As prior posts may express, my attention has been gripped by the motivations and experiences of those engaged in deviant activity. More specifically, it is not major crimes under consideration but rather the marginal acts of expression and resistance – tagging, unsanctioned extreme sports, controversial fashions, and the like. While trying to empathetically understand the ‘deviant’ perspective, it seems this perspective is often dismissed as delinquent and nothing more, void of any further value. As scholars have often noted, this sentiment can be found along a rising fear of crime, profound sense of insecurity, and a perpetual need to safeguard against any act symbolizing little more than a threat to public order (see Garland, 2001; Hudson, 2003; Simon, 2007). This post then asks whether the practices and policies aimed at enhancing and maintaining civility are, in turn, provoking unrest, rebellion, resistance, and upheaval. more...
David Orr half-smiled at me from the pages of the New York Times Book Review this morning. In his dark blue button down shirt, head cocked sympathetically to the side, wire-rimmed glasses gracefully seated at the bottom of a long forehead, this man has clearly selected an author photo of himself that represents his belief in the power of ideas. His own, surely, and those of others so long as they are expressed in poetry. But Orr’s new book Beautiful and Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry bears a title that says volumes about how he sees those ideas. They’re “pointless.” They’re just pretty. Addictively pretty, apparently. Pretty enough to obsess over. Pretty enough to love, even if it never makes a “point.” Which begs the question: what the heck is a “point”? And who gets to decide when one is made?
Ideas for Orr apparently get to float around outside of everyday social practices. And because ideas are so detached, he figures, they must just be beautiful and pointless. Perhaps Orr should have engaged in discussions with poetry lovers whose experiences were different than his own. People whose experiences with poetry had nothing to do with luxuriating in the beautiful and the pointless.
Poetry is not a luxury. The quality of light by which we scrutinize our lives has direct bearing upon the product which we live, and upon the changes which we hope to bring about through those lives. It is within this light that we form those ideas by which we pursue our magic and make it realized. This is poetry as illumination, for it is through poetry that we give name to those ideas which are, until the poem, nameless and formless-about to be birthed, but already felt. That distillation of experience from which true poetry springs births thought as dream births concept, as feeling births idea, as knowledge births (precedes) understanding.
Audre Lorde, from Sister Outsider (1984)
Poetry is not a luxury, Audre Lorde writes, but how can someone like David Orr, whose economic and social access to “art supplies” (or at least to folks who recognize, either through his intellectual-looking picture or his publicly stated delight in “beautiful and pointless” ideas, that his creative work, his thought-work, is stuff of value) conceive of the real, material inequalities around whose knowledge “counts” that make poetry necessary. Not just the poetry that goes in great collections or chapbooks or coffee-shop goers’ Moleskins, but the stuff through which real people who don’t have the luxury of Orr’s social position share the knowledge that they create.
As Lorde observes, poetry can be written on scraps of paper, in dark pantries, between double work shifts, or on the bus. It can emerge in conversation. It can be spoken but never written, yet repeated again and again across contexts and across differences. Or spoken once, and never again, but the knowledge shared knowledge that shapes whole ways of knowing, ways of seeing the world. Poetry does not require reams of paper (like, say, a book defending poetry would). Nor does it require long leaves of absence from work and daily life in order to complete a manuscript for publication. Poetry is an art form that cuts across material inequalities and enables, encourages the very human and humanizing act of sharing knowledge.
And in just about one sentence, Audre Lord moves us beyond the whole problematic of another man whose author photos bear a striking similarity to Orr’s: here I’m thinking of Michel Foucault and his anxiety over the repressive power of “the gaze”. Lorde writes: “As we learn to bear the intimacy of scrutiny and to flourish within it, as we learn to use the products of that scrutiny for power within our living, those fears which rule our lives and form our silences begin to lose their control over us” (1984: 36). Poetry is where those silences can be broken.
A bill to extend health insurance to millions more Americans and to cut premiums and force coverage for pre-existing conditions for all Americans passed the house this week. President Obama will sign the bill today. At the Eastern Sociological Society conference in Boston this past weekend, I attended a panel on resistance to medicalization where Peter Conrad, who one might call the father of contemporary medicalization theory, presented a new project on the medicalization of chronic pain. The overarching theme of this panel was what seems to me a fascinating potential backlash to medicalization – the desire to keep certain experiences, behaviors, emotions from definition by the medical community. As I listened to the panel last Saturday, I began to wonder, as I have increasingly, whether insuring more people will propel medicalization. In the last several decades, there has been some backlash against or resistance to the dominant conceptualization of things such as depression, ADHD, alcoholism and even childbirth as medical (see the article below), but, if we insure more Americans, which is a great victory for our society, there may be an unintended consequence of maintaining the medical definitions of these and many other conditions, since insurance companies base their decisions to pay for treatment of any condition on whether or not it is a genuine medical/biological illness. If it is, coverage is more likely. If it is not, denial more likely. Therefore, we will now have perhaps an even greater reason to maintain our medical thinking. We want more coverage for ourselves and our fellow citizens. So the question I pose is this: what will happen to medicalization in an America where even greater numbers of Americans feel they need to conceptualize human experience as medical in order to get treatment or relief? If health insurance is easier to come by, will this fuel medicalization because more people will be insured and therefore, as a society, there is a greater push to get things paid for? What does this mean for the future of the human condition – will we come to be seen as nothing more than the bearers of symptoms? Of course, it is equally possible that insuring more people will only make insurance companies attempts NOT to pay for whatever they can get away with more likely, in which case the effects on medicalization could be little to none. We shall soon see. In either case, medicalization is an important area of focus within medical sociology and one that we will likely have renewed interest in as the American health care system is modified, even if the changes are not overarching or particularly radical.
The increasing centrality of the Internet in our daily lives has precipitated a spate of theorizing about how we – as humans and as a society – are changing (or not) due to the constant technological mediation of our most basic interactions and activities. Let’s face it: This sort of theorizing is populated mostly by men of considerable privilege (with some very notable exceptions). A cynic might hold that the problems concerning human techno-social interactions are relatively insignificant compared to more pressing issues of race, class, gender, age, etc. One cannot but be sympathetic to such charges.
However, I would posit that a complicated set of processes are at work in causing many to view theory surrounding the Internet and its ever-expanding litany of technical terms (e.g., Web 2.0, prosumption, produsage, playbor, or sousveillance) as largely irrelevant to the salient social issues of our day: 1.) The theorists of the Web, tending to work from a position of privilege, perhaps, simply lack awareness of feminist and other situated discourses, thus failing to acknowledge their relevance. 2.) Privilege may also account for a willingness to be satisfied by grand theoretical projects that produce political objectives couched in inaccessible language, too impractical to be actionable, altogether irrelevant, or simply nonexistent. 3.) Disciplinary specialization is such that the theorists from Marxian, post-structuralist, and/or science and technology studies traditions who are studying similar phenomena may not be in dialogue with one another. more...
The old point that capitalism subsumes everything -even that which is precisely meant to be anti- or non-capitalistic- has been exemplified recently by corporations jamming the culture jammers by co-opting the jammer’s strategies.
Culture jamming follows the Situationist (prominently, Guy Debord) tradition of challenging the status quo, including political and corporate structures. However, even these anti-capitalistic actions have been and still are co-opted and put to work under capitalism. This is nothing new. Previous literature tackled the commodification of resistance. The Punk aesthetic was quickly subsumed by the logic of corporate fashion (e.g., this magazine[.pdf] sold back the punk aesthetic). And today, one can clearly see the commodification of hippy culture in the Haight-Ashbury area of San Francisco.
But it is the very recent examples that motivate this post. I previously wrote about Pepsi’s advertising campaign that mimicked Obama’s political campaign, including the street-art theme that draws directly from the culture-jamming and Situationist playbooks. Starbucks has also pasted advertisements in urban areas that look like street art, an art form that typically stands against such corporate invasions of the public aesthetic.
As was poignantly discussed on this blog last week by NickieWild, Starbucks has gone even further down the route of what I call culture de-jamming (i.e., corporations jamming the culture jammers by commodifying their resistance to commodification). Starbucks sent people to observe local coffee shops to best create the first “inspired by Starbucks” store, rustic décor and all [pictures]. Sans the Starbucks logo, the store allows you to walk in and play your own music, attend organized poetry readings and so on. Interestingly, this follows precisely the trend George Ritzer laid out in Enchanting a Disenchanted World, arguing that Starbucks is attempting to create enchantment, which will ultimately fail because disenchantment follows in the very rationalization and reproduction of the ‘local coffee shop.’
More recent examples of culture de-jamming include corporate-organized “flashmobs”, another tool taken from culture jammer’s, this time used for corporate ends (note that Wikipedians claim that the gathering cannot be considered a flashmob if it is corporate). Examples include A&E’s “Hammer Pants” mob and video and T-Mobile’s large dancing mob at the Liverpool Street Station in London. The latter example also explores how consumers are in part producers (that is, prosumers) of this culture de-jamming, making this jamming of the culture jammers even more insidious. Can the logic capitalism really co-opt the very nature of resistance, or will resistance just take on new forms moving forward?