Thursday, March 31, 2011

Keegan - The Second World War

Keegan, John. The Second World War. New York: Viking, 1990.

The Second World War killed a bunch of people all over the world. Keegan explains how.

He concentrates on
  • the Battle of Britain as an air battle,
  • Midway for the clash of large carrier forces,
  • Crete as an essentially airborne assault,
  • Okinawa as a representative amphibious operation, and
  • Berlin as the supreme example of a city siege and battle.
  • Falaise as a tank battle
A few quick key assessments
  • Strategic bombing did not match the hopes it inspired before the war of bringing about a quick victory
  • Espionage did not play a hugely significant role, but signals intelligence was more critical
  • Midway was a close shave that, through good fortune as much as strategy, was certainly the pivotal battle in the Pacific. To the victor belonged control of the seas.
  • Airborne assault was dicey. It only worked in Crete because the British defenders didn't realize how well they had warded off the assault on the first day, and ceded a key airstrip which the Germans exploited on the second day. It worked at Normandy because the allies learned from Crete to drop their forces away from the targeted strongpoint and then move toward it on the ground. It failed at Marketgarden because this wasn't done.
  • The second Atomic bomb was unncessary for ending the war.
  • Stalin was CONSTANTLY thinking in terms of geopolitics, and wanted to gain something from the war from the start.
  • Though they fought bravely, local resistance within Nazi territory, from France to Warsaw, was never more than a nuisance to the Germans.
  • Stalingrad was the turning point in East Europe. Hitler over extended, and then refused to allow his trapped army to fight its way out of the city.
  • Italy served Hitler in that it occupied the Allies without too much extension of German resources.
  • Hitler's main delusion in continuing the war was his Faith in his secret weapons program
  • Churchill was a master of diplomacy and managed to postpone the opening of a Western front until he felt the British army was ready to wage it. US wanted to open the front in 42, and then 43. The allies pursued a strategy of "Germany first, but not yet" after the US entered the war.

McCabe and Akass - Quality TV

McCabe, Janet, and Kim Akass. Quality TV: Contemporary American Television and Beyond. London: I.B. Tauris, 2007.

This book of essays features critics and academics agonizing over how to describe the changing characteristics of television (mainly American TV: this was created out of a conference at Trinity College, Dublin in April 2004 called "American Quality TV") without falling into the trap of making inherent value judgments. Ultimately, such a task requires a book of essays by not only professors but media and industry members, as well as interviews with David Chase and composer W. 'Snuffy' Walden (thirtysomething, among others scored).

The authors use the phrase TVIII to describe the TiVo, 21st century version of television, while TVII seems to refer to the cable version. TVIII is what Lotz might call Post-Network television. The note on page 266 confirms this: Behrins (1986) coined TVI and TVII as shorthand for network (1948-75) and post-network (1975-95). TVIII is the post-1995 version, as dubbed by Rogers, Epstein and Reeves (2002)

Robert Thompson, oft quoted throughout for his 1996 book Television's Second Golden Age, introduces the book by repeating his simple phrase "not regular" and though many characteristics are identified throughout, that remains as complete a definition for quality television that the authors can muster.

HBO looms heavily over the collection for the distance it has pushed the envelope of Quality TV first established on networks. McCabe and Akass argue that part of the pleasure of HBO comes from the power of watching a program that viewers know is naughty, even as TV watchdog groups derive pleasure from the act of critiquing HBO for its naughtiness. HBO finds it must explain the naughtiness of its shows based on artistic rationale.

Another more intriguing essay by Feuer refutes the suggestion that HBO's programming like Six Feet Under is remarkable because it has no predecesors in culture. She argues that HBO's programming is rooted in art cinema, and has developed out of quality TV. Further, she argues HBO's programming is no more original than reality TV, exploding at the same moment. The reason why it gets more artistic credit is its relationship to art cinema.

The final essay is about Lost, and also acknowledges that show's dept to film. It anticipates network dramas following in Lost's footsteps. However, we now know that Lost and 24 were anomalies in the latter half of the decade. They were never matched on the network. Instead, the quality TV revolution lives on in 30-minute comedies, not hour-long dramas.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Kennedy - Over Here

Kennedy, David M. Over Here: The First World War and American Society. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004 [1980].

Into WWI, Wilson led a nation that was quite divided over fighting the war. Even Congress was shocked at his decision to draft an American Expeditionary Force to take part in the fighting. Thus, George Creel's Committee on Public Information served a crucial role in propaganda. Mobilization required the growth of temporary war administrations: the Treasury, the Food Administration, and the War Industries Board. Despite the growth of government, Wilson was careful not to trample on any free market principles.

Kennedy is surprisingly dismissive of America's role in the war, emphasizing the weaknesses stemming from their lack of experience and undisciplined military leaders. In the experience of the war itself for the doughboys, most were too late and moved too swiftly to gain the disillusionment which typified the writing of European soldiers and American anti-war, neo-isolationists in the 1920s and 30s.

Part of Wilson's failure at Versailles was the political liabilities he accrued at home as a consequence of his war management. The Armistice was one of disappointment for Wilson, as well as those who believed and hoped in his idealism. The La Follette campaign for presidency in 1924 showed that progressivism had not completely lost its energy. Its labor elements had lost its cohesiveness, but the reform impulse remained, still hopeful on the possibilities of shaping a brighter future, though that future might be a few decades down the road.

Kennedy argues "make the world safe for Democracy" has remained America's foreign policy mission statement since then.

Finally, the war marked the beginning of the end of British economic supremacy, and the end of the beginning of the US economic supremacy.

Review: Robert D Cuff, JAH
"Kennedy suggests, moreover, that as a cultural phenomenon the war crisis reveals a number of core American social values, including a deeply rooted suspicion of concentrated public power and a bias toward voluntarism in the construction of social institutions." In other words, its about national character.

Review: John Syrett
"For Progressives...the war provided an opportunity to realize a collective identity which could later be directed at the obvious ills, like inequality, within society. It was upon these grounds that they agreed to support Wilson. And it is here, Kennedy asserts, Progressivism began to die, for Wilson had no interest in using the government for much beyond whipping up patriotism..." Kennedy seems to suggest Wilson had little vision or leadership, at least as far as the war administration-side went...he acquiesces toward the restrictions of freedom, rather than propose or deny them.

Importance for Overall Trends
Kennedy explains the growth of the government as a feature of Wilson's mobilization, not as a result of Progressivism (since so many traditional progressives opposed the war). Further, Wilson was very careful not to over-expand the federal government and the powers under the executive branch beyond a point he could afford politically. The administration "avoided unilateral exercises of government power; they sought the barest minimum of statutory bodies; the doggedly diffused administrative responsibility; they relied wherever possible on the timehonored principle of contractual agreement; and they affirmed repeatedly the temporary character of those few naked instruments of authority they were reluctantly required to grasp." (143) Still, Wilson's creations served an important precedent for FDR.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Lyotard - The Postmodern Condition

Lyotard, Jean-Francois. "The Postmodern Condition." From Alexander, Jeffrey C., and Steven Seidman. Culture and Society: Contemporary Debates. Cambridge [England]: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Originally published 1984

Definition of Postmodern
"incredulity toward metanarratives...a product of progress in the sciences."

Postmodern condition has created a crisis in metaphilosophy and the university system that relies on it. The sciences have splintered into specialties, and the definitions between fields have become blurry.

Linguistically, because language is ever-changing and contains meaning which is individually determined, it is impossible for two people to speak with 100% understanding of the meaning each person is trying to convey.

"Consensus is a horizon that is never reached."

In some ways, I feel like Lyotard is talking about the same thing as Bell in "The End of Ideology in the West." Ideologies rely on metanarratives.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Ricks - Fiasco

Ricks, Thomas E. Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

Iraq was began on the basis of wildly inaccurate expectations, unrealistic assumptions, initial missteps, and incompetence. The 1999 strikes on Iraq were, in fact, more successful in eradicating WMDs then suspected, and thus the information that Colin Powell brought to the UN was incorrect. There were voices in the military warning against the invasion, but the Bush administration was intent on going forward. Militarily, the pre-surge phase (the paperback's postscript was written in April 2007 as the surge was about to be implemented) was marked by tactical brilliance in removing Saddam's regime offset by strategic failure in facing an unexpected insurgency.

Overview - Three Sections
Containment - 1991 to 2003: covers the unrecognized success of 1999's Operation Desert Fox in destroying WMD production (and, in fact, causing such a psychological effect that it nearly toppled Saddam). Contrast's Wolfowitz's desire to invade with Gen. Zinni's (overseeer of Desert Fox) opposition and premoniscent (whatever that word is) warnings. Explains the prewar factors leading to both the invasion (9/11 much?) and the insurgency

Into Iraq - 2003 to Dec 2005: The invasion and the Abu Ghraib scandal. Explains the emergence of the insurgency, the inadequacy of the US response, and ties the US mis-treatment of prisoners to the overall problems in the war.

The Long Term - 2004 to mid-2006: looks at US steps to regain the initiative and examines the possible outcomes, the most optimistic being Philippines from 1899-1946

Major Problems
Lack of preparedness for counter-insurgency (all these years after Vietnam, the army still wasn't ready for such strategy)
Lack of enough soldiers
Failure to ensure post-war security

The Good - From the final chapter
The dissenters against the military strategy have turned into the heroes of the Iraq turnaround - David Petraeus and Col HR McMaster. McMaster's success in securing Tal Afar is one of the few military brightpoints of the book. Ricks credits McMaster with improving treatment of detainees (failure works for the enemy) and emphasizing cultural understanding. Rather than begin his efforts with a major raid (as was commonly done from 2003 until 2007), he worked on dismantling the insurgent support infrastructure first. He began his efforts in May 2005. By the end of the summer he was receiving cooperation from local Sunnis who had previously been sympathetic to the insurgency. Still resisting an attack on Tal Afar, McMasters ringed the city with a dirt fortification with a few checkpoints in order to observe and control movement. Civilians were strongly encouraged to leave the city (insurgents were captured trying to leave with them). In Sept he launched his attack - a slow moving sweep of the city designed to minimize casualties to IEDs. After securing the city, McMaster finished with a pre-determined plan - using local police and steady military patrols, he kept a consistent observation to watch for bomb planting. Limits: 1.) McMaster himself along with his troops would rotate out, bringing in new blood lacking his local understanding 2.) Tal Afar was much smaller than many problematic cities, particularly Baghdad.

Bell -The end of Ideology in the West

Bell, Daniel. "The End of Ideology in the West." From Alexander, Jeffrey C., and Steven Seidman. Culture and Society: Contemporary Debates. Cambridge [England]: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Originally written in 1988

Ideology arose from the Hegelian ideas of Feuerbach (in striving and achieving true consciousness, man should and will replace God) and Marx (Men were divided into classes which must be thrown off in revolution to create a utopian society). A key factor in the rise of ideologies was the demythologizing of God.

Religion always offered more than ideology - it offered a way to cope with the problem of death. Still, ideology has managed to rouse people in its 1.) simplification of ideas, 2.) claim to truth, 3.) demand for a commitment to action in the union of 1 and 2.

As the Cold War peters out, ideologies are exhausted. (See also: Moscow Trials, Nazi-Soviet pact, concentration camps, suppression of Hungarian workers) (And, socially, see: modification of capitalism, the rise of the Welfare State) (And, philosophically, see: decline of simplistic, rationalistic beliefs and the emergence of new images of man from Freud and others.)

Still, Bell accepts that new ideologies are arising in Africa and Asia (note: pre-Tiananmen Square).

Bell concludes with a call for intellectuals to lead the way to making the world better today, not into an ideology that promises a better life with time and the passing of generations.

Adorno - Culture Industry Reconsidered

Adorno, Theodor W. "Culture Industry Reconsidered." From Alexander, Jeffrey C., and Steven Seidman. Culture and Society: Contemporary Debates. Cambridge [England]: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Originally Published 1975

Key Term
"Culture Industry" - A replacement of "mass culture" designed to exclude an interpretation agreeable to its advocates (that it arises spontaneously from the masses themselves, the contemporary form of popular art. The culture industry is bad, and its rise has been a disaster for both high art of elites and pure folk art created by the lower class.


Cultural commodities are created as value, not for content and meaning. The culture industry stuffs consumers with its ideology, fostering sameness. The effect of the culture industry is anti-enlightenment.

Placement within my reading
Most of my media studies list refutes Adorno's position. The dispute is best summed up by John Storey's Cultural Studies and the Study of Popular Culture.

Storey - Cultural Studies and the Study of Popular Culture

Storey, John. Cultural Studies and the Study of Popular Culture. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2010.

Storey synthesizes the trends and conclusions of a vast array of cultural theory, organized by type of medium: TV, fiction, film, newspapers and magazines, music, everyday consumption, and globalization. His overall argument can best be described through the "circuit of culture" he borrows from Paul du Gay and explains in the conclusion: "...there are five interrelated contexts we must consider if we are to fully understand a text or practice: representation, identity, production, consumption, and regulation."

Storey describes (and agrees with) the trend in cultural studies away from the "pessimistic elitism" of the theories of analysis of Leavisism, the Frankfurt School (ie Adorno), most structuralism, economistic versions of Marxism, and political economy. Pessimistic elitism tends to view people as cultural dupes. Cultural studies have sought to re-emphasize the power of the consumer in making his/her own meaning.

Chapter 1 - Cultural Studies and the Study of Popular Culture -
British Cultural Studies have been influenced by Antonio Gramsci's concept of "hegemony" and Michel Foucoult's argument that power relations are not fixed but ever changing as people, in certain contexts and contingencies, formulate their own meanings from culture.

Chapter 2 - Television
Stuart Hall - Television programs pass through three distinctive moments: encoding, the production of meaning by the industry based on their own frameworks of knowledge and relations of production; the programme itself presented on the TV in a moment where it is open to polysemy; and the moment the audience decodes the program and makes their own meaning - dominant, negotiated, oppositional.
John Fiske - cultural commodities like television circulate simultaneously in financial economy and cultural economy (meanings, pleasures, and social identities).
Marshall McLuhan - The content of a medium is a distraction to the true meaning of the medium, found by taking the technological materiality of a media very seriously.
Raymond Williams - The use and significance of any new technology, including all forms of media, is always determined by the social situation in which it emerges, ie its power relations.
Burgess and Green - YouTube has shifted over the question of what kind of community it will be, and remains in flux: from an archive to an imagined, participatory community.

Chapter 3 - Fiction
Louis Althusser - Deconstruct the text by reading it symptomatically to reveal its prolematic - its theoretical and ideological structure which both frames and produces the discourses and historical context out of which it is created.

Chapter 4 - Film
Ferdinand de Saussure - meaning is produced through a process of linguistic combination and selection.
Laura Mulvey - Perceives to contradictory forms of visual pleasure: scopophilia (sexual objectification) and sexual difference/threat of castration. Film allows two escapes for the male selfconscious 1. investigate the original moment of trauma and punish the guilty object, such as film noir 2. Make the figure itself into a reassuring fetish (female film star) or substitute a fetish object.

Chapter 5 - Newspapers and Magazines
John Fiske - popular culture is potentially, and often actually, progressive though not radical
Angela McRobbie - Analysis of magazines for teenage girls (mainly Jackie) shows how girls are explicitly subjected to an attempt to win them to dominant order in terms of femininity, leisure and consumption. New magazines have gotten better.
Roland Barthes - Myth is produced at the level of secondary signification (connotation, as opposed to denotation).

Chapter 6 - Music
Theodor Adorno - Music produced for the masses is 1.) Standardized, 2.) created for passive listening, and 3.) operates as social cement. Thus, popular music is bad.
Simon Frith - As it turns out, popular music is extremely reliant on and at the mercy of the tastes of the audience. We must distinguish between the economic power of the culture industries and the power of their symbolic influence.

Chapter 7 - Consumption in Everyday Life
Subcultures, such as youth, appropriate for their own purposes and meaning the commodities commercially provided.
Angela McRobbie - Introduced gender into youth subcultures.
Henry Jenkins - Examines fan culture for the ways fans participate in their favorite television shows. Fan reading is characterized by 1.) intensity of intellectual and emotional involvement, 2.)fans read and continually reread texts, 3.) fans consumer texts as part of a community.

Chapter 8 - Globalization and Popular Culture
Globalization is much more complex than merely a process by which American culture is spreading throughout the world. There is hybridity. Still, one must keep in mind the power relations inherent in globalization.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Offner - Another Such Victory

Offner, Arnold A. Another Such Victory: President Truman and the Cold War, 1945-1953. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 2002.

Argument and Connections
Historiographically, Truman's reputation has soared since he left office with one of the all-time low approval ratings. McCullough compared the symbolism of his rise to the White House with America's rise to superpower status. Melvyn Leffler (A Preponderance of Power) dismissed characterization of Truman as a naif and idealist, instead arguing he was a realist who understood the uses of power, and that while his administration mad mistakes it preserved national security against real or perceived Soviet Threats.

On the other side, historians, led by John Lewis Gaddis, have focused on the murderous dictator Stalin as the key factor in the rise of the Cold War. He treated world politics as an extension of domestic politics, and sought security at the expense of others.

Offner (though by no means rejecting Truman's quality outright) disputes all of these claims. Truman's perception was parochial and nationalist at the very moment that required a nuanced understanding of the world. And Stalin, in fact, was more pragmatic (Offner calls him "cautious but brutal") with regards to foreign affairs than he was domestically (as newly available materials reveal).

Key Quote - Final sentence
Truman "promoted an ideology and politics of Cold War confrontation that became the modus operandi of successive administrations and the U.S. for the next two generations." 470

Nitty Gritty on Truman

  • Strove to live up to responsibilities that he had not been properly prepped for
  • favored UN
  • fostered foreign aid (despite antagonistic Congress), pushing European cooperation
  • Retained civilian control over nuclear weapons and genuinely wished to avert a third world war
  • Recognized his overreach in Korea and ultimately chose containment over rollback
  • Surrounded by ultraconservatives (Forrestal, Harriaman, Lovett) who had been placed there by FDR
  • Penchant to view in black-and-white (free v totalitarian) was wrong perspective, and was only fed by his professional insecurities. Instead, attributed every crisis or civil war to Soviet machinations for world conquest
  • Bomb heightened his sense of righteous power (ie Potsdam, hampering negotiations with Soviets). Also, the second bomb was not militarily necessary and was partly dropped out of prospect of political gain in Europe and Asia (supported by Sec State James Byrnes). They failed (along with Stalin) to perceive the potential of an arms race that would threaten the human race
  • Before Kennan's "Long Telegram" in mid-1946 and Churchill's Iron Curtain speech, Truman had already criticized Byrnes for the Yalta-style accords reached in Moscow, Dec 45. Truman said that the Russians only understood an "iron fist."
  • Truman ignored Wallace's proposal to promote economic ties with Russia.
  • Accepted special aide Clark Clifford's "Russian Report" and the accompanying "Last Will of Peter the Great" (which was a forgery). The report said Soviets aimed at world domination.
  • Even the Marshall Plan, for all its humanitarian successes, only further signaled to Stalin th US's desire to dominate Europe.
  • Refused to compromise with the Soviets in order to achieve a unified Germany, or even accept any Russian terms even if they met most US requirements. Instead, the US made western Germany a key part of the European Recovery Plan (Marshall Plan), thus solidifying the split. This stubbornness would lead to the Berlin blockaded.
  • Could not perceive China's civil war apart from the Cold War.
  • Opposed dealing with communists under any circumstances.
  • Perhaps lost a chance to begin a rapprochement with the CCP in 1949, although he would have come under fire from the China bloc and he would have had to recognize the PRC BUT NATO allies would have welcomed this approach, and his 1949 administration could have handled the domestic outcry.
  • Agreed with the state dept (under Acheson) White Paper which charged the CCP with foreswearing its Chinese heritage, had no legitimacy to govern, and was under a Russian "yoke." This incensed Mao and pushed him further towards Moscow. Truman's Taiwan intervention (putting a fleet in the straits to defend the island) only made relations worse.
  • Set a dangerous precedent by not pausing to gain Congress' approval to intervene in S. Korea in June 1950, whee he committed two divisions.
  • Allowed the US to cross the 38th parallel to vanquish North Korea.
  • Ignored warnings that the PRC would perceive the rollback as a threat, and didn't consider PRC intervention enough in his Wake Island discussions with MacArthur.
  • After the PRC attacks, he considered nuclear strikes. He sent nuclear-configured bombers to England and Guam in July 1950, although the nuclear option was ruled out because they were seen as ineffective, damaging to relations with NATO allies and Asian nations, and could incur Soviet retaliation.
  • Refused to compromise in Korea negotiations with the PRC: no negotiations without a cease-fire, no recognition of the PRC or UN seat, no halt of aid to the GMD.
  • To keep JCS support after MacArthur's firing, Truman sent bombers and nuclear weapons to Guam and approved a directive for retaliation against air strikes, telling Ridgway he had qualified authority for atomic strikes in the event of a major PRC attack.
  • Overrode standard military practice and the Geneva convention by rejecting all for all exchange of POWs, which wouldn't take place until after Ike took office and the fighting finally ceased in Truman's absence
  • Beneath the facade of calm crisis management in 1952, Truman fantasized about giving Russia and China ten days to quite Korea or face all out war. He may not have intended atomic war, but he approached a dangerous situation.

Nitty Gritty on Stalin (what Truman should have done better at perceiving)
  • Stalin never intended to invade further west.
  • Greece: while U.S.'s interest played a role in keeping him out, he was disinterested.
  • China: Didn't support Mao in the beginning, and the alliance between the two was always strained. Mao would have, in fact, favored the U.S. if America had not been duplicitous in calling for co-rule between the CCP and the GMD while continuing military support for the GMD. Further, Mao was a populist who wanted to throw off foreign domination, certainly never a puppet of the USSR, as Truman should have noticed by the fact the Soviets had to make concessions to the Chinese for their alliance.
  • Stalin didn't intend to attack Iran or Turkey
  • Stalin wanted: sphere of influence on his border, security against a recovered Germany or Japan or hostile capitalist states, compensation for the war (German reparations). Stalin repeatedly put state interests over Marxist-Leninist ideology.
  • Stalin seriously miscalculated when he let Kim Il Sung (as did Mao) convince him victory over S. Korea could be achieved before the US intervened.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Pells - Radical Visions and American Dreams

Pells, Richard H. Radical Visions and American Dreams; Culture and Social Thought in the Depression Years. New York: Harper & Row, 1973.


Pells is sensitive to the inherently conservative argument below the surface of much of radical culture in the 1930s. As much as they called for social change in America, even the radicals resisted the overthrow of American ideals.

Ultimately, their committment to America in WWII, and the associated refigured American Dream, the intellectuals "were laying the foundations for their own postwar emergence as a privileged elite, the tough-minded tacticians of anti-Communist diplomacy, the indispensable experts in a managerial society... the well adjusted servants of the modern state." (361-2)

"Progressivism represented the first response of the 20th century to those transformations in industry, technology, labor, communications, and urban living which threatened to obliterate nineteenth century America." (9) Planning, efficiency, and expertise to deal with disorder and the consequences of rapid growth.
Progressive legacy in 30s - attempts to duplicate in form if not substance: intellectuals have a role in shaping the nation and fixing problems

1920s - Left fares poorly in time of middle class prosperity and individualism
Artists moved into exile within boehmian communities in the city, or to Europe.

Crash of 1929 -Initially, most accepted explanation that this was a temporary adjustment, and so attitudes and behavior remained the same for about a year.

Chapter II Political and Economic Thought, 1929-35 - Debate over a continued faith in the liberal state or a more radical refiguring of America. Those disenchanted with traditional reform increasingly looked to Russia as a potential model. However, Pells notes the idealization of Russia came uncritically; thus, "the attack on liberalism and the parallel attraction to the Soviet Union often ended not in a conversion to radical theory but rather in a commitment to special forms of culture and myth." (68)

Election of 1932 - Intellectuals didn't think FDR offered a radical change to the US that was needed to fix the situation, but the masses elected the only viable non-Hoover candidate. But once the New Deal was unveiled in the first 100 days, most observers sensed that it truly was a social revolution. Eventually, though, many concluded that Roosevelt was merely preserving the economic system in a time of scarcity rather than actually offering a radical solution. The intellectuals on the left remained committed to a socialist perspective.

Chapter III - Search for Community - Intellectuals (specifically John Dewey, Lewis Mumford, Robert Lynd, Sidney Hook, and Reinhold Niebuhr) accepted the collectivization of American life into a mass society, and realized that required a redefinition of the American Dream. They failed to fashion a new ideology, but laid the groundwork for later thought by combining traditional liberalism, new socialism, and moral passion. Thus, they joined seemingly contradictory ideas, liberalism and Marxism, morality and politics, private thought and collective action, individual freedom and search for community, critique of industrialism and analysis of capitalism, desire for psychologcally satisfying myths an the need for a coherent social theory. (148-50)

Chapter IV - Literary Theory and the Role of the Intellectual - Writers on all sides of the political spectrum turned back to an engagement with public issues. In the case of some socialist writers, this became a critique of bohemian irresponsibility of the 1920s and a call toward universal brotherhood and cultural solidarity; Pells notes this call has an inherently conservative underbelly. Others began to search for and celebrate proletarian literature (Denning) to serve both the needs of the masses and the intelligentsia. Still others insisted that literature remain separate from politics and class struggle in order to secure its cultural value in the midst of collapse (the goal of both sides - it was the means that differed).

Chapter V - Documentaries, Fiction, and the Depression - Most of the creative artists did not follow the intellectual community, and (except James Agee's articles on Deep South tenant farmers for Fortune) avoided fusing radicalism with art. Literature was abandoned by some in favor of the seemingly more effectual journalism and documentary. Other writers made radicalism second to more traditional values: ex. Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath favors patience over revolution, tradition over social change. Major themes included: remembrance of the past, coming of the apocalypse, and the survival of the self (hard-boiled detective remaining himself even as he solves a crime).

Chapter VI - The Radical Stage and the Hollywood Film in the 1930s - The Workers' Theater briefly held the promise of reform through the stage, but ultimately radical theater gave way to more conventional, sentimental plays at the end of the decade. Radical theater failed to invent new styles, and social significance lost its appropriateness and thus failed to draw an audience. Orson Welles' experimentation culminated in his masterpiece, Citizen Kane, but like other radical artists, Welles was offering an uncomfortable view of the world at a time (late 1930s) when Americans were yearning for tranquil and routine.

Chapter VII - The Decline of Radicalism, 1935-1939 - From high hopes, this period saw a retreat from the creativity of art and revolutionary-ness of thought. The decline is most visible in the history of the communist party which joined a common front against reaction (exemplified by Nazi Germany) rather than continuing to pursue their own objectives. Liberals, meanwhile, internalized the New Deal's message of the role of leadership (gov't) to help the masses. Overall, intellectuals sensed the moment for change had passed, and, while more moderate writers like Gilbert Seldes celebrated FDR as an American hero, the left felt a sense of the inevitability of disaster in the approaching war.

Chapter VIII - From Depression to War - The Popular Front and the rest of the intellectual left fragmented at the end of the decade, only to coalesce in a broader alliance in the crusade against Hitler, which would morph after 1945 into a defense of the US in the Cold War.

This book is most similar to Denning's Cultural Front. Pells is discussing the intellectual elite on the left, while Denning is stressing the participation through culture of the labor class along with intellectuals and artists.

Pells also overlaps with McCarraher's Christian Critics, discussing their role and interaction with their more secular counterparts. McCarraher probably does this a bit more delicately, but the varied perspective is interesting.

Why was the New Left of the 1960s a student movement? McCarraher explains why it wasn't a student movement. Pells, as well as Isserman, demonstrate why it arose from young thinkers rather than veterans of the 1930s.

I'm pushing my reading pace now, but this book is one I wish I could spend more time with and might have to come back and look at in the future, if I ever happen to be in a bank vault as an H-bomb blows civilization to kingdom come, leaving me all alone with time...time enough at last. I just have to make sure I keep plenty of sets of contact lenses.

Turner - Liminality and Community

Turner, Victor. "Liminality and Community." From Alexander, Jeffrey C., and Steven Seidman. Culture and Society: Contemporary Debates. Cambridge [England]: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

The liminal period falls between separation and aggregation in a rite of passage into community. Turner explores the cultural significance of this ambiguous period of transition.

"In liminality,the underling comes uppermost." (151) Also, the supreme authority is seen as a slave, or at least a servant (Christianity, for example.)

"The neophyte in liminality must be a tabula rasa..." (151)

Turner then turns to examine communitas - an open society which is ideally extensible to the limits of humanity, and thus differs from a structured closed society. Ex. The beat generation, followed by hippies. "Communitas is of the now; structure is rooted in the past and extends into the future through language, law, and custom..." (153)

Dialectic: " rites of passage [liminality], men are released from structure into communitas only to return to structure revitalized by their experience of communitas."

Walzer - Puritanism and Revolutinary Ideology

Walzer, Michael. "Puritanism and Revolutionary Ideology." From Alexander, Jeffrey C., and Steven Seidman. Culture and Society: Contemporary Debates. Cambridge [England]: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

How did Middle Ages revolutionaries justify the overthrow of kings supposedly endowed with their position by God?

He describes exiles from England during the reign of Mary. These exiles moved into South Germany and Switzerland where they established self-governing religious communities, imagined themselves prophets, and called for the overthrow of Mary who had been placed on the thrown not by God but by the devil.

"Resistance in the Middle Ages had usually been viewed as a defensive struggle against a tyrant guilty of acts of aggression upon the political order. Defense was a temporarily necessary orm of legal violence, ending as soon as order was restored. But the permanent warfare of saints and worldlings set legality and order aside. The devil might be expected to use every imaginable form of wiliness and deception; the saints would continually test his power and rise up whenever they found him weak. They would obey him, as Goodman wrote, only "in captivity and thraldom," never willingly, passively, or in a routine fashion. Thy would disobey and rebel whenever it was possible, for it was their "bounden duty" to "maintain the cause of God with all [their] might." In the history of political thought, this Calvinist idea of permanent warfare lies between the theory of resistance and that of revolution, and mediates the transition from one to the other." (133)

Sahlins - Food as Symbolic Code

Sahlins, Marshall. "Food as Symbolic Code." From Alexander, Jeffrey C., and Steven Seidman. Culture and Society: Contemporary Debates. Cambridge [England]: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Sahlins demonstrates how the symbolic value of animals as (or as not) food actually serves to reveal and support the social hierarchy. "...this reproduction of the whole of nature constitutes an objectification of the whole of culture. By the systematic arrangement of meaningful differences assigned the concrete, the cultural order is realized also as an order of goods. The goods stand as an object code for the signification and valuation of persons and occasions, functions and situations. Operating on a specific logic of correspondence between material and social contrasts, production is thus the reproduction of the culture in a system of objects." (101)

For example, Americans value dogs as kin, and horses as servants of labor. He offers an example of a protest to horse meat being offered by a butcher, so horsemeat can be purchased, and is used as dogfood. But pork and beef, with beef being a more special meet, are never questioned as consumable meets. He also points out that this distinction - and who might eat horse or dog - also becomes enmeshed in a self-perception of Americans as civilized and blacks or other foreign nations as uncivilized...closer to animals.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Williams - Ideas of Nature

Williams, Raymond. "Ideas of Nature." From Culture and Materialism: Selected Essays. London: Verso, 2005.

Williams explores how humans have perceived of nature throughout history. Medieval westerners perceived Nature as the minister of God. Nature was made singular and abstract, and personified as a force and principle.

More recently, humans have begun to perceive of nature as something separate from themselves. This coincides with the rise of science and theories of evolution. Initially, they conceived of themselves as part of nature, even if they saw themselves at the top of the natural hierarchy, or perhaps just below God. Now nature is seen as something that men can improve, or can go to apart from their own creation. The idea that men might talk about intervening in nature suggests to Williams the erroneous conception that they could choose NOT to interfere with nature. Inherent in this fallacy is an abstraction of man himself, something apart from the natural world he inhabits.

Key Quote
"If we alienate the living processes of which we are a part, we end, though unequally, by alienating ourselves." (84)

Williams - Means of Communication as Means of Production

Williams, Raymond. "Means of Communication as Means of Production." From Culture and Materialism: Selected Essays. London: Verso, 2005.

First published: 1978

Williams argues for a Marxist perspective on communications theory, concluding with a socialist remedy for the hegemonic situation inherent in capitalist communications systems.

Three Ideological Theories of Communications
  1. bourgeois - communications are studied in terms of media, devices for sending and receiving messages and information. People are abstracted from their social situation, seen only as senders or receivers.
  2. Partially viewing means of communication as means of production. This differentiates between natural communication and mass communication which uses technology. This doesn't work, says Williams, because all communication uses some form of "natural" communication, ie language. Also, mass communications theory conceives uncritically of a mass audience. McCluhan's contribution to this ideology is somewhat helpful in emphasizing the specific differences between media, but then sees social relationships to the message as locally determined by the media.
  3. Marxist - means of communication as means of production. The communication only happens once the productive and socio-material relationships have already been determined. It is important to conceive the reception of communication within historical context because of the recent developments in technology.
Three types of transformation of non-human communication material
  1. amplificatory - megaphone, radio, TV
  2. durative - stored communications
  3. alternative - the use of signs to communicate (writing, visual action, etc.)
Williams notes the increasing skill needed to send and receive alternative communications: writing, reading, understanding signs of lesser or greater complexity. Technical developments are making access simpler, but nonetheless there is still a hierarchy over who is allowed to be a sender: ex. journalists can write stories but printers merely create the newspaper without comment.

The socialist solution, then, is to educate, as well as foster universal access to the means of communication.

Williams epitomizes the Marxist approach to communications theory, which was complicated in the decade after this was written with a greater sensitivity to the ways communications are received by the audience.

Bellah - "Civil Religion in America"

Bellah, Robert. "Civil Religion in America." From Alexander, Jeffrey C., and Steven Seidman. Culture and Society: Contemporary Debates. Cambridge [England]: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Originally published 1970

Examples from the Kennedy inaugural, to the Declaration of Independence, to Lincoln's 2nd inaugural and Gettysberg Address, back to LBJ demonstrate the continuing place of God (though never, explicitly, Jesus) in America's self-perception.

"...the separation of church and state has not denied the political realm a religious dimension." Bellah distinguishes between personal belief, worship, and ritual which are seen as private affairs and the more common elements of religious ideas that spread throughout the fabric of American life. The inauguration affirms the religious legitimation of the President. (263)

America has long conceived of itself as an extension of and a modern version of Israel, and a nation created by believers to be a light to the world. It remains so as Bellah writes in 1970 (earlier? during LBJ?), in the midst of the Cold War.

Until the Civil War, the Civil Religion focused on the Revolution as the ultimate act of "Exodus" for the U.S. But the Civil War inevitably undermined this vision. Lincoln's use of "birth" and related words throughout the Gettysburg address, as well as the myth of Lincoln himself, reveals the death-sacrifice-rebirth meaning the Civil religion took from the Civil War.

The Civil religion remains alive, for better or, as Bellah concludes, for worse: though he certainly buys in to the conception of the Cold War as a good-vs-evil endeavor, LBJ avoided using the Civil religion to claim God's favor in Vietnam but others haven't been so hesitant.

Could we have an agnostic President? Bellah is skeptical.

Key quote
"If the whole God symbolism requires reformulation, there will be obvious consequences for the civil religion, consequences perhaps of liberal alienation and of fundamentalist ossification that have not so far been prominent in this realm." (272) He thus anticipates the divide between liberals and fundamentalists that has shaped politics in the last 30 years.

Bellah assumes an continuing difference between Civic Religion and personal, private beliefs. However, I think this divergence, while perhaps not beginning in the 20th century, has certainly been exacerbated by the cultural revolution sparked by Freud, described by Rieff, and increasingly lamented by Bell, Lasch, etc. etc.

Douglas - Symbollic Pollution

Douglas, Mary. "Symbolic Pollution." From Alexander, Jeffrey C., and Steven Seidman. Culture and Society: Contemporary Debates. Cambridge [England]: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Comparative religion struggles to apply modern medical understandings. Some argue that ancient rites have a hygenic basis. Others argue that a great gulf lies between our hygienic understanding and what ancients actually believed. Douglas suggests that the problem in both sides is that they fail to consider OUR ideas about hygiene and dirt. Guess what her article is about? Confronting our ideas about hygiene and dirt!

Douglas places dirt and hygiene within a broader conception of pollution: things that should not be in a certain place for their symbolic (often actual) threat to the individual and/or social order. She winds through various examples from various cultures, demonstrating how pollution is identified and dealt with. A corrupt politician is removed from office. A pregnant woman's unborn child has an ambiguous position between life and death because of the hazards of birth and infancy - thus many cultures treat the mother herself, carrying the fetus, as a danger to others around her.

Bourdie - "Artistic Taste and Cultural Capital"

Bourdieu, Pierre. "Artistic Taste and Cultural Capital." From Alexander, Jeffrey C., and Steven Seidman. Culture and Society: Contemporary Debates. Cambridge [England]: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Originally published 1968

Bourdieu describes how elite art becomes elite art, creating a separation between those who can appreciate and access meaning within art and those who cannot. Education is the separating factor. Those who have been educated to appreciate fine arts - the canon of artists, periods, schools, movements, etc - are the only ones who can fully appreciate them.

The museum offers free entrance, but this is "false generosity" because it is also optional entrance, and only those with the privilege to enjoy the experience are likely to use this option. Thus, culture itself becomes a force which legitimizes certain classes.

Key Quote
"The school in fact is the institution which, through its outwardly irreproachable verdicts, transforms socially conditioned inequalities in regard to culture into inequalities of success, interpreted as inequalities of gifts which are also inequalities of merit." (212)

Nye - Unembarrassed Muse

Nye, Russel B. The Unembarrassed Muse: The Popular Arts in America. New York: Dial Press, 1970.

Emerging in the mid-18th century, popular arts exploded in the 19th century from a combination of historical factors:
  • the rise of the middle-class,
  • the passing of control of the means of production and transmission from a privileged elite to the middle class,
  • rising literacy,
  • increased leisure time
  • technology for mass reproduction
Thus, in between the folk art of the masses and the elite art supported by wealthy patrons arose an art designed to be sold to a mass audience for the artist's profession. "Popular art is folk art aimed at a wider audience, in a somewhat more self-conscious attempt to fill that audience's expectations, an art more aware of the need for selling the product, more consciously adjusted to the median taste." (3)

The thick book explores the history of popular arts, or rather how various arts became popular and what sorts of themes they reveal: fiction, poetry, theatre, comics, mystery, sci-fir, westerns, popular music, movies, radio, TV. He historicizes the trends these genres go through, revealing their connection to social developments.

Popular Art Criticism
"Popular art confirms the experience of the majority, in contrast to elite art, which tends to explore the new." (4) Thus, critics have tended to view popular art negatively. Nye, writing in 1970, is somewhat ahead of the curve in insisting that popular art is not inherently bad, but rather tries to apologize for its dependence on the market. His conclusion is a useful, short synthesis of critical trends.

elitist criticism - Dwight MacDonald, Richard Hoggart. The rise of inherently bad mass culture threatens good/elite culture. Thus, creators of elite culture should band together (perhaps by government funding) and create art which resists mass culture.

Marxist criticism - Beginning in the 1930s, Marxists took an opposite view to MacDonald et al, arguing the largest problem of mass culture was its control by the elite who exploited the msses with bad art.

Gilbert Seldes led the way in attempts to refute elitist criticism. He rejoiced in particular in the potential mass culture had to communicate with everyone, critiquing mass culture only for its failure to reflect a democracy.

Marshall McCluhan provocatively raised the importance of considering the medium and the setting within which the medium is experienced for Cultural studies.

Suson Sontag, by 1966, was rejecting the distinctions of "high" and "low" art as dubious.

Apparently approving of these later developments, Nye concludes with a call for greater academic and intellectual exploration of popular culture.

Reading note
This book has a fantastic index, and its chapters are useful surveys of specific genres of popular culture.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Smith-Rosenberg - Sex as Symbol in Victorian Purity

Smith-Rosenberg, Carol. "Sex as symbol in Victorian Purity." From Alexander, Jeffrey C., and Steven Seidman. Culture and Society: Contemporary Debates. Cambridge [England]: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Originally published 1978

Smith-Rosenberg discusses Victorian reformers' critique of sex in writings during and after the age of Jackson. Set against the backdrop of the social changes of early industrialization (young men and women moving from agriculture to urban work), moral reformers argued pre-marital sex, promiscuity, and masturbation would cause an unhealthy release of energy. This damaged the individual and correspondingly threatened the society. Sexual behavior was seen as polluting the individual and the society. Reformers disliked young women and men going to boarding schools, which were thought to facilitate immoral behavior.

"On one level [the symbols of male moral reformers] expressed timeless fears of the power and uncontrollability of orgasms, of Oedipal conflict, of male fears and fascination with woman's sexuality and her reproductive powers. On the other hand, they provided an ideal sexual regimen for a newly urbanized middle class that had suddenly to revers the procreational practices of the past two centuries..."

Further, Smith-Rosenberg sets these fears within the cosmic system they were formulated, which perceived the threat of pollution being particularly dangerous during adolescence.

Goffman - Out-of-Frame Activity

Goffman, Erving. "Out-of-Frame Activity." From Alexander, Jeffrey C., and Steven Seidman. Culture and Society: Contemporary Debates. Cambridge [England]: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

This rather hilarious essay observes human action within particular frames. For example, a British palace guard is, while on-duty, constantly within a frame and utterly unable to do any action outside of his ritual military discipline.

Goffman also explores how, when individuals are incorporated into various frames, their existence as human machines will force them to deal with their desire to shift, scratch, yawn, cough or fart. The four ways to deal with this are 1. suppress, 2. release and treat as though it had not occurred OR ask permission to become out-of-frame, 3. Shield the release, 4. Assume liberties or ask for liberties to release.

He sets two extremes of framed activity: military parade grounds of strict discipline and board games of extremely informal framing.

Key Terms
disattend - assume a distraction to be out of frame for various reasons: 1. Profession, as a janitor in an office or a body guard standing next to a politician. 2. audience habit, as a visible stage hand, 3. audience/participant extreme engagement, soldier wounded in war disattends pain, gambler at casino disattends disturbances

connectives - Locating devices particularly in language: watching a speaker's lips move, "he said" in novels which help the hearer/reader understand the spatial arrangement. Goffman notes that these are stereotyped, but are not judged as such because they are very little seen

interaction competency - "capacity to cope with a range of disruptions - anticipated and unanticipated - while giving them the minimal apparent attention..." 112