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american History

We’re Not Mourning The 80’s. We’re Returning To Them.

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I know what everyone has been thinking as we look gleefully forward to the end of 2016, with a desire to put the social and political turmoil behind us as well as say “good riddance” to the year that took several beloved artists from us.

We are thinking, “How did we lose so many of our treasured pop culture icons from the 80’s? Why them?”  “Why now?” From Bowie to Prince to George Michael and Carrie Fisher and even (yes) the guy who played ALF!

Those of us whose lives have been touched by these so-much-more-human-than-human artists  and the characters that were so near and dear to our hearts feel this deep sense of loss. However, at the same time as we have had to say goodbye to these incredible beacons of hope from the recent past, we have seen a resurgence of many other things from that same decade.

For example:
In pop culture: Zombies! (The 80’s did, after all, bring us a nearly un-countable number of  zombie movies as paid homage to in the video hit Thriller) and Vinyl (because records are a “thing” again).

In fashion: Mom Jeans and thick eyebrows (Brooke Shields?  Anyone?)

I know you’re thinking that I’m getting a little too trend-centric and pop-culture fluffy with it, but hang in there.  I have a point, I promise….

In politics:  Celebrity Presidents (in the 80’s, we had former actor Ronald Reagan.  Now we have Reality TV star and bombastic businessman, Donald Trump) , what will soon be the resurgence of a new kind of Trickle-down-economics (which is the Economic Policy closest in to what Trump’s platform is based on) and Russia! (in the 80’s we loved to hate  Mikhail Gorbachev and now we have Vladimir Putin to make fun of on our sketch comedy shows.

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Culturally speaking, the 80s were a time of emerging conspicuous consumption and status-based classism – lots of nouveau riche boughie types flocking to the cities and the single life…wearing fur coats, driving porsches and ferraris and splashing around in the idea of a glamorous  “Greed is Good” mentality toward American economic and cosmopolitain “progress.”

At the same time, Willy Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp organized the first concert that would turn in to a now 30 year-strong organization called Farm Aid to combat the suffering that middle America farm communities were going through due to rampant closing of family farms as corporations started taking over.

We saw a country ripped apart by fear caused by the AIDS epidemic – which initially targeted the Gay community, who was still living at the fringes and considered a somewhat alienated “unknown”.   It took the story of Ryan White – a young boy who contracted HIV from a blood transfusion – to humanize the epidemic and begin vital conversations in our country about sexual orientation and fear and inclusion. Not to mention the idea of coming together to begin finding searching for treatments and cures for a disease that nobody deserves to die from.

The 80’s also brought us Cable television – revolutionizing pop culture as we know it  – making it possible for us to see more and more of the America we thought we knew and beginning an era of overstimulation that would have us retreating back in to our shells of familiarity more than finding common ground because content was being pushed at us, but we didn’t have an internet to allow us to publicly react to what we are seeing.

These days we have replaced cable television with social media to maintain our echo-chambers.  But fortunately we also have ways to have conversations – should we choose to – with people who don’t look like us or live like us or even live near us.

The point I’m actually trying to make here is that, in losing the 80’s pop stars that have so obviously and publicly fallen this year, we are actually reminding ourselves of the good things that came out of a time and a mentality we seem to be regressing back in to for a moment.

You see, I spend a good amount of time studying culture and sociology and reading up on topics like  Spiral Dynamics and social science that focuses on Worldviews as well as topics like Generational Cycles Theory.   In my work, I apply my understanding of the world and it’s nuances and patterns of change to helping my clients understand how to evolve their business and the ways they communicate with the humans that buy their products.  And because I study this stuff and apply it to a consumer space all the time, I am also thinking about it constantly and looking at cues from pop culture to seek to understand our world.

This year – particularly toward the end – has had me wracking my brain trying to explain why all of this seemingly bizarre stuff is happening in our sociopolitical landscape;  the populist ideals, the xenophobia and the generalized seemingly backwards progress  (as many liberal, intellectual types like me and my peers might see it).   In the end, I am able to say, “well sure I saw this coming” – for a number of reasons stemming from the ways in which we have chosen to engage with one another in our mainstreaming digital world to other factors related to cultural, environmental and  economic factors.

But I end up left falling back on  platitudes like “it’s always darkest before the dawn” or “it’s gonna get harder before it gets easier” – yet still full of hope that we will get to the “easy” part soon.

That being said, the scientific disciplines mentioned above that focus on social change all tell us (as does history) that wen tend to evolve in a spiral-type way.

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But the thing about spirals is that you always have to go back a little bit in the direction you came from before you can move forward.

My point and hypothesis  is that THIS time is the time for our slight backwards movement and I believe we have chosen the 80’s as our touch-point for this devolution of sorts.  But ALSO per the loss of our 80’s icons like Prince and Bowie and Carrie Fisher, the actress behind the Iconic beacon-of-hope character Princess Leia)  I think we are being given sacrificial lambs as reminders of the wonderful progress that was made during these times.  In the article just linked to about Princess Leia, for example – the author reminds us that the real reason we love that character so much is because

 It’s about creative thinking, keeping it together when it counts, and outclassing every pretentious pencil pusher the Empire can throw her way.

 

Artists like Bowie and Prince  taught us to embrace our weird, to love ourselves for everything that we are and to let our true colors shine .  George Michael, through his music and very public human journey also taught us (in particular, the Gay community)  many life lessons about accepting who we are and not letting the world get us down.

Even ALF – who I reference as a HUGE fan, btw – taught us a good amount about how we see the world.  This affably bizarre alien reminded us that we are not alone in seeing how ridiculous everyday life can be and that it’s okay to laugh it off sometimes.

Truth be told, I still have an ALF doll in my office.  Whenever I feel like an Alien from another planet come to study humans and their ways, “he”  reminds me about the humor in all of it and that I chose to keep my eyes open because I love my fellow humans and I believe we are on a very profound, fast-tracked evolutionary path.

So as many of you mourn what you see as a loss and start throwing Molotov Cocktails at 2016 so as to obliterate the memory of it as we move in to a new year, take a moment to honor the memories of those beacons of hope who have been brought back in to our public consciousness once more to let us know that even though it seems like we are fighting an uphill battle sometimes,  we have the power of our light (and most likely The Force  as well) to guide us forward.

Rest in Peace, 1980’s AND 2016.  We will remember to learn our lessons from the past and keep them with us, along with the beauty and the joys that have propelled us forward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Categories: American Culture, american History, Art and culture, Culture, sociology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Coke’s “America The Beautiful” Superbowl Ad Brought Out America’s Ugly

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Let me start by saying that I may be a few day’s late to this party having been engaged in other life event activities over Superbowl Sunday and not having turned on a television until last night.  Why?

soundof music football

That being said, I am aware that I apparently missed a doozy of a backlash against one Superbowl ad in particular: Coke’s “America The Beautiful” spot:

And before I had even had a chance to view it (I will admit it was this morning), I had already consumed an onslaught of media about the outrage this “highly controversial” ad had sparked.  First, I read This article from rawstory.com  showcasing the trending Twitter dialogue of outrage featuring hashtags like #SpeakAmerican and #Boycott Coke – with sociopolitical commentary from both conservative “White America” and immigrants.  They talk about everything from accusations of Coke’s Amnesty and Gay agendas to the idea that any ad talking about America in any way ought to speak in English.

I found the aforementioned blog in a discussion started in the Multicultural Trends group on LinkedIn  by my friend Tom LaForge  ,who is Global Director of Human and Cultural Insights at Coca-Cola.   Even in this business-oriented context we are redirected to This blog making a case for the vitriolic reaction  in a pretty articulate and really enlightening manner.   Pointing to the idea of the founding fathers coming from England and, essentially, the American dream and our concept of America being firmly rooted in English.

What I see in the ad is Coca-Cola defining the America they believe in: the melting pot of multiculturalism and refuge that connects Americans based on this value of diversity, rather than the value of a common language, in the literal sense.  Essentially, I read it as the common “language” being about America representing freedom to pursue  your happiness – regardless of your native tongue.  I thought the response below from news anchor Brenda Wood illustrates this counterbalanced point of view well:

But the fact is, people don’t like to have their frames shifted – and are comfortable in the points of view that allow them to define an “us” versus “other”, and in this case the “us” being those seeking the American dream of accumulating wealth and power and the “them” being the immigrants, underprivileged and otherwise unworthy “huddled masses”.    This is classic Conflict Theory – a sociological macro theory about the nature of social order that basically says the only way societies stay intact is when you have oppressors and those being oppressed – with the wealthy and powerful being the oppressors.  It essentially states that this conflict and power struggle are what maintain social order – and that even attempts by those in power to create social change with charitable works is still in the best interest of the powerful.

What this means to me from an anthropological, cultural perspective is that many Americas who share values with “the powerful”, whether that be religious or economic, take the idea of the American brand / dream / ideal being about ultimate equality and sharing of multicultural values as an attack against the status quo and the deeply held values that drive their existence.  And this is as true for right-wing conservative operating from within the privilege of power to the newly arrived immigrant who strives to integrate into American society and follow a path for himself or his family to financial success and power.

“Wow”, you might say.  “That’s a lot of reading into a commercial for soda pop”.   But it’s not necessarily the anthropologists and sociologists inflating the conversation.  You can see it in the articles I have referenced in sentiments referring to the idea presented in this ad as “communists destroying our way of life” or promoting the destruction of the American family (there is a split second in the ad, if you watch very carefully, where you see a gay male couple roller skating).

I asked Tom Laforge (mentioned earlier – the Human and Cultural Insights guy from Coca-Cola) what he thought was happening and he had perspective that I think sums up the situation. He says, “concepts like America are continually evolving.  All culturally defined artifacts are. Errors: assuming the definition you like does not evolve or is shared”.   So I suppose the idea a company like Coca Cola could be powerful enough to change a definition as enormous as America hits a pretty deep cultural chord.

Even more to the point, Tom says, “change can be scary, especially to something that is part of your identity.  Change has always been scary”.

But perhaps if Coca-Cola believes it can “teach the world to sing in perfect harmony” and this is a core belief that does and continues to drive the message of their brand, that it is an appropriately bold step for them to take in sparking a passionate conversation about change in America.

Naturally, I am very eager to hear what the rest of the blogosphere thinks…

Categories: American Culture, american History, Anthropology, conflict theory, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, Marketing, Politics, pop culture, Racism, sociology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

In Jeans We Trust: Celebrating 140 Years of Levi’s

Levi's

If I asked you where Jeans were invented I be your first guess would likely be AMERICA! Or maybe it would be China – given where most of the things we buy are made.

Fact is you would me mostly correct. Even though the fabric that today we call Denim comes from Nimes, France – the denim work pant and what has evolved into modern-day Jeans, was brought to you buy Mr. Levi Strauss – and Levi Strauss and Co. celebrates 140 years of an Iconic American brand today!

According to eduplace.com

“Levi Strauss came to the United States from Germany when he was eighteen. He worked for his family’s business in New York. He traveled about the United States selling cloth, thread, buttons, and other goods for his family’s business in New York. During the Gold Rush, Strauss’s sister moved to San Francisco and opened a store with her husband. They invited Levi Strauss to join them.

 

Strauss went to San Francisco, bringing several bolts of cloth to sell for tents and wagon covers. The canvas cloth turned out to be the wrong kind for tents, but perfect for work pants. Strauss’s work pants became popular with miners and ranchers. These workers needed clothes that were sturdy enough for rough outdoor work.

When Strauss ran out of canvas, his brothers in New York sent him denim fabric, which was easier to sew. He dyed the denim blue to hide stains from the dirt that miners and ranchers worked in. The pants were later made with copper rivets to make the pockets stronger. The new design, called “Levis,” was a huge success.”

And what has sustained their success to this day?  I would say it rides on both the strength of their brand: which has remained committed to an identity rooted in the hard-working, American-bootstrapping ethos.  I would also say it has a lot to do with how they run their business.  I have actually done a good amount of work for Levi’s over the years and if there is one thing I know for certain about that company, it’s that they have a relentless commitment to incorporating an understanding of human and cultural insights into their business.  I have personally traveled the world on their behalf unearthing differences and commonalities among emerging middle class youth to help them develop an accessible denim and apparel brand for global youth.  I have heard the stories of the project that lead to the structure of their recently re-launched women’s business – where there is a perfect fit for every body type (thanks to the tens of thousands of women’s who’s measurements they took around the world to figure out how to end the self-esteem draining jeans shopping process and create something empowering).

And certainly no company is perfect but it stands to reason that they are doing something right.  How many American companies or brands can you name that have stood the test of time like Levi Strauss?  Chances are you can count them on one hand.

So, today  I give a Narcissistic Anthropologist shout-out to Levi Strauss for inventing my favorite article of clothing – JEANS!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY LEVI’S.   Stay Riveting.

 

 

Categories: American Culture, american History, Branding, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Marketing, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Honoring The Drive-In: An American Cultural Tradition

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Tonight, I’m going to the Drive in for the first time this season.  It’s not something I do often, but about once or twice in the Spring / Summer months a bunch of us girls drive our SUVs out to the east side of town, pack up coolers and camp chairs and tailgate at the Drive-In.   We usually pick a movie we don’t care too much about digesting, get there early and eat dinner / drink a little bit and socialize through a double feature.  For us, it’s a great way to catch up and enjoy a night out without going to the bars.

I have to say, however, that I’ve never actually sat in my car and fully absorbed a drive-in movie date.  Never made-out in the back seat or got “stranded” and “branded a fool” (name that iconic American teen movie!).

But I do know one thing for sure – the Drive-in is an American icon.  It’s one of those things that’s unique to our American culture – an artifact of an era that has been slowly fading away.  I know in my town, however, the Drive-in gets a lot of traffic during the summer months  – not just from movie-goers but also by car clubs and festivals.   It seems people have been itching for different venues to actually get out and socialize – a nice change of pace from our daily “virtual” lives.

In any case, I found a great article here , most of which is below along with one of the two videos shared in the article.  I would recommend visiting the site to see the image gallery as well.  Enjoy!

Vanishing America: The Drive-In Theater

It’s one of the icons of American civilization, combining Hollywood with car culture. The drive-in movie theater was once a mainstay of every American city, and plenty of small rural towns too. In the 1950s there were more than 4,000 of them. They were a place for families to enjoy a night out together, and for teenagers to be initiated into the games of adulthood.

Now the drive-in theater has fallen on hard times. According to The United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association, there are currently only 366 drive-ins in the United States with a total of 606 screens. The states with the most theaters are Pennsylvania (33) and Ohio (31). Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii and Louisiana sadly have no drive-ins. Many other states are in a precarious position with only one or two.

Competition from cable TV and movie rentals along with rising cost in Tucson real estate agency services have seriously hurt the drive-in theater industry, yet it clings to life. It’s gone from that great American hero – the success story – to that other great American hero – the underdog.

The first drive-in opened in New Jersey in 1933 and the idea soon caught on. In Piscataway Homes, the average person went to the drive in at least once a month. Their heyday came in the economic boom years of the 1950s and ’60s. They began to feel the pinch in the 1970s with the spread of more TV channels. With VCRs and cable TV becoming popular in the late 1970s and early ’80s, things got even worse.

Now most drive-ins are gone. Others have remained as spooky abandoned lots that offer the photographers in this article’s gallery the chance to lend atmosphere to their images. Visiting a dead drive-in theater is a bit like visiting a ghost town. It leaves you wondering about the people who used to spend time there.

Unlike with ghost towns, many of us can remember being one of those people. I remember going to the DeAnza Drive-in in Tucson, Arizona. My friend and I used to put a futon on top of her VW van and watch movies under the Arizona starlight. The DeAnza is gone now, and all that’s left is a webpage of memories.

But don’t despair, movie fans, there’s hope. The remaining drive-ins are keeping the flame lit. There are places like Hollywood Drive-in, which has been showing movies on Route 66 near Troy, New York, since 1952. New technologies like video projection are making it easier to open up drive-ins in any location where there’s a blank wall or the space for a screen. My favorite indie cinema, Ragtag Cinema in Columbia, Missouri, has done some outdoor shows in a nearby parking lot. Check out the photo gallery to see a cool Belgian drive-in using an inflatable screen.

As the great Joe Bob Briggs always says, “The drive-in will never die!”

 

Categories: American Culture, american History, Art and culture, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, Television and Media, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Putting Federal Ruling about Gay Marraige In Context: A Look Back to Roe V. Wade and A Discussion of Human Opinion V. Social Science

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One funny thing about being human is we tend to get pretty emotional about the topic of human rights.   Hilarious, right?  I mean, why do we have to take this stuff so personally?  😉   And that’s not the only funny thing about humans.  Another is, on the one hand – especially in America where we are all about our human rights – we want to be able to be free to make our own decisions and live life in a way that makes us happy.  On the other hand, we feel like there are some decisions that should be “over our heads” – like the right to kill, the right to steal, etc.  But then, we just can’t seem to get clear on which decisions belong to us as individuals and which belong to our governments. Then there is the holy elephant in the room, Batman!  Which decisions get left up to the higher powers?

The funny thing about being a social scientist is that, while on the one hand you are a human subject to all of the aforementioned predispositions on rights, you are a scientist beholden to objective observation of data and analysis of the meaning brought forth by that data.   So, for this said mad scientist, the topic of the social function of ruling-body decisions on human rights and the simultaneous functions of social debate and the political process, become a bit of a conundrum.

There are theories in sociology that propose basic rules for how society needs to work in order for it to, well work.  Conflict theory, which I have talked about before, says we need to be in a constant state of conflict or society will fall apart.  We need an “us” versus “them” at all times.  Labeling theory says we need to make sure those individuals who’s behavior disrupts social norms need to be primarily identified by those behaviors to serve as an example – and that when given our primary labels we tend to roll with them and live up to our “potential” one way or another, thus perpetuating the shining / or not-so-shining examples.  Structural functionalsm talks about the fact of  delicate and intentional interplay between social bodies, much like clockworks – that keeps society humming along.

So, as a socially liberal female homosexual who has some pretty distinct beliefs on what humans ought to have the right to, I am forced to consider the sociological implications of making federal rulings about them versus allowing states (smaller, “bite-sized” pockets of organized humans who’s likely share more in common due to the context of their proximity – meaning it’s more likely that the settlers of that area came from similar places and there is more likeliness of shared culture among people within that state than between those in that state and other people living across the country) to make those decisions individually and allow critical mass to eventually move in the right direction on its own.   PHEW….long sentence.

 

It’s a lot to chew on but all of these theories point to the necessity allowing society to work out its arguments.  And I think the discussion in today’s NY Times Article: Shadow of Roe V Wade Looms Over Ruling on Gay Marriage is a fascinating one.

It forces one to think that maybe a democratic, industrialized society requires a bit longer, drawn out political process to keep said society functioning efficiently and moving in the right direction.   That, perhaps, by cutting off the debate by enacting federal laws does more harm than good?  The context given in this article is that the federal law on Roe V. Wade legalizing abortion everywhere cut off the debate at a time when the conversation was just achieving a critical mass on a state by state level.  The result is that the country felt like they didn’t have a chance to really resolve the issue and thus the debate continued (and still continues) to rage on because people felt like they had their voice taken away from them.  Some wonder if the same thing will happen again if the conversation on Gay marriage is taken out of the hands of the states.

I have a human opinion and a scientific one.   As irony would dictate, they are at odds.   Am eager to hear how others who have the inclination toward a scientific or philosophical exploration of the topic as compared to their human opinion think / feel about this.

Categories: american History, Anthropology, conflict theory, Culture, labeling theory, Politics, Science, sociology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Are We What We Watch? TV content as a Reflection of American Culture

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As per usual I was being kept company by CNN at the start of my workday this morning and there was an interesting “filler” story about how the content of TV programming has changed over the years since, well, TV was invented and  the role it plays as a reflection of our culture.  The question posed was the degree to which exporting content like Honey Boo Boo to foreign markets reflects badly on our culture or otherwise inaccurately portrays who we are and what we value as a society.

It’s an age-old question about art imitating life or life imitating art. Further, I suppose that there is a lot of content, like the aforementioned exploited six-year old or The Real Housewives of (pick your boughie social city) that isn’t really art at all but rather produced documentation of various cultural train wrecks.  I would argue, from an objective sociocultural perspective that what we put out there on TV, even if it is representative of certain outliers of our culture in some cases, absolutely does reflect our cultural values, for better or worse.  But, is that such a bad thing?

Back when TV was in its infancy, there was not an abundance of space or choice.  Some of what was put on television  reflected ideal images of American life that the corporate sponsors of those programs wanted us to aspire to – and ultimately purchase their products to help us get there. Think shows like Leave it to Beaver or Donna Reed.  Others lovingly depicted lifestyles of the working class, affirming our daily grind, like The Honeymooners.  Then there were the uplifting variety shows like Lawrence Welk that entertained us with non-boundry pushing music and otherwise served to placate our sensibilities and keep us calm.

But, as media evolved and cable gave us more and more bandwidth, there became room to strategically target audiences who fit different niches and tailor programming to capture there eyeballs and ultimately more advertising dollars.  So we reached out with programming that began tackling social issues (through commentary and comedy and everything in between), capturing more of the realities of modern life and ultimately teaching us a lot about what we can do, how we can live and how we really do live.  We fed our celebrity fetishes, peeked into the lives of subcultures and demographics that were outside of our own familiar circles and created content designed to provoke thought.

Shows like the Simpsons and Family guy and South Park put provocative content into the characteristically unthreatening medium of cartoons:  lest seeing live people acting out atrocities of social conscience hit too close to home.  We watch documentation of different types of families, from celebrities, to “little people” to families with octuplets and both marvel at and relate to their day-to-day challenges and triumphs.  We dig deep into subcultures like the “Amish Mafia” or fictional Mormon societies and laugh at other fictional and non-fiction depictions of those who trespass against social norms like the show Shameless on Showtime or Toddlers in Tiaras.  We even call into question or glamorize government conspiracy, organized crime and serial murder on shows like Homeland, Boardwalk Empire or Dexter.  I could go on and on with how different niche programming reflects our context, but I think the point has been made.

So I say we are what we watch: an American culture defined by a proud commitment to diversity, exploration, curiosity, following our passions and making ourselves think harder about our place in the world and role in human society.  Sometimes we need to react to the worst of it in order to think about how we make ourselves better. The fact is there are some heinous parts of our culture that, if gone unchecked, will simply continue to grow.  So don’t ignore it…watch the stuff and talk about it and let a counter-culture of progress prevail.  If  you ignore the atrocities of frivolity that we all pretend not to pay attention to but secretly watch in the privacy of our dimly lit living rooms then we are doomed to see it become mainstream.

I also say the reality TV set is a hero in that regard – a rogue movement of anthropological documentarians putting it all in our faces and letting us decide how we feel about it and what we are going to do about it.   We are a wacky culture.  You can’t make this sh&t up.  But by allowing ourselves to actively the direction of culture we can have a hand in changing the path.  And there is great value in showing the world that it’s okay to take a hard look at yourself.  There’s a lot to be said for this freedom of speech thing.  So go forth and turn on Bravo (etc.)  with no shame.  Take a hard look and decide if what you see is who you want to be and proudly decide how you will have a part in changing the channel…

Categories: American Culture, american History, Anthropology, Art and culture, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, sociology, Television and Media, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Remembering “Dear Abby” Pushing The Social Envelope as a Defining Part Of America’s Context

English: Dear Abby star on the Hollywood Walk ...

English: Dear Abby star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week we lost a cultural Icon:  Pauline Friedman Philips – otherwise known as Abigail VanBuren or “Dear Abby”.  In the pre-therapy era where we didn’t have an internet to go to for advice from our social networks or blogs or a lineup of daytime chat shows to share “The View” of how to handle our modern lives, people who needed guidance on how to navigate the social landscape but were to shy to reach out to their small social circles (lest they be judged) relied on the privacy and anonymity of their local paper’s advice columnist…or nationally syndicated columnists such as Dear Abby who became the necessary forward-thinking voice of an in-between generation.

Here is a taste of an appropriately snappy article from the Associated Press, as featured on ABC.Com, remembering Dear Abby’s contribution (with the help of her daughter’s memories)  and sharing a bit about her context, which, in turn, shaped our social context.

Dear Abby’s Legacy: Wit, Warmth, and Snappy Advice

By JOCELYN NOVECK AP National Writer
NEW YORK January 18, 2013 (AP)

Two men had recently bought a house together in San Francisco, and the neighbors were annoyed. The men were entertaining “a very suspicious mixture of people,” the neighbors wrote, asking: “How can we improve the neighborhood?”

“You could move,” Dear Abby replied.

That zinger, contained in the 1981 collection “The Best of Dear Abby,” was such classic Abby — real name, Pauline Friedman Phillips — that it moved her daughter to burst into laughter Thursday when reminded of it, even though she had just returned from the funeral of her mother. The elder Phillips had died a day earlier at age 94 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

“People weren’t really talking about homosexuality back then,” Jeanne Phillips, who now writes the famous syndicated column, said. “But you know, there wasn’t a subject my mother wouldn’t take on.”

As the world said goodbye to Dear Abby on Thursday, the Web was full of her snappiest one-liners, responses to thousands of letters over the decades that she wrote in her daily column. But her admirers noted that behind the humor and wit was a huge heart, and a genuine desire to improve people’s lives.

“She really wanted to help people,” said Judith Martin, the etiquette columnist known as Miss Manners. “Yes, she wrote with humor, but with great sympathy. She had an enormous amount of influence, and for the good. Her place in the culture was really extraordinary.”

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AP
FILE – In this Feb. 14, 2001 file photo,… View Full Caption

The long-running “Dear Abby” column first appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1956. Phillips was hardly experienced, but she had managed to snag an interview for the job. A skeptical editor allowed her to write a few sample columns, and Phillips was hired.

She wrote under the name Abigail Van Buren, plucking the name Abigail from the Bible and Van Buren from American history. Her column competed for decades with that of Ann Landers, who was none other than her twin sister, Esther Friedman Lederer (she died in 2002.) Their relationship was stormy in their early adult years, but they later regained the closeness they’d had growing up in Sioux City, Iowa.

Carolyn Hax, who writes her own syndicated advice column, feels that one can’t speak of one sister without the other, so influential were they both, and at the same time.

“Any of us who do this owe them such a debt,” she said. “The advice column was a backwater of the newspaper, and now it is so woven into our cultural fabric. These columns are loved and widely read, by people you wouldn’t expect. That couldn’t have happened without them.”

In a time before confessional talk shows and the nothing-is-too-private culture of the Web, the sisters’ columns offered a rare window into Americans’ private lives and a forum for discussing marriage, sex and the swiftly changing mores of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s.

The two columns differed in style, though. While Ann Landers responded to questioners with homey, detailed advice, Abby’s replies were more flippant and occasionally risqué, like some collected for her 1981 book.

Dear Abby: My boyfriend is going to be 20 years old next month. I’d like to give him something nice for his birthday. What do you think he’d like? — Carol

Dear Carol: Nevermind what he’d like, give him a tie.

Dear Abby: I’ve been going with this girl for a year. How can I get her to say yes? — Don

Dear Don: What’s the question?

WANT MORE?  Read the full article by clicking the link below:

http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/dear-abbys-legacy-wit-warmth-snappy-advice-18243616

 

Categories: american History, Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, pop culture, Suburban Living, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

For Christmas I Want A Fat Dude Sliding Down My Chimney To Bring Me Stuff

naughty-santa-2

I remember when I was little and (despite the fact that both my parents are Jewish) I would spend the weeks up until Christmas anticipating Christmas morning, when Santa would have brought me and my brothers a living-room full of presents.  I took the responsibility of making sure Santa had cookies and milk (as well as a carrot for Rudolph) very seriously.  The man worked hard and needed nourishment to fuel him on his long journey.  On Christmas eve it was typical for one adult or another to fool me and my twin brother into going to bed super-early by pretending to hear sleigh bells down the block.

Imagine my disappointment the year I was awake to hear Santa actually IN MY KITCHEN about to help himself to a snack and tiptoed down the stairs to  sneak a peek, only to find my dad in his Hanes tighty whities scarfing down my painstakingly arranged Oreos.  A myth debunked and a little bit of innocence lost.  But not all for naught.  I was seven at the time and managed to feign naiveté for another three years – endearing myself to my parents by playing along with childhood nonsense for material gain.

The origin of Santa Claus came Santa Claus, also known as Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas and simply “Santa”, is a figure with from historical myth and legend who, in is said to bring gifts to the homes of the good children during the late evening and overnight hours of Christmas eve, December 24.  Over the last couple hundred years, Santa has been elevated from folklore to Coca-Cola salesman – but still exists in our hearts and minds as the symbol of Christmas for all Americans (regardless of whether or not they buy into that whole birth of the lord and savior thing).

I found an article on the week.com that gives us some fun facts about Santa Claus I thought I would share as a time-saving gift for my readers….all 7 of you.  😉

So, enjoy the light holiday reading and don’t forget you still have to be good for another several hours to cash in…

http://theweek.com/article/index/222142/the-history-of-santa-claus-7-interesting-facts

The history of Santa Claus: 7 interesting facts
From why he wears a red suit to when he got hitched to Mrs. Claus, a look at the mythmaking behind jolly old St. Nick
By The Week Editorial Staff | December 23, 2011

 

As Christmas approaches, children around the world have Santa on the brain. They’re anxiously wondering if they’ve been overly naughty or sufficiently nice, and eagerly daydreaming about their potential gift hauls. But exactly how did the jolly, bearded North Pole resident evolve into the cultural icon we know today? Here, seven interesting facts about his evolution:

1. He was real… sort of
Folklore may have turned Santa Claus into a toy distributor who mans a sleigh led by eight flying reindeer, but he is actually based, loosely, on a real person. Born around the year 270, St. Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra, a town in what is now Turkey. He earned a reputation as an anonymous gift giver, says MSNBC, by paying the dowries of impoverished girls and handing out treats and coins to children — often leaving them in their shoes, set out at night for that very purpose. Since his death, Nicholas has been canonized as the patron saint of children.

2. He’s only been ‘Santa Claus’ for 200 years
A Dutch tradition kept St. Nicholas’ story alive in the form of Sinterklaas, a bishop who traveled from house to house to deliver treats to children on the night of Dec. 5. The first anglicizing of the name to Santa Claus was in a story that appeared in a New York City newspaper in 1773.

3. Satire first sent Santa down a chimney
In his satiric 1809 book A History of New York, Washington Irving did away with the characterization of Santa Claus as a “lanky bishop,” says Whipps. Instead, Irving described Santa as a portly, bearded man who smokes a pipe. Irving’s story also marked the first time Santa slid down the chimney, says the U.K.’s Independent.

4. “Twas the Night Before Christmas” introduced the reindeer
Clement Moore’s 1822 poem A Visit From Saint Nicholas — which is now more commonly referred to as “Twas the Night Before Christmas” — was first published anonymously in the Troy, N.Y., Sentinel on Dec. 23, 1823. The 56-line poem introduced and popularized many of Santa’s defining characteristics — chiefly, that he drove a sleigh guided by “eight tiny reindeer.”

5. Coca-Cola created the modern Mr. Claus
When Father Christmas first began showing up in illustrations, he wore many different colored robes: Green, purple, blue, and brown, among others. Beginning in the late 1800s, it became popular to outfit Santa in a red suit. Artist Louis Prang depicted him that way in a series of Christmas cards in 1885, and The New York Times reported on the red garments in 1927. But the modern image of Santa Claus as the jolly man in the red suit was seared into American pop culture in 1931, when artist Haddon Sundblom illustrated him that way for a widely-circulated campaign for Coca-Cola.

6. The department store Santa is a 120-year-old tradition
In 1890, Massachusetts businessman James Edgar became the first department store Santa, according to The Smoking Jacket. Edgar is credited with coming up with the idea of dressing up in a Santa Claus costume as a marketing tool. Children from all over the state dragged their parents to Edgar’s small dry goods store in Brockton, and a tradition was born.

7. Santa was a bachelor until the late 1800s
The first mention of a spouse for Santa was in the 1849 short story A Christmas Legend by James Rees. Over the next several years, the idea of Mrs. Claus found its way into several literary publications, like the Yale Literary Magazine and Harper’s Magazine. But it wasn’t until Katherine Lee Bates’ widely-circulated 1889 poem Goody Santa Claus on a Sleigh Ride that Santa’s wife was popularized. (“Goody” is short for “Goodwife,” or “Mrs.”)

Categories: american History, Anthropology, Art and culture, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Marketing, pop culture, Rituals, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Some Pre-Thanksgiving Native American Education: The Creek Indians

In the spirit of Thanksgiving’s connection to the Native Americans (If you recall from the stories of the pilgrims, they helped us find / grow food so we wouldn’t die when our pasty white ancestors were fresh off the boat) and as inspired by my vacation travels, I thought I would drop a little knowledge.
Yesterday whilst exploring some uninhabited small islands off the gulf coast of Florida, we came across a treasure trove of shells and driftwood and other objects of nature that will end up gracing the surfaces of our home.  But one set of objects we found which we are not allowed to take home are more worth the telling:  shards and remnants of Muskogee (otherwise known as Creek Indian) pottery.

As a practicing socio-anthropologist who once had aspirations of focusing on Archaeology, I was giddy with excitement about these artifacts so rich with tales of their own and realized I knew little to nothing about the Creek Indians, even though I a) studied Native American tribal culture in undergrad and b) lived in Florida for a solid chunk of my life.

So here are some facts I found on Wikepedia and an short-attention-span-approprite website on Native Americans for Kids:

First, an excerpt of the “academic” lowdown from Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muscogee_people

The Muscogee (or Muskogee), also known as the Creek or Creeks, are a Native American people traditionally from the southeastern United States.[3] Mvskoke is their name in traditional spelling. The modern Muscogee live primarily in Oklahoma, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. Their language, Mvskoke, is a member of the Muscogee branch of the Muscogean language family.

The Muscogee were descendants of the Mississippian culture peoples, who built earthwork mounds at their regional chiefdoms located throughout the Mississippi River valley and its tributaries. The historian Walter Williams and others believe the early Spanish explorers encountered ancestors of the Muscogee when they visited Mississippian-culture chiefdoms in the Southeast in the mid-16th century.[4]

The Muscogee were the first Native Americans to be “civilized” under George Washington’s civilization plan. In the 19th century, the Muscogee were known as one of the “Five Civilized Tribes“, because they had integrated numerous cultural and technological practices of their more recent European American neighbors. Influenced by their prophetic interpretations of the 1811 comet and earthquake, the Upper Towns of the Muscogee, supported by the Shawnee leader Tecumseh, began to resist European-American encroachment. Internal divisions with the Lower Towns led to the Red Stick War (Creek War, 1813–1814); begun as a civil war within the Muscogee Nation, it enmeshed them in the War of 1812 against the United States.

During the Indian Removal of 1830, most of the Muscogee Nation moved to Indian Territory. The Muscogee Creek Nation based in Oklahoma is federally recognized, as are the Poarch Band of Creek Indians of Alabama, the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana, and the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas.

 

And now for some more robust but nicely chunked ethnographic info from a website for Kids:

http://www.bigorrin.org/creek_kids.htm


Where did the Creek Indians get their name?
The white settlers called them Creek Indians after Ocmulgee Creek in Georgia. They originally called themselves Isti or Istichata, but began to identify themselves as Muskogee soon after Europeans arrived.

How do you pronounce “Muskogee”? What does it mean?
It’s pronounced “muss-KOH-gee,” with a hard ‘g’ as in ‘go.’ Sometimes it is spelled Muscogee or Mvskoke instead. It comes from Maskoke, which was originally the name of a particular Creek band. Later, this name became used to refer to Creek people in general. Today, many people use the two words together: Muskogee Creek.

Are the Creeks Seminole people?
No, but some Seminoles are Creek people. The Seminole tribe was originally an alliance between certain Creek, Miccosukee, Hitchiti, Oconee, and other Indian people of northern Florida and southern Georgia. Only some Creek people, not all of them, joined the Seminoles.

Where do the Creeks live?
The Creeks are original residents of the American southeast, particularly Georgia, Alabama, Florida, and North Carolina. Most Creeks were forced to move to Oklahoma in the 1800’s, like other southern Indian tribes. There are 20,000 Muskogee Creeks in Oklahoma today. Other Creek people are living in southern Florida as part of the Seminole tribe, in the Poarch Creek band in Alabama, or scattered throughout the original Muskogee homelands.

How is the Creek Indian nation organized?
There are two Creek tribes today. The Poarch Creeks in Alabama live on a reservation, which is land that belongs to the tribe and is under their control. The Oklahoma Creeks live on trust land. The Creek Nation has its own government, laws, police, and other services, like a small country. However, the Creeks are also US citizens and must obey American law.

In the past, each Creek village was led by a chief called a miko who was selected by a tribal council. Historically, all these chiefs were male. Today, the Creek councilmembers and principal chief are elected, just like senators and governors, and can be either gender.

What language do the Creeks speak?
Most Creek people speak English today. Some people, especially elders, also speak their native Muskogee Creek language. If you’d like to know a few easy Muskogee words, hesci (pronounced heese-chee) is a friendly greeting, and mvto (pronounced muh-toh) means ‘thank you.’ You can also read a Creek picture glossary here.

What was Creek culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here is a link to the Muscogee Creek Nation of Oklahoma, where you can learn about the Creek people past and present. You can also read simple articles about the Creek Indians here and here.

How do Creek Indian children live, and what did they do in the past?
They do the same things all children do–play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Creek children like to go hunting and fishing with their fathers. In the past, Indian kids had more chores and less time to play, just like colonial children. But they did have beaded dolls, toys and games to play with. A popular game among teenage boys and adult men was afvcketv (pronounced ah-futch-kitt-uh), which is a stickball game similar to the Iroquois game of lacrosse. Creek mothers, like many Native Americans, traditionally carried their babies in cradleboards on their backs–a custom which many American parents have adopted now.

What were men and women’s roles in the Creek tribe?
Creek men were hunters and sometimes went to war to protect their families. Creek women were farmers and also did most of the child care and cooking. Both genders took part in storytelling, artwork and music, and traditional medicine. In the past, the chief was always a man, but today a Creek woman can participate in government too.

What were Creek homes like in the past?
The Creek people lived in settled villages of single-family houses arranged around a village square. Creek houses were made of plaster and rivercane walls with thatched roofs. Here are some pictures of Indian homes like the ones Creek Indians used. They also built larger circular buildings for ceremonial purposes, and most towns had a ball field with benches for spectators. Some Creek villages had palisades (reinforced walls) around them, to guard against attack. Today, the Creeks live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Creek clothing like? Did they wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Creek men wore breechcloths and leather leggings. Creek women wore wraparound skirts and mantles made of deerskin or woven fiber. Creek men did not originally wear shirts, but both genders wore cloaks in cooler weather. The Creeks also wore moccasins on their feet. Later the Creeks adapted European costume into their own characteristic style, including cloth blouses, jackets, and full skirts decorated with ribbon applique. Here is a webpage with pictures of traditional Creek dress, and here are some photographs and links about Indian clothes in general.

The Creeks didn’t wear long headdresses like the Sioux. Creek men usually shaved their heads in the Mohawk style, and sometimes they would also wear a porcupine roach. (These headdresses were made of porcupine hair, not their sharp quills!) Creek women usually wore their long hair in topknots on top of their heads. Creek men, especially warriors, decorated their bodies with complex tribal tattoos, and often painted their faces bright red during battles and dances. Creek women didn’t usually tattoo or paint themselves.

Today, some Creek people still wear moccasins or a ribbon shirt, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of breechcloths… and they only wear roaches in their hair on special occasions like a dance.

What was Creek transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
Yes–the Creek Indians made long dugout canoes from hollowed-out cypress logs. They used them alot like stand up paddle boards. Over land, the Muskogees used dogs as pack animals. (There were no horses in North America until colonists brought them over from Europe.) Today, of course, Creek people also use cars… and non-native people also use canoes.

What was Creek food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Creeks were farming people. Creek women did most of the farming, harvesting crops of corn, beans, and squash. Creek men did most of the hunting, shooting deer, wild turkeys, and small game and fishing in the rivers and along the coast. Creek dishes included cornbread, soups, and stews cooked on stone hearths.

What were Creek weapons and tools like in the past?
Creek hunters primarily used bows and arrows. Fishermen used fishing spears, nets, or hooks made of bone. In war, Creek men fired their bows or fought with tomahawks and war clubs. Creek warriors also used hide shields to defend themselves.

What are Creek arts and crafts like?
The Creeks were known for their baskets, woodcarvings, and glazed pottery. When they had to move to Oklahoma, the Creeks couldn’t get the materials they used to use for some of their traditional crafts, so they concentrated more on other crafts such as beadwork.

What other Native Americans did the Creek tribe interact with?
The Creeks traded regularly with all the other tribes of the southeast. These tribes communicated using a simplified trade language called Mobilian Jargon. They frequently fought with the Cherokee and Choctaw tribes. The closest Creek allies included the Yuchi, Miccosukee, Alabama, and Coushatta tribes, who were united into a loose confederacy in the 1700’s.

I read that the Creeks were part of the Five Civilized Tribes. Was that an alliance like the Iroquois Confederacy?
No. Many people guess this, but it isn’t true. “The Five Civilized Tribes” was just a name that the white settlers used to refer to the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Seminole, and Creek tribes of the Southeast. These five tribes were never part of an alliance together, and they did not call themselves the Civilized Tribes in their own languages. Originally, the white settlers probably called them this because these five tribes were early converts to Christianity. They were also farmers who lived in settled towns under sophisticated government systems, which Europeans and early Americans considered a higher level of civilization than independent bands of hunters who moved from place to place. However, there were dozens of other Native American tribes who also led farming lifestyles, not just these five.

What kinds of stories do the Creeks tell?
There are many traditional Creek legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Creek Indian culture. Here is a story about why oppossums have bare tails.

What about Creek religion?
Religions are too complicated and culturally sensitive to describe appropriately in only a few simple sentences, and we strongly want to avoid misleading anybody. You can visit this site to learn more about Creek rituals or this site about Native American religion in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
Younger readers may enjoy The Great Ball Game, a picture book retelling a Creek legend, or Jingle Dancer, the story of a modern Muscogee girl gathering regalia for a powwow. Older readers may like Gray Eagle, a novel about an 18th-century Creek Indian boy. Two good books about Creek culture and history for kids are The Creek: Farmers of the Southeast and Creek Indians Today. You can also browse through our reading list of recommended American Indian books in general.

 

Enjoy your pre Turkey Day education and remember to be grateful for what we have and what others sacrificed so we could have it.

 

Categories: american History, Anthropology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Sacrifice So We Might Be Reborn: A Eulogy For Hostess Snack Cakes

The walls of Facebook are bleeding yellow cream-filled tears. Grocery store check-out belts are overrun with rectangular boxes of hydrogenated vegetable oil-laden snack cakes. A thirty-five year old eBay addict is looking at his Twinkie The Kid collectible figurine and thinking “yesssssss!”.

Is it the beginning of the end of a sugar-shocked era? Will we suffer intense withdrawals, writhing in our own cravings for the comfort foods of our waywardly nourished youth? Or will we breathe a collective sigh if release from one of our many consumer culture addictions?

I say sleep well, Hostess. You were a beacon of sugary, artificial glee for generations of American consumers. We laughed, we zipped around rooms breaking things, then we crashed into our afternoon naps.

We dinged, donged, cupcaked and ho hoed our way into a diabetic coma. And now we will be forced to awaken to a supermarket shelf filled with one less digestible happy pill.

Will people be confused at first? Maybe. Will we start looking for substitutes to fill in the blank of our deeply hollowed loss? Most certainly. Will we choose something made of actual food? Perhaps. Will we find our way to fruit? Don’t push it.

But we might just, in the candor of the social dialogue aftermath, begin to scrutinize our choices. The end of an era may very well lead to the dawn if a healthier new day.

So, thank you for your sacrifice, Hostess. We will remember you fondly. Ho Ho wishes and Twinkie Dreams.

Categories: american History, Consumer Culture, pop culture, Uncategorized, Well-being | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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