stand out from the crowd of broadcasts that are “characterized by their ‘poor writing, ridiculous conflicts offering no moral or ethical choices, predictable and cardboard characterizations……’”(17).
I’m not sure what to make of this…


I found the idea of escapism in Radway’s Reading the Romance particularly interesting. Indeed it seems that escapism can be seen as a phenomenon itself. First, Radway notes how many readers describe reading romances as a means to escape from their daily lives of household chores. This seems rather benign at first, indeed Dot offers it as a better form of escape than drugs for example. But what does it mean that we need to escape from our daily life? Have humans always had this need? Or has it increased, and Marx might argue this, with capitalism and the inability of humans to reach a state of self-actualization under capitalist systems with increased division of labor?
Throughout the second half of the book, Radway begins to suggest that the escapism romances are actually escapades which reinforce patriarchal values and deter women from challenging the system: “…the romance functions always as a Utopian wish-fulfillment fantasy through which women try to imagine themselves as they often are not in day-to-day existence, that is as happy and content” (Radway 151). Thus, the romance is a particular form of escapism which allows women to fantasize about happiness and contentment in such a way that they allow themselves to be temporarily satiated with their position. It’s rather amazing how perfectly this works to both maintain social norms by preventing change-demanding resistance and to provide a great deal of money to romance publishing houses, because women are only temporarily satisfied by each novel and quickly require yet another formulaic novel soon after. This is a type of escapism that allows individuals to imagine themselves as satisfied human beings, thus encouraging them to ignore problematic aspects of reality.

I wonder whether this particular type of escapism which maintains the status quo by satiating individuals with “fantasy trips” is the only type of escapism. Indeed it seems to be a rather dangerous type of escapism because it replaces actual satisfaction with imagined satisfaction. Are all the forms of distraction which we use as dangerously deluding and inhibiting? Or, are there other types which allow an escape from reality without allowing the individual to a feel fake contentment that reinforces the norm? When we play games for example and become excited by winning are we merely distracting ourselves? Or, because the game is in real life and we are active agents are games not mere sources of escape. But what about video games? TV shows? Movies? Game shows seems like a prime example of escapes which reinforce social systems. As you watch another person on TV answer questions or race around the grocery store etc. and see them win large sums of money are you not imaginatively winning money and feeling perhaps momentarily satisfied and like a winner, and less likely to raise issue with the class system. I’d argue the escapism is a huge phenomenon which we all participate in. I need to think more how how this type of escapism is tricking me into feeling as though I’m in a state of satisfaction.

Legitimate Culture

Pierre Bourdieu’s Distinction brings together a lot of the ideas that we’ve been reading about so far. Three links stand out to me in particular: Adorno and Horkeimer’s argument that the culture industry severely limits the developments of our culture, that it shapes and limits our taste as well as our ability to experience, de Certeau’s emphasis on looking at the way in which cultural products are used by individuals, and Berger’s idea of the mystification of art.
Similar to Althusser, Bourdieu highlights the ways in which the institutions of education dictate ideologies, although Bourdieu focuses on the ideologies surrounding “high culture.” Bourdieu stressed the difference between educational capital– which is reinforced in schools – and cultural capital which can be brought up in educational institution but exists more largely outside it. Using a study that shows that higher-educated people can name a larger number of directors that less-educated individuals, and that the number of times an individual has gone to the cinema doesn’t account for the great difference in knowledge about directors, so he concluded, there is a correlation between these two types of capital.
I found the most interesting aspect of his discussion about culture, to be his discussion of high culture versus pop culture. He notes that formal refinement, found in “legitimate culture,” tends to obscure the art, and notes that the obscurity is often interpreted as, “a desire to keep the uninitiated at arms length”(33). He also argues that pop culture speaks to the working class, “satisfies the taste for and sense of revelry, the plain speaking, the hearty laughter which liberate by setting the social world head over heels” (34). He presents legitimate culture, such as modern art, as an effort to push away form what it means to be human, to reject human experiences, emotions, passions, which makes it difficult, particularly for the uneducated classes to enjoy. It almost seems, that the educated class is being duped or deceived more than the masses. We’re taught that we ought to connect spiritually with classical music, see the deeper meaning in obscure works, and delight in art such as a pile of coal. I may be reading all of this wrong, but it almost seems that Bourdieu is suggesting that the working class refuses to participate in something that they admit to not understanding, where as the educated people, are convinced that these obscure works mean something to them…perhaps education allows them to sincerely appreciate “legitimate culture” or perhaps it simply tells them that it ought to.

Annotated Bibliography: Self-help

Allwood, R. (1996) ‘I Have Depression, Don’t I? Discourses of Help and Self-help Books’,  in E. Burnman (ed.) Psychology Discourse Practices. London: Taylor & Francis.
This text examines the way in which depression is presented and dealt with in five popular self-help books. Though I’m reading self-help books on my own to get a sense of their arguments Allwood’s work will be useful a useful resource in generalizing the perceptions of depression and methods of self-help advocated by self-help books.

Hazelden, R. (2003) ‘Love Yourself: The Relationship of the Self with Itself in  Popular Self-help Texts’, Journal of Sociology 39: 413–28.
This text will be useful in exploring a foucauldian explanation of the relationship between liberal government and self help culture. I will use it to explore how self-help books are a tool to promote capitalistic values.

Leontev, A. N. Activity, Consciousness, and Personality, Prentice Hall, 1978
This article will be useful in examining the assumptions underlying modern psychology and provides a Marxist critique of an understanding of psychology which does not assume that humans minds are grounded in and shaped by real-life experiences and activity. Thus I can use it to  criticize self-help arguments which ignore or downplay real situations and focus instead on the idea that a person simply doesn’t have the right attitude to life, or is conceptualizing the world incorrectly.

McGee, M. (2005) Self-help, Inc.: Makeover Culture in American Life. New York:  Oxford University Press.
This book explores how self-help career books, are a result of the the increasing insecurity of people as a result of  advanced capitalism. I will use this to examine the results of advanced capitalism on the individual and look in particular for her comments about depression.

Philip, Brigid Analysing the politics of self-help books on depression. Journal of Sociology 2009; 45; 151
This article will be useful in examining how the use of psychology invades the private sphere, normalizing subjective experiences. It also highlights how self-help books fit into a larger ideological idea of understanding depression as an inhibitor to being a productive member of a capitalistic notion, and how they reinforce values that benefit the capitalistic system.

Politzer, Georges, Critique of the Foundations of Psychology. Duqesne University Press, 1994.
This text (written roughly 60 years before Leontev’s essay) will provide additional Marxist-inspired criticism of the modern conception of depression and psychology which is presented in self-help books.

Rose, N. (2003) ‘Neurochemical Selves’, Society November/December: 46–59. This paper describes the limitations of consequences of biomedical explanations of depression. I will use it to criticize the way this methods of understanding depression (which is utilized in self-help books) fails to account for actual social problems and scarily creates a normalized “neurochemical self.”

Broad Resistance

In The Wretched of the Earth, Fanon raises the concern that in the process of decolonization, nations are faced with the threat of failing to make systemic changes to the colonial goverment and merely replacing the white leaders with “natives”. In Culture and Imperialism Edwards Said further examines how the process of decolonization involves a constant struggle with the colonized ideology. Said argues that the first struggle in decolonization is for land, and the second is for ideological freedom. This is more difficult than it seems because the decolonized people’s struggle for an independent identity and culture needs to include their history as an oppressed group. Said’s description of the fluidity of culture highlights why determining an independent identity (which is often required to fight colonialist ideology) is so difficult:
Cultures are not impermeable; just as Western science borrowed from Arabs, the had borrowed from India and Greece. Culture is never just a matter of ownership, of borrowing and lending with absolute debtors and creditors, but rather of appropriations, common experiences, and interdependencies of all kinds among different cultures. This is a universal norm. (217)
In my Gender and Women’s Studies class we’ve been discussing the idea of using an interesectionalist approach to understanding people’s situations (ie being careful not to over-generalize individual’s experiences — looking carefully at class, gender, sex, nationality, race, etc. to understand situations.) Though I realize the importance of this, I have struggled with the alienating and isolating view of human experiences which this creates. I think Said’s suggestion for the ways decolonized people should understand their experience offers a solution.
Said argues that decolonization creates “dangers of chauvinism and xenophobia (“Africa for the Africans”) [which] are are very real” (214). The solution to this problem, Said suggests is when decolonized people see their own history “as an aspect of the history of all subjugated men and women, and comprehends the complex truth of his own social and historical situation” (214). This offers a critique to the intersectionalist approach to understanding ones situation. In addition to looking at all of the complex factors which led to a groups experience, it is also necessary to situate this experience within a larger context. This same idea comes up in Said’s discussion of the native peoples ability to revise western narratives. One of the main means of resistance which Said highlights is the idea of “writing back.” Citing Salman Rushdie’s work as an example, Said explains how this consists of, “disrupting the European narratives of the Orient and Africa, replacing them with either a more playful or a more powerful new narrative style” (216).

Self-help books for depression

The phenomenon of self-help books for depression really breaks down into two phenomena, depression and self-help books, which have distinct relationships to Marxist thought. In looking at the ties between Marxism and depression, I found it necessary to look more broadly at Marxist critiques of the field of psychology. (Is it weird that most of the work I found about this was by Russian intellectuals?) Leont’ev highlights the ways Marx’s idea of consciousness challenges both functionalist and biomedical views of the mind, both of which are currently used (at least in part) to explain and treat depression. Leont’ev writes, “the reflection of reality arises and develops in the process of the development of real ties of cognitive people with the human world surrounding them; it is defined by these ties and, in its turn, has an effect on their development.” Marx’s insistence that man’s understanding/consciousness/mind is tied to reality raises serious problems with the current methods of treating depression which are grounded in the idea that depression is caused by abnormal brain chemicals and/or by the depressed persons misguided perceptions and ideas about themselves and the world around them.
I will explore the ways self-help books propagate an ideology which downplays the idea of an individuals consciousness being tied to reality: what personal qualities/traits is being praised? What is being highlighted as problematic? How do the qualities which are being advocated for in self-help books (such as functionality, productivity etc.) play into larger capitalist values? In what ways do self-help books address (or more likely fail to address) the idea that aspects of reality are the sources of depression and that social, political, economic issued may need to be addressed. I found a fantastic (Foucauldian) article that highlights the way in which the field of psychology is used by liberal governments to influence the individuals in the nation. Self-helps books and psychology offer a means for social institutions to move into and govern the private sphere: the scientific basis of psychology and the idea of experts and facts in Psychology are being increasingly used to normalize subjective experiences (such as depression).
Basically I will be looking at the ways in which the popular conception of depression and the means for treating it and explaining it, as highlighted and propagated in self-help books, is part of a powerful ideological system which attempts to deny individuals of a tie to reality (or consciousness grounded in reality) and which attempts to normalize happiness regardless of (or at least barely acknowledging) the reality of social/personal problems.

***I feel like I’m writing a rather extremist or at least very provocative paper…I would love feedback/criticisms/questions. I’m a little worried I’m going off the deep end although at the moment I’m entirely convinced by all of this…****

Fanon Response

Capitalism plays a complicated role in Fanon’s understanding of the process of decolonization in the first section of The Wretched of the Earth, entitled,“On Violence.” Most blatantly, Fanon aligns capitalism with colonialism, portraying the two as collaborators in opposition to socialism and decolonization. Capitalism encouraged and allowed for colonization and the consequential exploitation of the colonized people, raw goods, and consumer markets of the colonized states. He argues, “capitalism therefore objectively colludes with the forces of violence that erupt in colonial territories” (27). Perhaps I was inventing what I thought I was reading between the lines of Fanon, however I thought Fanon also suggested that capitalist countries have certain important parallels with colonized countries. The masses in capitalistic countries held similar relationships to those in power that the colonized had with the colonialists. The primary difference however lay in the issue of violence. In colonized countries, the colonized, Fanon stresses, are oppressed physically, by force and violence, while under non-colonized capitalist countries, the oppression occurs primarily through ideology spread through educational institutions both secular and religious. These ideas, morals and “respect for the status quo, instill in the exploited a mood of submission and inhibition which considerably eases the task of the agents of law and order”(4).
In “On Violence” Fanon describes the important role violence plays in the decolonization process: “The muscular tension of the colonized periodically erupts into bloody fighting” (17) and violence is a key tool for the colonized because “The very same people who had it constantly drummed into them that the only language they understood was that of force, now decided to express themselves with force” (42). Although The Wretched of the Earth primarily emphasizes and explores the problems of and solutions to colonization, the book raises the question, if the colonized importantly need and use physical force as a means of a rebellion and decolonization, how should the masses exploited under capitalism rebel? Clearly for the individuals living in non-colonialist, capitalist nations, violence and force is not a language that has been drummed into them as the “only language they understand.” The systems of oppression and the submissiveness of the individuals under capitalism is much more pervasive and difficult to pin down. How then should these individuals rebel? What tools should they use? How should they fight the submission-encouraging ideology?
In the end of the section “On Violence” Fanon makes a call to the exploited individuals under capitalistic countries in Europe to come to the aid of the colonized:“This colossal task, which consists of reintroducing man into the world, man in his totality, will be achieved with the crucial help of the European masses who would do well to confess that they have often rallied behind the position of our common masters on colonial issues. In order to do this the, the European masses must first of all decide to wake up, put on their thinking caps and stop playing the irresponsible game of Sleeping Beauty” (62). Perhaps here Fanon is offering a way into the problem of exploitation under non-colonized nations. If the European masses were to wake up an realize the cruel exploitative nature of colonization and Europe’s dependency upon colonized states they would, Fanon seems to suggest, side and fight with the colonized. Perhaps in realizing the condition and horrors of oppression and exploitation under colonization, the masses exploited by capitalism in European nations would realize their own situation and begin to question the ideology put forth by the institutions of their nation.

self-help books

So I’ve decided to change my paper topic and I was wondering whether anyone had any suggestions for me…

I’m pretty sure I want to write about self-help books which
address dealing with depression and how to feel happier. In general
depression, anti-depressants, the growing number of people being
diagnosed with depression in highly industrialized countries really
fascinates me. Looking at self-help books seems like one of the more
accessible ways to approach the issue of depression…but if you have
a suggestion please let me know. I’m going to post this on the

Oppositional and Alternative Ideologies

Over the past few weeks, as we have begun to criticize Marx’s notion of an economic base which determines the superstructure (ie everything else about society) the question of how ideologies are formed and challenged has seemed increasingly confusing. Althusser’s argument that not only does the economic base shape the superstructure, the superstructure also reinforces and sort-of redetermines the base. This idea confused me a lot because it almost seemed to be leveling the playing field of base and superstructure, putting them in an equal, complex relationship. How then do we make sense of where ideologies come from, what instigates them?
Raymond Williams essay, “Base and Superstructure in Marxist Cultural Theory” really cleared up this question for me. He argues that the notion of totality – which is the idea that all of a society’s social practices “interact, relate, and combine” in very complicated ways to form the whole of society – threatens to “empty of its original content the original Marxist proposition” ie. of base and superstructure (36). (Which, at least to my understanding was the concern I had had…Side note, I love how my questions about the texts we read always seem to be brought up and explained by the next author we read.)) Applauding Gramsci, Williams stresses the importance of hegemony and claims that “in any society, in any particular period, there is a central system of practices, meanings and values, which we can properly call dominant and effective” (38). Hegemony then, he argues, is “our ordinary understanding of the nature of man and of his world”…”It thus constitutes a sense of reality for most people in our society” (38). He then differentiates between alternative ideologies which “can be accommodated and tolerated within a particular effective and dominant culture” and oppositional ideologies which directly challenge and threaten the dominant ideology.
I’m often frustrated by the abstraction of the theories we are reading about and discussing, so I thought I would attempt to apply the primary ideas in this essay to our society’s various conceptions of drugs. I’m sure I am simplifying a great deal, but perhaps some of this will ring slightly true. The hegemonic or dominant notion of drug use, is that occasional alcohol use and tobacco use are mostly acceptable. Consuming caffeine, rarely even considered a drug, is generally accepted as typical everyday use. Drugs given the label of medication are not only acceptable, but encouraged. Mainstream cultural ideology surrounding drug use is enforced and propagated by the American laws surrounding drug use. Quite a few alternative ideologies exist. Marijuana use is widespread and seems to be a prime example of an alternative ideology which is in the process of being accommodated by the state, through the spreading legalization of medical marijuana. The refusal of drug use on the basis of religious or philosophical grounds, such as the Mormon’s or the Amish is also alternative but not oppositional.
This might be a stretch, but one notion of drug use which does seem oppositional to the dominant ideology is the idea that there is no normative state of consciousness. That our moods, the foods we eat, how much exercise we get, whom we happen to talk to on a particular day, alters the chemicals in our brains such that there really is no non-drugged state of mind suggests that the lines we draw around what is a drug and what is not are largely artificial. Perhaps this idea constitutes an oppositional ideology?