Thursday, August 25, 2011

"He's Just Not That Into You"

            Love and relationships have been around since the beginning of human life. Nevertheless, love and relationships continue to be a mystery for all of us. The romantic comedy film, He’s Just Not That Into You (2009), let’s the title speak for itself about contemporary relationships for women and men. The narrative arc challenges the set of “rules” that restrain contemporary relationships from moving forward.  Different relationship scenarios reveal the various types of experiences that contemporary couples tend to face. This contemporary romantic comedy uses these different scenarios to follow the guidelines that most radical romantic comedy films obey, that is, “they want to bring about the happy union of a woman and a man [and] they have to show themselves to be beyond the naivety that such uncomplicated couplings rely on” (McDonald 69).

            After a strain of failed attempts at love, Gigi (Ginnifer Goodwin) contemplates ideas as to why finding the “one” has become drastically chaotic in contemporary relationships. Gigi explains that the problem stems during adolescents age when women are “programmed to believe that if a guy acts like a total jerk that means he likes you.” Gigi identifies herself as a victim of this “programming” as she continues to repel the men she dates because she constantly misinterprets their interest in her.  She then meets Alex (Justin Long) who helps her get rid of her obsessive behavior by presenting his perspective on the real meaning of certain signals that men give off. Gigi once again misinterprets Alex’s feelings towards her which result repel his friendship with her. However, Alex realizes he has made a mistake because he has fallen in love with Gigi. When Alex goes to win back Gigi’s love, she is resistant at first but they evidently end up together.
The relationship reveals a characteristic of contemporary radical romantic comedies that “draws analogies [from] earlier texts and enjoy its manipulation of their elements.” Gigi personality of being obsessive and reading the wrong signals seemed contradictory to Alex’s confident and smooth personality with (many) women. Nevertheless, their differences are put aside and love prevails. This radical romantic comedy “retains the traditional boy meets, loses, ad re-gets girl armature” (McDonald 70).

The love triangle that Ben (Bradley Cooper) puts himself in with his wife Janine (Jennifer Connelly) and Anna (Scarlett Johansson) adversely affects each of them. Janine is portrayed as a strict wife who detests smokers because of her father death from cancer, and thus prohibits Ben from smoking. Ben claims that Janine had threatened him to marry her or she would leave which is why he married her. Anna, who is aware that Ben is married, is determined to give it a shot at love with Ben. At first Ben is resistant but his feelings soon reciprocate, and he engages in an affair with Anna. His affair ends when Janine goes to revitalize her marriage with Ben by going to have sex with him in his office and almost catches Ben in his affair. However, Anna hides in the closet while Janine seduces Ben to have sex with her in order to save their marriage. After, Anna is disgusted with Ben and storms out the closet and vows never to see him again. Janine finds cigarettes in Ben’s pocket and asks for a divorce. Ending scenes present each of them alone in their own whereabouts. This relationship scenario is another characteristic of “the radical romantic comedy [that is] prepared to end unhappily” (McDonald 70).
Beth (Jennifer Aniston) and Neil (Ben Affleck) have been dating for seven years. At first Beth is neutral about marriage but later she wants Neil to ask her to marry him. Neil on the other hand, does not believe in marriage because he believes that only “insecure” people marry and they only marry because “it’s what they are supposed to do.” After Beth becomes more concerned about the marriage issue, she tells Ben that does not want to be with him because he does not want to get married. At the end of the film, they end up getting back together and Ben asks Beth to marry him. The relationship between Beth and Neil reveal the “conservatism of the basic plot” (McDonald 69) in this case being that the ultimate solution and requirement of relationships is marriage.
            The radical romantic comedies of today attempt to explain that of the various themes in relationships. The themes were the “happy marriage ending”, the “affair ending”, the “end up together ending”, and the “eventually find love ending” (which I did not go over). Each relationship provided an idea of what might happen in a particular situation. The ending themes all seemed to have a reserved ideology. For example, Ben, Anna, and Janine’s scenario implies that “this is what happens when you cheat.” Ben and Neil’s ending in marriage reveal continuation of attachment that the media has to conservatism. Gigi and Alex’s relationship raise the idea that though love is mysterious, it is still possible through change in behavior or acceptance of each other’s differences.

Works Cited
McDonald, Tamar Jeffers. Romantic Comedy: Boy Meets Girl Meets Genre. London: Wallflower, 2007.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

CNN: Social media's role in Egypt protests

Pros and Cons of Facebook

                This summer I am taking a Popular Culture studies class, and as of now we are on our final week which means it is time for finals. Every semester during midterms and finals, I always decide to temporarily deactivate my Facebook account because it becomes too distracting and time consuming. Ironically, Facebook became a topic of discussion which ended in a debate of whether Facebook is healthy or unhealthy for our social being. Many discussions came about but the one that stood out to me the most was the relationship of Facebook and identity as well as Facebook and democracy. Facebook, social networks, and for that matter internet, are double edged because they have both advantaged and disadvantages.
On the individual level, social networks can be used to portray a desired identity if not real. Fake or unrealistic identities can be utilized by sexual predators to lure in their victims. Identities that are represented through social networks are “free of social constraints” (Barker 360). This means that one could freely represent a desired identity which is a popular fad since it eludes one from their true “class, gender, or race.” These varying identities are referred to as “Multi User Dimensions (MUDs)” (Barker 362).
MUDs allow internet users to “play” with their identities. That is to say, my identity on Facebook, may not coincide directly with my true identity. Thus, my identity on Facebook is a desired identity and not truly who am as a person. So, metaphorically speaking, the face I portray on Facebook, is not my true face. However, that is not necessarily a great threat to others as per se someone who is using a false identity and has the desire to hurt another. MUDs can be especially dangerous to women since most of “internet users are men” (365) who are probably “computer engineers and programmers.” Though the idea of MUD’s is more specific to cyber gamers, the concept can be expanded to social networks on the count that similar situations occur all around the internet.
If social networks are used effectively, they can set a route for democracy. This was the case in Egypt. Social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, etc became a democratic space for people to talk about what was going on in Egypt and what needs to be done to fix. Thus, it became a cyber sphere (public sphere) for the public to voice their opinions about what President Hosni Mubarak was doing (or was not doing) for his people and how they should overthrow him. The demonstration reveals the association of “cyberspace and democracy” in which the internet is perceived as “democratic technology.”
            Yes, Facebook is a powerful a tool that serves our societies for the better. Portraying a different identity on a social network can be “fun” yet dangerous. It can be used to simply change the perception that people may have of someone for the better or for the worse. By worse, I mean that employers or people of importance to one’s life may not agree with the identity posed on the social network compared to that of one’s real identity. This could be problematic in the sense that the identity could repel certain relationships that are needed (i.e employer). Facebook as a democratic sphere is beneficial because many times our voices are limited. Blogs, social websites, etc are tools that allow our voices to be heard with fewer restrictions than in the real world.

Works Cited
Barker, Chris. Cultural Studies Third Edition London: SAGE Publications Ltd, 2008. Print.

Monday, August 22, 2011

"Mean Girls" From Above and "Art Freaks" from Below

Mean Girls

                When we reminisce about our high school days, particularly for young girls, would most of us agree that pleasant memories about our social arrangements are elusive? Considering the existence of the social hierarchies in the high school culture, were we ever truly happy about our social engagement? Or was it always a rigorous and tedious competition to rise above that hegemonic social hierarchy with the use of materialism, physical figure, social status, etc.? Considering the movie Mean Girls, the high school hierarchy is vividly manifested. From the ascending social cliques to the boy drama, the hierarchy of social groups is the mobile that gives permission to these teenagers to embody particular representations. Specifically in “girl world,” as the protagonist Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan) distinguishes it from the “actual world,” the film provides an outline of the “rules of feminism.”  
After being homeschooled in Africa for several years, Cady Heron’s parents finally decide that she needs to get “socialized” so they move to Evanston, Illinois to attend North Shore High. Prior to the moving, Cady paid little attention to her looks, boys, social standing, and opinion of other people. Her primary priority was school. However, when she attends the public high school, Cady personality is completely affected by her social surroundings. Janis and Damien become Cady’s first set of friends, and they provide Cady with a map of the different social cliques within the high school. The stereotypic social groups consist of “freshman, JV jocks, Asian nerds, cool Asians, unfriendly black hotties, Varsity jocks, girls who eat their feelings, girls who don’t eat anything, desperate wannabies, burnouts, sexually active banned geeks, and The Plastics.” Above all the cliques, “The Plastics” are revered by everyone because of their high socioeconomic status. The hegemonic culture of “The Plastics” provide the “rules of feminism” for all other groups below them.

The phenomenon of social groups along the hierarchy ties accordingly to the notion of “high and low culture” that Q.D. Leavis and Matthew Arnold have theorized (Barker 40). The Plastics, who are the rich and popular girls in school constitute the “culture from above” whereas all the other cultures who are presumed as “wannabies” make up the “culture from below.” It almost as if this “culture from above” takes God’s place in setting up the moralities and rules for everyone to follow. Metaphorically speaking, you could contemplate that “the plastics” are in some way the primary “religion” of the North Shore High culture. In reality however, the film implies that the public high school setting is “an institutionalized and class-based hierarchy” (Barker 46) where the Plastics have the power to make “judgements of quality,” and what is worthy and unworthy of the popular culture.
Today, the postmodern teen magazines, along with many other media sources, provide “guides” that attempt to equip girls with the necessary tools to conquer and dominate the social hierarchy. Websites such as “All You Can Read,” reveal the top teen magazines that provide teens (mainly females) with the “tools” necessary that are needed to survive the hegemony of the high school hierarchy. These “tools” come in the form of unhealthy dietary products, eating disorders, material “beauty” products, and many other materialistic features. Other guides such as “How to Guides,” postulate methods on contemporary trends, fashion styles, self-esteem issues, popular culture (Hollywood), and of course boy topics. These guides are given to teens that take the messages and embody them through self-representation. In doing so, they engage in a narrow social hierarchy that outcastes those who are not representing “the culture from above.”
Works Cited
Barker, Chris. Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice. 3rd ed. Sage Publications Ltd. Los Angeles. 2008. Print.

“Top 10 Teen Magazines.” – The World’s Largest Online Newsstand – 28,000 Newspapers and Magazines from 200 Countries. Wed. 22 Aug. 2011 <>.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Rules of Attraction GROUP

For my popular cultural studies class, our professor divided the class into groups. Each group was to discuss a particular text or show and critique it using some of the theories and ideas that are presented in Chris Barker’s book titled Cultural Studies. Then we were to do a class presentation and discussion on our finding for the rest of the class.  My group consisted of only four members and our discussion regarded the book Rules of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis. Contributions that I made to the group consisted of presenting my critique/class discussion based on the Feminist perspective.
 Our professor wanted to make sure that we understood the material that we were learning in class. Thus, this assignment served as a method for him to find out whether or not the students understood the information they were reading in class. The theories and ideas that my group used to critique our topic were Postmodernism, the time periods of the topic in relation to the culture of that time, the culture of relationships in the book, and the feminist perspective.
                I put together a PowerPoint to organize how I would proceed in a discussion with the class. After one of my group members, Christopher, opened the discussion from a postmodernist perspective, we showed the class a few scenes from the film version of the book just so that the students could get an insight on what the book was about. However, the film and the book had a few differences. After we watched the scenes, I explained some of the differences between the book and the film. I was not sure if students would read the book so I based my argument on the message that the film presented about women.
My argument was that the women presented in the film were portrayed as submissive sexual objects in the campus culture. I picked out quotes from the Barker book and explained to the students what the quote meant in case anyone didn’t understand. Then I asked how the quote, in terms of the feminist perspective, explained the representation of women in some of the scenes.
The first question I asked was “How is sex organized as a principle in the campus culture in terms of power relations?” I considered the quote “Feminism is centrally concerned with sex as an organizing principle of social life that is thoroughly saturated with power relations subordinating women to men” from the Barker book. At first, I heard crickets (metaphorically speaking). Fortunately, my group members and I made a plan that if no one in the class said anything, one of use would attempt to answer our own group members question in attempt to begin a further discussion. It was a good strategy because it actually worked.
I provided two more quotes and questions to lead the class into a discussion. My second questions attempted to combine the feminist and psychoanalysis perspective to describe the types of identities were given to the women and how these identities produced sexual stereotypes of women in the campus culture. I identified three identities in the film for the three main women who were a virgin, a “slutty roommate,” and an obsessed girl. The stereotype that my classmates identified was that all the women were in some way submissive to the men in the film.
The last question was in regards to the statement “Not only do all women appear oppressed in the same way but also there is a tendency to represent them as helpless and powerless” which is also in the Barker book. Then I asked if this quote applied to any of the scenes in the film. The answer was of course yes and some of the students provided specific scenes in which the women appeared “helpless and powerless.” A few scenes mentioned were when Lauren, the main character, was getting raped. Another was when the obsessed girl committed suicide after the guy she loved had sex with another girl.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ethnography with the Capitalist

                For my ethnography, I decided to go to an In and Out restaurant because it is typically a busy restaurant with much to observe. The time is 6:39 PM on a Monday evening. This particular In and Out is located in a shopping plaza surrounded by stores and other restaurants such Panda Express, Starbucks, Verizon Wireless, Radio Shack, T-Mobile store, Target, Baskin Robin, Bally Total Fitness, and so on. I walk inside the restaurant which is full people. I have my laptop with me and I am ready to observe. However, I have to blend in and play the part to avoid other’s discomfort so I set my belongings on the only table that was free and have my friend watch over my things while I go order us food.
                I get in line and wait for the next available employee to ring me up. As I’m standing in line, I look to my right and see In and Out apparel posted on the wall. The T-shirts are sold online for $9.99. The employee tells me “I can help you right over here.” I notice the menu is small since they only sell burgers, fries, drinks, and shakes. Nevertheless, the menu is still very attractive to customers. There are two registers open, one is being managed by a young African American woman, and the other one is a young Latino male. I let the young Latino male that I want to order two orders of animal style fries and one small lemonade. He charges me and asks if that completes my order, and then he gives me my receipt and cup for my drink.
As I wait for my order, I observe the employees. They are all relatively young with an age ranging from 18 to 30 years of age. They are of either African American or Latina/o descent. The uniform they wear is a white short sleeve, white pants, and a red apron that has a big safety pin on the back. They also wear a sailor like hat or red cap that says the restaurant’s name on it. They all wear name tags. They are all moving at fast pace considering the bombardment of cars at the drive thru, and the continuing line of incoming customers. There is a sign lit on the wall that states “Quality you can taste” in bright yellow letters with red outlines and another red sign that states “nonsmoking area.” There are also paintings on the walls of In and Out’s drive thru, the store, and customers driving to In and Out.
The employee is yelling out order numbers to let the customers know that their order is ready for pick up. I decide to sit in the back corner of the restaurant which is a great position for thorough observation. The smell of fresh cut fries permeates the air in the restaurant. The main colors of the restaurant are red, white, and yellow. There are many chairs that are for a party of two and four. The chairs are positioned around the table to face each other. There are only a few single high chairs. In those seats are families, couples, or friends. Everyone is chatting up a storm so the volume is very loud. The customers are all dressed casual.
Sitting next to me were two African American young ladies on my left side. I could hear them talking about women and men. I heard them say something like “it’s always the women that do that.” They were saying something about phones and the way women respond and how many times they call. However, they left a few minutes later. Replacing them was a party of five which consisted of a grandmother and a mother with three kids (two baby girls and one adolescent boy). There was no father figure around. However, they moved to a booth so that they could sit all together.
A couple sat to my upper right. The guy was bald with a hat. The woman wore a lot of makeup and jewelry. They both had neutral expressions on their faces as they engaged in conversation. Once in a while, they would glance my way so I stopped looking at them to disengage any discomfort they may have felt. When they were done eating, the waiter came to pick up the trash. Then two young Latina girls occupied the chairs next to my table. One had her hair straight and was wearing a loose red shirt that showed her navel. The other one had long curly hair and wore a purple shirt. The one wearing red told the other girl that she did not want her talking to girls that she was not fond of and states “because you are my friend.”
For the most part the restaurant was very clean. I went inside the girl’s restroom to check the cleanliness. I was surprised to find the restroom very clean considering the high volume of work the employees seem to be facing. There were many employees behind the register working in the kitchen. Thus, they had enough employees to work at every station whether it was being the cashier, cleaning, taking orders, cooking, etc.
The restaurant can be described as an element of popular culture that is “manipulative because its primary purpose is to be purchased” (Barker 49). The manner in which the chairs are positioned persuade the customers to engage in a discussion. This is probably why so many families, couples, and groups of friends come to eat at the restaurant. The restaurant is very attractive to customers because it is a business that targets certain types of consumers with the use of signs and advertisement. Everywhere I looked there was a party of two of more people. Even in the single chairs, couples or groups of people sat next to one another and talked to each other.
The In and Out industry uses “creative consumption” (Baker 50) in which “meanings are produced, altered and managed at the level of use by people who are active producers of meaning.” The restaurant produces the meaning of a “family oriented” place for groups of people to come together to eat and connect to one another. Thus, consumers are buying into what the industry is selling and become victims of manipulation.  Writers such as Chambers, Fiske, and Hebdidge would believe that these “buyers become bricoleurs, selecting and arranging elements of material commodities and meaningful signs” (Baker 51). In other words, the buyers may believe that by taking part in what the capitalist is selling, they themselves are producing their own meaning to their own culture.
Ferdinand de Saussure would interpret this form of culture as part of the “signifying system” (Barker 76) in which the signs that permeate the restaurant call upon delightful interpretations by the customer. Thus, the customer responds to his/her sense of these signs which in this particular case is alluring to him/her. The signs such as “quality you can taste,” touch upon the idea that what the capitalist is selling is something of good quality which is related to the idea that “quality” is “most adequate and expressive” (Barker 48). In and Out is also known for the use of “fresh” produce. The word “fresh” employs right out of the new which is also another signifier that compels the signified to interpret the word as something of good quality.

Barker, Chris. Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice. 3rd ed. Sage Publications Ltd. Los Angeles. 2008. Print.

Jerry Maguire (1996) and L.O.V.E

In the film Jerry Maguire, Jerry is presented as a successful but troubled man. At the time, he has a fiancée named Avery. However, as the film progresses he develops an emotional connection for Dorothy and her son Ray. This sense of connection stems from the emotional support that Dorothy offers Jerry through troubled stage. Later his feelings for Dorothy get deeper, so he leaves his fiancée Avery. Though Jerry is still emotionally unstable, he marries Dorothy with quick pace. This film does not define love as that of a traditional story of archetypal love between two young people who are in a rough situation but make love possible. Rather, the couple is older and they both face adult issues such as being a single mother and an emotionally unstable man. Love is made possible through the emotional support that Dorothy offers Jerry, and the father figure that Jerry offers Dorothy’s son Ray.
         In an attempt to get rid of his stress, Jerry writes a mission statement about to better serve his clients. Dorothy feels “inspired” by his mission statement. The mission statement is the reason that Dorothy feels closer to Jerry, and so when Jerry gets fired from his job, Dorothy leaves with him. Then, they begin to work together. However, Jerry continues to feel troubled by his state of unemployment and turns to Avery for support. Avery is not a very emotionally supportive type of woman so she neglects him. Thus, Jerry goes to Dorothy for support. Throughout the movie, Dorothy is always willing to support Jerry through his troubles.
           Initially, Jerry’s primary concern is his client Rod Tidwell and his job as a sports manager. Nevertheless, Jerry enjoys Dorothy’s companionship and support so he continues to seek her compassion. Dorothy learns that she has a secure job in San Diego and tells Jerry that she might need to leave. Since Jerry is attached to her supportiveness, he leaves his fiancée and asks Dorothy to marry him. At the time Jerry is not in love with Dorothy, and when Dorothy finds out she breaks up the relationship. At the end of the film Jerry realizes that he cannot be without his wife and asks her to take him back. Of course, Dorothy is very much in love with his so she takes him back without doubt.
           The film defines love between two people as an emotionally attached and emotionally supportive type of relationship. Jerry is the emotionally attached and Dorothy is the emotionally supportive which is probably due to being a single mother. Even though Dorothy is presented as the more emotionally stable in the relationship, she is seen as submissive to Jerry when she takes him back without doubt. Thus, love is also defined as the woman supporting the man at his every request. In effect, love is made possible as long as the woman continues to be supportive of the man, and the man can come back whenever he needs the woman. Also, Dorothy and Jerry both fit each other’s needs due to the state of their lives (Dorothy a single mother and Jerry in need of emotional support) which made them the perfect ingredients to each other’s love story.