Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Photo Essay

The purpose of this photo-essay is two-fold.

First, after our discussion on Thursday I recognized my own mis-education of the Negro. My education, my community and my social location did not allow me to explore the culture of the African American in the arts, sciences, philosophies, etc. I wanted to use this post as a way to explore the world of black photography and thus discovered the talents of James Van Der Zee, Gordon Park and Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe. I believe that my education should have allowed me to be as familiar with this work as I am with the work of Chuck Close, Dorothea Lange or Annie Leibovitz. I am also concerned, as Woodson points out, that even in black institutions and colleges students are not exposed to this work because higher education is told to prefer the arts of Europe and philosophies of the Mediterranean. (94)

Second, I think this work exposes the struggle between the emerging middle-class black community and the uneducated black community that Woodson references. Comparing Van Der Zee’s photo of the fur-coat and Cadillac couple with Gordon Park’s American Gothic photo of Ella Watson, you can see the transition the black community was forced to undertake in the 20th century. For me, Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe’s work as a photographer shows the struggle of a black woman to find her place in a professional world that has not been popularized within her culture or found as legitimate within arts academia.

Woodson says, “It is true that many Negroes do not desire to hear anything about their race, and few Whites of today will listen to the story of woe. With most of them the race question has been settled.” (91) Like Woodson suggests, we must combat this attitude through education and the arts. I believe these photographers offer me, as a white woman, the opportunity to be educated in a woeful American story and to be unsettled in how I perceive the world.

Fresh Prince of Bourdieu

When Cha and Eli attempted to unwrap the warped mind of Pierre Bourdieu, they decided to create a post together to help one another better understand his work. The first thing that came to Eli’s mind was the classic introduction to Will Smith’s greatest acting feat, the great American sit-com, Fresh Prince of Bel Air. This work portrays the life of a young man who finds himself outside of his first “habitus” and must learn to adapt and live in an entirely different socio-economic situation, while still managing to maintain his incredibly high social and cultural capital. He manages to be extremely individual in this new environment, but Bourdieu’s work would suggest that he is really taking everything and everyone who had formed him in his early life (his first Philadelphia family) and integrating that into his new family and social structure. We think the introduction to Fresh Prince can illustrate some of Bourdieu’s ideas about society.

Now, this is a story all about how

My life got flipped-turned upside down

And I liked to take a minute

Just sit right there

I'll tell you how I became the prince of a town called Bel Air[1]

In west Philadelphia born and raised

On the playground is where I spent most of my days

Chillin' out maxin' relaxin' all cool

And all shootin some b-ball outside of the school

When a couple of guys

Who were up to no good[2]

Startin making trouble in my neighborhood

I got in one little fight and my mom got scared

She said 'You're movin' with your auntie and uncle in Bel Air'[3]

I begged and pleaded with her day after day

But she packed my suite case and send me on my way

She gave me a kiss and then she gave me my ticket.

I put my walkman on and said, 'I might as well kick it'.

First class, yo this is bad

Drinking orange juice out of a champagne glass.

Is this what the people of Bel-Air Living like?

Hmmmmm this might be alright.

I whistled for a cab and when it came near

The license plate said fresh and it had dice in the mirror

If anything I can say this cab is rare

But I thought 'Now forget it' - 'Yo homes to Bel Air'[4]

I pulled up to the house about 7 or 8

And I yelled to the cabbie 'Yo homes smell ya later'[5]

I looked at my kingdom

I was finally there

To sit on my throne as the Prince of Bel Air[6]

While we love Fresh Prince, we believe that Bourdieu would find the sit-com itself impossible. Will’s character would have certainly changed his lifestyle and personality. He would likely start wearing sweater vests and khakis and not refer to the butler or cab-driver as “Homes”, but rather see them purely has “the help”. He would have made these changes because Bourdieu says that the dominate culture, while they appreciated the deviance of Will’s character, would not have allowed him to gain any more social capital within their structure. This is actually shown in the fact that most of those that Will socializes with do not change their own sweater-vest-wearing ways.

[1]Will is going to Bel Air and is going to be accepted to a degree for his social capital (he is both radically different and equally endearing), but other areas of his symbolic capital (economic and cultural primarily) are going to be a more difficult adjustment for him. “Symbolic capital is any property (any form of capital whether physical, economic, cultural or social) when it is perceived by social agents endowed with categories of perception which cause them to know it and to recognize it, to give it value.” (47)

[2]Even though Will shared this space with these guys “who were up to no good”, there was a difference in their social categories. Their gold chains suggest that because of their social, economic and cultural capital, they had created their own sense of domination, which Bourdieu defines as, “the indirect effect of a complex set of actions engendered within the network of intersecting constraints which each of the dominants, thus dominated by the structure of the field through which domination is exerted, endures on behalf of all the others” (34).

[3]His mom might use the excuse of violence in his neighborhood to send him to his Aunt and Uncle in Bel-Air, she might even believe that that is the reason she is sending him away (to avoid violence). In reality, the fact that his aunt and uncle are of high economic-means, might have more to do with her decision than she realizes. The family, as Bourdieu states, is well-founded, but it’s also driven by economics.

[4]Although Will probably didn’t pick this cab intentionally, he just thought its fuzzy dice and sweet style were appealing to him on a surface level, Bourdieu would likely suggest that this was a product of practical reason (not the intentional choice, but the way in which we can exist in the world so that we can survive). Will creates patterns of choice in his world to make his life easy to live.

[5]Just like our discussion of bell hooks and Stanford, Will wants to be in Bel Air for certain amounts of capital (reputation of the local and social capital), but does not want to wear the sweater vests like his cousin Carlton. He maintains his own cultural capital by wearing wild, neon colors despite the blandness of his new surroundings.

[6]Will has an interesting outlook on his social status as he moves to a completely new place. He probably believes that he can be “prince” or have domination over his social structure because he is accustom to that type of domination in his Philadelphia habitus. His own cultural capital, which was founded in his original habitus, is what keeps him both radically respected in his new social structure, but also equally opposed.

[Rich] Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth.

“The concept of performativity points to the ways in which we are produced by the weighty structures (at once material and ideal) that preexist us, and highlights the extent to which the reproduction of inequality does indeed happen behind our backs.” (Bettie, pg. 192)

Check out this link to NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday:

As I listened to this segment I kept thinking to myself, “what would Julie Bettie have to say about this book? “ I would have normally been very intrigued at this sociological/psychological approach to prove the unimportance of high school cliques and popularity. As bullying becomes a greater issue for today’s teenagers, I think a book that gives hope for the outsider or geek is both academic and service-oriented. Bettie took away my blind appreciation, however. Robbins does a good job of proving some of Bettie’s concepts (like passing) and does a good job of making her work more relevant for those she used for research, but in the end, as Bettie has left me to understand, she is missing a huge point: class matters.

From what I can tell from the interview and the excerpt, Robbins, like Bettie, is examining students based on their general whereabouts within the cafeteria social structure that is high school. Like Bettie, she recognizes that it is minority students (or from hard-living situations) who find themselves on the outside. In the interview and introduction to her book she makes mention of Bruce Springsteen, J.K. Rowling and Tim Gunn as outsiders turned successful millionaires. Her “quirk theory” basically states that those little differences that cause social anxiety in middle and high school will eventually turn you into a social icon. Robbins assumes that all those geeks will eventually go to college and graduate school and get their dream jobs and be able to laugh at the quarterback at their ten-year reunion. What about those who can’t afford college, Robbins? How will they become millionaires?!

She has taken great effort to study the psychology of popularity and makes it known that as much as various players in Bettie’s game work hard to maintain an identity, cliques do the same. There is also an understanding that people work hard to “pass” as popular, but there is little room for changing groups, unless you practice some great performativity (Bettie’s words, not Robbins’).

What I really liked about Robbins’ approach, as opposed to Bettie’s, is that she worked with her seven “characters” to attempt to get them to a better place, on a strictly psychological level, however. This is more proof of their separate audience, but to a degree, Bettie could have worked with each of those with the pre-existing working-class outcome, she just didn’t (or at least doesn’t make note of it). Robbins noticed a lacking self-esteem of a cheerleader and challenged her to make a move, make a change, to pass into a new group. Robbins claims that the challenge was successful and the cheerleader regained some dignity, but I can’t help but feel that such a challenge was “easy”, I mean, the cheerleader was probably doing pretty alright financially.

Actually, I’m not sure any of Robbins’ characters were hard-living folks. It’s possible that they were, but if anything, this proves Bettie’s point that class just isn’t recognized as a disparity. Robbins can talk about race, ethnicity, sexual preference, how one spends their free-time, what clothes they prefer to wear, but she can’t explicitly say, class matters. I wonder if she had read Bettie if her “challenges” would be less about making it work within another clique and more about how we can all change the institutional problem of class-disparity. How would our approach to anti-bullying campaigns be different if we were explicit about class and income-disparity? Not to say that we shouldn’t be honest about our racism, sexism, homophobia, etc, but I can’t help but wonder if sustainable anti-hate isn’t only born out of a serious understanding of how class affects our society.

What I’ve Needed to Know as Told by Paulo Freire and Amy Phoeler

"To the oppressed, having internalized the image of the oppressor and adopted his guidelines, are fearful of freedom. Freedom would require them to eject this image and replace it with autonomy and responsibility. Freedom is acquired by conquest, not by gift. It must be pursued constantly and responsibly. Freedom is not an ideal located outside of man; nor is it an idea which becomes myth. It is rather the indispensable condition for the quest for human completion." (Freire, pg. 47)

And now, please enjoy this clip of Amy Poehler’s address to the 2011 Harvard graduates. And yes, I am going to try to combine this with Freire; hang with me.

In case you didn’t have 15 minutes to give to this video, let me summarize. Basically, Poehler (a comedic genius) puts forth her best advice for this graduating class (which is a group of students who were mere middle-schoolers when 9/11 occurred which gave new meaning to ‘fear’) that life is best lived when you surround yourself with a group of people that “challenge and inspire you” and that the “answers to life’s questions are in someone else’s face.” She so eloquently points out that although these Harvard graduates have achieved an academic feat both rare and idolized; the reality is that the world in which we live is far more complex than a degree can make sense of. She basically challenges these graduates to place themselves among people who can give them new understandings and move to a place where fear no longer dominates our world.

Harvard graduates are not oppressed. Or are they? These are the people who have followed the oppressors guidelines and come out on top, but (without getting too Woodson on you) have still been mis-educated. They were told that the best way to find “human completion” was to get that outstanding degree. This was probably acquired, for many, as a gift based purely on their class status (oh, hello Bettie) and have not proceeded to find freedom through any true conquest of their own. I might suggest that the Harvard graduates of 2011 are fearful of freedom.

With this in mind, I think Phoeler does an incredible job of pointing out the fact that you’ve really only made when you’ve found solace in another person’s eyes or that you’ve found a way to work as a group towards a common goal. She is basically saying that your mis-educated guidance through an educational banking system (I don’t know how Harvard actually does it, but I would suggest that all institutions of higher education miss Freire’s pedagogy as a whole) isn’t going to be able to fulfill you entirely. She points to the facts that you must work as a group to “constantly and responsibly” defeat all methods of oppression in a “quest for human completion.”

Perhaps my admiration for Amy Phoeler gave her more credit than was actually due, but I know that this is something that I would have liked to know straight out of college. There I was, a college graduate, ready to journey out into the world I thought I understood thanks to books and tests was welcomed by a reality I was not prepared for. We all need to be reminded that our quest towards human completion does not come by academia alone, but rather with through being challenged and inspired and looking into someone else’s eyes when the fear of freedom/oppression becomes to heavy.

In our context, Foucault looks like...

“Disobedience by religious fanaticism, resistance to work, and theft, the three great transgressions against bourgeois society, the three major offenses against its essential values, are not excusable, even by madness; they deserve imprisonment pure and simple, exclusion in the most rigorous sense of the term, since they all manifest the same resistance to the moral and social uniformity that forms the raison d’etre of Pinel’s asylum.” (Foucault, pg. 157)

We vaguely brought up this section of The Birth of the Asylum in class while also pairing it with the recent “No Camping” law being executed in Colorado Springs. I enjoyed some time researching this law and the recent Homeless Outreach branch of the CSPD to try and figure out just what is going on here. I found a number of articles and news coverage of this homelessness issue. This is one that I found most “useful”:

It appears as though the homeless of Colorado Springs are not attending church, not working (although this is blamed on Obama’s lack of job creation), and stealing valuable time from police officers and beauty of the land. It’s almost too obvious that the “No Camping” law is basically a reaction from the bourgeois society who feels as though something has been taken away from their “madness-free” society.

When I think of Colorado Springs I can’t help but think of what is likely the most visible and powerful bourgeois group, Focus on the Family. I can’t say that Focus on the Family is directly behind this ordinance, but I can say that they haven’t stepped up like other religious communities in the area to really solve this issue. Truth is, those visiting the Focus on the Family headquarters might see real poverty and question the idea that trusting and believing in God is all that you need to do for a healthy life. Whether or not FOTF has anything to do with this ordinance, I think it’s certain that they don’t have anything against it.

Colorado Springs is basically operating as a society so plainly described by Foucault with their very obvious “not in my backyard” mentality, even going so far as to buying one-way bus tickets for homeless persons (using language of “family reuniting”). I really wish this wasn’t so depressing (although what in Foucault isn’t depressing?!), but the truth is, deviating from the norm is always going to leave you penalized and classified as “insane.”

I’ve tried to imagine how I would react to this situation if I were the mayor of Colorado Springs. I would certainly be torn between my belief in individual freedom and issues of safety/sanitation. I think there is no question that I would only be okay with such an ordinance if there were already enough forms of shelter available for those living under the freeway. I would also be conscious of employment and living wage issues. I would also want to provide some sort of training (primarily for those in law enforcement) to eliminate the stereotypes surrounding the homeless population. Either way, I’d still be acting as the watchful eye to someone, somewhere and maybe in the end I’d just buy one-way bus tickets for all the bourgeois and turn Colorado Springs into a deviant’s oasis.