Sunday, February 17, 2013

Connections: "We Always Stood on Our Own Two Feet" and "Capitalism Hits the Fan."

     All three of the texts that we examined offer valuable insights about the dependence that Americans have on the system, as well as the reasons for their dependence. The video "Capitalism Hits the Fan" was very interesting and offered a lot of valuable information regarding the status of American society and capitalism. Based on this video, I would say that capitalism is a trap, not an advantage. Gone are the days of higher wages, and higher standards of living. The days of credit cards, high rates of interest, and sky-high debt are here to stay, and there is no way out of this debt anytime soon. As long as big business owners can continue to trap working-class people in pitfalls involving mortgages, credit cards, and the like, and as long as we are trapped in a culture that pushes us to consume, we will forever be trapped in debt.
     What few people realize, as Stephanie Coontz hammers home in her article "We Always Stood on Our Own Two Feet", is that on the way to middle-class status, Americans had ample support from the government. They were supplied with land, mortgages, and just about anything else they could need, although they would like to tell themselves they made it on their own. Because we as Americans are ashamed to ask for help or to acknowledge that we need help, we would rather pretend that we never had any help at all, even when it is obvious that we did. Coontz uses the example of her grandfather, one of the founding fathers of a small town in Washington State. He refused to acknowledge the fact that he survived by taking grain subsidies. Coontz gives several examples of American dependency. Many Americans don't see themselves as reliant on these agencies and never would, regardless of what proof they were given.
     A big theme throughout the article is that the poor are seen as taking all of the available charity, while the middle-class gets nothing. The people who are reaping the real benefits, of course, are the rich. We see this in the video. The rich set all of these opportunities for "help" up for the poor, who are so desperate that they have no choice but to take them. While the poor sink deeper and deeper into debt, the rich sit back and reap the benefits and get richer and richer.
     As long as we  live in a society where wealth and assistance are not balanced properly, and where we are constantly under pressure to consume, we will never be in a debt-free society.  

Monday, February 11, 2013

Mantsios "Media Magic"

     This article contained some interesting information, none of which was too shocking. It is a little shocking that a small amount of corporations own the majority of news companies, media outlets, and other types of media that we use to entertain ourselves, but if we examine it with the same critical focus that we used when we found that a small amount of companies own business interests in the U.S., we will not be so surprised. It is also not surprising that the media does not want us to know that the United States is a sharply divided society with a small majority of people holding the majority of the wealth. After all, why should movies, television shows, and other forms of entertainment address the plight of the poor when they can show us sunny, suburban neighborhoods with middle-class families? It is worth noting that the very wealthy are rarely, if ever shown in these television portrayals, and if they are, they are not shown in settings that allow us to think critically about the differences between them and us. The myth of the middle-class and suburbia is perpetuated in order to make us as a nation keep believing that we are middle-class and that there are no poor people among us. If by some miracle, poor people show up, we can simply ignore them.
     I thought that Mantsios's statements about how we view the poor are spot-on, and they line up with everything we have been reading this semester. The media usually does ignore the problem of poverty, and if they are forced to address it, they usually portray the poor, who are the victims, in the most negative light possible. The wealthy are seen as the best in society, and this is what we all want to be. To be poor is to be dirty and unworthy. Although the wealthy are responsible for suppressing the poor, no one sees this. Instead, the wealthy are seen as good, kind people who would never trample on anyone. Their example is held up as the standard. The message is that "if we could make it, why can't you?" even though they are relying on several years worth of wealth in many cases. The poor are usually portrayed as drug addicts, prostitutes, and so-called "welfare queens." The middle-class, on the other hand, are portrayed as the real victims. Any problems they have, such as drug abuse, are worthy of sympathy. For instance, if one hears of a suburban housewife being addicted to pills, this would garner sympathy, whereas a poor drug addict would get little, if any, sympathy. As usual, anything that happens to the poor is their fault, and we as a society look down on them and try to ignore them rather than helping them.
     Obviously, it is hard to live in today's world without reading newspapers, listening to the radio, or watching television. Since the media has an interest in keeping us blinded to class differences and keeping us divided, the best we can do is to try to view what we watch and read critically, and to try to educate ourselves about these pitfalls in mass media.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Bourdieu "The Forms of Capital"

Overall, I found this article to be very interesting and informative; however, I do think that Bourdieu used too many big words. He probably could have found a simpler way to get his meaning across to the reader. I also found our class discussion to be interesting, especially the part about the Skull and Bones club at Yale. I thought that our discussions about privilege and the ways that we have access to privilege were interesting as well.. I think that Bourdieu had some interesting ideas about capital. I was already familiar with the different types of capital that he discussed, such as social capital and cultural capital, and of course economic capital. Capital is "accumulated labor", and therefore, anyone who has capital is able to control labor, workers, money, etc. Ordinary people obviously do not have the capital that Bourdieu is describing. Cultural Capital and Social Capital are a bit different. According to Bourdieu, a person could have Social Capital, but they may not necessarily have Cultural Capital, because Cultural Capital is something that takes a lifetime to attain and build. People can look at a person and tell if they have Cultural Capital. We saw this in the clip from Pretty Woman. No matter how much money or access to luxury goods one may have, they could still go through life without Cultural Capital. Social Capital, on the other hand, is all about using your connections to advance in life. Anyone can have Social Capital, although this may differ in terms of class. Obviously, the different types of capital and the levels that you have access to will differ bases on class, but I think the point is that we all have access to some sort of capital, and this leads to privilege.
     I think that Bourdieu makes some valid points regarding capital, although I don't necessarily agree with all of them. For instance, I believe that if a person was taught etiquette, wore the right type of clothing, and was educated about art, music, poetry, etc, they could fit in with people of higher classes. They would have acquired Cultural Capital. They may still have limited Social Capital, but they would at least have a few more opportunities than someone like Tammy, for example. Unfortunately, I think that all of these types of capital intersect, and that the playing field will never truly be equal for all people.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Kozol "Amazing Grace"

     This article really touched me. I can't think of anything that we have read or seen so far this semester, with the exception of the video "Tammy", that could remind me of just how fortunate I really am, and how sheltered my life has been. This article is a great example of the ways in which class and privilege determine how miserable or happy our lives can be. The title of the article, "Amazing Grace", is ironic because there is little that can be found in the article to make the reader feel that God is going to intervene on behalf of the residents of the St. Ann's neighborhood. There aren't going to be any miracles or divine interventions on behalf of the miserable wretches of the St. Ann's neighborhood.
     In this article, Kozol describes the conditions that the people of the St. Ann's neighborhood, located in the South Bronx, endure. they are ravaged by the effects of drug addiction, prostitution, AIDS, violence, and  poverty. Anything and everything bad that can happen happens in this neighborhood. Education and improving one's status in life do not seem to be priorities in this neighborhood. Young boys, such as Cliffie, a young boy who showed Kozol around the neighborhood, see Michael Jackson and Oprah as heroes, rather than people in history books. Murder is an everyday occurrence. 15 year old girls are raped by their stepfathers, and then die of AIDS. Drug addiction and prostitution are prevalent, so much so that neighborhood organizations hand out clean needles and condoms in futile attempts to lower rates of disease. Even people who are not wallowing in the "filth" of society are not safe, as we see with Kozol's example of Alice Washington. Alice Washington's husband infected her with AIDS. As a result, she became too sick to work and had to go to a homeless shelter. She could not get disability because she was not sick enough, although she had AIDS and had had cancer. Her attitude was that of "hey, what can I do?" Unsurprisingly, most of the other residents of the neighborhood seem to have given up too.
     I would say that Kozol's main argument is that the poor cannot do anything about their circumstances, not because they are too lazy but because their circumstances are simply too much for them to handle. Certainly someone like Alice Washington could not be to blame for her circumstances. There is no better example of the failure of society to help people in need than of the St. Ann's neighborhood. Neighborhoods like St. Ann's will continue to exist as long as society does its best to ignore the so-called stains of society rather than taking the steps to change it into a productive part of society.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Short Introduction

So my name is Paris and I am a history major. I am a senior. I am taking this class because I took a Women's Studies class a couple of semesters ago and liked it so much, I thought I would take another one. I work at Delia's in addition to attending RIC full-time. My life is really not that interesting, so I won't bore everyone with pointless details. I am looking forward to getting to know everyone and learning many interesting things about the ways class affects us.