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.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Consummate Consumer

"Everything's provided, consummate consumer," sings Regina Spektor in her song "Machine." Sure, maybe it's a bit to much to suggest a consumer consummates in some form or another with commodities, but it gets the point across. If you consider the word as an adjective, then it shouldn't leave such a bad taste in your mouth: as an adjective it means showing a high degree of skill or flair; and complete or perfect.

Either way, I think Regina Spektor is right on. Lot's of people, especially conservative pundits and others like to talk about how "the US is a Christian nation." And then they talk about the Puritans and so on. Well, even if the nation really is or was like they say, it has been replaced by a sort of religious consumerism. And really in all kinds of senses.

People in the US love their cars, their iPhones, their flat-screens...I could go on but you can imagine the list. People may have once believed in a Christian god, but now it is overshadowed by the belief in this golden idol now known as commodities.

Even if you aren't a believer, this should bother you. Consumerism is the one religion we all participate in, we all work together to keep alive, and even something we all go to war for. Sound familiar?