Wednesday, December 16, 2009

It's Hip to be Square

On Monday, one of the questions pertaining to the Music Man was "How is culture created
here (in the movie)." The little city already had their own culture when "Professor" Harold
Hill showed up. Hill brought popular culture to the small town. In our textbook (I don't
have the book in front of me and I can't remember the exact page), popular culture is
defined as "manipulative because its primary purpose is to be purchased". Hill fits
perfectly into description of popular culture because, as it is clearly seen in the movie, he
manipulates the people into wanting to sign their boys up for the band so they don't grow
up to be people who say "swell".

I liked that in the Saussure reading he writes about binary relationships. As professor
Wexler said in class, the two items in the relationship depend on each other and there
can't be one without the other. Especially with concepts similar to those of good/evil. This
kind of reminded me of one of Newton's laws: "for every action there is an equal and
opposite reaction".

In de Beauvoir's "Woman as Other", I liked how she talked about women's struggle to be
equal and men's misunderstanding of women's position. What I really liked, however, is
that she pointed out that just because someone is under the name "woman", it does not
mean that all women get along with women even though we go through generally the
same problems. Some women try, like the example of the female author who wanted to
be included in the men's author group, to integrate themselves into the men's world.
What came to mind when I read this was the movie G.I. Jane with Demi Moore. She
wanted to be a Navy SEAL and to do so she had to quite literally become one of the guys.
In one scene, a female corpsman is tending to Moore and Moore tells her to not give her
any special treatment. Moore, like the female author in de Beauvoir's example, wanted to
be a part of the men's group rather the women's.

I love the business card scene in American Psycho. To the audience, it is utterly
ridiculous that they care so much about such a trivial thing, especially when all of the
cards look the EXACT same. It struck me as odd that even though they all were stock
brokers (I can't quite remember if that's what their job was. Let me know if I'm wrong!)
and that in itself is a pretty spiffy, well to do job, but all of their business cards said "vice
president". It took a high class job and reduced it back down to something completely un-
Lastly, in the scene when Bateman axes (lame pun totally intended) Jared Leto's
character, I thought the song choice was hilarious. In class, people were talking about his
elaborate introduction to the song, but I thought that the actual song proved to be slightly
ironic. While Huey Lewis is telling us that it's "Hip to be Square", Bateman is doing a
very "un-squarish" thing by murdering Leto and then screaming at the body while he's
still hacking away.

Academia and Television: Family Friends or Foe?

Families. Everyone has one. Families come in all shapes and sizes and provide the basic foundation from which one will form his or her first relationships that affect how one will live. Several different types of families exist. The traditional family, also known as the nuclear family, is characterized by two parents and their children. One popular belief is that the nuclear family unit is not a necessary and integral part in today’s society. Everyday young people are told through their classes in school, movies, and television programs that the nuclear family is negatively traditional and exclusive of other types of families, such as single parent families and homosexual families. In the modern world, influential institutions and media, such as schools and television shows, have a major impact in shaping American youth’s understanding of themselves, the world, and the idea of family.
The ideas and images of family which are communicated through the classroom and media, not only influence the actions of individuals; they have a profound influence on public policy which, in turn, further affects daily life and decisions. The main audience for these ideas is the current generation of youth, as they are exposed to these influences on a daily basis. The picture of the ideal family has been transformed throughout the years, as through educational curriculum and popular media from the 1950’s to today.
One major impetus for the change in the family was Karl Marx. Marx was the revolutionary thinker whose ideas gave rise to communism. Marx, along with other revolutionaries, saw “the destruction of the family as the first step in the achievement of his goals. The family is key to passing the social, cultural, and religious ideals of the established order on to the next generation” (Marx and the family). Marx saw families as institutions that would curb antisocial behavior and block radical changes. He also saw the family as the means by which the establishment defended what he called "outmoded" and "oppressive" ideas (Marx and the family). Another component in the evolution of family ideals is the theory of secular humanism, which has been assimilated into the educational spheres in America. Over the years, the gradual integration of Marxist theory and secular humanism has slowly transformed the characteristics of the nuclear family through the media of education, movies, and television. The majority of the curriculum, movies, and TV shows are created for younger audiences because it is easier to integrate ideas into the youth than it is in adults, and the youth are the generation of the future.
Through the decades, the curriculum in schools has undergone major changes to accommodate the transforming family ideals. In order to not offend anyone who does not come from a traditional family, schools have exchanged their old textbooks that only portrayed nuclear families for new books that include “non-traditional” families. Schools today follow the example of secular humanism for their curriculum for students. As Steve Hall laments,
“Secular Humanists prefer to think of ‘family’ in larger groups of perhaps unrelated people. Many
secular humanists would affirm the legitimacy of same-sex marriages or civil unions. Many would
deny the importance of fathers, encouraging ‘single parenting by choice.’ Many secular humanists
trust schools more than parents to know what is best for children. Some humanists believe that the
child’s first responsibility is to a representative of the state, not necessarily to the parents. For
example, humanists often support the right of a child to an abortion without parental consent”
One pillar of secular humanism is tolerance. Children are now taught to always be tolerant of other religions, cultures, and different family types. For example, a required middle school textbook is an illustrated book entitled Heather Has Two Mommies. In Heather Has Two Mommies, first published in 1989, a young girl is raised by her lesbian parents. In one of Heather’s play groups, her family situation is discussed simply and positively. Another example of the assimilation of a non-traditional familial ideal is the children’s book Daddy’s Roommate. Daddy's Roommate was one of the first children's books to portray homosexuality in a positive light. The two men in the book do the same things heterosexual couples do: take care of the house, argue, and spend time with their boy. Through books such as these, children are exposed to alternative family lifestyles and are indoctrinated with the idea of tolerance. Secular humanism teaches that values, morals, and ethics are determined by each person for him or herself. Therefore, to tell someone else that their behavior is “wrong” or “sinful” is considered to be intolerant. Ironically, “intolerance”, defined this way, is not tolerated. It is easy to see that secular humanism has permeated into schools across the country teaching its “tolerance” agenda. According to James C. Dobson and Gary L. Bauer, “The secular humanistic system of values has now become the predominant way of thinking in most of the power centers of society, including universities, entertainment industry, and the media” (Noebel). From English and history classes to film classes, secular humanism is integrated into the fabric of the curriculum. The curriculum usually focuses on the differences between the “oppressiveness” of the traditional family with the “freedom” of the non-traditional family. At one time, the nuclear family was the norm and ideal; however, contemporary society now regards the family unit as oppressive towards women and antiquated in values. Teachers in schools and universities no longer teach pure academia, but rather teach more from their political bias. By doing this, teachers are violating established principles of academic freedom that dates back to 1915. These principles, which were developed by the American Association of University Professors, have been incorporated by American colleges into their respective “official faculty guidelines” (Horowitz, xli). For example, the University of California’s Academic Personnel Manual, which was written in 1934, states:
The function of the university is to seek and to transmit knowledge and to train students in the processes whereby truth is to be made known. To convert, or to make converts, is alien and hostile to this dispassionate duty. Where it becomes necessary, in performing this function of a university, to consider political, social, or sectarian movements, they are dissected and examined, not taught, and the conclusion left, with no tipping of the scales, to the logic of the facts…Essentially the freedom of a university is the freedom of competent persons in the classroom. In order to protect this freedom, the University assumed the right to prevent exploitation of its prestige by unqualified persons or by those who would use it as a platform for propaganda (Horowitz, xli).
This clause should have been adhered to in order to protect real tolerance in the classrooms, but on July 30, 2003, the excerpt was removed from Berkeley’s personnel manual. It was replaced with a passage that stated academic standards would now be under the responsibility of the Academic Senate. Other universities had similar clauses as Berkeley’s 1934 passage. These guidelines are based on a liberal philosophy of education, which means that the professional responsibility of educators is to elevate students’ ability to think and to not give them the correct opinions. Many professors; however, disregard these responsibilities. Marxism and secular humanism both rest on the dissolution of the nuclear family. These two theories also happen to be deeply knit into the core of curriculum in schools and universities. The ideas that the nuclear family is no longer sacred, unnecessary, and irrelevant are taught on a daily basis and each new generation that graduates from these schools and universities is equipped with this knowledge. As Engels, Karl Marx’s colleague, once said “If you could remove a people from their roots, they could be easily swayed to your point of view” (Rice).The educational sphere has become saturated with Marxism and secular humanism.
Another medium in which Marxists and secular humanists use to indoctrinate the public is the through the media, especially television shows. When television was introduced into American society, critics and journalists predicted that the invention of television would bring families together. Authors, critics, and advertisers all presented the image of television through articles and photographs "showing a family cozily sitting together before the TV set, Sis on Mom's lap, Buddy perched on the arm of Dad's chair, Dad with his arm around Mom's shoulder" (Winn, 258). In the early days of television, popular TV shows were Father Knows Best, Leave it to Beaver, and Ozzie and Harriet. These programs illustrated the traditional family of married parents –the father going off to work and the mother staying home to care for the home and the children. These shows also portrayed traditional family values such as respect for authority, division of labor and possessions, hard work, independent thought and conversational skills, and healthy problem resolution. However, the original vision of family unity and the education of family values brought about by television would eventually be replaced by ideas that would fragment the family. "Who could have guessed that twenty or so years later, Mom would be watching a drama in the kitchen, the kids would be looking at cartoons in their room, while Dad would be taking in the ballgame in the living room?" (Winn, 258). Television, influenced by the cultural changes brought upon the family, has strayed far from those programs that have encouraged family values. Over the past fifty years, the family has been affected by the "steadily rising divorce rate, the increase in the number of working mothers, the decline of the extended family, the breakdown of neighborhoods and communities, and the growing isolation of the nuclear family" (Winn, 264). Television has not only reflected these cultural trends, but it has also contributed to them through programming that is no longer appropriate for family viewing. Therefore, television is anti-family because it undermines family values, it popularizes dysfunction in families, and it detracts from quality time that the family spends together.
The television has become a prime factor in the breakdown of family values in a home, such as communication, obedience, respect, and a constructive use of time. Marie Winn, in her essay entitled "Television: The Plug-In Drug" describes the impact of television in the life of a family. "In its effect on family relationships, in its facilitation of parental withdrawal from an active role in the socialization of their children, and in its replacement of family rituals and special events, television has played an important role in the disintegration of the American family" (Winn, 264). This influential medium affects the relationships of family members in their ability to trust and feel emotionally secure. TV also sabotages the parents' role of teaching, nurturing, and delighting in their children because it becomes the teacher, the babysitter, and the entertainer of their children. Family interaction is no longer a valued event in a home and the constant "stream of television images" has taken its place. "As family ties grow weaker and vaguer, as the children's lives become more separate from their parents', as parent's educational role in their children's lives is taken over by television and schools, family life becomes increasingly more unsatisfying for both parents and children. All that seems to be left is Love, an abstraction that family members know is necessary but find great difficulty giving each other because the traditional opportunities for expressing love within the family have been reduced or destroyed" (Winn 265). By deducting family values from a home through the presence of television, a family loses its identity that can only be realized through shared experiences and valued family time. In Barker, Cantor argues that domestic drama on television is “primarily a morality play about how we should live. In particular it seeks to inform us about how to bring up children and about what constitutes appropriate love relationships” (Barker, 49).
Furthermore, television is anti-family because it popularizes dysfunction rather than normalcy in families. Today's television programs such as Jerry Springer, Jenny Jones, and Sally, are shows that attract their audiences through dysfunctional families, who are willing to exploit themselves in the name of television. In Wendy Kaminer's essay, "Testifying: Television", the author writes about talk shows and reality programs that publicize and magnify family problems. These television programs are choosing to focus on the pathological problems of dysfunctional families. "On Geraldo, a recovering sex addict shares a story of incest—she was raped by her father and stepfather; her husband and children are seated next to her on the stage. This is family therapy" (Mandell, 332). In real life, a family such as this one would be an abomination to society. But being viewed as entertainment, this family scenario is an acceptable one. The author gives another example of television's exploitation of the family. She writes that on the Opera Winfrey Show, "…there are fathers who sleep with their sons' girlfriends (or try to), sisters who sleep with their sisters boyfriends, women who sleep with their best friends' sons, women who sleep with their husbands' bosses (to help their husbands get ahead), men who hire only pretty women, and men and women who date only interracially" (Mandell, 333-334). Millions of television watchers daily view such scenarios of unstable and unhealthy families broadcasting their pathological problems. Since these shows are airing only dysfunctional families, the importance of these families seem to be elevated above "normal" nuclear families.
And finally, television is anti-family because it detracts from the quality time that a family spends together. In her essay, Marie Winn describes how television reduces the time and experiences a family shares. "By its domination of the time families spend together, it destroys the special quality that distinguishes one family from another, a quality that depends to a great extent to what a family does, what special rituals, games, recurrent jokes, familiar songs, and shared activities it accumulates" (Winn, 259). Simply, the availability of the television in the home of a family endangers the family life. Instead of creating memorable moments, as families did in the Victorian era by playing games and sharing plentiful meals (Winn, 260), today's family watches television to pass time, and grows apart as a result. Marie Winn argues that "If the family does not accumulate its backlog of shared experiences, shared everyday experiences that occur and recur and change and develop, then it is not likely to survive as anything other than a caretaking institution" (Winn, 261). Family rituals are also becoming seemingly rare in the television-watching home. Winn tells a story of a young girl who grew up in Chicago, surround by "millions of relatives". Before television interrupted her loving, family-filled world as she knew it, she recalls how "wonderful it (life) used to be". During the holidays, her multitude of relatives would come over, and she would play with her "thousands of cousins". "All the women would be in the front of the house, drinking coffee and talking, all the men would be in the back of the house, drinking and smoking, and all the kids would be all over the place, playing hide and seek" (Winn, 261). Then she remembers a sudden change and noticed, "…how different everything had become. The kids were no longer playing Monopoly or Clue or the other games we used to play together. It was because we had a television set which had been turned on for a football game" (Winn, 262). The act of watching television may seem unharmful while involved in it, but over time, the accumulation of hours clocked in front of the TV will amount to not only hours of wasted time, but it will also represent the experiences and memories that a family will never be able to share. Television is the most widely accessible source of mass media. As Thompson notes in Barker, “We must not lose sight of the fact that, in a world increasingly permeated by the products of media industries, a major new arena has been created for the process of self-fashioning. It is an arena which is severed from the spatial and temporal constraints of face-to-face interaction, and given the accessibility of television and its global expansion, is increasingly available to individuals world-wide” (Barker, 315). This shows that through television, the breakdown of the family is not exclusively occurring in America, but internationally as well.
In conclusion, academia and television shows remain two of the most important proponents of Marxist and secular humanist values that undermine traditional family values. Schools and the media are provided with a captive audience whom they are able to influence on a daily level. Marxism and secular humanism treat the family structure as a process of continuing change, resulting in changes applied to curriculum and media concerning how the family is portrayed. The traditional family model is slowly moving toward the definition of a radical romance. A nuclear family should not be considered “radical”, but in contemporary society, it is becoming more common that a non-traditional family is considered normal. The divorce rate is now at fifty percent among all marriages, which shows that popular culture has lost respect for the family institution. This loss of respect can directly be correlated to the curriculum in schools and the ideas and images from TV shows. I was homeschooled from kindergarten through twelfth grade. Since I have been in college, I have noticed a stark difference between the curriculum I had in my homeschool years and the curriculum I have now. I have always been taught that the family acted as the base from which one learned the basic principles to live life. In my classes in college; however, I am being taught that parents are irrelevant and society is a better teacher of life’s lessons. I also remember a time when my family did not own a television. Someone might think that life without a TV would be boring, but I cherish the memories of playing games with my family when we still did not have a TV. I have been noticing for some time the lack of respect for the concept of the nuclear family. When I researched this phenomenon, I discovered that Marxism and secular humanism were at the core of the movement to disregard the sanctity of family.

Works Cited
Barker, Chris. Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice. 3rd ed. Los Angeles: Sage
Publications, 2008.
Hall, Steve. “Secular Humanism”. Abounding Joy!. 2005. Accessed December 3, 2009.
Horowitz, David. The Professors. Washington, D.C. Regnery Publishing, Inc. 2006.
Mandell, Stephen. The Blair Reader. 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall,1999. pages 332-342.
"Marx and the family”. Canada and the World Backgrounder. Taylor Publishing
Consultants Limited. 1997. HighBeam Research. Accessed December 3, 2009.
Noebel, David. “The Worldviews of Destruction in the 20th Century”. 2000. Accessed
December 6, 2009.
Rice, Larry. "John Dewey, Father of Modern Education." Father of Modern Education.
2008. Web. Dececmber 10, 2009.
Winn, Marie. The Plug-In Drug. Television, Computers, and Family Life. New York,
New York: Viking Penguin, Inc., 2002.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Imagine there's no countries..

Globalization is the name given when the nations of the world unite to, in essence, create
a one-world government. Countries, that at one time had specific cultural aspects that
defined them, now lend these aspects to other countries, while at the same time receives
new cultural aspects from other countries.
This meshing of the cultures, countries, and governments will have significant effect on
sex, gender, and radicalism. Also, globalization effects the economies of the world.
Europe, for example, is divided into many different countries, but starting in 2002,
Europe started to globalize their countries by issuing the "euro" as the main currency.
The euro (€) is the official currency of 16 of the 27 Member States of the European
As Barker states, on page 155, "globalization is grasped in terms of: the world capitalist
economy, the global information system, the nation-state system, and the world military
order. The global information aspect of globalization is easily seen in today's society. The
most obvious examples are the world wide web, television, and the music industry.
Information is globally accessible with the web; anytime, anywhere. The music business
and television is able to permeate every country's culture. Two examples of products
that were able to be fused into other cultures are Coca-Cola and Toyota. Coca-Cola, an
American company, can be seen in almost every part of the world. Toyota, a Japanese
car company, has infused itself in the car business as a formidable contender and has
even become part of American life.
Many of today's governments and companies push for globalization. One example is the
Coca-Cola company. Coca-Cola is spearheading a movement/organization
entitled "Hopenhagen". Their mission, according to their website, is "To connect every
person, every city, and every nation to Copenhagen. To give everyone hope, and a
platform from which to act. To create a grassroots movement that’s powerful enough to
influence change." This organization is trying to get the UN Climate Change Conference
on December 7 to vote for more "hope and change for the world" and its "climate change

Almost Famous and the daunting question of Villainy

On Monday, we talked about Fiske's "Television Culture" and how heroes and villains are
portrayed in TV shows and movies. In the scene Fiske provides of the the hero and
heroine talking, Fiske argues that the "representational convention by which women are
shown to lack knowledge which men possess and give to them is an example of the
ideological code of patriarchy" (Fiske, 1090). Because the heroine was asking the hero a
few questions, this automatically shows women as lacking knowledge. Some TV shows
may try to incorporate this "representation convention", but newer TV shows are showing
the opposite. Joss Whedon's shows always depict strong lead female characters. Two of
Whedon's shows, for example, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Firefly", show female
characters that are self sufficient and are more often smarter than the male characters in
the show.
Fiske's article also discusses editing. Usually the heroes are given more time than the
villains (Fiske, 1091). However, if a movie or a show depicts what is known as an "anti-
hero", as we discussed in class, how does the editing indicate which character is the
villain or hero? Watchmen, for example, is full of ambiguous heroes. The most notorious
would, in my opinion, have to be the Comedian. He was supposedly a hero, but he was
almost just as lawless and corrupt as the criminals he put in jail. He got just as much film
time as Rorschach (probably the purest and lawful hero in the group) and Ozymandias
(the villain).
On Monday, we also started watching "Almost Famous". I had seen the movie a long
time ago and watching it again in class reminded me of how much I liked the movie.
Even though Fiske does not talk much about music playing a role in TV shows and
movies, I believe that music plays an integral part of a movie or show. In Almost
Famous, the soundtrack was able to portray William's emotions at a certain time, which
helps to pull in the viewer to really connect with the movie.

Feminafesto and Taming of the Shrew

I would just like to say that Anne Waldman's statement "You men who came out of my
belly, out of my world, BACK OFF" was really rather amusing. Then it sort of dawned on
me that what she is so annoyed about is when men, who are born of women, grow up to
sometimes look down or discriminate against women. As the article continues, Waldman
asks the question "Is language phallocentric?" (even though in the article it
says "phalloeentric, I just kind of assumed it was supposed to be "centric"). She then
proposes a transsexual literature, which she describes as her "utopian creative field" in
which we are "defined by our energy, not by gender". Waldman believes, in my opinion,
in the concept that sex (gender) is malleable. In our Barker textbook, it says that the
works of Foucault has inspired the argument that femininity and masculinity are
malleable social constructions. Also, on page 294, Nancy Chodorow shows how Freud
demonstrates that "our sexualities are regulated in ways that are particularly costly for
women". I felt that this was obviously one of the reasons why Waldman called for a
transsexual form of literature because it would eliminate the tension and discrimination
between man and woman. I liked how in class (I forgot who said it) someone said that
even the name of the article was trying to remove the masculine influence over
everything by removing "man" from manifesto and inserting "femina". Kristeva seems to
reinforce the notion of malleability by saying that "To believe that one 'is a woman' is
almost as absurd as to believe that 'one is a man'". This means that sexual identity is
not an essence but a matter of representation. A man can be feminine and a woman can
have masculine tendencies. Gender is malleable and is not set in a specific set of rules.
Just as Butler wanted to get rid of any essentialized sex.

I have to sadly admit that I have never read Taming of the Shrew. I have, however,
seen 10 Things I Hate About You many, many times and it supposedly is a modern
adaptation of the Shakespeare play. In class, we discussed the type of language
Katherina uses while giving her speech. The speech was full of words that could easily
have been said by a man. On page 289, Luce Iregaray discusses what she
calls "womanspeak". Womanspeak, in ways, mimes phallocentrism and uses man's
language, but in ways that question the capacity of philosophy to ground its own claims.
I really do think that Kat wasn't tamed per se because she was still a strong woman with
ideas, thoughts, and opinions of her own, but she just now appreciated men a little bit

These chapters and articles on feminism remind me so much of my aunts. After reading
about the different types of feminism, I believe that they fall under the Liberal/Socialist
feminists. I would have to align myself with the post-feminists. I don't deny that women
are sometimes discriminated against, but I'm really kind of sick of women who play
the "victim" card all the time.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Cultural Space and Urban Place of Sex and the City

Sex and the City is a television show about four friends living in New York City. This show depicts the lives of the quirky, big-city businesswomen, Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte. The weekly story line shows how changing roles and expectations for women in the late 1990s affected the characters and their relationships. An integral character in Sex and the City is the city itself. Barker writes that “Human interaction is situated in particular spaces that have a variety of social meanings.” (Barker, 374) This clip, from the season six episode entitled “The Post It”, shows the friends in a bar outside the city, outside of the bar on the street, and finally at a restaurant.

Ernest Burgess’ ideal type construction of the city expands from the Central Business District. Burgess, who is a member of the “Chicago School”, believes that each zone is inhabited by a certain class of people and activities. As one moves away from the Central Business District, one has to pass through a zone of transition, working class housing, high class areas, and commuter satellite towns (Barker, 380). This means that each area houses specific social class groups based on income and social status. The scenes in the bar show that the majority of the patrons were women who would be categorized as working class, except for the four main characters. By looking at the customers in the bar, one can assume that the four friends left their higher class sphere and traveled to an area populated by the working class community. One girl at the bar even yells at Carrie and Samantha for being from the city and for assuming they can do whatever they want. Granted, the girl was upset because Samantha was kissing her boyfriend, but the way the girl was portrayed clarified that she worked for a living, did not have enough money to buy “high fashion” clothes, and was not educated. She was a contrast to the four businesswomen friends and was a product of where she lived. After Samantha and Carrie literally get run out of the bar, they smoke marijuana on the sidewalk. Barker discusses the idea of “gendered space”, which separates different areas into masculine and feminine categories. For example, the home is usually associated with the feminine, while playing fields and streets are associated with masculinity (Barker, 377). Samantha and Carrie reverse this idea of gendered space by smoking a joint on the sidewalk and then again when Carrie gets arrested for the marijuana. Usually, men go to bars, get high on the street, and get arrested, not women, as is seen in the clip. At the end of the segment, the four friends leave the lower class area to return to their own sphere. The final scene shows the women, two of them high, eating banana splits in a fancy restaurant. The segment depicts the “classified spaces” that Barker writes about. The spaces are simply the divisions in cities which divide the social classes and cultures. The bar and the street depict the working class culture, which is slightly dirty and unsafe, and the high class restaurant illustrates the upper class culture, which is immaculate and safe (Barker, 403). The Sex and the City episode reaffirms Barker’s point that “the city is not one”. One can allude to a city as being a single entity, but in reality, a city is divided into many different cultures and diverse social classes.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Rules of Attraction? What Rules?

Rules of Attraction, a novel written by Bret Easton Ellis, is a dark satire about students in a small Northeastern liberal arts university whose lives illustrate the tension of living the “rock and roll” lifestyle while trying to find love amidst the chaos of alcohol, drugs, and sex. Rules of Attraction is a literary reflection of the worldview of popular culture. A worldview is defined as an ideology, philosophy, theology, movement, or religion that provides an overarching approach to understanding God, the world and the relationships of people to God and the world (Noebel, 1). One’s worldview determines what he or she thinks about God. The prevalent worldviews of our postmodern culture include Biblical Judeo-Christianity, Marxism, Secular Humanism, Islam, and Postmodernism (Summit Ministries), and all but one of these worldviews are rooted in atheism, the doctrine or belief that there is no God. In Rules of Attraction, any acknowledgement of God seemed to be non-existent as evidenced by the characters’ apparent disregard of a moral code and lack of conscience as they lived their lives engaging in their continual sex, drugs, and rock and roll lifestyles. The three main characters, Paul Denton, Sean Bateman, and Lauren Hynde, expected that their lifestyles would provide them with happiness and fill the voids in their lives created by broken and shallow relationships with family and friends and apathy toward the concept of God. The book’s title—Rules of Attraction— is somewhat of an oxymoron because no rules exist in the story to guide the characters in their relationships and decisions. But do such rules even exist to provide guidance for every aspect of life, which when followed, would result in satisfaction and contentment in life, no matter the circumstances? The answer is yes. This set of rules regarding attraction and life in general is called the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments tell us 'do not misuse God's name, do not commit adultery, and do not covet what others have'. Rules of Attraction demonstrates what happens on a smaller scale when a culture outlaws God and legally bans the Ten Commandments and collectively violates any one of these. Society replaces them with manmade rules, which result in moral relativism. This worldview says "You decide what's right for you, and I'll decide what's right for me" (Moral Relativism). The lifestyle grounded in this worldview can be summarized in the words "Whatever" and "I don't care." Camden College is a microcosm of the popular culture in which the students live according to their own wills and desires, while desperately seeking satisfactory relationships with their families and friends. Without a foundation in God, however, the result would not be satisfaction, but angst and futility in relationships with family and friends. God's rules are fixed, life-giving, and eternal, but the post modern mentality looks for a change in the rules to fit the circumstances. The Ten Commandments are not followed by our culture because they go against "the markers of cultural modernism which are ambiguity, doubt, risk, and continual change" (Barker, 182).
And these are the precise characteristics of the lives and relationships of Paul, Sean, and Lauren. All three characters came from dysfunctional families which ultimately affected how they interacted with friends and acquaintances. Their relationships are characterized by ambivalence—they need and crave love—but they don't know how to give it or receive it. The concept of a traditional family in the Judeo-Christian faith acts as the basis for how people are taught to act in regards to their relationships. When families are broken and do not possess the ideals of a strong family unit, voids are created in children. The children will ultimately live their lives on a quest to find the love and attention missing from their relationships with their parents. However, without the foundation of God’s unfaltering love in their lives, this “love” and attention is commonly searched for among one’s peer group and in drugs and alcohol (Schenck, 93). What has happened to the traditional family? The humanists define family in a way that is fluid and changes with the times (Noebel and Edwards, 11). This definition of the family can be observed in this novel through the familial relationships of Paul, Sean, and Lauren. Lauren would avoid answering her mother’s phone calls. Paul was not concerned that his parents were getting a divorce and his flippant view of the ordeal was conveyed to his mother, which made her very sad. While at the restaurant in the hotel in Boston, Paul’s mom thought “And for a very brief moment there it seemed as if I never had known this child. He sat there, his face placid, expressionless. My son – a cipher. How did it get this way?” (Ellis, 158). Sean also had no loving relationship with his family. He showed no emotion at the news that his father was in the hospital in intensive care. Moreover, Sean acted with no respect for his ailing father when he went into the bathroom to get high. When Sean’s older brother Patrick confronted Sean’s attitude towards their dying father, Sean replied in a sarcastic comment. Patrick witnessed the lack of respect and interest that his brother held for their father’s condition and asked Sean why he could not be the son the father had wanted. Sean replied “You think that thing in there even cares?” (Ellis, 239). Patrick realized, with slight shock, that his brother also hated him and that the feelings were reciprocated. Thus, all three characters came from broken families where loving relationships were not modeled and instruction about a loving God was not given. Because of this lack of instruction and information, the logical outcome is that they would reject the fifth commandment which says “Honor your father and mother so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” This commandment can be hard to follow because no one is perfect and parents can easily wrong their children. Rules seem restrictive; 'no rules' is more attractive. But God's rules provide clear standards for living, without which confusion, futility, and relativity prevail.
Furthermore, without a foundation based on Judeo-Christian principles, the quality of relationship with friends is also impacted. However, Barker assumes that capitalism, not atheism, is the cause of the characters viewing their peers as commodities, rather than as real people with feelings and needs of their own. This worldview is actually reflected in the behaviors the characters exhibited in their relationships with one another—using and abusing one another for the purpose of their own satisfaction. This, according to Barker, is unsatisfying just because it requires little work to consume and thus fails to enrich its consumers (Barker, 49). But people are not commodities, they are created in the image of a relational God (Genesis 1:27), and God gives clear guidelines on how to relate to one another. Yet these characters lived apart from these scriptural principles. Furthermore, while the Scriptural definition of a friend is one who 'loves and all times and is born for adversity" (Proverbs 17:17), the characters in this novel were very self-centered, not other-centered, in their pursuit of gratification of their own needs and desires. The philosopher Foucault disagrees with focus on one another when he states that "Ethics are concerned with practical advice as to how one should concern oneself with oneself in everyday life" (Barker, 232). In Rules of Attraction, every page is filled with the characters using each other and performing some act of self-serving gratification that included excessive swearing and profanity, promiscuity, and unfaithfulness in their relationships.
The characters’ faith in God included little more than using God’s name repeatedly in a string of curses. Followers of the Judeo-Christian worldview believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that He died to pay for the sins of everyone in the world. Paul, Sean, and Lauren did not live as if they believed in a God who loved them unconditionally enough to die for their sin so they wouldn't have to. Only Mary, the girl who was so obsessed with Sean and consequently committed suicide because of her loneliness, and Stump, a patron of Vittorio's party, mention that God is a higher power. Mary calls out to God after she slit her wrists in the bathroom saying "God jesus christ our my nothing savior" (Ellis, 174). However, she was not calling out to God to save her, but almost rebuking Him for doing nothing to provide Sean to extinguish her loneliness. Today's culture is increasingly rooted in Marxism, which is atheistic in practice and believes, in accordance to Ludwig Feuerbach's theory, that humans created God as a "projection of their own ideals". By creating God in man's image, Marx argued that man "alienated himself from himself" and if religion could be abolished, man would be able to overcome his alienation (The Philosophy of Karl Marx).
As Leo Tolstoy wrote in War and Peace "For us, with the rule of right and wrong given us by Christ, there is nothing for which we have no standard. And there is no greatness where there is not simplicity, goodness, and truth" (Tolstoy, 1st Book, XIV, 18). Tolstoy's worldview shaped his opinions about morality. He said apart from Jesus Christ, God's son, there is no standard of right and wrong, goodness and truth. For followers of the Judeo-Christian faith, God is love. Psalm 1 illustrates the connection God makes between following His law with man's emotional happiness, stability, and productivity.
"Happy is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord…Whatever he does prospers" (Bible, Psalm 1:1-3).

However, the characters in Rules of Attraction are those of whom God speaks in Romans 1:21-22 who "although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools. Even though the book of Romans was written in A.D. 57, the characteristics of behavior of those who choose to live outside the parameters of God's rules apply to modern culture:
Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them (Bible Romans 1: 24-32).
Paul, Sean, and Lauren had expected that their lifestyles would provide them with happiness, but instead of following the life-giving and relational rules of God, the Ten Commandments, they lived by their own arbitrary and changing rules dictated by conformity to a godless culture in following the peer group. What rules we ask? The answer to this question depends on one's worldview.

Works Cited

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