Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Last One

I must say that I will miss being required to think about the world and the US, and to write it all down at least once a week. So, in that spirit, I would like to recap a bit and probably rant a bit more--just to keep in the usual form.

This year has been a crazy one. For academia, American Studies, and the Americas. Things are always changing and there are always new ways to look at things--in part, because the prior is true. I must say that I've never been short on material for this blog.

There is one main thing that I think is so great about the American Studies. It teaches you to look at your own, to look at your culture, life, society, history, media, philosophy, and more. Whether looking at it in excluded from other nations or country or in a transnational context, I think this is a great exercise!

If we could all take a critical eye to just some of the narratives that surround us everyday, I think we would find an immense amount of benefit. Certainly, being blind to these things, especially willfully so, is near tragic and it happens all the time.

Taking a critical eye or ear to "the world" around you and all that you are constantly bombarded with every day in the modern world, can only serve to make us better people, better citizens and even a better nation.

The lack of self-critique, may in fact be, the inevitable downfall of societies and countries and civilizations throughout the world and throughout history. I just hope that myself and others have learned the skills to divert such an end.

I am planning on continuing my studies in American Studies next fall at KSU in the graduate program, so I hope to continue to make an effort towards encouraging such criticism and the beneficial ideas or products it produces!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Class Activity Parallels American Studies

Our class activity on Wednesday was quite enjoyable. I think the activity is related to American Studies in a few ways. One of them is the way in which we were asked to examine or re-examine the places, cultures and their meanings that are all around us.

We walk by the gazebo here, the Berlin Wall there, the campus green somewhere else, the statue of the man climbing to the top of the world at another location, and we hardly, if ever, stop and think about these places, these structures, or their meaning. Much like American Studies, we are asked to examine the things we know or believe we know so well. Where we, as Americans are so involved, so immersed, so saturated with our culture, our way of life, and our structures, that we hardly ever stop to examine them.

This is probably my favorite aspects of American Studies. It is so important to re-examine the things we are fed everyday, the things we are such a part of. And to some extent, it can be difficult to capture this mindset or to participate in such an exercise, whether it be self-criticism or the effort to be objective in looking at ourselves, our nation that we belong to in some form or another.

So, we walked around campus and we were made to ask questions! The power of the question! Oh the Socratic method! In some ways, a question can reveal much more than a statement. And then, in another way, we were asked to answer these questions through our writing--a poem, a list, so on. Overall I think it was a very beneficial activity and it correlates to American Studies as a discipline to a great extent.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Nukes and Everyone Else

Throughout the semester we have discussed very little about the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki or the Cold War culture that followed. At least, we haven't discussed things in this frame of the Cold War. We have examined the "nuclear family," suburbs into the 21st century, and so on, but it makes me curious.

We always have heard that after WWII all the American soldiers came back home, thus we have the "baby boomers" and all kinds of stuff. But I wonder even more about the national consciousness and whether or not someone other than Kurt Vonnegut saw the grave implications of what ended WWII: the a-bomb.

I am writing about this now because anything nuclear--culture, industry, science and ethics, literature, history--has interested me for some time and because President Barack Obama has recently signed a nuclear treaty with Russia. It is an interesting move on behalf of both parties involved. And, frankly, I laugh when I hear people say that less nuclear war heads that could blow up this earth dozens and dozens times over, makes the US or the whole world any less safe.

I think we could stand to get rid of a few, and so could Russia. And I would really like to see the congress not actually try to have a 2/3 majority. That is, I would like to see them try to convince me that somehow we are safer if we can blow up the earth 100 times instead of 50 times.

Of course, we would have been much better off if the a-bomb had never been made. So it goes.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Christianity in America

There is no doubt that Christianity is alive and well in the United States--perhaps more than any other nation in the world. At least, it is a part of the usual, public discourse. We see it on TV, we hear and see pundits on TV talk about how the US is a Christian nation, we can buy holy water by way of a 1-800 number, we can watch the pink haired lady go through an entire box of tissues....I could go on.

Ok, but on a more serious level (that is, absent of pink-haired TBN jokes) Christianity is a big part of the US. If nothing else, look at all the immense amount of stuff you can buy that is related to the Christian faith--Protestant or Catholic. That statement should tell you of the American version of religion. But I'm not sure this is such a good thing. In a way, consumerism is the American religion.

I think the author of "Material Christianity" finds the American affection towards materials and materialism, as well as the ones that profit from the sale of goods that represent a non-materialistic religion, as especially problematic. And I have to agree. Some of the earlier incarnations of representations of Jesus or God are a bit more forgivable, but the modern-day ones simply are not. There are just some people out there that you must wonder if they are more intent on selling copies of their own book or getting people to pick up there bibles.

I mean, for example, a friend of mine recently got married and the church the ceremony was held in had a form in the pew that signed you up for direct deposit for your tithe. Ok, maybe not so crazy to some, maybe you are an avid and regular 10% giver as the Bible instructs, fine. This is not a particularly good example, I realize, but it may help put it in perspective.

More politically speaking, it is those that claim to be Christians and are viewed as such that promote the very system that keeps money in the pockets of the richest people in the country and encourages an affinity for commodities and material things--that is, "things of this world."

Either way, it is difficult to pin-point the cause of Christian values being coupled with American Capitalist values, but it certainly is alive and well.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Material World of The Unseen

Our reading for this week took me by surprise. I was not sure quite what to expect but I knew I was interested. At first, I thought it was going to be an expositional critique of the American Right and the problematic relationship they might have between promoting materialism (through free-trade and just for being those fist pumping capitalist types) and promoting a religous view that preaches against materialism or "the things of this world." Apparently I was writing my own book in my own head before I opened this one. Almost like not even seeing the previews for a movie, but only hearing a title and deciding you could imagine what it would look like, who the characters would be, and so on.

Still, I am presently surprised. This book appears to take a more archeological and anthropological stance and approach to research. While these disciplines often have to do with empirical sciences, they also appear to be a place where more theoretical and philosophical questions must be asked. For this reason I enjoyed the reading. It seems exceedingly more difficult to keep one discipline away from each other, and this can only be a good thing. If we are to pick up a clay pot and document it as only made of clay from the nearby area but do not ask how this effected the humans, culture, and their relation to the world, then what good is that clay pot?

In a way I'm thankful we don't have to go back to clay-pot type times. This book is talking about the recent and the very recent past. We're talking Christian book stores, pictures/representations of Jesus, jewelery, trucker-hats...I could go on.
But the most interesting thing the author states and that I agree with is that all these objects, these products influence the way we concieve of ourselves, others, other objects, our own spirituality/religion, and more. That the author asserts that Americans want see, do, and touch our religions is especially dead-on. In a way we create a relation to the unseen world we tell others we believe, but the seen world is what helps us build (or demolish) that belief, that relation.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Populism Masked as Democracy: Facebook is No Place for Politics

Someone should do an academic study of online social networks and the body politic. If facebook is to be the place of political public discourse then maybe we should find a way to completely ZAP the internet, completely annihilate it from existence. But we know that's not going to happen. Everything is on or will be on the internet, on a little screen in front of our faces for us to oooh and ahhh over. But should our American political discourse be on it?

No. No it shouldn't. Not in the least. Especially facebook. Sure, it's great to post an article from this or that newspaper and share it with your friends or nearly everyone else in the world, but when people have an upwards of 15 comments and the content of these comments suggests that "someone should punch the president in the face," we need to draw the line somewhere. Sure, you are allowed to feel and say whatever you want, but the outright immaturity, ignorance, and disrespect that people display for one another and others needs a reality check. What happens when you put facebook and politics together is this: populist, anti-intellectual, knee-jerk, rambling reactionary, political discussion. I won't even call it discourse. That would be giving credit where it is simply not due.

Sure not everyone is a political science major or an American Studies major, but saying we should impeach the President on your "status" and not being able to tell anyone (15 comments later) for what? Please.

This does not help our politics. It polarizes them. And everyone that can't distinguish between the Washington Times op/ed page and the content in the rest of the paper, anyone that claims to love the Constitution but has never read it, anyone that can type the letters "s-o-c-i-a-l-i-s-m," gets a chance to broadcast the echo-halls of populist, reactionary, anger.

This is truly an interdisciplinary look at things. We've social movements, social networking, politics, communications, and even the fabric of American democracy at hand here.

And if democracy looks anything like facebook at this very moment, then maybe we should all move to China.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Consumerism Update

It seems the most difficult thing to gauge these days is a little something our culture is strongly based on: consumer behavior. So this is weird. Really weird.

Everytime I listen to the news on the radio or watch it on TV I hear economists from all over saying the same thing: that consumer behavior is unpredictable, incalculable, and very very important. While economics is mainly theory and forecasts, though in relation to empirical evidence, it seems that consumer behavior is just another factor you hear them all mention that throws another wrentch in the equation.

Really, its quite hilarious. I think it's kinda like the free-will/destiny debate. And I could argue both sides, at least insofar as American consumerism is concerned. Really we have both in this country: we have the free-will to buy 1,000 different kinds of toothpaste, but we are also destined to buy it from Wal-Mart, or at least a toothpaste product from China that mainly sells to Wal-mart. You get the point.

Still, no economists (who seem to be regarded or at least listened to as god itself these days) can tell you how humans will behave, what they will buy, and what they won't. Even further, the especially frosty weather was expected to hamper much consumer spending in retail stores, but all the big retailers just reported a large increase. This should prove the point: rain, snow, sunshine, rich, poor, conservative, liberal, red, blue, black, or green, these economists from Yale or Harvard or Berkely (nor much or anyone else for that matter) can predict human behavior. And human behavior in the US usually means: consumer behavior.