Sunday, December 12, 2010

TV, Will You Marry Me?

Tara Ekmekci

Prof. Wexler

English 313

13 Dec. 2010

TV, Will You Marry Me?


There is something tragic arising with this new postmodern self. It has turned into creating a new “depth-less tradition,” rather than exercising what modernists intended in the first place. Modernism was a reaction against earlier literary movements, especially realism. Up until the 20th century, mimesis was the dominant theory. Mimesis would imitate reality. Literature was a mirror one held up to nature; a way to accurately reflect reality. The goal of modernist writers was to break away from the slavery of the real representation of the world, and hale to the imagination of the individual. Modernist writers wanted to represent the subject, rather than a depiction of the object. There was a de-emphasis of the object being represented, and an emphasis on how the subject is the creator of the object. In other words, modernists were trying to be more real than realism.

There was also a demoralization of the self with the modern crisis of WWI and capitalism arising. There were new industrialized cities being created, where as William Wordsworth said, “people were half awake and half alive.” With the war, came a great loss— without purpose— along with alienation and dehumanization of the individual. The modernist movement began to grow and develop with “the promise of technological and social progress, urban development and the unfolding of the self” (Barker 183). Without tradition —that the modernist writers were trying to hold on to—society became full of isolated and dead people pursuing instinct and desire. The concern for needing tradition in an alienating world began during the period of modernism and two world wars. Unlike postmodernism today, modernist writers hoped for the love and understanding of tradition.

Is there any good arising from the individualization, commodification, and fragmentation of society? When post-modernism has no essential identity, how are its products—the people born during post-modern times—supposed to represent a true self?

Language, is the only way to communicate with one’s self and with other selfs. Without language there would be no understanding of the self. The postmodern self is a fragmented self. The person is an assembly of so many small fragments, pieced together to create a whole. Not only is the self created, it is "rearrang[ed], transform[ed] and correct[ed]" (Bordo 1099). With all the technology available to us today, god— as the creator— has been replaced by surgeons. This postmodern rhetoric of choice and technology has allowed people (mostly women) to constantly find a reason to be dissatisfied with their bodies. This dissatisfaction leads to the postmodern plastic discourse. In this discourse, "all sense of history and all ability (or inclination) to sustain cultural criticism, to make the distinctions and discriminations which would permit such criticism, have disappeared" (Bordo 1104). This means that because the postmodern self is relative, no one passes judgment anymore. There is this "you do what you want and I'll do what I want" attitude in the air. This discourse no longer allows there to be an underlying truth.

Because of this, there is a postmodern angst developing. These non-judgmental people seem respectful towards the actions, comments, and opinions of individual others, but under that veil there are true bottled up opinions that are not voiced. Susan Bordo writes, "Television is of course, the great teacher here, our prime modeler of plastic pluralism" (Bordo 1104). Through this postmodern discourse, instead of judging each other or setting limits for the postmodern self, society finds television to be the exemplary role model. As long as someone on television says it looks beautiful, or it will make everything look and feel okay, then society feels that it is worthy of being mimicked. Technology has taken away the role of human contact and communication. The postmodern self has created a dialogic relationship with the television, rather than humans. With this said, how are relationships between male and female supposed to arise in this world lacking true communication? Is love based off traditional concepts anymore? Is there a decline in marriage? Has it become yet another institution governing the lives of many? Living in the 21st century, in a time when identity is constantly produced and reproduced, the fragmented idea of love and relationships is constructed by the core of postmodern culture, television

In Elizabeth Gilbert’s true story, Eat Prey Love, Elizabeth is on a radical quest to find her true self. Elizabeth is unsatisfied with the cultural norms. She is tired of the traditional path she took towards marriage, and is not ready to complete it by forming a family. Elizabeth has come to a point in her life where a home, car, job, and an outgrown soul-mate no longer suffice. The agony of living in this "in-between,”, where she's neither happy nor sad is far more painful than the thought of breaking both her and her husband's heart. Elizabeth finalizes the divorce and soon after is on a journey to find her true identity.

This film is comprised of bits and pieces of the radical, sex, and romantic comedy. This is the story of "girl divorces husband, girl finds a younger man, girl is not satisfied with younger man, girl tries to find herself, girl meets man again, girl and man fall in love." This film does not follow the typical arc of the romantic comedy, because "a romantic comedy is a film which has as its central narrative motor a quest for love, which portrays this quest in a light hearted way and almost always to a successful conclusion" (McDonald 9). This story is not about the quest for love. It is about the quest for spiritual love, faith, courage and happiness. It does not start out with a girl meeting a boy, it begins with a divorce.

Eat Pray Love, is a twisted version of a traditional romantic comedy, because there are so many sub-genres weaved into it that interrupt the linear play of the usual romantic comedy arc. After Elizabeth’s divorce, she finds a rebound partner. She is satisfied with his youth and free spirit, as well as their sexual connection. Although Elizabeth abolishes the idea of marriage, she also does not find happiness when she has no strings attached with her rebound partner. She realizes that finding another man is not going to be the solution to the void she is constantly experiencing. She still has no idea of what it means to have a true self.

Once Elizabeth realizes her relationship with the younger man needs to end, she decides to take a yearlong trip to Italy, India, and Bali. The film and Elizabeth are on this profound non-conservative journey of finding one’s true self through exploration. Now is it a postmodern characteristic for a woman to leave a traditional marriage in order to find her self? In today’s society, it is a rightful choice to be able to divorce and change one’s life. Even though there are people who disagree with one’s choice of divorce or taking off to different countries, no one is really able to force their opinion on each other in a postmodern society. Elizabeth is free to make her own decisions without worrying about their repercussions. She is unhappy and she has one life to live… right? There is not one truth when it comes to the happiness of an individual. Two people could have different perceptions on the idea of happiness and marriage. There are multiple truths available in a postmodern world. The sky is the limit, and Elizabeth can build her identity wherever she pleases.

What are the implications of this radial romantic film on its viewers? The truth is, it is not difficult for people to feel bored of their life and full of nothingness. It is only natural to grow conscious of an emptiness one can experience in their life. Barker writes, “Television is at the heart of image production, and the circulation of a collage of stitched together images that is core to postmodern cultural style” (Barker 203). Eat Prey Love justifies that “it is okay to want change!” The film throws images of travel, faith, love, self-reflection, beauty, nature and freedom that are unbelievably inviting. Does it speak to society as a whole? Is everyone who feels like Elizabeth able to pick up and indulge in a journey of self discovery? Realistically, there would be the issue of time, responsibility, and money! In order to find her true self, Elizabeth has the freedom and flexibility of using MONEY! Money is a commodity that very few people in the capitalist system are able to freely enjoy. When there are no means in enjoying the happiness Elizabeth experiences, films like Eat Prey Love only exist to convince people that traveling and cultural awareness is a cure to emptiness and loss of self.

Jean Baudrillard, is a French theorist who believes that postmodernism is a flow of superficial images: “He argues that a series of modern distinctions including the real and the unreal, the public and the private, art and reality have broken down, leading to a culture of simulacrum and hyperreality” (Barker 208). Hyeperreality is the overload of images and stimulations that television and visual advertisements provide to fascinate their viewers. Like Baudrillard, Fredric Jameson also sees the postmodern world as being depthless. This lack of depth goes back to the modernist writers who wanted to bring back tradition. Tradition is lacking in a postmodern world. This fragmented world of images, simulacrums, and blurring of boundaries creates a superficial distorted world. When truth is relative, how can the individual have a true identity? This means that identity is relative too.

The issue with postmodernism is the lack of self-control. People are bombarded with so many images and possible representations of life that there is this inability to be one true person. Yes, there is access to many cultures, countries, speed, ideal lives, romance, and technology, but which world does one pick? How can one person ever be satisfied with themselves or their chosen path, when there are so many bigger, better, and newer additions to society? Give the Twilight series for example; so many young girls are infatuated with the idea of love and vampires. Bram Stoker’s, Dracula, is a classic interstitial novel about horror, romance, history, science and nature. It depicts a love story through a systematic use of journal entries and real live events. There is a depth to his fiction writing, that today’s fiction films do not portray.

Although the existence of vampires is not plausible, Stoker’s Dracula is the history of a true character. Today, Isabella Swan is considered a pop idol for many girls. In Twilight, Isabella portrays a teenager who was never satisfied with her mundane life up until she meets Edward Cohen. Edward is portrayed as a dreamlike, white complexioned, pure, strong, smart, compassionate, and gentle hearted man. He is a vampire, and out of all the girls in his high school, he falls in love with Bella; a simple, depressed looking, brown haired, brown eyed girl who just moved to Forks, Washington. There is nothing wrong with the Twilight book series. It is a great example of a fiction novel that can be read to allow the young mind wander to imaginative places. The problem is, what television turns a novel into. When children view these images of love and surreal characters, they begin to obsess over something that is not real. This is a perfect example of the blurring of reality. Visualizing characters in a book is not the same as seeing live actors and actresses on television.

Television transforms the characters of Isabella and Edward into a commodity. Their love is unattainable. There is no such thing as a love between vampires. The idea of love shown through film is easily distorted! What businesses start doing is trying to sell this unattainable love. The media is saying, “You can not have your very own vampire, but you can buy his posters and t-shirts!” One sees children wearing Isabella Swan and Edward Cohen t-shirts, buying their backpacks, costumes, cups, folders, and games. They are creating their own identity through the identity of fiction characters. The scarier part of all this is that the actual actor and actress who plays Isabella and Edward are a couple in real life, representing that real life fairytales exist as well. There are big shopping centers like, Target, selling Isabella’s outfits. All she wears in the movie are regular pants and t-shits, but even that simplicity turns into something to buy in order to portray that same exact self.

The postmodern subjects are “Person’s composed not of one but of several, sometimes contradictory identities” (Barker 220). While learning psychology and biology, one always comes across the “nature vs. nurture” dilemma. Is one born with his/her knowledge, characteristics and specific traits, or is it all learned? Unable to prove this puzzle completely, let us say that it can be a combination of both. Two hundred years ago, children were born and either grew up in a wealthy traditional home, or on the streets. A wealthy child would be playing instruments, learning language and history, while the child who was working on enjoying playtime with the neighborhood kids, learned life through experience and daily adventures. There were not too many roads to take. You were either rich, or poor.

Today, if a boy is born to a high-income family, he has the money to buy all the games, toys, mechanics, cars, and latest technology possible. A girl begins to infatuate over obtaining the best material accessories possible, including an obsession over the latest teen pop star or adult actress. There is no time to play on the streets, because if children aren’t at home bombarded with homework, they are watching television, on the phone, or texting in order to relieve their stress. The definers of ideology are not the parents anymore, it is the media: “Primary definers are taken to be politicians, judges, industrialists, the police and so forth, that is, official agencies involved in the making of news events. In translating the primary definitions of news, the media, as secondary definers, reproduce the hegemonic ideologies associated with the powerful. They also translate them into popular idioms” (Barker 319). The time that most kids use to enjoy innocent and carefree leisure, turns into a moment where an overload of images are easily accessible by kids at all ages, due to the hegemonic control of computers and televisions.

Today, there is a loss of innocence and tradition beginning at a young age. When most of the time allocated for a child to develop in their early years is spent committed to following the latest trends, of course no true identity is formed. Everyone ends up owning the same accessories and thinking the same way: “The western search for identity is premised on the idea that there is such a ‘thing’ to be found” (Barker 217). Is there such thing as a true identity, or do fictional films like Twilight, or films that seem to imitate reality like Eat Prey Love, construct the way people feel about themselves. Barker writes, “Identity is not a thing but a description in language. Identities are discursive constructions that change their meanings according to time, place and usage” (Barker 217). There is no more room for imagination, because everything including the portrayal of originality is provided for us. John Fiske writes:

[T]elevision broadcasts programs that are replete with potential meanings, and…

its attempts to control and focus this meaningfulness into a more singular preferred meaning that performs the work of dominant ideology.

We shall need to interrogate this notion later, but I propose to start with a traditional semiotic account of how television makes, or attempts to make, meanings that serve the dominant interests in society, and how it circulates these meanings amongst the wide variety of social groups that constitute its audiences. (Fiske 1087)

When there is no room left to think critically, because everything is spoon fed, how then can there be the urge to imagine one’s own way of thinking out of the box.

Capitalism is the invisible force driving these notions of technology, production, and exploitation. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism states that "under capitalism, human relations are increasingly characterized by more or less thorough alienation, monetization, and commodification. Relationships between worker and owner, buyers and sellers, are mediated through the things produced. These objects become objects of fetishism- seeming to have an objective existence of their own that obscures the individual labor involved in their production" (650). Man is equal to the products they produce. You hear Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross, addressing a worker as "nothing" based on the kind of car he drives. What does this mean? A person who drives a Honda is not half the person who drives a BMW? In between the lines there is a shadow of freedom which emanates when people utter that everyone has the chance to move on up, but reality is that the more you make, the more you crave more. The more you crave, the more life turns into a search for more money, rather than a search for true purpose, and self. This is why, today, there is a lack of true essential self.

In The Communist Manifesto Karl Marx says, "The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation" (659). How then can romance exist between a man and woman? Capitalism, production, money, and capitalist hierarchy play a role in choosing a marriage partner. Getting married means having two incomes, being able to make enough money to buy land or a home together. It can also mean marrying into a family who is part of the exploiters rather than the exploitees. Then there is the yearning of the workers to climb up the ladder, and assume a greater capitalist role. We then have the married, stable women, like Elizabeth, realizing that her ideal picture of marriage is shattered, because she becomes aware of the lack of self and wants to find her real place in this postmodern, capitalist society by traveling. Traveling requires money— that most people do not easily obtain— and after a year, she needs to return back to the reality of a capitalist system. She needs to unfortunately return back to the very thing she was fleeing from. Unfortunately, trying to find oneself in this postmodern society means going in constant, endless circles.

Work Cited

Barker, Chris. Cultural Studies Theory and Practice. 3rd ed. London: Sage Publications,


Bordo, Susan. "'Material Girl': The Effacements of Postmodern Culture."

Fiske, John. “Television Culture.”

Marx, Karl. The Communist Manifesto. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticsim.

2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York, NY, 2010.647-660. Print.

McDonald, Tamar Jeffers. Romantic Comedy: Boy Meets Girl Meets Genre. London: Wallflower

Press, 2007. Print.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Do the Positives Outweigh the Negatives of Technology?

outdoors > indoors

Between 1912-1945, Modernist writers were writing about alienation, fragmented lives (montage), and a lack of past tradition. For writers like T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, bringing back the classics was vital. Today, as I observe the conversations I see my friends and even younger generations engage themselves with, I feel sorry for the society we all have become a part of. Starting with ages 7 to 14, there is definitely a lack of innocent fun and real childhood that consists of enhancing the brain through outdoor activities, face to face interaction, games, books, and real quality time with one another.

Has the quality of life become better or worse with the development of new technology?

I believe the people who are best served by technology are definitely making great use of their time and expertise. Engineers, inventors, computer designers and computer professionals are moving forward in the business they love and excel in. Are their accomplishments positively serving their buyers? Have I gained something valuable by being able to use an I-Phone, I-Pod, I-Pad, video-games, and computer games? Or is easy access, speed, light weight and small size making us individuals lazier and more spoiled?

Although the I-phone makes my life easier with emails and urgent communications, there is this dependancy that frightens me. When the thought of misplacing my phone crosses my mind, there is this unnecessary panic. These are the reactions and obsessive qualities that technology has instilled in its users, including myself. Kids no longer want to explore gardens or play ding dong ditch outside, they choose staying indoors in front of the computer.

Computers and new found electronics are making money and satisfying off all of us, great, but there needs to be this balance established by parents from an early age. A child, teen, or adult needs to understand that these machines can enhance the quality of life, but they should not replace life itself. Life is about exploring, living, breathing, and learning new things; not sitting, typing, searching the web and flipping through people's facebooks. It has become absurd how girls look at people's face book pages craving to have eachother's dresses, hair, amount of friends, quotes, pictures, comments, and statuses. There is a constant search for something new that makes the self conscious person feel like they need to step up their face book life in order to fit in and seem "cool." This artificial creation and yearning to be something they are not is seen all through out face book and it is SAD!

Yes, there was a time when I loved uploading albums and constantly exploring face book, - when it was new and unfamiliar to me- but pretty soon it's not hard for someone to sit back as a third person and laugh at the useless time people spend on face book. I leave this as an argument that will never be solved, because pop culture seems to dominate daily lives predominantly. Therefore, I leave it to the parents to take the "back to tradition" advice of Eliot and Pound and find a way to balance the activities their kids partake in.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

"So What!"

While reading John Fiske's "Television Culture," I was able to relate to most of his observations. He talks about the ideology behind the attempts television consciously makes for their audience. He begins by discussing the "codes of television." Fiske writes, "A code is a rule-governed system of signs, whose rules and conventions are shared amongst members of a culture, and which is used to generate and circulate meanings in for that culture" ( Fiske 1088). He brings to the reader's attention the various codes of romance, villainy, patriarchy, society, capitalism, etc that film uses. There are implicit and explicit codes. Fiske claims, "the codes of class, race, and morality are working less openly and more questionably:their ideological work is to naturalize the correlation of lower class, non American with the less attractive, less moral, and therefore villainous..." (Fiske 1093). Furthermore, in "Televesion Culture" Fiske finds feminist relations between the heroine and villainess. Both women "pretty themselves [while] the men are planning" (Fiske 1093). You see the patriarchal code being put into play here in a society where there the value of men is placed higher than that of women.

What message is television trying to give us?
Is it a culture of its own?
Does society imitate television's ideology or does television imitate reality?

I believe television does imitate reality and the different social norms and hierarchies, but has a negative way of re-enforcing the capitalist class distinctions. There is a type casting of gender and race that stretches the already existing stereotypes.

So we know all these facts about film codes and ideology; is it something that will ever change?

Fiske, John. "Television Culture."

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Which came first? The Chicken or the Egg?

Does life imitate Seinfeld or does Seinfeld imitate life? The main characters, Jerry, George, Cramer and Elaine have their own language. The language, euphemisms and manner of insider speaking can be called signs. One could see culture as a system of signs. Jacques Derrida and Ferdinand de Saussure were structuralists who focused on signs. For example, Saussure said that the signifier, cat, visually brings an image to our heads. This image signifies the mental idea of the signifier. My idea of a cat is connected to the image I have in my head. Now the word cat or the pronunciation of cat might mean something else depending on the country or culture you are in. Therefore the relationship between the signifier and signified is arbitrary, because a context is needed. Context changes between different people and cultures. Saussure says there is an arbitrary relationship between signs based on context, but he also says that there is a moment of PRESENCE where CAT means CAT. On the other hand, Derrida says there is no moment of PRESENCE. He says signs are always unstable and in play.
Now I will raise the question, "Does Seinfeld use a language that we all globally understand or does it depend on the culture and society we present Seinfeld too?"
I believe that in the United States, Seinfeld, has a moment of presence like Saussure states, but it might not be the same when you change the context of whom it is being presented to. Someone in France or India will not understand the inside joke unless that person is semi aquatinted with the language Seinfeld uses.
Also, does Seinfeld imitate real life? I don't believe this question is important. Of course the writer of Seinfeld was influenced by the culture and people around him, therefore he might have created Seinfeld based on his aesthetic talent, but he created it out of the society he was a part of. Seinfeld is both an entity of its own as well as a compilation of cultural and societal influences.

Monday, November 8, 2010

My Daily Time, Space and Place Geography

Anthony Giddens writes that there is a social division in cutlure called front space and back space. Front space is where we put up a front; where we formally put on a show to look presentable to others in the front space environment. Back space is where we relax and take the layer of make up off our face or prepare for the next layer we need to put on.
Depending on the time of day, we move through time and space. I wake up daily in my back space which is my home and get ready for school. I drive my car to school and park. My morning coffee creates a more keen working environment for me, since it is early in the morning. As I do this I cross paths with a variety of different people and limitations. Some days I need to take a different route to school. Other days I do not have enough time to wait in life for coffee.
As school comes to an end I get back into my car and drive to work. My work space is completely different than my school space. In school I feel free, enlightened, liberated with education. At work I feel constrained to observing the limitations and social structure of a male dominated capitalistic surrounding. The funny thing is, the dominant males are the authoritative ones, but not the intelligent ones. I encounter the same colleagues, speak to worried clients, and sit in front of my melancholy desk day after day.
As I drive home to begin my homework, I find myself somewhere between time and space. Not enough time in the day and not enough space for me to catch my breath.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Post-Modern Self

Language is the only way to get through to the self. Without language there would be no understanding of the self. We are the result of many things. The Post-Modern self is a fragmented self. The person you think you are is an assembly of so many small montages, pieced together to create a whole. Not only is the self created, it is "rearrang[ed], transform[ed] and correct[ed]" (Bordo 1099). With all the technology available to us today, god as the creator has been replaced by surgeons. This rhetoric of choice and technology has allowed people (mostly women) to constantly find a reason to be dissatisfied with their bodies. This dissatisfaction leads to the post-modern plastic discourse. In this discourse, "all sense of history and all ability ( or inclination) to sustain cultural criticism, to make the distinctions and discriminations which would permit such criticism, have disappeared" (Bordo 1104). This means that because the post-modern self is relative, no one passes judgement anymore. There is this "you do what you want and I'll do what I want" attitude in the air. This no longer allows there to be an underlying truth. This causes the post-modern angst created by people walking around with an invisible veil. These people seem respectful towards the actions, comments and opinions of individual others, but under that veil is their true opinions that are bottled up.
"Television is of course, the great teacher here, our prime modeler of plastic pluralism" (Bordo 1104). Instead of judging each other or setting limits for this post-modern self, we find the television to be a better role model. As long as someone on TV says it looks beautiful, or it'll make everything okay, than it is worthy of being mimicked. Technology has taken the role of human to human contact. The post-modern self has a dialogic relationship with the TV rather than with humans. This is a major tragedy!

Bordo, Susan. "'Material Girl': The Effacements of Postmodern Culture."

Monday, October 25, 2010

"I wish I was...I wish I had...I wish I looked like..."

Everything is comodified. I remember watching this when I was about ten years old. Now that I look back and think of the word globalization, we're exposed to it from such a young age. Here in this clip you see a group of girls who are freshly beginning to sell their new record album. The part that is not shown in the clip is the way in which their agent gets them to the top of the box office by putting subliminal messages into the music. That is what originally gets the teenagers in the movie obsessed with these three girls.

The funny thing is, the subliminal element added to the story is to create a villain and a climax to the movie. In real life there is no need for subliminal messages. People still go crazy for the new pop artist, like they did back in the day when "A Hard Day's Night" was produced.
Women still act all crazy when a singer they connect with comes on stage. You see teenagers line up to see concerts and movie theaters just to see their fantasies come alive in a pop artist or actor. People still buy t-shirts, cd's, sweaters, and posters.

The younger kids get, the easier it is to sell and globalize a popular comodity.

Who wouldn't want Hannah Montana as a true friend! I'd BUY it.

"The cultural homegenization theseis proposes that the globalization of consumer capitalism involves a loss of cultural diversity. It stresses the growth of 'sameness' and a presumed loss of cultural autonomy" (Barker 159). How are kids supposed to form their own identities if they are busy mimicking their pop idols? With capitalism playing a huge role in governing our lives, pretty soon we will all resemble robots, creating franchises of HUMANS!

Barker, Chris. Cultural Studies Theory and Practice. 3rd ed. London: Sage Publications, 2008.Print.