Religious, Not Republican

Before I begin discussing the primary topic of this post, a couple of announcements are in order. First, to those who follow my blog, I apologize for the delay between posts. I had to take a brief hiatus in order to re-locate for my new job. The move, thanks to my father, Alan Blose, and many many others was a success. So even if I haven’t mentioned you by name, know that I am thankful to everyone who supported me over the past few months while I was seeking employment.

Second, because my new job involves teaching at a small, private Christian institution of higher education, I must issue the following disclaimer. The contents of this blog, including past posts, this post, and all future posts reflects my own personal opinions and not necessarily those of my employer. Okay, so that’s that.

While my perspective on religion does not necessarily reflect the official position of my employer, this post is indeed inspired by two observations that I made during my first day on campus. These observations can be explained in two short sentences:

1. The campus bookstore sells condoms.

2. The institution sponsors a student-run “gay-straight alliance.”

Let me be clear – these observations should not be misconstrued as proof that the college at which I teach is politically liberal or left-leaning. I cannot make that determination, and frankly I have no idea what their official position on political issues actually is. That is because they don’t announce or claim alignment with any political party. They are explicitly Christian, but unlike Gordon College (which I addressed in my first post), they remain silent about politics. And this is exactly how I feel it should be.

The argument I seek to make here is this: Being religious does not necessitate a commitment to Republican politics, nor does it preclude a commitment to Democratic politics. The degree to which being religious is conflated with being conservative is as damaging to the Constitution as it is to the church. For me, religion, particularly Christianity, has been and should be about love and compassion, not hatred and alienation. This is why I feel like it is not inconsistent to say that I am religious but not Republican. Unfortunately, there are several private Christian schools that would never sanction a gay-straight alliance and that would never sell condoms to its students. If God gave us free-will, then who are we to go over God’s head and take that freedom away? While many may think that selling condoms and showing compassion and acceptance of the LGBTQ community is inconsistent with Christian values, I see it much differently. Even if you believe that homosexuality and pre-marital sex are sins (which I can’t bring myself to believe), it just doesn’t make since to try and take away the free will that God gave to humanity. Plus, on a more pragmatic note, such tactics simply do not work. I think we are better off leaving the judgement up to God. This argument is not inconsistent with the tenets of Christianity. In fact, it is entirely consistent. We too often forget that we are all sinners in the eyes of God, yet we continue to cast stones.

For a very long time, my objections to attempts to regulate human action on religious grounds kept me from defining myself as a Christian. In fact, it was for similar reasons that Anne Rice “stopped being Christian” while maintaining that Christ continues to be a central part of her life. I agree with Anne Rice with one exception: I refuse to renounce “Christian” as a way of identifying myself. To stop identifying as a “Christian” would be to allow the term to be co-opted and politicized in favor of a socially conservative agenda. Instead, I choose to keep identifying myself as Christian in hopes that this term can be re-defined in a way that promotes love and compassion as central attributes of a Christ-centered life.

As always, I encourage feedback and comments. Especially those that challenge what I have said, as I believe that disagreement produces enlightenment.

Better to Listen…

So far on this blog, I have made my opinions very clear on the issues that I have discussed. However, sometimes I think it is better to listen to others’ opinions before sharing mine. So this post will be short as I simply seek comments from anyone reading this blog. Toward that end, I pose the following question for discussion:

Should higher education be understood as a right or  privilege? Why?

I have my own opinion about this, but I want to hear what other people think first. To all who have read my blog and commented thus far, I really appreciate it! Please feel free to share!

 

Making Personal Memories Public: The Six-Week Old that Changed my Perspective

Many people who know me or who read my dissertation posts last week know that I have thus far dedicated my professional career to the study of memory. Many people, however, do not know the personal reasons behind this decision.

I have a great memory. As much as this may seem like an attribute, it is also a flaw. As much as my memory has helped me succeed in school, in friendships, and in impressing women with remembering the little things that make them know I am really listening, it has also had a profoundly negative effect on my life and mental health. There are many things I can’t (or won’t) forget. I can’t let go of the fact that I was mistreated by both classmates and teachers in Elementary and Middle School. I can’t forget how badly my heart has been broken by a number of ex-girlfriends. I have an extremely tough time forgiving people who I believe have wronged me in the past. And finally, I remember so much of my own bad behavior that I am often unable to forgive myself. Whereas memory used to be something that helped me excel at school, the cacophony of memories (mostly negative ones) swirling around in my head have actually started clouding my thoughts to the point of scholarly paralysis.

While I am still far from perfect when it comes to choosing what to remember and what to “forget” (or at least not think so much about), there was a moment recently when I suddenly came aware of how selfish I had become due to my obsession with the past. That moment began with the birth of Owen Parker. Although his presence on earth lasted an all-too-short six weeks, it is the memory of him that serves as a reminder to me that this world isn’t all about me, and that the suffering I have dealt with for the better part of my adulthood pales in comparison to the trials and tribulations that Owen endured for six weeks. Praying for his well-being, tracking his status several times daily through Facebook, and then remembering him after he went to heaven helped me stop feeling sorry for myself. He gave me something to remember that aided in replacing the negative, damaging memories that I had carried with me for so long. While my memories were beginning to destroy my will to live, my memories of Owen provided me with inspiration, and more importantly, with perspective.

To be honest, I never met Owen. But I do feel like I know him. His parents did a wonderful job sharing their gift with the world, and they allowed me to, for the first time in a long time, care about someone else more than I cared about myself. Owen never had an easy day his entire life, but I can’t help but believe that he enjoyed every second he spent on earth. Every time I look at his picture, I am reminded that my life is actually pretty darn good. Whenever I begin to throw myself a pity party, I go back to my Facebook photos and look at him. I don’t do this because it reminds me how bad life could be. Instead, I do this because Owen reminds me how good life IS regardless of the circumstances.

While my own personal memories kept me down and depressed, it is my memories of Owen that lifted me up and out of the darkness. By holding on to the memory of his life, I am slowly beginning to let go of the damaging memories I have carried around for far too long. The memory of Owen’s life is one that I won’t mind holding on to.

Like I said before, I never met him, but I feel like Owen is my friend, and he always will be, because memories keep people and feelings alive. Life is about choosing to remember the things that make you a better person. Owen continues to make me a better person.

In Defense of Talking Funny

reynoldswrapper:

For the most part, I will only post original material on this blog. However, in this case, I ran across a post that I wish I had read 4 years ago and felt compelled to share. As an instructor of a general communication course, one of the required assignments was a public speech. In the standardized rubric we were told to use, “pronunciation” was a category in which we were to evaluate our students. After reading this, I will no longer be grading based on pronunciation. Thoughts?

Originally posted on harm·less drudg·ery:

[Ed. note: Five months! I know. My (very poor) excuse is that I was working on another big project that I can't tell you about yet. In the meantime, here's an extra-long post to pay you back for the extra-long wait.]

I was talking with a friend–well, a “friend”–about some of the videos we were about to shoot for M-W. We were at a crowded, chichi restaurant, the type of place where the waiters pull your chair out for you and ask if you want sparkling, still, or mineral water. In short, a place far above my usual grab-and-go, paper-napkins milieu. A place where it behooves you to not only look smart, but sound smart. A place where you’d use the word “behoove.”

So I was behooving, using some expansive vocabulary and trying not to think about how I was paying $12 for a glass of wine when…

View original 2,288 more words

The Limits of Humor: An Open Letter to Clickhole

At the beginning of this week, I had every intention of dedicating this week’s blog posts to a celebration of humor in American Culture. What I did not expect, however, was how offended I would be at what some people consider to be “funny.”

For those of you that know me personally, I am generally not a fan of political correctness, and I even encourage people to express radical opinions and ideas. I myself started this blog to do just that: to shock, to provoke, and even to evoke laughter at the expense of others’ misfortunes. In earlier posts, I likened Luis Suarez to a rabid dog and conflated dead presidents with zombies. I had planned on writing a post on Ray Jessel’s “America’s Got Talent” audition in which he caused the audience (including myself, who has watched the YouTube Clip far too many times) to erupt in laughter by singing a song that in essence is hetero-normative and labels the transgendered community as “flawed” and engaging in abnormal behavior that “crosses the line.” Despite these ethical implications, I still can’t help but laugh when I watch the clip. But I will return to that particular case later this week, as I am still unsure whether I should feel bad for finding his performance funny or not.

But as I continued to peruse the internet for blogging material, I ran across a video posted on a website entitled Clickhole.com. Although the site is sponsored by parody news sources such as The Onion, it is not exclusively satirical, as it gleans news stories from all over the web to be consumed by the masses. One video posted on the site, however, was indeed intended to be satirical and funny. The problem is that is wasn’t funny at all. It was actually downright repulsive. And if I think something exceeds the limits of humor, then I would put money on the fact that any half-way decent human being would agree with me. But because it made it onto the web and was even re-published by Clickhole, I am saddened to say that there seems to be far too many people out there that qualify as much less than half-way decent.

So what is it, exactly, that has gotten my new Hanes boxer-briefs all in a twist, you may ask? Well I’ll tell you. It was a link to a video with the following headline: “Man Locks Himself in Hot Car to Prove that Babies and Dogs are Cowards.” I will not be recounting the specifics of the video here, and I even hesitated to provide the link to the video, but I felt like bringing the video exposure for the sake of denouncing this type of content on the web and the choice of the people who decide what gets included on the Clickhole website outweighed simply ignoring it. This is especially the case since the editors at Clickhole take no position on the video. They don’t defend it, but they don’t denounce it either. There is no byline. The person in the video is simply identified as “Mike B.” What makes this worse is that there is no way to hold anyone accountable for spreading this reprehensible non-sense across the web, because Clickhole states in their “about” section that videos simply “materialize” on their site. Clearly they are trying to be funny, but they are failing immensely.

There is no doubt in my mind that the content of the video is meant to be taken as a joke. There is just one problem – it isn’t funny. It is actually quite offensive. Perhaps this bothers me more than most because I lived within miles of Justin Ross Harris, because I drove by his house several times during my five years living in the Atlanta area, or because I am simply outraged that there continue to be people who believe the charges that this Monster is facing are too harsh. Just like people are often too quick to jump to negative conclusions about someone’s guilt in a case like this, the fact that people raised over $22,000 in an attempt to get the charges dropped on Harris BEFORE allowing the details of the case to be publicized is equally if not more reprehensible than the former. That the victims of gross negligence at best and pre-meditated murder at worst are being made fun of exceeds the “too soon” objection to “comedy” of this nature. It is simply wrong. It is wrong now, and it will still be wrong 15 years from now.

Now let me explain what I mean when I say that victims of hot-car deaths are being made fun of in this video. I do not mean to suggest that the author of this video (whoever he is) is serious when he says that babies and dogs should be more “tough.” It is clear that he is trying to be satirical. But it doesn’t work. This video does not help raise awareness about the severity of these crimes or the pain that the victims experience while in the process of dying. The video, I argue, does nothing more than to turn a tragedy into a form of humorous entertainment.

So to the people at Clickhole, whoever you are, I make the following demand: Remove the video from your website and publicly identify the source of the video, including the full name of the person in the video and the people responsible for originally posting it onto the internet. Until then, I am declaring a boycott against the website. After all, there is no original content on this site, so even if it does contain SOME material with merit, you can find all of it elsewhere. There is absolutely no reason to be a patron of this site.

Sunday Funday #3: Re-introducing the “BeerHopper”

Designed and patented by my father, Jud Patterson, I dedicated today’s Top Pick to the “BeerHopper.” Even if he wasn’t my dad, I would have to say that this mug is probably one of the most unique beer glasses out there. And since it can be personalized, you can make it a one-of-a-kind! Below is an image of the mug and a brief description. Enjoy!

A glass in the shape of one of beer's primary ingredients!

A glass in the shape of one of beer’s primary ingredients!

The BeerHopper is a ‘hop’ shaped beer glass hand-made at Mosser Glass in Cambridge, OH. This glass holds 20 oz. of your favorite brew and is so unique that it received a U.S. Design Patent (D390334.) There is a 3 inch circular smooth area on front for personalization. This particular mug was done for one of my dad’s friends (aka “Pescador Pawlak”). This personalization was deeply etched for Gary! A Homebrewer’s mug if there ever was one and the perfect gift for any beer lover! For ordering information and pricing inquiries, e-mail Jud Patterson at glass@kkllc.com or contact him directly at 919.810.7472

Zombie Culture and the American Presidency

After receiving valuable feedback regarding my case study on the Mount Rushmore float, one of my former peers brought to my attention the fact that there are many other ways that Mount Rushmore circulates and is re-purposed in American culture. In his response, he directed my attention to two images/objects that I honestly had not seen. To provide context, here is the comment/question that was posed:

“Do you plan to also consider other ways that the memories are repurposed, other than in service to a capitalist, consumer culture?

For example, the images below ARE for a product that is for sale, but I think the repurposing of Mt. Rushmore in this case is different:”

The objects in question are displayed below:

Courtesy of nerdtasticdesigns.com

Courtesy of nerdtasticdesigns.com

Courtesy of neatoshop.com

Courtesy of neatoshop.com

I found these images, along with my colleague’s comment, to be intriguing. I knew that he had a point – that the repurposing of Mount Rushmore in this way serves a rhetorical function other than just simply using the Presidency (and Zombie Culture for that matter) as a way to promote consumerism – but I was having trouble figuring out what other rhetorical work was being done by these images.

Then the light bulb came on. Well, at least I think it did.

First, it is important to note that objects can have multiple rhetorical functions and people can have many different valid interpretations of the meanings of those objects. In this case, I believe that the objects under discussion confirm my thesis that memories, particularly of presidents, do indeed serve the interests of consumer culture. After all, the objects are indeed for sale, and it is the blending of zombie culture with Mount Rushmore that enables the consumption of the presidency to reach a culture that otherwise would not be inclined to purchase presidential souvenirs.

While the pairing of zombie culture with the presidency may seem odd at first, there is at least one important character trait that they both share: they each have a ubiquitous presence in pop culture. With regard to the presidency, Diane Rubenstein makes this case by detailing the myriad ways that presidents are represented in pop culture in the introduction to This is Not a President. Similarly, Stephen Marche makes a similar claim regarding zombies. You can read the entire article here, but for my purposes, it is sufficient to simply note that he makes a compelling case for his over-arching thesis that “zombies are everywhere.” If we are to accept the claim made by Horkheimer and Adorno that culture is an “industry” with inherently capitalist underpinnings, then the fact that both zombies and presidents share a strong presence in American culture seems to suggest that the memories evoked by not just the Rushmore Float, but by all representations of Mt. Rushmore, ultimately serve capitalist interests. Combining zombie culture with the presidency increases consumption of presidential memories by appealing to a fast-growing zombie culture that has already generated a high amount of revenue as Marche explains in his article.

Yet, there is still other rhetorical work being done by the “zombification” of Mt. Rushmore. While I am sure there are multiple other readings of these objects I argue that of primary importance to my project is the way that these objects function to justify the study of the commemoration and memories of American Presidents by exposing the way that memories of past presidents continue to circulate and wield political influence in the present. This argument – that referencing the past is done for the purposes of present – is a widely supported theory by nearly every scholar of public memory. By placing Mt. Rushmore within the context of zombie culture, it more specifically exposes the fact that dead presidents are never really dead.

To say that a dead president is not dead may seem counterintuitive or just downright contradictory, so let me explain. There is a second similarity between zombies and presidents that becomes much clearer when these two ubiquitous presences in popular culture collide. Since zombies are familiarly known as “the living dead,” then it seems interesting that the presidents are, in this case, turned into zombies, and therefore turned in to the living dead. This clearly points to the influence that presidents can have in society years and even centuries after their death. It is important to note, though, that these objects are not the only context in which presidents should be understood as zombies. Whether they appear in zombie form or not, the perpetuation of the memories of presidents makes them zombies because they continue to exist even after they cease to physically live. Therefore, just like zombies, presidents are, and always have been, a form of the “living dead.” These objects simply make that observation apparent.

Tangent #2: Shark Tank Thursday

As you can see, this post is not about my dissertation. That will come later today. I did, however, want to share a press release that I wrote about my dad’s small business and our experience trying out for shark tank. This post should come as a refreshing departure from my last theory-heavy post. My facebook followers probably have already heard the story, but just in case there is anyone out there with connections to small business publications or advice on how to increase small business visibility, I wanted to put this out there. Note: I have received quite a bit of valuable feedback. Thanks to everyone who is following my blog, and please share with others!

Apex “Elder”preneur™ Pitches Line of T-Shirts in Hopes of Making Big Splash at Shark Tank Casting Call

Long time NC Resident Hopes to Take State-Themed Shirts Coast to Coast

Jud Patterson Shark Tank T-Shirt

Apex, N.C. – At 60 years young, Apex resident Jud Patterson shows no signs of slowing down as he and his son Jay traveled to Greenville, North Carolina last week to pitch the former’s new line of ink-free T-shirts in hopes of landing a spot on an episode of the upcoming season of Shark Tank.

The T-shirt line, branded as “State”ments™, are made using custom cut stencils and a special bleaching solution that removes the dye from the shirt, leaving an image of one of the 50 U.S. States on the shirt with an appropriate quotation inside the image. Using music lyrics as the primary theme, Jud pitched three of his more popular shirts – “Carolina In My Mind,” “Mississippi Queen,” and “California Girls” to the Shark Tank talent scouts early Thursday morning. His son, Jay, assisted by creating a musical mash-up of the three songs that corresponded to the shirts Jud was wearing, one underneath the other. During each musical transition, Jay peeled the shirts off of his dad one by one. After the clip of “California Girls” ended, Jud revealed his final shirt with one simple message: I “heart” Shark Tank.

While the ultimate goal is to strike a deal on Shark Tank in order to put the shirts in stores nationwide, this unique line of T-Shirts has already proven popular. Jud Patterson has sold nearly 400 shirts with minimal marketing at the Raleigh flea market. Recently, the “elder”preneur has seen a rapid surge in the interest of his product as he just received a wholesale order for 300 shirts to be sold in American Beachwear and Aloha Gifts, a specialty store located in Tybee Island, Georgia. Additionally, Jud’s shirts are slated to be featured at a tradeshow in Las Vegas next month which attracts wholesale buyers from all over the nation.

“Getting to pitch my product at the Shark Tank casting call was by far one of the greatest opportunities I have ever had to really launch my product into mass markets,” said Jud Patterson. “Making it to the next level would be nothing short of a dream come true, and it would prove to fellow ‘elder’preneurs that it is never too late to pursue your passion.”

Jud sells his “state”ments and other specialty shirts for $20.00 – $25.00 dollars (depending on size and style), which includes free shipping and handling. Discounts are given for orders of 24 or more shirts.

On most people's 60th birthdays, they begin planning for retirement. For Jud Patterson, he was just working on his next big idea.

On most people’s 60th birthdays, they begin planning for retirement. For Jud Patterson, he was just working on his next big idea.

For more information and to see pictures of available designs, you can visit his website at www.statesments.com. To place an order or request a custom design, contact publicist/PR Manager Jay Patterson at 919.810.8135 or by e-mail at patterson.reynolds@gmail.com. You can also visit our Etsy Store entitled KreativeTees (although shipping and handling is not free through this platform). You may also contact Jud directly at 919.810.7472.

Business updates and new products are featured regularly on Jud’s Twitter account, @beerhopper.

Part 2: Understanding Public Memory within the Context of Circulation

Following up on Monday’s post, today I want to discuss how Public Memory may be understood differently when placed within the concept of circulation. First, however, I must issue a disclaimer: this post is decidedly more theoretical than the one on Monday, and for non-rhetoricians, I apologize in advance if the jargon detracts from what I am about to say. However, I will attempt to clarify what I mean when such esoteric terms do arise.

Theories of circulation and public memory have received considerable attention from scholars across the discipline in recent years. Public memory, a source of interest amongst rhetorical scholars since the late 1980s, currently possesses enough interest among rhetorical scholars that it is often understood as a sub-discipline of the field. In recent years, as is evidenced by numerous articles including an edited volume by Carole Blair, Greg Dickinson, and Brian Ott, the study of public memory has taken a decidedly material turn. In fact, Blair, in an earlier essay, uses U.S. memorial sites to demonstrate the rhetoricity (persuasive power) of material objects. While this line of study has expanded both the definition of rhetoric and explained the way that material objects are rhetorical in ways different from that of traditional oratory often associated with the study of public address, the authors that study material forms of public memory tend to limit their studies to static places such as monuments, museums, and other “immutable” places which function to evoke public memory. Edward Casey, for examples, goes so far as to say that “Public memory is not a nebulous pursuit that can occur anywhere; it always occurs in some particular place.” It is here that Casey would most likely understand circulating memories, even in material form, as a type of collective memory, which he argues is distinct from public memory. In the context of circulation, however, this distinction lacks much analytical purchase. As Lester C. Olsen explains, “circulation” enables “a composition to address an audience of strangers who, by devoting attention to it, become its public.” Therefore, as long as a composition evokes memories and constitutes a public, then it seems as if Casey’s distinction over-limits what can be considered “public.” Instead, circulation can constitute a form of public memory that moves through space rather than being confined to place.

Similarly, the scholarly discussions regarding circulation have also complicated matters for scholars of public address. Derived largely from Michael Calvin McGee’s fragmentation thesis, texts which were once analyzed as “whole” are now in need of rethinking since, as Stephen Heidt and Megan Foley observe, speeches are often fragmented. It is these fragments, not the speech as a whole, that circulates and resonates through society. According to Stephen Heidt, it is the circulation of these textual “shards” that engage in a constitutive process, explained by Maurice Charland as the way that a text interpolates “audiences into a narrative that constituted their identities and didactically animated their political activity.” Texts that evoke public memory, I argue, also function in this way. This claim is similar to that made by Kurt Ritter’s who identifies memory-making, or commemoration, as an epideictic process which “builds communal identity and values.”

Commemoration, in contrast with history, is concerned less with accuracy about what “really” happened and more with how the “emotional resonance and the utility of a narrative” structures or constitutes society. What remains largely unexplored, however, is the relationship between material forms of commemoration and circulation. Of course, there are a couple of exceptions worth noting. First, Nathan Atkinson makes in-roads into this connection by talking about the way that film circulates in a way that creates an interesting connection between the past and the present which he refers to as “dual temporality,” or the phenomenon in which film presents the past in the present (more explanation/better understanding of argument probably needed here). Atkinson’s work also applies the properties of circulation to visual texts, as does the work of Keith Erickson, who specifically engages in presidential photo-opportunities as rhetorical fragments to argue that the presidency has taken a “visual turn.” While these works are limited to film and photography, and focus more on the visual component of the text rather than the embodied or material/tactile characteristics of visual-material rhetorics, nonetheless provides an opportunity to more fully explore, explain, and understand the relationship between circulation and material rhetorics which function to evoke public memory. This project takes up such an opportunity by more fully realizing how circulation enables the formation of public memory. Because scholarship regarding circulation rarely intersects with studies of public memory, little is known about the relationship between these two literature bases. In what follows, I offer an explanation of this relationship which reinforces the importance of attending to matters of circulation within the specific context of how memories of presidents are produced.

A proper understanding of the forms of material/visual public memory and/or commemoration requires an understanding of place and space as they are currently understood within the scholarly community of rhetorical critics. Currently, place plays a far more important role than space in public memory scholarship. Admittedly, the distinction between space and place is a slippery one. In fact, pioneering scholars on space such as Michel de Certeau and Henri Lefebvre often use space and place interchangeably, as if they are synonyms. Nevertheless, treating these terms as different concepts is crucial to identifying gaps in public memory scholarship that this project seeks to fill.

While less explicit than the literature on public memory, theories of circulation also imply a relationship to the concepts of place and space. In the most basic terms, I contend that circulation be understood in as the process by which texts move through space and places. Rather than focus on circulation in the context of fragmentation, I turn attention to circulation as a mechanism by which material/visual texts gain mobility and expand their rhetorical force throughout American culture. In a recent issue of Critical Studies in Media Communication dedicated to the spatial turn in the field of communication, the relationship between space and circulation becomes clear. Donovan Connelly, for example, states that before the digital era, the term “communications” referred to the “mediators of bodies and goods.” In other words, he continues, communication became possible through “the technologies of transportation – the roads, canals, turnpikes, bridges, and railways – that came to manifest the physical fact of the united states.” I believe that even in the 21st century, these modes of transportation and the movement of bodies and objects is still an important mechanism by which material forms of memory move through space, or are circulated in a way that constitutes a public through the evocation of these memories across space and through place. Under this framework, it becomes clear that space is at least as important if not more so as place in the formation of public memory. This claim, however, is not reflected in current public memory scholarship. Scholars of public memory, especially in visual and material forms, tend to focus on place as a locus for the harboring of memories, effectively relegating the concept of space as the raw material out of which places of public memory are constructed.

This is a rather rough sketch of the theoretical framework of my project, and I welcome only the harshest of criticism in moving forward.

P.S. – At the end of Dissertation Week, I will provide a complete bibliography of the sources I use and cite, although I have already attributed the quotes I use to their respective authors. I am waiting until the end to do this because I want to make sure I am clear in my own argument without getting bogged down in what everyone else has argued. Nonetheless, I will post full citations for those who want to refer to the literature in which I engage.

 

 

 

Dissertation Week: Part 1

If the title isn’t already clear enough, this week’s blog posts will be dedicated to updating my readers on the progress of my dissertation. I am doing this for two reasons. The first reason is self-serving – I need to maintain a consistent flow of blog posts as much as I need to maintain a consistent amount of progress as it pertains to writing my dissertation and finally attaining that all too elusive Ph.D. Secondly, I believe that the topics discussed in my dissertation are of import to a wider audience than is usually reached in a dissertation. Therefore, by using this blog as an outlet, I can progress academically while at the same time attempting to bridge the gap between academia and the rest of the public.

For tonight’s post, I simply want to offer a brief explanation of the project, the sources of inspiration for the project, and a preview of what to expect in following posts.

The Presence of the Presidency in Everyday Life

If I had to describe my project in one sentence, it would go a little something like this: My dissertation investigates the ways that memories of former U.S. presidents appear before their audience(s) in the course of everyday life. Much has been written about public memory and the presidency; but what makes my project different are the ways in which memories are proliferated. In a majority of the pre-existing literature of public memory, scholars focus on those memories which are evoked by permanent statues, museums, or other fixtures that occupy a particular place. With places of public memory, the audience most likely chooses to travel to these historic landmarks, and therefore willingly exposes themselves to the memories or narratives being evoked by such structures. A good example of this is Mount Rushmore: located in the Black Hills National Forest of South Dakota, visitors do not just happen upon this architectural feat: they deliberately travel there to lay their eyes upon the mountainous carving. Although I cannot say this with certainty, I would be willing to put money on the fact that the vast majority of the 2 million annual visitors to Mount Rushmore make that trip deliberately.

While studies of permanent places of public memory have certainly yielded valuable contributions to the field of rhetoric and memory studies, my project shifts focuses to investigate the concept “circulating memorials,” or to put it more simply, to analyze those material objects which evoke memory by moving through space rather than occupying a place. I believe that these types of memory function differently since they appear before an audience that does not necessarily voluntarily submit themselves to the exposure of these memories. Put another way, these memories occur in the context of everyday life. To explain better what I mean, I now turn to a brief explanation of how Mount Rushmore is able to present itself in a way much different than its original status as a permanent, immutable structure.

Circulating Mount Rushmore: The Case of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Photograph courtesy of www.keloland.com

Photograph courtesy of http://www.keloland.com

 

Since 2010, the South Dakota department of tourism has sponsored a float to be included in the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, making it the first and only State to be represented in the parade.  The float has reappeared each year since. As I watched the 2013 parade, I experienced the float for the first time (albeit mediated through television). I was not in a particularly analytical mood at the time, and was watching the parade for the purpose of entertainment more than anything else. However, when the South Dakota float appeared with a replica of Mount Rushmore as its centerpiece, I couldn’t help but find its presence odd, especially given that the rest of the floats and balloons represented either big business or pop culture icons such as Snoopy and Santa Claus. In turning a critical eye to this rhetorical phenomenon, I realized that understanding the rhetorical work done by the float is fraught with implications regarding public memory and the myriad forms in which it is evoked. In arriving at this conclusion, I re-read the float in two ways. First, I read the float in the context of participating in a parade that promotes commercialism and even functions to kick off the Christmas shopping season. Secondly, I read the performance through a theoretical framework informed by the literature concerning theories of circulation and public memory. In weaving these two readings together, I found that the rhetoricity of the Mount Rushmore float is symptomatic of the larger context of the ways memories of presidents are evoked and consumed in contemporary American culture. It also serves as the overarching argument of this dissertation – that circulation enhances the rhetorical force and accessibility of memories since it brings the memory to its audience in contrast to places of public memory which require a concerted effort on the part of the audience to expose themselves to the memories evoked at a particular location. Secondarily, I argue that as an extension of the discussion of the politics of memory, this dissertation narrows its scope to focus on the economics of memories, particularly those of presidents, and how circulation makes these memories susceptible to being repurposed in a way that manipulates the ethos associated with certain presidents to reinforce a capitalist, consumer culture.  This rhetorical maneuver effectively conflates patriotism with consumerism and continues to do so as circulation enables the repetition of an audience’s exposure to these memories.

In making this argument, I supplement the case of the Rushmore float with an analysis of American currency (the penny in particular) as well as presidential holidays. Together, these analyses reveal the economics of memory and how these cases are exemplars of the ways in which the commemoration of presidents circulates through culture as a part of everyday life, thus transforming these revered political figures into objects of consumption. Before turning to a synopsis of these case studies, however, I first situate my project within the existing literature concerning circulation (which necessarily involves an understanding of place and space) and public memory. Second, I offer a justification for focusing specifically on public memory of presidents in favor of any other public figures. Finally, I offer an explanation of the case studies and tentative conclusions/implications of this study.

For tomorrow’s post, I will follow up by explaining what I allude to in the above paragraph. Any feedback, especially harsh criticism, is always welcome. Thanks for reading!