Subculture in America pt. 2

When taking the time to consider the film Absolute Beginners and its depiction of the Notting Hill riots as a kind of rock opera compared to the novel’s depiction of a darker, more somber toned version of events, we see the conflict of image vs. word. Consider MacInnes’ descriptions: “Quite decent, respectable people they seemed, too: white-collar workers and their wives, I expect, who’d probably been out to do their shopping. Well, they saw the lads get in the Spades’ car, and drive it against a concrete lamp-standard, and climb back in their handy little delivery vans, and drive away” (246). The crowds of white collar workers, quite civilized, escalating racial violence. “Then came another incident–and soon, as you’ll understand, I began to lose count a little, and, as time went on, lose count a bit of what time was, as well” (247). The narrator’s loss of time seems to be a loss of existential identity in the temporal landscape–but it is not silly. The crowd is searching for violence. For a subject to exact violence upon.

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“Well they weren’t disappointed long. Because out of the Metropolitan Railway station–the dear old London Transport, we all think so safe and reliable–came a bunch of passengers, and among them was a Spade” (247). The subject to be brutalized. “A boy of my own age, I’d say, carrying a holdall and a brown paper parcel–a serious-looking kiddy with a pair of glasses, and one of those rather sad, drab suits that some Spades wear, particularly students, in order to show the English people that we musn’t think they’re savages in grass skirts and bones stuck in their hair” (247). What is to be made of the image of this poor victim, so much in contrast to the vibrant silliness of the film’s West Side Story-ish portrayal of the Notting Hill riots?

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I remember an American movie from 1979–The Warriors–a film based on Sol Yurik’s dark novel about gang warfare. The film became a greatly exaggerated version of the book, a musical or fantasy, if you will, as the director felt no one would allow him to make a direct adapation. Hollywood lore posits violence and rioting broke out in response to the film despite its fantastic tone. Fear of glorifying gang violence on the bigscreen became a talking point in the media even though the Warriors depicted gangs of mimes on roller skates, rednecks in overalls, and a weirdo who wore beer bottles on his fingers. This fantastical version of gang warfare in New York sparked fear and debate about how violence should be depicted on screen.

Whether or not this ultimately affected the 1986 adapation of MacInnes’ Absolute Beginners is certainly worth debating, but the spectacle of seeing rioting, the imagery of gang warfare displayed as an actual dance number, allows us to wonder.

America’s subcultures in the late 70s and 80s were marked by fear and violence. Gangs prowling the urban America. To show the reality of this on the bigscreen would be to glorify it–or so people believed.

 

Works Cited

MacInnes, Colin. Absolute Beginners. Allison and Busby, 1980.

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From Segmented Bodies to Categorizing Mass Groups: Enhancing the Collector’s Set

 

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The Thunderer

 

by Simon Cropp

In her novel Swastika Night, Katharine Burdekin explores the thoughts of a Knight serving in an alternate world where Hitler’s armies have won and continued to reign far into the future. The Knight thinks to himself, “Women’s only reason for existence, to bear boys and nurse them to eighteen months. But if women cease to exist themselves? The world will be rid of an intolerable ugliness” (11). When considering Knight Von Hess’ thoughts about the role women play in this futuristic world, a conclusion can be drawn: women are rendered mere objects. Women function only as wombs to continue the Hitlerian Empire of men, though these objects must exist or the entire empire would collapse.

When we think of objectification in modern society, Von Hess’ thoughts are perhaps a reflection of the most extreme scenario. From breast exploitation to the segmented body, American culture seems aware of the fact that women are sexually objectified, yet despite this awareness, progress seems sickeningly slow.

Browsing through headlines about sexual objectification of women, the focus seems to be laid at the feet of the media. Advertising, television, and movies all have a role to play in the fetishizing of women as things instead of people, pieces instead of whole entities. But then, women were certainly objectified before the onslaught of mass media to the degree these articles discuss. In fact, Burdekin’s vision of a world where women were reduced to a single function occurs in a time and space without all the terrible vices modern media warns is the cause of sexual objectification.

Consider the recently discovered words of presidential candidate Donald Trump. “When you’re a star they let you do it.” This sentence was uttered nearly a decade ago when Trump explained to another man how much sexual leeway he has with women. In his view: he has all of the leeways because he is a star. A star created through the massive media machine of television. His claims that he can do most of what he wants to a woman because he is rich, he is a star, obviously, this behavior reduces a woman to an object that can only be acted upon. But because women are not objects, this video has given rise to another discussion surrounding the presidential candidate–one of sexual assault. In Burdekin’s world, recourse does not exist for women, but in America, the citizenry want to believe there is justice for this kind of behavior–whether or not Trump’s actions were real or locker room talk.

Leaders found themselves at odds with their party’s representative after this video surfaced, but I am not cynical about their motives in defending the count noun “women” from Trump’s statements. I am cynical about the objectification that continues to occur in their defense of “count noun women.”

House speaker Paul Ryan said, “I am sickened by what I heard today.” As were many of us, I hope. He also said, “Women are to be championed and revered, not objectified.” And here is the ugly other side of objectification. The collecting of objects. The protecting of objects. Championing that which cannot protect itself because it lacks agency. To revere, to show deep respect for someone or something, to show profound regard for this thing or person. Because the count noun women all must be revered, because they are things worthy of being collected. They are not individuals, they are mothers, daughters, sisters, etc. We must revere that, I think, because we revere that collectible mass thing with not a single unique quality among its individual parts. It is strange that scientific studies show how men see a woman as a collection of parts instead of her whole self, but then so quickly, to fix this, a woman cannot be rendered into a single person, but only a mass collection of things easily categorized into two or three roles. Mother, sister, daughter, caretaker, etc.

Burdekin shows the complex, dark depths to which sexual objectification can take us, but our modern reality shows us the other side–the equally problematic issue of objectifying with the eyes of a collector protecting his prize.

 

Why Not Vote for Her?

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by Simon Cropp

If I wanted to take a singular positive message from the film Strong Sisters, I could say I should be proud I come from a state that is so supportive of women’s rights, but then, I wonder, how misogynistic principles still guide principles of so many men, and I don’t mean an outright hatred of women, but instead a subconscious belief that women are inferior. I’ve always considered myself to have overcome to this belief of inferiority both consciously and subconsciously, but as I listened to the stories of Colorado’s women fighting to gain respect in the state government, an old fear gnaws at me.

What if those same, oppressive methods of thought still pervade my own subconscious views? I have tried to apply my thought processes to the decision-making processes involved specifically invoked by the film—how I deal with the concept of women in power.

It is certainly arguable if the Presidential seat in the United States is truly the highest level of singular power in our country when considering how capital influences every stage of the political process. So when a person like Bernie Sanders comes along and funds his campaign through grassroots organization and claims to only take donations from people, not groups or institutions, it is easy to get swept up in that momentum. And when Sanders was swept from the table leaving the first female nominee of a major political party ready to take the final steps towards the Presidential Office, it is also easy for me to hedge. Or to say: I don’t want to vote for a person supported by the corporate world. Our democracy is in trouble, and she represents exactly as what I see the problems to be.

Yet, what if I have voted in every election since 2000—every election since I was old enough to vote—when George W. Bush faced off against Al Gore, because those elections, I thought, had drastic implications for America.

I have to ask myself. What has really changed since 2000? Had Bernie Sanders ran his campaign in 2004 and failed to achieve the nomination of the Democratic Party, would I then have not, from the sweltering heat of Guantanamo Bay, cast my vote in that election? Would I have refused to vote during Barak Obama’s historic run?

I believe I would have voted in those elections, just the same, disillusioned or not. So again, I ask myself, what has changed? Hillary Clinton is what changed.

It is easy to sit and express voter apathy when things do not go exactly as I wish in an election. A time existed when I wouldn’t declare myself a Republican or a Democrat, but I do side with Democratic politics now. I have my entire life, to be honest, and I don’t mind sharing this. I don’t have any hatred or loathing for the other side, but I do know where my values are in terms of my political beliefs. And they have always aligned with the Democratic party.

Except this time. Why? Right. Hillary Clinton is what changed my mind.

Perhaps the problem rests with her scandal surrounding the emails. But then, I have to admit, as much as I have tried to parse out that scandal, as much as I have tried to fully understand it, I can’t. I had secret clearance during my time overseas in Guantanamo Bay, so I feel like I have some vague notion of protecting classified documents, but Clinton’s supposed lack of protection for a vast number of documents never made sense to me. Then, after a long FBI investigation, she was cleared of any wrong-doing. I’ve heard this is because she gets privileged treatment, but the more I think about how she is treated, the more I think: this is not how the privileged are treated.

Well, there is always Whitewater, right? The alleged charges that Clintons used campaign funds inappropriately. But ultimately, no evidence exists that these charges have any validity. And in the United States, the burden of proof is on the accuser, and after my year of working with “enemy combatants” in Guantanamo Bay, who often turned out to be just men picked up and turned over with no evidence, then held against for years of their lives, I came home with a stalwart belief in the burden of proof. So why should that apply to everyone but Clinton?

She does take big donations from the evil Wall Street. Still, though, Wall Street manages the majority of Americans’ retirement plans. I suppose it makes sense to work with the people of Wall Street and not paint them as villains. They hold the collective, financial futures of America in their hands. I have a dark, angry spot in my heart for Wall Street, but I’m not a politician. I don’t need to work with them and protect the futures of my fellow citizens.

So what the hell is it? Her health? She apparently collapsed recently. But hasn’t she been endlessly campaigning? Is she the first potential candidate to have health problems? Andrew Jackson had bleeding lungs (and was a massive racist), FDR was partially paralyzed, Grover Cleveland was the textbook picture of poor health, John F. Kennedy had significant health issues, and Ronald Reagan’s health issues are widely known. So what is it about her health?

The answer has to be clear at this point: my change in political occurred, subconsciously, due to oppressive patterns of thought directed toward women in power. I have voted in every election since I was eighteen years old, and I know where my political values rest. Clinton’s record speaks for itself, and her values largely align with my own. That it took so much for me to see this is difficult for me.

The hillary_clinton_2016reason I didn’t want to vote for Hillary Clinton can only boil down to one, singular fact: she is a woman. While embarrassed, humiliated (and uncertain if I even want to share this horrible story) by this fact, I am glad I figured it out. I’m glad I’m over that oppressive line of thinking, and I hope this allows me to be more introspective in the future.

Some Big Picture Queries

  1. What is Britishness and how does it change or amalgamate over time? How do notions of Nation, Nationalism, and duty inform our comprehension of Britishness?
  2. What impact does Empire and Imperialism still have on our readings of British Literature? What implicit ideologies must we make ourselves aware?
  3. How do attitudes about and constructions of femininity and masculinity feature in the works we read? How do they change or stay the same across the decades?
  4. How does literary style change and what informs those changes?
  5. What themes/political issues/social concerns persist across the literature we read this semester? What becomes less important, de-emphasized? What becomes more vital?
  6. What needs to happen within the critical conversations (scholarly debates) to widen our understanding and interpretations of these works, especially those for which there is little critical attention?

Feel free to use these questions as starting points for your thinking about the content. You may use these questions to springboard your posts, response papers, and projects. You may also add to this list by contributing more questions and comments to this post, and I hope you will.