Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Gossip Girl: Cultural Overload & Lady Gaga: The Postmodern Pop Star

Designer clothes, vicious rumors, underage drinking, internet identities, rich parents, promiscuous sex, and Ivy League educations are all paramount hallmarks of what a particular show airing on the CW network, wants its audience to believe are the quintessential elements of the ideal youth culture lifestyle. Gossip Girl – a show that has remained at the center of an intense parental argument suggesting that the show’s content explores issues projecting a lifestyle too extreme, too racy, or too promiscuous to be watched by it’s target audience – teenage girls, further presents the world of the privileged New York, young adult demographic in ways that suggest teen lifestyles are much darker and more tragic than what one would expect. However, when considering the implications of the glorification of the dangerous aspects in youth culture, the concern becomes the audience’s ability to discern between reality and Gossip Girl itself. Thus, when a show like this performs supposed benefits of upper class societies, the progression of a postmodern identity as it becomes public property, and the gender dynamics of a fragmented generation, all through the experiences of seven teens trying to survive on the Upper East Side, it suggests the importance of class and consumerism on an extremely impressionable group.

Looking at the cultural work being done in Gossip Girl’s third season, particularly in the last episode titled “Last Tango, Then Paris” one can detect an idealistic notion that being emotionally unhappy is acceptable and even favored as long as one is in the possession of a high class status and an inexhaustible amount of funds. This idea is reflective of a Marxist understanding of where culture stems from. In this understanding of culture, “the concept of ideology refers to maps of meaning which, while they purport to be universal truths, are historically specific understandings that obscure and maintain power” (Barker 56). “Last Tango, Then Paris” pushes the notion of an ideological, power driven culture right up against a more liberal way of thinking, only to prove that the Marxist notion triumphs in the characters’ society. The character Dan Humphrey, who is part of the only family on the show not extending from a privileged background says, “Say life is giving you signs, and you’re ignoring them because you’re afraid of the thing they’re signaling you to do. But then you think, what if these signs are here for a reason, and ignoring them just makes me a coward” (Gossip Girl). This statement suggests that Dan is in favor of a more flexible power structure, in which he is able to decide if he wants to abide by signs or fight against the restrictions that bind him to his particular place in society. The character Blair Waldorf, the most notably rich and pretentious character on the show, whose mother is a famous fashion designer, replies: “Signs are for the religious, the superstitious, and the lower class. I don’t believe in them and neither should you” (Gossip Girl). She immediately refutes Dan’s consideration breaking free of the social mores by disallowing his ability to believe. Simultaneously, she creates a firm distinction between herself, and people who would believe in signs and higher meanings. She labels them as the lower class, reinforcing the Marxist notion that cultural ideals obscure and maintain power. Blair, in this situation is emphasizing her own position of superiority and wealth in the face of Dan, whom she knows has neither of the two. In telling him he shouldn’t believe in signs, she is arguably further categorizing him as different. In other words, Blair is still in the position of power, telling Dan what he should be doing, even if he is not in the privileged position to do so.

Besides the fact that most of the characters of Gossip Girl hail from generations of financial wealth, there are still many other aspects of their young identities that have yet to be formed. Especially for young adults in a society focused on outward appearances and Internet connections, “identities are understood to be a question both of agency (the individual constructs a project) and of social determination (our projects are socially constructed and social identities ascribed to us)” (Barker 233). The postmodern condition is complicated and fractured enough, “involving the subject in shifting, fragmented and multiple identities. Persons are composed not of one but of several, sometimes contradictory, identities” (Barker 220). Adding the aspect of a social media blog, where the anonymous Gossip Girl (who narrates the episode at the opening and the ending) complicates the teen-drama sitcom even further. Not only do these young adult have to develop their own identity in a complex, urban environment, but they also must do it while fighting against other rumors posted about their lives on a public blog. For example, approximately six minutes into the episode “Last Tango, Then Paris,” Jenny Humphrey walks in on her brother Dan and his ex-girlfriend Serena van der Woodsen sleeping in the same bed. She snaps a picture with her Smart Phone, and sends it to anonymous blogger. In this case, the agency that Barker writes about, the ability to create an identity is not in the hands of the person to whom the identity belongs. The Internet allows anyone to create an identity for someone else. The audience, at this point, knows that both Dan and Serena are involved in other relationships, and knows the power of what this image implies.

Approximately eight minutes into the show, the characters all get a text message sent to their phone from Gossip Girl. The message reads, “Spotted: A family reunion only Faulkner would approve of. I used to think that S and Lonely Boy were the most boring couple on the Upper East Side. But what makes them actually great together? When they’re supposed to be with other people. Good luck talking your way out of this one, S. XOXO Gossip Girl” (Gossip Girl). That message spreads across the entire city, and soon Dan’s father even knows about the picture. At this point, the social identity is ascribed to Dan and Serena, and everyone comes to see them as a cheating boyfriend and girlfriend. Despite the hard evidence that is the photo, people who know the faults of the Internet are also able to question the identity it presents to the world. In a conversation between Serena and Blair, Blair says, “and although I’m inclined to say that Gossip Girl doesn’t know what she’s talking about… that really did look like you and Humphrey. Isn’t that a little ’08? Like Maxi Dresses and Miley Cyrus?” (Gossip Girl). Despite the photographic proof that the Internet provides, the youth culture knows that often times, identities that are products of this postmodern, Internet savvy generation, are filled with misconceptions, fragmentations, devoid of context and filled with errors about who individuals are.

One thing that remains fairly static about identities portrayed in this show, are the gender roles and sexual expectations of males and females. The fact that “In truth woman has not been socially emancipated through a man’s need – sexual desire and the desire for offspring – which makes the male dependent for satisfaction upon the female” (Simone de Beauvoir), proves that the show is in now way addressing aspects of sexual relationships in a radical or subversive manner. “Last Tango, Then Paris” depicts that Dan’s little sister, Jenny Humphrey, who is quite a few years younger than the majority of the characters, loses her virginity to Blair’s ex-boyfriend Chuck Bass. Their interaction is quite predictable and fits comfortable inside of the designated male and females roles. Chuck says, “Well I don’t play video games so if you want to hang with me, you do what I do…If you want to leave now would be the time” (Gossip Girl). To which Jenny replies, “I don’t want to be alone” (Gossip Girl). In this case neither the male nor the female are free from the pangs of sexual desire. Jenny responds to the need that Chuck nearly demands of her, and yet she needs him to fill her loneliness as well. However, the fact that the male is the sexual aggressor and the woman is the emotionally needy counterpart is not a new phenomenon.

Looking at this series as a whole brings out notions of what could be deemed a cultural overload. There are parallels to multiple precursors of the popular culture world; among those precursors are Bret Easton Ellis’s Rules of Attraction, the television show Sex and the City, the James Bond film Goldfinger, as well as the current Internet network, Facebook. Gossip Girl seems to combine the best of all of the above worlds. It has the concerns of young teen and college age people, who are struggling to find their identity, just as Ellis’s novel did. It is arguably even more risqué than Sex in the City in the sense that Gossip Girl presents the nation with young women, not a group of thirty-somethings, who are engaging in sexual activities, and unrealistic amounts of shopping. Gossip Girl was also based on a series of Young Adult books by Cecily von Ziegesar, by the same name, just as Sex and the City was based on a series of non-fiction essays by Candace Bushnell. New York Magazine also is quoted as saying Gossip Girl is “the most restauranty show since Sex and the City” (CW.com). Gossip Girl doesn’t even need fancy gadgets to attack the enemy. The only weapons required to take down a rival of the Upper East Side is a cell phone camera, and an Internet connection. However, the need to spy on those one wants to attack is essential to the politics of the society Gossip Girl creates, just as it was to James Bond. Facebook being such a contemporary element of the social world, it is mentioned in the show numerous times. Also, the Gossip Girl blog is run similar to the way Facebook works. The ability to see information about friends that one might not have known otherwise is a necessary aspect of both Internet networks. All of the above being said, Gossip Girl seems to have capitalized on all of the popular aspects of other cultural works, in effect creating one of the most talked about, and controversial shows on national television.

Through the excavation of the cultural aspects of Gossip Girl and what that means for the audience, one can see why a parent would be concerned about their teenage daughter watching the show. It is purposefully presented as a drama, not particularly humorous, nor satirical. This doesn’t allow much room for speculation that the show is sending a message about the absurdity of the characters’ behaviors. Sure, they encounter not particularly enjoyable situations occasionally, but none severe enough to help a teenage girl see the consequences of those same actions in reality. Perhaps suggesting to a thirteen-year-old girl that only the lower class believe in signs, or that posting suggestive pictures of friends or family on social networking sites is acceptable, or that frivolous sexual encounters should be frequent and come without consequence, is not exactly the message popular culture needs to be sending.



The odd, and darkly absurd style of American pop singer and songwriter Lady Gaga has, in the past three years since her debut studio album The Fame, become a household name. Her songs top the music charts, are continuously repeated on numerous radio stations, and her innovative fashion style is plastered across every entertainment news station. With song titles like, “Poker Face,” “Bad Romance,” and “Alejandro,” one must wonder how the American public could resist being intrigued. But perhaps feminist theorists Simone de Beauvoir and Susan Bordo would be able to explain Lady Gaga’s popularity in a way that highlights more about the American culture than it does about Lady Gaga’s ability to be catchy and unique. The two theorists, arguably, could conceive of Lady Gaga as a popular culture figure representing a type of neo-woman who projects femininity, raunch culture, and masculine actions while maintaining her position in the entertainment industry.

Truly, Lady Gaga so fully exudes the neo-woman persona that embraces the postmodern multifaceted identity, which can effectively combine sexually liberated actions with feminine ideals as well as masculine actions, that solely examining her latest single, “You and I,” holds enough evidence to prove the above stated assertion. When first listening to the song, one can easily identify the elements of the lyrics that reinforce typical female roles in romantic relationships, in the dynamics of males and females. Gaga sings, “You taste like whiskey when you kiss me / I’d give anything again to be your baby doll / This time I’m not leaving without you” (ladygaga.com). Simone de Beauvoir would argue that since the idea that, “humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him; she is not regarded as an autonomous being” (Simone de Beauvoir) is widely accepted, and in fact, at the root of why women are subordinate, the lyrics of Gaga’s song could provide a level of comfort for its listeners. No one has to think about the implications of this statement when singing along to it with their car stereo. No one has to get into debates with their friends over controversial content in the lyrics. It is simply accepted that the female speaker wants to be taken care of by her male ex-lover, and refuses to leave without getting him back. She depends on him. Thus, she is admittedly saying she is not an autonomous being.

As the song continues, the lyrics repeat a theme of dependency and lust. However, the closest that it ever gets to stepping slightly outside of the acceptable role for the female sex says, “I am a New York woman born to rock you down / So I want my lipstick all over your face” (ladygaga.com). It implies a level of sexual confidence and assertiveness that isn’t necessarily considered how a woman should present herself, even in contemporary society. This is an aspect of the postfeminist raunch culture that “advocates sexual provocativeness and promiscuousness by women as women… [that] speaks of … rights to objectify sexuality like a man” (Barker 312). In this way, the song itself takes on a postmodern identity that is capable of projecting both a typical feminine message as well as elements of a raunch culture and sexual assertiveness. This is also an appealing aspect of Lady Gaga’s image because it combines what is often considered to be a divided area for women’s rights. Being able to combine both views of women’s lives helps attract a wide audience.

Where the Lady Gaga franchise becomes increasingly complex is when viewing the music video for “You and I.” Lady Gaga enacts multiple couples, and in one particular instance she portrays both the male and female counterparts – a blonde playing the piano and a male sitting on the top of the piano smoking a cigarette, in the middle of a cornfield.

There is a couple wearing wedding attire, a couple with a male mad-scientist and a female patient, and a mermaid and human male couple, all of whom engage in sexually suggestive dances and actions.

There is also a dance sequence featuring Lady Gaga in a long blue wig and a bondage outfit.

And in this way, perhaps Lady Gaga and her predecessor and inspiration, Madonna parallel one another. Bordo writes, “[Madonna] is offering the notion that one can play a porno house by night and regain one’s androgynous innocence by day [and] … a new inscription of mind/body dualism” (1114). Lady Gaga brings even that notion to a new height. Rarely does one see Lady Gaga out of her elaborate costumes, and extravagant and hyper–sexualized identity, and thus she escapes the need to regain an androgynous innocence. Perhaps after identifying Madonna as able to create a new duality between mind and body, she would also be able to claim that Lady Gaga has created the ability for herself to carry a stage persona, a postmodern persona from the concert stage right into reality. Overall, Bordo’s argument that “what the body does is immaterial, so long as the imagination is free” (1114) seems to fit both Madonna and Lady Gaga’s entertainment philosophies.

Simone de Beauvoir claims that ”One wonders if women still exist, if they will always exist, whether or not it is desirable that they should, what place they occupy in this world, what their place should be” (de Beauvoir). This very idea is the essence that Lady Gaga exudes when she’s on television, on the radio, or on a stage in front of thousands of people. That has become her role in American popular culture. She makes people ask themselves whether her identity is still that of a true woman. And if America decides it isn’t, then they must decide what a woman truly is. If America decides that Lady Gaga is the neo-woman who will become the stepping-stone to a culture with a more broad definition of how particular genders should and should not act, then she has done more than simply entertain. She has changed the face of music, the dynamics of human interaction, and the idea of what a woman can be across the world.

Works Cited

Barker, Chris. "Issues of Subjectivity and Identity." Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice. London: Sage, 2008. 220 +. Print.

Barker, Chris. "Sex, Subjectivity, and Representation." Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice. London: Sage, 2008. 312. Print.

Barker, Chris. "Questions of Culture and Ideology." Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice. London: Sage, 2008. 56. Print.

Beauvoir, Simone De. "Simone De Beauvoir The Second Sex, Woman as Other 1949."Marxists Internet Archive. Web. 25 July 2011.

Bordo, Susan. “’Material Girl’: The Effacements of Postmodern Culture.” Cultural Studies. Print.

Germanotta, Steffani. "Lady Gaga : Yoü and I." Lady Gaga | Yoü and I. Web. 21 Aug. 2011.

Gossip Girl: "Last Tango, Then Paris" Dir. J. Miller Tobin. Perf. Blake Lively, Leighton Meester, and Penn Badgley. Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., 2010. DVD.

"Gossip Girl | Series on the CW Network | Official Site." Official Site of the CW Network | CW Television Shows | CW TV. Web. 21 Aug. 2011.

You and I. By Steffani Germanotta. Perf. Lady Gaga. Youtube.com. 16 Aug. 2011. Web. 21 Aug. 2011.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

South Park Explores the Powers of the Internet

Apparently, the digital media culture of the United States has risen so high in popularity that electronic accessories like Facebook and Apple Inc. items have made their way onto the hit cartoon show South Park. The public necessity to use digital media, to be a member of the social networking phenomenon and to buy endless supplies of iPhones, iPads, and Mac laptops has gone beyond simply participating in the consumer realm. Now people are able to watch television shows mocking the incessant use of digital media, ironically, through the media itself.

South Park tends to actively address cultural controversy such as the Terry Schiavo incident, Barack Obama winning the 2008 presidential election, the population’s obsession with the video game World of Warcraft, and the Facebook following. Usually, the show takes a stance aiming to point out the absurdity of aspects of the issue at hand.

In the episode entitled “You Have 0 Friends”, the character Stan is the only child in his circle of friends reluctant to join Facebook. Once his friends craft him a Facebook page without his approval, the pressure to add friends and participate in the online social network surmounts. Stan begins to realize that “digital culture is not separate from ‘ordinary’ culture” (Barker 348). His girlfriend and his dad both see their relationship with Stan in a different light once they realize they aren’t on his Facebook friend list. When Stan retorts to his father that he doesn’t want to get further into Facebook, Stan’s dad says “so I’m not your friend then?” His girlfriend immediately requests that he change his relationship status to in a relationship and to add her as a friend. Both of these characters begin to question their connection to Stan not because their interaction with him had changed, but simply because they were not linked digitally. In this way, the digital world and the ordinary world cannot be separated. The socially accepted notion revolves around other individual’s opinions about who one is. Since Facebook allows more people to see that identity through Internet space, the digital identity seems to stand more relevant that the identity emitted in person. Thus, if people are not friends on Facebook, the implication stands that they aren’t friends in the ordinary world as well. It’s interesting to note that Stan gives into each person’s request. He says he will add his father, and he apologizes to his girlfriend. Perhaps the writers of the show are asserting that the Internet has more power over our identities than it presents on the surface.

Besides the fact that digital media allows social pressures to surmount and individual identities to be constructed multiple times in both the digital and ordinary realm, another struggle still remains to plague the Internet. The convenient of digital media that supplies endless informational contacts also presents the possibility of constant surveillance. Many people are concerned about “the potential of digital technology to be a tool for Big Brother style centralized surveillance and control… electronic cameras and digital databases can store immense amounts of information about them” (348). The episode of South Park that brings this fear right through the television and into American’s homes is entitled “HUMANCENTiPAD” which aims to satirize the Apple brand’s catchy product nomenclature.

“I just don’t want any big company tracking where I am at all times,” says the adult character in the clip of the episode above. This line of dialogue is delivered right before Apple employees rush the scene to kidnap the character Kyle. They inform him that he agreed to a contract entitling Apple to do anything they like with him and his body. The terms and conditions of iTunes apparently stated this explicitly, however like many Internet and iTunes users in the world today, Kyle didn’t read the contract yet agreed anyway. From here on, in the episode, the company has control over its consumers. It contains any and all information about them, and can use it in anyway it deems beneficial to the company. In reality, surveillance and the tracking of individuals’ information is “done in the name of preventing fraud and apprehending criminals” (348), however, South Park is posing the question, what happens when governments and companies begin to use these surveillance abilities for their own benefit, at any cost to the consumer? They’re forcing their audience to consider, “how long will it be before the same methods are deployed as a standard tool for identifying and ‘managing’ political dissidents?” (348). The episode suggests that people of the American culture are so saturated with the need for the latest digital media, the newest version of iTunes, or the best app for Facebook, they will give up anything to download it.

In the clip, Stan’s friends tell him they always read the Terms and Conditions before clicking accept. However, the question then becomes, if the Terms and Conditions are something unacceptable, how can one get the product anyway? If there is no way to get the desired outcome, will said participant agree despite the risk? Perhaps the general population should refrain from seeing cyberspace as a cyberutopia, and realize that there are beneficial aspects just as there are possibilities to place oneself in unintended, dangerous situations. Stan had to find out the hard way. And that’s South Park’s message: be aware of the Internet’s range of possibilities, and how to protect oneself from them, even if it means giving up the latest edition of iTunes.

Word Count: 909

Works Cited

Barker, Chris. "Digital Media Culture." Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice. London: Sage, 2008. 348. Print.

South Park - You Have 0 Friends. Dir. Trey Parker. Youtube.com. 9 Oct. 2010. Web. 17 Aug. 2011.

South Park - HUMANCENTiPAD. Dir. Trey Parker. Comedy Central.Southparkstudios.com. 27 Apr. 2011. Web. 17 Aug. 2011. .

My Contribution to Project Sex and the City

The first time our group members met outside of class to decide how we wanted to approach the Sex and the City discussion, I brought in the August 2011 Vogue Magazine presenting none other than actress and producer Sarah Jessica Parker on the cover. In her approximately twelve page spread, she discusses her new film entitled I Don't Know How She Does It, and also squeezes in quite a few references to her life as Carrie Bradshaw.

When watching the trailer for the movie set to release in September of this year, it's understandable why the article would mention, "it's as if we're seeing Carrie Bradshaw, the character that has dominated Parker's life for the past twelve years, in a new phase of her life" (Vogue 153). I thought that this article would be a great way to delve deeper into what kind of world and expectations Sex and the City has modeled for women. In the article, Parker also mentions, "'I ultimately chose to stop doing the television series because I felt like it required, and deserved a lot of time when I really wanted to be a parent." Also, she says, circumstances had changed. "It was such a different time in the city, culturally, socially, economically... the kind of liberty that Carrie Bradshaw had. You couldn't start off with a story like that today... There are probably more women, even now, who are trying to be all things to all people," she observes. All of which is good news for the timeliness of I Don't Know How She Does It" (161). Saying that Sex and The City couldn't exist today brings up the question, well, why not? Is it because our culture has become so inundated with women's sexual freedom that in oder to be entertained, the shows must go even further than what Sex and the City was able to accomplish? I showed these sections and brought up these ideas to my group members and suggested that it would be a great way to bring up the future of television, and how, if at all, media and television has been influenced by the groundbreaking elements of Sex and The City.

Leslie and I took on the group which would focus on the implications of whether Sex and the City should be considered a feminist text or not. I brought in the sections of the course text book as well as some sources from Susan Bordo's article in order to ground the Sex and The City discussion in theoretical and cultural understandings. I showed Leslie what I was thinking, and we agreed that it would work out. I then constructed a handout for the group, so that there would be questions available to them on a hardcopy that allowed them to see the possibilities of connections between theories and the show. I mixed in entertaining questions that would help to generate a lively discussion with questions that were more central to the course text so that people would be interested in what we had to say and subsequently feel comfortable asserting their opinions. Here is what the handout looked like:

Sex And The City

As A Feminist Text?

1. Which character would you consider to be the “slut” in the group of friends? What evidence from the clip supports your answer?

2. Do you think the modern woman should be comfortable having multiple partners? Or should they revert to more traditional notions of what is appropriate behavior for women? What seems to be the women’s stance on this question?

3. Would you consider Sex And The City to be:

- a “difference feminist” (Barker 282) text?

- a “poststructuralist feminist” (283) text?

- a “post feminist” (284) text?

(find quote(s) from the textbook to support your argument, as well as a moment from the show)

4. Based the moment you saw from Sex And The City, would you argue that the show reinforces the gender roles presented on pages 286 and 287 of the class text? Or would you argue that the show is more radical than it seems? In what way?

5. Why do you think these characters rely so heavily on sexuality for their identities? Do you think the images of women mentioned on pages 307 and 308 have anything to do with it?

6. When looking at the Susan Bordo article: “‘Material Girl’: The Effacements of Postmodern Culture,” are there any ways that Sex and the City reflects the subversive qualities that Madonna represented to her fans? Would you argue that Madonna somehow influenced Sex And The City? How?

7. What do you think is Sex And The City’s theme or overall message? How do you think casting an overweight woman or a minority woman as another friend in the show affects that theme?

Sex And The City

Quotes from the Ladies

“Relationships have been on the decline ever since women came out of the cave, looked around and said, ‘this isn’t so bad.’” – Samantha

“Would it be bad to have a martini with my muscle relaxant or bad in a good way?” – Samantha

“I said no white, no ivory, no nothing that says virgin. I have a child. The jig is up.” – Miranda

“You do this every time! Every time! What do you have, some kind of radar? (She) might be happy, it’s time to sweep in and shit all over it! Forget you know my number, in fact, forget you know my name… and you can drive down the street all you want because I don’t live here anymore!” – Carrie

“No matter who broke your heart or how long it takes to heal, you’ll never get through it without your friends” – Carrie

“I’ve been dating since I was fifteen! I’m exhausted! Where is he?!” – Charlotte

“Do any of you have a completely unremarkable friend or maybe a houseplant I could go to dinner with on Saturday night?” – Miranda

“Women who stay with men who cheat are women who are afraid to be on their own. And that’s not me. I can handle it. Always could.” – Miranda

“I got everything I ever wanted. I’m so happy I’m terrified.” – Charlotte

“I don’t really believe in marriage. Botox, on the other hand… that works every time.” – Samantha

“I’m looking for love. Real love. Ridiculous, inconvenient, consuming, can’t-live-without-each-other-love…” – Carrie

“If you can only have one great love, then the city just may be mine. And I don’t want nobody talkin’ shit about my boyfriend” – Carrie

“We finally have the penis working. I don’t want to scare it.” – Charlotte

“It’s amazing. In a courtroom, reasonable doubt can get you off for murder. In an engagement, it makes you feel like a bad person.” – Miranda

“Smart, yes, sometimes cute, but never sexy. Sexy is the thing I try to get them to see me as after I win them over with my personality.” – Miranda

“The only think I’ve ever successfully made in the kitchen is a mess. And several small fires.” - Carrie

I added an additional page on the back of the questions just for supplemental information about the characters of the show. Each quote is followed by a name of the character who said that phrase at some point in the six-season spread of Sex and the City. I thought this would help the class understand who each character was in terms of the women stereotypes that are presented on television, and could also help them form an argument about whether or not Sex and the City is a feminist text. One argument could have been something like since Carrie is the main character and she claims that she can't cook and only produces small fires, perhaps the show is sending the message that traditional values and women's roles in the home aren't significant any longer. If there was ample time (which there wasn't) I also thought about getting into the discussion of who most aligned with what character, or felt like they would be most inclined to date which character. I thought this activity could tell us a little more about the direction our current culture is leaning, and whether more traditional roles are accepted, or if more liberated roles for women are accepted.

I also chose to show the group a clip from Season 3 Episode 6 entitled "Are We Sluts?" that would help them understand the questions and the text in relation to an actual clip from the television show itself. The groups response to the clip was entirely engaging and I was happy that they took to it so well. Here is the clip:

The group's response that Samantha was probably the "slut" of the group based solely on this clip was interesting. Some people in the group had not seen the show before, and yet they were still able to tell that Samantha was the most sexually promiscuous or sexually liberated depending on one's perspective. They said the Samantha's line, "Oh please, if you're a whore what does that make me?" was the give away. She was willing to admit to her hyper-sexuality, which the group agreed made her the slut of the friends.

Overall, I think through picking the clip to show the feminism group, and creating the questions and handout, as well as finding a culturally relevant and timely article addressing the stance of Sex and the City's reliance on the cultural stability of the time it was produced, I was able to contribute a significant amount to our group's success. I'm glad the class seemed to take a lot of information and critical thought away from our discussion. Maybe some classmates even began to see Sex and the City as more than simply a shallow show concerned with shoes and sex.

Word Count: 971 (excluding the copy of the handout)

Works Cited

I Don't Know How She Does It. Dir. Douglas McGrath. Perf. Sarah Jessica Parker.Youtube.com. 27 May 2011. Web. 17 Aug. 2011.

MacSweeny, Eve. "Show and Tell." Vogue Aug. 2011: 150-62. Print.

Sex and the City. By Darren Star. Perf. Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis, and Cynthia Nixon. Darren Star Productions, 1998. Youtube.com. 29 May 2007. Web. 14 Aug. 2011.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Location of Friends with Benefits

The film Friends With Benefits is a perfect arena to discuss the dynamics of space and place, and what those things mean in terms of popular culture. Justin Timberlake’s character leaves his home in Los Angeles to take on a new job at GQ magazine in New York. Mila Kunis’ character sets up this job for him, and helps him settle into his new life in New York. The film does an amazing job at emphasizing “place and space in terms of absence-presence, where place is marked by face-to-face encounters and space by the relations between absent others” (Barker 376). The fact that Timberlake is thrust into a new “place” with no familiar others to associate with, helps to propel the romance that develops with Kunis. One can see this in the clip below, in which what can be considered their first date begins because Timberlake asks her to suggest a place to eat.

Their face-to-face interaction is thus magnified because of Timberlake's reliance on Kunis for a better understanding of a new location. This also begins the reliance on an emotional connection between the two characters. This connection between the two, however, does not detract from the fact that the two are from opposite sides of the United States. The film pokes fun at stereotypes of Angelenos and New Yorkers. For example, there is a moment when Timberake and Kunis are flying from New York to Los Angeles, and Kunis is cursing loudly in front of children passengers. Timberlake consoles them and their upset parents by mentioning something along the lines of, "She's from New York, this is how she is." Thus showing that Hollywood portrays particular stereotypes of people from certain spaces in a rigid manner. The stereotypes rarely bend in favor of a more diverse type of people.

The trailer of the film travels deeper into the emotional aspect of the movie which presents the respective families of Kunis and Timberlake. Both of their parents have particular reasons for providing a lack of support. Timberlake says, "Come with me to L.A. You'd be a great distraction from my family. They'll love you, all fast talking and brusk like I'm bringing home a carny." The first thing that stands out about this line of dialogue is that Timberlake's character needs a distraction from his family. The audience finds later that his father is suffering from Alzheimer's disease, and the family struggles with having to cope. This section proves that "places are discursive constructions which are the target of emotional identification or investment" (376). Timberlake's character associated Los Angeles with his father's illness and his emotional relation to that.
Overall, it seemed that the characters romantic relationship, and emotional identity is highly attached to where they come from, and where they live at the moment. Their place directly corresponds to their emotional timbre and attitude. Perhaps this in itself is the cliche part of the movie. The casual sex and attempt to refrain from relationship romance purports itself to be a different type of chick flick. However, the stereotypes and expectation placed on people from particular locations remains the same.

Word Count: 521

Works Cited

Barker, Chris. "Cultural Space and Urban Place." Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice. London: Sage, 2008. 376. Print.
"Exclusive Preview Clip of Friends with Benefits - YouTube." YouTube - Broadcast Yourself. 29 Apr. 2011. Web. 10 Aug. 2011. .
"Friends with Benefits Movie Trailer Official (HD) - YouTube." YouTube - Broadcast Yourself. 17 Mar. 2011. Web. 10 Aug. 2011. .

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The New World Disorder of Online Shopping

With the rise of internet phenomenons like Amazon, E Bay, and online ordering from well-known corporate retail chains complete with deliveries made straight to front doors, there should be no questions concerning why the cultural theorist Jean Baudrillard would argue that, "objects in consumer societies are no longer purchased for their use value. Rather, what is sought after are commodity-signs in the context of a society marked by increased commodification" (Barker 152). Any and all types of purchases can be made from the comfort of a bed, or couch, or cafe. All one needs is an internet connection and the ability to google.

In order to fully understand just how far the American culture has gone with the commodification craze, and in fact, just how far the world has gone, it is best to examine a website called Etsy. This site sells handmade and vintage style items (which is currently rising to be a popular fad) ranging from things like earrings to artwork, from clothes to beauty products. Anyone from any location in the world can place products on the website to sell, creating their own virtual store where virtual customers browse pictures of the commodities for sale. The seller can be from Finland and the buyer from the United States, or any other combination of countries, states, or cities that one can dream up.

This dress is being sold from Maehongsorn, Thailand.

This plush owl comes from Leige, Belgium.

Esty seems to bridge the gap between old and new styles of commodities, as well as cultural boundaries that exist between different continents. The Internet allows the idea of Cosmopolitanism in which, “diverse and remote cultures have become accessible, as signs and commodities, via our televisions, radios, supermarkets, and shopping centres” (158) to expand and become even more available to the masses. Perhaps with the emergence of online spaces like this, the world can begin to create a type of global culture, in which everyone has the opportunity to decide which cultural place they want to embrace that day. However, one can’t help but wonder what the implications of such a popular, global marketplace would be.

A global marketplace, in theory, sounds like a welcoming attempt at a world version of the American melting pot. However, the chances that every culture involved would be accepting of blending together in order to create a dynamic that fostered a worldwide consumer society, is unlikely. Perhaps it would become “a series of overlapping, overdetermined, complex and chaotic conditions which, at best, cluster around key ‘nodal points’” (159), better able to produce an atmosphere of competition and angst rather than community and global culture.

If a global marketplace and universal culture seem to be based on “metaphors of uncertainty, contingency, and chaos” (159), then the idea of cultural homogenization and fragmentation must come into question. Could the success of Etsy create a future in which diversity is absent? Could the above-pictured dress from Thailand and owl from Belgium come together to represent a single type of people? Perhaps it already has. If one understands that “the current direction of global consumer capitalism is such that it encourages limitless needs/wants… thus [realizing that] the global and the local are relative terms” (162), then the only type of culture any Belgian of Thai needs is that of consumerism. In the end, maybe regardless of if someone buys a DVD box set from America, or a vintage doll from Brazil, the simple fact that currency is being transferred from one person to another, creates a common bond that cannot be broken.

This very bond is the issue that Anthony Giddens presents when he “explores the generation of meaninglessness as an aspect of what he calls ‘the sequestration of experience…’ [which] involved the separation of day-to-day life from contact of sickness, madness, criminality, sexuality, and death that raise potentially disturbing existential questions” (165). Through opening up an immense amount of Internet space dedicated solely to shopping, and making that available to the entire world population, the amount of time spent in front of a computer can reach an all-time high.

So, sure, Etsy gives people the opportunity to sample what the world has to offer, without even having to take a step out of the bedroom. In some ways, that can prove to be quite beneficial. However, if everyone begins secluding themselves perhaps it could be the beginning of a global financial and emotional breakdown. Tourism could slow to a stop, the need to frequent shopping malls and restaurants might dwindle, and people would forget how to communicate verbally… and then how would people cope? Maybe a balance between global Internet markets and actual experience is what everyone needs. Having E Bay, Amazon and Etsy, among other Internet shopping sites could be making things, simply put, too easy.

Word Count: 786

Works Cited

Barker, Chris. "A New World Disorder." Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice. London: Sage, 2008. 152+. Print.
"Helen Ivory Mix Silk SXL by Cocoricooo on Etsy." Etsy - Your Place to Buy and Sell All Things Handmade, Vintage, and Supplies. 1 Aug. 2011. Web. 3 Aug. 2011.

"Larry the Bald Owl /// Plush by Lesjouesgrises on Etsy." Etsy - Your Place to Buy and Sell All Things Handmade, Vintage, and Supplies. 24 June 2011. Web. 03 Aug. 2011.