The Community of WOW

While I’m sure that “cultural theorist” Asa Berger has done significantly more textual and quantitative research into video games as a “popular cultural phenomenon” than I have, I nevertheless must compulsively, admittedly and defensively rebuke his argument that gamers belong to a “virtual network lacking the authenticity of a ‘real community’” (Barker 360). I’m quite sure of the fact that by that statement, Berger has never himself attended a video game convention nor perhaps even picked up a controller, joystick or computer mouse and felt the rush of playing against others. He must never have had the experience of meeting online guildies in RL for the first time, or witnessed firsthand the level of dedication, commitment and close bonding that can form amongst a group of players who may only know each other’s online screen-names. How can Berger say that online communities are not authentic when he may not have even participated in one?

My lvl 85 hunter Akiko (in older raiding gear).
I must admit that I am perhaps biased in my argument. I have, on-and-off for the past five years, been part of what is arguably one the largest gaming communities that has vastly expanded its scope and influence into real life (RL): World of Warcraft. I have leveled two characters from 1 to 85 (the current level cap) as well as countless alts through solo and group questing with both RL and WOW friends. I spent a great deal of time as one of the core members of my guild’s raiding team, spending innumerable hours (mostly at 4am - the guild leaders were based in Australia…) in front my Mac, slaying dragons, abominations and the undead. I loyally shelled out $15 a month for endless months, not to mention the $1200+ for attending Blizzcon - the annual convention for Blizzard games (which includes the Warcraft, Diablo and Starcraft series) – for the past three years. I even have a Horde bumper stick on my Honda Accord to prove my loyalty, attachment and love for this game.

I do not play currently; when I’m in school, my WOW life is put on hold. But that does not mean I feel like I have left the community. I still keep in touch with several members of my guild – after all, some of us are even Facebook friends and know each other’s real names – and wear my Blizzcon t-shirts with pride.

1: a unified body of individuals: as
a: a state, commonwealth
b: the people with common interests living in a particular area
c: an interacting population of various kinds of individuals (as species) in a common location
d: a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society
e: a group linked by a common policy
f: a body of persons or nations having a common history or common social, economic, and political interests
g: a body of persons of common "

So, returning to Berger and Barker: I would be interested in seeing how all that would not be defined as “community”. Recently, the Cenarion Hatchling pet raised almost $2 million for the Japanese earthquake relief fund. Mini pets in WOW are mere vanity items, most you can find in-game for free, but some have to be purchased with real money, like the Hatchling (billed as a $10 “adoption fee”). Nothing about these little pets is anything remotely helpful to gameplay, skills or the WOW experience, and yet I still find it incredibly moving that so many people channeled offerings of help, despite hard economic times, by using a game component.

Now obviously the online community has done some pretty horrible things as well – hacking accounts, malicious bullying, stealing, etc. – but certainly evils things exist in the real world with much heavier consequences. It really comes down to how the populace comes together and faces whatever adversities. I would then suggest that the definition of community needs to include that idea: the feeling of comradeship and belonging that follows once a group of people – despite their different backgrounds and histories – comes together and shares in an experience.

In Cultural Studies, Chris Barker comes to the conclusion that Berger’s main argument is that “electronic gaming is associated with social isolation, violence and addition” (360). Of course, cases come up every once and a while where this has happened – most notably when parents neglect their children to play games. However, Ben Kuchera of Ars Technica points out that while it is sad when this happens, the whirlwind of media reports and press that follow it is “stupid… if the couple went out to a baseball game and the child died, would [there be] stories about it in the sports section?” (1). People have preconceptions and assumptions about gamers, and when something like this happens, Kuchera argues that it gives their stereotypes merit – that “games are addicting and terrible and cause nothing but pain and misery”- and further fuels the negative connotations of video gamers and gaming. Kuchera is right when he notes that “gaming didn’t cause [a] child’s death, neglect did” (1).

But not all gamers are isolated, neglectful, horrible individuals, obese, living with their parents, or even, as conventions usually hold it, male. Many of the people I have met (both in RL or just online) are responsible adults with steady jobs and higher education. The archetype of a fat guy on his computer should be replaced with images of the young and the old, females and males, all sharing one particular hobby. One of my guildmates even had encouraged his mother to start playing – and she raided confidently along with the rest of us.

I have definitely seen the expanding of influence in effect at the three Blizzcons I have been to. The convention is held every year in Anaheim, near where Blizzard is headquartered, and the event has grown substantially from when I first attended in 2008 (with 2 ½ convention halls used) to 2010 (4 halls). The picture to the left was taken in 2009. This is the parking lot behind the Anaheim Convention center. This picture does not include the huge coils of people in line that snaked around the whole building, as well as near the entrance. This is probably not even 1/5th of how many people there actually where there that day. People from all over the world; huge groups of friends in the same guild. Families with their children. And yes, most of them male, but a shocking number of girls too. 

[If anyone is still in doubt, there’s an estimated 11 million players of WOW, which would, according to the CIA World Factbook – if it were an actual country – have a higher population than Portugal or Greece, but be just behind Cuba. It’s startling to think that if the orcs, elves and dragons of the online fantasy world converged with ours, the nation of Warcraft would arguably hold some political, economic and societal sway over the worldwide spectrum.]

If this isn’t a picture of community, then I’m not sure what is.  

Word count: 1,079

Works Citied

Barker, Chris. Cultural Studies Third Edition London: SAGE Publications Ltd, 2008. Print.

Kuchera, Ben. “Neglected child dies while parents play World of Warcraft. This isn’t gaming news.” Ars Technica, 2005. Web. 18 August 2011. <http://arstechnica.com/gaming/news/2005/06/547.ars>


Sex & the Discussion

I choose to do Sex and the City for the group presentation/discussion because I will thoroughly admit I am a major fan of the show. When I found out this topic was on the syllabus, I was eager to dive into the inner workings of the show as well as see it in a new light.

As a group, the six of us met several times over the past few weeks before class to discuss how we wanted our presentation to go. I was a strong proponent for moving the project away from simple presentation/lecture to a more discussion-based conversation, and I took on a leadership role in keeping the group connected via emails and mapping out our schedule of events.

We decided that because there were a number of different ways we could look at the show, the best way to examine them all (and get the class involved) was break into smaller groups, hold smaller discussion and then have the groups (not us) present back to the rest of the class. We originally wanted to break it up in terms of characters (the four women and the men) but realized the class was too small to do this. Thus, we divided it up by theory – Feminism, Postmodernism and Marxist/Capitalism – with two of us taking one theory.

I also suggested during our early meetings that we start out with some small group activity to get the conversation started. I was interested to see what people thought of the show – their assumptions, thoughts, feelings, preconceptions, etc. So Charley volunteered to write on the board while Lilian steered the activity after Jeanette introduced our topic and the show.

Next, I introduced the two clips we showed: a black and white comedy sketch by Harry Enfield that Jeanette found that showed, in an overtly comedic way, how women were “supposed” to act that set up a counter-balance to our S&TC clip, which I found from a HBO tribute special that aired during the final season. I was hesitant to bring in a whole bunch of clips of the show because it would weight down our discussion, so I was overjoyed when I found that the small portion of the tribute not only presented the characters, comedic tone, overt sexual themes, and general arc of the series, but also provided some insight to how society accepted it, via praise from celebrities. Then, we broke into the smaller discussion groups, with Jennifer explaining the general goal for each group to present back to the rest of the class with a summary of their discussion.

"Breaking Ground" - 2:22 to 5:30

Djinji and I really wanted to lead the discussion using a feminist critique since it’s a topic we were both fascinated by. Djinji really pushed forward with connecting the show to the theory, as well as creating the amazing hand-out we gave our group. She was wonderful in leading our discussion while I kept track of the other groups and how we were doing on time.

I confess I was a little nervous about how the class was going to accept having to make their own presentations to the rest of the class, but I found myself pleasantly surprised that they took it in stride and really committed to it. Djinji and I were so excited when three members from our group choose to co-present! I felt like each smaller group gave a nice overview as well as concrete connections to the text (which was our goal for them) to the rest of the class.

We decided it was best to open the discussion at the end to more broad subjects, such as the future of TV, with Djinji starting it off by reading a recent interview with Sarah Jessica Parker about the nature of the show in its specific time context. We had some general questions to provide the class if people weren’t talking, but I think that everything went pretty smoothly and people were keeping conversation going without much prodding.

Overall, I thought everything went pretty much as we planned it. I credit our success with my group’s commitment to getting organized early, finding good examples in our texts and keeping the discussion flowing. I’m very happy with the way things turned out!

Word count: 703


Through a geisha's white American man's eyes

A prostitute or artist?

Take a look at the picture of the woman at the left of the text. What do you see or think? Is she just a beautiful but mysterious feminine presence? Or, as an Asian woman, is she attempting to be “white” with the face paint? Is this just dress-up? Is her outfit supposed to be a traditional cultural emblem or simply a modern interpretation with a size label on the back? Is this a prostitute? Or an entertainer? Do you consider her to be an artist? Does anything about her speak of artistic achievements? Or is she just a sex object?

Now take all those ideas, images and interpretations and throw them out the window. Bury them in the yard. Forget about them, because as Kimiko Akita argues in “Bloopers of a Geisha: Male Orientals and Colonization of Women’s Language” we in the West lack the “equivalent of geisha [so] the Westernized image and voice of geisha  has always been created and controlled by men, through Orientalist filters” (14). We cannot say or think anything about geishas or the geisha lifestyle without acknowledging that the West has created, shaped – even altered – the East.

In traditional Japanese culture, the geisha is a revered individual, a “respected professional… [with] refined deportment… multifaceted and excellent artistry…feminine demeanor, sophistication and well-mannered behaviors” (Akita 13). This level of value and veneration is not quite what the Western world might used to describe the prostitutes and whores who hang around back alleys and casino night clubs in big cities. But all too commonly, the American concept of the geisha aligns itself with those sordid ladies-of-the-night, the geisha resigned to a mere hooker from another land, only with lavish kimonos and white face paint in lieu of skin-tight spandex and heavy eyeliner. And it is the locale of the “other land” that creates the opposition between American and Japanese, Self and Other, Us and Them. The geisha is mysterious, beautiful, sublimely different and thoroughly exotic. Akita points out that while the West had some notions of the Japanese culture beginning from the rise of the trade industry, “encounters with American GIs during the postwar occupation” made the Japanese culture more prominent as they came back with tales of the “geisha-girl… as a symbol of repression, passivity” (13). Because the real geisha were elite and revered in the Japanese, the banal encounters most American soldiers had with Japanese women were indeed with prostitutes. Prostitution was legal until 1956, but Akita notes that the “geisha were forbidden by law to provide sexual services”, this edict going as far back as to the 1700s when the geisha first arose in Japan (13). Thus the stories and tales Western soldiers brought back solidified the idea of females from Japan – not just the geisha but all Japanese women – as being a passive, obedient, mysterious, foreign, exotic, exciting, enticing, and above all, willing to bestow their erotic gifts upon those who would seek it. 

In her essay, Akita criticizes Golden – as well as Takayoshi Ogawa, the man who translated the American novel into Japanese – because “men create (dictate) most of what we know about women and women’s lives (a landscape foreign to men) and how men treat women as Other and alterity and misrepresent them” (12). Because Golden and Ogawa are both men, they cannot and will never understand the true world of a woman, nor provide complete, truthful and wholly sincere portray of women’s roles. Through domination of language, men misrepresent women, the West misrepresents the East, and they spread “false knowledge… around the world” (Akita 12) just as Golden (and to some extant Ogawa through the English-to-Japanese translation) has done with the geisha through a fictional text.

It could be argued that Golden was attempting to portray an accurate story from the viewpoint of a geisha. It is true that he did interview several former geishas, perhaps even taking it too far – one individual named Mineko Iwasaki claimed in a lawsuit that much of the novel was a loose adaptation of her own life, albeit hyped-up and over-sexualized. Edward Said’s masterful essay “Orientialism” warns the novelist or artist who wishes to portray the East by saying that he must “located himself vis-à-vis the Orient… [finding the] deliberate ways of addressing the reader, containing the Orient, and finally, representing it or speaking it its behalf” (2). But this is not without some previous knowledge – or more accurately, assumptions – about the East. It also should be stressed that the portrayal of the East, whether it is concerned with a person, place or both, is merely representational.  The Occidental can never truly portray the Oriental because whatever is said cannot be trusted. It would simply be a construct that the West has fabricated about the East. So even if Golden was striving for authenticity in his story, he could never hope to reach that point because somewhere along the line, his own assumptions, voice and creative motivation to tell a thrilling, engaging and (most importantly) fast-selling story would take over and distort the truth. 

“For a flicker of a moment I imagined a world completely different from the one I’d always known, a world in which I was treated with fairness, even kindness – a world in which fathers didn’t sell their daughters” – Memoirs of a Geisha

Perhaps if Golden had stopped and really took the time to understand the Japanese culture, he would not have made such an inaccurate and unsettling mistake as to assume that the traditional geisha lifestyle was something that young girls were being forced into, as his main character claims in the novel. Despite selling millions of copies of Memoirs of a Geisha and seeing the novel turn into a Hollywood-ized film production, it is too bad that Golden suffered from the cruel social disease that is Orientalism.

Or perhaps his sole error is rather simple to understand: he was born a white male, after all.  

Word count: 944

Works cited

Akita, Kimiko. “Bloopers of a Geisha: Male Orientalism and Colonization of Women’s Language.” Women and Language 32.1 (Spr 2009). Wilson Web. Web. 8 August 2011.

Golden, Arthur. Memoirs of a Geisha. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997. Print.

Said, Edward. “Chapter 4: Orientalism”. Printed Excerpt.


Sex & the Single Girl

All men and all women were perpetually in conflict because nature had set them up – or society had inspired them – with different goals… with women wanting sex after, and men before or without, marriage” (McDonald 38).

In 1962, a book was published that would forever change the course of American culture and alter the perceptions of female sexuality. It was titled, simply, Sex and the Single Girl, by Helen Gurley Brown and showed that the wholesome, sweet “nice girls” of this country’s cities and towns “not only did it before and outside of wedlock but loved it, and were, just like men, entitled to obsess about it…” (Thurman 1). Although it came more than one decade after Alfred Kinsey’s controversial and thought-provoking publication “Sexual Behaviour in the Human Female” – when the country should have been thoroughly shocked at the idea of females having and loving sex – the book Sex and the Single Girl confirmed for many readers that the times were indeed changing, and the men would have to keep up.

No wonder then when a film came out two years later, loosely based on Brown and her book, it was also called Sex and the Single Girl. Natalie Wood portrays Helen Gurley Brown, in this incarnation a renowned psychologist who publishes a book to show what is true about women and their sex lives. Tony Curtis is Bob Weston, a writer for a “filthy rag” – perhaps intended to be a Playboy-esque sort of magazine, which itself had debuted a decade earlier – who intends to lure Brown into delving her secrets to sell copies. Along with Lauren Bacall and Henry Fonda, who play a couple on the verge of a breakup (or breakdown), a twisted game of masquerade and sexual seduction begins as Bob begins to fall for the beautiful and loveable Helen.

While Sex and the Single Girl does have it moments of screwball (is a ten-minute long car chase scene – complete with the stock film footage rolling behind the cars – really necessary?) it certainly has two of the three major themes of the sex comedy, as outlined by McDonald in Romantic Comedy.

First, much of the drama and comedic elements hinge on the persona that Bob takes on in order to lure Brown into a relationship. He pretends to be his neighbor Frank (played by Fonda) seeking advice on his marriage to Sylvia (Bacall) and relays the advice to him, but Bob seems intent on getting Brown to fall into bed with him to prove in his magazine article whether she has – or hasn’t. It is an age-old question asked by countless inexperienced teenagers: “Well, are you or aren’t you?” While the concept of virginity is easy to understand, what isn’t so uncomplicated are the connotations, negativity and general air of deficiency that seem to surround the word. It seems a bit strange that much of the movie’s mystery surrounds whether she has had enough experience in the sex department in order to write such a book, but this is later referenced by Helen fighting off advances and marriage offers from her co-worker Rudy. He is desperate to find out whether she is a virgin or not, because he’ll only marry her if she is – and if she isn’t then he claims “this evening is ruined”. She condemns the double standard that society holds women in, telling him that when she marries, it will not be “for love, sex or romance – I can get these outside marriage just as easily as you can! And I will insist on a right on all the love affairs I can have!” It is doubtful from her characterization that this is what she really wants, because she expresses several times over the course of the film, that she really wants to find a man she loves and cares for.

Second, there is a “hierarchy of knowledge”, in that he knows more than she does via the masquerade, and thus of course we know more than either of them, especially when Bob employs multiple “Sylvia”s to cover up his scam all while the real Sylvia heads to track down Helen to thank her for changing her husband. Occasionally, there is a hint of the inversion of the “natural order”, the third theme of the sex comedy, as occasionally it is the woman doing the chasing of the man. Other micro-tropes show up as well, like “tricks, insults and embarrassments; a set piece of an anti-marriage speech; and visual characteristics which include the apartment setting and glossy costumes” (McDonald 45). Not to mention no actual sex is shown on screen. Despite being called a sex comedy – even with the word sex in the title – the timing of publication as well as the targeted audience “ensures there is… very little actual sex” (McDonald 43). While it is implied that Bob has been having a relationship with Gretchen (Fran Jeffers) before meeting Helen, he never actually is shown to have had sex with either of them.

It seems strange to note that the book was published in 1962 and the film released in 1964, and yet neither seem impacted by the “decline” of the sex comedy. McDonald points to historical data to show that in the mid-1960s, the “idea of readily available reliable birth control [the Pill] made films based on the withholding or postponement of sex because of the implicit fear of unwanted pregnancy seem outmoded” (43). With the Pill and changing social norms, the classic struggle between the sexes became less focused on marriage and kids, and as McDonald suggests, shifted into the “radical romance comedy” of the 1970s onwards where the heroes and heroines of the story didn’t have to end up marry. The sex comedy could not survive the “new moral climate which no longer assumed ‘nice girls’ would insist on marriage before sex” (43). Of course, it should be noted that in Sex and the Single Girl, Bob and Helen do not end up actually married on screen, for the film fades out to their plane taking off into the skies. However, the suggestion seems to be – from Bob’s chasing of Helen, confession of his lies and the fact that he has started work at a more conservative, appropriate magazine – that this couple will go on to get married, maybe have children and live happily ever after. The womanizing serial dater and the naïve, perhaps inexperienced beauty give up their individual lifestyles for each other, and thus it comes down this: in the will-they-won’t-they battle of the sexes, marriage and conventionality has won, despite the unconventional notions set up by the film’s themes and real life inspiration.

However, there is one supporting character who showcases a future-forward, almost radical point-of-view, who is never criticized or shown in a negative light, and yet seems to be exactly the kind of girl Helen wishes to: Gretchen. Despite being Bob’s girlfriend during his chase of Helen, she appears often unusually indifferent to what is happening between the sexes. Bob and Gretchen are not married, and yet shown together several times that implies they are in a romantic relationship. When he asks her about her feelings about Helen’s book, she nonchalantly says “I don’t think I ever lived liked a single girl… I can’t remember that far back”. Later, when he asks her offhandedly about marriage, she says “I wouldn’t give up my career for marriage, kids or happiness!” And at the end, while she does seem to have a small change of heart and goes to help Bob get Helen, she seems fine with the whole thing. And she immediately starts looking for the next guy who will take her to Hawaii. Gretchen stands, perhaps, as the one character who has internalized Brown’s notion of being a single girl – truly on her own, with her own career and life, not getting tied done to one man – “I’d gladly be dominated by any man!”

Word count: 1,276

McDonald, Tamar Jeffers. Chapter 3: The Sex Comedy. Romantic Comedy: Boy Meets Girl Meets Genre (Short Cuts). USA: Columbia University Press, 2007. Printed Excerpt.

Thurman, Judith. “Helenism.” The New Yorker. The New Yorker Magazine. 11 May 2009. Web. 2 August 2011.


He Completes She

With all the laughable antics of Cuba Gooding Jr. and dramatic close-ups of Tom Cruise, it is easy to forget that at the heart of the movie Jerry Maguire is a story of a budding romance between two people. Tom Cruise’s hot-shot career-focused sports agent Jerry is contrasted by Renée Zellweger’s sweet, passionate and nervous Dorothy Boyd, which plays off of Tamar Jeffers McDonald’s notion that the “sex comedy” highlights that “all men and all women [are] perpetually in conflict because nature had set them up – or society had inspired them – with different goals” (38). Accordingly, it is easy to see that throughout most of the film, Jerry’s focus revolves around money, management and saving his career. On the other hand Dorothy, who in lapse of her senses had left her job to follow Jerry, is always worried about providing for her son Ray and having a secure livelihood – for example, when she leaves the company with him, her first question is on health care coverage. The two show a clear difference in their worldly concerns and life goals.

However, in the end the film seems to suggest that by love can be achieved by having the two sexes realizing they need each other – or more specifically, having one particular sex confess that they need the other. This notion is slightly warped in the film from the conventional sexual roles because it is distinctively the male who must admit he needs the female. Dorothy leaves Jerry when she feels he is being emotionally distant in their marriage, and so he carries on with his job. The last scene of the movie has Jerry returning to her, professing that their little company had a big night, but that it didn’t feel “complete” because she wasn’t there. And of course, the infamous line “you complete me” speaks to this idea that without her, he is nothing. He has realized that the career, the fame, the money are insignificant to being happy with her. However, she tells him to shut up and that he “had [her] at hello”, which suggests that she already knows she needs him. She doesn’t need to state that he completes her, because that notion is already internalized by both of them. So it is the man’s journey that is the focal point of the film.  Even the film’s poster highlights this idea: “Everybody loved him… Everybody disappeared. The journey is everything.” No immediate reference is given to her or how a woman will play into his “journey”. In fact, if the tagline is to be believed, and “everybody disappeared”, then how should we feel about the fact that while watching the movie, it is clear that she sticks by him, for the most part, throughout the entire course of events, and doesn’t ever truly disappear? Her character arc seems inconsequential to his, as if it is more noteworthy for the man to realize the errors of his way, find love and have these things called emotions than it would be for the female.

 This plays fantastically well with Simone de Beauvoir’s remark in The Second Sex about the line in Rapport d’Uriel that “man can think of himself without woman…[but] She cannot think of herself without man” (3). Later in her essay, de Beauvoir says that woman “is the Other in a totality of which the two components are necessary to one another” (5). I posit that the film takes this perspective, but twists it to show it from the man’s point of view. Before Jerry returns to Dorothy, he has found success and happiness in his career, and yet his character arc leaves him with the feeling that this experience is not whole. What is missing is her, the female in the equation, the counterpart to his being. He may not fully see things from her perspective – for after all, even “the most sympathetic of men never fully comprehend woman’s concrete situation” (de Beauvoir 9) – but at least by the end, he has realized he does need her to make him a complete man. The film ends with the two of them happy, having found a balance in their lives.

Word Count: 693

Works Cited

de Beauvoir, Simone. Introduction: Woman as Other. The Second Sex. 1949. Printed Excerpt.

McDonald, Tamar Jeffers. Chapter 3: The Sex Comedy. Romantic Comedy: Boy Meets Girl Meets Genre (Short Cuts). USA: Columbia University Press, 2007. Printed Excerpt.


The Place: Wood Ranch, The Grove. Los Angeles, California. Outside patio.

The Time: Sunday afternoon, approximately 3 to 4 pm.

The Scene: As I begin recording my observations, there are only a few other tables on the patio that are occupied other than the one I sit at alone. The smell of smoked meat is heavy in the air. Two of the tables have families dining, both with children, and at the third table, a bit separate from the families, sits an older couple. This older couple is probably in their sixties, maybe seventies, and appear to be having a causal, light-hearted conversation. The man is dressed in khakis, the woman in black slacks and both wear polo t-shirts. They are drinking what appears to be iced tea. When their food arrives, it is one of the larger barbeque combo dinners and they are sharing the plate. At the end of their meal, they split desert (looks like the apple or peach cobbler) and the man orders coffee. They are at the table for the entire hour, and are still there when I finish recording. The first of the families, the one closer to where I sit, consists of two middle-aged adults and one male child, maybe five or six. The adults are both wearing jeans; the woman in a pink blouse and the man in a button-down shirt. The child wears a stripped t-shirt and jean shorts, and spends most of the time watching something on a tablet device, kicking his feet back and forth under the table. The coloring packet and crayons provided by the restaurant are left untouched, pushed off to the side. The adults mostly talk to each other, only occasionally asking their child a question or two. The man’s cell phone, an iPhone in a black case, sits on the table, and he checks it a few times, at one point spending a few minutes on it. The wife orders the BBQ half-chicken, the husband a tri-tip sandwich with coleslaw and their son eats half of the kid’s portion of the baby-back ribs with fries and then leaves the rest, returning to the tablet. They leave as soon as they are finished eating, about a half hour into my observation. He pays. As they walk out together, I notice that she is carrying two bags – one from Nordstrom’s and the other from Cost Plus World Market. The Nordstrom’s bag has huge text on the front advertising their “Anniversary Sale”. The second family sits further back. This couple is younger, maybe in their late twenties or early thirties, and they have two children, one young enough to be in a high chair and the other probably around four or five. The child in the high chair is playing a game with his parents: he grabs things while they attempt to keep him from grabbing things. The older child, a girl in a t-shirt and skirt, is also high-spirited and at one point runs off from the table. The father runs off to catch her. The mother spends some time attempting to calm the younger child, who shrieks a few times. She has a glass of red wine in front of her. They have asked for the kid’s meal to come first: the kid’s mac and cheese with a side of broccoli. When their food finally comes – a small salad for the wife and beef ribs for the husband – the two children have already finished eating, and seem to be becoming restless again. When the server drops the bill, the wife leaves with the children first, pushing the younger one in a large black stroller. As she walks away, she is dialing something on her cell phone. The husband pays the bill, finishes the wine and then leaves. The floor underneath their table is littered with food and bits of trash.

The Meaning: The notion that shocked me the most from my observations was that there seemed to be little to no significant conversation between the families. The older couple obviously had no children to contend with and thus spent most of their time speaking to each other. However, the two families seemed disconnected from one another. The mere presence of so many tech devices leads me to considering their importance in these peoples’ lives. Cultural studies that rely on a consumption-based focus suggest that meanings are “produced, altered and managed at the level of use” (Barker 50). When tech ownership is decreed by a vast array of television commercials, magazine advertisements and the idea that everyone and their grandmother now has the particular device, owning a cell phone or gadget is almost paramount to one’s livelihood. Perhaps then the Marxist notion that culture is “expressive of social relations of class power” (Barker 56) is shifting in meaning. One can no longer argue that cell phones are the cultural property of one class or another for cell phone ownership seems widespread. The Nielsen Company’s 2010 fact sheet on technology reported that mobile phone users in the United States was around 223 million, with an estimated base of 300+ million by mid-2011 (2010 Fact Sheet 1). In contrast, the 2010 Census reported that the national population was almost 309 million (United States 1). The potential of these two figures reaching an even ratio suggests that cell phone usage is not a distinguishing characteristic of any particular class, but has been commoditized to be an attribute of the culture as a whole. Obviously then what separates class is what sort of cell phone that can be purchased – the latest iPhone 4 is more expensive than the flimsy Nokias that often come free with cellular plans, for example. The first family’s child not only spent most of his time on his tablet, but the father played with his cell phone several times during the meal. I noticed that the wife did not oppose either her husband or her son’s use of technology during the meal and I must assume this is normal for her life. This certainly speaks to Raymond Williams’s notion of culture being composed of everyday occurrences, and being “ordinary… in every mind” (Barker 42). In this digital age where technology is so prevalent in our lives, I suppose one might not think twice about allowing tech to disrupt dinner.

The second fact that startled me was the conventionality of parental roles between the two families. In both families, the husband paid the bill. Obviously I am unsure as to who was the main breadwinner in each of the families, as getting the answer to that question would have provoked potentially embarrassing social drama. However, it seemed to me that in each family, it was the woman who was doing most of the care-taking of the children. As Simone de Beauvoir points out, each couple stands as “a fundamental unity with its two halves riveted together” (5) and yet there seems to still be an inequality in how everyday life is handled. Thinking back to William’s culturalism as the everyday occurrences, if this is how everyday life is played out in countless restaurants across the country, then we would have to agree with de Beauvoir in that women hold a second-class position in our society. They are, as de Beauvoir points out with the title of her essay, the “second sex” because women are “defined and differentiated with reference to man” (3). However, these people probably do not think along the rigid lines of Hegel’s master/slave complex, for today’s man does not necessarily target woman as inferior “for today they are too thoroughly imbued with the ideal of democracy not to recognize all human beings as equals” (de Beauvoir 8). Each woman holds her own identity and has her place in the culture, and yet each sex relies on each other, as women have “not been socially emancipated through man’s need – sexual desire or the desire for offspring” (de Beauvoir 5). But man often stands separate from woman. Thus, I am only left to consider de Beauvoir’s declaration that “humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him” (3). Accordingly, in the second family, the wife took the children out of the restaurant and the husband was left alone at the table for a few minutes while he paid the bill and drank the rest of the wine. He was allowed a brief repose of silence and civility, while she had to wrestle with two fidgety, half-screaming children and the conventionality of high-chairs, strollers and her primary roles as wife and mother.

Works Cited

Barker, Chris. Cultural Studies: Theory & Practice. 3rd ed. London: SAGE Publications Ltd, 2008. Print.

de Beauvoir, Simone. Introduction: Woman as Other. The Second Sex. 1949. Printed Excerpt. 

United States Census Bureau. "2010 Census Data." 2010.census.gov. n.d. Web. 25 July 2011. 
< http://2010.census.gov/2010census/data/>

2010 Media Industry Fact Street. USA: The Nielsen Company, 2010. Web. 25 July 2011. 
< http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/press/nielsen-fact-sheet-2010.pdf>


A Definition of [the Indefinable Idea of] Pop Culture


My name is Leslie Kawakami, I’m a senior at California State University Northridge working on my B.A. in English with Creative Writing and this blog is devoted to the study and examination of popular culture. It seems fitting that my general dialogue, opinions and musings about what pop culture means, both in theory and definition, should be published online for the worldwide community to ponder and discuss as well. 

In today’s global, media-savvy and constantly-on[line] society, the idea of pop culture has moved beyond application to only the Western world, or even just America itself. I believe that the technological advances in the past decade have created culture on a world-wide scale. For example, because of the advent and subsequent rise of television in the 1950s, the United States found itself in the midst of an influx of British music in the 1960s and 70s, termed the “British Invasion”. Obviously, the arguably largest influence was from the Beatles appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show (which resulted in the aptly-deemed “Beatlemania”) and yet many other bands were “discovered” by American teenagers during this time: The Who, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks. Today, after the rise of the Internet, YouTube and social-media sites, musicians and bands that begin humbly in Britain have the potential to reach worldwide audiences, potentially including non-English-speaking countries. While British influence on American culture is not limited to just these time periods or one specific medium (music), I would argue that these are good, contemporary examples of how technology has shifted culture and created cross-culture, a blending between what is wholly “theirs” and what is “ours”.  

In the Introduction of “The Politics of Culture”, Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan present a variety of definitions and explanations of what culture “means”. There is the idea of culture as the dominating force compelling the people to bend the will of the masses; the rallying cry of culture as a rebellious outlet for resistance and “alternate perspectives”; the concept of a larger culture as the result of counter-cultures; the mirroring aspect of culture as it reflects society’s likes (and dislikes); culture as restraints; culture as divisions of class, gender or position; culture as “high” and culture as “low”. The classifications of “high culture” and “low culture” (or culture from “above” or “below”) is the elitist way of trying to separate the things that people like into clear specifications, but this is not the way that it should be. “High culture” like classical music, lofty literature in stuffy libraries and the paintings and sculptures in museums should not be divided from rap music, comic books and street art, despite being deemed “low culture”. These distinctions only work to further divide the masses along class, race and gender lines – like Rivkin and Ryan address when they note that one approach to cultural studies sees culture as “owned by large corporations and largely run by men… [who] cannot help but assist the reproduction of the social system by allowing only certain kinds of imagery and ideas to gain access to mass audiences.” However, they also suggest that the opposite approach focuses more attention on “energies and attitudes fundamentally at odds with the attitudes and assumptions… of the capitalist social order.”

Thus, the reading leads me to believe that there is no widespread agreement about what culture is, even among those who study it. My original, brief and ridiculous definition seems as fragmented and disorganized as Rivkin and Ryan’s – “anything – regardless of medium – that the mass culture embraces as its own and reveals in; shows the people what other people enjoy; stuff that a lot of people think is awesome; crap that is trendy.” In fact, I honestly think that this rather silly definition of pop culture is often simply, exactly that: things that are popular.

But perhaps that is the beauty of culture (both pop or otherwise) – it is indefinable and thus can never wrestled and tied down to one particular theory or another. Having no concrete classification allows the idea of culture to change as the people do, providing us – that is, those of us who take the time to ask, examine and reflect on the question “what is culture” – a better understanding of our own times, issues and attitudes.

Word count: 707

Rivkin, Julie, and Michael Ryan, eds. “Introduction: The Politics of Culture”. Literary Theory: An Anthology. Malden: Blackwell, 1998. Excerpt.