Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Women and Children First: The Importance of Gender and Military Families in the Cold War Era

In 1898, America embarked on its imperial project as it engaged a struggling colonial Spain in Cuba and the Philippines. As one government official opined, “It was a splendid little war.” Of course, the brutal war waged by the U.S. in the Philippines and the occupation of the archipelago by U.S. forces required some justification, as did nearly all other foreign policy adventures of the twentieth century. The tragedy of World War II only magnified America’s international presence. If a world power in 1898, by the 1950s America stood as one of two superpowers.

People commonly think of foreign policy resting on the strength of military exploits, yet few would deny the importance of diplomacy in expanding U.S. interests. Though Chairman Mao’s adage that power flows from the barrel of gun retains significant salience, so too does the saying that “one catches more bees with honey than vinegar.” Frequently, observers imbue a nation’s military prowess with a masculine orientation. Under this rubric some have suggested that the more nuanced approaches of diplomats provide the other leg upon which foreign policy rests. However, the protection of a nation’s perceived interests depends on more than the strength of military or the silver tongues of elites. In the Cold War epoch, U.S. diplomacy featured a gendered notion of expansion that utilized American women and children in the justification of American occupation. More to the point, in Unofficial Ambassadors: American Military Families Overseas and the Cold War, 1946-1965, Alvah addresses both the gendering of aspects of foreign policy while also emphasizing the role of women and children in advancing U.S. interests.

The Power of Domesticity and Consumerism Abroad

During the Cold War, the U.S. armed forces expanded their presence abroad which brought new realities to military life. The need for a standing army required the deployment of hundreds of thousands of troops overseas from Turkey to Okinawa to West Germany. Complaints regarding separated families and low morale led officials to allow many families tied to military personnel to live abroad. Beginning in 1946, following Dwight Eisenhower’s appeal to military leaders that wives and dependents be allowed to join husbands and fathers, the U.S. military began the process of implementing the new policy. However, ideas about military families were not simply about the families themselves. Instead, the decision to send families abroad stemmed from fears over immorality, race, and the role of domesticity in fighting communism. (26) Assertions that the presence of families could help deal with difficulties caused by rapid demobilization, low morale, poor discipline, and liaisons with local women bolstered arguments for sending families abroad. Such arguments would have resonated with Americans who believed that stable family life would help cure the ills – dislocation, low spirits, crime, and the disruption of overseas communities – caused by war.” (26)

Alvah focuses on the role that military domesticities played in spreading American ideals and ideology. Earlier writers such as Charlotte Wolf (Garrison Community: A Study of an Overseas Military Colony, 1969), Maria Höhn (G.I.'s and Frauleins: The German American Encounter in 1950s West Germany), Petra Goedde (G.I.'s and Germans: Culture, Gender, and Foreign Relations, 1945 - 1949), and American military wife Martha Gravois provide the foundation upon which Alvah builds. Hohn and Goedde, who explored informal social relations between American service personnel and Germans, notably women and children, relate most directly to Alvah’s research. In Cold War military families, Alvah sees a force for securing American interests. Both military officials and many families envisioned an ambassadorial role for wives and dependents. Alvah notes, “Military family members – wives, children, and servicemen as husbands and fathers – were expected to contribute to the ideological rivalry with communism by representing what Americans considered the best aspects of their way of life.” (Alvah, 7) Moreover, the need for a standing army and the demand for familial accompaniment coincided with the belief in the nuclear family as a source of stability, order, and opposition to communist influence. Referencing Elaine Tyler May’s Homeward Bound, Alvah suggests the nuclear family now served as bulwark against Soviet advance.

Unlike Wolf, a sociologist who examined military communities in Turkey, Alvah’s attention rests squarely on the experience of military families in Okinawa and West Germany. Though the relations between service personnel, their families, and the local communities differed between Asia and Europe, both sites experienced serious housing shortages. While some enjoyed larger accommodations than they had known stateside, the housing many families did secure lacked the amenities of the suburban image promoted by American culture at the time. For example into the late 1940s, families in Okinawa “resided in poorly constructed and unattractive housing,” Alvah notes. Of course, even these wives and dependents lived in housing better than their counterparts in occupied nations.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

“Is that the End?”: The Holiday Marathon as a Medium

Around Christmas, television networks trot out the tried-and-true. In a culture obsessed with novelty (which is to say, innovation), the quaint charm of products like A Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and A Christmas Story reassures viewers about the continued relevance of old times and values that (seem to) know no time or place. Networks have taken to airing the same film over and over in a 24 hour block, so the story can be seen any time and becomes part of the soft background for family chatter and potato peeling and last minute gift wrapping, punctuated by the occasional eruption of laughter at a notably funny scene.

For the less conventional, there is a Star Wars marathon; some years ago TNT did its solid weeklong block of James Bond films around Christmas vacation; and The Blues Brothers has been on a loop at my family’s house. But nothing compares to A Christmas Story as a perfect televisual wallpaper for the holidays. The film makes no explicit reference to religion that I can recall, and instead celebrates Christmas as a “cornucopia quivering with desire and the ecstasy of unbridled avarice.” The film is above all about desire, and the immortal struggles between adults and children, women and men over material rewards – Dad’s lust for turkey and indecent lamps, little brother’s yearning for a zeppelin, and of course Ralphie’s quest for a Red Ryder BB gun. In the shorthand by which so many famous and perennial texts become known, one family member remarked upon arriving at our house, “Is that the one about the BB gun?” Christmas is known by consumerist clues.

Christmas spirit

The film becomes part of an endless cycle during which people drop in and out at various points, knowing each of the scenes but forgetting the order they go in. Sequence is irrelevant. The films are a series of setpieces that could be arranged in almost any order. At times, attention coalesces around the end of the story, as viewers focus in on Ralphie finally getting his BB gun and the family losing their turkey to the Bumpuses’ dogs in a torrent of classic mishaps. This nonlinear, open-ended quality of the text suggests an eternal flow – Ralphie will always want a BB gun, misunderstanding adults will always attempt to dissuade, and the story will always reset – not unlike the pageant of family life that recreates itself year after year, about which people are keen to reflect at Christmas time.

In the case of A Christmas Story, the humor transcends time and place by locating Ralphie’s adventures in a vague but instantly recognizable Midwest – ostensibly of the early 1940s, though people who grew up in the Thirties, Fifties or Sixties can all see part of their childhood experience on the screen. There is a world-conquering desire for simple gifts like footballs and bowling balls, the pairing of an irascible but gentle working dad and nurturing stay-at-home mom, and the (for some viewers) reassuring homogeneity of an old white Indiana. The odd inclusion of electronic, motorized toys in a shop window suggests a post-WWII setting, while the kids’ enthusiasm for radio shows makes it clear that this is the pre-TV era. “Only one thing in the world could’ve dragged me away from the soft glow of electric sex gleaming in the window,” the narrator recalls, speaking both of his father’s fishnet mannequin leg lamp and the Little Orphan Annie radio serial.

A Christmas Story takes place in a universalized, imagined past in which the machinations of mothers, fathers, teachers, students, bullies, toadies and victims can play out. The struggles between these characters exist outside of time and, for this reason, can be taken by viewers as small tableaux of human folly over the ages, with no need to be constrained by the discrete confines of a film with a beginning or end or the demands of a tightly plotted narrative.

Cable networks have made this festival of recurring imagery possible; in some way, the endless loop of the Griswolds or the Parkers is not too different from the channel that just plays the image of a burning fireplace twenty-four hours a day. The TV can furnish a fireside just as well as it can supply interchangeable scenes of boyhood scheming in Hohman, Indiana. Whereas the broadcast networks began the practice of annually airing The Wizard of Oz and other chestnuts back in the 1950s, TBS and the like have gone further. They use their programming schedule to create a new kind of viewing that treats a narrative as incidental to the viewers’ attention. We all start watching when Ralphie loses it and unloads on the local bully, in a triumph of vicarious revenge that all can relish – and then the film fades again into the background.  At various times during the day, one person or another says, "This is my favorite part!"

That magic moment

Scholars such as Raymond Williams have discussed how new media have introduced new ways of organizing information, as when newspapers began to provide a fragmented arrangement of stories, advertisements, and headlines that a reader could move through at their leisure, quite unlike the linear organization of a novel or epic poem. TV provides a similar sort of disjointed experience, since viewers tune in and out depending on the topic of a news segment or the coming and going of commercials. The holiday marathon turns a simple, 90-minute family film into an indeterminate, endless text like television itself, which serves as a moving backdrop for family life, randomly accessible by viewers as clips on YouTube or quotes on are. One can even see A Christmas Story as akin to internet radio stations that specialize entirely in Prince or Phish or any other artist, proposing that if X is what you want, you can have X all the time. Any text can become a nonstop product, ready to be noticed or unnoticed at will. Cable and the internet offer a relative lack of limitation that makes a film potentially infinite – part of the ambiance of a holiday gathering and occasionally consciously watched, in whatever order suits the moment, much like music. 

mondegreen Alex Cummings

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Dreaming of a Nonwhite Christmas: Themes of Diversity in "Rudolph" and "Community"

So it’s the holiday season. While in America numerous faiths occupy public and private spaces, there is no doubt that at this time of year the premiere Christian holiday of Christmas runs riot over all others. It is equally well-known, though, that much American celebration of Christmas is not particularly religious in nature -- there is the national obsession with shopping and eating amid dreams of general self-indulgence, like the dancing gumdrops of “The Night Before Christmas.” Religious conservatives have implored Americans to “put Christ back in Christmas,” while Bill O'Reilly and the American Family Association have bemoaned a plot to replace references to Christmas with bland, secular pronouncements of Happy Holidays (the so-called “War on Christmas”).

Anti-Christian conspiracies aside, American culture has long made the holiday as much about values of giving and receiving and family togetherness than about any narrowly sectarian meaning. Christmas has even been mobilized to advance other social messages, as a number of TV classics reveal. “Look, Charlie, let’s face it,” a cynical Lucy Van Pelt said in a 1965 special. “We all know that Christmas is a big commercial racket. It’s run by a big eastern syndicate, you know.” While A Charlie Brown Christmas was more Christian in character than many other holiday programs, the classic Peanuts spirit of weariness with selfishness and commercialism shines through the most.

Similarly, the 1964 special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, directed by Kizo Nagashima, uses Christmas as a vehicle for a gentle social critique. The claymation classic advances an awkward but sweet message that non-conformity and difference should not only be respected but also harnessed to achieve great things. Undoubtedly, the movie probably exaggerates personalities and situations to convey the point to young children. So let’s have some fun with it.

Bad Santa

From the outset, Rudolph’s father Donner responds poorly to the brightly lit nose his son has been given. When Rudolph’s mother comments that they’ll just have to overlook Rudolph’s nose, Donner responds, “How can we overlook that?” Donner’s famous solution? He basically outfits Rudolph with a dark clown nose that makes him sound perpetually congested. Despite Rudolph’s protestations, Donner responds, “You’ll like it and wear it. There are more important things than comfort, like self respect.”  

Meanwhile, Santa is stressed. He’s underweight. As Mrs. Claus comments, “Who ever heard of thin Santa?” He’s irritable when the elves put on a performance for him, seeming uninterested and unimpressed. At reindeer training, despite Rudolph’s impressive skills, Santa chastises Donner and announces Rudolph unfit for service. “Donner you should be ashamed of yourself,” Santa says, scolding the reindeer for his freakish son. That Rudolph excelled did not matter because he looked different – clearly a violation of the Civil Rights Act passed the same year that Rudolph first aired. Even the father of Rudolph’s love interest Clarise declares his opposition to their love: “No doe of mine is going to be seen with a red nosed reindeer.”

Elf Hermey has also been rejected by his peers for failing to fit in. Unlike Rudolph, his nonconformity is not physical in nature – Hermey simply wants to defy elf tradition by becoming a dentist. Reindeer have black noses and elves build toys. The two outcasts unite, later joining forces with notorious ginger Yukon Cornelius, a prospector for silver and gold. Of course, the trio find its way to the Island of Misfit Toys, where a misbegotten Jack-in-the-box named Charley, a spotted elephant and other surreal characters live, overseen by a griffin-like king named Moonraiser who implores Hermey and Rudolph to help find homes for the rejected toys. 

Rudolph’s visit to the Island of Misfit Toys raises questions about what the story is really all about. It is, of course, about overcoming prejudice and valuing differences. All these misfits try to cope with their difference by running away and, in some cases, forming a sort of alternative society. “I don’t need anybody, I’m independent,” Hermey says at first. Immediately, though, he asks Rudolph if he wants to “be independent together.” The “homeless” toys, meanwhile, like having a place to stay on the island, but they long to be wanted by children; each other’s company does not seem to be adequate. “A toy is never truly happy until it is loved by a child,” King Moonraiser says. The toys want to be accepted, to be useful, to be loved. This “toy ideology” has been promoted most recently in the Toy Story series, which connected toys’ materialistic existence to a more profound discussion of memory, companionship, and the inevitability of age. This humanizing of toys, imbued with feelings of attachment and loss, seems to stem from earlier cultural productions like Rudolph or its proto tragic version in 1922’s The Velveteen Rabbit.

Ultimately, all of the characters are not redeemed until they return to mainstream society and find their place. Rudolph’s contribution to saving Christmas is well known. Hermey’s peculiar career ambition comes in handy when he removes the Abominable Snowman’s teeth, preventing him from eating the heroes. Even Snowman is rehabilitated; as Cornelius declares, he just wants a job, and his height is put to use hanging stars on Christmas trees. “Maybe misfits have a place too,” narrator Burl Ives says.

In a sense, though, Christmas is still the “most wonderful time in the year” because of pleasure -- toys, food, family, and fun. Tellingly, Yukon Cornelius spent most of the story hunting for silver and gold, hacking at the ground with his pickaxe and tasting the blade to see if he had struck a deposit. During Ives’ “Silver and Gold” number, a character tries to bite into a chunk of gold and finds it inedible. At the end of the story, Cornelius is delighted to have struck a payload of peppermint. The immediate, corporeal, sensuous delights of Christmas seem to outweigh the merely pecuniary -- Christmas is a time for earthly delights and sparkling things.

Claymating Christmas in the Multicultural Era

A recent episode of Community titled “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” took the old claymation format and updated it for our cynical modern mindsets. The entire episode unfolds as a clear manifestation of Abed’s distorted world view. He envisions ex-professor Senor Chang as a talking snowman, representative of the Ives-voiced narrator from the 1964 movie. Their interaction is not quite so benign, as Chang reacts to Abed’s discomforting behavior: “I’m not a snow man, I’m Chang. What’s wrong with you?” The episode exaggerates the attempts by public institutions to avoid favoring any religion, as one official announces to students, “Your school acknowledges no specialness to this time of year,” designating “holiday zones” around the school for one’s particular faith. Abed, who is Muslim, wants to know the meaning of Christmas, not unlike Charlie Brown in the 1965 special. A scheming psychology professor played by John Oliver tricks Abed into a therapy session, which leads the cast of characters go to Planet Abed, the “most Christmasy planet in the universe.” As in Rudolph, a good portion of Christmas is olfactory and gastronomic; the atmosphere on Planet Abed is “75% cinnamon.”

Monday, December 20, 2010

On the Importance of Catching Deviates at the Bus Station

With the recent repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell in mind, we pulled this article out of our Annals of Insanity folder.  Published in the Los Angeles Times on December 29th, 1965 -- almost exactly 45 years ago -- the news item reports on a controversial program of the Tallahassee police force to use college students to inform on gay men.  For weeks before the report, Tallahasseans had heard rumors of a police program to employ students as spies on local "deviates."  The police chief, Frank Stoutamire, confirmed reports, saying that students were paid $10 a piece and worked in "teams" of two or three, mostly around the city's bus station -- "a popular hangout for homosexuals," according to the paper.

University officials were not pleased.  While the dean of students at Florida State acknowledged that stopping homosexuality was of prime social importance, he objected to police methods.  "As great as the need may be to expose sexual deviates, the procedure of involving college students in the process seems altogether wrong," Dr. Harry Day said.  "It is hoped this practice will not be continued."  The chairman of the university's board of regents said the university should approve any police work that students might be hired to do.

Police responded that the tactics were necessary if law enforcement were to "apprehend homosexuals who prey on young people."  The informants never deliberately entrapped the deviates, of course, but instead waited for the suspects to approach them with "a firm offer to commit an obscene act."  The police promised that informers are mostly over the age of 20, and "mature, sound, trustworthy youths."  In fact, they didn't get paid unless the suspect they informed on was ultimately convicted; being paid on commission, informers had an incentive for accuracy.

"Ten arrests have been made in the past three months," the Times reported.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Nation of Consumer Republics: Suburbanization, Media, and Cultural Production in Postwar America

When reflecting on postwar American prosperity, many scholars have celebrated government enacted programs such as the G.I. Bill for creating social mobility and spurring the expansion of homeownership among Americans. The idea that a rising tide raises all boats held sway over conceptions of how Americans internalized their citizenship. The postwar shift in which terms like consumer and citizen grew to be interchangeable created both opportunities for expanding rights and access to resources, while also foreclosing them in regard to specific communities. For example, Black Power advocates who emphasized a self-help, business oriented, consumerist nationalism did create space for their marginalized constituency but did so in a way that embedded their movement within the mass consumption ethos of the postwar period. However, economic individuation and market segmentation functioned to reduce people and communities to market variants, separated and divided along demographic lines.

The emergence of the citizen-consumer as a public ideal has reverberated widely within American media and culture. Works by Lisa Lowe, Glen Mimura, Eric Avila, Lizabeth Cohen, Ben Bagdikian, Ed Herman, and Noam Chomsky explore this tension in numerous ways and venues from the postwar mass media to contemporary Asian American literature. Ultimately, the consumer citizen identity reshaped peoples’ relation to each other, the government, and the cultural productions of the post WWII era.

In A Consumer’s Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America (2003), Lizabeth Cohen argues that the desire to create a consumptive middle class was achieved through an appeal to a “middle class consciousness of aspiring consumers over the working class consciousness celebrated by a militant labor movement during the 1930s and World War II.” In this context, the G.I. Bill and VA home loans were meant to encourage social mobility through suburbanization. To some extent this occurred as Cohen points out that 42% of all returning veterans became homeowners. However, Cohen suggests problems emerged out of this development: first, by making the house a site of capital accumulation. Property values emerged as the overarching concern of nearly all homeowners as Cohen suggests that the source of egalitarian hopes – suburbia and mass consumption – “made market concerns paramount in decisions about how and where one lived.” The home became “a mass consumer commodity”, appraised and traded unemotionally in the name of “property values.” This had two primary effects:

  1. the commodification of the home, out of the socioeconomic hierarchy of communities, intensified localism
  2. the inequalities of postwar America expanded past housing into public services that had been paid for by municipal governments.

Control over zoning and education remained under the purview of local officials. Thus, localism undermined central authority. Cohen notes that one might assume federal postwar expenditures might imbue faith in the central government’ but did not in “large part to the impact of postwar suburbanization and mass home ownership.”

Second, Cohen argues the G.I. Bill privileged white male veterans and the formation of patriarchal domesticities. If the Office of Price Administration had influenced gender norms in the 1930s and 1940s, empowering women to occupy central positions as protectors of the public interest through consumerism, postwar policies undermined this development. For example, the aforementioned G.I. Bill disproportionately gave “men access to career training, property ownership, capital, and credit, as well as control over family finances, making them the embodiment of the postwar ideal of purchasers as citizen and limiting wives’ claim to full economic and social citizenship.” Moreover, fewer individuals climbed from the working class to the middle class via the bill. Instead, the bill tended to reinforce class patterns that enabled many already middle class veterans to attend college, while their working class counterparts found the G.I. Bill less applicable in regard to vocational training. Obviously, race intervened as Black veterans' benefits failed to match those of their white peers. Women found their educational opportunities constricted as many colleges, universities, and professional schools limited or eliminated female applicants in favor of returning veterans. If the G.I. Bill privileged some groups over others, the tax code in the late 1940s was altered in ways the “reinforced the G.I. Bill in favoring the traditional male breadwinner headed family and the male citizen over the female within it.” In this way, the consumer republic privileged the nuclear family, forcing women to remain financially dependent on men, while limiting some communities access to the very market based freedoms such republics promised.

Of the many ways the consumer republic reshaped America, perhaps one of the most prominent was a marked shift toward suburbanization. However, as Cohen points out, the suburbs remained closed to numerous groups and individuals. As demographics changed, whites attempted to construct a “white suburban” imaginary to prevent what many saw as the excesses of a dark or racialized city. Few regions represent this shift as clearly as Southern California, and within Southern California few metropolitan areas illustrate this development as clearly as Los Angeles. Eric Avila’s Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight: Fear and Fantasy in Suburban Los Angeles explores the construction of a “privatized, consumer oriented subjectivity premised upon patriarchy, whiteness and suburban home ownership.” As government policies attempted to reconstruct American identities along consumerist lines, white suburbanites attempted to build a “classless” ideal that separated them from the “darkened” inner city. For example, the postwar decline of neighborhoods like Boyle Heights and Watts, a decline due in great part to HOLC/FHA policies, and the rise of suburban enclaves like South Gate meant suburban residents hoped to differentiate themselves from the evils of urban living. Thus, as “the expansion of suburban California provided a mythic space for the construction of a new ‘white city,’” Bunker Hill, Boyle Heights, and Watts provided convenient straw men for the emerging “cinematic vision of a black and alien Los Angeles.” Here Avila juxtaposes the portrayal of the inner city in Los Angeles film noir with the rise of Disneyland, each representing an idealized/demonized version of metropolitan regions.

If film noir highlighted the threats of a city inhabited by untrustworthy women and non-white citizens densely and dangerously packed into urban spaces, Disneyland symbolized the epitome of decentralized, privatized white suburbia, functioning to provide “a space where white Southern Californians could affirm their whiteness against a set of racial stereotypes.” While writers such as Matt Lassiter have argued for an end to division in scholarship between the surburbs and cities, Avila seems to have addressed this relation in the negative. For Avila, in many ways like a post war American Orientalism, the “vanilla suburbs’” identity depended on the symbolic “chocolate city” as the “other.” Similarly, Lisa McGir’s Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right explored Orange County’s middle and upper class residents’ contributions to the construction of the conservative ideology that fueled the Reagan Revolution, while Avila credits Disneyland for cradling this “racialized conservatism that informed the nascent political struggles of the New Right,” providing a popular culture touchstone for a burgeoning social movement.

Though Disneyland and L.A. film noir represent one strand of popular culture, the news media serves as another. In addition to suburban spatialization and racialization, the rise of the consumer republic reshaped news organizations as capitalization shifted media towards more entertainment based news programs while shrinking the number of independently owned media outlets such that by the twenty first century five corporations owned nearly all global media. Originally published in 1983, Ben Bagdikian’s The Media Monopoly asserts that the capitalization of the media serves to consolidate its ownership while diminishing its informational saliency. Bagdikian’s work served as a harbinger of things to come. Later critics built on Bagdikian’s work, arguing that the nightly newscasts and cable news outlets now offered a product more akin to what Bagdikian refers to as “infotainment.”  One might suggest that this move toward infotainment increased the relevance of cultural productions as they creep into newscasts, providing some level of legitimacy to the viewing public. In many cases, this was an unfortunate development.

Bagdikian’s updated book, entitled The New Media Monopoly attempts to insert his 1983 offering into the context of the past 25 years. The narrowing ownership of the big five media firms results in unprecedented “communications power” that exceeds even history’s greatest dictatorships. Though careful not to draw direct causality, Bagdikian suggests this shrinking distribution of media ownership may have contributed to rightward political shifts that frame formerly liberal political positions as fire breathing radicalism. Going further, Bagdikian notes that news now reflects stories that interest ownership, often the kind of pieces that increase viewership and ad sales. Unfortunately, this means that issues important to the people are obscured and the neutral tone of “modern news” reifies issues rather than interrogating them. Even worse, Bagdikian expects ownership to impose its views: “Editorially, corporate causes almost invariably become news media causes.”

Like Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky, Bagdikian points out that before one takes issue with the news itself, he/she must look at what “is chosen or not chosen – for print or broadcast. Media politics are reflected in the selection of commentators and talk show hosts.” Manufacturing Consent drew similar conclusions pointing out that government and corporate sources were privileged over others. This resulted in news reports/articles that fundamentally reflected the views of those institutions. In the 1980s, this meant media sources that parroted the neoliberalism of Ronald Reagan and conservatives who arose out of Avila’s all too real “suburban imaginary.”

Five years after Bagdikian’s 1983 work, Herman and Chomsky published the aforementioned Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. If The Media Monopoly provided a concise opening discussion on problems in the media, Manufacturing Consent organized its ideas into a theory suggesting the media functioned in relation to five filters that determined its content. Many of these filters appear in The New Media Monopoly but not with the same formal theoretical structure:

  1. The size and ownership of media outlets
  2. Advertising’s influence
  3. Sourcing
  4. Flak and enforcers – outside pressure and lobbyist groups
  5. Anti-communism
Of course, the fifth filter could probably today be replaced with anti-terrorism. Manufacturing Consent then applies this five-layered filter to several cases in Central American, Indochina, and Eastern Europe.

Obviously, both works explore the corporate/government dominance of media but one particular example from The Media Monopoly proves useful, as Bagdikian explores the ramifications of The New Yorker's 1967 decision to oppose the Vietnam War. The New Yorker proves useful as a example of another development, market segmentation. As Bagdikian notes, post-1967 New Yorker circulation rose but the average age of readers fell from 48 years to 34, meaning more college and high school students had gravitated to the magazine for its anti-war writing.

Cohen’s A Consumers’ Republic addressed the issue of segmentation, or the practice by advertisers to segment products and market them to specific demographic groups. While some argue this made life more democratic, Cohen suggests otherwise: “What resulted was a new commercial culture that reified – at times exaggerated – social difference in the pursuit of profits, often reincorporating disaffected groups into the commercial marketplace.” By the 1980s, class segmentation in marketing expanded as advertisers targeted the upper middle class and upper classes as a new market unto themselves. Clearly, Cohen views such developments negatively, arguing that when marketers abandoned the mass, they contributed to individual stratification as well.  “Individuals soon learned that their own good fortunes as homeowners, shoppers, and voters depended on identifying with special interest constituencies with clout – for example, localistically minded suburbanites, Yuppies, African Americans, senior citizens or gun owners,” Cohen says.  Though news sources may have proliferated, the audience segments along the lines Cohen points out. The kind of news people pursue increasingly seems to be the news they want to hear. In this context, Fox News and its liberal counterpart MSNBC would seem to be two sides of the same coin.

If Eric Avila’s exploration of popular culture helped historians excavate gendered, racial, and class influenced spatializations and imaginaries, Lisa Lowe and Glenn Mimura further his efforts employing Asian American cultural production to question the kind of normatives Cohen’s consumer republic promoted.

Published in 1997, Lisa Lowe’s Immigrant Acts privileges Asian American cultural production as a key site from which to questions ideas about citizenship, democracy, capitalism, and multiculturalism. Like Avila, she locates an American Orientalism at work in Los Angeles cultural productions. For example, Lowe argues that the movie Blade Runner characterizes the city’s diversity as a “third world” metropolis created by “a largely Asian invasion” thus, rearticulating “orientalist typographies in order to construct the white citizen against the background of a multicultural dystopia.” In a second example, Lowe deconstructs the documentary “Sa-I-Gu,” which explores the observations and experiences of Korean American women during the Los Angeles Riots, to disrupt the “linear, developmental narrative that seeks to assimilate ethnic immigrants into the capitalist economy.” Lowe points out that the interviews challenge the uniformity of the Korean American community, the same uniformity upon which a “classless” white suburbia rested. Immigrant Acts fundamentally questions the consumerist identity constructed by government policies in Cohen’s Consumers’ Republic and the white suburban imaginary of Los Angeles’ postwar popular culture.

Glen Mimura’s Ghostlife of Third Cinema: Asian American Film and Video (2009) builds on Lowe’s observations while sharing her distrust of post war American democracy, capitalism, and multiculturalism. Both authors view multiculturalism negatively suggesting that it substitutes aesthetic equality for true material and political equivalents. Lowe and Mimura argue multiculturalism symbolically embraces Asian Americans culturally while failing to address the social, economic, and political “material exclusion” imposed on them. Or as Lowe suggests, it masks “exclusions by recuperating dissent, conflict, and otherness through the promise of inclusion.” In this way, Mimura and Lowe support Cohen’s conclusions regarding the consumer identity, though it articulated a classless/raceless existence, minorities did not have equal access to markets, wages, and housing.

Spectrality haunts Asian American representation and identity. Accordingly, Asian American “symbolic racialization … disappear[s] ghostlike, in public cultural and national political discourses, only to reappear as 'strangers' or perpetual foreigners – that is symbolically out of place and outside of history.” Attempts by Asian Americans at claiming “political or cultural subjecthood” result in reactions of “disbelief, skepticism, disavowal,” responses not unlike those of a “scientific, rational, secular society to the presence of ghosts, and the fantastic more generally.” The emergence of ghosts threatens the normal historical consciousness, thus, undermining the idea that modern history remains stable, progressive and linear. 

Moreover, Lowe argues that Asian American identity remains connected to U.S. military adventures in the Pacific and Far East. The presence of Koreans, Vietnamese, and Filipinos disavow the linear, developmental, anti-imperial history of the US domestically and abroad. Forced to “forget” Asian wars while adopting national tropes constructing the US as a benevolent international force opposed to colonizing projects, the “political fiction of equal rights” falls into question. As Lowe comments, “the 'past' that is grasped as memory is, however, not a naturalized, factual past for the relation to that past is always broken by war, occupation, and displacement. Asian American culture 're-members' the past in and through the fragmentation, loss, and dispersal that constitutes the past.” Thus, Asian American culture critiques the nation state. It occupies other spaces altering national terrain, which then reconceptualizes narratives and historiographies, establishing techniques that birth “new forms of subjectivity and new ways of questioning the government of human life by the nation state.”

Here Lowe and Mimura illustrate clear connections to Bagdikian, Herman, and Chomsky. The mass media’s coverage of international issues undermines the public’s understanding of foreign affairs and the United States' place within them. Such coverage often lacks any real grasp of American actions, the policies themselves, and the effects of these policies on other nations. In the wake of 9/11, Bagdikian traces the numerous examples of media culpability in failing to report the actual ground effects of US foreign policies, citing examples from the exploits of the United Fruit Company in Central America to C.I.A. skullduggery in Guatemala and Chile. Even worse, in revisiting such stories Bagdikian points out that “the Times and other American major news media repeatedly failed to mention that Pinochet had been directed in his crimes by U.S. agents and had been supported by Washington during his long bloody, regime.” Again, Chomsky’s work complements and often reinforces Bagdikian’s. For example, regarding the Guatemala episode, Chomsky illustrates how the media, in the context of the Cold War, privileged certain political actors suggesting that the coverage given to Eastern European dissidents led to a suspicious silence concerning the atrocities committed by the Guatemalan government. Relatedly, Lowe and Mimura suggest similar episodes regarding coverage of American military efforts in Vietnam, Korea, and Japan. 

To be fair however, the anti-communism hysteria of mid-century America may have led to favorable coverage of United States efforts in Asia. This reinforced the very otherness Lowe and Mimura point out, while reiterating typical Cold War tropes about democracy, capitalism, and freedom. Still, a strain of American Orientalism emerges as well. Media portrayals of Korea, Japan, and Vietnam ignore histories previous to United States interventions. Thus, as Mimura, Lowe and others note, residents appear outside history, while obscuring the reasons and affects of American interventions.

Postwar government domestic policies contributed to the development of a consumerist identity that promoted mass consumption over production. Unions and others oriented themselves within similar alignments as HOLC/FHA policies, the G.I. Bill, and VA home loans contributed to suburban spatializations that promoted a gendered household and residential segregation along both class and racial lines, despite the rhetoric of a “classless” surburbia. As these policies/legislation unfolded, popular culture envisioned a symbolic divide between city and suburb, marketed through postwar amusement parks like Disneyland that promoted a decentralized, private, white suburban ideal that defined itself in opposition to the other of the “darkened” racialized city as represented in film. As advertisers and political operatives adopted the methods of market segmentation, these differences became exaggerated both in cultural production and broader media. A postwar American Orientalism emerged defining non-whites and urban areas as the “other.” Mass media reflected these developments as the profit motive overtook the civic responsibility aspects of news. Corporate consolidation pursued market segmentation and sensationalism at the expense of informational accuracy.

As the century entered its last decades embroiled in “identity politics” knife fighting (and the New Right practiced this as much as any other group; see Matthew Lassiter or Lisa McGir for examples), such news coverage only reified difference. This reification can clearly be seen through the site of Asian American cultural production, which questioned many of the underlying principles of the consumers’ republic. Moreover, media coverage of Asian Americans and American military adventures in the Pacific and beyond expanded the modern orientalist bias, as often entire peoples' histories were leveled as American tropes about democracy, freedom, and capitalism obscured all other factors. Thus, Asian people and their nation’s appeared outside of time, only relevant when cold war conflicts came to fore. For Asian American, this fractured their own identities and histories while encouraging their persistent presence in American culture as foreigners. A nation of consumers segmented along such demographic lines remains less a nation than a collection of overlapping memberships whose legitimacy in relation to each other rests too heavily on market based dynamics.

Ryan Reft

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Alex P. Keaton and the Dawn of the Adderall Age

Speed, it seems, is a part of everyday life. Much as Americans did when faced with the telegraph in the 1840s, or Future Shock in the 1970s, people oft remark that everything seems to be happening faster, changing more rapidly than ever before. This time around, maybe amphetamines have something to do with it. Barely a day goes by without someone commenting on the dangers of overmedicating our kids, giving restless nine year olds any number of addictive stimulants to get them to sit down and shut up. The New Yorker has written worryingly of “neuroenhancers,” which permit college students, like athletes on steroids, to bolster their performance by studying longer and better than their peers. Even the Hold Steady touched on the trend with their terrific song, “Ask Her for Adderall.” 

So I was surprised to catch a relatively early portrayal of “neural enhancement” in a 1983 episode of Family Ties. The sitcom gave us one of the worst TV theme songs of all time, but it also consciously exemplified the age, as symbolic of the 1980s as Cheers or The Cosby Show. The show starred Michael J. Fox as an ambitious, greedy young Republican, brother to a ditzy shopaholic sister, Mallory, and son of aging boomers. TV lore tells us that Family Ties was originally meant to center on the liberal parents, played by Meredith Baxter and Michael Gross, showing how 1960s refugees dealt with raising a family in the Reagan Era. The formula was to be “hip parents, square kids,” but test audiences warmed much more to the conservative offspring; producers decided to shift the focus of the show toward the antics of Alex P. Keaton.

In the episode “Speed Trap,” Alex is worrying about his big term papers and final exams – being the end of the first semester senior year, these were the last grades that Harvard would see on his transcript before deciding whether to usher the aspiring Rove/Gekko into the halls of power, where he rightly belonged. Given the pressure, Alex is little interested in watching the PBS special produced by his loser dad. He is, however, open to the idea of trying some “diet pills” that Mallory’s obese friend Effy has to offer. They can help you study! All he has to do is whore himself out, promising Effy a date, and break his conservative principles by indulging in drugs – the failing, one suspects, of his parent’s generation, not the Reagan Youth.

After asking his framed photo of Richard Nixon if he would ever do something he knew was wrong if his career depended on it, Alex caves and decides to take the drugs. Later on, Mom invites Alex to a game of Monopoly, which the budding capitalist can’t resist. “Midterms and exams come and go, but the family unit is the one true constant in life!” a suddenly animated Alex says, to the wonderment of his family. Fidgeting restlessly, he asks if the dice are in fine working order, moves people’s pieces around the board and generally reacts overexuberantly, like a junior Alan Greenspan in glee club. When little sis Jennifer wants a do-over, Alex calls it “a sin against capitalism!” He wants to wax and buff the kitchen floor. He installs a skylight. He builds trenches in the backyard, though the reason for that one is never explained.

At first, Alex’s experiment with neural enhancement seems like a success. He writes a brilliant disquisition on “Herbert Hoover, the Lost Savior” for his US government class. “I voted for Roosevelt four times,” a teacher comments on his paper. “Thank you for showing me the error of my ways.” (Of course, the teacher would have to be at least 71 to have voted for FDR in 1932, but the New Deal cast a long shadow.) Things start to come apart, though, when he runs out of pills. Without speed, Alex becomes agitated and angry, railing against “smut” (a television program about human reproduction; Mom, of course, has no problem with her young daughter learning about sex). He begs for more, and on the fateful day of his big test, Alex crashes, sleeps late, freaks out, and rummages through the garbage like a crazed crackhead.

The show aired in 1983, as crack was just beginning to unleash its devastation across America’s cities. If anything, the cultural reference seems more likely to be cocaine, the elite drug of choice in the late 70s and the Reagan Era. Although Ritalin (methylphenidate) had been used to treat ADD/ADHD since the 1960s, this use remained sufficiently limited in the early 1980s not to merit a mention on the show. Indeed, characters describe the medication only as “diet pills.” For Alex P. Keaton, hitting up a psychiatrist does not seem to be an option, and attention deficit disorder is not part of the discussion. “Are you taking amphetamines?” Dad eventually asks. “I know what the stuff does – I used it when I was in school!”

I don’t know if this was part of the script or the director’s intent, but at one point Michael Gross seems to be holding the bottle of pills with a vaguely mischievous look – like he might almost open it, and he and Alex might stay up all night repainting the walls and generally undoing the damage caused by the son’s week of speed-fueled frenzy. It doesn’t happen, though. The wisdom of the liberal ex-hippie parent, as well as his compassionate leniency, helps the young conservative come to terms with his self-destructive drug love. The 1960s (thesis) and 1980s (antithesis) – or is it the other way around? – come together to produce the happy synthesis of a loving, understanding family unit, where Dad can go about his lame liberal ways while helping his pernicious son avoid the mistakes of the past.

At no point, though, do the characters consider that stimulants could legitimately be used to help a student learn or simply function normally. The badness of drugs remains self-evident and uncomplicated here.

Several other TV shows touched on these themes in the years to come, as young characters turned to stimulants to cope with pressures to perform in various ways. Quite unlike Alex P. Keaton, the character of Jessie Spano (Elizabeth Berkley) was Saved by the Bell’s token feminist and outspoken liberal. As a part of the sitcom formula of less-pretty/left-leaning, Jessie was also the most academically ambitious member of the Bayside gang. In the 1990 episode, “Jessie’s Song,” her drive to study longer and harder led her to become dangerously dependent on caffeine pills – in notable contrast to the Family Ties scenario, Jessie did not have to break the law to abuse a controlled substance. Caffeine, concentrated in pill form, could make her work faster and enjoy greater focus – or, at least, greater stamina, as the idea of an “attention deficit” in need of rectification remains unmentioned. Jessie has no deficit; she just wants more attention than she already has. She wants to game the system by cheating the laws of nature and wrecking her body, albeit in an entirely legal fashion.

I'm not an addict

It’s worth noting that Jessie was also pushing herself to sing with the group Hot Fudge Sundae, and she wasn't the only teen plagued by performance anxiety. In a 1994 episode of the teen soap Beverly Hills 90210, everyone is using one expedient or another: Brandon pounds coffee for an “all-weeker” ahead of midterms, Steve prefers a sugar high, and David at first goes for the Cliffs Notes. It’s a small step from skimping on Shakespeare, though, to crystal meth. David begins taking “crank” to cope with multitasking “four finals, two term papers” and his radio show. “Crank is not an everyday drug,” his friend/hook-up warns him. “It will fry your brain!” David claims he just needs it to get through the week (much like Alex P. Keaton), the character’s agitation and desperation suggests otherwise. Once he starts, he can’t stop, even though his friend believes that meth could be used judiciously, without sparking addiction or other adverse consequences.

Since the early 1990s, drugs have become more ubiquitous in pop culture, not just in the usual territory (gangsta rap or punk songs about sniffing glue), but in more tightly censored media such as television. From the constant pot-smoking of the kids on That 70s Show to the embalming fluid joint on Six Feet Under, the portrayal of drug use has become more common and, at times, less alarmist than in Nancy Reagan’s era. Tellingly, Chris Bell’s 2008 documentary Bigger, Stronger, Faster found that the use of stimulants by pilots, who have a clear need for prolonged alertness, was commonly accepted, while the same pilots thought that the use of performance-enhancing drugs by athletes was just wrong. “In sports you should play fair,” a fighter pilot says. “In war, you shouldn’t play fair at all.”

What makes the difference? Is a truck driver taking “gas station speed” different from a student burning through a term paper on Adderall, whether prescribed or borrowed? Truck driving may not be measured like academia and athletics, in the sense that in the latter arenas a meritocracy explicitly confers awards and honors based on performance, but they are both dimensions of an ever-more intense society where success or even survival on the market requires facing ever-escalating pressures from competitors, bosses, and so forth. As Chris Bell’s film asked, “Is it still cheating if everybody’s doing it?”

A pervasive sense of unfairness seems to underlie these portrayals. If I’m going to succeed, I have to do whatever it takes. Hard work is not enough, especially since others have a leg up. As a frustrated Barry Bonds says in the film:
We just need to go out there and do our jobs, just as you professionals do your jobs. No... All you guys lied. All of y'all. In a story or whatever, have lied. Should you have asterisks behind your name? All of you have lied! All of you have said something wrong, all of you have dirt. All of you. When your closet's clean, then come clean somebody else's. But clean yours first.
It is pretty rich for Barry Bonds to play Jesus and demand that those without sin cast the first stone. But he legitimately points to a situation of widespread hypocrisy – “you professionals” may not be subject to the same drug tests, but what if you were?

Such cultural artifacts give us a window into the frenzy of competition, where commonly available chemicals intensify the scramble for advantage. It may be appropriate that Alex P. Keaton, the avatar of Reaganism, signaled the arrival of an anything-goes spirit in the newly unbridled capitalist society of America in the 1980s. At the same time, the notion that legal prescription medication, like the diet pills on Family Ties, could be used for legitimate “neural enhancement” remains verboten, in a sense, despite the fact that many young people have been prescribed to Ritalin or Adderall for much of their lives, and many college students use the drugs legally and illegally.

Did someone say... robots?

The new sitcom Community offers a final morality tale, and one that centers squarely on ADD meds. A character played by Alison Brie was a rising academic star who ultimately lost her college scholarship due to an addiction to pills; dubbed “Adderall Annie,” she was driven by what appears to have been amphetamine psychosis to jump out of a window screaming “Everyone’s a robot.” Her single-minded determination, when combined with the seduction of neural enhancement, reduced her to attending a poorly regarded community college – not the scholastic triumph she had hoped for. Whether Annie came by the Adderall legally or illegally, she still suffered the ill effects of a drug that is expressly meant to bolster a student’s focus and ability to perform.
Shows like Family Ties, Saved by the Bell, and Community tap into a latent desire for equity. Whatever the pressures to succeed, and whatever means may be freely available to beat the other guy, these stories remind audiences that anything-goes can go nowhere fast, as the stimulant user flies too close to the sun and gets burned. Although it seems glaringly obvious that people do use stimulants to get ahead, from Bronx Science to Bayside High, we may want to believe that there’s no free lunch where meritocracy, competition, and brain chemistry are concerned.

Alex Cummings

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Cosmopolitan Tensions: Contradictions in the Theory of Cosmopolitanism

Eminent philosopher Immanuel Kant has long served as a source of confusion and inspiration. Freshman undergrads grapple with his philosophical treatises in humanities classes across the nation. While Kant’s contributions to college coeds’ early philosophical foundations provide one example of his influence, recent work on the issue of cosmopolitanism has excavated his 1795 essay entitled “Perpetual Peace.” In “Perpetual Peace,” Kant suggests that trade, travel, and commerce point toward a future in which war becomes a diminishing factor. Interdependence demands peace. Under this rubric democratic states would avoid war because the need for the public’s consent amplifies the political and economic costs to the state. In non-democratic states, the desire to wage war for personal or national prestige would be reduced. Trade disruptions would affect all, meaning the need to maintain steady economic growth emerges as a primary motive of government. With these aspects acknowledged, hospitality occupies a position of central importance. Kant summarizes the importance of "hospitality":
Hospitality means the right of a stranger not to be treated as an enemy when he arrives in the land of another. One may refuse to receive him when this can be done without causing his destruction; but so long as he peacefully occupies his place, one may not treat him with hostility. It is not the right to be a permanent visitor that one may demand. A special contract of beneficence would be needed in order to give an outsider a right to became a fellow inhabitant for a certain length of time. It is only the right of temporary sojourn, a right to associate, which all men have. They have it by virtue of their common possession of the surface of the earth, where, as a globe, they cannot infinitely disperse and hence must finally tolerate the presence of each other.
Everyone’s favorite deconstructionist, Jacques Derrida, adopted many of Kant’s viewpoints in a series of lectures published in his On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness (2003). Though to be clear, Kant is not the only philosophical influence on cosmopolitanism. Numerous scholars from David Harvey to Seyla Benhabib to Derrida draw from the works of Hannah Arendt. Recalling two general modern “upheavals” that contributed mightily to the discourse of cosmopolitanism Derrida identifies the first as being the creation of hundreds of thousands stateless individuals in the post war period and the denial by states to the right of asylum. Derrida points out that Arendt acknowledged the theoretical difficulties experienced by burgeoning mid century nation states, “’although the right to asylum had continued to exist in a world organized into nation states, and though it had even, in some individual cases, survived two world wars, it is still felt to be an anachronism and a principle incompatible with the international laws of the State.’ At the same time when Arendt was writing this, circa 1950, she identified the absence in international charters of the right to asylum…” (Derrida on Arendt in On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness, 6-7) For Europeans, writes Derrida the “’second ‘ upheaval in Europe was to follow a massive influx of refugees, which necessitated abandoning the classic recourse to repatriation or naturalization.” (Derrida, 7) Thus, the French deconstructionist argued, cities not states pointed the way to the future. First, because of the circumstances found in European metropolises in the late 1990s and early 2000s but also because Derrida and others had given up on the state providing any true leadership, “If we look to the city, rather than to the state, it is because we have given up hope that the state might crate a new image for the city” (Derrida, 6)

Derrida expands on Kant’s observations regarding the role and substance of hospitality. For Derrida, hospitality represents a culture itself rather than one arm of several ethical considerations, as the French thinker argues, “Insofar as it has to do with the ethos, that is, the residence, one’s home, the familiar place of dwelling, inasmuch as it is a manner of being there, the manner in which we relate to ourselves and to others, to others as our own or as foreigners, ethics is hospitality; ethics is so thoroughly coextensive with the experience of hospitality.” (Derrida, 17) Tracing its history back through the middle ages, Derrida suggests cities themselves have long set standards and laws regarding hospitality.

To his credit, Derrida was careful to not present hospitality as without pitfalls. Derrida argued that hospitality and its antithesis, hostility were as Seyla Benhabib articulates, “interlaced”. Even after accepted into a nation or region, there exists spaces of ambivalence, “there is still a gap, a hiatus, between the acceptance of the other through hospitality and the rejection of him/her as one who does not ‘belong’ to us, who is not ‘one’ of us.” When one party has few or no rights, the “liminal condition” of hostility/hospitality is amplified. Furthermore, Derrida argues that in its conditional order, hospitality casts a regressive shadow over the “juridico-political” where “limits are set, boundaries are established and protected with violence; asylees are turned away; refugees are denied entry and aid; citizens are denaturalized.” (Derrida in Benhabib, 157) This raises the question of just how Kant envisioned adjudicating this right. What is the source of its legitimacy? First, Derrida argues Kant’s hospitality remains a right of residence, from which one may, and in fact, should extend the universalism – “the right of visitation” – to others, but the right itself emanates outward from an individual’s claim to local community. This tension between the local and the universal, meaning the fact that the right of universal hospitality emerges from local place based memberships, serves as a recurring problem among even cosmopolitanism’s leading theorists. Additionally, no matter how one defines it, hospitality remains under the purview of the state and the police, providing yet more complexities for cosmopolitanism’s reality.

Though Derrida remains a central figure in the cosmopolitanism debate, others have emerged as more prominent voices. In 2004, cosmopolitan expert Seyla Benhabib delivered a series of lectures that outlined her own vision. Published two years later, Another Cosmopolitanism includes not only Benhabib’s remarks but also critiques by Jeremy Waldron, Bonnie Honig and Will Kymlicka. Benhabib’s talks provide the intellectual grist for Waldron, Honig, and Kymlicka’s responses, thus, her two lectures “The Philosophical Foundations of Cosmopolitan Norms” and “Democratic Iterations: The Local, the National, and the Global” serve as starting points A and B.

From the outset, Benhabib argues that the UN Declaration of Human Rights set
into motion a “global evolution of civil society which is characterized by transition from international to cosmopolitan norms of justice.” (16) These cosmopolitan norms of justice are transferred to the individual rather than states or their various agents. Yet, this transfer rests on international and bilateral human rights agreements, thus the very recognition of each individual as a human and moral agent arises out of treaty like obligations. Benhabib points out that this structure both “sublimate[s]and reinforce[s] [the state’s] authority.” (31) However, in terms of establishing practices of inclusion and exclusion Benhabib points to a second key tension in the debate regarding cosmopolitan norms. The conflict between a discourse of ethics that establishes methods considered morally permissible conflicts with the demands of democratic states which require more closure than such discursive forms of membership offer. Turning to Jurgen Habemas, the author connects the German sociologist’s “janus faced" modern nation to illustrate “the tension between universal human rights claims and particularistic cultural and national identities.” (Benhabib, Another Cosmopolitanism,32) The very universal principles that dictate the actions of democratic states are then “circumscribed “within a particular civic community.” (Benhabib, 32) It is a tension that Benhabib recognizes may not be resolvable, but its impact must be blunted through “renegotiation and reiteration of the dual commitments to human rights and sovereign self determination,” she writes. (35)

Acknowledging this tension within “bounded societies,” Benhabib suggests that Kant’s vision focused on norms that “ought to govern relations among individuals in a global civil society.” (Benhabib, 20) Not limited to moral or legal codes, these norms “[frame] the law” in a global context. Benhabib continues, arguing that “[t]hey signal the eventual legalization and juridification of the rights claims of human beings everywhere, regardless of their membership in bounded communities.” (Benhabib, 20) In this way, hospitality becomes a right of all those claiming membership in a world republic, which Arendt argues makes "crimes against humanity" more than a moral violation. Therefore, such crimes violate “the rights of humanity in our person.” (Benhabib, 22) Hospitality serves as a super glue like substance filling the cracks separating various conceptual rights or as Benhabib notes “[i]t occupies that space between human rights and civil and political rights, between the rights of humanity in our person and the rights that accrue to us insofar as we are citizens of specific republics.” (Benhabib, 22) Kant’s idea of hospitality had no mechanism of enforcement rather its implementation depended on the rulers themselves. After all, states bestowed citizenship on residents, “cosmopolitan citizens still needed their individual republics to be citizens at all.” (24) Still, the right to universal hospitality, in theory, places burdens on the political sovereign since they shoulder the obligation to provide “refuge or asylum.” Benhabib underscores this point, writing that Arendt’s “right to have rights” prevents states from “denaturalizing individuals by denying them citizenship rights and state protection.” (Benhabib,25) Moreover, the post WWII development of international monitors and institutions regarding the human rights record of sovereign nations means that “state sovereignty” no longer functions as the “ultimate arbiter of the fate of its citizens or residents,” writes Benhabib. Popular sovereignty and territorial sovereignty are no longer identical.

So the obvious question arises: how are liberal democracies supposed to negotiate these paradoxes? The decline of “the unitary model of citizenship” (Benhabib claims “the end” of such conceptualizations of citizenship but one might respectfully argue that this goes too far) does not signal an end to its normative power institutionally and popularly. New means of membership require new “forms of political agency and subjectivity” (Benhabib, 47) Here Benhabib turns to the aforementioned Derrida drawing on his conception of “iterations.” Derrida’s iterations serve to “repaint” ideas, concepts, or terms. Each new iteration creates a new variation, transforming and enriching its meaning in numerous ways. Similarly, Benhabib coins the term “democratic iterations” which are “linguistic, legal, cultural, and political repetitions in transformation, invocations that also are revocations. They not only change established understandings but also transform what passes as the valid or established view of an authoritative precedent.” (Benhabib, 48) Through “jurisgenerative politics” democratic peoples may engage in “iterative acts by reappropriating and reinterpreting these, thereby showing [themselves] to be not only the subject but also the author of the laws (Michelman),” notes Benhabib (49). Jurisgenerative politics enables populations to augment meanings attached to rights claims which provides a sense of authorship. Through the deployment of these norms, ordinary people then validate and claim them. (Benhabib, 49) In its most perfect form, jurisgenerative politics “are cases of legal and political contestation in which the meaning of rights and other fundamental principles,” argues Benhabib, “are reposited, resignified, and reappropriated by new and excluded groups, or by the citizenry in the face of new and unprecedented hermeneutic challenges and meaning constellations.” (Benhabib, 70)

If we cannot all agree on the extent of the power of the nation state, we can agree that the intervention of new technologies, labor flows, capital investment, and several other factors have altered how citizenship is understood. Long stuck in the binary structure that placed national in opposition to foreigner or citizens to migrants, new spaces of membership need to be created. Complicating this binary is the fact that many migrants have become citizens, and many citizens are foreign born. Utilizing examples from Islamic scarf controversies in France and citizenship law rulings in Germany, Benhabib argues that German Court decisions forcing the legislature to reconsider citizenship laws suggest “there may often be an incongruity between those who have the formal privilege of democratic citizenship (the demos) and others who are members of the population but who do not formally belong to the demos.” (Benhabib, 68) The Court’s decision, forced a reformation of German citizenship which illustrates the very iterative processes Benhabib heralds:  “The democratic people can reconstitute itself through such acts of democratic iteration so as to enable the extension of democratic voice. Aliens can become residents, and residents can become citizens. Democracies require porous borders.” (Benhabib, 68) Benhabib’s argument parts ways with “decline of citizenship theorists” like Michael Walzer who argue that self determined national communities dictate the rules in relation to “cultural self understanding and in accordance with desires to preserve cultural majorities.” Accordingly, human rights issues occupy a place of secondary importance while the accumulation of internal populations who lack the shared culture’s history or values “poses a challenge to the democratic to rearticulate the meaning of democratic universalism.” (Benhabib, 69) For Benhabib, the influence of cosmopolitanism should not be seen as a threat or a detriment to democratic sovereignty; rather, it promises “the emergence of new political configurations and new forms of agency, inspired by the interdependence.” (Benhabib, 74)

Undoubtedly, Benhabib’s contribution to understandings of cosmopolitanism remains central to the overall debate regarding these issues. Moreover, her theoretical concern over how universals interact with the local provides the intellectual foundation for tangible real world application even if no guide for pragmatic implementation is pursued. However, as with any discussion of cosmopolitanism, its abstractedness often results in varying definitions and theoretical stances. If universal cosmopolitan served as the dominant discourse, David Harvey points out the development of counter cosmopolitanisms consisting of “all manner of hyphenated versions of cosmopolitanism, variously described as ‘rooted’, ‘situated’, ‘actually existing,’ ‘discrepant,’ ‘vernacular,’ ‘Christian,’ ‘bourgeois,’ ‘liberal,’ ‘postcolonial,’ ‘feminist,’ ‘proletarian,’ ‘subaltern,’ ‘ecological,’ ‘socialist,’ and so forth." (Harvey, 79) This very fragmentation confuses many observers who must now define cosmopolitanism along several different modes or lines of thought. In his response to Benhabib, Jeremy Waldron praises her development of “democratic iterations” but also wonders what a concrete notion of cosmopolitanism consists of, “what is the content of this order? What are these existing or emerging cosmopolitan norms? What issues do they address? What do they require? What obligations or values they impose upon us? …. Second, as to provenance: where does the ordering come from? Is it imposed (like legislation) and if so, by whose authority? How is it sustained, upheld, and enforced?” (84) Waldron is right to ask about cosmopolitanism’s more tangible aspects. Benhabib’s theoretical argument sounds appealing but how are democratic iterations understood by the public? How are they understood by municipal governments? How does one reconcile the progressive notions of cosmopolitanism with the violent reactions of local populations who clearly view membership as decidedly place based and see the extension of hospitality as dangerous?

Accordingly, Waldron expresses reservations regarding Benhabib’s apparent faith in governments to adjudicate/respect cosmopolitan norms. As Waldron acknowledges, “we” think “we” know how law works in our respective nations, but the reality proves more complicated. “In recent years, jurists have shown an increasing awareness of the way in which municipal legal orders sustain themselves with reference to legal heritage and to connections among jurists that go well beyond national boundaries,” Waldron says (84-85). Instead, Waldron directs readers to more “mundane” encounters, ones that occur outside the purview of the state, yet establish patterns for cosmopolitan norms. Through the daily interactions of commerce, the repetition of contact gradually coalesces into a set of norms that do not “presuppose a formal juridical apparatus.” (Benhabib, 94) Here Waldron encourages thinking of cosmopolitan law as less state centered, thus avoiding issues of political equality which electoral forms of politics regulates: “I don’t think hospitality is about states or political communities at all, whether at the level of a world republic or an individual republic.” Waldron continues remarking that “It is about relations between people and peoples, and it needs to be read in that determinedly non-state centered way in order to capture the distinctive contribution it is supposed to make to Kant’s practical philosophy.” (Benhabib, 89-90) Cosmopolitan norms through trade remain truly democratic, argues Waldron, because they are born of the dynamics of ordinary life in relation to which there “have no problematic or invidious exclusions.” (97)

Waldron’s point has merit, but can we say that trade/commerce lacks an exclusionary nature? Cleary US immigration illustrates this to be false. Numerous waves of immigrants (this is not to even mention barriers that affected native born blacks and other minorities) found numerous economic avenues denied them. The Japanese of Southern California established footholds in agricultural production around Los Angeles, eventually crafting their own vertical networks, but not necessarily out of a planned desire. Rather Japanese immigrants exploited what few economic holes that social/political discrimination allowed. So it remains questionable how much more equal a cosmopolitanism emerging from this background would be. If one is unsatisfied with this admittedly confined domestic example, then one might consider Amy Chua’s work World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability. Chua, who ostensibly supports globalization, explores the trail of violence and repression that global free market economic expansion has created. Chua’s work illustrates the reality that free market expansion’s Achilles heel remains inequality and uneven development as smaller minority groups gained disproportionate economic gains in Malaysia, India, and elsewhere. Often this disparity fed local ethnic tensions that resulted in violence that led to death and government instability.

Into the fray steps the scourge of neoliberalism and its advocates, renowned anthropologist David Harvey. Harvey’s view may sometimes be too often predetermined by his Marxist leanings, yet he brings a clear eyed, if sometimes overly critical edge to the discussion. Addressing Waldron’s promotion of commerce and trade, Harvey notes the observations of respected academics from Saskia Sassen to Craig Calhoun, who acknowledge in various forms, the appropriation of cosmopolitan forms by transnational elites, governments, and others, in this way, serving neoliberal interests at its core. Like others, Harvey remains curious about what cosmopolitanism means pointing to R. Wilson’s conclusion that the term packs a wallop, the discourse equivalent of an eight ball drug cocktail. Wilson’s concerns are derived from the fact that cosmopolitanism's meaning combines drastically different experiences and identities. Harvey summarizes Wilson’s conclusions pointing out that the word’s definition remains dangerously unclear since it includes “not only the voluntary adventures of liberal self invention and global travel, but also those less benignly configured mixtures of migration, nomadism, diaspora, tourism, and refugee flight,’ as well as the ‘traumas of the ‘immigrant as global cosmopolitan,’ carrier of some liberal and liberated hybridity, which of course, the United States represents to the world as capitalist vanguard.” (Harvey, 79-80)

In his latest work, Cosmopolitanism and the Geographies of Freedom, Harvey engages in a Marxist deconstruction of cosmopolitanism’s implications. The respected CUNY anthropologist connects what he sees as cosmopolitanism’s troubling relationship with neoliberal tropes about freedom and democracy. For Harvey, “[a] new school of philanthropists (trained in the way of Wall Street)” promotes the idea that “low wage factories and access to loans through established lending institutions” serve as the future of aid and international commerce. For his part, Harvey despairs that wages remain cripplingly low and the newly created lending institutions “charge rates that many Americans would deem usurious.” (Harvey, 54)

Though Harvey’s nearly obsessive dedication to Marxist orientation sometimes clouds his arguments, his most important contributions to the developing cosmopolitan debate arise from his interpretation of Kant’s “Perpetual Peace”. First, Harvey draws attention to Kant’s use of geography and anthropology, disciplines Harvey views as too inadequately utilized. According to Harvey, “the distinction between geography and anthropology rested, in Kant’s view, on a difference between ‘the outer knowledge’ given by observation of ‘man’s’ place in nature and the ‘inner knowledge’ of subjectivities (which sometimes come close to psychology in practices)." Harvey continues, noting that “[t]his dualism bears a heavy burden, for it underpins the supposedly clear distinctions between object and subject, fact and value and, ultimately, science and poetry that have bedeviled Western thought ever since.” (21) Unsurprisingly, (from the title alone) among Harvey’s numerous concerns, the lack of attention to Kant’s views of anthropology and geography in constructing theories of cosmopolitanism emerges clearly.

Certainly, from a modern perspective, Kant avoided some of the more pernicious biases of his time. No appeals to Godliness or tropes about “noble savages” arise. Instead, Kant explains the Enlightenment as humanity’s emergence from immaturity. This new cultural arising from maturity surely sets man apart, “it] liberates the human will from the despotism of natural desires and redirects human skill toward rational purposes by forming the will in accordance with a rational image.” (Kant in Harvey, 24) Unfortunately, Kant’s maturity measure means that not all can be citizens. Harvey points out that such measures rest “on a normative concept of rational behavior,” that the author notes Foucault refuted strongly in his essay “What is Enlightenment?” Complications regarding views of race and gender, placed many individuals under the category of immature notably women and non-whites. Like contemporaries, Kant’s views of non whites remained filled with prejudices as Harvey illustrates with an excerpt of Kant’s writings:
In hot countries men mature more quickly in every respect but they do not attain the perfection of the temperate zones. Humanity achieves its greatest perfection with the White race. The yellow Indians have somewhat less talent. The Negroes are much inferior and some of the peoples of the America are well below them.
All inhabitants of hot lands are exceptionally lazy; they are also timid and the same two traits characterize also folk living in the far north. Timidity engenders superstition and in lands rule by Kings leads to slavery. Ostoaks, Samoyeds, Lapps, Greenlanders, etc. resemble people of hot lands in their timidity, laziness, superstition and desire for strong drink, but lack of jealousy characteristic of the latter since their climate does not stimulate their passion too greatly. (Kant quoted in Harvey, 27)
That Kant held essentialized views of non-whites proves unsurprising. However, the inability of few cosmopolitan theorists to discuss these implications remains problematic.

Harvey’s attempt to reposition anthropology and geography into the cosmopolitanism debate leads him to survey the field’s numerous theorists. Martha Nussbaum, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Benhabib and others all receive Harvey’s attentions. Acknowledging the proliferation of ‘adjectival cosmopolitanisms,’ Harvey hints at the diversity therein, however, he also summarizes their general similarities succinctly, “All these ‘adjectival cosmopolitanisms,’ as we might call them, have in common the idea of somehow combining respect for local differences with compelling universal principles. From such a standpoint, local patriotism rooted in the geographies of actual places and cosmopolitanism are not necessarily at odds.” (Harvey, 114)

So it would seem cosmopolitan returns once more to the tension that bears upon a locally dependent universalism. Certainly, few writers have thought about issues of place and space more than Harvey. In his widely cited, The Condition of Postmodernity, Harvey seemed to suggest that the postmodern focus on space undermined working class oppositions that had historically illustrated greater control over place than space. For Harvey, “there can be no universal politics without an adequate place based politics,” (Harvey, 196) meaning any kind of “qualified universalism” rests on local politics. Yet, as other writers have noticed, localism can be just as limiting as oppression from above. If such politics become permanently lodged in the local alone, “reactionary and exclusionary dangers arise.” (Harvey, 196) To see how localism can be perverted, one need only think about domestic problems arising from various forms of localized identity politics from the white suburban homeowner/taxpayer identity of the 1970s, race based movements of the late 1960s/early 1970s, or the modern day NIMBYism which harnesses the language of civil rights, free markets, and environmentalism to justify exclusion. As Harvey has noted, this is the very worry that underscores his thoughts on cosmopolitanism itself. The failure to take account of these issues can result in curdling of a progressive movement into a reactionary bitterness such that, as Harvey alludes, “we lose sight of the grander political possibilities that always attach to mobilizing the power of place as a moment in the search for geography of freedom.” (Harvey, 196)

When Harvey turns to Benhabib’s contributions, he credits her along with James Scott, Nicolas De Genova, Phillip Abrams, and Timothy Mitchell for undermining Cartesian/Kantian “hegemony” while bringing to the forefront relative and relational conceptualizations. For Benhabib’s part, Harvey references her previous work The Rights of Others, pointing to the author’s insight that though the world of nation states has been changed irrevocably our “normative map has not.” (Harvey, 270) With that said, Harvey also seems skeptical regarding other aspects of Benhabib’s arguments. For example, when Benhabib allows for local manifestations of “universal ethical principles”, Harvey follows rather doubtfully, “but apparently this in no way interferes with how the universal principles are to be articulated.” (Harvey, 106)

It probably goes without saying that there are many who exhibit hostility toward the work of Jacques Derrida and many of those he influenced. The Economist summarized Derrida’s most famous contribution to the world with little aplomb, “The inventor of “deconstruction”—an ill-defined habit of dismantling texts by revealing their assumptions and contradictions—was indeed, and unfortunately, one of the most cited modern scholars in the humanities.” (Economist, Obituary – Jacques Derrida, Oct 21, 2004) Derrida’s defense of Martin Heidegger and Paul de Man from charges of Nazism, the Economist argues, “fed straight into the hands of his critics, who had always argued that the playful evasiveness of deconstruction masked its moral and intellectual bankruptcy. The New York Review of Books quipped that deconstruction means never having to say you're sorry.” Of the academics who adopted Derrida’s approach, the English newspaper dismissed them in a single sentence, “"Armed with an impenetrable new vocabulary, and without having to master any rigorous thought, they could masquerade as social, political and philosophical critics."(Economist, Obituary – Jacques Derrida, Oct 21, 2004)

Why does this matter? If cosmopolitanism is to have a real world impact it must move from these theoretical moorings and be implemented in some way. Having seen the negative reactions of Americans to immigration policy and immigrants, Benhabib and Derrida’s concerns over local conflict seem particularly apt. The question is how to get around this, how to persuade the kind of rubber meets the road mentality that dominates not only the American, but increasingly the international public sphere of cosmopolitanism’s efficacy. A commerce led cosmopolitanism, one that venues like the Economist might find attractive, might benefit from the theoretical influence of Benhabib and others. As it stands, cosmopolitanism today seems situated on an unsteady theoretical precipice. Clearly, within its intellectual foundations rests two sets of tensions that must be worked through. Perhaps, the thoughts of an outside observer might clarify this once and for all. Fellow contributor Alex Cummings summarized this internal conflict well: “It seems like there is a real conflict between the cosmopolitan ideal of hospitality and human rights: A. demands for cultural difference and national sovereignty on one hand, and B. the ugly reality of a commercially-oriented, neoliberal cosmopolitanism of free trade and global inequality.“ (email to author, Dec. 2, 2010) This troubling set of issues must be reconciled before cosmopolitanism may find a real, tangible place in this world.

Ryan Reft