Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Slumdog Millionaire: The Post Modern City

      Slumdog Millionaire gives the west a peep-hole into the development of one of the worlds rising and dominant cities, Mumbai.  Mumbai represents in its essence the post-modern city at it's greatest. From where it was 100 years ago to where it stands today, it fits the criteria of a contemporary post-modern city,  "The increasingly 'carceral' city: The postmodern kaleidoscopic city has become increasingly ungovernable. This has led to walled-in estates, armed guards, patrolled shopping centres, surveillance cameras and wire fences, all aimed at keeping the threatening spectre of crime, violence and ethnic difference at bay. LA is marked by turf wars of gangs and police, the latter armed with the latest technology of control. However, Soja also points to an increasing politics of place, including greater neighborhood participation in local municipal issues (Barker  392).

        Although not a city of the west, it has taken on many principals and ideals originally constructed in the west; contradictory from the east in which it stands, "The modern Anglo-American city has commonly been discussed in terms of a poor, non-white, inner-city zone of decay paralleled by the growth of suburbs populated by a predominately middle class. typically, the involved a degree of 'white flight'  from the city to the suburbs and the emptying out of the inner city" (Barker 393). Perhaps the inverse has taken place in Mumbai, where it's residents have remained, and whites from other areas have come in and used it as the marketplace that it has become. For Soja these elements contribute to Mumbai as a post modern city. 

       As developed and modern as Mumbai has become, it still has many of it's traditional roots. This does not disqualify it from still being a post-modern city in the opinion of Soja, "For Soja, postmodern urbanization does not imply total transformation of the urban landscape into something wholly new. Rather, the postmodern city has continuities with its past. On the other hand, the concept of the postmodern does suggest something more than piecemeal reford. Sojo argues that we can see in Los angeles six intertwined processes and relationships that together produce a composite postmodern urban geography. There are as follows (391). Just like Los Angeles, many intertwined processes and relationships have come together in Mumbai to contribute to its nature as a post-modern city. 

English 313: Pop Culture Final

Christopher Bruno
Dr. Wexler
English 313
Final Exam
            The process of tapping into the cultural underbelly of comedic television shows allows us to dissect the cultural phenomena’s of our day under the microscope of fictional comedic writing. In this detached and humorous analysis we can get down to the bone of all issues while tip-toeing around the most controversial aspects of our culture with the grace of comedy. Comedic analysis allows us to analyze these aspects most brutally; the brilliant irony of this analysis is that it is always veiled by the forgiving nature of comedy. It is through these devices how comedic analysis allows us to explore the signifying practices of our language. This effort is by definition what it is to explore culture, “In the words of Chris Barker, “To understand culture is to explore how meaning is produced symbolically though signifying practices of language” (76). It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, created by Rob McElhenny skewers the relations of our cultural ties and divides with nearly unmatched brutality and realism. Throughout its six seasons It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia obliterate to issues of capitalism, abortion rights & feminism, mob-violence, murder, North Korea, the gas crisis, vanity, sexual endeavors, patriotism, the mortgage crisis, addiction, that good old Christmas spirit, amongst dozens of other hot topics in American culture.
            In the episode “Dennis and Dee go on Welfare” Paddies Pub, the bar owned by the four main characters goes bankrupt, and is eventually bought out by two of the main characters father, Frank Reynolds (played by Danny DeVito). In his grand scheme to control his children’s lives, and punish them for excluding him from their bar he assumes ownership of Paddies. Under his management the role of each member of the gang dramatically changes. Dennis Reynolds goes from being the vocal leader of the bar, to an addicted degenerated in the process of applying for Welfare; his inability to take direction from his father as a man in his early thirties also highlights the reality of coming of age during a recession, and the brutal reality of family ties being harder to sever then one might like to admit. Frank Reynolds, played by DeVito is an unforgiving capitalist, determined to teach his children and their friends the lessons of capitalism (all the while participating in the debauchery they bring into his life as a bored and lonely man in his early 60’s). It is here where Frank Reynolds displays what he values to be a key concept of true capitalism”
Frank: Charlie, you've got a lot of balls, stealing my money. This shows leadership, I am promoting you to management.
Charlie: That's why I did it.
Mac: That's why I did it too, Frank! I stole lots of your money, what do I get?
Frank: You get dick, because you are a follower and a thief.” (McElhenny).
Here Frank Reynolds awards the character of Charlie Kelly (played by Charlie Day) for his cunning and deception. Charlie is promoted from janitor to head of the bar, second to only Frank as owner. In a desperate attempt to display the same cunning, Mac (played by McElhenny) attempts to diverge from his vain, meat-head image in the attempt to impress Frank, who is perceived to be cunning and respectful of such unapologetic capitalist notions. However, Frank ignores and belittles Macs attempts under the analysis that he merly copied Charlie, was not innovate, creative, or courageous, and rather just a mass producer of a job previously well done. Here a connection can be made to “Facebook” the movie, where perhaps many were involved in the original construction of facebook back in that Harvard dorm room in 2004. However, Zuckerbergs ability to unapologetically take the reigns and assume leadership is why he is the youngest billionaire in the world (Fincher). This metaphor for Capitalism expresses what it is to be truly successful as a Capitalist in the 21st Century; unapologetic, cunning, brutal, smart and exploitative. Simply put, there is no room for absolutist morality in successful Capitalism; only a relative world view could allow for such exploitation, and such celebrated selfishness. Mac had the cunning and courage to steal Franks money, but he wasn’t quick or witty enough to allow those efforts to lead to fruition. In many an estimation, this is a metaphor for American Capitalism. While Charlie and Mac attempted to place themselves under the wing of owner Frank Reynolds, Sweet-Dee and Dennis (DeVitos children) take the exact opposite approach, reactionary denial. They both decided that applying for welfare would be the best possible way to get back at their father, who they deem corrupt and without moral (they however are willing to break down their own social status to qualify, ignorant to his abuse of a system designed for the truly less fortunate). Here in this state Dennis and Dee battle with their self-identity; from trust fund babies, to isolated young 30-somethings unable to deal with the demands of a Capitalist society. Barker defines self-identity to be “the verbal conceptions we hold about ourselves and our emotional identification with those self-descriptions” (Barker 215). It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia examines isolation, the constantly developing identity, and the brutal realities of American Capitalism in one twenty-four minute episode.
Works Cited
Barker, Chris. Cultural Studies: Theory & Practice. London: Sage, 2008. Print.
McElhenny, Rob. "Dennis and Dee Go on Welfare." It's Always Sunny in Philidelphia. Television.
The Social Network. Dir. David Fincher. Perf. Jesse Eisenberg. 2010. Film.

Throughout a full summer semester of analyzing pop-culture, one fascinated by the riches-to-rags story of Tiger Woods could most certainly appreciate the analytical theories of Marx and Foucault. Once amongst the most loved and highest performing athletes in the world, Tiger Woods downfall, like his rise was fast, unforgiving, and impossible to not notice. It speaks to the chains of excess, lack of self-control, and the superficial feelings of invincibility spurred on by Capitalist wealth, the domination of ones sport, and the ego which comes along with the globalized realization of both aspects.
Infidelity and the deconstruction of the family (and thus family values) were at the heart of his unraveling. Tiger Woods became a man of luxury, wealth, unprecedented talent and marketability. He had the world at his finger-tips, and he gave into the excesses of his success and wealth. Here, Foucault would argue that the intensity of pleaser and accessibility were most responsible for Woods actions; opportunity is king, “But it is opposite that has become apparent, at least after a general review of the facts: never have their existed more centers of power; never more attention manifested and verbalized; never more circular contacts and linkages; never more cites where the intensity of pleasure and the persistency of power catch hold, only to spread elsewhere” (Foucault 691). Simply put Woods had become a man who couldn’t say no, he became a slave to his own desires for excess, excesses only imagined in the highest heavenly pursuits of the most modest and devout worldly Muslim; minus the virgin aspect. Perhaps the most baffling element of the fall of Tiger Woods isn’t the infidelity, the inability to say no, or the inability to display self-control. Perhaps the most baffling element was his dramatic reduction of play on the golf course. Even the mighty Tiger Woods would become suspect to the typical media skewering displayed after the knowledge of his infedility; however Woods had reflected the intense glare of media on many an occasion before and be able to rise above it while on the golf course. In many an estimation, it is here, where Woods struggles on the golf course where the emotional reality of lost love and family affected him most greatly. Here we can see the materialization of his internal conflict most blatantly. You can reflect and dodge questions in interviews, you can put up a shield and pretend like nothing is happened, but an 18 hole score sheet doesn’t like. Unmatched in skill, focus and physical dominance, the previously untouchable Woods became vulnerable on the golf course; his kingdom. His struggles to win or even qualify for the second half of tournaments displays his journey to come to terms with his moral collapse. If many in the media didn’t buy his public apology, they just need to look at the box-score; he fully realized the reality of his situation.
From the Marxist perspective it is equally interesting. The bi-racial, good looking man with a full set of pearly whites was at one point one of the most marketable figures in the history of all of sports; perhaps second to only Michael Jordan, and even there it was close. He had endorsements from every big capitalist business that could get his hands on him. However once he no longer was viewed as a champion of family values, half of those endorsements disappeared.  Of course at this point in his life Woods is set for life and needs no other endorsements, but the fact remains that no matter how talented, one is only marketable if able to fit into the image of the ideal man, the ideal golfer, or family man. Perhaps here a comparison to Sex in the City would be appropriate; is it better to be loved as society wants and expects you to behave, or better to stand alone in isolation as the person who maximizes all that is attainable, regardless of the consequences.
Works Cited
Barker, Chris. Cultural Studies: Theory & Practice. London: Sage, 2008. Print.
Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality. New York: Pantheon, 1978. Print.
Sex and the City. Dir. Michael Patrick King. By Michael Patrick King. Prod. Michael Patrick King and Sarah Jessica Parker. Perf. Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall. 2008.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Slumdog Millionaire: The Post-Modern City

See Above

Facebook Group: Class and Elitism

           The subjects of class and elitism are at the very root of the formation of the original Facebook network founded in February 2004. In the early incarnation of facebook only students at Harvard University were eligible to to sign up for the facebook social network.  As Harvard University has always represented the pinnacle of elite education, this set up a precedence from the beginning of a "culture from above".  Within seven years facebook transferred from Harvard only elitism to a booming social network with over 750 million users. The spurts of progress and growth during facebooks run could relate to Marxs theory on the mode of production, "...different forms of material organization and different social relations characterize each mode of production" (Barker 13). As more people were allowed to join, the forms of organization within the network changed and became more formal, more marketing friendly. This contradiction of using the group to make money is an interesting, but expected one from the eyes of a Marxist examining the Capitalist nature. Marketing and the combination of displayed materialism of it's users has transformed facebook from a hot or not Harvard college connection to an advanced network displaying material organization and the characteristics of the modes or production. The evolution of facebook and social networking marches on.

      For Marx this evolution "...stresses the historical specificity of human affairs and the changeable character of social formations whose core features are located in the material conditions of existence" (Barker 12). Facebook in its essence is a part of the new social formation that has started since the boom of the internet. Facebooks explosion was not gradual, and it that sense it mirrors the evolution of history as seen by Marx, "For Marxism,  history is not a smooth evolutionary process. Rather, it is marked by significant breaks and discontinuities of modes or production." (Barker 13). In that sense, facebook represents a boom period in social formation.
         Facebook, as a powerful social networking tool brings people together. It also gives great power to those who control and own it, "...who owns and controls cultural production" (Barker 9). Other key elements of Marxism include, "the distribution mechanisms for cultural productions" (Barker 9) as well as "the consequences of patterns of ownership and control for contours of the cultural landscape" (Barker 9). Facebook has this in spades, and it is no wonder that it has become a billion dollar company.

       From the perspective of elitism, "culture from above" and traditional Marxism facebook has elements that is relatable to all. It encompassed elitism and culture from above, only to transform into a different beast entirely. It's developemt mirrors that of the development of society as a whole, and now has seven years of history from which we can examine and study its progress.

Pop Culture Bull$h!t

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

James Bond in Goldfinger: The ever developing character of Bond

                The ever changing identity of the character of James Bond takes fans through a journey in time and history in which viewers witness the development of villians, super-powers, film/action pace, and commodity over what is nearly a fifty year period. Beyond Bond's sterotype as the smooth talking, perfectly dressed double-agent with a thrill for danger, Bond has always served as the poster-boy for the worlds newest and most captivating technological advances and developments. Just as Bonds identity changes over time, so does the technology which serves him; he is a walking advertistment for these material goods. As fans, the audience becomes just as captivated with these devices and products as Bond does. Bordo theory would argue that these advertisments and desire for elite product turns the indentity of the general population into commodity, "Through advertisements, our identities have been turned into a commodity" (Bordo 1101). Bordo also points out that we do not consciously choose to desire these products, only that we wish to identify with what we deem desireable. In case, that desire is the persona of James Bond; Bordo would perhaps argue that this desire to copy his most plesent attribues actually prevents us from developing our own unique persona and power as individuals, "the very advertisements whose copy speaks of choice and self-determination visually legislate the effacement of individual and cultural difference and circumscribe our choices" (Bordo 1101). Perhaps the desire to imitate James Bond is detrimental to our own creative sense of self, our own will power. Perhaps it's just fun to pretend. Be it escapism through film or the selling of our souls to commodity, James Bond does what he is asked; he entertains, he sells it , he sells us.

               As for the ever developing, ever changing identity of the character of James Bond, Barker would argue that his development is natural, and no different that the development of that a less smooth, less dangerously intriguging person may go through, "Identity is best understood not as a fixed entity but as an emotionally charged discursive description of ourselves that is subject to change" (Barker 216). As the times changes, so does Bond. Although this does not present the strongest argument in favor of James Bond as a post-modern hero of freedom, the foundation is perhaps there, "...the decentred or postmodern self involves the subject in shifting, fragmented and multiple identities. Persons are composes not of one but of serveral, sometimes contradictory identities" (Barker 220). The first notion within this quote certainly supports the notion that Bond is a post-modern hero of freedom. However, in terms of the contriduction of identity, Bond in essense is relativley consistent. Perhaps the humor of the 1970's Roger Moore incarnation of James Bond clashes with the Jason Borne like seriousness of contemporty Bond portrayed by Daniel Craig, however one could argue that this has more so to do with the priorities of MGM as a film studio, and not necessarilly the essense of James Bond the character. Just like his countless enemies, the times in which Bond is active are ever changing and ever developing. Despite the fall of the U.S.S.R. as a super-power, Bond still serves as Englands good old boy, defender of freedom and justice. The face of all that is suave, exciting and dangerous. As much as the times may change, that draw, and those qualities will not.


Works Cited

Bordo, Susan. "'Material Girl': The Effacements of Postmodern Culture."
Barker, Chris. Cultural Studies Theory and Practice. 3rd ed. London: Sage

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

English 313 Ethnography

     The setting for this English 313 Ethnography report is the CSUN Oviatt Library in Northridge, California. This setting is deal for many reasons; it's convenient to pick up on people's behavior when viewing them at their most studious, at a high level of focus. Watching others work can be telling for those willing to take the time to observe. Choosing the library comes with some limitations, as spoken word and verbal communication is limited. It makes the assignment all the more interesting. The easiest most daily run of the mill form of communication, speaking, takes a back seat to body language, hand gestures and looks of acknowledgement. Baker defines self-identity as "the verbal conceptions we hold about ourselves and our emotional identification with those self-descriptions" (Barker 215). So how does one go about observing the self-identity of others in the library where verbal conceptions aren't expressed? This Oviatt observation focuses on what can be seen, what can be smelled; this allows me to take on the role of narrator, as I explain and describe this setting as I see it, without the vocal input of other peoples or opinions.

      Setting: CSUN Oviatt Library, third floor, computer lab. Three dozen students are scattered across this massive floor. It stretches the entire width of the library, with windows on either side of the computer lab. Three dozen makes the space look like a ghost town, relative to how packed it can be during the fall and spring semesters; but thirty-plus students is more than enough to make this observation worthwhile.  Perhaps this setting, a library at a public university, is the perfect place to acknowledge Marxist theory; here our identities are a result of the social formation which brings us all together, education (Barker). In this library on this campus, we are all students, faculty or staff. We all have a common purpose and we work together to achieve the goal; higher education and personal progression. In that sense it would be easy to just observe each individual as a student, or a member of staff, and to leave it at that. But it'd be too easy. There is more information out there that can be observed., that I can pick up on in regards to the study of human society. Here at CSUN we are a diverse, multi-cultural society; the library always consists of different looking people, from different places, with different cultural backgrounds. In that sense this library serves as a smorgish board study of humanity at large; we get a bit of it all.

     Not the first time I've observed this. Again a group of Middle Eastern students sit together, four students in a row. Together they work vigorously on a project or assignment that they are all responsible too. These students have accents, but are clearly fluent in English. As I compare and look around I see all the whites working alone. Perhaps here would be an appropriate time to acknowledge the difference between the eastern and western mindset. Those from the east who were not born here seem to find comfort in the group, they are able to pool together their collective ability and knowledge to come up with the best possible results for their group, and for themselves. Is this an observation on their ability to share the glory of a good grade, to not need to take all the credit and hoard it as individuals? Perhaps the whites born and raised here in Los Angeles feel the sting of needing to succeed as individuals. With no ties to the perks of cultural tribalism, it is my estimation that the whites isolate themselves in order to maintain their individuality; in which they can bask in the results with all consequences or praise landing on their lone shoulders. As expressed by Baker, "Stewart Hall, often considered the "father" of cultural studies, defines culture as "the actual grounded terrain of practices, representations, languages, and customs of any specific society (Barker). This group vs. the individual comparison allows us to take a look at the different cultures that have come together here at CSUN. In this example it can be observed that despite where we go, we bring our cultural heritage with us. Here in the melting-pot of Los Angeles California we get to look at the cultural responses of both those who have resided here for years, and of those who have only just arrived. Both groups have a cultural response. For the foreigner it is learning how to adapt to the new society, for the natives it is how to learn to communicate and connect with those newcomers. On the concept of cultural response, "cultural response, which range from assimilation, through forms of separation, to hybrids that destabilize and blur cultural boundaries. This involves the opening up of "imagined communities..." (Barker 257). In my estimation that point of view plays a big role here; perhaps int he eyes of the foreign students their very being and participation in a California University is a forum of assimilation, where they can partake in education with western students with western values and points of view.  The very act of being here speak loudly, especially in a library where actions speak louder than words. It could be very easy for a white westerner to observe a similar group of foreign students working together, and ignoring the "please be quiet" signs as a forum of separation. Point of view plays a big role here, in regards to how we take in what we observe. Assuming cultural differences and philosophically different backgrounds, the questions of "What to do? How to act? Who to be? (Barker 217) are answered differently by different people.

Blog for "Ten"

In Blake Edwards movie "10" from 1979 the concepts of the mid-life crisis, fidelity, and voyeurism all allow us analyze what it is to be in a healthy relationship. What is it to be happy in middle-age, and how can expectation distort true reality? The over arching theme of identity-crisis encourages one to define  identity, "A temporary stabilization of meaning or description of ourselves with which we emotionally identify” (Barker 481). According to Barker,  it is the temporary stabilization in which we identify with ourselves. Thus we can conclude that the character of George Webber is in a bit of an identity crisis despite being an established and successful man at the ripe age of forty-two.

From the start of the film we as an audience are presented with the character of George Webber, played by Dudley Moore, who is painted as successful and respected song writer. During the opening scenes we witness his experience during his own surprise party, which was organized and pulled off by the character of Samantha Taylor, played by Julie Andrews; his matured significant other. From the beginning it is clear the the idea of middle-age is off putting and depressing to George Webber. Webber even issues verbal self-deprecation throughout the evening, cluing the audience into the fact that he is in the middle of altering his identity, “self-identity is the verbal conceptions we hold about ourselves and our emotional identification with those self-descriptions” (Barker 215). For Barker, these verbalizations made by the character of George Webber are how he identifies himself, in that moment in time.  The opening party serves as the platform for his search for youthful conquest, and self re-discovery. What better way to shake off the middle-aged blues than to obsess and attempt to lure in a beautiful young woman; enter Jenny Hanley played by Bo Derek.

Throughout Webbers journey to satisfy his voyeuristic and lustful desires he manages to finally court and share a bed with Jenny Hanley, the object of his obsession and the answer to his mid-life crisis. During his most intimate encounter with Hanley he realized that her own unique and perhaps radical view on relationships and marriage is all that he needed to get his head straight; her distortion of the traditional role of a wife and role of marriage allowed Webber to truly appreciate the less physically attractive, but more virtuous Samantha Taylor played by Julie Andrews. It took a radical interaction for his own relationship to be put into perspective. It took this last hurrah of an experience with Bo Dereks character in order for him to appreciate his standing in life, and to embrace the security and happiness he found with Andrews.

Main point being is that he was unable to truly appreciate Andrews until he was able to dip his foot in the pool of lustful youth one last time. He was only able to accept himself and his relationship with Andrews until he resolved his identity-crisis. It wasn't until he was starting lust and youth in the face when he realized he didn't need it. He didn't need to be young; happiness, confidence and a stable relationship is what he wanted and needed.
In my estimation "Ten" is the perfect example of the taboo serving as an intriguing intoxicant, perhaps always more desirable in our own fantasies than in reality. Perhaps it was the chase, proving to himself that he could get this beautiful young woman to have interest in him that carried more weight than sex. Maybe he just needed to prove to himself that he still had it; he indeed did.

Works Cited

Barker, Chris. Cultural Studies Theory and Practice. 3rd ed. London: Sage
Publications, Print.