Category: Pop Culture


tumblr_m9fj8dRUN21rbtysqo1_500
Ah, spring is finally upon us, which means that, along with the allergens that will soon be invading my nasal passages, love is in the air. It also means we’ve entered wedding season. Though people get married year-round, spring is still traditionally seen as “wedding season” and there is an abundance of wedding related advertising. If you’re in your mid-twenties or older, chances are you have at least one wedding to attend this year, maybe more. The first time one of your friends get married, it’s fun an exciting; once the “save the date” magnets start over-taking your refrigerator it’s all a bit overwhelming and exhausting. So come, rest, and let me tell you why weddings are terrible.

I should preface this by saying that when I talk about weddings, I’m not talking about marriage itself. Yes, I could go into a feminist tirade about patriarchy and gender roles, but overall I’m pro-marriage. Two people in love deciding to spend the rest of their lives together is great if that’s what they want. No, I’m talking about the weddings themselves. I’m discussing an event, not an entire institution.

So why are weddings terrible? For one they promote exorbitant spending, even amongst those who cannot really afford it. Weddings continue to get increasingly lavish, with more and more money being spent on a one day affair. We live in a consumer culture and because of this many believe that spending will buy happiness and self-fulfillment. Advertisers use romance as a way to sell goods, and goods become an important part in our celebration of romance. Not surprisingly lavish weddings have their origins around the time of the Industrial Revolution and really took off in the post-WWII period. Weddings become a way to show your status and taste. The show Four Weddings on TLC is all about judging brides on their level of taste and the amount put into their weddings. There is increasing pressure to have a wedding that meets a certain standard, a standard which is getting ever higher.
fairytale-wedding-theme-plaza-590ac082310
Indeed a lot of the items now seen as standard or even required for a wedding were traditions started by companies trying to sell their product. Take for example diamond rings. Rings have been used in wedding ceremonies for hundreds of years, but it wasn’t until the 1940s that diamond rings became an essential purchase if one wants to get engaged. And this is all because there was a plentiful supply of diamonds around the world that needed selling, and the N.W. Ayer advertising agency was there to move merchandise for their client. They transformed a rock into a symbol of enduring love.

Soon it will be a requirement for women to arrive to their weddings in giant hamster balls - I mean glass carriages.

Soon it will be a requirement for women to arrive to their weddings in giant hamster balls – I mean glass carriages.


Another reason weddings are terrible is because in the quest for the perfect day/moment many women turn this need for perfection on themselves. Many brides make their bodies another project or goal to be worked on so they can be beautiful on their big day. They try to lose weight, whiten their teeth, tan, hire professional hair and make-up artists all just to attain the image of beauty they want for their wedding. They may even impose these standards on their bridesmaids. There’s also an idea around that brides are beautiful and that anyone who doesn’t marry is ugly.

I suppose really to explain why weddings are terrible I could have just said one word: “Bridezillas.” But I don’t want to dedicate too much space to these horrible people, and give them the attention they so clearly crave. But seriously, bridezillas. (As for whether it’s bridezillas who make weddings terrible, or the terribleness of weddings that makes bridezillas, that’s really a chicken or the egg question for me. I think they both feed into each other about equally).

I don't know why this picture exists, but I'm glad it does.

I don’t know why this picture exists, but I’m glad it does.


Now after all of this, I’m sure there are some of you out there thinking, “Weddings are not terrible! You’re probably just a bitter, jealous old maid who lives with her 20 cats.” And for you I have two things to say: 1.) No, no I am not; and 2.) Even if I were, in way that’s kind of the point. Weddings are terrible because they marginalize and exclude a large segment of the population – single people. There’s nothing wrong with being single, yet this standard for lavish weddings as likely the one big day of your life makes it easy for single people feel like if they don’t get married they’ve somehow failed. And that just isn’t true. There’s also the fact that lavish weddings currently favor heterosexual couples, but that’s slowly changing at least.

So are weddings terrible? In theory? No. theoretically a day of celebration for two people in love is beautiful and great. In reality? Yes. Unfortunately in today’s consumer culture weddings have become less a celebration of love and more a celebration of goods and status/image. I imagine there’ll eventually be some backlash against these lavish weddings. But we’ll see.

If you’re interested in this subject or want proof that I’m not the only one who thinks weddings are terrible I recommend Cinderella Dreams: The Allure of the Lavish Wedding by Cele C. Otnes & Elizabeth H. Pleck and White Weddings: Romancing Heterosexuality in Popular Culture by Chrys Ingraham.

Advertisements

Today in Why Everything You’ve Ever Loved is Terrible I will be tackling cars. I suppose I should preface this by explaining my point of view on cars before delving into why they’re terrible. I am a child of suburbia. I was born in the suburbs, I currently still live in the suburbs. Cars are important to us. There is some public transportation, and I do take the train to get to school. But for just getting around town? A car is the way to go. And for most suburban teenagers a car means freedom. You’re not restricted by where your parents or friends’ parents are willing to take you anymore. So yes – I love my car. I don’t deny it. I’m not a car enthusiast; other cars don’t really interest me. But I love my car (not in a creepy, My Strange Addiction way though). So please just keep all this in mind while I go on and tell you why cars are terrible.
We all know why cars are terrible from an environmental perspective, so that’s not what I’ll be talking about. Let’s start with this: if it weren’t for cars, Americans might not be so fat. First there’s the obvious reason of if people didn’t have cars they would probably walk or ride a bike more places, and use more energy in their transportation. But there’s also this scenario – if it weren’t for cars, fast food might not even exist. The fast food industry was born out of drive-in restaurants which were a direct response to cars and the highways built to accommodate them. If it weren’t for cars the McDonald brothers may never have come up with their “Speedee Service System” which became the model of fast food service. Yes, Americans love shortcuts, so even without cars I’m sure there’d still be terrible food around to eat, but maybe it wouldn’t be quite as accessible.
Another reason cars are terrible is that they enable our (and by our I mean Americans’, sorry) inability to build communities. They encourage our already anti-social behavior. I know some people are going to disagree with this, but hear me out. Yes, obviously communities exist. But people don’t set down roots like they used to. Cars allow people to travel great distances for work, and move a lot faster and easier than back in the pioneer days. Most people don’t pass down the family homestead through the generations like they used to. It’s more unusual to find someone who hasn’t moved at least once or twice in their life. Cars also contribute to our antisocial behavior because unlike public transportation, when driving you are generally alone. Yes people carpool, take road trips, drive friends and family around, but for most everyday driving, you’re in that car by yourself. And even now on public transportation most people are plugged into their own little world, and may as well be alone. For some reason Americans see travel as a solitary act. There’s also the already mentioned independence that cars represent for teenagers (or anyone really). The car leads to some of the first real breaking away of a child from his or her parents/family.
Yet another reason cars are terrible is because they can be symbols of sexual repression. There’s the common cliché that men with fancy sports cars are overcompensating for something. Cars and their long, vaguely (or in some cases not so vaguely) phallic shape come to stand in for what they may be lacking.

Only a slight exaggeration...

Only a slight exaggeration…


Some men see the qualities of their car as the qualities for themselves. But men aren’t the only ones in this. Lest we forget the phenomenon of dagmar bumpers. Dagmar bumpers became popular in the 1950s (a time not exactly known for its sexual liberation) and their function was to guard the bumper. They were originally intended to look like artillery shells, but soon gained the moniker “dagmars” after the television star Dagmar, and her chest.
These are dagmars...

These are dagmars…

...they are named after this woman's chest.

…they are named after this woman’s chest.


There’s also the issue of “chick cars” and the sexism that goes along with that idea. As soon as a car becomes labeled a “chick car” it is scoffed at and avoided by men. But I’ll leave the feminist rant for another day.
So there are many reasons cars are terrible. And perhaps we shouldn’t love them as much as we do. But I think as long as they represent this idea of independence that they do for so many people, it’ll be a tough relationship to break up.

If you’re interested in this topic, I recommend the following to read:
“American Mobility” by Michael Aaron Rockland
“The Evolution of the ‘Chick Car’ Or: What Came First, the Chick or the Car?” by Chris Lezotte

I know I’ve talked about Barbie here before, but she’s such a cultural icon I figured the ol’ gal deserved a second look.
Barbie dolls first came out in the 1950s and were one of the first toy dolls that looked like a teenager/grown-up as opposed to a baby. From the start parents worried that Barbie’s figure was too sexualized for young children. Just the fact that she had breasts was scandalous (their size in relation to the rest of her body is another issue). Many mothers were hesitant to buy the doll for their daughters, until advertisements started pushing Barbie as a tool to teach girls proper grooming habits. Apparently that angle outweighed the negative aspects of Barbie and made her acceptable as a toy for children.
I honestly believe that Barbie started out innocent enough in America. Okay, yes, the idea for her came originally from Bild Lili, a German comic character and doll aimed primarily at adult men…but that was never the target audience here. Here Barbie’s measurements were necessary to scale fashionable clothes down to her size without having them just look like sacks. But as we all know, many issue have since been projected onto Barbie. The main one being the issue of body image. There is a segment of the population who believe that Barbie dolls are harmful to girls’ self-esteem and body image. Does playing with a Barbie make a girl think she has to be skinny, large-chested, blonde, and blue-eyed? Maybe. Obviously I can’t speak for everyone. But I know I never felt that way. Have I ever suffered from negative body image; felt I wasn’t thin enough, my boobs not big enough? Sure. It’s probably hard to find a girl who hasn’t suffered from at least one of those issues. But it wasn’t my Barbie doll that made me feel that way. It’s the society that holds Barbie’s figure as ideal that did.
It can also be argued that Barbie reinforces the idea that women need to have a man, since the manufacturers felt the need to make Ken to be Barbie’s boyfriend, despite no real desire for him from the children. I suppose this is kind of true. But overall I call bullshit on that. For one, it’s not like they were married or anything. And it seems rather apparent that Barbie is self-sufficient, since she’s abel to get every job imaginable. Clearly the girl can pay her own bills.
Where does G.I. Joe (and other dolls for boys) come into this? On his own, G.I. Joe isn’t really that bad. It could be argued that he promotes violence in little boys, but these days I think there are bigger promoters of violence than action figures. No, the terribleness of G.I. Joe comes in when he’s compared to Barbie. Just the term “action figure” for boys’ toys and “doll” for girls’ toys shows an engrained idea that boys are supposed to be active while girls are expected to be static. What’s terrible and ridiculous is that this expectation is built into the dolls themselves and their joints. Boys’ action figures can have upwards of 20 movable joints. This allows for complex movements and actions. The original Barbie had only five joints. Modern Barbies have more, and are more flexible but still have nowhere near the amount of joints the action figures do. Poor Barbie can’t even stand on her own due to her perpetually tip-toed feet.
So are Barbie and G.I. Joe terrible? Maybe. With the exception of the joints thing, he dolls themselves aren’t actually terrible. They’re just toys. Really it’s the meanings we impose on these toys that are terrible. Unfortunately I think it’s harder to change those than the toys themselves.

original-teenage-fashion-model-barbie gi_joe_boxed_man_of_action1

If you’re interested in the whole Barbie vs. G.I. Joe thing, check out the essay, “Barbie and Action Man: Adult Toys for Girls and Boys, 1959-93” by Judy Attfield.

Introduction:

I’ve decided to start a new series of posts here on my blog.  It’s called, “Why Everything You’ve Ever Loved is Terrible” (or WEYELT in the tags).  These posts are more Pop Culture inspired than aesthetics inspired.  That doesn’t mean that aesthetics doesn’t play a role though.  In fact I think there’s a real give and take relationship between pop culture and aesthetics.  Pop culture is made up of images, which means aesthetic theories can be applied to them.  In turn, it seems a bit naïve to think that the pop culture of the time had no influence on these philosophers’ theories of aesthetics.

I supposed before I get started I should just clarify what I mean by Popular Culture.  While there are numerous definitions of what pop culture is, many of which make a distinction between high culture and pop culture, for me pop culture is simply culture that is popular.  I make no judgments of quality.

On with the show!

 

Christmas:

Since Christmas is only a few days away, I decided to use it as the start of this series.  Though Christmas isn’t terrible per se, especially if you embrace is for what it really is.  I suppose the alternate title for this is really, “Why People Who Complain that Christmas has Gotten Too Commercial are Idiots.”  But that doesn’t really roll off the tongue.  Anyway, those readers who know me probably know that this semester I wrote a paper about Hallmark Christmas ornaments (and now everyone else is caught up), and it’s the research for that paper that’s inspired this post.

The Christmas that we think of and celebrate today (in America) is largely influenced by the “traditional” English Christmas, which was invented in the mid-1800s.  The Victorians were great at inventing traditions and making it seem like they had been around for centuries.  This version of Christmas has been commercial from its inception.

Theologically speaking, Christmas has never really been the big holiday.  Easter is really the more important one, since it celebrates Jesus’ resurrection, which is generally seen as being more significant.  We don’t even really know Christ’s actual birthday.  December 25th was chosen to compete with the various non-Christian winter festivities.  Before the Victorians Christmas wasn’t really a big deal, and often wasn’t celebrated at all.  So why did the Victorians reinvent the holiday?  It’s no coincidence that the holiday became popular only after the Industrial Revolution.  The Industrial Revolution brought with it the ability to make a lot of stuff.  And the new jobs brought a new class who had money and wanted to buy well, a lot of stuff.  All these changes also brought a nostalgia for simpler, better times (that never actually existed, by the way).  It was out of this nostalgia and looking for an excuse to buy things that the traditional Christmas was born.

Nearly every aspect of the new Christmas had consumerism at its base – Christmas cards, trees, buying gifts, even Christmas carols.  Essentially the traditional Christmas was a celebration of a new market economy, with a religious aspect tacked on to ease some guilt.  Does this mean Christmas is terrible?  No, not really.  Christmas can be a joyous time, a time of family and generosity.  It’s a time that many people look forward to all year, and not just for the free stuff.  And hey, if the holiday helps some people get more in touch with their religion/spirituality, that’s great too.  Just don’t go yelling about “keep Christ in Christmas” when from the beginning he’s barely been a part of it.

There’s also Santa. In America Santa Claus is a jolly old elf with a stomach like a bowl full of jelly. His past is a bit more sinister though. His ancestors were far more mean and way more into corporal punishment. If you were a child back in old Germany, Holland, and the like if you were bad, you didn’t get coal. You got a beating. Even the original Christmas trees had a judgment aspect to them, similar to that of St. Nicholas.
 

I won't even get into the fact that the most popular image of Santa was designed for Coca-Cola.

I won’t even get into the fact that the most popular image of Santa was designed for Coca-Cola.

If you find this topic interesting I recommend reading The Battle for Christmas by Stephen Nissenbaum, Christmas in America: A History by Penne L. Restad and/or Christmas, Ideology, and Popular Culture by Sheila Whitely.

Or if you want to yell at me for being a blasphemous heathen, I also recommend reading those books.

And if you need another reason Christmas can be terrible, make sure to check out the Weird Fetish of the Day over at Pizza Clubhouse.

Why I Am A Warhol-ian

            I make no effort to hide that I’m a Warhol fan.  At times I may even be a bit infatuated.  Not just with the art but the man himself.  I’m not entirely sure what, but something about him fascinates me.  Or maybe it’s everything.  It was Arthur Danto’s essay about Warhol “The Philosopher as Andy Warhol” that really got me interested.  Now I’m just kind of hooked.

            Let’s start with the art.  I’ve always enjoyed Warhol’s work (well, paintings/prints at least, I haven’t really seen any of his films, just clips).  Maybe it’s because he started as a commercial artist and I love vintage advertising.  Maybe it’s because I like patterns and his repetitive screen prints create their own patterns.  Maybe I just like all the bright colors.  Or maybe I just like boring things.  I’m generally not a fan of modern art, but I do like Pop Art.  I have nothing against a good abstract painting, but I always find myself gravitating more towards pieces that actually depict things.  And Pop Art helped bring art out of abstract expressionism and back to things, so I appreciate that. I also like Pop Culture.  Well, I may not always like it, but keeping up with pop culture is a guilty pleasure of mine, which is another reason I like Pop Art. 

            Moving on to the person.  As previously mentioned, there’s just something about Andy Warhol that fascinates me, and it’s not just our shared favorite phrase (“I don’t know).  He is a bit of an enigma.  I feel we somehow both completely know the real Andy Warhol and don’t at the same time.  It’s like his whole life was an art piece.  But was it all an act?  Or was it really him?  It’s hard to say, at least for me since I only have what other people have said to go on, and can’t observe first hand.  I’ve been reading I’ll Be Your Mirror which is a collection of Warhol interviews.  The ones done with his friends are best, but they’re all interesting.  Everyone wants to make him into some interview genius, but I’m not sure that’s the case.  He certainly knew how to make things interesting, but was he really a genius interviewee, or just an introverted person who got the spotlight turned on him?  I don’t know.

            I’ve also been looking through the book Andy Warhol’s Time Capsule 21.  Apparently he started just putting stuff in cardboard boxes and then sealing them up when they were full.  I suppose today he might be called a hoarder.  There’s also his almost obsession with recording people.  In a way I think he really foresaw reality TV.  People made fun of his films of someone just sleeping for 8 hours, or eating a mushroom, but is that really all that different than some of the stuff on the air these days?  He did say that in the future everyone would be world famous for 15 minutes.  And now with reality TV and the internet, everyone really can.

            I think it’s a shame that Andy died before computers and things like Photoshop really took off.  I think he could have loved it.  It’s as close to being a machine as you can get.  Compared to things like silkscreens and other human made prints that always turn out slightly different than the one before, there isn’t any human error (at least not any that can’t be fixed).  I think he would have loved digital recording and being able to keep so much in such a little space. 

            Perhaps I haven’t adequately explained why I like Warhol so much.  But then again, I’m not entirely sure myself.  So this will have to do for now.