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CHAPTER 3


WORKING WITH EXCHANGES PART 2


INTRODUCTION


At the core of Exchanges are the readings and the process exercises and writing assignments that accompany each reading and each chapter. Almost every composition reader includes more readings than can be used in a single writing class, so many readings that the table of contents can feel overwhelming. To help sort through the text, we have summarized the theme chapters and offered some practical advice on pathways through each chapter. For a discussion of Chapter 3, see the second chapter in this manual. The first sample syllabus included in the fourth chapter here shows how the apparatus included in the theme chapters can be integrated into a writing course.


Chapter 4—Social Groups and Shared Identity


This chapter examines the dynamics of group membership—how we align ourselves in voluntary association with others, and how society places us as well in groups we have little control over. In consumer culture, group membership is the code by which marketers translate our identities into potential profits; indeed, consumer society tends to segment all sorts of groups into market niches. That mailing list you are on by virtue of membership in the garden club? Marketing tool. You may not see your affiliation that way, of course, and therein lies the intrigue.


Generative Terms


group, n

 . . . a knot of people . . .

 A number of persons or things regarded as forming a unity on account of any kind of mutual or common relation, or classed together on account of a certain degree of similarity.

class, n

 . . . a rank or grade of society.

 A division of things according to grade or quality, as high or low, first, second, etc.

slang or colloq. Distinction, high quality . . .


Background Readings at a Glance


The background readings in a sense don’t do justice to this dynamic, since they are organized more in terms of the groups (or groupings, that is, the social process of forming groups according to certain indices) which are their focus. Sexual orientation, race, gender, and generation are the indices of group identity taken up here. Still, within each of the readings, it is possible to trace the twin dynamics at work in shared identity: how different members do or do not easily fit within a group, and how group identity does or doesn’t fit smoothly alongside the rest of society.


Out of the Closet, and into Never-Never Land.” Daniel Harris. This Harper’s article from 1995 is part of a larger project developed in his book The Rise and Fall of Gay Culture (1997). Here, Harris deconstructs the slick image of “gayness” purveyed by gay-oriented magazines.


Dividing American Society.” Andrew J. Hacker. This selection from Hacker’s 1992 book, Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal, offers an important historical context for the contemporary state of race relations in the U.S. He also reviews the myth that racial identity has any biological validity.


Re-Thinking the Nature of Work.” bell hooks. Well known feminist scholar bell hooks has written widely about race, gender and class. In this selection she challenges the view of work purveyed by the mainstream (white middle class) women’s movement.


Children of the Future.” Roberto Suro. Focusing on the teenage daughter of Latino immigrants, this selection traces how linguistic, social, and economic exchanges offer hope but also imperil traditional values and sense of identity. A journalist, Suro’s excerpt is drawn from his book, Strangers Among Us (1998).


Case-in-Point Readings at a Glance


The Case-in-Point, “The Group at the Center: Finding the Middle Class,” focuses the themes raised in the background readings on socio-economic class, one of the most significant groupings in a culture where exchange cuts across every boundary. The readings here look at poverty in a consumer culture, the struggle to live an “ordinary” life when that life costs too much, the responsibility that comes with wealth and privilege (inherited or earned), representations of class in popular culture, and the quest for equal opportunity. The tension that runs through them is what researchers such as Michael Harrington or Paul Fussell have found out about class in America: the distinctly American difficulty of recognizing strict class boundaries defined in economic terms. We view ourselves as a classless society, and though wide differences would separate its various members, the middle class is the group most of us would self-identify with, in perhaps willful ignorance of significant economic disparities.


America Has a Class System. See ‘Frasier.’” Anita Gates. An article from The New York Times, this piece describes how the tension between the upper-class tastes of Frasier and the working-class world of his father forms the basis of the humor of this hugely popular sitcom.


Movies Find a Way to Close the Class Divide.” William McDonald. This Times article examines the way Hollywood has mystified class differences in stories in which “love conquers all.” Beginning with Inventing the Abbotts, McDonald finds similar storylines in Fools Rush In and Love Story, to name but two. (It’s easy to see how this article could become a model for a similar analysis of other films.)


Ain’t No Middle Class.” Susan Sheehan. This 1995 New Yorker essay is a case study of one working-class family whom Sheehan portrays as they make do on the fringe of the middle class. Finely woven, this selection is laden with details and observations that bring its subjects to life.


An Emerging Middle Class.” Linda Chavez. An outspoken proponent of Hispanic assimilation, Chavez argues in this excerpt from Out of the Barrio (1991) that Hispanic leaders have failed to see that assimilation is the ticket to a better life. Needless to say, Chavez is a controversial figure as she celebrates the virtues of consumer lifestyles, earnings, and career.


The Yuppie Strategy.” Barbara Ehrenreich. Feminist author and scholar, Ehrenreich’s work has appeared in Time and Newsweek and other journals. This selection from her 1989 book, Fear of Falling, analyzes the group psychology of the yuppie consumer style.


Bourgeois Blues.” Deirdre McCloskey. Economics and history professor at University of Iowa, McCloskey here challenges the tres chic academic repudiation of bourgeois culture, offering compelling evidence for its redeeming values and social utility.


Points of Entry


We are drawn in two directions by the possibilities in this chapter. On the one hand, there are a number of approaches one could take to cultural studies sorts of projects, scaffolded by some of the background selections as well as the case-in-point readings. For example, the pieces about the TV show, “Frasier” and the film Inventing the Abbotts both offer starting points for analyses of representations of class in popular culture. Indeed, while the focus might be different from Harris’s, such an analysis could be modeled on Harris’s deconstruction of images of “gay identity” in gay magazines with the focus turned to class instead of sexual orientation.


The other possibility we see here is the chance to dig fairly deeply into the issues of group identity (and class affiliation). With background material drawn from, say, Hacker and hooks as well as by the portrait drawn in Sheehan’s article, students might be given the tasks described in Net Approaches 1 and/or 2 (p. 208). Online research could lead them to thinking and writing about class issues in relation to specific groups of people or specific locations they may be familiar with. Indeed, experimenting with C. Wright Mills’s method, described in The Sociological Imagination as locating the intersection of history and biography, students can turn in varying degrees to a reflective analysis of their own group affiliations and sense of class identity.


Chapter 5---Advertising: The Discourse of Consumerism


Advertising is the official discourse of consumer society. In the flow of ads, everything becomes a commodity to be consumed. The flow of advertising doesn’t (obviously) traffic in careful deliberation or rational thinking. From its suggestive murmur, we pick the meanings that appeal to us, ignoring contradictions and misinformation. Advertising mingles our concern about material needs with image, pleasure, and status. We come to believe we need particular images associated with certain products, and that buying is pleasurable. Ads may lead us to a style of life we never would have imagined, though we may also end up with hefty credit card bills and, just maybe, and imagination and value system that is programmed by Madison Avenue.


Of course, advertising and the rise of consumer culture go hand-in-hand. When production methods outstripped demand, advertising became a way to artificially stimulate desire. Over time, the advertising industry has become a cultural force to be reckoned with, perhaps even more powerful than the film or music industries. We are exposed to hundreds of ads everyday, and the placement of advertising has penetrated all sorts of spaces. (Our current pet gripe: The so-called largest scoreboard in major league baseball, at Cleveland's Jacobs Field, is in fact mostly billboard space.)


Generative Terms


advertisement, n

 The action of calling the attention of others . . .

 A public notice or announcement . . .

desire, v.

 To have a strong wish for; to long for, covet, crave.

demand, sb.

 An act of demanding or asking by virtue of right or authority . . .

 The calling for a thing in order to purchase it . . .; a call for a commodity on the part of consumers.

 The manifestation of a desire on the part of consumers to purchase some commodity or service, combined with the power to purchase . . .


Background Readings at a Glance


The background readings ask us to take a second look at ads, and a careful reader confronts some difficult issues: Do ads show us options that exist in our world, or do they create a world of options for us, defining a set of desires we think of as normal? Is the world we see portrayed in advertising a world we should or must live in? From different approaches, the background readings address these (as well as other) questions.


The Surface of the Advertisement: Composed and Consumed.” Jib Fowles. Drawn from his 1996 book, Advertising and Popular Culture, in this selection Fowles analyzes the discourse of advertising and the ways advertising interacts with social values, the ways consumers decode ads, and how they ultimately use them.


Advertising Citizenship.” Irene Costera Meijer. Meijer here takes the (possibly) surprising position that advertising is a productive and useful form of public discourse, one that helps people become active citizens and not just passive consumers. She does so in part by countering critics views on their own terms, applying frames of cultural analysis in the endeavor.


Shadows on the Wall.” Stuart and Elizabeth Ewen. The book from which this selection is drawn, Channels of Desire, was updated in 1992. In this excerpt, the Ewens examine not so much how individual ads might work (see Fowles, above) but the effect of the continual flow of advertising on people and society.


Is Nothing Sacred?” Mary Kuntz. This piece first appeared in Business Week, documenting a trend in advertising toward self-parody. Kuntz also looks at projects like Adbusters, a Canadian quarterly involved in “culture jamming” through the production of spoof ads.


Case-in-Point Readings at a Glance


In the Case-in-Point, “Public Images of Illegal Drugs: (Un)selling Bad Habits,” readings examine the use of rhetoric, especially the advertising of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America (PDFA), in the crusade to reduce and eliminate the abuse of illegal drugs. A variety of perspectives are presented in the readings, and, in our view, the underlying curiosity here is the implications of turning the discourse of advertising, which for most intents and purposes serves to cultivate addiction-like desire (compulsive consumption), toward this kind of mass behavioral re-engineering. Through the use of public service advertising (PSA), the Partnership has sought to change the attitudes of young people and to get accurate information to young people and their parents about illegal drug use. But are the PDFA’s ad campaigns effective? Can a medium used to sell one drug, like alcohol, be effective in “unselling” other drugs? The readings here present a range of opinions and lots of data.


Peddling a Social Cause.” Annetta Miller and Elisa Williams. Miller and Williams have written widely in the popular press about the intersection of business and culture. Here they are interested in how, in the industry, public service advertising relates to the world of advertising.


The Next Front in the Drug War: The Media.” Barry McCaffrey. An op-ed piece from the Christian Science Monitor, this article (one of dozens like it produced by leaders in the war on drugs) lays out a rationale for the emphasis on advertising and the electronic media in combating drug use.


Victims of Everything.” Jacob Sullum. This opinion piece appeared in The New York Times in the midst of controversy surrounding “heroin chic” in the fashion industry. Sullum is in favor of discussions of legalizing some drugs as a more rational approach to the problem of drug abuse.


An Overdose of Reality.” Ann Cooper. An article from Adweek, this selection looks at why and how ad agencies became involved in creating anti-drug public service campaigns.


Hard to Earn: On Work and Wealth.” Darrell Dawsey. An excerpt from his hard-hitting Living to Tell About It: Young Black Men in America Speak Their Piece, this reading examines the drug trade as a source of employment, adopting a view of the business not represented on Madison Avenue.


America’s Altered States.” Joshua Wolf Shenk. Having written for a variety of journals including Salon, U.S. News and World Report, and The Economist, Shenk here considers his own lifelong struggle with mental illness in relation to drug policy and pharmocology, with particular focus on the extreme and exaggerated images our market-society has created around drugs.


Advertisements. Partnership for a Drug-Free America. Five ads sponsored by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America (“Fried Egg / This Is Your Brain,” “Frying Pan,” “Teeth,” “Drain Cleaner,” “The Power of a Grandma”).


Points of Entry


We were pretty conscious of the fact that “advertising” is one of the old chestnuts of the composition curriculum. The truth is, part of the motive for including this chapter in the book was recognizing that this might help sell the book. (Full disclosure.) At the same time, we became fascinated all over again with the dynamics of advertising seen as the discourse of consumer culture, and our students do in fact seem to relish the chance to unmask or decode the secret language of ads. We thought to give the unit a twist by turning in the case-in-point to the PDFA campaign. Since the usual academic response to advertising is to lament its deleterious cultural effects, we hoped to cast it in a new light by looking at public service advertising.


One approach to the material in this unit is to take the critical/analytical perspective offered by Jib Fowles, Stuart and Elizabeth Ewen, and Mary Kuntz, any of whom allow access to thinking about how ads are constructed and consumed. Irene Costera Meijer’s contribution to this discussion would be to challenge the easy conclusion that advertising is a bad thing. Another approach to the material here might be more straight-up argumentative: Does the PDFA campaign seem likely to succeed? Drawing together Case-in-Point readings and ideas from the background section, students can also be guided toward thinking about alternatives to the war on drugs (i.e., legalization), as well as to a strict evaluation of the probable effectiveness of the PDFA ad campaigns in curbing the use of illegal drugs. Writing Project 6 (p. 288) might be a useful frame in which to proceed.


Chapter 6---Entertainment: The Commodification of Enjoyment


Citizens around the world know something about the entertainment industry in the United States because they are exposed to it all the time. While our consumer society may have taken the packaging and marketing of enjoyment to an extreme, the activities that make up entertainment are as old as human communities. Of course, entertainment isn’t now—and perhaps never was—about simple engagements between people. The word carries a strong sense of amusement, of arresting another’s attention and diverting it from reality. Entertainment, for better or worse, traffics in the deeply human urge to play. And so on the one hand our urge to play has helped us to laugh at ourselves, to develop technology, and to talk about otherwise taboo subjects, while at the same time the goals of amusement and diversion can reduce serious issues to fantasies or to trivialize them. Further, many argue that the commodification of enjoyment, that is, the packaging and marketing of entertainment, has dispossessed us of the capacity to be producers in our own right: We don’t tell stories anymore, we don’t sing with and for each other; if it’s not on TV, it’s not real.

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