Tuesday, January 29, 2008

No, Woman, No Cry /
Women and (Un)happiness

FreakonomicsImage via WikipediaSteven Levitt, author of the provocative book Freakonomics, is an economist who tries to explain social phenomena through statistics. A piece he wrote last fall focused on the subject of Women's Unhappiness. Levitt, borrowing from the work of two other economists, is puzzled by a strange coincidence: as women have gained more power (in measures such as education, pay, and reproductive rights) their happiness has gone down. The author offers four possible explanations for this surprising result. Click on the title above or HERE to read the full (one page long) piece. How plausible do you find his explanations?
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Friday, January 25, 2008

"You've Come a Long Way, Baby."

Are any of you AiS scholars old enough to know that cigarette companies used to advertise on billboards near schools or even on TV? If not, you might be shocked to see the following video from the makers of Virginia Slims cigarettes. If you're pressed for time, you don't need to watch more than a minute of the video to get the point:

The only reason why we have access to this and other tobacco-related documents (many of which were kept secret from the public), is that a number of states (including Illinois) sued the tobacco companies for all of the damages they had done to the state-run health insurance plans. The result is a treasure trove of audio, visual and paper documents "related to the advertising, manufacturing, marketing, sales, and scientific research of tobacco products".

Now the question remains: why are we viewing this video under the umbrella of our current theme, "Women and Children"? Pay special attention to how the manufacturers of Virginia Slims cigarettes try to appeal to women. What parallels are made to the act of smoking cigarettes? It may surprise you.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Cowboy Presidents

Today in class we talked about the "Myth of the West" in art and how President Ronald Reagan made use of the cowboy myth in advancing a new narrative of America (and a new narrative of his presidency). George Bush has both used and been accused of playing with the same myths.

The on-line American Popular Culture discusses Bush and the cowboy myth this way: In an address to the nation, on March 17, 2003, George W. Bush declared, “Saddam Hussein and his sons must leave Iraq within 48 hours. Their refusal to do so will result in military conflict, commenced at a time of our choosing.” The ultimatum aroused a multitude of commentary in editorials and news articles that depicted George W. Bush as a cowboy sheriff who told outlaws to get out of town or face the consequences. On March 19, for instance, Reuters ran a story titled “High Noon for Cowboy Era” in which the lead sentence declared that, for Arabs, Bush's ultimatum was a throwback to the Wild West. Bush's language struck many observers as dialogue straight out of a Hollywood Western: "You have until sundown to git out of this town."

Eric Baard, writing for the Village Voice in 2004 offered a piece called "George W. Bush A'int No Cowboy." Here is an excerpt:

George W. Bush is a fake cowboy. From media accounts, you'd reckon that the president was a buckaroo to the bones. He plays up the image, big-time, with $300 designer cowboy boots, a $1,000 cowboy hat, and his 1,600-acre Prairie Chapel Ranch in Crawford, Texas. He guns his rhetoric with frontier lingo, saying that he'll "ride herd" over ornery Middle Eastern governments and "smoke out" enemies in wild mountain passes. He branded Saddam Hussein's Iraq "an outlaw regime" and took the vanquished dictator's pistol as a trophy. As for Osama bin Laden, Bush declared, "I want justice. And there's an old poster out West, I recall, that says, 'Wanted: Dead or Alive.' " Britain's liberal newspaper The Guardian noted that "such language feeds the image overseas of Mr. Bush as a hopelessly inarticulate, trigger-happy cowboy." But liberals from both coasts and Europeans who derisively call Bush a "cowboy" foolishly insult not Bush, but one of America's prime ennobling myths. Instead of ridiculing the myth exploited by George W. Bush, they may want to measure him against it.

"The idea of the American cowboy is the direct lineal descendant of the chivalric knight," observes Bonnie Wheeler, a medievalist in cowboy country. "The only serious difference is that your status doesn't depend on your social class." Editor of Arthuriana, the journal of Arthurian studies, Wheeler teaches at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. "Our president," she says, "is neither a knight nor a cowboy. He doesn't believe in taking care of the little guy, nor does he have the restraint or dignity of the cowboy."

Painting Bush as a latter-day cowboy is an idea that has been used by both Bush critics and fans alike. American Popular Culture notes that:
After September 11, 2001... and in the months leading up to the war with Iraq, commentators began to portray Bush as a sheriff in the Old West who would go it alone without a posse if need be in order to defeat what he saw as lawlessness and evil. Europeans, who would not join the posse to defeat the outlaw, were compared to timid saloonkeepers and shopkeepers, afraid to confront evil and afraid of the sheriff who might shoot up the town while getting his man. Eventually, the sheriff realized he had to ride out without a big posse. Tony Blair became Tonto to Bush's Lone Ranger and rode along to cover his boss's back.

Many columnists and public figures outside and within the U.S. used the cowboy myth to create a very negative image of George W. Bush as a blood-thirsty, trigger-happy loner. The love of the cowboy in the U.S., however, became a potent means of coalescing support for George W. Bush as a fast-acting, straight-shooting, brave president. The cowboy myth produced positive associations for segments of the U.S. public that held conservative views while the myth produced negative associations for segments of the public with more liberal views.

Monday, January 07, 2008

A Crying Shame

A link on Comcast's "news" site reads "Teary Clinton: This is Personal." The article appears if you click on the blog post title, albeit with a different headline: "Emotional Clinton." (There's a big connotative distance between 'teary' and 'emotional,' no?)

The article is a fluff piece but it made me wonder about several things.

Does the media hold women to a different standard than men? Clinton has been repeatedly described as "cold" by major newspapers and television reporters. Do they (do we?) assume that emotions are for women and that the presidency must be reserved for stoical men?

Here's a quick snippet of another article I found on the web. Check out the references to emotions:

Mrs Clinton was asked to explain why voters found her less likable than Mr Obama, a key factor in her third-place finish in Iowa where she picked relatively few second choice votes. “Well, that hurts my feelings - I’ll try to go on,” she said, in a rare public display of humour. “He’s very likable, I agree with that. But I don’t think I’m that bad.”
When Mr Obama responded that she was “likable enough,” Mrs Clinton gave him a frosty, "I appreciate that", before comparing his candidacy to that of George Bush eight years ago.

Pat Schroeder, a Congressperson from CO, ran for president about 20 years ago and cried during a speech about war. Some pundits laughed at this as proof that women couldn't handle the pressure of the office since "they get so emotional so easily." But Schroeder rightly, it seems to me, insisted that sadness and grief were entirely appropriate responses to sad events.
For the record, there have been at least 80 female heads of state since WWII.

[Spoiler Alert!] In Macbeth, Shakespeare's hero Macduff hears that his family has been murdered. His young friend Malcolm says, "Let us put on our manhood and make medicines of our grief." In other words, "Let's get even." But Macduff, instead says, "I will act as a man, but first I must feel it as a man." Once again Shakespeare (Billy Spears to you young hipsters out there) knew: fully developed men feel emotions, too.

Cynically, I also wonder about Clinton's voice "breaking" and "catching" and her eyes "welling" on the eve of the NH primary. Coincidentally, yesterday her pollster, Mark Penn, said she wasn't coming across as a "real person." Does her performance -- yes, friends, she too is a performer -- today establish her as a warm person who seems "real" -- she feels things afterall; her voice broke -- without actually crying, which would feed the stereotypical image of the sobbing woman? We'll know what New Hampshire voters decided by this time tomorrow.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Citizen Soldiers

During the break I saw a bunch of movies in theatres, and each one was preceded by a trailer for the National Guard called "Citizen Soldier," a new song from the group 3 Doors Down. Since recruiting efforts have ebbed to their lowest percentages in recent memory, AWOL rates have climbed to their highest numbers in 40 years, and guardspeople have been forced to serve double tours of duty, there has been a concerted effort to redefine recruitment.

Check out this slick video and ask yourself who it's aimed at? Who is the "hero" in the video's narrative? How are sports used here (and to sell war in general)? What historical episodes does the video highlight? Is there any racial tokenism present? What messages (secret and otherwise) does the video contain?

Here are the lyrics if you'd care to read them:

Beyond the boundaries of your city's lights.
Stand the heroes waiting for your cries.
So many times you did not bring this on yourself.
When the moment finally comes, I'll be there to help.
And on that day, when you need your brothers and sisters to care.
I'll be right here.

Citizen soldiers.
Holding the light for the ones that we guide from the dark of despair.
Standing on guard for the ones that we've sheltered.
We'll always be ready because we will always be there.
When there are people crying in the streets.
When they're starving for a meal to eat.
When they simply need a place to make their beds.
Right here underneath my wing, you can rest your head.

On that day, when you need your brothers and sisters to care.
I'll be right here.

Hope and pray, that you never need me.
The rest assured I will not let you down.
I walk beside you, but you may not see me.
The strongest among you may not wear a crown.
On the day when you need your brothers and sisters to care.
I'll be right here.
On that day when you don't have strength for the burden you bear.
I'll be right here.