Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A Conservative View of Marxism, Cultural Studies and Race Studies

Below is my final paper I wrote for a critical theory class in college this Spring 2013. I read different essays by Marxists, Cultural Studies, and Race Studies and wrote my take I what I felt was important about their writings. Number 1 is my Marxist review, number 2 is my cultural studies review and number 3 is my race studies review. 


“The relentless unity of the culture industry bears witness to the emergent politics. Sharp distinctions like those between A and B films, or between short stories published in magazines  in different price segments, do not so much reflect real differences as assist in the classification, organization, and identification of consumers.” –Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno (1944, 1947)

     As Americans living in 2013 we pride ourselves in post feminism and post racism, we claim to be holders of equity and justice, but have we really embraced human dignity no matter gender or skin color or practiced more fair and just treatment of mankind since the 1940s?The ever hypnotizing culture industry, also known as the entertainment industry, continues to lure society into complacency and passivity, dictating how American people are to live far into the 21st century. Horkheimer and Adorno, in their essay The Culture Industry: Enlightenment As the Mass Deception rightly express the hollowness behind the moral, righteous fa├žade of the current generation “Thus the omnipresent and impenetrable world of appearances is set up as the ideal”. (Horkheimer and Adorno 432)
     Behind the glitz and glamour, Americans are beastly consumers feasting off of every brand name, fashion style, lifestyle, and religion celebrity’s offer up on the silver screen. Alas, the endless line of product “variety” offers up a certain level of “sameness” that leaves the buyer with choices already defined for them.As Horkheimer and Adorno say, “The schematic nature of this procedure is evident in the fact that the mechanically differentiated products are all the same.” (Horkheimer and Adorno 418)  This consumption of culture, to have what everyone else has, shapes desire to consume more culture and refrain from criticizing culture in any large and meaningful way.       
     When have you not seen advertisements or athletes and movie stars telling you how to look, behave, think, and want while the economy provides only those clothes, styles, theories, and desires to keep the masses satisfied and hungry for things only entertainment can advertise? When no one stops to question what the industry and economy are controlled by or whom, the culture industry has manipulated and controlled a whole society and “the fight is waged against an enemy who has already been defeated, the thinking subject”. (Horkheimer and Adorno 433)
     From the 1940s to 2013, the area I feel most troubled by the culture industry is their success in romanticizing human suffering. People have been conditioned to feel only when there are props, laughter or sad melodramas, to cue them in on when it is appropriate to guffaw or sob. When I can walk out of a movie theater and hear how moving an actress has been and how terribly one now feels for such a person in her (the character’s) predicament but see that same person turn their nose up at helping people and community members in the same reality performance, I have to wonder if the only way American society expresses any humanity is through a Hollywood set or a Broadway soundtrack. The specific example I am referring to is Anne Hathaway’s recent performance as Fantine in Les Miserables. If you were not biting your tongue to keep from crying out and were not tasting blood during the protistution scene because the poignant song she sang could not have gone fast enough, do not express how great Anne Hathaway portrayed the role. Fantine is fictional. Women in prostitution are not and they live every day with what is done to them and their soul dies with every act committed against them. The difference between Hathaway and a real Fantine? They just don't have a song to sing through their life because all feeling has left them as a living corpse. I'm sure women with sexual assault or sexual trafficking in their lives aren't talking about how moving that scene was. Why would watching a man take advantage of a woman be a most memorable cinematic event? Because it was set to a great song and a Hollywood actress was portraying a prostitute? I'm not upset that you enjoyed the movie. I loved it. I'm not upset that Anne Hathaway did do a wonderful job as her character. I think she was casted well. I am upset because the people who gush over that scene have already forgotten it and are waiting for the next silver screen tragedy and have moved on to their lives of worrying about how much they were taken advantage of by Wal Mart for overpricing their favorite soft drink or whatever. Remember the Sandy Hook tragedy? The people involved there do; in fact, they had Christmas and New Years and now 2013 looms ahead of them in a very different way than last year. Real people experience what Fantine did every day, or are living with memories of experiences they want to forget. Every day is "I Dreamed a Dream" to them. Suffering is not ten minutes long, sometimes it is never gotten over. There is no Hollywood script for lifetime hardships because pain does not slot for two hours at a time.
“The girl’s sexuality is understood and experienced not in terms of a physical need or her own body, but in terms of the romantic attachment…her life has meaning through him.” – Angela McRobbie (1977, 1991)

     The British young girl’s magazine Jackie has a targeted audience of girls ages 10-14 and claims to cover all the topics such young people are most interested in reading and learning. McRobbie reveals what these topics are, “The consensual totality of feminine adolescence means that all girls want to know how to catch a boy, lose weight, look their best and be able to cook.” (McRobbie 525).
     In the case of these young boys that are so bent on being snared by a girl, McRobbie tells us “Boys in contemporary capitalist society are socialized to be interested in sex although this does not mean they do not want to find the “ideal” girl or wife.” (McRobbie 536) The magazine promotes a young boy’s desire for nothing more than a good wife and a young girl’s want for nothing more than a husband: who she has to constantly keep interested or another girl will take him away. If another girl does succeed in taking her boy away it is only because he can’t control himself and your best girlfriend is not to be trusted.
    This message that Jackie is sending to youth, fulfillment in a boy if you’re a girl and a girl if you’re a boy is something for society to pay attention to.  Impressionable young people, primarily females, are learning that their self-worth is based on a male’s response: a wayward boy is her fault and a more attractive girl just needs to be out manipulated. This trash teaches a girl crying is an option for getting your way and only the proposal, marriage and honeymoon are life events to look forward to. It is an outright lie that a boy will always fulfill a girl and vice versa.
     McRobbie points out an interesting fact about the magazine’s characters putting forth such poisonous venom, “They are all older and physically more mature than the intended reader. Each character conforms to a well-established and recognizable standard of beauty and handsomeness and they are all smart, fairly sophisticated young adults, rather than adolescents or teenagers.” (McRobbie 533).
     As a young adult looking back to the time I spent in my church youth group, a magazine like Jackie would have been strongly preached against. In fact, many glossy mass marketed magazines were labeled “bad” from those who spoke behind the pulpit. I recently have observed that during my time in youth group I was fed the same message of finding fulfillment in a boy,only in the name of God. Instead of talking about the tricks to dating, many youth outings would be focused on praying about a future husband or behaving in such a way that a godly young man would notice and marry you, putting you into the ministry of serving Jesus Christ.
     I went on to Bible college after high school and successfully completed the degree program to be a secondary Christian educator, perfectly capable of serving Jesus Christ. When I returned to visit my youth group I was stunned with the lack of congratulations among my Christian friends. Here I had spent five years and some of my health to finish school in hopes of becoming a Christian educator and I was seen as a complete failure to what matters most in a young adults life: I had no marriage and no boyfriend. I am thrilled that I finished higher education and am glad that I learned how to find my fulfillment in Christ alone, for humanity is so unpredictable.

“The choice of language and the use to which language is put is central to a people’s definition of themselves in relation to their natural and social environment, indeed in relation to the entire universe.” –Ngugi Wa Thiong’O (1986)

     Without language, we as human beings cannot relate to the world, we cannot have experiences. Ideas emerge within language; different ideas will form in different languages. Ngugi argues African literature needs to be written in African languages because language is an approximation of culture. One cannot talk about certain ideas in English that one could talk about in Gikuyu or Kiswahili.
      British/French/Dutch (colonialism) make sense of the world in one way, while African languages make sense in the world in another way. Perceiving Africans by dominant culture (English) is African American not African. Ngugi sees problems and limitations with writing African literature in European languages that are legacies of European colonization of Africa. He sees the individual colony British advancement and not the African country: the whole African experience has been ignored. “We African writers are bound by our calling to do for our languages what Spencer, Milton and Shakespeare did for English; what Pushkin and Tolstoy did for Russian; indeed what all writers in world history have done for their languages by meeting the challenge of creating a literature in them, which process later opens the languages for philosophy, science, technology and all the other areas of human creative endeavors.” (Thiong’O 664) To deny a culture literacy and a voice is to enslave and oppress the human souls of an entire people. We must allow humanity to express how they relate to this life they are living. We must learn from each other to make a moral community.
     Languages provide different experiences and if we lose different languages a little bit of the human experience will be lost. Ngugi puts it beautifully, “Those experiences are handed over to the next generation and become the inherited basis for their further actions on nature and on themselves. There is a gradual accumulation of values which in time become almost self-evident truths governing their conception of what is right and wrong, good and bad, beautiful and ugly, courageous and cowardly, generous and mean in their internal and external relations. Over a time this becomes a way of life distinguishable from other ways of life. They develop a distinctive culture and history. All this is carried by language. Language as culture is the collective memory back of a people’s experience in history.” (Thiong’O 653)
     Communication, language, writing, and speaking are ways in which humans relate to one another. Think of the folktales heard as a child. Those were passed down in a language from a specific culture. We appreciate their experiences when we read or listen to their histories. Think of how painful it would be not being able to communicate with anyone because your language is not understood. You alone experience joys and sorrows and daily living and you cannot share what you have felt and learned with no other. Different languages must be heard and understood.
     I think it is sad that I am only able to speak one language. I live in American society which is monolinguistic. I am glad I go to a university where students are encouraged to study foreign languages. This helps me understand my community and my world better and it helps widen my influence and increase my learning.


Horkheimer, Max and Theodor W. Adorno. “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment As Mass Deception”. Ed. Robert Dale Parker New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. Print.

McRobbie, Angela. “Jackie Magazine: Romantic Individualism and the Teenage Girl”. Ed. Robert Dale Parker New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. Print.

Thiong’O, NuguiWa. “The Language of African Literature”. Ed. Robert Dale Parker New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. Print.

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