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Narrativized Ludology: Sports Film and Rule-Based Climax

EDIT: HAH! This has barely anything to do with the narratology vs. ludology debate other than the name, but you’re interested, aren’t you?! I thought up the title after I had written most of the post and I like the idea, but I don’t know what it means. Here’s some stuff about rules and sports films. SPORTS!

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Yeah. It’s a Thursday and I’m talking about something completely different than what I thought I would be talking about, but fuck it. I’ve got something in the mind mill about stats and Moneyball and Nate Silver’s existence, but I’ve been thinking a ton about sports films the past few days and wanted to get some words down.

This topic is coming from my current viewing of Major League, which I am watching because of this awesome ‘oral history’ piece that’s been floating around sports blogs this past week about the 1989 Cleveland Indians. It’s worth a read, but if you know the plot of Major League as well as I do, it’s a bit of a bore that just makes you want to watch the actual movie. It doesn’t have Bob Uecker’s voice or Wesley Snipes ridiculously small car, so it’s lacking to say the least.

Rules and strategies of games are usually relegated to the players of those games and their fans. These codes have been agreed upon and have disseminated through their use by pro teams throughout the country. Leagues have rule books that are understood, for the most part, by those playing or coaching the games. I say mostly because of a poll that went around a few weeks back about obscure baseball rules and how there were a few announcers and coaches that did remarkably bad. This is a poor way to start. “Rules” and “strategy” are fucking horrible, ill-defined words that can mean almost anything in any situation. How about I actually try to do that instead of keeping up the shit tradition of not defining anything.

I guess I should define what I mean by a “rule.” To be honest, I don’t really know how to define that term well. For the purpose of sports, I’m taking rules as written statements which designate allowed actions, describe the flow of play and dimensions of the play space, and set up parameters for how winners and losers are established. On the other hand, strategies entail direct responses to those rules which have also become institutionalized, but not in written ways. The sports strategy becomes systemic, in that it infiltrates certain teams or coaches or players. Often, strategy isn’t looked at as strategy, but labeled as ‘philosophies.’ In baseball, certain teams will play ‘small ball,’ bunting, stealing and sacrificing runners ahead to increase the probability that they can score a few runs. Football has a long-standing tradition of having certain strategic philosophies originate in college-level ball and making their way up to the majors through new coaches. The wildcat system and the West Coast offense being two of the more famous of examples. Well, there are some definitions. They aren’t going to work for everything, but they’re there. This is me patting myself on the back.

These are all codes that sports fans come to pick up on from various places, be they family members, telecast announcers, magazines, websites, so on and so forth. They’re mutually-agreed upon symbols. Well, they aren’t mutually agreed upon. They have been agreed upon and you better learn them or you’re not as welcome in the environment as those who do. This is trending towards symbolic convergence theory, a term coined by Ernest Bormann, but I know that theory is specific to rhetoric and doesn’t necessarily work well. Maybe social semiotics or something else would work, but I don’t know what would be best. Communities create and are endowed with symbols that they take on, understand, and keep up. It doesn’t always work like that, nor is it necessarily the norm, but I’m not trying to make a lengthy argument about symbol and meaning-making for various groups.

But what happens to rules when we move from sports as a part of the games medium to sports as topic for another medium, particularly the sports film. With a shift in audience, and a shift in the relationship between audience and game, there has to be a shift in the ways that rules are understood and displayed.

There’s a particular trope of overtime being used as a rule that is exploited by film to heighten the audience’s intensity. I watched Invictus the other day and it uses extra time in the same way that The Mighty Ducks 2 uses the shootout. These allowances within the actual sport are not brought up until the climax of the film in order to put an extra bit of umph into the suspense of the moment. Now that I think about it, the first Mighty Ducks movie does the same thing with the penalty shot that Charlie Conway takes at the end of the climactic battle with the Hawks foe. Yes, I do remember all of the intricate details of the Mighty Ducks franchise and it’s sad, but I’ll deal with it.

The rules of the game are not laid out for the audience when we deal with the game in film. In Friday Night Lights, they choose to go the entirety of the film without mentioning the role of penalties in football, but in the last scene, where the multicultural, rural Panthers are up against the all black, urban Dallas Carter team (seriously, go watch that again. It’s disgusting how much they build up this black, urban, male team as the ultimate enemy. Can’t we have more cases where the Aryan Icelandic team is the disgusting foe like in MD2? Not perfect, but definitely different.), the Panthers are called for a holding penalty in the last minute which brings back a go-ahead touchdown. Why is this the first time that penalties, events that occur frequently within a single football game, are brought up in only one game where the entire season is on display.

****Note: I thought about that some more. That isn’t the first penalty that is brought up in the game, but that game is the only one where penalty flags fly. Earlier in the game a penalty is given to a Dallas Carter (read: black) players kicks the dislodged helmet into the face of a white Permian player. The penalty isn’t used as a plot twist, but it is definitely used in order to further the idea that Dallas Carter are the ‘baddies’ here. That they’re disgusting and unsportsmanlike and that you should hate them. It’s fucked.

Sports films operate under such a different understanding of the role of rules than that of the games (and their audiences) themselves. Their ludological power as rules, as the things that define the games and the way that those games can be played by players, is stripped when being forced into a narrative role. This is understandable, if we understand that the audience for the film is much larger than that of the game. However, who is the audience mostly of the sports film, and how do we deal with large overlays of that audience and smaller overlapping audiences? Invictus was a big budget movie that garnered over $100 million worldwide and around $37 million US. Unlike a movie like Major League, where we’re dealing with a popular American sport, we have a more untrained audience with the sport of rugby. This is probably why there isn’t as much focus on in-game play in the first 75% of the film. The only extended gameplay (can I call it that even in a scripted, biographical environment?) comes in the last half hour. It’s obvious that the writers tried to account for a more ignorant audience by showing the scoreboard every time that there was a score, constantly reminding them of the score and how the game worked. More emphasis is placed on the referee and what he said throughout the game in order to keep the audience up to speed.

This post also comes through the games readings that I have been doing, and I think that it’s ultimately an interesting thing that happens to rules when games move from games as medium to games as topic. Rules can no longer stand on their own because they don’t directly affect the audience, but they still play an incredibly important role in films about different sports.

I feel like I should say something about unwritten rules. For the most part I have been talking about rules that have been institutionalized in certain ways, mainly by being in the league’s actual rulebook in ACTUAL words. I haven’t been talking about hockey’s fighting ‘code’ (such as, always stop hitting when the other guy hits the ice) or baseball’s unwritten rules about running up the score late in games (no sacrifice bunts or suicide squeezes allowed). I’m sure there are some in football or basketball, but I don’t know those cultures as well.

Let’s first be honest: these aren’t technically “rules,” but social norms within certain subcultures of sport. However, they still come up in certain places in sports film. If we take Friday Night Lights again, we see the unwritten rule of being honest and open about medical conditions. The Permian star running back gets hurt in the first game and goes out just to get hurt more. Thus we get this moralistic understanding of how players are supposed to act. Same thing can be said for Varsity Blues on the coach’s side, forcing injections and more playing time on already injured players.

There are code words that are used as well within these films, but they offer a bit of a different feeling than the emphasis on rules. As I’m watching Major League, I noticed something. Bob Uecker is famous for his “Just a bit outside” comment, but after the first game of the regular season, Uecker calls the 9-0 thumping the Indians took as a “heartbreaker.” Those who know the sports code would recognize that as, at best, optimistic hyperbole. Heartbreakers in baseball refer to one-run games or blown saves that lead to losses in the last inning. These aren’t relied upon as much as rules, particularly in high tension moments, because of the acknowledgment that the entire audience won’t understand or get the joke.

You know what? I don’t know what the purpose of this blog post is. It’s mostly just me rambling about how rules are used differently when the audience is placed further and further away from their implementation and use. Rules are important for the player for their ability to play the game, for fans to understand the ways that the player is playing, but they are important for the sports film audience in order to understand the flow of the story that is being put forth. They are used to create the climax, or at least to heighten a particular moment within the resolution of a problem. They are markers of narrative points, unlike their persistent existence within the actual game. I’m not suggesting this is a bad thing or a good thing. I don’t know if it’s really even a thing.

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Sports and Identity: The Stat Against the Body

Shitty human…shitty blog. I know that I was saying that I was going to be doing this every Monday and Friday, but it’s been sweltering and this greasy, sweaty body doesn’t like typing when large amounts of residue builds up under my palms on my laptop. I’m a day late, but here is what I started writing Friday night and finished today.

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According to White House Down, this isn’t called a blog anymore. I don’t know what it is, but the fantasy creation of some screenwriter has told me so and I take that as dogma. Well, let’s just put that to the side because I don’t want to talk about film stuff or how much I expect directors to have military coherence across films and across decades (I know…ridiculous expectations).

For the rest of the month I’m going to be discussing several different things in the wide world of sports, but I want to start out with a bit of a diatribe about identity. It is a topic that has consistently permeated almost everything that I have thought about in the past year or so and, while I hate my brain for consistently going there, I think there might be something to this that is particularly important for sports.

I have difficulty believing in any sort of identity that is empowering to the individual or allow for self-determination. It’s not that I think they don’t exist. I’m sure that people are finding ways to identify themselves and empower themselves everywhere, but I’m not sure that those ways of creating identity matter when they come up against the forces of identity formation by established powers. We have to realize going forward that there are significant power differentials in the creation and formation of identities and we cannot flatten these together. For the rest of this post, I will be using identity creation to signify the self-determined, individual move to establish an identity and identity formation refers to processes which aim to stabilize and authorize an identity for an individual. I use this argument often when I look to various new media applications (wide open field, I know, but I think it works most places). In the storing of cookies and the instantaneous analysis of that data when users access various websites, we are not in control of the identity that is created. Instead, the algorithms and hierarchization of data allow for identities to be created that are most helpful for the individual sites. Amazon might privilege your purchase or viewing of one book over the same actions taken with another. Google might move physical location above other identity markers in certain circumstances. These are actions that the world outside of these companies does not control. These are certainly operations that do not allow for identity creation, but call upon instantaneous, single-use identities to be formed in order for a greater rhetorical effect.

In the move from whatever ‘new media applications’ means to sports, I want to first focus on the professional athlete. This month of sports talk will be focusing largely on the professional athlete because I’m not good with fan culture. In addition to that, I have some issues with how I have been seeing identity used in my small readings of sports studies as of right now. Identity gets attached so quickly to an adjective, that it seems like the word has little or no meaning. National, cultural, and social are some of the adjectives attached more often as I’ve seen, with the idea of sport or a specific game being given certain influence over those things. I think this takes so much out of identity and it puts the individual sport or the idea of sports in a place of less power than the individual. While I will acknowledge that the individual first has the power over whether or not to watch sports or enjoy them, the social, national and cultural pressures creates a power struggle that this view of identity doesn’t account for. We aren’t starting with sport as a given, which might be more apt in a country that does not have as multitudinous of a sports scene, but with identity as the given, and as the individual having a full arsenal to take on cultural and social practices in order to determine their own identities.

I’m somewhat repeating an argument that Grant Jarvie makes in his overview of sports studies entitled Sport, Culture, and Society: An Introduction. It is here, in reference to the mix of the social and the political with rugby in South Africa, that he writes, “Identity within the above mentioned book, as in many others, has a prominence as an answer to many questions. Here it features not as an explicit theory but as a magical incantation as a password into the story of South African sport that is expected to illuminate explanations of such areas as identity behaviour and the ways in which sporting ceremonies in South Africa have helped to generate identities among white South Africans (Nauright, 1997:21)” (285). Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Nick, you know absolutely nothing about the role of sport, particularly rugby, in a post-apartheid South Africa other than the movie Invictus [Almost wrote Invincible, that other one where Matt Damon-twin Mark Whalberg plays football instead of rugby…I need to watch those two together].” 

Well, you are definitely correct. I cannot speak to the role of rugby within South Africa, but I really enjoy the phrase “not as an explicit theory but as a magical incantation” when we’re talking about identity. This is really what I’ve been trying to say for the past several hundred words and am now just getting to. Many of us who are talking about identity these days have little understanding of what that might mean. Based on my work in cultural studies, I can tell that we have an entire field in the humanities that hasn’t seemed to actually question what the word ‘identity’ is defined as since Stuart Hall and Judith Butler. I know they’re alive and probably still writing. I don’t care. We really need to update that.

Identity is a very powerful term or me that we seem to always muddle by adding in extra shitty adjectives that limit what it can be instead of going for what it might actually be in a certain situation. The first way that we need to start understanding identity is that it is not wholly inherent to the individual. They do not have the power to fully define it and, because of this lack of power, the individual has an identity that must travel and change within different contexts. In an interesting little article entitled “Sport as Symbolic Dialogue,” C.E. Ashworth writes about identity as sport and that the creation of identity must be seen as a game in which symbols are exchanged and represented in different ways according to different rule sets.

He writes, “Life is thus a game whether rules are agreed upon or not because cognition is unavoidably governed by rules – those rules which establish identity in a continual state of becoming and ambiguity – but it is not an idealised game because the mutuality of rules is not necessarily guaranteed so that outcomes can be mutual and not individual.” Well there are a lot of problems here, but I’m going to talk about a few (But seriously, is he calling for a normalized cognition, what a butt!). I think he takes an interesting exit off the highway of thought here, but where he turns right at the end of the ramp, we’re going to take a left and look at what could (should?) have been. He takes sport as a metaphor and I want to take it as an example. So let’s do that? Or not. You can totally stop reading whenever you want.

Maybe instead it should read, “Identities are formed when rules are agreed upon for the individual, causing  definitively unequal power levels between individual and game, in order for identities to be formed more efficiently for the sake of the sport.” Are you rolling your eyes yet?

I’m not trying to say that identity is always like this. Yes, we are always staring into the abyss of language in order to pull together an identity, but choice and difference in that situation can possibly be liberating. I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about it, but maybe you should. But when I started this sort of project I kept running into a conceptualization of identity that was AT BEST magical and at worst unable to overcome other areas of research. This is also a continued response to how we need to start viewing identity in the age of informatics and the further move to the individual being nothing more than an aggregate of stats. Yeah. This suggests that that’s all we are, but that’s why I’m looking at sports. I’m not going to have as good of an example if I were looking at off-the-grid communes, you know?

So, here’s the deal. When we look to the professional athlete, and to their identity (not their celebrity, which seems to be a big thing for sports studies), we see identities that are being set up and created through their particular sport. Sport is an arena where the body can be discounted and abstracted from even thought sports studies also seems t have a total fascination with that. When we look to stats, it is the individual athlete split up and rearranged in order to provide some sort of meaning. Baseball is obviously the best thing to look at here, since it has been taken over by stats and is mired in what someone will probably call the ‘sabermetric wars’ in years to come, if not already something that Billy Beane says in his sleep.

I want to leave baseball for a bit later. I have a few days left where I will talk about stats and baseball in particular will be of such great help to that. Maybe it’s time to think about hockey. The sport just embarked on their free agency period which started Friday (one of the reasons I wasn’t writing was because I was waiting for contracts to be announced…there weren’t enough announcements by the Bruins). The thing that is great about hockey is that I think we can still see an older way of looking at prospects. “Older” probably isn’t the best way, but we are dealing with a new (statistics-based) and old (body/skill-based) understanding of things right now. They haven’t totally embraced the stat, but often focus on the body. Hockey players will be described as having great hands, heavy shots, and a willingness to play in the ‘dirty areas.’ They will be understood more for their body than the baseball player is today.

But just when you think that you are focusing on the body, a sportscaster or article will drop in the stats. Goals scored, assists, plus/minus. They sneak in there. We must realize that how identity is represented is based both on the sport that is being talked about AND the form/medium/otherthing in which that representation is taking place. If I’m looking at TSN’s main hockey page at an article listing the top free agents, I am bound to see more statistics than in-depth statements about the way the player skates or shoots. Now, when a player is signed and the local beat writer puts out a blog post on the new guy, they’ll talk about those things. They have the space and the rhetorical exigency to do so that the list does not.

I know that these seem like silly distinctions, but these changes alter the way that we understand the world around us and vastly change the ways that we can talk about other people, particularly athletes. These identities are formed by actions in-game which are allowed to be created because of the rules of those games. This is a bit procedural, I know. Hmm…maybe it’s time that I write something about procedural identity. Have people done that? Who cares?

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I’m going to go ahead and stop there for now. I am probably going to talk about these issues again at some point through this month, but I don’t know when. As I said, identity bleeds through into everything that I talk about, so it’s bound to happen again. Maybe this stuff is boring, but whatever. I think it’s fun knowing that your existence is mediated in so many fucking ways that we don’t often think about.

SPORTS!

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Sports Month at MoMF: The Worst Theme Party

It’s like being at a fraternity’s theme party where there’s just one dude in football pads talking to himself in a dark room alone, muttering “Go team” over and over again. I’ve decided that I haven’t been writing enough, so I’m going to just plunge into an area of research and theory that I haven’t ever really looked at close-up. What follows is anecdotal and probably unsubstantiated at points. It’s how I feel about sports, and I hate talking about feelings. I’m saving how other people discuss and research sports for other posts this month.

I have felt conflicted about my role in academia for a while. Other than adjunct-to-be, I’m not sure where I’m heading or moving into, but I’ve been feeling a slight aversion to many people and procedures at work within academia. I think sports might be a way that I can reconcile that with myself.

While I consider myself a sports fan and have cared about certain teams for a long time, I am looking now to sports as an object because of the potential I think they hold. I think they are incredibly potent examples that permeate a very large portion of the population. It’s very clear that sport is one of the most popular sections of American culture, carrying a very large amount of actual and cultural capital throughout the world. I think it’s an important topic for the culture at-large and, more specifically, for my future students. But I’ll talk about that in a bit.

It’s difficult to avoid sports growing up only half an hour away from Boston. You get sucked in quick when Fenway Park is so close and the Patriots play even closer. I’m sure it’s quite similar for children who grow up all around the U.S. near different cities with various teams. But they don’t all go to grad school and work within disciplines that seem to respond to that child-like passion with displeasure and calls for greater legitimacy. I even did it right there, calling it a child-like passion, invoking that there is something wrong or immature about sport fandom. That was fucking stupid of me.

I don’t know anything about the niche of sports research in the humanities other than it is a niche. I’m not entirely sure what isn’t a niche at this point in time when disciplines and fields are so fragmented and we’re all emanating out from a loose center in order to find a space that isn’t already overly-inhabited. Maybe social media or the internet at large, but those are fucking huge, so why wouldn’t they permeate a bunch of disciplines in a meaningful way? I can make that statement without question, but the idea/object of sport is also an area which could definitely penetrate multiple disciplines on a regular basis. But if that is the case, why don’t I see an article about sport events once a year in the journal of Cultural Studies or Rhetoric Society Quarterly or Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies? Why are these topics instead relegated to minor journals of little readership? Let’s not even go that big. Why didn’t I have a single class period in any one of my courses that dealt with sports in particular. It wasn’t like I was in classes that were nothing more than homogenous pools of the stereotypical nerd, all wheezing, taping their glasses and solving math proofs in their spare time. I was in a department of Media and Communication Studies, which I’m fairly certain sports falls into, but it was a topic that was only ever brought up by students and never by professors.

You can probably tell that it’s a pet peeve of mine that something like the topic of sports, an arena that many students find interesting and engage with regularly, seems like it is a periphery topic at best. Isn’t part of the work of a professor to meet the student halfway with their interests? Or am I just some crazy idealist with a love of sports?

Well, it is probable that I am speaking out of my ass. Maybe I just haven’t had the privilege of professors who care about sports in the same way that I do and, thus, haven’t been privy to the world of the sports academic and that discourse. I’m going to try to fix that a bit this month. I’ve been reading quite a bit about video games recently, so that will be a constant tie-in here as well. In addition to that, I only root for Boston teams because I totally wanted to be cool and fit in as an elementary schooler and those teams have taken up a large part of my memory of sports from those days into today. Many of the examples that I will be using are probably from Boston sports. At some point later in the month, when my focus turns to a few phenomena in Boston sports culture, I’m going to try to talk a bit more about the culture and my growing up in it and becoming a fan. You shouldn’t necessarily care, but I needed an extra issue to fill an entire post and Boston is a strange place.

This month is largely an experiment to see if the topic of sports is somewhere that I see myself entering. Well, that and to see if I can produce a few posts a week for an extended period of time. I’ll be posting every Monday and Friday for this month. It’s only 9 entries, but I haven’t written regularly since my sporadic, yet often, writings on Occupy back in the summer/fall of 2011. Uh…oops?

Below is a schedule of topics that I will be discussing and the dates:

5 – Sports and Identity

8 – Stats Science vs. The “Human Element” of Games: Contradictions Abound

12 – Nate Silver’s Odd Existence: Politics, Sports, and Statistics

15 – Sports Video Games and the Move to the Individual

19 – “Bet You Like that Hand on Your Ass”: Growing up with Boston Sports

22 -Fan Victimization and the Aaron Hernandez Case

26 – “Pink Hats” and Sports Elitism

29 – Underperforming and Clutch Players: Myth and Context

 

This isn’t really set in stone, but that’s a taste of things that I have thought of at this moment. Things might change as I read more and more within this weird academic subfield. As always, I would absolutely love any suggestions that people have of important texts in sports studies. I’ve searched high and low, but I still can’t put my finger on what the central texts or authors of this field/topic are.

July is the heart of baseball season. Seems like this is the perfect time to start this project.

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Zombies, Medium, and Metaphor: How Do I Deal with The Last of Us?

This blog post could most likely also be named “How to Break Your Brain in Just One Weekend,” but the more academic title trope of “triptych + personal subtitle = piece of shit article” won out because I’m a sell out.

This weekend I did three things that have totally fucked my brain. I read the first five trade paperbacks (TPBs) of Sweet Tooth by Jeff Lemire (I would suggest pretty much anything that he has written, but this is seriously one of my favorite comics ever) before going to see World War Z (WWZ). In between and after I experienced these things, I watched a supercut of the latest videogame from Naughty Dogs, The Last of Us (TLoU). Two of those have to do with zombies in particular (WWZ & TLoU), but all of them are set in post-apocalyptic settings. They don’t really talk across each other all that well, and I’m largely including Sweet Tooth here because I want you all to read it and love it and comic books are interesting things that I’m just starting to deal with critically.

Anyway, I’m just going to start with World War Z. It’s a piece of shit movie that completely kills any hope you had that the book could be turned into an adequate movie/television show. I have my doubts that anyone will want to touch that source material for quite a while simply because it bears the same name as Brad Pitt’s Pepsi-induced fuckfest. I’m going to go ahead and skip most of the movie and just talk about the zombies.

Zombies have always been very important for American pop culture, but I think this is mainly because of their ability to be a metaphor, particularly in film. It’s obvious that we have moved past the days when zombies were stand-ins for consumerism/capitalism (Night of the Living Dead, original Dawn of the Dead). More people have written on this and a google scholar search will probably give you so many better words than I will have here. I don’t know what the zombies of the remake of Dawn of the Dead are, or what they represent in 28 Days Later. 28 Weeks Later gives us the heavy handedness of the Iraq war and zombies being the insurgency. I felt really fucking stupid going most of the way through the movie and not figuring out what this particular representation of zombies meant.

Zombies aren’t just the insurgency in Iraq anymore, but they are terrorism as an entirety. Well, at least a common understanding of what the West views as terrorism. In the film, zombies are fast, but they are the most reckless zombies of any movie depiction yet. They throw their bodies at anything that makes a sound, looking solely to feed. The zombie’s main enemy, Brad Pitt, works for what’s left of the United Nations. One of the first places that is truly attacked by zombies in a coordinated way is Israel (after that clue, I was pretty sure). One of the UN investigators that works with Pitt refers to the zombie affliction as being serial killers. I could go on if I had watched it a few more times. I’m sure there are more clues that point to zombies being a stand-in for terrorism.

And then I watched The Last of Us and since it has ended I haven’t been able to figure out what zombies in that could even fucking possibly stand for. What is the metaphor here? It’s the story of a man, his dead daughter, and a girl that looks like Ellen Page trying to survive, but the metaphor just isn’t coming through to me.

But what do zombies stand in for in any fucking zombie videogame? I’ve been wracking my brain for the past few hours to try to figure it out, and they just aren’t there. Left 4 Dead (2)Day Z, even the Call of Duty – Zombies modes or the simple (but pretty solid) turn-based strategy mobile game Rebuild. I can’t think of the metaphor in any of these? In these cases, zombies are just enemies, but they can’t be abstracted out so easily into metaphors like their filmic counterparts. WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON? Why does metaphor die when we change mediums? Is it the switch from spectating to (inter)acting? I hate myself for even putting part of a word in parentheses, so you should know how much I want to know.

I can’t think of any triple-A game where metaphor even exists on a large scale. I will admit that I haven’t played an incredibly large amount of games, but I don’t think that I have run across metaphor existing in the same way that it exists in films. Is it an experiential thing? Are we so caught up in surviving the horde that we give up the desire to abstract, or is metaphor something that just isn’t there? I need some answers. Mainly because I don’t want to answer the question:

Am I getting too attached to polygons to understand what the larger messages are in games? 

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The Rhetoric of Definition: Cultural Studies’ Tropes and The Future Aims of Meta-Criticism

So this is a paper that I have pretty much just completed, but it is at best a rough draft that I am looking to refine and edit in the coming months for publication. I think there might actually be something to this, but, holy shit, it’s weird. I try to talk about the constant definition and re-definition of cultural studies in rhetorical terms in order to open up how cultural studies is being defined and what aims it might take in order to bring this process of definition to a larger amount of people.

I honestly don’t know if I have anything here or if I am saying anything new, exciting, or even anything that is better than bland. I really don’t know many things about cultural studies. I really don’t. I’ve been writing a bit about it and reading a bit, but there is so much out there that I have no idea if I am even talking to cultural studies per se. I don’t know what cultural studies is. I guess that’s why I took this approach to critiquing the discipline.

Who cares? Why care? I can’t really give you a reason.

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It is a question that is the academic version of any James Bond mission; one that leads to no-win situations and requires a great deal of firepower or gadgetry to deal with. What is cultural studies? It is a difficult enough question to just ask, not to mention how horribly trying it is to answer. When we look for an answer to the question, we are confronted with many avenues to attempt to instantiate this definition. One can look to a particular time period or the history of cultural studies within a specific country in order to define the field[1]. It could be said that it is just as valuable to the cultural studies scholar to look at the journals of cultural studies in order to put this definition together. There is no set heuristic for the definition of cultural studies, even though we are constantly barraged with the promise of the one, true definition in each book and journal issue.

Cultural studies has been constantly redefined since its beginnings with Richard Hoggart’s The Uses of Literacy and the founding of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) in the 1964 (Turner, 2003).  The creation of cultural studies as a discipline has become less about actually creating a discipline that can persist throughout the decades and has instead moved towards individual instantiations which fit the rhetorical needs of the academic. A definition of cultural studies does not simply depend on what time period we look or if we prefer the British or Australian or American schools of cultural studies, but also requires one to look at the arena in which the cultural studies rhetor looks to produce a definition.

This paper will first offer several definitions of cultural studies given from a range of sources, from journals to contemporary books to major conferences that generally state their inclusion within cultural studies eponymously. The next section will look to create a rhetoric of the cultural studies definition in order to understand how the varied and multiple definitions are used. In my third section, I will look to provide some thoughts on the future of cultural studies and the possibilities for growth, while delineating requirements for the field to succeed going forward.

No one article or paper or book can fully save cultural studies, but it is a tradition that cultural studies scholars, and myself in this paper, continue to do. Be it Lawrence Grossberg’s Cultural Studies in the Future Tense, Henry Giroux’s Impure Acts: The Practical Politics of Cultural Studies, or any other discipline-defining attempt. While I realize the contradiction inherent within that statement and the aims of this paper, I would like to stress that this paper does not attempt to fully change the discipline of cultural studies nor does it look to offer new definitions of cultural studies. Instead, I am looking to show that cultural studies has been increasingly fragmented not necessarily by the texts, concepts, and theories that it has encountered and produced over its history, but by the rhetorical needs of the cultural studies discipline and the attempts to rectify these needs through a few general trends in definition.

Rhetoric and cultural studies have not crossed borders often, and there is a significant opening within these fields for a combinatory approach to the definition of cultural studies that works with rhetoric’s appeal to the pragmatic and cultural studies’ emphasis on multidisciplinarity and interdisciplinarity. The closest thing that we have to a combination of rhetoric and cultural studies is from the cultural turn within rhetoric. Carolyn Miller’s “Rhetorical Community: The Cultural Basis of Genre” looks to take in the cultural turn and apply it to rhetoric’s view of genre (1994). Berlin’s writings (1992) on poststructuralism and composition is another article which mixes cultural studies and rhetoric, but there have been little attempts by cultural studies’ meta-critics to bring rhetorical theories into their definitions of cultural studies. This paper aims to fill this hole in the literature by providing a different look at the practices and concepts involved in the definition of cultural studies.

Section I: The Rhetorical Situation of Cultural Studies

As I am posing the question to what is the rhetoric of the definition of cultural studies, it is first important to understand the situation in which cultural studies finds itself in the early 2010’s. The idea of a rhetorical situation was first emphasized by Lloyd Bitzer in an article published shortly after the establishment of the CCCS. In this article, Bitzer aims to understand the ways in which a rhetorical text comes into existence as a response to material, concrete discourses in order to alter or progress that discourse. Bitzer’s simplest definition is seen through his aims, writing, “I want to know the nature of those contexts in which speakers or writers create rhetorical discourse” (1). While the original article has come under a great deal of critique (Vats, 1973; Consigny, 1974; Biesecker, 1989), it is still important to understand the situations that call pieces of rhetoric into existence, giving them credence, legitimacy, and boundaries in which they are required to work.

The rhetorical situation of cultural studies is one which has called for a constant defining, or re-defining, of the discipline. The situation of cultural studies’ origin within the CCCS was simple enough, with early cultural studies scholars like E.P. Thompson, Raymond Williams, and Richard Hoggart aiming to fight against early understandings of culture that began in the nineteenth century and transformed through the end of that century and the beginning of the twentieth. Williams’ definitions of culture are helpful here, particularly his understanding of culture as “ordinary.” This type of rhetoric was called forth through the works of Matthew Arnold and his polarizing book Culture and Anarchy, where the two forces are diametrically opposed. This view of culture could not hold in the new century, according to the early founders of the CCCS. Graeme Turner writes in his overview of the history of British Cultural Studies that Arnold’s thoughts could not continue, writing, “Where class divisions had once been sufficiently rigid to confine political and economic power to one class, industrialization and the growth of the middle class and an urban working class had blurred these divisions” (34). The rhetorical situation of early cultural studies, and the response of culture as ordinary, is most likely the most simple of the rhetorical situations that cultural studies has engaged with.

If we fast-forward to today we are confronted with a different situation entirely. The first item that one is required to describe in the rhetorical situation is the “cultural turn” in the academy, best defined as the injection of culture into disciplines other than cultural studies brought along by Postmodernists and Poststructuralists alike. Cultural theory now had to be taken seriously in disciplines from history to sociology and everywhere in between. Bonnell and Hunt describe the origins of the cultural turn by writing,

Frustrated with the limitations of social history and historical sociology-frustrated, that is, by the constraints of a commonsensical, usually materialist notion of the social-social historians and historical sociologists began to turn in a cultural direction and to look at the cultural contexts in which people (either groups or individuals) acted. More and more often, they devised research topics that fore­ grounded symbols, rituals, discourse, and cultural practices rather than social structure or social class. (8)

While this accounts for the rise of cultural studies as an oft-referenced discipline, the cultural turn was also deadly for cultural studies, as it displaced the field’s power as being the sole producer of cultural knowledge.

With the cultural turn, cultural studies is now called upon to define itself, not in terms of what culture is considered to be, but with a vastly different tone that looks instead towards legitimacy. If many other branches of the humanities and social sciences are taking on the concepts, topics, and methods of cultural studies, why should it exist as an entity unique to itself? With this sort of situation, cultural studies is required to define itself with a greater emphasis on negative terms instead of positive terms, focusing on the differences between it and the disciplines which co-opted its terms and concepts.

While I have attempted to give a generic rhetorical situation for the defining of cultural studies, the situation, like the field itself, must be understood to have splintered long ago. There is not a unifying or unified situation that cultural studies is responding to, just as there is no unified definition of cultural studies. There have been responses to the situation brought on by the cultural turn. Responses that have attempted to look at the legitimacy of the discipline. This is a view that has played out its role in the play that is cultural studies. While I will return to possible aims of cultural studies later in this paper, it is important for cultural studies to realize its fragmented nature in a radically new way. Instead of viewing this fragmentation as inherent to the discipline, there is a requirement for cultural studies to view itself as constantly referring to a fragmented and evolving rhetorical situation.

Section I: The Tropes of Cultural Studies

While instantiation is the most appropriate term for the definition of cultural studies, as it is brought into existence by rhetors for singular rhetorical situations, there are nonetheless tropes of this definition. The defining of cultural studies can almost be seen as a genre in and of itself, employing its own tropes and traditions in order to maintain consistency while expanding and contracting to suit the rhetorical situation’s individual needs. These tropes often interact and influence each other, maintaining some consistency across rhetorical situations, but it is important to understand that these tropes are often used in singular definitions that are specific to their time and place within cultural studies.

To get a feeling of how cultural studies is defined, I was required to look at many different mediums of legitimacy. While there have been many books written on the subject of what cultural studies is, this paper also aims to include the missions of several academic journals and professional organizations in the attempt to give a richer and more inclusive definition of the field.

A. The Role of Power in Cultural Studies

According to its definitions, cultural studies would not exist without an understanding of power, one of the most basic concepts that has pervaded the discipline since its beginnings. While any cultural studies scholar would be remiss to include power in their definition, the idea of power is often brought into the definition as an aim of cultural studies, not necessarily part of its internal identity. Turner writes, “The point of doing this is not only academic – that is, as an attempt to understand a process or practice – it is also political, to examine the power relations that constitute this form of everyday life and thus to reveal the configurations of interests its construction serves” (5). It is through power that cultural studies is inundated with its political nature, brought forth through the consistent call to examine structures of power for political means.

This is more basic in a part of the definition that Simon During offers in his introduction to The Cultural Studies Reader (2nd Edition), where he writes,

The second distinguishing characteristic of early cultural studies was that it was an engaged form of analysis. Early cultural studies did not flinch from the fact that societies are structured unequally, that individuals are not all born with the same access to education, money, health care, etc., and it worked in the interests of those who have least resources. (2)

While During states that this is a factor of early cultural studies, it has continued through to today. Grossberg writes, “[cultural studies] is concerned with describing and intervening in the ways cultural practices are produced within, inserted into, and operate in the everyday life of human beings and social formations, so as to reproduce, struggle against, and perhaps transform the existing structures of power” (ch. 1). This sentiment is even reproduced in the “Aims & scope” section of Cultural Studies journal, with its “aims to intervene in the processes by which the existing techniques, institutions and structures of power are reproduced, resisted and transformed” (Cultural Studies). Through the use of power as a defining feature of cultural studies, once can also see that the political, along with some sort of conceptualization of the everyday life[2], are also brought into play.

The issue that cultural studies begins to have with power is its definition, which is lacking in most of the current definitions of cultural studies. There is no separation between the ideas of power in Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks, Althusser’s “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes towards an Investigation),” or de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life, even though these pieces have played considerable roles in the development of cultural studies. For the rhetorician of cultural studies today, the true question becomes, “What idea of power is being addressed?” instead of “How is power being confronted in culture?” Pickering writes that, “the key emphasis on power remains distinctive to cultural studies,” but if we are to accept this in the future, it is incredibly important to first understand which conceptualization of culture is being addressed and how that plays into our understanding of the particular cultural studies.

B. Materiality and the Concrete

Cultural studies’ claim to legitimacy has often come down to its practice of using material situations to describe, analyze, and investigate culture. While power is used as the rhetorical ends, materiality is the closest idea that cultural studies has to a consistent method. This method revolves around the existence of material objects that can be analyzed and studied, often with the aims of discussing power. Johnson et al. write, “the effects of power are observable – and they are material; to our own positioning within these structures,” in their explication of the material effects of structures of power (91). While cultural studies often clings on to a theory of anti-methodology, it must be understood that this appeal to the material has important effects on what we can call cultural studies in the future.

While this idea of the material is central to the possible methods of cultural studies, there is a privileging of the material as an ideal at times when defining the field. Grossberg demonstrates this, writing, “cultural studies believes that there are material (nondiscursive) realities that have real, measurable effects. … Cultural studies does not treat the world as if it were all and only culture; it does not deny the material existence of the world apart from the ways human beings make sense of and communicate about it” (ch. 1)[3]. This line of thinking allows for constant reinterpretations of the material objects and concepts brought under analysis by cultural studies, allowing cultural studies to thrive in an arena of interpretation and, more importantly, re-interpretation.

While this concept has been discussed in numerous definitions of cultural studies, I would like to caution the use of this trope in future instantiations of the definition. The emphasis upon the material can, at times, lead cultural studies to completely converge with media studies. While there has not been extensive attention given to the differences and similarities of these fields, I would suggest that cultural studies tends to move towards the human uses of media, while media studies aims to describe how media artifacts influence human behavior. The emphasis of the material existence of structures of power can lead the cultural studies researcher to look more at the media involved in cultural processes than the human interactions with those media.

In addition to the convergence of media and cultural studies, the issue of taking the material as concrete is important for cultural studies to realize. Teresa Ebert writes, “Not only is language treated as an untranscendable materiality in contemporary critique, but also the body is considered to be a concrete opacity whose singular materiality cannot be mastered by giving it a confining identity such as gender” (3). While cultural studies will continue to privilege the material, mainly for its heuristic advantages for the analysis of culture, this is an important warning for the future of cultural studies. Grossberg counters this with an emphasis on “radical contextuality,” which allows for constant reinterpretation, but not necessarily re-concretization of cultural objects, which is required moving forward for cultural studies to continue to view the human within culture as evolving (ch. 1).

C. Interdisciplinarity and Multidisciplinarity

A point that many scholars will look to in describing the strengths of cultural studies is its ability to move throughout and between disciplines in the analysis of culture. If we look to the mission statement of the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association (PCA/ACA) this is apparent. Here it is written that their,

[P]urpose … shall be to encourage and assist in the study of popular and American culture in all of its various forms and expressions by bringing together the various intellectual disciplines, academic and non-academic areas, that may deal with the subject, by fostering interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research endeavors, and by encouraging interested persons to study and conduct research on Popular and American Culture and to belong to the association. (PCA/ACA, “History and Overview”)

Placing these two concepts next to each other seems almost contradictory, with the field operating between disciplines while also incorporating multiple disciplines.

The prominence of this trope within the definition of cultural studies melds well with the emphasis that Grossberg places on the material existence of reality, as it allows for an ever-expanding field. Cultural studies’ response to the question of “What is cultural studies?” in recent years has moved away from nailing the discipline down to a manageable size and has instead moved toward this expansive definition. If cultural studies can exist between and within multiple disciplines at once, it is suddenly not required to adhere to the methods of a singular discipline. It can pull from anthropology, sociology, economics, and a host of others, all at the same time. While this approach to cultural studies can be useful in the discovery of different methodological combinations, it is not helpful in the creation of a definition.

It is for these signifiers that the distinction of rhetorical trope is most applicable, as they are often called upon due to their ability to expand cultural studies into other fields. During writes, “Pragmatically, thinking of cultural studies as a field within Multidisciplinarity increases its reach inside institutions committed, however problematically, to objectivity – institutions, which are coming under mounting pressure to close down on cultural dissidence from community and media interests” (27). We see here the necessity and utility of this trope within the coming rhetorical situations that will present themselves to cultural studies. While there are plenty of issues with the way that multidisciplinarity is used within cultural studies, it is one of the few tropes and defining aspects of the field which readily respond to a particular rhetorical situation. With the rising costs within the academy, and the turn of many institutions to delete or condense culturally-focused programs, it is these sorts of tropes, those that are deployed for rhetorical gain in specific situations, that are incredibly important for cultural studies to continue within the academy.

Section II: The Next Cultural Studies Definition

A. The Shirky Principle and the Rhetorical Situation of Cultural Studies

In 2010, Kevin Kelly discussed on his blog “The Shirky Principle,” based on the idea of Clay Shirky’s that many institutions will forward the problems that they can solve. He writes, “The Shirky Principle declares that complex solutions (like a company, or an industry) can become so dedicated to the problem they are the solution to, that often they inadvertently perpetuate the problem” (The Technium). This principle does seem to be fully applicable to the definition of cultural studies, but I think we are dealing with something a bit more complicated. The first question to ask in relation to the Shirky Principle is whether or not we can accept cultural studies as an institution. It would be much easier to look at the CCCS as the institutionalization of cultural studies and how its publications adhere or do not adhere to the Skirky Principle, but, unfortunately, the Centre was closed under Thatcher, and there is not a unified voice of cultural studies in its current landscape.

For cultural studies scholars to even broach the Shirky Principle within the discipline it is required to first understand that there is no unified rhetorical situation, no unifying problem, that cultural studies is responding to. Since the transition from “culture” meaning high culture to “culture” as ordinary and everyday, there is no longer a clear exigency for cultural studies to define itself. Cultural studies, like many disciplines, is required to define itself largely in response to academic forces like journal and book publishers, professional organizations like PCA/ACA, or university and college administrators. It is not as if the exigencies do not exist, but cultural studies must face the fact that it defines itself in terms of these institutions, instead of the idea that the discipline is responding to the same or similar issues that brought about cultural studies in the 1960’s. Instead, cultural studies is required to reinvent itself constantly.

B. Invention and Reinvention

The idea that cultural studies is constantly reinventing itself is not a new concept. In fact, it is often stated in the articles and books of cultural studies scholars who aim to reorient the discipline in one way or another. In their introduction to Cultural Studies in Question, Marjorie Ferguson and Peter Golding write:

It is a curiosity of cultural and media analysis that cultural studies is not infrequently caught in the act of reinventing itself. There is a certain critical groundswell that suggests this process may again be under way. The spectacle of epistemological tails being swallowed and methodological skins being shed, while a matter of interest to others, appears to be neither novel nor noteworthy for an ‘intellectual project’ that extols the virtues of eclecticism, relativism, and the moving target as research agenda. (xiii)

I would like to first point out that this statement was written in 1997, long before Grossberg’s influential Cultural Studies in the Future Tense, and before many other definitions of cultural studies were put forth, demonstrating a tend to define and re-define across just a few decades. Secondly, while I agree that there often seems to be a new cultural studies orientation being put forth in the latest journal or book, we must understand that cultural studies as a practice is not one which seeks to put forward a definition of cultural studies. Instead, the definition of the field is left to meta-critics, with little implication given for the cultural studies practitioner.

What is required in our understanding of the rhetoric of the cultural studies definition is an orientation toward constant redefinition in contrast to the groundbreaking book or article that comes around once every few years. There should not only be large pieces that define cultural studies, but a look to a constant instantiation of the definition. Just as one might ask, “What is rhetoric for this author?” we must ask what the definition of cultural studies being put forth is for every piece of writing that is put forth in this discipline. With this one can understand the influences being placed  upon the author as well as what that author is doing for the rest of the discipline.

Conclusions: Creating Cultural Studies Definitions in the Future

            Cultural studies, like all disciplines within the humanities, is rhetorical. It has specific aims that tend to specific aims. However, the meta-critics of cultural studies have viewed the discipline as being holistic in nature all while emphasizing a dispersed and multidisciplinary method. This is a view that must end in the constant redefinition and reorientation of cultural studies. Instead, cultural studies must put its tropes of interdisciplinarity and multidisciplinarity to work for rhetorical gain, ensuring that the definitions of cultural studies move to view the creation of its definition in a multi-situational way.

The Future Definition of Cultural Studies

The aims of this paper are not to provide a working definition of cultural studies or culture, but to provide a few key ways in which the many future definitions of cultural studies can rhetorically succeed. My aim in pushing the rhetorical strategies of cultural studies is to provide a greater understanding of the situations that called definitions into existence and the effects that these definitions have on the discipline. Without this push, cultural studies risks an unending conversation with itself, constantly referring back to the history of the discipline instead of aiming at the implications of new technologies or new situations brought to the fore from various disciplines.

The first key piece of future definitions requires cultural studies scholars to look for rhetorical situations that they can readily respond to, while understanding that each instance of defining cultural studies will have slightly different rhetorical situations. These multiple and varied rhetorical situations should then fully influence the creation of future definitions.

Secondly, cultural studies can no longer be satisfied with only meta-critics influencing the orientation of the discipline. Instead, each piece of cultural studies writing must look to influence the definition of the field, explicitly. This will allow for the field to have a more sustained conversation about the definition of the field and, more importantly, will allow for the practice of cultural studies to influence its definition, something that is sorely lacking with current definitions. In my reading, Kellner and Durham’s introduction to Media and Cultural Studies: KeyWorks comes close, where they write,

Indeed, a future-oriented cultural and media studies should look closely at the development of the entertainment and information technology industries, the mergers and synergies taking place, the syntheses of computer and media culture that are being planned and already implemented, and emergent wireless technologies. (xxxviii)

However, this only provides a future aim and does not readily state the influences of these technologies on the definition. Cultural studies needs to turn inwards slightly. Instead of relating everything to this amorphous and barely-defined idea of “culture,” it can make its own future through a constant application of the results of cultural studies practice to the definition of the discipline.

Lastly, it is important for cultural studies to define the terms that make up its definitions. I have talked about the trope of power prior to this, but I would like to bring up again the offshoots of this concept, everyday life and the political. These concepts are obviously of great importance to cultural studies and have consistently been a part of the discipline’s definition since its heyday in the 1970’s and 1980’s. It is not enough to discuss cultural studies solely through mentioning these concepts, as they too have had long histories. In the future definitions of cultural studies, these concepts need to be explicitly stated for a better understanding of the rhetorical situation that they are responding to. Michel de Certeau’s concept of everyday life in The Practice of Everyday Life is quite different from that of Henri Lefebvre’s in “Notes on a New Town.” Without a further definition of these, seemingly, central concepts, cultural studies will not be able to be defined in a specific and useful way.

The Past and Future of Cultural Studies’ Definitions

Laid before the reader is an attempt to put cultural studies on the offensive and give it the rhetorical tools it sorely needs to compete with other disciplines within the humanities. While it does not adequately define cultural studies, it does provide for a more holistic and dynamic definition that is required for a possible return to the times when it was viewed as a valuable member of the academy.

While I would generally suggest an attempt to return to the rhetorical strategies of early cultural studies (defining culture constantly, responding to specific cultural exigencies, etc.), I hesitate due to the various changes that have occurred within the field and the academy at large. Culture is no longer an object which is easily applied to one social class and the many disciplines of the academy no longer avoid culture as an important avenue of study.

I have largely avoided discussing the exigency that brought this paper into existence, which is the creation of a syllabus for a graduate cultural studies methods course. While this project led me to question the field of cultural studies, I have found that this is an arena which requires these rhetorical strategies to be employed. The graduate cultural studies course cannot be satisfied with simple acceptance of the historical definitions of cultural studies, but must put a pedagogical emphasis on contesting, adapting, and creating new definitions in order to further the field. In addition to this, professors must constantly challenge their students to attempt to define cultural studies in their own work for the course.

Looking solely at the multitude of books and journal articles on the subject of defining cultural studies, we can no longer assume a normative definition of cultural studies, nonetheless a static definition of culture and its network of terms. Instead of assuming the definitions that have been handed down, cultural studies, especially with the rise of media studies and science and technology studies, finds itself confronted with an ultimatum: constantly define yourself and adapt, or fall by the wayside. Taking on the ability to constantly redefine and reorient itself, cultural studies will be able to fill in the gaps of left by current disciplines, fulfilling its historic call for interdisciplinarity, multidisciplinarity, and transdisciplinarity.

Works Cited

“Aims & scope.” Cultural Studies. Taylor & Francis, n.d. Web. 8 May 2013.

Althusser, Louis. Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971. Print.

Berlin, James A. “Poststructuralism, Cultural Studies, and the Composition Classroom: Postmodern Theory in Practice.” Rhetoric Review. 11 (1992): 16-33. Print.

Bitzer, Lloyd. “The Rhetorical Situation.” Philosophy and Rhetoric. 1 (1968): 1-14. Print.

Biesecker, Barbara. “Rethinking the Rhetorical Situation from within the Thematic of ‘Differance.’” Philosophy and Rhetoric. 22 (1989): 110-130. Print.

Bonnell, Victoria E. and Lynn Hunt. “Introduction.” Beyond the Cultural Turn: New Directions in the Study of Society and Culture. Eds. Victoria E. Bonnell and Lynn Hunt. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1999. 1-34. Print.

Consigny, Scott. “Rhetoric and Its Situations.” Philosophy and Rhetoric. 7 (1974): 175-186. Print.

de Certeau, Michel. The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2011. Print.

During, Simon. “Introduction.” The Cultural Studies Reader. 2nd ed. Ed. Simon During. New York: Routledge, 1999. 1-30. Print.

Ebert, Teresa. The Task of Cultural Critique. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2009. Print.

Giroux, Henry. Impure Acts: The Practical Politics of Cultural Studies. New York: Routledge, 2000. Print.

Gramsci, Antonio. Selections from the Prison Notebooks. Eds. Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith. New York: International Publishers, 1971. Print.

Grossberg, Lawrence. Cultural Studies in the Future Tense. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010. Kindle file.

“History and Overview.” PCA/ACA. Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association, n.d. Web. 9 May 2013.

Johnson, Richard, Deborah Chambers, Parvarti Raghuram, and Estella Tincknell. The Practice of Cultural Studies. London: Sage Publications. 2004. Print.

Kellner, Douglas and Meenkashi Durham. “Adventures in Media and Cultural Studies: Introducing the KeyWorks” Media and Cultural Studies: KeyWorks. Eds. Douglas Kellner and Meenkashi Durham. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2006. ix-xxxviii. Print.

Kelly, Kevin. “The Shirky Principle.” The Technium, April 2010. Web. 10 May 2013.

Lefebvre, Henri. Introduction to Modernity. New York: Verso, 2011. Print.

Miller, Carolyn R. “Rhetorical Community: The Cultural Basis of Genre.” Genre and the New Rhetoric. Eds. Aviva Freedman and Peter Medway. Bristol, PA: Taylor & Francis, 1994. 57-66. Print.

Nordenstreng, Kaarle. “Discipline or Field? Soul-searching in Communication Research.” Nordicom Review. (2007): 211-222. Print.

Pickering, Michael. “Introduction.” Research Methods for Cultural Studies. Ed. Michael Pickering. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2008. 1-16. Print.

Turner, Graeme. British Cultural Studies: An Introduction. New York: Routledge, 2003. Print.

Vats, Richard E. “The Myth of the Rhetorical Situation.” Philosophy and Rhetoric. 6 (1973): 154-161. Print.


[1] The distinction between “field” and “discipline” may be of importance to cultural studies in its efforts to define itself, but this is an area that I have not engaged with due to my own lack of understanding. These terms will be used interchangeably. For further discussion, see Nordenstreng, 2007.

[2] I shy away from discussing “everyday life” within this essay, not because its importance is absent from cultural studies, but because of my inability to understand how it is to be used by the cultural studies practitioner. De Certeau’s understanding of bricolage and “making do” have been incredibly important concepts for cultural studies, but the uses of these tend to lead back into discussions of power, instead of bringing us different conceptualizations of the everyday. It is odd to me that de Certeau’s essay “Walking in the City” is included in many cultural studies anthologies, but the Situationist theory of dérive is not often included in the pantheon of cultural studies concepts.

[3] I would like to add that while this is a useful example of materiality within cultural studies, Grossberg does not offer a definition of culture or materiality, complicating its usefulness outside of the rhetoric of cultural studies.

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On Boston and Forgetting

Sigmund Freud has a very short piece titled “A Noted upon the ‘Mystic Writing Pad'” where he discusses a technological metaphor for memory and the subconscious. The Mystic Writing Pad was this notepad type thing that was composed of a clear plastic sheet, a piece of paper under it and a piece of some wax/clay thing under it that would allow for imprints to reflect back to the user. Allowing for these notes to be kept for as long as the user desires, the sheet of plastic and paper can be lifted up to erase the notes they once held. Freud makes the parallel to memory and the subconscious through the ability of the wax to hold the messages once on the surface while mixing and matching all the things that had once been imprinted onto it from the user’s experience.

Currently, Boston’s Mystic Writing Pad is one which has the events of the past week firmly collected and archived, displaying the events boldly. The emotions and the events are writ large for Boston, but I really hope that both the city and the inhabitants of this country can go forward and collectively lift the paper from the pad and try to forget.

I’ve been trying to write a piece on the bombings and the subsequent search of Boston for some time now and I have had a lot of trouble. I am not a Bostonian. I grew up about 45 minutes south of the city. My uncle lived in Cambridge for most of my life and now lives about 20 minutes north of Boston. I spent the summer between my sophomore and junior years in undergrad living with a friend of mine in Wakefield, another semi-suburb of the city and worked in South Boston as an intern. I have a ton of memories of the city and I haven’t really been able to make much sense of what has been going on.

It isn’t all that easy for me to say it, but Boston needs to forget.

This is not a very new thought. Forgetting is seen by many as a negative object. The assumption is that we are losing something when we forget it, but we must understand that it can also be a positive and productive process. We must be able to replace the ever-consistent response to tragedy of “Never Forget,” with an understanding that forgetting may be better off than constantly remembering. Some can never forget. They will be constantly reminded by the events or will have such trauma imprinted upon them physically and psychologically that it will stay with them forever. I understand that. I understand that my distance from this allows for me to even broach this subject and suggest that we forget.

Forgetting might allow us to see what will follow this more rationally. Maybe we will be able to react in a way that doesn’t view these actions and people as ordinary. We got caught up in this idea that terrorists were the norm after 9/11 and while these are completely different events that need to be handled in completely different ways, I am terrified of the differences not being understood, leading to similarities in the responses.

It is in the attempt to forget that Freud’s metaphor runs straight into the ground, just as many metaphors used eventually do. They lose their ground somewhere. They can only go so far. The wax that sits behind the screen of paper is one which is imprinted permanently upon the experience. Memory doesn’t fade, it just becomes jumbled with the multitude of other imprints upon our memory, when we discuss the Mystic Writing Pad. But we should not take this dead end as a dead end to forgetting. We should acknowledge the labor that is required in forgetting, just as there is labor in erasing the totality of the Mystic Writing Pad. The user is required to melt down the wax, or knead it until the marks of the stylus of experience no longer show. Forgetting is difficult at times, especially when in temporal proximity to the event itself.

I honestly don’t know if forgetting would help at all. I don’t know if this piece of writing matters in any way, shape or form either. I’m just starting to think that there is something to trying something different. And, honestly, what is more different from “Never Forget,” than “Work to Forget”? How about we give it a try.

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Thoughts on Identity and the Boston Manhunt

I’ve been watching quite a bit of the CNN coverage and this morning, in a discussion with their Counter Terrorism expert, one reporter constantly referred to the context of what was going on with the two suspects.

I’m left wondering from this sort of situation, what is the text that is in relation with the context that they seem to be constantly look for? Is it the lives of the Tsarnaev brothers? I think it is instead what I keep hearing referred to as this different event, that which is invoked each time that it is suggested there is something else that had to have occurred to these brothers for their ability to carry out the bombings. There had to be something, we keep being told by CNN, to explain for the contradictory existence of the Tsarnaev brothers. There is no way that there could be a compassionate human being one year who decides, the next year, to build a few bombs and put them at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

I think what we have in this case, specifically of CNN’s coverage, is a problem of how we view identity. We believe that there has to be a consistency because of the economic and political necessity for consistency. We hope for consistency at all times. Actions and movement through space are taken down in concrete ways (data points, tweets, immigration forms, education) and these concrete points of identity are moved above and beyond any other ways an identity can be discussed. This is the best that we have when it comes to identity. Identity is nothing now but a set of points that are collected and the assumption always is that the more points collected will automatically lead to a better understanding of the individual.

I’d like to say that this is an extraordinary instance of identity, but this is nothing new. Identity was assumed to be something that was solely created by the individual. Identity was assumed to be a pliable, evolving object which could never be fully stopped, as the individual had to have the burden of taking on their identity and forming and creating it. Instead, identity needs to be seen more through this instantiation lens. The individual is created at different points in time based upon their identifying characteristics. They are assembled by various mediums and put together for the purpose of better understanding, but usually for the actual purpose of creating audiences for advertisers.

I think this is where we see the tensions of identity occurring on CNN. If identity was simply the evolution of the individual person, then there would probably not be the assumed contradictions at hand. However, since all that they can understand of the younger Tsarnaev brother at this time is a handful of data points, it is difficult to reconcile them with the actions of the individuals. One reporter, speaking on the Tweets of the younger brother, stated, “Very different looks of who this man could be.” There is such a tension here that most of the peers of the younger brother are unable to comprehend even what occurred.

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Cultural Studies, or Creating a Discipline through Anthologies and Syllabi

I’ve decided that starting this blog back up is probably a good idea for something that I am working on right now and will be working on for the foreseeable future: Cultural Studies. Back in January, I was looking for an independent study and talked with my advisor about doing something. What came out of that meeting was the decision that I would be putting together the syllabus for the upcoming (Fall 2013) methods course on Cultural Studies. These posts will first and foremost deal with my thoughts on the discipline and what it means to do cultural studies today as opposed to what cultural studies means in the history of the discipline (or whatever you want to call it, we’ll get into that later).

The second reason that I am getting this blog back together is that I really, REALLY want feedback on my thoughts by people who might end up taking the course or are just interested in cultural studies in general. I’m flying pretty blind through all of this to be honest. In addition to my general ignorance, I think there is an interesting opportunity here. I’ve had a few conversations within the department already, but this can be a singular space where all of us can come together to discuss what this course should look like for this department and for these grad students. I need your help if this thing is going to be worthwhile.

***Note: These are all pretty cursory thoughts. I’m hoping that eventually I will have put enough things into my eyes and brain that I will be able to actually talk about culture and cultural studies, but I don’t think I’ve reached that point yet.***

Why’s that? Well the main reason is that most of the current grad students in my department have already taken the Media Studies course in the Fall of 2012 with me. At times, especially if we look at anthologies, Cultural Studies and Media Studies run together without strong boundaries in place. You would think that since they are of different names that there are some differences, but I honestly cannot tell. How about we look at the definitions of Culture at hand to see if any boundaries or limitations come up.

Raymond Williams in 1958: “Culture is ordinary…To grow up in that country was to see the shape of a culture, and its modes of change. … Every human society has its own shape, its own purposes, its own meanings. Every human society expresses these, in institutions, and in arts and learning. The making of a society is the finding of common meanings and directions, and its growth is an active debate and amendment under the pressure of experience, contact, and discovery, writing themselves into the land.” (From The Routledge Critical and Cultural Theory Reader, 83, which does not attempt to first establish what the things in its title are, but instead is just a group of texts)

Kellner and Durham, 2001: “Societies, like species, need to reproduce to survive, and culture cultivates attitudes and behavior that predispose people to consent to established ways of thought and conduct, thus integrating individuals into a specific socio-economic system.”

“Culture in today’s societies thus constitutes a set of discourses, stories, images, spectacles, and varying cultural forms and practices that generate meaning, identities, and political effects. Culture includes artifacts such as newspapers, television programs, movies, and popular music, but also practices like shopping, watching sports events, going to a club, or hanging out in the local coffee shop. Culture is ordinary, a familiar part of everyday life, yet special cultural artifacts are extraordinary, helping people to see and understand things they’ve never quite perceived, like certain novels or films that change the world.” (ix, xiv in the Introduction to KeyWorks: Media and Cultural Studies)

Introduction to The Polity Reader in Cultural Theory, no author given, 1994: “Culture is usually defined in ‘cultural studies’ in a way that fits between these two extremes. ‘Culture’ may be said in this context to refer to concrete sets of signifying practices – modes of generating meaning – that create communication orders of one kind or another. Understood in this way, ‘cultural production’ plays an active, constitutive role in the creation of ways of life and overall forms of social organization. ‘Culture’ in the more lay sense mentioned above is understood as high culture, and counterposed to a diversity of popular cultural forms.” (2)

Graeme Turner’s Introduction to British Cultural Studies: An Introduction: “As Paul Willis (1979) has said, the ‘culture’ that is the subject of British cultural studies is ‘not artifice and manners, the preserve of Sunday best, rainy afternoons and concert halls. It is the very material of our daily lives, the bricks and mortar of our most commonplace understandings.” (2) …

“Culture is not monolithic, as in a sense is implied by the encoding/decoding models, but is made up of many competing, overlapping and conflicting groups. Each of these groups defines itself through its distinctive way of life, embodied in its institutions, its social relations, its beliefs and customs, and its ‘uses of objects and material life.'” (90)

MOTHER OF GOD, WHAT?

So we have this importance of the everyday, a significance that I think might be a leftover from the importance of Williams’ “Culture is Ordinary” piece. Culture is that which has mass appeal and affects the people for which it is constitutive at large. But this is not the only sort of culture that cultural studies is about, correct? That’s why we have subculture as an important part of cultural studies, right?

So what does culture become other than just being some bullshit term that means little than ensuring that the discipline will be able to handle everything thrown its way?

An important question to probably ask is: Why are all of those sources from anthologies and cultural studies introduction texts?

EXCELLENT QUESTION, DEAR READER

While the first reason is pragmatic – I don’t know cultural studies, let’s start with these objects that at least purport to know it by title – the second reason is housed in the academic view of cultural studies. This field and the methods involved come out of an institutional approach to academia. The Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) – where I am placing the origin of cultural studies (thoughts on that?) – becomes this monolithic structure of texts and authors in cultural studies today.

From my basic knowledge, and an extensive amount of gathering anthologies and syllabi (WANT TO SEE MY AWESOME SPREADSHEETS GUYS?), it seems that the tradition of cultural studies is going to get in the way, at times, of actually progressing cultural studies beyond the CCCS’s writers and theories. Having to constantly look back in what seems to be an attempt to ensure that cultural studies has a definitive tradition that secures its place in academia, probably isn’t the greatest thing when we’re dealing with an evolving landscape of the discipline.

However, I’m not sure if we are actually saying anything when we call cultural studies a discipline. What the fuck is a discipline anyways? Since I have spent most of my academic life outside of definitive disciplinary boundaries, I HAVE NO CLUE. Media studies and cultural studies seem to just be lists of topics derived from huge, generic central terms – media and culture – that allow for the existence of study. Is there a difference between a discipline and a series of topics?

More to the point, is there a definition of culture that isn’t simply a list of topics? Do we get something more when these topics are all joined together under the heading of culture, or do we just have something to justify our existence?

That’s all I have. I think over the coming few weeks, I’m going to try to make my way through some of the more well-preserved topics of cultural studies in an attempt to put together an actual syllabus. After that, maybe some things will come through about the actual discipline as a whole or as what culture means as a whole. I don’t know. If you have suggestions, please leave comments. This is all so terrifying.

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A Responsorial Hymn of the Phenomenology of MD and Drunk

This is a paper I wrote on perception, MD 20/20, and the state of “drunk.” There are citations and a works cited section in case you want to know more about phenomenology. This was one of the better pieces of writing I have ever put out and I would love some comments if you have them.  It’s written in a different kind of style, which I was hoping could bring the paper together and help with flow. I don’t know if I like the form, but it seems to work a little. Enjoy I guess.

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Contains sulfites. Grape wine with citrus spirits. Natural Flavors and Certified Colors. Serve cold. 750 mL. Banana Red. Bottled by the 20/20 Wine Co. Westfield, New York. The true meaning of MD on this bottle is Mogen David, but this wine has been re-branded, through American culture, as the “Mad Dog.” It is a bum wine and the shape of the bottle reflects it. The shiny glass bottle is big enough to be awkward just carrying around, but small enough to be able to hide beneath one of the many layers of coats the homeless man on the corner wears throughout the year, regardless of temperature. This is not a classy drink, but classiness has no place in the college environment like Ursinus. Thus, I have been introduced to many cruel liquids that are incredibly representative of their price and one of the more prevalent of these liquids has been the Mad Dog. Through the phenomenological re-learning of the wicked temptress I have tried to perceive the lemon that is the Banana Red variety of the cheap wine along with the honeyed aftermath of the alcoholic buzz. Perception is bound by the lemon and the honey.

Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s points on perception are wide-known. He states in his lectures that an “object is a system of properties which present themselves to our various senses and which are united by an act of intellectual synthesis (59).” This intellectual synthesis, he expands upon in Phenomenology of Perception, occurs within the body, making the body essential for perception (Marshall, 124). It was my purpose within this experience to fully synthesize the object that is the bottle of MD 20/20 Banana Red and then try to perceive the state of drunk like Merleau-Ponty recognizes the objects of lemon and honey. Through sight, sound, taste, touch and smell it was my duty to use them to fully understand the bottle and its contents. I had to create “the dialogue between me as an embodied subject and the external object which bears this quality (Merleau-Ponty, 61).” However, this dialogue had already begun long ago since, as Merleau-Ponty states, “they are clothed in human characteristics and converswely they dwell within us as emblems of forms of life we either love or hate (63).” Perception is bound also by the intellectual synthesis of stimuli.

My knowledge of the term “bum wine” is one of an extended history.  However, most of that history does not include any actual physical interaction with the object. I would hear people talk about it on the radio or overhear utterances of comparison of a table wine to that of Thunderbird or Wild Irish Rose. Thus, my perception of wines like Mad Dog was one of doubt and disgust, but was based on nothing more than hearsay. However, this hearsay is still a key part of my phenomenological experience of the wine bottle. On the other hand there was an actual physical history between myself and the Mad Dog, with many bottles being previously ingested in my few years of college drinking. It was this physical experience and history that created the sort of “halo” that Cezanne refers to when painting(Merleau-Ponty, 64). It had taken on human qualities that a simple bottle, if looked at non-phenomenologically, shouldn’t have. In particular, the feeling of companionship radiated from the bottle as brightly as the radioactive Kool Aid color itself. Mad Dog was never a “bum wine” in that sense for me. It was never being drunk in city back alleys alone, but in a warm college dorm with good friends. This cold bottle of bright liquid takes on a feeling of inviting warmth without even a single drop flowing down your throat. Perception is bound also by personal experience.

This is only my perception of MD 20/20, though, which was influenced by others significantly before my first corporeal experience with it. Others’ perceptions of this are generally negative, with the most obvious piece of perception being the label of “bum wine.” It is labeled as a lower class and as destitute because of its price and quality. It is a symbol of shame within American society. College students even realize that it is not something that would be acceptable in the “real world,” drinking it ironically or because of a lack of funds. Mad Dog is drunk. It is seen to have that sole purpose. Homeless people drink it to keep the pain away and college students drink it to keep inhibitions away. Perception is bound also by social class.

The first thing that one can notice about this bottle is the color of its contents. Sight is often the first sense that establishes an object as being a particular thing. In this case it is the bright fire truck red color, almost giving the perceiver a warning to not drink like a poisonous frog has bright colors to warm against eating. However, the color is alluring and reminiscent of childhood drinks, with its resemblance to Mondo Punch. Is this why I am so attracted to the flavor Banana Red as opposed to the dull Orange Jubilee or the eerie Peaches and Cream? Possibly, but I’ll never be sure. It’s loud too. Much like Merleau-Ponty’s carpet-choosing, the color is able to hint at several other feelings. The first thought is that the taste will be like the Kool Aid or Twister juice of your youth, but that fades to the thought of Fire Engine Red and a giant truck bearing down on you with sirens blaring. It is cute, but dangerous. Youthful and at the same time skeptical. Perception is bound also by color’s touch.

The eye is first attracted to the color of the Devil’s juice inside, but on the outside, the pristine bottle requires a closer investigation by the eye. The glass is shiny and pristine, the product of being left on a bottom shelf where there is little activity, but surprising because of a lack of the close floor’s dust. Four dollars never has looked so immaculate and may never look like this again. The little aluminum cap is polished and shiny, with perforations and twists in order to ease the opening process. It’s most important to make it easy on college students and drunkards to be able to open and experience your alcohol. The cap is sleazy. The bottle cap is a prostitute, with its clean shine a total act like a merkin on a 18th Century whore. It will open up for anyone. You know exactly where it has been, unlike what your parents often told you, but you still want it. Perception is bound also by association.

The words on the bottle are an entirely different part of perception. I cannot re-learn words like I can re-learn the bottle and its contents. Those letters and their combinations have inherent meaning in my brain and will be perceived with said preconception. However, many of the words do not have significant meaning to me yet. “Sulfites” and “Certified Colors” have absolutely no meaning at all and in this case, only cause my opinion of the wine to plummet because of their seeming relationship to artificial additives. The letters MD appear in big, golden font, but at no point on the bottle are we told of what these stand for, possibly lending some explanation to the creation of the spirit’s nickname. However, I don’t really care what they really stand for. That is Mad Dog and it is from the MD that I know it. Perception is bound also by language.

My notebook and face reflect within the bottle, adding space into the solution of perception that Merleau-Ponty had equated. He states that “we have a world in which objects cannot be considered to be entirely self-identical,” meaning that this bottle of Mad Dog has a different identity in every different space that it occupies. In this space, the notebook gives the bottle a different feel. It isn’t one of authority or importance, but possibly some validation. It is alright for me to be drinking this tonight; it’s for a paper. Right? Probably not. It is possible to even say that a part of space is the state of mind one is in when they are in the act of perception. Drinking and perceiving for a paper on a Tuesday night is much different than drinking passively on a Friday night in order to get a buzz after which you go out and hit a party or two. Is there a difference between space and state of mind? Merleau-Ponty may argue so, but I would definitely say that space and state of mind must be considered conjoined, as they seem to change together. Perception is bound also by space.

The sound of a bottle filled with liquid is eerie. It can change with the amount of liquid held within, how full the container it, the liquid’s viscosity and what the container is made of. In this case, the sound of a shaken, full bottle of Mad Dog sounds like the last air bubbles returning to the surface of the sea from a drowned sailor. I don’t mean to be a downer with that, but it is that slow gurgle sound which is deep and dark. There aren’t happy splashes heard emitting from the bottle, but slow bubbles of doom. Moving the glass around on a composite wooden desk creates this deep scratch and dropping the full bottle on the ground only emits a dull thud that is replaced with dead sailor bubbles. Another interesting sound that the bottle emits is when the cap is twisted and the seal broken. The loud snaps of the cap tearing from the ring keeping it grounded came two by two, until there was only one. The snaps were, somewhat obviously, metallic, but also plastic in a way. However, the sound of the cap slowly moving off of the bottle was one that was almost chilling. Aluminum rubbing up against glass unprotected was much like hearing steel rub against steel. Perception is bound also by sound.

And then it poured out. The scent moved out of the bottle quickly and diffused into the surrounding air, penetrating my nostrils. The fruit was highly apparent, but it was not fresh. It was a stagnant smell. This was one of the first true hints that you actually get what you pay for in the case of fortified wine. The scent burns, telling of the elixir’s power. It smells like a bucket of maraschino cherries that have been boiled down into some awful devil syrup and then was generously added to rubbing alcohol. Perception is bound also by scent.

Then came the first sip, my mouth to the bottle’s cold glass mouth just as a homeless counterpart would. When it sits on the tongue, the surprisingly thin liquid makes no impression upon my taste buds, but when it moves down through my throat there is a rush of saccharine fruit sensation. Then comes the burning from deep within my esophagus, moving quickly upwards to my mouth. The alcohol that was used to fortify the wine is causing the sharp feeling of fire and a more subtle warmth is beginning to develop. My perception is influenced by the opinions of a friend when I was told it tastes like something that should be poured into a tank and used as fuel. Perception is bound also by the tastes of others.

Let us now flash forward an hour into the experience where I am left with an empty bottle, which has caused my own perception to change significantly. The room, or space if you will, has increased its temperature immensely, causing me to sweat slightly. The feeling definitely has a certain color to it. This color has to be hot and lively, while keeping the haziness of drunkenness alive. A darker orange would describe it well, with the heat and energy represented, but toned down by the haze. Things move slower within the vision of the perceiver. There isn’t a true blur yet, but it’s a point where things will stay within the range of sight longer. I am dulled like a well-spent blade. The body has become truly and fully honeyed through consumption. Perception is bound also by state.

However, I do not feel as I were honey. I do not feel sweet or sugary and thus I do not feel like honey. I feel drunk. Drunk is warm, hot, sweaty. Drunk is slowed, viscous, slothful. Drunk is energetic, happy, laughing. Merleau-Ponty argues that “the unity of the object does not lie behind its qualities, but is reaffirmed by each one of them: each of its qualities is the whole (62).” Does this apply to a feeling as well as to the object? If Merleau-Ponty were to argue that this does apply to a state of mind as well as an object, then I cannot agree. Warm and happy are not what drunk is, but drunk is warm and happy. The qualities of the state of mind still do show through and are active, as Merleau-Ponty would agree. Feelings and states of mind, just as objects, bring forth a set of experiences, societal norms, and ideals when they are experienced. Perception is bound also by definition.

Drunk, as by my standards, has been perceived in a very positive light, with the words warm and happy used and the dark orange hue given. However, I am sure that many do not see drunk in the same light. Drunk is dark and alone and embarrassing to many, the opposite of my experiences with this state of being. Society does not actually embrace the spectacle of drunk and instead frowns upon this one. Drunk is blue and sad. Drunk is a thing of corruption and immorality. American society associates it with the lawlessness of the prohibition days and the bad decisions of contemporary college students. Drunk is the man in Tennessee who downs a bottle of Jack Daniel’s and beats his wife and children. Drunk is drunk driving and car accidents. Drunk is addiction, despair, and mistakes. Maybe someday I will look back on drunk and realize that it is these things, but right now, in this space and time, drunk is a thing of happiness and companionship. Drunk is energy. Drunk is just as phenomenological as the objects it requires to be obtained. Perception is bound also by consequences.

Here we are on a college campus and just looking at the phenomenology of a little bottle has inspired within me that the concept of phenomenology is something real and true. Here it is acceptable, almost encouraged, to drink every weekend night without consequence and it is even sometimes alright on weekdays too. However, when we leave this space, drunk and Mad Dog are no longer accepted things. Drunk turns into a negative connotation and is filled with all of the preconceived notions of many other addictive substances. As Merleau-Ponty states:

The lazy viewer will see ‘errors of perspective’ here, while those who look closely will get the feel of a world in which no two objects are seen simultaneously, a world in which regions of space are separated by the time it takes to move our gaze from one to the other, a world in which being is not given but rather emerges over time (54).

The perceptions of drunk, and even on Mad Dog, are already changed, whether we realize it or not, with the human interaction experience different in every autonomous individual. This individual can control their own perception instead of passively accepting the conclusions and inferences that have been passed on by society. The individual has the power to change itself and its own perception of objects and states instead of following in the constant flow of tradition. The human has the ability to break free from cliché and gather its own perception of objects and feelings. Perception is bound by the body and the mind.

Works Cited:

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Exploring the World of Perception (Sensory Objects, Art and the World of Perception, and Space)

Marshall, George J. A Guide to Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception. Milwaukee: Marquette UP, 2008. Print.

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