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Archive for May, 2007

it’s been weighing on me for the past week. I’ve been over it and over it in my mind. I’m dreaming about it. I cannot stop thinking about the finale of LOST.

I’m sure not all of you have seen it, so I’m telling you right now: I need to discuss the season finale in a desperate way, so if you don’t want to know anything about it, STOP READING NOW. I”ll give you some scrolling space….

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OK, so what the fuck? I mean, I know JJ Abrams likes a good shock, a mindblowing finale experience that rattles you hard (witness the season 2 finale of ALIAS). But OMG. WTF?!?!?

So, are they not going to be on the island next season? Has the whole show up until this point been a series of flashbacks? Was the final scene with Jack and Kate what is happening, what could happen, what might happen, what is definitely going to happen, or has it already happened? Who died? I have two theories: I think it’s either Ben or John Locke. Are we ever going to find out the secrets of the island – why the Others were there, what they were doing, who the fuck is Jacob, why the people who were sick have been cured, why all the pregnant women die, why Ben got that tumor? Who are the Dharma Initiative people? why were they there? How did Ben manage to get Locke’s father there? WHY THE HELL are all the people on that flight connected in some weird way????? Why didn’t they try to find and kill Rousseau? Why are the charactersnamed after philosophers? What about Penny, Desmond’s girlfriend? What was she doing, why did the signal from the underwater station go to her place? Was she looking for Des all that time? Why did Charlie lock himself in that room instead of going out the door and closing it from the other side???? Why did Naomi, the parachute girl, have a picture of Des and Penny, if that wasn’t Penny’s boat? Who was it that she was working with? What the fuck is that black smoky cloud that kills people???????? Why did they have polar bears on that island???? What’s the deal with that hot Other? Richard is it? how come the Others don’t seem to age any? Cuz when Ben was a boy, Richard looked exactly the same age as he does now…. And how come they allowed Ben to become their leader? They seemed like they were kind of organized before that…. What about Juliet? What were she and Jack up to, and what’s going on between them? If they all get rescued, then do the Others go to jail for what they did on that island? Where have Walt and Michael been for the whole season? How come Walt came back to see Locke at the end? Why did that Naomi person say that the plane had been found and that everyone was dead? WTF is going on?!???!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!!?

Can someone please help me? I need someone to help me concoct a theory about all this. And I don’t think I’ll be able to contain myself until January 2008! I need some fucking answers, and I need them NOW!!!!!

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when I was a little girl, there were fewer pleasures more dear to me than my Nanny’s garden. She was British, a war bride, and her gardens were true English Country style – very organized but made to look haphazard, and lush without being overgrown yet still retaining some wildness. She had all the flowers from that song – daffodils and hollyhocks, bluebells, foxgloves, lillies, snowdrops. She also had snapdragons, violets, pansies, a huge lilac bush almost 8 feet tall, geraniums, marigolds, forget-me-nots, crocuses, hyacinths, and a wondrous patch of four-leaf clovers that grew every year. But her true pride and joy were her roses. They were glorious. She used to clip them and put them in her brandy snifters in the house, and when they were almost totally deflated she would take the petals and press them between her fingers to get the oil out, then rub it on her cheeks to make her skin soft. She always smelled like roses in the summer months.

My Nanny had two green thumbs, that’s for sure. She could make anything grow. I used to wander in her garden, sit by the flowers I liked best, daydream and read my books. It was the meaning of peacefulness to my 10 year-old heart.

I did not inherit my Nanny’s ability to grow things. I always loved plants and flowers, but I sure couldn’t grow them. I had catci that I killed for christ sake!

But, I am happy to announce that for almost two months now, I have been growing two plants. One is a gorgeous Aloe Vera plant, and the other is a Beautiful Unidentified Cute Little Green and White Leafy plant. 🙂 I had the Aloe plant in the window, but pretty little mean Kissy cat liked to rub up against its spiky leaves and bite them, so I had to rescue little Aloe and move her to a higher location. Now her teeth mark holes are all gone and she is looking lovely!!! She has already grown two new spiky leaf thingies! My other plant was quite small when I got him, but he is doing very very well now and has probably doubled in size!!!  However, the new growing isn’t entirely flawless – my African Violet isn’t doing as well as the others. Still, though, I haven’t managed to kill her yet, so I’m still counting the whole endeavour as a smashing success!

So, to those of you who know me, and know of my former ineptitude with green leafy chlorophyll producing things, I say – HA! I am now a Plant Growing Goddess!

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So, I got an email a little while ago from Kevin at Slant Truth, asking if I’d like to do some guest blogging at his place. I happily agreed. Here is my first post there, in response to the blogular disaster the past couple weeks about Jessica Valenti‘s book, Full Frontal Feminism.

For the sake of my own sanity and time constraints, I will only post a link on this blog to posts I’ve written for ST. Any and all discussion should take place there, not here.

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so, let’s call this a 3-episode arc.

For the next couple of weeks, I’m going to publish sections of a paper that reader Shannon recently sent me, on the subject of domesticity, in response to a post I wrote about women’s unpaid domestic labour. Her paper is VERY interesting, and I think there’s lots there to chat about. So, thanks so much to Shannon, my guest blogger for the next couple of weeks!!! And give Shannon a nice welcome and lots of discussion, please!

Nobody Likes a Blatant Simulacrum: Betty Crocker as a Marketing Technique

A young woman stands tall on the crest of a hill, flanked by two small children desperately clutching her hands. Her simple dress flutters in the chilly breeze as she stares resolutely into the distance, contemplating the dangers and pleasures that lay ahead. Suddenly, a man’s solemn voice shatters the silence of this moving tableau. “Homemaking. A woman’s most rewarding way of life.” Thus begins the 1950 premiere of The Betty Crocker Show. The scene shifts to reveal an impeccably groomed Betty Crocker seated at a desk in a nondescript office. Betty delivers a brief sermon about love, food, and the American way of life before trading her office for a gleaming kitchen, where an assistant whips up a pie crust using a General Mills boxed mix. A dramatization of a letter concerning mince pie and Thanksgiving dinner follows. Laura Shapiro describes this businesslike Betty Crocker as “a career homemaker with no need for a home…as out of place as a doily on a desk.” (193)

For the past ninety years, Betty Crocker has graced General Mills food products with her beaming face or, when portraits became unfashionable, her bold signature. Betty has communicated with the American public through print, radio, and television. Today anyone with internet access can go to BettyCrocker.com and browse a massive recipe archive, watch a video about preparing a particular meal, or contemplate the winners of the Mix It Up with Betty! Cookie Mix Recipe Contest. Betty Crocker’s personality has been projected through virtually every type of popular media on a national level and, if interaction with the public is any measure of worth, her early years were a tremendous success. Her smiling face and charming tone even helped the processed food industry gain an edge in an initially unimpressed market. Though Betty had a genuine impact on women who benefited from her knowledge, she rose out of consumerism and, in her later years, her message shifted from empathy to marketing—rather than assuring women her words would guide them, Betty said she would help them if they purchased her products. Shortly after Betty made the ideological transition from helpful friend to cake mix cheerleader, she fell from favor.

CONTEXT

Creating the American Consumer

Christine Frederick, a pioneer in the field of consumer research, emphasized the importance of focusing on efficiency and convenience in spurring the “household revolution” in her 1929 book Selling Mrs. Consumer (Frederick 166). Frederick, an appliance tester for Ladies’ Home Journal, describes the advances made in her own industrialized home. In its most primitive stage in 1911, Frederick did most of the housework by hand, laboriously pumping water, cleaning and filling oil lamps, washing clothes in a labor-intensive machine which required a great deal of attention, and smoothing clothing with a coal heated iron. The second stage of evolution was completed six years later and featured gasoline-burning lamps, a “gas-engine” which pumped water, an oil-burning stove, and a “self-heating alcohol hand iron.” At the time of the publication of Selling Mrs. Consumer, Frederick was pleased to declare that her home had reached the third stage of evolution: electric lights, electric washing machines, a vacuum cleaner for the rugs, and a “power ironer” for pressing linens. (Frederick 168)

By purchasing and installing helpful appliances, Frederick was able to cut down on the exhausting labor and mindless drudgery of domestic chores and earn a bit of leisure time, so naturally she suggested focusing on the perceived benefits of a device would be a more successful marketing tactic than emphasizing mechanical or technical qualities. As a consumer, she found more satisfaction in the results rather than the craftsmanship of her purchases or the process of using such technological marvels. Labor-saving technology, while certainly beneficial in terms of helping women maximize the returns to their domestic efforts, may be seen as a strong expression of consumerist philosophy: liberation through consumption.

In Captains of Consciousness, Stuart Ewen describes how industrialization spurred the expansion of advertising in the 1920s and transformed the role of the individual from producer to consumer. Prior to the economic shift from a primarily agrarian system to an industrial system, the majority of American citizens lived in rural areas at what was essentially a subsistence level. During the late 1800s, when manufacturing began to take off, over 50% of the labor force was employed on a farm of some sort. Small-scale agricultural production was often the pursuit of the entire family; husbands, wives, and children all contributed their energy to the success of the farm. What could not be grown or made at home had to be purchased, and the efforts of every family member were needed to scratch staples and cash crops from the soil. Such a system would naturally be patriarchal as decreed by tradition; however, every family member played a necessary role in making the home a place of independent production where thriftiness was a prized quality. The family, united by necessity, was the default social unit of rural existence. (Ewen 115)

Revolutionary manufacturing technology coupled with increasing urban populations encouraged a drastic change from home production to factory production. By the late 1920s, as much as two thirds of the national income went toward purchasing necessities like fresh and preserved foods, clothing, and furniture. Growing numbers of people left their country lifestyles for the bright lights of the cities, transforming from family members to individuals along the way. (Ewen 116) Rather than sharing the rewards of their labor with relatives, such individuals looked to large companies for both wages and sustenance. In all actuality, familial authority was replaced by a new kind of patriarchal authority: the corporate boss.

What precipitated the ubiquitous shift from producer to consumer? Farm life was certainly difficult and uncertain, and perhaps young people found the rural social climate too oppressive and saw a profitable escape in the glamour of urban life. Changing ideology may have contributed as well; the 1920s were an era of excess and enjoyment, a much more pleasant view than the “make do” attitude necessitated by farming. While the blame for this physical and ideological migration can not rest solely on advertising, increased publicity for products and brands could certainly have been a factor. As the number of manufactured goods increased, a suitably large market for such items had to be created in order for industrial profits to be realized. Rather than marketing solely to upper class citizens, companies decided to try to dip into the pockets of the average laborer. Marketers attempted to sell entire glittering, appliance-laden lifestyles rather than touting the benefits of a particular item, an approach which is prominent today. (Ewen 54)

Competitive consumption, otherwise known as keeping up with the Joneses, has been an American tradition since the 1950s. However, sociology professor Juliet Schor suggests, our neighborhoods have expanded to include not only the house down the street but also vacation homes in Costa Rica and celebrity mansions so that “luxury, rather than mere comfort, [became] a widespread aspiration.” As the focus of wage earners shifts from the home to more remote locations through formal employment and television, an entirely new view of socioeconomic structure was available. As documentary filmmaker Jean Kilbourne suggested in Killing Us Softly 3, “advertising is the foundation of the mass media, the primary purpose of the mass media is to sell products,” and “advertising does sell products.” However, it also promotes “values, it sells images, it sells concepts of love…and perhaps most important, of normalcy.” Due to the media bias toward the very wealthy, the average person’s perception of the economic situation of others became inflated; as the American income distribution became more skewed, an “aspirational gap” developed in which people are unable to earn enough money to purchase the lifestyle they desire. Today ever-increasing bankruptcy rates and credit card debt combined with practically nonexistent savings are obvious results of the social situation. (Schor)

Advertising as a Technology

Broadly defined, technology refers to using scientific knowledge to advance industrial or commercial aims. Advertising could not really be considered technological until the 1920s though advertisements have appeared in magazines and newspapers for hundreds of years. As much of the American population hovered precariously near the subsistence level, possessed little cash, and had limited access to credit, marketing was essentially useless until mechanized production increased output to massive levels and new customers were needed to keep business going. By the 1920s a sizeable proportion of the population worked for wages and manufacturers, swayed by the brand-new advertising industry, began to reach out to consumers in all socioeconomic brackets. (Ewen 32)

Older advertisements touted the technical benefits of a particular product or emphasized its scientific nature, but the early 1900s marked an important shift in advertising. Rather than appealing to logic and urging consumers to choose the best item based on mechanical merit, advertisers began to speak to what they called instincts by highlighting the desire for beauty, leisure, and self-consciousness about social status. The worth of the consumer replaced the worth of the product as the focus of marketing. (Ewen 39) Rather than selling a product, advertisers elected to sell an entire lifestyle by associating their brand with comfort, prosperity, and high social standing. (Ewen 54) Though the delivery of such messages has become increasingly more sophisticated over time, the main thrust of ads has not changed for over one hundred years: you are a sad, inadequate little person and the only way you can become happy and socially accepted is through consumption.

The power of suggestion was well-documented as early as the 1920s. Advising marketers, Christine Frederick writes of Mrs. Consumer, “She most decidedly does not visualize herself as an automaton told what to do by advertising, and of course she is no such thing.” (334) However, even the most wary shopper can be influenced through manipulative suggestions. Floyd Henry Allport, a prominent social psychologist of the early 1900s, suggested consciousness of self is a compilation of our perceptions of how others view us, and our self is “the object of continual and harsh social scrutiny.” (qtd. in Ewen 34) As non-human entities rise in prominence and power and interaction with such personalities increases daily, their view is projected into this conglomerative self-image, suggesting that mass media does indeed have the power to effect our notions of self.

Advertising, then, has been a technology of control since its infancy; however, manipulation rather than brute force is the primary method of mental domination. Within the production system, “raw materials and consumers were both viewed as malleable. They would both have to be shaped by the demands of the production line, pecuniary interests, and the newly emergent managerial tool of capital.” (Ewen 26) Industrialization provided both the means for producing increasingly sophisticated goods and the mindset necessary for consumption of those goods. Factory work at the turn of the century contrasted sharply with the rural or farm-based lifestyle. Rather than producing necessities for an intimate group of family members through menial labor, the typical working-class corporate employee spent their days supervising a machine or performing simple monotonous tasks. While both types of work were physically demanding, the factory worker held the unique role of toiling for a vague corporate authority figure and receiving impersonal wages in return. Advertisements during this time period emphasized the current insignificance of the individual and then suggested a product or five to ameliorate the laborer’s ennui.

Common Themes in Food Advertising

Though the food industry markets a wide variety of products to an increasingly diverse audience, the tactics used over the past century have been remarkably consistent. Fortified granola bars are introduced in 2007 like canned meals in 1957 and heavily branded candies in 1907 by associating women with food. Whether women are depicted shopping, cooking, or serving a hearty meal, the link between food and female servility is a remarkably long-lived cultural tradition despite the dynamic nature of gender roles. In the book Food is Love, Katherine Parkin explores past and present themes in food advertising and suggests that most food advertisements may be grouped under a handful of umbrella categories based on their message to women.

Advertisements have encouraged women to consider the emotional element of cooking since the beginning of the 20th century, portraying affection in particular as closely tied to food. Women are depicted expressing their love by feeding their families, implying that bad cooking or, even more horrifying, not cooking was a sign of apathy and disinterest in the family’s well-being. (Parkin 30) If love makes a home and good food is a prerequisite for love, apathy toward cooking on the part of a wife or mother can apparently crush domestic stability and tranquility like a stale cookie.

Thanks to a host of publications on cooking and caring for children plus an ever-expanding supply of gizmos and gadgets designed to make domestic work easier, continued insistence on women as homemakers and nurturers seems more than a little ludicrous. In an industrialized society men and women are capable of performing the same service or white collar jobs, and as cooking with appliances requires little intuition or physical strength, anyone who is willing to open a book and follow directions can make a satisfactory meal. Even today men and children are portrayed as cooks only in very limited circumstances; apparently all the science of the industrialized kitchen cannot imbue food with that feminine spark of affection required to produce meals which are emotionally and physically satisfactory. The notion of caring through cookery is the root of all food advertising aimed at women.

Additionally, food quality is associated with the health and success of individual women, the nuclear family and, by extension, the United States as a whole. In one edition of her popular radio show, Betty Crocker warned women about the dangers of improperly feeding a husband.

“If you load a man’s stomach with soggy boiled cabbage, greasy friend potatoes…can you wonder that he wants to start a fight, or go out and commit a crime? We should be grateful that he does nothing worse than display a lot of temper.” (Marks 31)

Women, then, were held directly responsible for their husband’s success or failure. In 2005 film The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio, Julianne Moore’s character visits her priest to talk about her husband’s drinking problem. He scolds her for neglecting her wifely duties and suggests that the best way to combat her husband’s moodiness was to make their home as happy as possible. As the guardian of the purity and peace of the home, she was at fault for allowing her husband to spiral into depression and alcoholism. Husbands, like children, had to be gently reminded to eat their vegetables lest they become grouchy or cruel due to malnutrition or exhaustion; if a woman truly loved her family she would accept this burden and buy whatever brand of vegetable promised to deliver the most energy. All of her woes could be dissipated if she would only buy the right product.

A mother’s cooking was also depicted as a prominent factor in her children’s health, and the discovery of vitamins in the 1920s led to a maniacal focus on the power of proper nutrition in preventing illness. (Parkin 162) Advertisements for Campbell’s Soup featuring the Campbell Kids projected the image of the ideal child: lively, healthy, vigorous, and cherubic. Children were frequently pictured following in their parents’ footsteps. For example, a smiling little girl would help her mother in the kitchen while a husky boy assisted his father in the woodshop, implying that a particular food would help children become well-adjusted adults able to function according to societal expectations. (Parkin 204)

Even in today’s advertisements, men are rarely depicted cooking or serving food, but they often function as authoritative figures that approve or dismiss a woman’s cooking. Though these men did not cook on a regular basis, playing the role of provider rather than nurturer in family life, they were apparently blessed with an innate understanding of good food and were able to judge the quality of a woman’s efforts. (Parkin 129) Scientists, doctors, and chefs began endorsing products in advertisements in the early 1900s, and these invariably male experts were portrayed as qualified through education or experience to tell women what and how to cook. (Parkin 130) Recall the ideological shift from production to consumerism was taking place at the same time; as people continually looked outside the home for employment and sustenance, increased emphasis on external authority figures making domestic suggestions was certainly not coincidental.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Endrijonas, Erika. “Processed Foods from Scratch: Cooking for a Family in the 1950s.” Kitchen Culture in America. Ed. Sherrie A. Inness. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001. 157-173.

Frederick, Christine. Selling Mrs. Consumer. New York: Business Bourse, 1929.

Killing Us Softly 3: Advertising’s Image of Women. Dir. Sut Jhaly. Prod. Media Education Foundation. Created by Jean Kilbourne. Viewed on GoogleVideo. <http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-1993368502337678412&q=killing+us+softly&gt;

Marks, Susan. Finding Betty Crocker. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005.

Parkin, Katherine. Food is Love: Food Advertising and Gender Roles in Modern America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006.

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio. Dir. Jane Anderson. Perf. Julianne Moore and Woody Harrelson. Revolution Erie Productions Ltd, 2005.

Schor, Juliet. “The New Politics of Consumption.” Boston Review Summer 1999. <http://bostonreview.net/BR24.3/schor.html&gt;

Shapiro, Laura. Something from the Oven. New York: Viking, 2004.

Smith, Christopher Holmes. “Freeze Frames: Frozen Foods and Memories of the Postwar American Family.” Kitchen Culture in America. Ed. Sherrie A. Inness. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001. 175-209.

OK, this seems like a good place to end for this week. Discuss at will, SVP!!!

 

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My pal, Rainbow Girl, has an absolutely fabulous genius fundraiser idea. It’s a feminist comic book that she herself wrote, called Rainbow Girl stars in SEXY WAR, and ALL PROCEEDS go to the Umoja Uasa Kenyan Women’s Village, a group of women working to escape and end domestic and sexual violence.

I wanted to let everyone know that this wonderful fundraiser is now available through Team Rainbow. Please, go and check out the details, and order multiple copies for this great cause!

Congratulations RG!!!

“Be the change you want to see in the world.” – Ghandi

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A reader, Alec, sent me an email yesterday with a link to this article, about the level of representation in the current US Congress as it relates to the population at large. It’s pretty clear that the Congress is not really representative of the US population demographics. Check it out:

 Males – As of the 2006 congress, 83.7% of the Congress is male, while the percentage of males of the voting age population (18 plus) is only 48.4. If this is further evaluated to include the over-representation of white males, the figure is even more staggering: 36.3% of the voting age population are white males, yet there are 79 White Male senators making up the Senate (79%).

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The Wealthy/Educated – In the Senate, fifty-six senators hold degrees in the law, seven have MBA’s, and four have MD’s. The majority of COngress members come from upper-middle class to upper class income backgrounds, and the jobs themselves as Representatives and Senators pay $165,200 per year putting them in the top 5 percent of American household incomes, which does not reflect spouses income either (top 5% is deliniated by $157,000 per household).

On a similar note, the front-runner candidates for President in both parties (many of whom are currently serving in the Senate) had incomes that placed them in the top 1% of the population. Rudy Guiliani made 16.1 million dollars in 2006 with $45 million in assets, John Edwards $1.25 million in income and $29.5 million in assets, Barack Obama reported $938,000 in income and over 1 million dollars in assets, and possible third party candidate Michael Bloomberg has over 6.5 billion in his personal fortune.

Jews – While comprising 1.8% of the total United States population, Jews make up 7 percent of the Congress. This disproportional representation is extended higher in the Senate, where 13% of senators are Jewish.

Please take care to note the incomes and assets of the presidential candidates. Make extra-special attention to whose personal wealth is lowest. Yes, that’s right, it’s Barack Obama – the only black presidential contender. hmmm. interesting.

 So that’s over-representation. The even sadder news is the flip-side of that coin, the under-representation, of women and people of colour. Check this out:

Women – Women of voting age represent 51.6 percent of the voting age population yet are 16.3% of the Congress, putting America below the global average of 17% female representation at parliamentary level. As of 2007, the US ranks 68th in terms of women holding office in the legislature — this puts the US just above Turkmenistan, and just below El Salvador and Panama. [emphasis mine – TG]

and women have all the rights we need? what do those rights actually mean when societal forces are in place to prevent them from being exercised and upheld? This is a clear-cut example of the very important difference between formal and substantive equality.  Who will fight for these important differences to be eliminated than feminists? feminism is far from over.

Moving on:

Latinos – Hispanics represent over 14% of the U.S. population, while their Congress representation is 3% in the Senate and about 5% in the House.

African-Americans – The Senate is 1% African American and the House is roughly 9.2% African American compared to the 12.3 percent of American population that are of Black or African-American descent.

This is absolutely pathetic. And wholly related to the above point, about class. Note me, and note me well: class does not run deeper than race. Race and class are deeply interwoven, and that’s not because of class discrimination, it’s because of racism. People of colour are proportionately far far poorer than whites in these wealthiest of countries of ours, and it’s because they’re not white. Plain and simple. Get it through your heads, kids. Saying that blacks and hispanics are excluded from politics because they’re poor is a pretty pathetic excuse for an excuse. Stop and ask yourself : why are they poorer, statistically and significantly, than white folks? it doesn’t take a genius to put two and two together.

 Thanks to Alec for providing me with some fodder for a post!

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hey y’all…

 just to let you know, Marcella’s ON FIRE lately!!!!! If you haven’t read her blog, which focuses on rape, then get your booty over there now. I especially love her critiques of the legal system and how it completely does not support rape survivors.

Go Marcella!

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