The Kennedy assassination was my first clear lesson in the sociology of emotions, though I didn’t know it at the time. I was in Japan, living with a Japanese family in a small town in the mountains of Nagano prefecture. I had been there less than two months, my knowledge of the language was barely rudimentary. There were no other Americans. I was the first Westerner many people in the town had ever seen in the flesh. (Everyone had seen gaijin on TV since the Japanese networks ran many American shows.)
When I came to breakfast that Saturday morning, and even before I had taken my place the tatami floor with the others, my Japanese family desperately tried to tell me the news. At first all I could understand was that it had something to do with Kennedy. The Japanese words for shoot or kill were not part of my tiny vocabulary. I knew the word for dead, but when the father of the family used it, I assumed I was hearing one of the many homophones. The television was on, but I certainly could not understand what the news readers were saying. Finally, the father, still seated, acted it out. He fired his index-finger pistol. Then pointing to himself and saying, “Kennedy,” he clutched his hands to his chest and canted his body over as if falling to the floor. The gravest event translated into a simplified charade – it would have seemed ludicrous had it not been so serious.
I understood, but I was still incredulous. In the next few days, I learned more, mostly from the one person in the town who spoke fluent English (he had just come back from a year in Kansas), and from the English language daily, the Japan Times, my only outside source of information. I remained isolated from other Americans. If emotions are contagious, I had been quarantined.
It was only much later, when I was back in the US that I learned of what it was like to be here then. When I heard people describing where they were; or on anniversaries like today, when the media hauled out their archival footage – only then did I sense the emotion that so many Americans felt.
Most people, if asked, would probably have said that their grief was caused entirely by a personal sense of loss perhaps and the symbolic meaning they assigned to Kennedy – the president who, in is youth and vibrancy, represented hope for the future, etc.
I had felt none of that. I was stunned of course. In the world I had taken for granted, presidents did not get assassinated. Now that assumption was shattered. But the Kennedy in my mind was still the same person, politician, and president that he had been before the assassination. So I missed out on feeling of grief and great loss. And I think the reason that I did not feel those emotions is not that I was young and callow (though I was that too) but that I was so isolated. Had I been in the US, engaged in the flood of constant talk, both in person and in the media, I would probably have felt those feelings more intensely.
When something so unusual and traumatic happens, we search for a way to make sense of it – our old sociological friend, a “definition of the situation.” In that search, we look to others, and the definition we learn from others – what this thing is and what it means – is not just information and explanation. We learn the emotions that are part of this definition. We have a fairly large repertoire of emotions that we can experience, and in a sympathetic-vibration-like process, the emotions we see all around us evoke the same emotion in us. We experience that emotion as personal. But in an important way, it is also social.
How many Americans think about the war in Afghanistan regularly? The daily realities of war are inescapable for military members and their families, but the rest are largely able to stay disconnected from it. The issues of foreign policy and war dropped off the radar entirely for most Americans before the 2012 election.
Mother Jones Magazine’sWe’re Still at War: Photo of the Day feature is meant to remind Americans that the war is ongoing. Here’s the photo for February 15, taken by Sgt. Jon Heinrich:
About 68,000 U.S. troops are still deployed in Afghanistan, down from the peak of 101,000 (not to mention the those who were in Iraq). Without a draft, WWII-style war bond campaigns, or highly visible war industry, most Americans need to be reminded that we’re at war. Unlike veterans and military families, civilians not directly connected to the military have a kind of privilege to forget the conflict in their daily lives. The result is a growing chasm between U.S. civilians and the Armed Forces.
In 2011, the Pew Research Center surveyed Americans about their connections to the military and found a considerable gap: “Never has the U.S. public been so separate, so removed, so isolated from the people it pays to protect it.” The vast majority of those over 50 had an immediate family member who had served (mostly due to WWII and Vietnam). Of those 30-49 years old, 57% had someone in their immediate family serve. Those between 18-29 are the most disconnected from war; only 33% have a close family member with military experience:
This leads to differences in views about the military. Those from military families are more likely to believe that civilians do not understand what they go through, that the U.S. “is the greatest country in the world,” and that they are “more patriotic than most people in the country.” They’re also more likely to recommend the armed forces to a young person — though only about half would do so:
My own research on the experiences of military families during deployment supports the Pew findings. And patterns in who joins the armed forces may lead to an increased gap. Those with veterans in their family are more likely to join the military; 79% of young veterans, compared to 61% of the public, have family members who served. As fewer Americans have relatives who were in the military, making them less likely to join themselves, insulation from the military grows.
This bumper sticker reflects this gap between military families and everyone else. It draws a distinction between “my” service member and “your” freedom, while seeming to assume a lack of support from non-military Americans:
Military families believe that others don’t understand what they go through during deployment. As one mother told me, “We understand why we try to be strong but automatically cry when we see the foot powder display at Wal-Mart.” Or as an Iraq war veteran explained to Time,
The gap between the military and everybody else is getting worse because people don’t know–and don’t want to know–what you’ve been through…There are no bond drives. There are no tax hikes. There are no food drives or rubber drives … It’s hard not to think of my war as a bizarre camping trip that no one else went on.
Veterans return to a country where very few understand what they have been through, which makes reentry into civilian life more difficult — just one of the consequences of having a small segment of the country assume the burdens of war.
Wendy Christensen is an Assistant Professor at William Paterson University whose specialty includes the intersection of gender, war, and the media.
Studying up on the literature on gun marketing for a recent interview with the New York Times, I found a 2004 article on the topic with some really interesting findings.
The study — by public health scholar Elizabeth Saylor and two colleagues — asked what tactics marketers use to sell guns in a single month of advertising. In contrast to what you might imagine, only a small minority of gun ads emphasized self-protection (3%) or a Western cowboy lifestyle (5%). Zero percent mentioned protecting one’s family. Only 15% of gun ads linked ownership to patriotism. The most common substantive theme was hunting, but even that was a theme in only 20% of ads.
So what are gun advertisers highlighting in their ads? Technical attributes. The majority of gun ads (91%) emphasize the things that make one gun different from the next. For example, they discuss the quality of the gun (61%), its accuracy (38%) and reliability (35%), and its innovative features (27%) and uniqueness (21%).
Why are gun manufacturers using this marketing strategy?
Here’s where the statistics get really interesting. At the time of the study, 44 million Americans owned firearms. Three-quarters of these owned more than one gun. In fact, 20% of gun owners are in possession of 55% of all guns (excluding law enforcement and military).
In other words, guns are not evenly distributed across the U.S. population, they are concentrated in the hands of a minority. Most people that don’t own a gun are never going to buy one, so the best strategy for gun manufacturers is to convince people that they need lots of guns. Differentiating the technical attributes of one from another is their way of telling the buyer that any given gun will do something different for them than the guns they already have, enticing the gun owner to own a range of guns instead of just one.
Food shortages during World War II required citizens and governments to get creative, changing the gastronomical landscape in surprising ways. Many ingredients that the British were accustomed to were unavailable. Enter the carrot.
According to my new favorite museum, the Carrot Museum, carrots were plentiful, but the English weren’t very familiar with the root. Wrote the New York Times in 1942: ”England has a goodly store of carrots. But carrots are not the staple items of the average English diet. The problem…is to sell the carrots to the English public.”
So the British government embarked on a propaganda campaign designed to increase dependence on carrots. It linked carrot consumption to patriotism, disseminated recipes, and made bold claims about the carrot’s ability to improve your eyesight (useful considering they were often in blackout conditions).
Here’s a recipe for Carrot Fudge:
You will need:
4 tablespoons of finely grated carrot
1 gelatine leaf
orange essence or orange squash
a saucepan and a flat dish
Put the carrots in a pan and cook them gently in just enough water to keep them covered, for ten minutes. Add a little orange essence, or orange squash to flavour the carrot. Melt a leaf of gelatine and add it to the mixture. Cook the mixture again for a few minutes, stirring all the time. Spoon it into a flat dish and leave it to set in a cool place for several hours. When the “fudge” feels firm, cut it into chunks and get eating!
Disney created characters in an effort to help:
The government even used carrots as part of an effort to misinform their enemies:
…Britain’s Air Ministry spread the word that a diet of carrots helped pilots see Nazi bombers attacking at night. That was a lie intended to cover the real matter of what was underpinning the Royal Air Force’s successes: the latest, highly efficient on board, Airborne Interception Radar, also known as AI.
When the Luftwaffe’s bombing assault switched to night raids after the unsuccessful daylight campaign, British Intelligence didn’t want the Germans to find out about the superior new technology helping protect the nation, so they created a rumour to afford a somewhat plausible-sounding explanation for the sudden increase in bombers being shot down… The Royal Air Force bragged that the great accuracy of British fighter pilots at night was a result of them being fed enormous quantities of carrots and the Germans bought it because their folk wisdom included the same myth.
But here’s the most fascinating part.
It turns out that, exactly because of the rationing, British people of all classes ate healthier.
…many poor people had been too poor to feed themselves properly, but with virtually no unemployment and the introduction of rationing, with its fixed prices, they ate better than in the past.
Meanwhile, among the better off, rationing reduced the intake of unhealthy foods. There were very few sweets available and people ate more vegetables and fewer fatty foods. As a result “…infant mortality declined and life expectancy increased.”
I love carrots. I’m eating them right now.
To close, here are some kids eating carrots on a stick:
This morning NPR had a segment on the history of the U.S. income tax. A federal income tax was first introduced during the Civil War to make up for lost tariffs due to blocked ports and sunk ships. However, in 1895 the Supreme Court declared the income tax unconstitutional. In 1913, the states ratified the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution:
The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.
For a couple of decades, only the wealthy paid income tax. However, war — in this case, World War II — once again increased the need for taxes. The government had to convince a larger portion of the population to pay income tax. The Treasuring Department and Disney produced “The New Spirit,” a short film featuring Donald Duck. The film presented paying taxes as patriotic and essential to the war effort, and helped normalize the income tax for all workers:
For another example of World War II-era Disney propaganda in support of particular government policies, see our earlier post on Victory through Air Power, which justified bombing civilian targets.
The types of war-related advertising we see can give us insights about how average Americans are connected to, and affected by, different wars. During many U.S. wars, contributing to the war effort was the duty of every citizen; this is particularly apparent with World War II. The draft, the deployment of some 16 million Americans, and public calls to purchase war bonds and ration food meant that war was nearly everyone’s concern. In contrast, the current War on Terrorism mostly only impacts those connected directly to it—military families. There are no widespread calls to ration, buy war bonds, or otherwise support the war effort through employment, growing vegetables, saving scrap metal, or other changes to our daily lives. My own research shows that members of military families feel the war is ignored and forgotten by most Americans. They feel isolated in their daily anxieties and their efforts to support their loved ones.
Products like the WD-40 Collectible Military Series were more common during WWII than they are now. During WWII advertising used the war cause and feelings of patriotism to sell a wide range of products that, ads argued, would help the U.S. win. Some were clearly connected to the war effort:
With others, the connection was much less obvious or direct:
Both Shlitz and Camel donated to the war effort. Similarly, with their “Drop and Give Me 40” campaign, WD-40 is donating part of their profits to charities that support service members and their families:
For each can purchased from March 2011 through May 2011, WD-40 Company donated 10 cents to three charities that help active-duty military, wounded warriors, retired veterans and their families. On Memorial Day, WD-40 Company presented $100,000 checks to each of the following military charities: Armed Services YMCA, Wounded Warrior Project, and the Veterans Medical Research Foundation.
Although military-themed products (aside from “support the troops” t-shirts, stickers and pins that are widely available) are not as common as they were during WWII, some companies have come out with patriotic advertising.
Goodyear has “support the troops” tires, sold and marketed at NASCAR races:
An Anheuser-Busch commercial shows ordinary Americans stopping their everyday lives to thank the troops. There is no mention of the company until the very end, and nothing at all about beer:
American Airlines has a similar advertisement depicting various Americans being supportive the troops before and during their flight:
The messages in these recent ads are markedly different than the WWII messages of everyone taking part and working toward victory, reflecting changing relationships between war efforts and the average citizen. No reminder of the war was necessary in the 1940s—war was a part of everyday Americans’ lives. Current ads, like the WD-40 series, often serve less as a call to specific action than as a reminder that the war exists, as a reminder to thank the troops and support service members. It’s a different type of message for a different type of war, one that only involves a small fraction of Americans and is often largely invisible to everyone else.
Mexico filmmaker Pablo Fulgueira happened to be traveling in New York shortly after the attack of 9/11. He took the opportunity to interview people on the streets and turned that footage into this short documentary, “SiNYster,” showing the very first social consequences of the 9/11 attack in New York City.
Pablo Fulgueira studied filmmaking at the Centro de Capacitación Cinematográfica in Mexico City and graduated in 2006.
Anders Behring Breivik has now joined the pantheon of homegrown domestic terrorists who have unleashed horror on their own countrymen. Sixteen years ago, Timothy McVeigh and other members of the Aryan Republican Army blew up the Murrah Office Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 of their own countrymen and women. It was the worst act of domestic terrorism in our history, and, indeed, until 9-11, the worst terrorist attack of any kind in our history. We know what Norwegians are going through; as Bill Clinton said, we “feel your pain.”
As pundits and policymakers search for clues that will help us understand that which cannot be understood, it may be useful to compare a few common elements between McVeigh and Breivik.
Both men saw themselves as motivated by what they viewed as the disastrous consequences of globalization and immigration on their own countries. Breivik’s massive tome, 2083: A European Declaration of Independence, paints a bleak picture of intolerant Islamic immigrants engaged in a well-planned takeover of European countries in the fulfillment of their divine mission. His well-planned and coldly executed massacre of 94 of his countrymen was, as he saw it, a blow against the policies promoting social inclusion and a recognition of a diverse multicultural society promoted by the labor-leaning government.
McVeigh also inveighed against both multinational corporate greed and a society that had become too mired in multiculturalism to provide for its entitled native-born “true” Americans. In a letter to the editor of his hometown newspaper, McVeigh, then a returning veteran of the first Gulf War, complained that the birthright of the American middle class had been stolen, handed over by an indifferent government to a bunch of ungrateful immigrants and welfare cheats. “The American dream,” he wrote “has all but disappeared, substituted with people struggling just to buy next week’s groceries.”
McVeigh and Breivik both sought to inspire their fellow Aryan countrymen to action. After blowing up the federal building – home of the oppressive and unrepresentative government that had capitulated to the rapacious corporations and banks — McVeigh hoped that others would soon follow suit and return the government to the people. Breivik cared less about government and more about the ruination of the pure Norwegian culture, deliberately diluted in a brackish multiculti sea.
For the past five years, I’ve been researching and writing about the extreme right in both the United States and Scandinavia. I’ve interviewed 45 contemporary American neo-Nazis, White Supremacists, Aryan youth, Patriots, Minutemen, and members of rural militias. I also read documentary materials in the major archival collections at various libraries on the extreme right. I then interviewed 25 ex-neo-Nazis in Sweden. All were participants in a government-funded program called EXIT, which provides support and training for people seeking to leave the movement. (This included twice interviewing “the most hated man in Sweden,” Jackie Arklof, who murdered two police officers during a botched bank robbery. Arklof is currently serving a life sentence at Kumla High Security prison in Orebro. To my knowledge, I’m the only researcher to date to have interviewed him as well as members of EXIT.)
I’ve learned a lot about how the extreme right understands what is happening to their countries, and why they feel called to try and stop it. And one of the key things I’ve found is that the way they believe that global economic changes and immigration patterns have affected them can be understood by looking at gender, especially masculinity. (Don’t misunderstand: it’s not that understanding masculinity and gender replaces the political economy of globalization, the financial crisis, or the perceived corruption of a previously pristine national culture. Not at all. But I do believe that you can’t understand the extreme right without also understanding gender.)
First, they feel that current political and economic conditions have emasculated them, taken away the masculinity to which they feel they are entitled by birth. In the U.S., they feel they’ve been emasculated by the “Nanny State” through taxation, economic policies and political initiatives that demand civil rights and legal protection for everyone. They feel deprived of their entitlement (their ability to make a living, free and independent) by a government that now doles it out to everyone else – non-whites, women, and immigrants. The emasculation of the native-born white man has turned a nation of warriors into a nation of lemmings, or “sheeple” as they often call other white men. In The Turner Diaries, the movement’s most celebrated text, author William Pierce sneers at “the whimpering collapse of the blond male,” as if White men have surrendered, and have thus lost the right to be free. As one of their magazines puts it:
As Northern males have continued to become more wimpish, the result of the media-created image of the ‘new male’ – more pacifist, less authoritarian, more ‘sensitive’, less competitive, more androgynous, less possessive – the controlled media, the homosexual lobby and the feminist movement have cheered… the number of effeminate males has increased greatly…legions of sissies and weaklings, of flabby, limp-wristed, non-aggressive, non-physical, indecisive, slack-jawed, fearful males who, while still heterosexual in theory and practice, have not even a vestige of the old macho spirit, so deprecated today, left in them.
Second, they use gender to problematize the “other” against whom they are fighting. Consistently, the masculinity of native-born white Protestants is set off against the problematized masculinity of various “others” – blacks, Jews, gay men, other non-white immigrants – who are variously depicted as either “too” masculine (rapacious beasts, avariciously cunning, voracious) or not masculine “enough” (feminine, dependent, effeminate). Racism, anti-Semitism, nativism, and homophobia all are expressed through denunciations of the others’ masculinity.
Third, they use it as a recruiting device, promising the restoration of manhood through joining their groups. Real men who join up will simultaneously protect white women from these marauding rapacious beasts, earn those women’s admiration and love, and reclaim their manhood.
American White Supremacists thus offer American men the restoration of their masculinity – a manhood in which individual white men control the fruits of their own labor and are not subject to the emasculation of Jewish-owned finance capital, a black- and feminist-controlled welfare state.
At present, I am working my way through 2083: A European Declaration of Independence, the 1,518 page manifesto written in London by Anders Behring Breivik (under the Anglicized name Andrew Berwick) in the months leading up to his attack. These same themes are immediately evident. (Quotes are from the document.)
(1) Breivik associates feminism with liberal, multicultural societies. He claims that feminism has been responsible for a gender inversion in which, whether in the media or the military, we see the “inferiority of the male and the superiority of the female.” As a result of this widespread inversion, the “man of today” is “expected to be a touchy-feely subspecies who bows to the radical feminist agenda.”
(2) Breivik spends the bulk of the document playing off two gendered stereotypes of Muslim immigrants in Europe. On the one hand, they are hyper-rational, methodically taking over European societies; on the other hand, they are rapacious religious fanatics, who, with wide-eyed fervor, are utterly out of control. In one moment in the video, he shows a little boy (blond hair indicating his Nordic origins), poised between a thin, bearded hippie, who is dancing with flowers all around him, and a bearded, Muslim terrorist fanatic – two utterly problematized images of masculinity. 3:58 in the video:
(3) In his final “call to arms” and the accompanying video, he offers photos of big-breasted women, in very tight T-shirts, holding assault weapons with the word “infidel” on it and some Arabic writing, a declaration that his Crusader army members are the infidels to the Muslim invaders. 9:02 in the video:
This initial, if sketchy, report from Oslo, and Breivik’s own documents, indicate that in this case, also, it will be impossible to fully understand this horrific act without understanding how gender operates as a rhetorical and political device for domestic terrorists.
These members of the far right consider themselves Christian Crusaders for Aryan Manhood, vowing its rescue from a feminizing welfare state. Theirs is the militarized manhood of the heroic John Rambo – a manhood that celebrates their God-sanctioned right to band together in armed militias if anyone, or any governmental agency, tries to take it away from them. If the state and capital emasculate them, and if the masculinity of the “others” is problematic, then only “real” white men can rescue the American Eden or the bucolic Norwegian countryside from a feminized, multicultural, androgynous immigrant-inspired melting pot.