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University of M iami • College of Ar ts and Sciences• Coral Gables, Florida

English Composition Program Department of English Award Ceremony March 24, 2011

SEVENTEENTH ANNUAL AUDLEY WEBSTER MEMORIAL ESSAY CONTEST

AWARD WINNERS


Audley Webster Essay Contest

In the 1990’s, Nobel laureate and University of Chicago economist James Heckman conducted

research that concluded that job skills training and other programs designed to lift urban youth out of poverty are ineffective when other, more basic abilities, are lacking; one of the most important of these is communication. Those of us who spend our lives trying to empower young adults to communicate effectively might not be so surprised at these findings. Yet when I heard about Heckman’s study, I was struck anew by the importance of our students’ efforts in Freshman Composition. We don’t make it easy. They come in knowing how to write, and yet our first efforts as teachers often involve DE-compostion: asking them NOT to do some of the things they’ve been doing in order that they become more conscious of the communicative act. In a way, we want them to misbehave: to question assumptions, think critically, flip paradigms. While the writing they do is aimed for public discourse, it always comes down to a personal act of commitment: to ideas, positions, interpretations, words, forms, and yes, feelings. TAKE RISKS, we tell them. When writers are in the zone, it’s all heady work, creatively and intellectually satisfying. But most of the time it’s difficult. Sometimes, it requires students to be brave in ways they didn’t know they could be brave. Some might argue that it’s a good time to exercise that bravery. Noted human rights activist, University of Chicago professor of law and ethics, scholar, and writer Martha Nussbaum recently gave a lecture at University of Miami’s Center for the Humanities. She argued that, especially now, democracy needs the humanities, because the humanities teach some of the very abilities that ought to be informing technology and policy. These abilities are central to the work of the Composition student: critical thinking, deliberation, examination, reflection, argumentation and debate, and finally, the capacity to transcend local loyalties and imagine the Other sympathetically. With the nine essays in this booklet, it seems we’ve caught our students in the act of doing all these things. The essays show a wide spectrum of Freshman writing. They reveal articulate students, global and local citizens of whom I believe Nussbaum would approve quite highly. We do. Congratulation to the winners and their dedicated instructors. Sincerely, Martha Otis Senior Lecturer, English Composition Coordinator, Seventeenth Annual Audley Webster Essay Contest

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Audley Webster Essay Contest

17th Annual Audley Webster Essay Contest Winners Top Essays Lauren Camac, “Iranian Women Speak Out.” ENG 106. Instructor: Judy Hood. Spring 2010. Chelsea Gobes, “Composed Creativity.” ENG 105. Instructor: Susan Leary. Fall 2010. Carolina Tauler, “The Media’s Lies: A Cultural Criticism of Betty Friedan’s ‘The Problem That Has No Name.’” ENG 106. Instructor: Carrie Wheat. Spring 2010. Honorable Mention Zachary Appelbaum, “Modern Eugenics.” ENG 107. Instructor: April Mann. Spring 2010. Adam Bird-Ridnell, “All About My Mother: Authenticity and Performance.” ENG 106. Instructor: Stephanie Selvick. Fall 2010. Ann Diaz, “The Synergy of Vulnerability and Vanity.” ENG 105. Instructor: Judy Hood. Fall 2010. Danielle Phifer, “The Unspoken Truth.” ENG 105. Instructor: Judy Hood. Fall 2010. Tevin Scott, “The Merits of Storytelling Towards Cultural Understanding.” ENG 105. Instructor: Roxane Pickens. Fall 2010. Samantha Sutton, “Conscience: The Inner Voice That Warns Someone Might Be Looking.” ENG 106. Instructor: Judy Hood. Spring 2010. *Writing entries appear as originally submitted, with no additional editing.

Contributing Judges

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Essay Contest Coordinator: Martha Otis English Composition Program Director: Gina Maranto Ben Alsup Doug Anderson Melissa Burley Zack Hickman Judy Hood Joanna Johnson April Mann Samantha Phillips Gail Shivel Giovanni Turner John Wafer Carrie Wheat


TOP ESSAYS


Audley Webster Essay Contest

Instructor Reflections: Judy Hood on Lauren Camac

IRaassi’s remember the day Lauren brought Marie Claire to class. Open in front of her was Tala article. An olive complexioned, black-haired, black-eyed beauty stared defiant-

ly from the page. Lauren’s own eyes glowed. Here was a girl, a young woman like her and her friends, who had been beaten on her sixteenth birthday for wearing a miniskirt, not in public but at her own celebration, and not by her parents but by “religious police.” It happened in Iran, in the same city where Azar Nafisi read Lolita with her secret band of young female students. Nafisi’s memoir touched a responsive chord in Lauren, and this essay grew out of that connection. Perhaps a passion for human rights grew out of it, too. Aware of and connected with the world around her, Lauren is also a sensitive reader, astute in comprehension of texts, grounded in critical thinking and questioning strategies. She integrates theory and reality in this application of Gladwell’s Power of Context to the stories of a professor, a journalist, and a fashion designer. She finds in the lives of these repressed and restricted women, evidence that the environment has power not only to oppress, determine, and disregard, but also, and sometimes ironically, to inspire, to empower, and to change lives. --J.H., March 15, 2011

Assignment Into the Wild: Applying a Reading as a Lens This final project asks you to apply the critical thinking expertise, textual analysis strategies, organizational, and stylistic writing skills practiced throughout the course. Write a researched paper which not only puts primary and secondary sources into conversation with each other, but also locates your own role in the conversation. Design a project which applies one reading as a lens for reading another of the course selections. It should explore a particularly significant, curious, strange or disturbing aspect of your application of the lens to the chosen text. This paper needs to: • Clearly establish your claim (guiding principle, observation, assertion, thesis) which you believe application of the lens uncovers and evidence from both primary and secondary sources explores and/or supports. • Clearly present and discuss your read of the lens and the primary text you are considering (focused description.) • Clearly present the perspectives of your secondary sources as they relate to your primary texts and your focus. • Incorporate, cite, and explain quoted and paraphrased evidence in MLA style. • Show analysis. Ask and answer: So what? • Establish and follow a recognizable organization. • Create connection and fluidity through a variety of transitional devices. • Culminate by bringing significant threads together; evaluate by revisiting the original claim and making a judgment; challenge the reader and awaken his/her thinking. You need to design and write the proposal for your project and follow the Strategies for Writing a Researched Paper presented in Writing Analytically. Some suggestions: Malcolm Gladwell argues that character is “like a bundle of habits and tendencies and interests, loosely bound together and dependent, at certain times, on circumstance and context” (NHR 246). Apply Gladwell’s lens to the concept of free will as suggested in Krakauer’s Into the Wild or Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran, or as discussed in Pinker’s “The Moral Instinct.” Engage at least three secondary sources in conversation about the influence and impact of environment on a) character or b) free will. Apply the “Power of Context” or “The Moral Instinct” lens to one other primary text read in class: Into the Wild, Reading Lolita in Tehran, or “How to tell a True War Story.” Invite at least three secondary sources into the conversation or two secondary and one other primary text such as the documentaries Beneath the Veil and Iconoclast’s Into the Wild and the film The Valley of Elah.

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Iranian Women Speak Out

by Lauren Camac

ENG 106: English Composition II Instructor: Judy Hood Spring 2010


Audley Webster Essay Contest

Iranian Women Speak Out Imagine this: You are a young woman in Iran, more specifically a professor of literature, and the government instructs you that you must not teach anything but what they have assigned. Novels, poems, and articles that go against the ideals and beliefs of the Iranian government will not be tolerated. In fact, if they were to be taught in any shape or form, you would be severely punished. This particular scenario outlines the life of Azar Nafisi. Author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar proved herself to be a woman who followed her heart and ultimately developed the strength and courage to engage in activities that defined her thoughts and emotions, while still being considered a criminal in the eyes of the Iranian government. In Azar Nafisi’s life, her environment was the controlling factor that led her to make drastic changes in a world in which she felt trapped. The significance of the environment in influencing people’s decisions is demonstrated throughout Malcolm Gladwell’s The Power of Context. Gladwell writes, “Children are powerfully shaped by their external environment … the features of our immediate social and physical world, the streets we walk down, the people we encounter – play a huge role in shaping who we are and how we act” (248). Gladwell’s ideas regarding the importance of immediate physical environments can be directly connected to the transformation that Azar Nafisi made spiritually during her years in the Iranian Republic. Although her external environment constrained Nafisi, it ultimately transformed her character and allowed her to create an area of life where she could finally express her innerself that had been previously hidden. Throughout The Power of Context, Malcolm Gladwell describes the immediate and longterm effects that certain environments have on those living within them. Gladwell writes, “The essence of the Power of Context is that the same thing is true for certain kinds of environments … our inner states are the result of our outer circumstances” (243). For example, research shows that a child living in a home with a supportive and functional family, but located in a dangerous, crimeridden neighborhood, is much more likely to engage in malicious behavior than a child who lives in a safer neighborhood in a less stable household (248). This scenario supports Gladwell’s claim because it shows the direct effect that a person’s environment has on their psychological growth. Gladwell claims that “all behavior … is sensitive to the environment” (249), meaning that the slightest change in the environment can eventually lead to a change in people’s character development. Through Gladwell’s lens, the importance of Azar Nafisi’s environment in shaping her identity is clearly visible. Gladwell would undoubtedly argue that the restrictions and regulations set out by the Iranian government towards the citizens of Iran were the main cause of Nafisi’s revolt against the “norms” of society. Modern day Iran is a example of the “certain kinds of environments” (243) that Gladwell mentions in his text. While describing her own personal experiences living under the forceful government of Iran, Nafisi urges her readers, “… imagine us the way we sometimes didn’t dare to imagine ourselves … in the most extraordinarily ordinary instances of life … or reading Lolita in Tehran … [then] imagine us again with all this confiscated, driven underground, taken away from us” (420). Rather than allow its citizens to experience the world on their own terms by exploring literature, places, and different people, the Iranian government has essentially stolen their rights to freedom and individuality. By creating this hostile environment, the Iranian government forced a life-style change on Nafisi.

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Due to the forces of the Iranian government, Nafisi created an outlet for herself and a selected number of former students to study the works of literature that were banned by the government. “For nearly two years, almost every Thursday morning … they came to my house … I could not get over the shock of seeing them shed their mandatory veils and robes and burst into color” (419). In Iran, it is forbidden for women to wear bright colors, and visibly show any skin. In their external environment, Iranian women are forced to cover themselves up completely. In the comfort of a private, internal environment, the women allowed the changing of the environment


Lauren Camac

to be their influence in re-creating themselves. Nafisi recalls, “When my students came into that room, they took off more than their scarves and robes. Gradually, each one gained an outline and a shape, becoming her own inimitable self” (419). The room that Nafisi and her students studied in “became [their] sanctuary, [their] self-contained universe, mocking the reality of black-scarved, timid faces in the city that sprawled below” (419). While Malcolm Gladwell mentions the idea that genetics and psychological factors influence people’s character development, he believes that they are not as significant in altering their lives as the environment is. Throughout Reading Lolita in Tehran, Nafisi demonstrates her selftransformation through not only her surrounding environment, but also her internal mentality, ultimately giving her the strength needed to change her life. Nafisi reflects on Steven Pinker’s five moral senses that are mentioned in his article “The Moral Instinct.” These themes include: “harm, fairness, community (or group loyalty), authority and purity” (7). In Tehran, authority is considered the most important aspect of life. If an individual goes against authority, they will be severely punished. However, due to psychological influences, Nafisi altered the level of importance of authority and began to view other factors as higher in her personal rankings. The changes in Nafisi’s mentality drastically changed her character, and the way she would continue living her life. Similarly to Nafisi, Tala Raassi grew up in Tehran, Iran, and experienced the same external environment as drastically as Nafisi had. In her autobiography, “For her 16th Birthday, Tala Raassi Received 40 Lashes,” Raassi describes the trauma that she had encountered during her time living in Tehran, and how the experiences ultimately led her to become an American fashion designer. “There’s a memory that has defined my life: I’m standing in line in a long, dark hallway handcuffed to a friend, while listening to the horrifying sound of two other friends screaming out in pain. I’m in a jail in Tehran, and I’m about to be served my punishment: 40 lashes” (118). For Raassi’s 16th birthday, her friends threw her a party. While Raassi wore traditional clothing during the drive to the party, as soon as she reached the house, the traditional clothes were shed and Raassi was left in a mini skirt. The party consisted of “30 friends, male and female ... [listening] to music and chatting. It was innocent, no alcohol or drugs” (120). Suddenly the religious police appeared, gathered all of the children, and took them in a van to jail. “It is illegal in Iran to wear “indecent” clothes like miniskirts, to listen to music if it’s not approved by the government, and to party with the opposite sex” (120). Since these rules were broken, the sixteen-year-old children experienced a punishment painful enough that it scarred them both mentally and physically. The boys received 50 lashes, while the girls suffered through 40. Raassi recalls, “The beating lasted for what felt like an eternity. In reality, it was over in ten minutes. Those ten minutes changed my future” (121). After graduating from high school, Raassi traveled first to Dubai with friends, and ultimately found herself in Washington D.C living with a family member. With a change in the environment, Raassi finally decided how she wanted to spend her life. “At my new home in D.C., surrounded by women who were free to wear what they want and think what they want, I knew exactly what I wanted to do: I would become a fashion designer. Because to me, fashion equaled freedom” (121). According to Gladwell’s theory, the drastic change in Raassi’s external environment allowed her to alter her character. After coming from a world full of regulations and punishments, and then moving to America, her new environment gave Raassi the opportunity to take advantage of the freedom opportunities that she was presented with, and was finally able to follow her dreams. Raassi is a designer of leggings, short-sleeved shirts, and swimsuits, three things that are forbidden for women to wear in Iran. Gladwell would argue that had Raassi stayed in Iran, she would never have achieved all of the many things that she was able to do when put into an environment that allowed its people to be free. 7


Audley Webster Essay Contest

A new environment also allowed Nazila Fathi the opportunity to change her life. Fathi portrays the horrific conditions present in modern day Iran in the New York Times Article “The Iranian Exile’s Eye”. Fathi’s article tells the story about her experiences reporting on Iranian events, specifically riots and revolutions that have been breaking loose. While these rebellions against the government were taking place, journalists made strong attempts to document all that they were able to through pictures and recordings. The government, in an attempt to minimize the amount of information leaving Iran, decided to ban the use of the internet throughout the country. This, however, was not an efficient way to eliminate the outsourcing of information. “The [“cyber-army”] blocked Twitter for a few hours in December, and an opposition website. But other blogs and Web sites mushroomed faster than the government could keep up” (3). The actions of the Iranian government ultimately led to thousands of journalists fleeing the country. Fathi writes, “I am an Iranian, a journalist now living in exile like hundreds … driven out after the June elections … and the protests and repression that followed. Our offense was that we covered them too thoroughly” (1). In order to express her thoughts and opinions on the Iranian conflict, Fathi, similarly to Raassi, had to journey to western civilization. Although Fathi now resides in Toronto, Canada, she is still able to gather information about the conflict by the use of the internet, and spread awareness about the brutal treatment of Iranian citizens to individuals across the globe. Azar Nafisi, Tala Raassi, and Nazila Fathi are similar in the sense that they were able to grow from their external environments, and essentially create new lives for themselves because of it. The women battled through the hardships and obstacles that the Iranian government plagued them with, and in the end, were lucky enough to be able to share their stories with the world. While author Malcolm Gladwell describes the significance that an individual’s environment has on his/her overall character development, Azar Nafisi demonstrates how realistic and important Gladwell’s beliefs truly are. Nafisi, after years of being a product of the corrupt Iranian government, was finally able to take her experiences in the external environment and create a new lifestyle for herself. Without the influence of her environment, Nafisi’s life would be entirely different. She would have never created her private group reading sessions, and be able to give her students the opportunity to express their individual personalities as well. No longer did Nafisi and her students have to hide their inner thoughts and emotions. Though the repressive and arrogant Iranian government disregarded their citizen’s rights to freedom, they inadvertently gave Nafisi the power and strength to revolt against their demands, changing her life forever. Works Cited Fathi, Nazila. “The Iranian Exile’s Eye.” New York Times. Op-Ed. Jan. 16, 2010. Web Gladwell, Malcolm. “The Power of Context.” The New Humanities Reader. Ed. Richard E. Miller and Kurt Spellmeyer. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009. 234-249. Print. Nafisi, Azar. “Reading Lolita in Tehran.” The New Humanities Reader. Ed. Richard E. Miller and Kurt Spellmeyer. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009. 416-437. Print. Pinker, Steven. “The Moral Instinct,” New York Times. Magazine. March. 5. 2009. Web. Raassi, Tala. “For her 16th Birthday, Tala Raassi Received 40 Lashes,” Marie Claire. Magazine. May. 2010.

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Audley Webster Essay Contest

Instructor Reflections: Susan Leary on Chelsea Gobes

IMusicale, n “Composed Creativity,” Chelsea Gobes reflects on her family’s ritual of The a post-Thanksgiving dinner show inspired by her grandmother, Landy Gobes.

Any essay on “Thanksgiving” and “family bonding” may sound generic and empty of meaning, but Chelsea takes a very personal experience and makes it incredibly analytical. She skillfully uses “performance” as a metaphor for her grandmother’s role in the ritual, for each generation’s place in the Gobes family dynamic, and as the basis for a very sophisticated definition of creativity. Chelsea’s use of language is equally impressive. She expresses the smallest of details with the ease and naturalness of a real writer. The Musicale is intended to teach the values of family and artistic expression. Just as her grandmother envisioned, Chelsea has indeed found her “creative outlet” through her writing. This essay is just one more “performance,” and I am honored to be a part of her audience. --S.L., March 18, 2011

Assignment Renato Rosaldo - Ritual Assignment In his essay, “Grief and a Headhunter’s Rage,” Renato Rosaldo redefines “ritual” as “a busy intersection . .. of distinct social processes” to help him understand the Ilongot practice of headhunting. When the headhunters explain that “rage, born from grief, impels [them] to kill” (588), Rosaldo at first cannot grasp their anger, and he draws on theory to understand the meaning behind the ritual. But this “reasoning” is exactly the problem: when anthropologists remove emotions from studies of death and ritual, they “conflate the ritual process with the process of mourning, equate ritual with the obligatory, and ignore the relation between ritual and everyday life” (597). For Rosaldo, the ritual experience is not self-contained; it is not separate from other events and feelings that inform our lives before and after the ritual is performed: our day-to-day activities, varying emotions, and interactions with others all become part of the ritual. For this assigmnent, you are asked to extend Rosaldo’s project and to develop an original argument about how a ritual of your choice functions as a “crossroads” where different life processes meet. The ritual should be from your own immediate world of experience and reference, one that you have participated in, such as a family, campus, or church ritual. In your analysis, you will need to explain how your ritual plays out over an extended period of time. What life processes--activities, emotions, or people--overlap before, during, and after the ritual moment? What is gained, lost, or complicated through these intersections? What do they reveal about the values of the people, or “culture,” who engage in this ritual? These are the kinds of questions you will need to ask yourself to determine the direction you would like to take in your paper. Whatever you decide, be sure to analyze at least 3 different intersections within the ritual you have chosen to explore.

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Composed Creativity

by Chelsea Gobes

ENG 105: English Composition I Instructor: Susan Leary Fall 2010


Audley Webster Essay Contest

Composed Creativity Thanksgiving: a time of family bonding- the food, the wine, the games, even the family hikes are all reminders of fond memories. It’s a time of comfortable relaxation- a weekend of pajamas and slippers, hot cocoa and tea, fireside card games, and Grandma cooking in the kitchen. Across the country families have their own special traditions they partake in every late Novembermany may be similar to my own. However, there’s one ritual in my family that not only has never been heard of by anyone else- but also leaves whomever I may be speaking to in jaw-dropped surprise. This shock is followed by one of two things. In my experience it’s usually one and then the other- uncontrollable laughter and then “Oh my God- that’s awful!” The Musicale. Not the musical, not the talent show, but The Musicale. The Musicale is a post-Thanksgiving dinner show where every child must perform a song either on an instrument or vocally. The conductor of this “sacred” event is my grandmother. On a day-to-day basis my grandma embodies the stereotypical sweet old woman with an expertise in the kitchen, however, when the dishes are cleared and the sheet music comes out, the entire family lines up for Sergeant Landy Gobes- our conductor for the night. My grandmother has not only redefined the idea of family bonding but also of creativity. In compromising the classical idea of originality, she taught her family how to find their own meaning of it within themselves. My entire life Yolanda ‘Landy’ Gobes has been two things in my eyes- a magician and a musician. My grandmother always managed to one up dazzling our eyes with parlor tricks by bringing magic to our taste buds. She knew the way to get to the heart of any Gobes and that was through food and took full advantage of her talent. Her heart, however, beats to the sound of music. Her passion for music has led her to traveling all around the world with her quartet, playing the organ at her local church every Sunday, and creating The Musicale. Being a psychiatrist her entire adult life, she has explored and always strongly believed in the ability of music to heal the mind. By using music as a form of self expression, inner pain and turmoil can be released rather than having it fester within oneself. She transfers this from her career to her family in the tradition of The Musicale. She believes that by making this event mandatory, she can help each of her grandchildren find their own specific creative outlet. Though the initial idea was for everyone to perform a song, over the years the performances have spread out into all corners of the arts. For example, my cousin Kate, a third year architecture student at Syracuse, brings in and explains her latest blueprints to the family and her younger sister, Rebecca, always brings in her latest painting. It is the belief of my grandmother that everybody has their own talent and their own artistic ability. To be creative is to be original of thought and to show imagination, which means that what my grandmother is doing is not actually inspiring creativity but trying to force it. The outcome is not creativity at all. In fact, the pressure is so high to perform that for me, what is supposed to be an exposition of creative flow, turns into a panicky type of forced show and tell. My entire life, whenever it became time to stand up and speak in public I go through a complete transformation. My face turns red, I start to sweat, I stutter and stumble over words and speak about a mile a minute; yet my grandmother insists that I showcase my voice in a room with 29 other people. It doesn’t so much feel that I’m expressing myself or helping my mental health by releasing all emotion through song, but like I’m on the verge of mental breakdown. However, my mental state is not the only thing affected by the Musicale. The entire family goes through a complete transformation during the Thanksgiving season; going from one large family unit to different subsets of peopleeach having their own important role- all in the name of creativity.

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The Musicale begins to affect the basic family roles before anyone even arrives for Thanksgiving weekend- and it begins with my grandmother. Her role of conductor begins to affect myself- and the rest of the family- weeks before sending e-mails to each grandchild to find out what everyone will be performing. Once she has the “set-list” she assigns rooms, and just as if she were planning one of her trips across the country, she lets everyone know the game plan creating agen-


Chelsea Gobes

das and packing lists. She uses The Musicale to directly reflect her outside life of travel and musicbringing everyone hours away from their home to experience a musical extravaganza. Every year 30 people come together in one house and every generation plats a different role in the tradition. Our one large family has over the years split into four pseudo-generations, following my grandmother’s lead as the first-generation organizer to make sure everything runs smoothly. Although it may not seem that they have much to do with The Musicale, the older of my aunts and uncles secretly keep it from disaster. In particular, my Aunt Cathy, the oldest of my grandmother’s six children makes sure everything is running smoothly. Being so much older than and often in charge of the rest of her siblings, as a child she learned to resolve problems quickly. When an argument bursts out over who gets to use the piano to practice or when a teenager throws a hissy fit over not wanting to perform, Aunt Cathy rushes to the rescue and resolves the issue. She’s a pseudo-mother for those kids like myself, who’s mother is not there when they need some motherly support and an adult friend figure with her nurturing and easy-to-talk to nature for all the others. The older uncles play a role as well, even though it is even harder to recognize to an outside eye. While Aunt Cathy provides a soothing hand and shoulder, my Uncle Jim provides a calming glass of wine. He and my father grew up with an extreme distaste for the tradition and although they boycotted it as children, as adults they teach the younger generations to respect Grandma’s wishes and just try and get through it. Understanding my dread for the event, and being close enough to me to know about my anxiety disorder, they do their best to help me through my act. Even though it’s painful they insist we must participate. My father would never leave the event without a reason no matter how much he wanted to, as to avoid an argument with my grandmother. Up until five years ago he was generally out of luck when it came to a viable reason. But now, to the surprise of my stepmother, he always chooses to put his young children to bed- finally finding his way out of most of the event. However, the other two uncles stay and play a major role in this tradition: the comic relief. They choose to enjoy The Musicale with a bottle of bourbon cheering and throwing one-liners into everyone’s act. So although they don’t perform, they still interact which each of the performers- and through comedy they make everyone laugh- making the event more enjoyable and comfortable for everyone involved. Just as in any film, novel, or play where there is comedy there is generally tragedy or drama to counter-act it- and so enters the pseudo-generation of teenagers- my generation. Although in the Gobes family this is the smallest generation, it is the most difficult to deal with in terms of the Musicale. We have finally gotten to the age where we can speak our minds and speak out against those things of which we don’t want to do. The teenagers have not yet reached the age of our parents, who dislike the tradition but pretend they don’t out of respect for Grandma. The point of the event is unclear and so then, it all seems unnecessary. They have just reached the age where their opinions are finally heard, and they revel in the fact and so they speak in protest every time the subject is brought up although in the end everyone participates and does what they are told. It is difficult to completely hate The Musicale when you see the faces of the final generation- the younger cousins. The Musicale starts off with the youngest grandchild, now my youngest brother Xavier. Last Thanksgiving he was only 10 months old so his “performance” consisted of him banging his tiny palms on the piano for a couple of seconds until he wriggled out of my stepmother’s arms to go play. Although he may not understand what’s going on now, the memory is taped and he will be able to look back and smile at it when he is older. After his performance, the next oldest cousin performs- and for the next couple of acts everyone forgets their boredom and their dread. One of these acts was the act of my sister Penelope who when she stood up and sang a song she learned in French class, she was beaming- you could see on her face not only how proud of herself she was, but how excited she was to be included with the “big kids.” The evolution of emotion throughout the generations is crystal clear. As a young child, you’re just excited to be doing whatever the older kids are doing- the youngest of the children

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Audley Webster Essay Contest

are helped by their parents and when they’re finally old enough to perform on their own, a new emotion comes into play- pride. They are so proud of themselves that they can now do it all their own, that they’re a big kid now and don’t need any help- anyone watching can’t help but smile. As a child gets older, dread starts to appear around Thanksgiving season- they don’t understand why they need to be doing this- it seems ridiculous and is a waste of time. However, the excitement cycles in again with new parents- parents who stand in the audience smiling at their child performing on their own the first time, and the pride their child feels is mirrored in their faces. Then comes adulthood- there is not only an appreciation for the event after watching your own children perform but a deeper respect and understanding- suddenly Grandma’s intentions become clear. In each generation there is a bond between you and the others in the same category. Relationships between cousins are strengthened through mutual dread, and parents share mutual pride. Intergenerational relationships are reinforced through sympathy and understanding. As an adult you look back and realize that through the Musicale, you united with your family at first against the music but then, finally, through it. The Musicale was something that was forced, which from an outside standpoint may seem like it goes against both concepts. However, when looked at from the inside-out The Musicale did not negate either, but rather redefined them. True bonds are not formed through relaxed card games and small talk over meals but through overcoming fears and obstacles together. The stress and the panic may have seemed high during Thanksgiving weekend, but everyone always made their way through it. Through practicing for the event and deciding what we were going to show or perform, each of us explored new fields of the arts and the perfected those we chose. Each of us wanted a performance that we felt confident in so the stress would be lessened, and so each of us truly found what we were good at. We did it on our own and it was not forced. I could have walked up in front of the entire family and played row, row, row your boat on the piano- but instead I reached for excellence and I found what I was good at; I found my outlet. This is the case for every person who performs in The Musicale- and we have to thank our Grandmother. The Musicale taught us about ourselves. Such a simple event was able to do such a profound thing because of the passion, the meaning, and the person behind it. Though The Musical may seem like it’s all about music, or the readings, or the pictures- it’s not. If it were about such insignificant things- nobody would have made the effort to excel and make it what it is- it’s about respect and it’s about love. This event has always meant everything to our Grandmother. All weekend it’s about us- children and grandchildren walk into the kitchen grumpy and hungry and she immediately drops what she’s doing to make us some food. She gets teased about how she bobs her head when she plays cards and how she’s finally losing her mind. But she is loved by each and every person in the house and so we try. We practice, we perfect, we listen, and we perform and we do it all for her. Though we have all taken so much away from this event- the night is really hers. She is the teacher, the conductor, and finally, when she has all of us and all of our attention, once everyone has performed and relaxed- she is herself. She becomes the embodiment of what she is trying to teach us. Our inspiration comes from this last act- when she plays. She plays her own fifteen-minute piano piece and she lets go. It is clear that all her worries immediately float awayshe is not “Mom,” she is not “Grandma,” she is Yolanda. She is a musician and she is happy.

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Audley Webster Essay Contest

Instructor Reflections: Carrie Wheat on Carolina Tauler

C arolina’s lovely essay came out of a somewhat unorthodox assignment that asks the students to take basic literary critical strategies and apply them to texts that are not necessarily considered traditional literature. Because of the nature of the assignment, it is often times hard for students to find the angle that they will use to analyze the text, but this is where Carolina shined. After reading Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique and looking into how the media portrayed women in the 1950s, Carolina saw a natural connection between these stereotypical commercial images and what Friedan called “The Problem that has No Name.” I remember that Carolina’s paper sparked on this creative idea and simply took off from there. In the end, Carolina’s hard work and mastery over rhetoric enhanced that unique idea and resulted in the well-crafted essay that we see today. --C.W., March 18, 2011

Assignment Writing using a Contextual Lens This assignment is in essence a written version of your class presentation; it has the same component except you will be writing your analysis down in the academic rhetoric we have been discussing. We have been and will be discussing and learning about reading in context. This involves the idea of engaging yourself with reading as we have discussed in these past weeks, but also going beyond that analysis to look at readings in a deeper more contextual way. Many scholars call this type of analysis using a “lens” with which to view the readings. Also, often times this is called using a “critical strategy”. There are many different lenses that we can use in order to interpret and find meaning in a written work. Some of the ones we will be focusing on will be: Marxist, Historical and Cultural, Biographical, Feminist and Gender, Postmodem and Deconstructionist. We will be exploring these contextual critical theories (lenses) on a basic level to introduce ourselves to these concepts. For this paper you will use the same piece on which you are doing your class presentation and you will choose a lens with which you feel comfortable to explore that piece. (For this piece you will be working alone, but can certainly take the same components you have explored for your class presentation). Pay Special Attention to: • Grasp and depth of using Critical Theory as a Lens, • Depth of Research • Careful Rhetorical Strategy, well defined thesis • MLA Citation • Introduction/Conclusion

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The Media’s Lies: A Cultural Criticism of Betty Friedan’s “The Problem That Has No Name”

by Carolina Tauler

ENG 106: English Composition II Instructor: Carrie Wheat Spring 2010


Audley Webster Essay Contest

The Media’s Lies: A Cultural Criticism of Betty Friedan’s “The Problem That Has No Name” The late 1950s and early 1960s are often viewed nostalgically as an idyllic era when hardworking husbands came home to their perpetually happy wives whose chief obligation was to care for their husbands and their children. Throughout the postwar era, popular culture, in such forms as advertisements like those for appliances and beauty products, and television programs like The Donna Reed Show and Father Knows Best, conveyed this image of the ideal woman: a young, beautiful, obedient, and sexually available wife and mother who never complained, found satisfaction in caring for her family, and was never preoccupied with issues outside the home. However, ideology did not always reflect reality. Housewives were often overwhelmed with the amount of domestic duties they had to perform – ones that popular culture claimed would be fulfilling for them. This culmination of women’s dissatisfaction with their wifely and motherly duties eventually led Betty Friedan to address and discuss this “problem that has no name” in the opening chapter of her now immortalized book, The Feminine Mystique. In this widely popular book that initiated the Second Wave of the Feminist Movement, Friedan attempts to discredit the omnipresent media-perpetuated belief that women gained fulfillment through their domestic roles. When viewing Betty Friedan’s “The Problem That Has No Name” through the cultural lens of women’s portrayal in the postwar media, it is evident that the text repudiates the media as a source of ideology by discussing its false idealized images of female domesticity, its discouragement of “unfeminine” norm-breaking behavior, and its misleading definitions of femininity. The ideology communicated by popular culture in the late 1950s and early 1960s reflected a complete reversal of that of the World War II era. Because men had to relinquish their occupations in order to defend their country, the United States government, with the help of the media, encouraged women to take the men’s place in the workforce, especially in the manufacture of airplanes and ammunition. The government and media did this by glamorizing the workforce and by claiming that women’s work outside the home was patriotic; for example, the Office of War Information issued propaganda that depicted strong and capable “Rosie the Riveter” and a newsreel entitled “Glamour Girls of 1943” that portrayed female riveters and assembly-line workers, both of which asserted that women were not restricted in their work options and that they were equal to men (Douglas 46). This campaign proved successful, leading 6 million women to join the workforce to support the war effort (Douglas 46).

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However, when the war ended, an effort to remove women from the workforce that was aided by government propaganda, magazines, television shows, and films that “reinforced traditional concepts of femininity and instructed women to subordinate their interests to those of returning male veterans” began (Meyerowitz 3). Chief reasons for this movement include a fear that returning soldiers would be unemployed due to a lack of available jobs, that another depression would arise, and that Communism would infiltrate the United States (it was said that because Soviet women had more masculine jobs and left their children in state-run child-care centers to be indoctrinated, women should stay home and care for their children to ensure that freedom and democracy, not Communism, would reign in the U.S.) (Douglas 47). Whereas during World War II it was considered patriotic to join the workforce, it was now patriotic to stay at home and raise children. Although this effort proved successful in the sense that millions of women now returned to the home, they did so “painfully” and with great difficulty (Friedan 495). It was difficult for them to relinquish their career aspirations because they felt that the media gave them conflicting messages: initially, women were encouraged to join the workforce, and now they were told that they should gain fulfillment not through working, but through being a housewife. Before long, this ideal of domesticity became “the cherished and self-perpetuating core of contemporary American


Carolina Tauler

culture,” with women struggling to conform and the media becoming so omnipresent in reinforcing domesticity, that the next generation of women never even imagined that they could gain gratification outside the home (Friedan 497, 495). Moreover, this movement, which extended until well after the war, coincided with the replacement of television shows of the early 1950s such as I Love Lucy and The Honeymooners that challenged the image of the happy housewife by exhibiting independent, strong-willed females constantly defending themselves against and engaging in a battle of the sexes with their husbands, with ones such as Leave It to Beaver and Father Knows Best of the late 1950s and early 1960s that portrayed women as cheerful, docile domestic workers and fathers as the main authority figures (Douglas 50-51). As a result of this transition, women were made to believe, through the prevalence of images of female domesticity, that their household chores were the key to satisfaction. Betty Friedan asserted that the fact that women were constantly bombarded with images suggesting that they should gain fulfillment from their daily activities made them hesitant to ask whether there was more to life than these mundane actions. According to Friedan, “for over fifteen years there was no word of this yearning in the millions of words written about women, for women, in all the columns, books, and articles by experts telling women their role was to seek fulfillment as wives and mothers” (494). These sources claimed to understand women and to recognize their needs, but the female psyche, with its unaddressed concerns and tribulations was more complicated than the subject matter of these sources. The media unrealistically assumed that women’s only problems were domestic ones or ones related to their appearance, as seen in advertisements such as one for Ingram’s Milkweed Cream which contained a “Recipe for Holding a Husband” (Holt 3). Furthermore, television shows such as The Donna Reed Show, which suggested that good mothers were housewives who constantly smiled, never complained, and always looked polished while effortlessly performing various chores, inundated women with glorified images of housework (Douglas 44). This ideal was widespread in the sense that “millions of women lived their lives in the image of those pretty pictures of the American suburban housewife,” constantly serving their husbands and children and keeping their house looking beautiful; this suggests that the images were effective in compelling American women to aspire to live according to this image instead of seeking independence (Friedan 497). The fact that women never suspected that other women experienced discontent at home probably contributed to the dissemination of this ideal representation. Because of the prevalence of these images, women thought that something must be wrong with their marriages or themselves if they did not feel the “mysterious fulfillment” they should feel when “waxing the kitchen floor,” as the media claimed they would; for example, an advertisement that claimed that “Tide’s got what women want!” implied that women should feel fulfillment from their household chores (Friedan 497; Holt 3). Until the publication of The Feminine Mystique these women never suspected that the problem lay not in themselves, but in society’s deceptive tactics of spreading its sexist ideology. One of the reasons that women were believed to find pleasure in domesticity is that the work it entailed was supposedly easy to accomplish. As popular culture suggested and Friedan sarcastically stated, the American housewife was “freed by science and labor-saving appliances from the drudgery, the dangers of childbirth, and the illnesses of her mother” (496). Ideas such as this were reinforced by home appliance advertisements like Maytag’s, which portrayed a woman “gushing, ‘Look…no work!’” (Douglas 54). The fact that appliances that supposedly allowed more time for leisure actually allotted time for more work left women feeling overworked and betrayed. Women usually described their problem of fulfillment in terms of their daily domestic routine that left them no time for leisure and consequently left them exhausted; they became trapped at home and had no time to devote to relaxation (Friedan 501). Furthermore, television programs such as Queen for a Day, a game show in which audience members chose one of four women who related heart-wrenching stories about their lives and asked for a prize that would lessen their burden,

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Audley Webster Essay Contest

elevated the image of a suffering, unselfish housewife and implied that women’s problems could simply be solved with more consumer goods (Douglas 32-33). However, as Friedan maintained, women’s attempts to solve their problem of dissatisfaction with “more money, a bigger house, a second car, moving to a better suburb” proved futile and even exacerbated their problem (Friedan 499). Though popular culture asserted that a woman’s domestic routine did not cause them suffering, Friedan claimed that it caused emptiness and an insatiable desire to improve their situation, even if their methods were considered unfeminine. Friedan argued that women were restricted in their options to remedy their loss of purpose by the fact that the media portrayed these options, such as employment, as unfeminine. She wrote that in the late 1950s, a third of American women worked, although most of them were older and worked out of necessity, and that women did not enter into professional fields despite shortages in careers such as nursing, education, and social work (Friedan 496). The fact that this occurred despite the prevalence of images of housewives signified a great stride towards feminism. However, women still felt obligated to follow the example of domesticity the media conveyed and a new generation of women was being socialized into believing that their highest aspiration was to become a housewife and mother and consequently devoted “their lives from earliest girlhood to finding a husband and bearing children” (Friedan 495). Various forms of media, such as a Barbie game that included board markers suggesting male dominance like “You Are Not Ready When He Calls – Miss One Turn” and “He Criticizes Your Hairdo – Go to the Beauty Shop,” and Disney movies that glorified beautiful and docile (and thus feminine) damsels in distress while portraying more ambitious female characters as unsightly villains, contributed to girls’ indoctrination into surrendering loftier goals in order to lead domestic lives (Douglas 25, 28-29). This can probably explain why young girls married earlier, dropped out of college, and had more children than women of previous decades who had participated in the workforce during World War II (Friedan 495). So-called experts reaffirmed the belief that “truly feminine women do not want careers, higher education, political rights,” as when a psychological study conducted by psychiatrist Marynia Farnham and sociologist Ferdinand Lundberg found that women who desired to enter the workforce were “neurotically disturbed” and were afflicted with “penis envy,” the Freudian belief that women were jealous of men and desired to be like them; Friedan refers to this study when she says women were taught to pity these “neurotic, unfeminine, unhappy women” (Friedan 495; Douglas 47). Apparently, according to the study, the desire to seek employment was not only considered unfeminine, but also insane. Because the workforce, especially occupations in the sciences, was considered unfeminine, women either relinquished their dream for advancement through employment, as when a girl Friedan mentioned declined a science fellowship in order to be a housewife and mother, or never aspired to this goal (496). Instances such as this suggest that although more women joined the workforce, popular culture generally succeeded in compelling women to remain in the confines of the home and in further defining femininity in a superficial and inaccurate manner.

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Because women were discouraged from working outside the home, many sought identity and a remedy for their discontent in more physical forms of femininity, but as Friedan maintained, the media conveyed an impossible standard that women had to look and feel a certain way and the oversaturation of these images incited in women an insatiable appetite for gratification. Her examples of women dying of cancer because they refused a life-saving drug whose side effects were considered “unfeminine”, of three out of ten American women dying their hair blonde, and of women eating a chalk called Metrecal instead of food to become as thin as models in advertisements suggest that women were willing to sacrifice their individuality and their very lives in order to live up to a standard (Friedan 496). There is no doubt that an oversaturation of media images in advertisements, films, and television shows portraying young, beautiful, thin women led to this irrational behavior. Women, encouraged by the invention of the birth control pill and the prevalence of films that portrayed women enjoying sex, also sought fulfillment in sex; however, this led


Carolina Tauler

to what Friedan called a “sexual hunger in wives so great that their husbands [could not] satisfy it” (Douglas 61, 67; Friedan 500). However, perhaps because authorities attempted to restrict the availability of birth control information (as when the Connecticut head of Planned Parenthood Estelle Griswold was arrested for distributing birth control information), women had more children (Douglas 64; Friedan 495). Because of the media, women’s expectations that they would gain pleasure from adhering to a particular standard of physical appearance or having sex were so high that they could not be satisfied. Although popular culture seems to be a trivial part of our lives, it actually does influence our thought and reflect society’s values as well as its faults. Viewing Betty Friedan’s “The Problem That Has No Name” through the lens of postwar popular culture reveals a primary source of housewives’ misery, namely that they attempted to gain fulfillment by emulating media-prescribed images of how they should look, act, and feel. The media, which society used to control women’s urges to find happiness outside the home, encouraged women to define their femininity and their very identity according to these images. By creating the illusion that all women acted and felt the same way, the media discouraged women from aspiring to goals not perpetuated by popular culture, such as employment, thereby reaffirming male dominance in society. Once they realized that other women shared their despair, they discovered that the media had deceived them since girlhood and consequently strove to gain the respect and recognition they deserved. Their efforts ultimately culminated in the Feminist Movement, which still strives for women’s rights even to this day and which has changed the face of American women forever. Works Cited Douglas, Susan J. Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media. New York, NY: Three Rivers, 1994. Print. Friedan, Betty. “The Problem That Has No Name.” The Portable Sixties Reader. Ed. Charters, Ann. New York: Penguin, 2003. 493-503. Print. Holt, Jennifer. “The Ideal Woman.” Diss. California State University Stanislaus, 2005. Web. 19 Mar. 2010. Meyerowitz, Joanne J. Not June Cleaver: Women and Gender in Postwar America, 1945-1960. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1994. Web. 19 Mar. 2010.

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HONORABLE MENTION


Audley Webster Essay Contest

Instructor Reflections: April Mann on Zachary Appelbaum

W hen I gave out the prompt for this assignment, I encouraged students to choose a topic that genuinely interested them, one that they would be willing to research and

study for almost three months. For Zachary, one complicating factor was that the topic he wanted to write about, human eugenics, wasn’t an obvious fit for our science-writing based review paper. He and I discussed the possibilities, and Zachary found a way to bring his interests into the ongoing scientific discussion about prenatal genetic testing. The paper that he ended up writing touches upon not only science and history, but also legal and medical ethics. I was impressed by the way Zachary accepted the challenge of the assignment and tried to make his review as genuinely comprehensive as possible. When the rest of the class read Zachary’s paper, we all learned something about an important topic, and his paper challenged us to think critically about a practice which we normally accept without question. In a class full of highly intelligent and hard-working PRISM students, Zach and his friends set the bar very high for all of us. --A.M., March 18, 2011

Assignment Literature Review Paper For this assignment, you are to write a literature review on a topic of your own choosing. Please choose a topic you will be interested in for the several months you will be working on this paper. Using recent publications in your area, you will write an analysis of the current state of knowledge in this field. The length of the project will vary, depending on your topic. On our website, I have posted several documents elaborating on the characteristics of literature review papers, and we will be talking about this at great length in class as well. In addition, I have posted a number of actual review articles on a variety of topics to our website. We will be reviewing parts of those papers together as a class and using particular bits and pieces of different articles as models for method, organization, content, and presentation.

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Modern Eugenics

by Zachary Appelbaum

ENG 107: English Composition II Instructor: April Mann Spring 2010


Audley Webster Essay Contest

Modern Eugenics Introduction “It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind... Three generations of imbeciles are enough” (UVA Health System). Those were the final deciding words of Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. as the United States Supreme Court decided, in an 8-1 majority decision, that forced sterilization of anyone deemed “feeble minded” was actually constitutional in Buck vs. Bell (1927). This decision validated the compulsory sterilization of Carrie Buck, the first person to be eugenically sterilized (Smith, 1999). These “feeble minded” individuals were anyone who exhibited features of disability, mental retardation, insanity, or even epilepsy (Dowbiggin, 2010). The Supreme Court decision in Buck vs. Bell reinforced the science of eugenics, which for the purposes of this paper is defined as: the science or belief in improving the quality of human populations by either encouraging reproduction by people with desirable traits or discouraging reproduction by people undesirable traits or genetic defects (www.dictionary.com). First introduced by Sir Francis Galton, the concept of eugenics has been primarily concerned with forcibly sterilizing those who exhibited symptoms of “feeble mindedness,” an idea that was conceived to ensure defective genes would not be passed on to proceeding generations. This was the basis for the Virginia Sterilization Law, which was tested by the Supreme Court in 1927. The Virginia Law, in turn, was the basis for the program initiated by the National Socialists in Germany during the 1930’s and 1940’s (Jewish Virtual Library). As technology has improved throughout the twentieth and into the twenty-first century, the proponents of eugenics have adapted their ideologies and methods to suit the changing environment, specifically the use of prenatal screening. Instead of preventing reproduction by the undesirable, prospective parents can now screen their unborn child for genetic disorders through certain tests, including amniocentesis, which many lead to eugenics dealing with the termination of pregnancies that involving fetuses with positive test results (Ward, 2002). Research regarding this new eugenics has already started, but there is a lot more information to be uncovered. This paper is a review of the literature and the research that has been completed up to this point regarding the use and views of prenatal screening, which can already screen for over one thousand conditions (Munger, 2007). In addition, this literature will address the question of whether there is a new wave of eugenics. Method A systematic review of the published literature was undertaken to locate peer-reviewed articles as well as newspaper articles that were related to prenatal screening of various genetic disorders,the subject of eugenics, and the United States Supreme Court decision of Buck vs. Bell. The research that was completed was conducted primarily through Internet databases, such as Ebscohost and Academic Search Premier. The investigator utilized the keywords: “Buck vs. Bell,” “eugenics,” “prenatal testing,” and “eugenics and prenatal testing.” These searches yielded 2,375 results, in which only twenty-nine articles were used to review the concept of eugenics as it is concerned with prenatal testing. These searches of the previous literature revealed that there are interesting questions for researchers who are concerned about the views and links of genetic testing to eugenics, such as: Who utilizes prenatal screening techniques? What are the reasons for doing so? Do prospective parents utilize prenatal screening due to eugenic reasons? What are the views of society concerning the use of genetic screening? Does background/culture affect one’s views towards prenatal genetic screening?

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RESULTS

Zachary Appelbaum

Who Decides to Utilize Genetic Screening? Within the past few years, prenatal screening for genetic disorders has become a popular means of determining whether an unborn child has any genetic disorders. One of the questions that arises from this popularity is: Who exactly are the ones who formulate the conscious decision to have these procedures done? In her research (2006), Dr. Miriam Kupperman investigated the typical profile of parents who genetically tested their unborn children. Through the course of her study, Kupperman found that 85% of women under the age of thirty-five used prenatal screening. The study also reported that women with “higher incomes and greater educational attainment were more likely to test than other women” (Kupperman, 2006). Parents who have a significant educational background are obviously able to consider the possibility of genetic screening and can fashion a decision based on available information and known risks. Even though some have suggested that racial or ethnic differences can affect the decision to utilize prenatal screening, the authors of “Beyond Race or Ethnicity and Socioeconomic Status” have found that there were no differences in testing strategy among women of different races and ethnicities under the age of thirty-five. These differences were significant in women over the age of thirty-five, however. White and Asian women were more likely to utilize new scientific technology than Hispanic or African American women (Kupperman, 2006). These results indicate that the decision to use prenatal genetic screening stems from attitudes, beliefs, and background. Race, income, education level, and ethnicity were important indicators for such use. Another article (Singer, 1999) found that as the degree of religion increases, the likelihood of testing subsequently decreases. Singer found that people who were more religious were less likely to test because of their belief in pro-life and antiabortion attitudes. In 2009, Pieters found that prospective parents going through low risk pregnancies are more likely to undergo prenatal screening because the risk to the fetus is not as great (Pieters, 2009). It is interesting to note that this study focuses on the individuals that undergo these procedures, including amniocentesis, but says nothing about the motives behind these actions. Why do Prospective Parents Utilize Prenatal Screening? According to the research, prospective parents utilize the technology of prenatal screening for several reasons, ranging from reassurance to information. When interviewing Latin American women in rural California in 2008, Griffiths found that the major reason for undergoing prenatal screening is reassurance (Griffiths, 2008; Jacques, 2004), reassurance that the child is relatively healthy. Another concern for these prospective parents is emotional preparation if the prenatal screening reveals an increased risk for a genetic abnormality. These parents need time to get ready for the arrival of a child with potential physical or mental disabilities (Griffiths, 2008). Another significant reason for utilizing prenatal screening is to gather information. Dixon investigated the question of whether medical doctors encourage prenatal testing and subsequently abortion of fetuses with Down Syndrome. By answering these questions, Dixon reveals that one of the reasons for prospective parents to use prenatal testing is to gather information, information regarding the child and the pregnancy. Gathering this information is a hallmark of responsible behavior, good decision making, and good parenting (Dixon, 2000). Prospective parents need to believe that their actions are compatible with the image of responsible and educated parents. Because of these motives, prenatal screening has become a routine clinical practice of prenatal care (Vassy, 2006). With this popularity, it is important to note the views of prenatal screening of these communities that deal with this topic the most: the law and medical communities, and the parents themselves.

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Audley Webster Essay Contest

Views on Prenatal Testing Views of the Legal Community In order to investigate the complete view on prenatal screening, one must first explore the views of the legal community on the topic of prenatal screening. This is necessary because the lawyers are the ones that produce and interpret the laws regarding reproductive autonomy, genetic screening/testing, and abortion. In reviewing the modern day eugenics movement in 2007, Stephanie Yu Lim discussed the involvement of the law and the criminal justice system in the eugenics movement. Over the years, prosecutors have attempted to punish pregnant women for taking illegal drugs by charging them with child abuse, child neglect, child endangerment, or delivery of drugs to a minor (Lim, 2007). These charges were brought against these women not because of the attorneys’ beliefs that these indictments were justified under the law, but because of the fact that the prosecutors wanted to protect the lives of the fetuses. The attorneys view drug addiction as a “bad trait” and that these women should not be having children (Lim, 2007). This is why the prosecutors indicted these women, who lost custody of their children while they were in prison. Clearly, the lawyers held eugenic views regarding drug addiction being a “bad trait” that potential children should be protected from. In 2006, Elger and Harding examined the views of both medical and law students of eugenics, prenatal screening, and abortion of fetuses with increased risk of disability. These two researchers found that 73.2% of law students interviewed agreed that society should do everything possible to decrease the frequency of Huntington’s Disease, an autosomal dominant disorder. In addition, 40.3% of law students in the study believe that the wishes of patients not to be screened should be strictly enforced (Elger and Harding, 2006). These numbers indicate that many individuals in this country believe in the science of eugenics and believe that everything should be done, including screening and abortion, to diminish the number of children that are born with genetic disorders, even when these views contradict the views of the parents. In comparison to the legal community in the United States, the legal community in Japan also shares similar eugenic views in a country that has deep seated discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Japan passed the National Eugenic Law in 1940, a practice that continued until 1996, and the eugenic Protection Law in 1996 that ultimately focused the concern on the quality of offspring (Kato, 2009). This law made compulsory sterilization of undesirable individuals legal. When studying the eugenics movement in Japan, Kato found that 80%-90% of individuals that resort to abortion abort due to anomalies of the fetus. Koch studied eugenic sterilization in Scandinavian countries in 2001. Koch found that in 1929, Denmark passed the Danish Sterilization Act of 1929, which allowed compulsory sterilization of mentally retarded inmates (Koch, 2001). In societies that have roots in discrimination and eugenics, the lawyers made it possible for the individuals to use prenatal screening in order to abort fetuses with physical or mental disabilities. Views of the Medical Community

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In order to fully investigate the views of prenatal screening and eugenics, one must investigate the views of the medical community, which is necessary because medical professionals advise parents on whether or not to undergo prenatal screening and what to do after these tests. In 1975, 77% of pediatric surgeons favored withholding food and medical treatments from newborns diagnosed with Down Syndrome (DS) (Colson, 1997). The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends women undergo prenatal screening (Steinbock, 2007). These two facts indicate that the medical community endorses the benefits of prenatal screening. In “Informed Consent?,” Dixon examines how medical doctors encourage prenatal screening and abortion of fetuses diagnosed with DS. In the review, Dixon acknowledges that as little as 50% to as high as 90% of fetuses diagnosed with DS are subsequently terminated (Dixon, 2008). Dixon attributes these high percentages with some of the action of medical professionals, specifically medical doc-


Zachary Appelbaum

tors and genetic counselors. One of these actions is concerned with the relay of the news that the fetus is diagnosed with DS. Most of the medical doctors begin with phrases “I’m sorry, but...” or “Unfortunately,...” (Dixon, 2008), which underscore the negative connotation that doctors place on DS and on disability in general. Dixon also notes that most medical doctors are not formally trained in genetics and are ill-equipped to deal with questions posed by prospective parents. In addition, many medical doctors are not non-direct, or allowing for an informed decision free from coercion. Genetic counselors, on the other hand, are equipped to field questions and are generally non-directive. However, counselors are frequently asked questions such as “What would you do?” (Dixon, 2008). There is obviously no way that genetic counselors are able to be non-direct when answering questions such as these. Elger and Harding found that 39.4% of medical students interviewed agreed that society should do everything possible to decrease the frequency of Huntington’s Disease, an autosomal dominant disorder. In addition, 83.4% of medical students in the study believe that the wishes of patients not to be screened should be strictly enforced (Elger and Harding, 2006). These numbers suggest that many future doctors in this country do not believe in the science of eugenics and believe that everything should be done in order to save the child no matter the disability. Views of Prospective Parents A complete review of the views of the concept of prenatal screening related to the field of eugenics would be insufficient without examining the views of the prospective parents who make the decision to utilize prenatal screening. One study that was mentioned in Wiener’s 2009 review of “Modern Eugenics” stated that 75% of people would like to gain genetic information and be able to share it with medical professionals. However, these same individuals do not want this information to be shared with insurance companies (Wiener, 2009). These numbers indicate that a majority of prospective parents prefer the information that prenatal screening offers and want their doctors to have that information in order to assist them. Wiener also reviewed a study that found that 35%-45% would at least consider aborting a fetus with Bipolar Disorder (BPD), while 25% would abort if the fetus was found to have a painful disease (Wiener, 2009). These numbers signify the fact that for most individuals, a mental disability is worse for the child than a physical disability. This might be attributed to society’s fear and misunderstanding of the mentally-handicapped. For example, Mezer examined the attitudes regarding attitudes about prenatal screening for Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), an autosomal dominant disorder that can lead to retinal dystrophy (Mezer, 2007). Mezer found that individuals who are affected with RP are more likely to endorse RP screening than unaffected individuals. This finding further accentuates the fact that prospective parents fear mental disability more than a physical ones. These parents are not only afraid about the health of the fetus, but these prospective parents are afraid about some of the stress that could be involved if the fetus is diagnosed with a genetic disorder. These stresses include both financial and emotional pressures that comes along with this knowledge. Culture can also play a part in the parents’ views of prenatal screening. Griffiths found that most Latin American women in rural California opposed the use of prenatal screening and abortion as well (Griffiths, 2008). This is possibly due to a greater degree of religious faith. Whereas religion seems to play a part in the attitudes of the Latin American women, culture seems to play a role in the Japanese who are faced with the decision to utilize prenatal screening (Kato, 2009). Because the society in Japan is one that discrimination against disabilities is common and the “quality” of offspring is a concern, a majority of individuals use prenatal screening and testing and 80%-90% of fetuses with anomalies are eventually aborted (Kato, 2009).

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Audley Webster Essay Contest

Discussion The concept of eugenics was first introduced by Sir Francis Galton because many believed that by the end of the nineteenth century, genetic deterioration was taking place in the developed world (Rembis, 2009). This concept was designed to eliminate by encouraging reproduction by individuals with “good genes” or preventing individuals with “bad genes” from reproducing (Sandall, 2008). In the past, this was done through compulsory sterilization. The United States, Japan, and the Scandinavian countries all passed sterilization laws that allowed the government to sterilize the mentally insane and the disabled (Koch, 2006; Kato, 2009). With the advent of technology, some fear that a new type of eugenics is surfacing (Meehan, 2009). Instead of governments trying to prevent an increase in the frequency of disability, individuals can prevent their birth by using prenatal screening for many disorders. Prenatal screening has become a common practice in prenatal care. Parents make the decision to have this procedure done for various reasons: reassurance, information, and the notion that such screening is a hallmark of good parenting. While the proponents of prenatal testing advocate that the increased usage is an indicator of reproductive autonomy, the opponents of such usage advocate that prenatal screening is a form of discrimination. The opponents believe that by searching for any abnormalities of the fetus, prospective parents are making disability the problem by aborting those that exhibit mental and physical defects (Asch, 1999). In this case, the focus is on eliminating the disability and not treating it. Those individuals that condone the use of prenatal screening believe that everything should be done to provide complete reproductive autonomy for the prospective parents, specifically the women. In the United States, this right takes precedence over potential discrimination since the 1970’s Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade. With the major advancements in genetics, prenatal screening, and biomedical intervention, interest in eugenics has peaked (Rembis, 2009). With the increased popularity in prenatal screening, the question is whether this will usher in a new, modern, and silent eugenics. The answer to this question is not yet known, as a review of future literature must be completed. What is certain, however, is that the field of eugenics may play an important role in the near future. The issue of overpopulation and the hot topic of genetic engineering may prove to be helped by eugenics. With the world population projected to grow to between 9-11 billion during the next forty years, eugenic sterilizations may be the answer to this global problem. By directly manipulating genes, one may be able to, in the near future, to change the appearance, intelligence, and even behavior of individuals. Certainly, society must deal with the ethics behind overpopulation and genetic engineering and the questions that arise. Eugenics may bring the answers to these difficult questions. References Asch, A. (1999). Prenatal Diagnosis and Selective Abortion: A Challenge to Practice and Policy. American Journal of Public Health, 89(11), 1649-1657. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database. Colson, C., & Pearcey, N. (1997). Why Max deserves a life. Christianity Today, 41(7), 80. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database. Dixon, D.P. (2008). Informed consent or institutionalized eugenics? how the medical profession encourages abortion of fetuses with down syndrome. Issues in Law & Medicine, 24, 3-59. Elger, B., & Harding, T. (2003). Huntington’s disease: do future physicians and lawyers think eugenically?. Clinical Genetics, 64(4), 327. doi:10.1034/j.1399-0004.2003.00122.x. 30


Zachary Appelbaum

Griffiths, C., & Kuppermann, M. (2008). Perceptions of Prenatal Testing for Birth Defects among Rural Latinas. Maternal & Child Health Journal, 12(1), 34-42. doi:10.1007/s10995-007-0214-3. Jaques, A., Halliday, J., & Bell, R. (2004). Do women know that prenatal testing detects fetuses with Down syndrome?. Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 24(6), 647-651. doi:10.1080/01443610400007885. Jewish virtual library. (2010). Retrieved from http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/disabled. Kato, M. (2010). Quality of offspring? Socio-cultural factors, pre-natal testing and reproductive decision-making in Japan. Culture, Health & Sexuality, 12(2), 177-189. doi:10.1080/13691050902993676. Kleinveld, J., van den Berg, M., van Eijk, J., van Vugt, J., van der Wal, G., & Timmermans, D. (2008). Does Offering Prenatal Screening Influence Pregnant Women’s Attitudes regarding Prenatal Testing?. Community Genetics, 11(6), 368-374. doi:10.1159/000133309. Koch, L. (2006). Eugenic Sterilisation in Scandinavia. European Legacy, 11(3), 299-309. doi:10.1080/10848770600668340. Kuppermann, M., Learman, L., Gates, E., Gregorich, S., Nease Jr., R., Lewis, J., et al. (2006). Beyond Race or Ethnicity and Socioeconomic Status. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 107(5), 1087-1097. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database. Meehan, M. (2009). The Triumph of Eugenics in Prenatal Testing. Human Life Review, 35(3), 28-40. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database. Mezer, E., Babul-Hirji, R., Wise, R., Chipman, M., DaSilva, L., Rowell, M., et al. (2007). Attitudes Regarding Predictive Testing for Retinitis Pigmentosa. Ophthalmic Genetics, 28(1), 9-15. doi:10.1080/13816810701199423. Munger, K., Gill, C., Ormond, K., & Kirschner, K. (2007). The next exclusion debate: Assessing technology, ethics, and intellectual disability after the human genome project. Mental Retardation & Developmental Disabilities Research Reviews, 13(2), 121-128. doi:10.1002/mrdd.20146. Pieters, J., Kooper, A., Smits, A., & de Vries, J. (2009). Parent’s attitudes towards full-scale prenatal testing for genetic disorders. Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology, 30(1), 42-47. doi:10.1080/01674820802545842. Rembis, M. (2009). (Re)Defining disability in the ‘genetic age’: behavioral genetics, ‘new’ eugenics and the future of impairment. Disability & Society, 24(5), 585-597. doi:10.1080/09687590903010941. Sandall, R. (2008). Sir Francis Galton and the Roots of Eugenics. Society, 45(2), 170-176. doi:10.1007/ s12115-008-9058-8. Shriver, T. (2007). Silent Eugenics. Commonweal, 134(19), 10-11. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database. Singer, E., Corning, A., & Antonucci, T. (1999). Attitudes Toward Genetic Testing and Fetal Diagnosis, 1990-1996. Journal of Health & Social Behavior, 40(4), 429. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database. Smith, J. (1999). Thoughts on the Changing Meaning of Disability New Eugenics or New Wholeness?. Remedial & Special Education, 20(3), 131. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database. 31


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Steinbock, B. (2007). Prenatal testing for adult-onset conditions: cui bono?. Reproductive BioMedicine Online, 1538-42. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database. University of Virginia health system. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.hsl.virginia.edu/historical/ eugenic Vassy, C. (2006). From a genetic innovation to mass health programmes: The diffusion of Down’s Syndrome prenatal screening and diagnostic techniques in France. Social Science & Medicine, 63(8), 2041-2051. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2006.04.032. Ward, L. (2002). Whose right to choose? The ‘new’ genetics, prenatal testing and people with learning difficulties. Critical Public Health, 12(2), 187-200. doi:10.1080/09581590210127406. Wiener, D., Ribeiro, R., & Warner, K. (2009). Mentalism, disability rights and modern eugenics in a ‘brave new world’. Disability & Society, 24(5), 599-610. doi:10.1080/09687590903010974. Yu Lim, S. (2008). PROTECTING THE UNBORN AS MODERN DAY EUGENICS. Health Matrix: Journal of Law Medicine, 18(1), 127-136. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.i

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Audley Webster Essay Contest

Instructor Reflections: Stephanie Selvick on Adam Bird-Ridnell

Iatefeel privileged to have come across Adam Bird-Ridnell during my first year as a gradustudent instructor. His writing continually brought with it a restrained sense of pas-

sion and dignity, nuanced insight, and enthusiasm that makes teaching composition worthwhile. Adam’s biggest strength was his patience, which allowed him to necessarily sit and deliberate over the complex critical and creative works. The effortlessness of his final project, “All About My Mother: Authenticity and Performance,” celebrates all of these qualities – patient analysis, nuanced insight, and excitement – while doing justice to and praising Pedro Almodovar’s paradoxical film. His paper puts into conversation All About My Mother with Kate Bornstein’s concept of gender passing, as well as critical film reviews which reflect on the multiple performances of womanhood and motherhood. In the end, Adam successfully challenges Bornstein’s somewhat dire view of binary gender systems by demonstrating how Agrado, Almodovar’s humorous transvestite prostitute, exists simultaneously within and without a male/female gender structure. --S.S., March 12, 2011

Assignment Incorporating Secondary Sources This essay will ask you to pull from all the rhetorical skills you have learned thus far and apply them in a 6-7 page final paper on Pedro Almodovar’s film All About My Mother. Like the shorter essays, you should put forth an interesting argument that will allow the viewer to see the film in a different light. Also like the other essays, you will be incorporating secondary sources and choosing which methodology will suit your essay best. Methodology: Instead of me telling you what methodology to use, you must choose which methodology will prove to be most useful. These include, but are not limited to: A) putting two critics into conversation with one another in order to demonstrate something new about the film. B) Reading certain aspects or characters of the film through the lens of an essay or essays. C) Close-reading specific scenes for repetition, motifs, etc. You may find a need to combine these methodologies or choose something altogether new. The point is to see methodology as a deliberate choice a writer makes in order to put forth their argument. Secondary Sources: Instead of me giving you the secondary sources to use (Bornstein, Warner, Garber, Segdwick, Seaton, Sedaris, the list goes on) you are being asked to research and discover your own sources. This does not mean you have to discard everything you have read this summer. I encourage you to make creative use of our collective sources. However, you must incorporate at least one secondary peer-reviewed essay or three film reviews. You can and are encouraged to incorporate as many sources as you see fit; however, above is the minimum requirement in order to successfully complete your final essay.

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All About My Mother: Authenticity and Performance

by Adam Bird-Ridnell

ENG 106: English Composition II Instructor: Stephanie Selvick Fall 2010


Audley Webster Essay Contest

All About My Mother: Authenticity and Performance In Almodovar’s All About My Mother we follow the lives of a handful of women all struggling to act out the roles that they feel it is necessary to play. The common thread from the past until the present is a theatre production of A Streetcar Named Desire and acting is used as a metaphor for life as well as a part of life. We meet Agrado, a transvestite prostitute, who attempts to pass as a woman, Manuela who is a would-be actress who now has to play many roles, such as nurse and mother to various characters, and Huma, a notable theatre actress who began life imitating female stars of the screen and now cannot stop performing. Although many initially find Agrado to be the most controversial character in the film, due to her looks, her cosmetic surgeries or her profession as a prostitute, upon closer examination we find that in fact she is the most authentic of all the characters. She in fact is not striving to pass as a particular gender but rather to embody the qualities that she desires for herself; in contrast Huma and Manuela lack control over their own efforts to pass, as a sophisticated actress and as a mother respectively. Their acts have become second-nature, reflexive and thus rather sad. After the death of Manuela’s son Esteban in act one, the movie shifts focus, following her on her journey as she meets various female characters, some she used to know while others are new. One reviewer opined that in All About my Mother “Almodovar proceeds to shine the spotlight on too many of these supporting women, and loses sight of Manuela’s [...] emotional state” (Edalatpour 20). I would argue that these other characters bring light to bear on what Manuela is struggling with as she tries to go on, acting as though she is not experiencing constant grief over the loss of her child. Of these characters, one is struck most by Agrado. She is the first character we meet who would be considered by most to be queer. As Jessa Lingel writes, “it is by identifying oneself as that which contrasts with what is presumed to be widely and unquestionably acceptable that one can claim queerness” (400). Most people certainly see Agrado’s character as contrasting with what is usually acceptable. First, she is a prostitute, second she is a transvestite, and third she says exactly what is on her mind at all times which is after all widely and often considered a non-feminine thing to do. We see her as playing a role, as pretending to be other than she is. A closer look however reveals something very different. When we first encounter Agrado, many wonder what gender she perceives herself as - is she a man or a woman, a transvestite or a transssexual and so on. Some will examine her physical qualities and appearance to gauge whether or not she can fit in as a woman, and whether her mannerisms, affectations, and her voice can allow her to pass as a woman. In discussing this question I must first define passing and then see whether Agrado is indeed even trying to achieve this. The results are surprising.

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A useful analysis of passing and its functions is made by Kate Bornstein in Gender Outlaw. It should be pointed out that Bornstein sees passing as a double edged sword, with negative connotations due to its role in enforcing a binary gender system which she sees as oppressive. Bornstein writes that a choice within a binary gender system “is not a choice at all [...] once we choose one or the other, we’ve bought into the system that perpetuates the binary” and this remains “a class system” where “one side will always have more power than the other” (101, 113). Thus when we examine the performance of a person and try to decide what gender they are, a man or a women, the binary system is reinforced, not questioned. However, at its most basic “passing is a form of pretending, which can be fun. In gender, passing is currently defined as the act of appearing in the world as a gender to which one does not belong, or as a gender to which one formerly did not belong” (Bornstein 125). Some might think that such passing would be an interesting challenge to those engaged in it but, in fact, it can be a harrowing experience. As I will show, I think that this pressure to pass applies more to other characters (in regards to gender roles rather than gender itself ) as Agrado manages to avoid this trap. Bornstein puts it dramatically but I think correctly when she writes:


Adam Bird-Ridnell

Ironically, the concept of passing invites and even demands the concept of reading (seeing through someone else’s attempt at passing) and being read. The culture desires and will insist upon an unmasking; the culture will have its ‘truth.’ The fear of being read as transsexual weighs so heavily on an individual that it focuses even more attention on ‘passing.’ It’s a conundrum, because more and better passing brings about an increased fear of being read.” (128) As viewers we initially assume that Agrado is trying to pass as a particular gender; she wears Chanel outfits, she describes herself as a model, watching her figure, and we guess that successful passing would perhaps make her more money as a prostitute for men. We presume that this would be useful in increasing her earning power. Yet we find out that even this intuitive assumption is not correct. Rather, Agrado says that her lack of surgery helps her make more money. Further, we might be led to believe that she views femininity as being purely visual, given her many cosmetic surgeries. She disdains the drag queens who “confuse tranvestism with a circus. Worse with mime.” After all “a woman is her hair, her nails.” We find later though that it is not just physical qualities that Agrado searches for - there is more to it than that. In her scene where she stands upon the stage and delivers her monologue, in a close-up shot she does indeed point out the various surgeries (and their prices) that have allowed her to become “authentic.” Yet what this means to her is that “you are more authentic the more you resemble what you’ve dreamed you are.” In other words, Agrado’s motivation for changing her appearance does not fit into the two categories we most often assume when considering transvestites. We must ask ourselves why Agrado plays the role that she does, and what conclusions do we draw about her lot in life versus others in the film who also play roles. Jessa Lingel points out that passing can often be “an empowering display of liberation from the confines of binary power structures” which “offers a freedom from identifiers that limit, ensnare and entrap within social boundaries” (396, 402). This is a positive view of, among other things, transvestitism that clashes with what Bornstein argues. She feels that “through the mandate of passing, the culture uses transsexuals to reinforce the bipolar gender system, as transsexuals strive for recognition within their new gender, and thus the privilege and chains of their new gender” (Bornstein 127). It is hard to allow for both of these views, though perhaps positive effects for individuals are placed uneasily beside negative overall social effects. Nonetheless, Agrado is not so easily pigeon-holed. As Stephen Maddison puts it we usually see “transsexuality as a negotiation that corrects a personally experienced mistake of anatomy” or we think that “transgendered modes locate dysphoria in dysfunctional binary systems and attempt to resist gender altogether.” (280). However, Agrado does not fit neatly into either of these categories, he argues, since “she operates as a woman not because she seeks to naturalize an idea of womanhood...but because she strives so completely to identify with the experience of women, to participate in relations with women in kindred terms.” (280) If this is indeed the case, then Agrado does successfully pass because she is viewed by other characters in the film as a female friend, a sister, and so on. The role that Agrado attempts is a conscious choice and one she is aware of playing. Other characters in the film perform in other roles that are more often expected of them, and they seem more burdened than Agrado is by her chosen role. If we look at Huma, we see that she has become the ultimate actress, constantly performing at every opportunity. As well as her many onstage roles, even off stage the acting continues. Michael Sofair writes that “Huma has made acting her life, but this, far from creating anything real, seems to have made her unreal, [...] she is [...] a series of performances, emanations without substance or distinctiveness” (45). When walking with Manuela Huma quotes from Streetcar Named Desire that she has “always depended upon the kindness of strangers.” She finds it hard to talk in a real way anymore, since the dialogue from plays is so effective. Unfortunately, this means she is playing a character most of the time. In a revealing scene featuring a long two shot of the two women in the car together Huma admits to Manuela that she started smoking because of Bette Davis - “to

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Audley Webster Essay Contest

imitate her.” Her name is related to smoke, and she now finds that “smoke is all there’s been in [her] life.” Smoke we know is a screen, a cloud that is often used during theatre productions on stage to obscure what is going on, and this is what her life has become - clouded and obscured. Even her success is, to her, as unreal as she now is to others: it has “no taste or smell and when you get used to it, it’s like it didn’t exist.” This life is in direct contrast to Agrado’s who finds herself to be, at the very least, authentic. She proudly proclaims this quality that she sees in herself. As Sofair writes “in contrast to Huma, the reality of the transsexual Agrado is her endless performances” and these “have a consistent style and logic of their own which makes them something other than imitation and repetition. And because they express her ‘dream’ of herself, what her acting gives reality to is herself.” (45-46) Another reviewer makes the same point: “Authenticity of sentiment is, in a word, sincerity. As much as Agrado makes fun of herself in an excessive, theatrical manner she is, in the end, profoundly sincere” (Garlinger 123) In contrast, we sense an emptiness when Huma speaks that we do not find with Agrado. Despite Huma’s outward success and social status or acceptance, we do not really envy her. She seems to have lost control of her acting or her pretending long ago. She began imitating the female movie stars when she was eighteen, and now it has become second nature to her to imitate due to her need to pass as a sophisticated actress. Bornstein points out that “there’s a deep shame involved in any failure to pass,” and perhaps this fear is what drives Huma (126). Certainly, if we agree that “passing by choice can be fantastic fun [but] enforced passing is a joyless activity [since] any joy that might be generated by the passing cannot be shared,” then it certainly becomes clearer why we sense such a sadness when Huma speaks her mind in this scene with Manuela (Bornstein 127). Yet perhaps the busiest actress of all in this film is Manuela, due to the varying parts she must play. At the beginning of the film she acts as a bereaved mother in a video for her hospital, and we come to find out that she was an actress in the theatre earlier in her life. Yet the role that Manuela takes on in this film most often is that of mother: first to Esteban, then to Rosa, and then to the baby Esteban. Sofair writes that “characters in All About My Mother are at their most ‘authentic’ when acting as mothers” (46) Certainly in All About My Mother “motherhood is equated with acting, with the production of a performance. Motherhood is not a biological given but a chosen role” (Maddison 279). Manuela chooses (or is drawn to) this role again and again. After she and Rosa visit the doctor about the latter’s pregnancy, there is a scene that shows Manuela’s conflicting attitude to the roles she is juggling. She has just taken on the new role of assistant to Huma, and we see a wide-shot of Manuela and Rosa as they discuss the changing dynamic of their burgeoning relationship. Manuela tells Rosa that “you’ve no right to ask me to be your mother,” since the youngster already has one. Yet, finally, Manuela leads Rosa away by the hand like a child, and for much of the rest of the film she will act as a nurse for the young girl who has made the same mistake she did trusting Lola and now becoming pregnant with his child.

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We can guess that Manuela is looking to recreate her role as mother that she lost when Esteban died, or perhaps she just has to be playing a role of some kind at all times. Manuela, as a would be actress, would agree that “motherhood is a performance by someone who is unknown outside of her role” (Sofair 41). That is why she is drawn back to the theatre to fill in when Nina is unavailable. Still Manuela struggles with the pressures and responsibilities of her many roles. She attempts to pass as so many things - as an actress, an assistant, a nurse, a mother and so on that finally she seems more distant than ever, and perhaps this explains her final decision to cut all ties other than to her new Esteban (Rosa’s baby) and to her new role as mother. This uneasiness is explained by Lingel when she writes that “even before passing itself is undertaken, the awareness of being able to pass creates a sense of opportunity, and simultaneously, stigma. Because the ability to pass is so arbitrary, it can lead to an uneasy sense of separation” (393). Manuela could no longer act in so many roles - in the end she had to choose. Thus in one of the final scenes of the film we see a shot of Manuela on a train holding baby Esteban, and on the left we see another seat, but no


Adam Bird-Ridnell

other person fills it. Manuela is now on her own again with a child, as a mother, and the other seat is filled only by the baby’s carrier-seat. Manuela rediscovers the role she played at the beginning of the film, that of mother, while Huma continues on as a full-time actress. Although Agrado takes a role as Huma’s assistant, the film has shown us that Agrado will continue to be, above all, authentic. Works Cited Bornstein, Kate. Gender outlaw : On men, women, and the rest of us. New York: Routledge, 1994. Print. Edalatpour, Jeffrey. “ Almodovar’s Mother Love.” Fabula 4.1 (2000), 20. Print. Garlinger, Patrick Paul. “All About Agrado, or the sincerity of camp in Almodovar’s todo sobre mi madre.” Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies 5.1 (2004), 117-134. Print. Lingel, Jessa. “Adjusting the Borders: Bisexual Passing and Queer Theory.” Journal of Bisexuality 9 (2009), 381-405. Print. Maddison, Stephen. “All about women: Pedro Almodovar and the heterosocial dynamic.” Textual Practice 14.2 (2000), 265-284. Print. Sofair, Michael. “Reviews: All About My Mother.” Film Quarterly 55.2 (2001), 40-47. Print.

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Audley Webster Essay Contest

Instructor Remarks: Judy Hood on Ann Diaz

N icky Diaz invites me to turn the pages of this photo essay just as skillfully as photographer Martin Parr entices the viewer to slide into the passenger seat next to drivers

distracted by their own conceit. Silently I admonish them, “Keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel.” But what at first seems a clear indictment of absorption with appearances, its dangers, and its absurdities, becomes a revelation about the connection between vanity and vulnerability. Nicky astutely notices the verbal component of this image/word dialectic and recognizes the significance of its collaboration with the visual. Aware and inquisitive, critical and analytical, Nicky reveals the unexpected “new conscience, aesthetic, and ethical identity” that emerge when the visual meets the verbal. Her essay not only gives us a look through the camera’s lens, but also compels us to take a look in the mirror. --J.H., March 15, 2011

Assignment Analyzing the Photographic Essay Examine a photographic essay which shows a significant interaction of image and language, such as: Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, James Agee and Walker Evans; How the Other Half Lives, Jacob Riis; American Photographs, Dorothea Lange; Half Past Autumn, Gordon Parks; Buena Vista Social Club, Wim and Donata Wenders. Choose one from the library or a public domain source. Write an essay which analyzes the photographic essay. Your reader will probably not be familiar with the book or essay you have chosen; therefore, you must provide summary, example, and illustration as part of your discussion. Who wrote it? Who took the photographs? What is the project? What is the author trying to show? Analyze the work by applying criteria based on your research and reflection about visual rhetoric and your reading and interpretation of Mitchell’s “The Photographic Essay” and Blakesley, Brooke, and Miltner’s discussion of”Visual Rhetoric.” Analyze the images by applying strategies for reading images. Write a focused description of the verbal text. Examine the relationship between the photographs and the writing. What governs the conversation between visual and verbal language, the photographer and the writer? Some questions to consider: How is this photo essay representative of visual rhetoric? How is the subject represented? Is the photographer selective in order to present a message, suggest a course, elicit sympathy, persuade to take a certain action? How effectively does the visual rhetoric accomplish this perceived objective?

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The Synergy of Vulnerability and Vanity

by Ann Diaz

ENG 105: English Composition I Instructor: Judy Hood Fall 2010


Audley Webster Essay Contest

The Synergy of Vulnerability and Vanity I turn the pages of Martin Parr until a photo of a man staring directly at me catches my attention. As I analyze the photograph, the caption below the picture stands out. The dialectical exchange between the image and the text on this page creates a collaboration that reaches beyond an intriguing picture; moreover, the equality of the verbal and visual aspects forms a photographic essay. Val Williams, the author of Martin Parr, narrates and discusses Parr’s photographs in this book. Specifically, one section of Martin Parr discusses vanity through both photographs and language. Williams expands through verbal text on the narcissism Parr exemplifies through his photos. The dialectical relationship of exchange and resistance between these two aspects illustrates the meaning of the work: vanity epitomizes today’s society. Although humanity is naturally pre-occupied with appearance, Williams and Parr comment on the absurdity of this fixation through the photographic essay, Martin Parr. The main concept behind a photographic essay is visual rhetoric, the collaboration of images and text and the audience’s response and interpretation of their synthesis. Picture theorists David Blakesley and Collin Brooke discuss the “dialectical relationship” between visual and verbal texts in an article from the Enculturation journal. The collaboration’s visual and verbal aspects comment on each other in a photo essay. Robert Miltner also discusses the collaboration of image and words, but refers to their fusion as forming a third body. He describes the third body as two entities “co-existing without synthesis”; one entity is seen with “eyes open in the manner of realists” and the other is seen with eyes closed and known to “everyday dreamers.” Miltner goes on to define the collaboration as an ambiguous dialogue between the verbal and visual, which is essentially the main idea of visual rhetoric. It is the synergy of the verbal and visual and the never-ending discussion that follows. Picture theorist W.J.T. Mitchell focuses on three “requirements” for the relationship between an image and text, including co-equality, independence, and collaboration. Achieving all three of these characteristics is a difficult task. Similarly to Blakesley and Brooke, Mitchell discusses how the text and image are both equally important in visual rhetoric and their synthesis. Moreover, Mitchell focuses on describing a symbiotic relationship between images and words, where both components collaborate in a dialectic of exchange and resistance to create a more meaningful result. The images chosen from Martin Parr emanate a general message of vanity. The series illustrates narcissism by presenting photographs of people driving cars while pre-occupied, physically or mentally, with their appearance. Whether the main subjects of the photographs are combing their hair, looking in the rear-view mirror, or pre-occupying themselves with their job, they all have one thing in common: they are not paying attention to the road. Although this seems like a minor detail, it in fact is the main idea of the photos; appearance fills the minds of these subjects, coming before safety. This emphasizes the absurdity of the extremes people will reach to perfect their appearance. In particular, the second photo of the series, in addition to vanity, presents vulnerability more than the others. The main subject is a woman looking in the rear-view mirror while driving. The photo shows she clearly cares about her appearance, given her nail polish and styled hair. Another aspect seen in the photo is her location; the steering wheel is on the right side of the car, making it evident that she is most likely in Europe. She is driving a Ford convertible, which signifies that she wants people to notice her since a convertible is considered a flashy car. The picture is a close-up shot; therefore, the audience can see the subject from the shoulders up. The viewer can also see the background and the type of car she is driving. The angle of the photo is eye-level, meaning the camera and subject are at the same level generating a sensation that the viewer is equal with the woman. Parr could be attempting to confront the viewer with his or her own vanity.

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Ann Diaz

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Audley Webster Essay Contest

The image focuses on the woman and the car, while the surroundings, especially through the window, are blurry. The colors in the photograph are important as well. The woman’s red nail polish and blonde hair make her obsession with appearance that much more significant and obvious. The red nail polish could signify emotion or be used solely to attract attention. Another important aspect of the image is her body language. The way her hand is positioned fixing her hair and the fact she is looking at a mirror, instead of the road, emphasize her vanity. The viewer can also notice that she does not look happy; her face is expressionless, as are the subjects in the other photos. This could represent the unhappiness that results from narcissism. Moreover, since the image is an open form, the viewer is left to imagine what the woman is looking at through the mirror, although it is most probably her reflection. The verbal text is equally important to the message portrayed by Williams and Parr. The caption below the image of the woman reads: “I feel that other women on the road react to me in a nasty hostile sort of way. For some reason this hate comes across. I mean, I give way to them so why don’t they give way to me.” The quote engages the reader immediately due to the fact that it is in first person and, therefore, someone’s thoughts. The verbal text alone alludes that the speaker is insecure when others are watching. The other two photos’ captions are also in first-person. The caption for the man who is obsessed with his work reads: “I like to think I’m quite successful because I’ve got a Cavalier 2 litre GLi.” The caption illustrates how the subject obsesses over his profession and his possessions in order to attain a superior appearance. Similarly, the caption of the series’ first image reads: “As far as my social life is concerned, the Metro is a no-go area. I think I’d look so much better sat in an XR2.” Once again, the vanity and vulnerability of the subjects is portrayed through the text. The opinions of others rule over any personal judgment to these individuals, suggesting the obsession with appearance is socially prompted rather than innate. Others’ thoughts influence the way a person dresses and behaves. Furthermore, a portion of the photo essay separated from the images with captions discusses social standing based on appearance in London. Williams discusses how “it is impossible not to be aware of the gradations in standards of living.” He goes on to discuss the class division between those who take public transportation and those who drive a car, alluding to the pictures that follow. A person’s perception of another is, for the most part, based on such aspects as personal style, car brand, and how successful someone is in his or her field. These fixations are made evident in Parr’s photos. In general, the verbal text discusses the vanity among the classes in London, in addition to the insecurity that results from this fixation. The visual and verbal aspects of the photo essay communicate with each other to portray, what Miltner refers to as, a third body. The words and images share a dialectical relationship of exchange because they co-exist with each other and project similar messages. Although they can stand alone, neither the images nor the verbal text could independently communicate what their collaboration does. The images exemplify individuals who are fixated with their appearance. On the other hand, the text illustrates vulnerability for each subject, showing the reader that behind the subject’s façade there is susceptibility. Their synthesis embodies the vulnerability and vanity both components separately represent. This photo essay supports Mitchell’s criteria for visual rhetoric: the dialectical relationship between the images and text demonstrates the independence of both aspects and establishes their co-equality, yet it also reveals how they can collaborate to form a profound product, or third body.

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There is a struggle for value between the visual and verbal; their relation is “the place where images and words find and lose their conscience, their aesthetic, and ethical identity,” according to Mitchell. The fusion of photography and text results in both aspects losing some of the meaning they achieved independently, while forming a profound identity where they find a new conscience, aesthetic, and ethical identity. The meaningful product, in this case, exemplifies the absurdity of the fixation with appearance. This conclusion could be referred to as the “meaning,


truth, reality” Blakesley and Brooke discuss in their article. In context, the verbal and visual aspects of Martin Parr demonstrate how vanity can have disastrous results, portrayed through the subjects driving without looking at the road.

Ann Diaz

Martin Parr’s visual rhetoric effectively communicates the absurdity of vanity to the reader by applying the criteria picture theorists discuss. Using Parr’s images of distracted drivers, Williams criticizes humanity’s self-absorption. While Parr’s photos concentrate on vanity, Williams’ text focuses on the subjects’ vulnerability and insecurities. Both aspects comment on each other in a dialectical relationship to create a third body that displays their co-equality, independence, and collaboration. Through their synergy, Williams and Parr are able to comment on the idiocy of vanity by illustrating that the only results of narcissism are vulnerability and unhappiness. Works Cited Williams, Val. Martin Parr. London: Phaidon Press, 2004. Print.

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Audley Webster Essay Contest

Instructor Remarks: Judy Hood on Danielle Phifer

E very photo essay analysis hides a back story. Behind “The Unspoken Truth,” I see Danielle in the stacks on the ninth floor of the Richter Library, books spread open on

the floor, listening for a collaboration of word and image to call to her in a “dialectic of exchange and resistance.” This one did it for her. Native Land embodies the picture theorists’ “third mind, third body, third image” emerging from a struggle for “value and power” when the visual meets the verbal. In an actual dialogue, verbal collaborators converse with images of native cultures threatened by our shrinking world. The photo essay makes an evident appeal to protect and conserve these cultures by resisting civilization and communication’s encroachment. Danielle, however, read another meaning and, with expert image analysis, selected three photos to tell the silent truth she discovered. The true repository of “culture, roots, and custom” lies not in artifacts, rituals, and real estate, but in the human mind and heart and spirit. Though Danielle’s discovery moved me to tears, her perceptive and compelling analysis was no surprise. We all came to expect, but never took for granted, her ever perceptive and innovative angle of vision. --J.H., March 15, 2011

Assignment Analyzing the Photographic Essay Examine a photographic essay which shows a significant interaction of image and language, such as: Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, James Agee and Walker Evans; How the Other Half Lives, Jacob Riis; American Photographs, Dorothea Lange; Half Past Autumn, Gordon Parks; Buena Vista Social Club, Wim and Donata Wenders. Choose one from the library or a public domain source. Write an essay which analyzes the photographic essay. Your reader will probably not be familiar with the book or essay you have chosen; therefore, you must provide summary, example, and illustration as part of your discussion. Who wrote it? Who took the photographs? What is the project? What is the author trying to show? Analyze the work by applying criteria based on your research and reflection about visual rhetoric and your reading and interpretation of Mitchell’s “The Photographic Essay” and Blakesley, Brooke, and Miltner’s discussion of”Visual Rhetoric.” Analyze the images by applying strategies for reading images. Write a focused description of the verbal text. Examine the relationship between the photographs and the writing. What governs the conversation between visual and verbal language, the photographer and the writer? Some questions to consider: How is this photo essay representative of visual rhetoric? How is the subject represented? Is the photographer selective in order to present a message, suggest a course, elicit sympathy, persuade to take a certain action? How effectively does the visual rhetoric accomplish this perceived objective?

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The Unspoken Truth

by Danielle Phifer

ENG 105: English Composition I Instructor: Judy Hood Fall 2010


Audley Webster Essay Contest

The Unspoken Truth As a man wanders through an art gallery he comes across a photo of a poverty-stricken person. The photo elicits feelings of sympathy and sadness, as it would in most individuals, but when glancing down at the caption he finds that it reads “true happiness”. This completely alters the man’s view of the photo; he now sees the picture of the destitute person and regards the individual as someone who has found true happiness, although they have little. The thoughts that an image provokes can differ drastically from the text they are combined with. Not only that, but the meaning created by the collaboration of the two can significantly differ from what most people are “programmed” to think based on culture, generation, sex and a variety of other factors. Such visual rhetoric can often challenge the viewer, requiring him or her to look beyond the obvious, as is the case with Native Land, a photographic essay by Ramon Depardo and Paul Virilio. Native Land, which explores the shrinking of the world and loss of native culture and roots, alters most individual’s typical outlooks on natives of different countries. The essay rids readers/viewers of the perception that natives live in teepees or mud houses wearing loincloths and humanizes them into relatable people that are affected by urbanization just like anyone else. Native Land follows the standards set forth by W.J.T. Mitchell, author of Picture Theory. In the text Mitchell establishes that the components of a photographic essay must be “independent, coequal, and collaborative”. Both the text and photographs in Native Land can be observed separately and the viewer would still understand that they deal with native cultures in modern day society. They are both equal in that they show as much information in the pictures as they do in the text that accompanies them. And, lastly, they are collaborative in that when you combine them it creates an even stronger message created from the two playing off one another. But who’s to say each person will gather the same meaning? As David Blakesley and Collin Brooke (Enculturation) suggest, “No longer is it possible to believe naively in the idea that our words or images can render a fixed reality even though trusting such a belief is necessary at every turn, step, or glance.” The fact is that people believe what they want to believe, but this photographic essay is one of the cases where they must attempt to understand the “truth” that the author is trying to instill. The “truth” is similar to the “third body” that Robert Miltner (Enculturation) discusses. Miltner states that the “physical bringing together of collaborators further creates an intellectual connection.” With that in mind, the “truth” or “third body” created from the exchange of the visual and verbal texts in Native Land demonstrates how native culture is becoming less prominent in this always-changing society, however is still being kept alive because of these natives who carry it in their mind, body, and spirit.

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The “truth” that the collaborators create is evident in the photographs of native culture, represented by people and places. In the first photo you see a Bolivian woman dressed in traditional garb: a colorfully striped Mexican-style poncho along with an oddly shaped hat with colorful fringe and studs around the brim. The woman’s face and hands appear cracked and worn. This conveys to the viewer that she’s conventional and has stuck to the traditional ways that have been long established by the Bolivian culture, as suggested by her clothing and her age. The photo is also shot at close proximity as if you were standing near the woman, implying that she is equal to the viewer, but, because of the low angle and the slight turn of her head, it hints that she may know some things which the viewer will never know because of differences in culture. In the next photo, also from Bolivia, you see several stoplights that extend to the side of the photo with buildings behind them, signifying a growing


Danielle Pfifer

urban setting, along with a paved road and sidewalk with a heap of trash on it. This photo suggests urbanization of Bolivia, making the connection that although some natives have not given up on traditional values, they can’t escape the shrinking of the world, or in other words the creation of more transportation and roadways, buildings and structures, and the pollution that typically comes with such things. These photos together make the connection from what customs are kept of traditional Bolivia to what Bolivia is becoming, urbanized like most other places in the world. The text in the photographic essay, Native Land, is represented in discussion form. The author’s converse back and forth, thoroughly explaining the ideas they were trying to impart in their photos. Depardon says “I thought that it might be worth going to talk to these populations—who are going to disappear, or who are just living some way off the margins of globalization…”. This quote sets the tone for the entire piece as it tells the viewer of their intentions of revealing these “dying” cultures. Virilio states “Everyone knows that for some thirty years I’ve been working on speed, on the shrinking of the world…And today we can say that what with supersonic transport and the speed of telecommunications, the world operates instantaneously.” By this Virilio is reflecting on how the urbanization of the world, with evolution of technology and transportation, has caused the world to become much smaller, with everything and everyone doing their part all at once in a fluid, constant motion. No longer can things just happen in their own time. It’s an “I need it now” kind of society that leaves little room for traditions. All things considered, both the photographer and writer relate to how the speed and growth of the earth has caused the loss of native roots and culture. When collaborated the photographs and text create an understanding, or the “truth”. It’s as if the text is saying “this is how native culture is dying” and the images are showing us examples of the loss. The viewer can just look at the photos of the paved streets, buses, trash covered sidewalks, taxis, buildings, power lines, and street signs and easily gain this understanding. Meanwhile the text subtly expresses, “this is the means by which native culture is preserved” and the photos, more explicitly, show us the human vessels that are still holding onto their roots and carrying their cultures’ history and traditions on their backs. This exchange opens up “truth” in what is discussed because the viewer can actually see proof and support of what the authors are saying and solidify the understanding they got from the photographs. This was the most valuable approach for this essay because being straightforward with the viewer/readers was the best way to answer the questions that are evoked. Without the images the viewer may not have been able to interpret what the authors meant with certainty, and without the text the viewers wouldn’t have proof to substantiate the message the authors were trying to impart. We all play the role of the man in the art gallery, trying to interpret the “truths” in the things we see. It’s like everyday challenge to gather meaning, or some kind of answer, from things that don’t always tell you directly or can have more than one solution. The photographic essay Native Land, however, is an example of visual rhetoric that is trying to impart one “truth.” Though some individuals may decide to believe or not believe in it, or interpret it differently, the “truth” demonstrated is plainly that the world is growing technologically and by means of transportation, causing it to be a much smaller place and have less room for native culture, roots, and customs, yet individuals are able to keep them safe inside themselves, a vault that nothing can permeate.

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Audley Webster Essay Contest

Instructor Remarks: Roxane Pickens on Tevin Scott

S hepherding is often how I understand my work as a composition instructor. Every semester, I am charged with guiding—with varying levels of assistance—the writers

in my classes around the world’s terrain as they ponder and frolic, gain nourishment and insight, and hold steady within the problematics and possibilities of their environment. With Tevin, my guiding work often had a light touch, given the strength of his critical thinking and writing abilities. This essay, which was among the most difficult ones for students, was a great opportunity for him to explore his personal interests and worldview. At a certain level, Tevin embodied the assignment’s task; he revealed himself as one of Kwame Appiah’s cosmopolitans, a citizen of the world who drew on his appreciation of U.S. and Asian cultures to consider the ways that individuals manage to communicate across boundaries of difference. Tevin’s essay achieves much of the critical analysis that one wants in an intellectual display, but more than that, it is imaginative and engagingly written, and it demonstrates well his awareness of how conversation—both oral and written—has value and weight. It is a pleasure to see the recognition that his work has achieved. --R.P., March 20, 2011

Assignment Appiah, Cosmopolitanism, Conversation, & Community Kwame Appiah makes a series of interesting suggestions about how conversations can be useful for talking across differences. But what do those conversations look like? Do conversations really allow people to connect despite their differences? To test this idea, find a conversation and look at it closely, thinking about how it works in terms of allowing people to connect across differences. Pay attention not to the topic of the conversation, but to the way people talk about the topic. Ask yourself, What can I say about this conversation? Is the conversation similar to Appiah’s ideas? How so? Is it different? How so? Are the respondents sharing common values/ideals or practices? Do they differ on points or perspectives? How do they make their differences known? Your reflections shouldn’t be about the topic of the conversation itself, but about the way that people come together in communication. You can use Appiah’s ideas to help you make those reflections and observations about the conversation.

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The Merits of Storytelling Towards Cultural Understanding

by Tevin Scott

ENG 105: English Composition I Instructor: Roxane Pickens Fall 2010


Audley Webster Essay Contest

The Merits of Storytelling Towards Cultural Understanding My world isn’t shrinking. Nor are the nations of this earth converging unto another, under one government, in a resurgent second pangea. And yet, to date, I have heard of globalization, multiculturalism, and now cosmopolitanism. These are buzzwords that flow freely to the ears of Generation-Y that refer to the growth of the new global society, fueled primarily by the development of communication technologies. Thanks to such technologies, an individual in Sussex may hear of the daily news in Chennai, and a student at the University of Miami may video-chat live with a friend in the China’s Anhui province. In general, distance becomes a non-obstacle to communication as individuals of different backgrounds are coming in contact with each other on a scale never before seen in human history. Kwame Anthony Appiah asserts that the emergence of this phenomena, has delegated new responsibilities unto us as individuals, as world citizens. The new barrier is no longer distance, but communication across boundaries of identity. Appiah presents his ideal, cosmopolitanism as a rubric for social change, as a method for greater coexistence among peoples of different cultures, and as the both a prospective solution and challenge to the successful advance of the global society (Barrios 59). It is the ability of individuals of different backgrounds to coexist in a deeply globalized world, and Appiah states that the best way to practice this asset is true simple conversation. Perhaps there is another aspect? For the past two years, I’ve had the pleasure to follow a blog the titled Gaijin Smash, which tells of a black man from San Francisco who travelled to Japan. The writer of Gaijin Smash serves as both a part-time as a middle school English teacher, and full time foreigner in a strange new land; certainly, a cosmopolitan in his own right. In reading through, it becomes apparent that unlike other blogs where readers are free to leave comments, instead of reading as a conversation, Gaijin Smash seems to be an example of online storytelling. Nonetheless, communication across boundaries and cultural understanding are products of this worthwhile to read site. Although Appiah advocates dialogued communication as the main proponent of the cosmopolitan perspective, it becomes evident that monologue-like story telling is just as effective catalyst for understanding across cultural boundaries and coexistence of different peoples. Narrative can serve as well as a medium for the cosmopolitanist perspective as Appiah’s prescribed conversation. In chapter one of Appiah’s book, Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers, he tells of the travels of nineteenth-century adventurer Sir Richard Francis Burton. The English-born Sir Burton was exceptionally well-traveled over his lifetime, and came to master thirty nine languages and dialects ranging from Europe, Asia, Africa, and even the Americas. “At the age of twenty-one, Richard Burton went to work for the East India Company in Sindh, where he added Gujarati, Marathi, Afghan and Persian to his knowledge of modern and classical European languages…He travelled widely in Africa as well… He knew large swaths of Asia and Latin America…” (Appiah 2). In essence, Appiah regards him as one of the great cosmopolitans---“a man with no strong sense of national or local identity, (dare I say it, a rootless cosmopolitan)” (Appiah 4) . What is worthy of note is that none of the records of Burton’s travels, translations, and speculations of the numerous cultures he explored were not written in dialogue form, nor preserved as conversations between Sir Burton and his colleagues, nor posted on an electronic blog on which all the people he came in contact into may comment on. In truth, we know of Sir Burton’s travels via the narratives he left behind in writing form. The passages in his journals, the translations of cultural pieces of literature, and even in his own works, all of these rich in cultural subject matter, effectively transmits the cosmopolitan perspective Appiah seeks to advocate. Furthermore, Sir Burton’s mode of expression and description had a profound effect on his readers, chiefly due to the merits of his style of storytelling. So much that readers of Sir Burton’s works, Appiah included, were so impacted with the subject matter, they walked away with a strong awareness for the cosmopolitan perspective, and the world’s many cultures. 52


Tevin Scott

In a similar way, although perhaps to a lesser extent, the writer of the modern day Gaijin Smash blog appears to have such a unique and effective mode of expression, through which he is able to significantly impact his readers. Certainly, if storytelling is to serve as well as conversation, in the transmission of the cosmopolitan-perspective, then the monologue as well as the dialogue must be of a certain quality. Azreal, contains this quality. Of all his adventures, those which are most popular to his readers and subscribers are the ones which tell of a game Japanese school children play, called kancho. He first introduces the child’s play early on in his blog, in a post titled “My Kids are Perverted”. “I wish I could say it stops there. Let me introduce you to a game Japanese kids like to play called ‘Kancho.’ It’s not as much a ‘game’ as it is kids clasping their hands together, sticking out their first fingers, and shoving them up your butt. I’m really not joking. Just about any kid can be a Kancho Assassin. Even the sweetest little girl is liable to jam her fingers up your ass the second you turn around. This happened to one of my friends, which just goes to show - don’t trust anyone.” What makes Azreal’s blog so significant is his ability to cite cultural differences he sees between Japan and the United States within his narrative, generate humor from the difference, and doing so in a way which doesn’t criticize either culture. Gaijin Smash produces a general awareness for the difference, and thereby a better understanding of not only the foreign culture, but of that of the home country as well. What could promote up cosmopolitanism better than that? In a post titled “Slurp Slurp”, the writer of Gaijin Smash identifies two cultural differences. The first, the discrepancy between the acceptability of slurping while eating: “but many Japanese people wonder why Americans are unable to slurp noodles. I, like most Americans I imagine, was raised on the belief that slurping or otherwise making loud sounds when you eat is fairly rude. When eating ramen, or udon/soba if it actually had a taste, I gradually bring the noodles into my mouth, soundlessly, and then chew on them. This FASCINATES Japanese people, who slurp on noodles like there is no tomorrow. Apparently, you are unable to “fully enjoy the taste of the noodle” unless you slurp it.” The second cultural difference isn’t something one could expect to find in a text book on Japanese culture. Azreal describes how he has been approached by Japanese people, on numerous occasions, curious as to why American women make “that sucking-in air noise” in American pornographic films. To this, his wife, a native Japanese woman, had her own theory: “She then hit me with this, and I don’t think I’ve actually stopped laughing since - “Yeah, that sucking-in air noise! I have a new theory about that. I have a feeling that, during sex, that noise is natural, and this is why Americans can’t slurp ramen or other noodles. If women make the slurping noise, it reminds them too much of what they sound like during sex, so they become embarrassed. If guys make the slurping noise, then he’ll sound like a woman having sex, so he can’t do it either. Yeah, I think I figured it out...” To end this post, Azreal rightfully states “It’s these little things that help us to understand our cultures better.” But what is to be said of the response to such narratives? A reoccurring theme within the comments section of Azreal’s blog is that the vast majority of the readers hardly ever venture to oppose the subject matter of the post, nor impose their own views upon the other participants. What happens more often is that the comments praise the blog for its value, and perhaps contribute by adding their own input. Four comments in response to the ‘Slurp Slurp’ read as follows: “It’s true; slurping noodles does make them taste better! I was raised in the no-slurp American culture like yourself, Az, so maybe it’s just that I find the practice satisfyingly rebellious...I have never made a noodle-slurping, air-sucking-in sound in the bedroom, though. :/”

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Audley Webster Essay Contest

“Hey Az, you’re back at your best!! I fully understand how you can grow too accustomed to the weirdness to notice anymore. That apparently you became a true salaryman also made me worry a bit about the future of your blog, but obviously you can still pull off a great post - keep them coming!” “Your wife is hilarious. You should ask her if she wants to write an update.” “I’m a bonafide American woman (and white, to boot!) and I don’t make that noise. That noise is just for porn “actresses.” Love Japanese noodles though. And no, I don’t slurp ‘em.” All smirks regarding the subject matter aside, quite literally, their willingness to listen/read the blog yields a conversation characteristic to the type Appiah advocates. There is a significant exchange of ideas between all participants of the blog comments, but there is an even more significant reception of ideas, that precedes the exchange, implicit in the act of reading the entire post. This reception of ideas, the willingness to simply listen, is worthy of identification separate from the conversation that follows. It is the purpose of this paper to assert that the reception of ideas serves as much of a suitable medium for cultural understanding (for the cosmopolitan perspective) as does the exchange of ideas. Ultimately, the cosmopolitan perspective is the ability to coexist with peoples of different backgrounds, to understand that we have a right to all of humanity to both respect cultural difference without necessarily imposing our believes upon others, and to be receptive to the differences which give significance to all the cultures of the world. Appiah is correct to assert that this ability can be cultivated in the ability to have conversation, to listen and to speak. However, it seems necessary to contend, that such perspective may also be gained by having a willingness to simply listen. If one wishes to broaden the scope of their cultural understanding, to hear a traveller’s tale, to read the journal/blog of an individual who decided to travel to a strange land and open himself up to a different culture, can be just as sufficient as having a conversation with a person from the other side of the world. In many cases, listening is the mother of all successful conversation.

Works Cited Appiah, Anthony. Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2006. Print. Appiah, Kwame Anthony. “Making Conversation.” Emerging: Contemporary Readings for Writers. By Barclay Barrios. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2010. 56-63. Print. Azreal. “My Kids Are Perverted.” Web log post. Gaijin Smash. Outpost Nine. Web. 3 Nov. 2010. < http://www.outpostnine.com/gaijin_smash/2004/11/my-kids-are-perverted.html#more >. Azreal. “Slurp Slurp.” Web log post. Gaijin Smash. Outpost Nine. Web. 3 Nov. 2010. < http://www. outpostnine.com/gaijin_smash/2009/08/slurp-slurp.html#more >.

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Audley Webster Essay Contest

Instructor Remarks: Judy Hood on Samantha Sutton

Isation warned her not to do this. Samantha’s research proposal put multiple texts in converand demanded myriad layers of interpretation and analysis, reading one theory

through another’s lens, applying theory to reality, demanding sophisticated critical thinking. So many questions, so little time, so many ideas to wrap her brain around... But she was not deterred. Samantha saw connections between what she read and where she lived. Isn’t that what writing coaches hope will happen, that writers will make connections and inspire others to make them, too? Samantha kept turning Gladwell’s Power of Context lens on what she read, what she studied, and what she believed about character, conscience, and morality. She integrated theory and research, evidence and intuition in a sometimes dizzying conversation about human behavior, its determinants, and its potential for change. Samantha is a risk-taker. I am so glad she listened to my hope and not my fear. --J.H., March 15, 2011

Assignment Into the Wild: Applying a Reading as a Lens This final project asks you to apply the critical thinking expertise, textual analysis strategies, organizational, and stylistic writing skills practiced throughout the course. Write a researched paper which not only puts primary and secondary sources into conversation with each other, but also locates your own role in the conversation. Design a project which applies one reading as a lens for reading another of the course selections. It should explore a particularly significant, curious, strange or disturbing aspect of your application of the lens to the chosen text. This paper needs to: • Clearly establish your claim (guiding principle, observation, assertion, thesis) which you believe application of the lens uncovers and evidence from both primary and secondary sources explores and/or supports. • Clearly present and discuss your read of the lens and the primary text you are considering (focused description.) • Clearly present the perspectives of your secondary sources as they relate to your primary texts and your focus. • Incorporate, cite, and explain quoted and paraphrased evidence in MLA style. • Show analysis. Ask and answer: So what? • Establish and follow a recognizable organization. • Create connection and fluidity through a variety of transitional devices. • Culminate by bringing significant threads together; evaluate by revisiting the original claim and making a judgment; challenge the reader and awaken his/her thinking. You need to design and write the proposal for your project and follow the Strategies for Writing a Researched Paper presented in Writing Analytically. Some suggestions: Malcolm Gladwell argues that character is “like a bundle of habits and tendencies and interests, loosely bound together and dependent, at certain times, on circumstance and context” (NHR 246). Apply Gladwell’s lens to the concept of free will as suggested in Krakauer’s Into the Wild or Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran, or as discussed in Pinker’s “The Moral Instinct.” Engage at least three secondary sources in conversation about the influence and impact of environment on a) character or b) free will. Apply the “Power of Context” or “The Moral Instinct” lens to one other primary text read in class: Into the Wild, Reading Lolita in Tehran, or “How to tell a True War Story.” Invite at least three secondary sources into the conversation or two secondary and one other primary text such as the documentaries Beneath the Veil and Iconoclast’s Into the Wild and the film The Valley of Elah.

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Conscience: The Inner Voice That Warns Someone Might Be Looking

by Samantha Sutton

ENG 106: English Composition II Instructor: Judy Hood Spring 2010


Audley Webster Essay Contest

Conscience: The Inner Voice That Warns Someone Might Be Looking

If someone offered you $100,000 to murder a stranger, would you do it? What about if you just lost your job and you could be sure that no one would ever know? If a person was asked the first question, most people would answer no. Due to a tie to morality, “murder is wrong”, and maybe $100,000 dollars is simply not enough. However, if the context of the situation is slightly changed by losing your source of income and a guarantee that you would never be punished for your actions, the phrase “murder is wrong” becomes “murder is wrong?” The posing of the second question exemplifies Malcolm Gladwell’s theory in “The Power of Context,” the environmental argument that states, “behavior is a function of social context” (242). This theory can compare to Steven Pinker’s assertions in his article, “The Moral Instinct.” Pinker puts forth a theory of five spheres of morality that all people share (do no harm, community, authority, purity, and fairness) and their rank in importance varies from culture to culture. Morality is variable, though we still rely on it to “give each of us the sense that we are worthy human beings” (Pinker 2) as well as to define the character of others. Gladwell addresses the mistake that humans make in “thinking of character as something unified and all-encompassing” (245) and challenges Pinker’s theory of universal morality with the radical idea that “in ways we don’t necessarily appreciate, our inner states are the results of our outer circumstances” (243). Pinker’s writing places a substantial emphasis on the concept of morality, he writes, “morality is not just any old topic in psychology, but close to our conception of the meaning of life” (2). Morality differentiates good from bad and right from wrong, creating rules and standards that manifest humanity. Pinker says that the entire human race is governed by the same five moral values. These values are the determinants of beliefs and usually actions reflect these beliefs. However, there are circumstances where morality is disregarded or altered which shows that subjective a concept it really is. Gladwell would argue that behavior then, is entirely too complex to be governed solely by such a variable factor as morality. When psychologists try to decode behavior, a major association is attitude. Attitude, according to R.H. Ettinger and Rod Gillis’ “Understanding Psychology”, is “any learned relatively enduring predisposition to respond in consistently favorable or unfavorable ways to certain people, groups, ideas, or situations” (421). This response is behavior, and based on how a person feels about a topic, they will act accordingly (Gillis). Pinker would equate these feelings with morals; morals are attitudes. The common belief held today is that attitudes/ morals have some type of set influence on behavior. People tend to avoid immoral behaviors because actions, determined by morals (attitudes), subsequently determine character. Character, as it is commonly known, is the type of person someone is determined by their actions; it is to this assumption that Gladwell targets a valid argument. He asserts, “character is… a bundle of habits and tendencies and interests, loosely bound together and dependent, at certain times, on circumstances and context” (246). It is a radical concept to grasp as it would mean that there is no way to say what kind of person someone is, and in turn, say what they are and are not capable of. People that we believe to ‘know’ would have to then be considered strangers. The basic understanding of other people that we have come to depend on is then questionable and unreliable.

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Gladwell recounts the studies of psychologists, John Darley and Daniel Baston, in which they met with a group of seminarians and gave them a questionnaire to determine their motives for studying theology. Once they were separated into the people who were looking to find spiritual purpose in their own lives and those who were looking to find meaning in life in general, Darley and Baston then asked them to present a speech either on the “relevance of the professional clergy to the religious vocation” or the “parable of the Good Samaritan”(247). As the experimenter sent off the students, he would either say something along the lines of “you’re late” or “you have


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some time”. However, there was one last curve ball, every student was faced with a man in distress slumped in an alley. The experiment was designed to explore moral behavior and see who would stop for a suffering man and who wouldn’t. The general assumption is that the students that joined the ministry to help others and those who were presenting on the Good Samaritan would be the most likely to stop. However, these were not the psychologists’ findings; neither factor made a difference. The only thing that mattered was whether or not the student was in a rush (247). It is in response to this finding that Gladwell writes “the convictions of your heart and the actual contents of your thoughts are less important in the end, in guiding your actions than the immediate context of your behavior” (247). Darley and Baston used seminarians, people considered to have good morals and in turn be of ‘good character’, although even these students were susceptible to the overwhelming notion of context. When morality comes into play, this may force some to reconsider their view of the students’ character. ‘Good people’ don’t walk past a person in need because they are in a rush. This is the mindset that Gladwell addresses in mentioning the idea known by psychologists as the Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE). The FAE states, “when it comes to interpreting other people’s behavior, human beings invariably make the mistake of overestimating the importance of fundamental character traits and underestimating the importance of situation and context” (Gladwell 245). It is a major flaw in humanity to base our judgments of others on such internal attributions as morality; yet this is a two-part concept. The second part, presented by Rod Gillis, is called the Self-Serving Bias. It states that when people judge themselves they tend to do the opposite of what the FAE suggests. They get into the habit of rationalizing their own ‘immoral’ behavior (Gillis). Whereas he robbed the store because he’s a hoodlum, I did it because I just lost my job. As Pinker states, “people tend to align their moralization with their own lifestyles” (3). But is it fair to hold ourselves to different standards than we hold to everyone else? If so, why do we do it? The theory called Cognitive Dissonance offers an explanation as to why we impose a double standard when we make judgments of the world around us. The Cognitive Dissonance theory claims that, “people experience psychological discomfort or dissonance whenever two related cognitions or behaviors are in conflict” and “we behave in ways to minimize inconsistencies in our beliefs, attitudes, opinions, and our behavior” (Ettinger and Gillis 267). For example, “driving a gas guzzling Hummer is reprehensible, but driving a gas guzzling old Volvo is not” (Pinker 3). The global conscious phenomenon that has struck our society has made driving cars that use a lot of gas and contribute to air pollution taboo, yet it seems to be that we over look older, smaller cars that may take just as much gas as the bigger and newer cars. Most of us overlook the fact that both cars may be just as detrimental to the environment, but if we apply the Power of Context and add one slight change of circumstance our attitudes might change. Imagine yourself as the owner of a 1985 Volvo, what if you walked out your house one day to a GM representative telling you that you were the winner of a 2011 Hummer, he then passes you the keys no questions asked. That would probably be the last time that Volvo ever left your driveway. A free Hummer generates an inconsistency between our environmentally conscious morals and our desire to achieve more than what we already have, however, most of us would justify this by adopting a new belief that our old car took just as much gas. This is how we reduce cognitive dissonance, by changing our attitudes or behavior to achieve consistency (Ettinger and Gillis 268). Methods such as the FAE and the Self Serving Bias, allow us to “make the world a much simpler and more understandable place” (Gladwell 246), a central goal of humans. If it is human nature to achieve consistency between our morals and our actions, which in turn causes us to be “more attuned to personal cues than contextual cues” (Gladwell 246), it can be inferred that the brain has evolved to perform this type of thinking. Gladwell says that “the mistake we make in thinking of character as something unified and all-encompassing is very similar to a kind of blind spot in the way that we process information” (245). Just like a visual blind spot, our brain fills in the blanks with the most logical explanations for behavior, but this is not always

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Audley Webster Essay Contest

reliable. Eckhart Tolle proposes an intriguing viewpoint on this topic in his book, The Power of Now. Tolle asks his readers to transform their thinking and make the realization that the mind is not who they are. To be able to make this distinction between self and the thoughts is what prevents people from living in the Now, a concept he equates to the Buddhist belief of Enlightenment. He calls the mind an instrument that humans have learned to use incorrectly, suggesting that it is the mind that uses the person. By “observing the entity” (17) and dissociating from “the thinker” (thoughts) it is then possible to realize the things that truly matter (17). Tolle writes, “identification with your mind creates an opaque screen of concepts, labels, images, words, judgments, and definition that blocks all true relationship” (15). This speaks to Pinker’s theory of the five spheres of morality. Because the ranks spheres differ amongst different cultures and morality is held to such a high standard universally, there are often discrepancies and misunderstandings between cultures. Tolle suggests that dissociation from the mind could help us to overcome this blind spot that causes the inability to understand each other as human beings across cultures. Pinker writes, “we are born with a universal moral grammar that forces us to analyze human action in terms of its moral structure, with ... little awareness” (5). In circumstances that morals or beliefs are altered to appease pre-conceived ideas, it seems that this method intended to paint a clearer picture of the world, has instead blurred its image. Gladwell’s Power of Context theory stands to call attention to this way that people have been evaluating the world around them. It is essential to take notice of the fact that the judgments people make are not always fair if the human race is to survive as a whole. Life is a social interaction, if people cannot begin to understand the views of others, there can be no hope for the future. The Power of Context can then be applied to human thinking. As Gladwell states, “the Power of Context says that what really matters [are] the little things” (242). Realizing the existence of psychological tendencies to which the entire race is pre-disposed can act as a catalyst, inducing slight changes in the way people think and perceive others, ultimately bringing about the greatest change of all, tolerance. Works Cited Ettinger, R.H. and Rod Gillis. Understanding Psychology. 4th ed. California: Horizon Textbook Publishing, 2009. Print. Gillis, Rod. “Social Psychology.” Psychology 110. University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL. Apr. 2, 2010. Class Lecture. Gladwell, Malcolm. “The Power of Context.” The New Humanities Reader. Ed. Richard E. Miller and Kurt Spellmeyer. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009. 234-249. Print. Pinker, Steven. “The Moral Instinct.” New York Times. Op-Ed. Jan. 13, 2008. Web. Tolle, Eckhart. The Power of Now. California: New World Library, 2004. Print.

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Cover photograph: Roxane Pickens Booklet design: Roxane Pickens


English Composition Program Department of English University of Miami 1252 Memorial Drive Ashe Bldg, R m 327 Coral Gables, FL 33146 Ph: (305) 284-3090 Fax: (305) 284-5396

17th Annual Audley Webster Award Essays  
17th Annual Audley Webster Award Essays  

Winning essays from first-year composition contest held at University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida.

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