The Many Cultures of St. Lawrence Campus

Cafe discussion on Thursday, Sep. 12

Gillian Hunt (Scribe), Tommy Matt, Kat Lukens, Asana Hamidu & Nicole Eigbrett

 

As we sat outside the Sullivan student center we looked around us at a campus we all know well and discussed the different cultures present on our St. Lawrence Campus. We then, based on our discussion in class, broke them down into the five different groupings of culture that Raymond Williams outlines: the effective dominant, oppositional, alternative, residual and emergent.

 

In the effective dominant culture (hegemonic as Gromsci refers to it) we found quite a few, but the overarching dominant culture is the “bubble” that we call “the Laurention” community. We are located in such a remote place that our campus has produced a very tight-knit community that rallies around athletics as fans and athletes with all the spirit gear and paraphernalia to match and a certain style that when you see it you can’t help but think “that is so St. Lawrence.” With the athletics we realized that, however good our women’s sports teams are, it is a male dominated part of the Laurention culture where people are much more excited about going to the men’s events than the women’s. The partying and drinking culture is also very big on our campus, there is almost certainly something going on every Thursday, Friday and Saturday and more times than not throughout the week. On the academic side of things the most popular majors we discussed were economics, history, psychology and biology. Biology we noticed seems to be a favored major as we sat under the shadow of the high-tech, air-conditioned Johnson center whereas we global studies majors were suffering in 80 degree weather in the E.J Noble center. Thelmo is the last dominant culture we discussed that is present on St. Lawrence. They are the student body that controls the money and what clubs are allowed on campus and a number of other things that decide what we as the community get in our Laurention experience.

 

When we discussed oppositional cultures, we realized that there were not any absolute ones that we could think of. And this made us wonder, are we just content with our culture and don’t see a need to seek or create large changes? The only ones we could think of really are the sustainability house whose goal is to change how people think about sustainability on campus. The other one may be the global studies majors and community because we also want to change the way people think about the world.

 

There are, however, a lot of alternative cultures that are fine just existing by themselves and not trying to change the system. When it comes to the partying and drinking culture there are two main cultures: the Tick Tock culture and the Java culture. The Tick-Tock culture seems more accessible to a lot of students and it is a “must do” experience on every SLU students bucket list because there is so much hype from peers. It is also really the only club-like place in the area and accepts people 18 and over so there is a larger population that can go than the Hoot. The Tick Tock also plays a lot of mainstream music so it is a lot more accessible in that respect as well. The need to go to the Tick Tock, we thought, stems from the national “clubbing culture” that is at every college and that the Tick Tock is really the only place that there is that kind if vibe. On the other side of the spectrum there is the Java Barn culture. This is a much chiller atmosphere with a very different style of music, more alternative, reggae and others like that. There is a sense that you either love it or you don’t get it. Our group argued that it is a free music venue which should be more attractive to the student body, but it only is to a select group (even from other schools). Another alternative culture is all of the different theme houses that function in their own realms around the inner SLU community. There are houses and living situations for people of all different interests from the artist’s guild and Habitat to the I-House SWELL, scholars and wellness floors. We did notice that there aren’t really any extreme alternative cultures on campus because St. Lawrence attracts the same kind of people who are already here because of legacies and the tradition of students coming here from Prep/Boarding schools.

 

The only residual culture that we could identify on St. Lawrence campus is the Greek life. It is not a huge part of our campus now in particular, but it is trying to keep alive the tradition that used to be a bigger presence at SLU. It is also trying to keep up with other campuses where Greek life is a much bigger part.

 

The emergent cultures that we identified and discussed were the sustainability house/semester program where they are taking the recently growing phenomenon of sustainability and putting it into practice. There are also the increased international students that St. Lawrence is trying to attract to increase our diversity. Though within this there is selective incorporation of those students who can afford an education at a very expensive school even with scholarships. In this way SLU is exclusive. We also believe that the global studies program is emergent because it is promoting a different way of thinking than the dominant majors that have been around for a long time.  A lot of these ideas are coming with the exploration of the interconnected global community.

 

 

(A small part of the Laurention, global studies culture)

 

Reflexivity

Through the creation of the show “Moonshiners,” anyone who owns a distillery was given a new identity. The discourse that was created in order to form this identity was very negative and heavily based off of stereotypes. This truth regime and the later created discourse benefit the ruling class, and strengthen the negative stereotypes associated with poverty. There is an automatic notion of criminality that is attached to the citizens of lower classes. The characters in the show who partake in the illegal distillation of whiskey are not members of a higher socio-economic class and they are uneducated. The only member of the cast who is a member of the ruling or more prestigious socio-economic class is also an agent for the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control. He is not only a more respectable member of society, he is part of the law, and he is determined to end the criminality of the impoverished. The producers of this show have profited a great deal from the mythologized characters and the acceptance of Southernness as something natural that the entire Southern portion of the United States strives for. They have also succeeded in creating a greater divide between social classes through the naturalization of the criminality associated with poverty.

 

As I wrote this paper I realized just how relevant all of the theory we’ve learned is. Throughout the class I had no idea it could be so well applied to modern cultural practices. I dissected the show and the creation of moonshine through class struggles, semiotics, and the creation of technologies of power. Doing this paper really put the theory into perspective for me, and really helped me understand what I was doing. We see this kind of manipulation with many different cultural practices, some taboo, some not. Stereotypes have been our best friend through time when creating social norms and constructing identities.

Namaste, classmates

When I first began my case study I was under the impression yoga was an exercise with a spiritual component.  In the various classes I have taken, I always thought of the meditation, which is typically in the first 15 minutes and last 15 minutes of class as a “warm-up.”  However, the original definition of yoga is “union of the self with the Supreme Being or ultimate principle.”  In the traditional Indian sense the ultimate goal of yoga was to reach the highest level of meditation, the poses (asanas) were meant to help achieve this goal through deep relaxation of the muscles and body.  Yet, modern yoga in the U.S. has lost this aspect of yoga.  While I always leave yoga class relaxed and stress free (relatively) the main reason I went to class was to strengthen muscles and increase flexibility.  I go in my yoga pants, with my yoga mat, and my water bottle that has a cheesy sticker that says, “Namaste, bitches,” amusing, I know.   It is obvious yoga has become a commodity and a billion dollar industry.  As India developed into a capitalist country, Indians took advantage of the Western tourists and turned it into a promising industry.  In the U.S., the yoga industry has exploded due to the popularity of the exercise and the apparel.

Yoga has been practiced for thousands of years, yet it has changed and continues to evolve, a question for the future remains: will the meditation component of yoga disappear completely?  The answer is most likely no; Indians and some Westerners will continue with traditional yoga, however I will stick with my exercise-based yoga classes.  I find meditation extremely difficult and my mind constantly wanders, I am sure it is indescribable experience when one meditates for hours and reaches higher levels of meditation, yet I do not have the time.  Perhaps this is one of the reasons why yoga in the U.S. has little to do with meditation, our time-obsessed culture simply wants to exercise and “cool-down” with some relaxing breathing.  Either way, it is evident globalization has affected even the most ancient of practices.

 

Appadurai and yoga through ‘scapes’

I originally did not examine Appadurai for my case study on yoga, but after looking over notes and studying the different ‘scapes’ I realized it would be very useful to use in my paper.  These different scapes are called the “building blocks” of contemporary imagined worlds.  I specifically focused on mediascapes and ethnoscapes.  Mediascapes refers to the electronic capabilities to produce and issue information by newspapers, magazines, and television stations throughout the world, as well as the images created by the media.  As I showed in my presentation, when the Beatles visited India in the 1960s, images and video recordings of the band meeting with Indian gurus exploded and reached the mass audiences in the U.S. and Europe.  Marilyn Monroe and other celebrities such as Madonna started to practice yoga and claimed their desirable bodies were due to the “exercise.” Mediascapes influenced how traditional yoga in India crossed borders and became popular in the U.S; the media’s constitution of yoga led to its portrayal as a desirable health practice.

I also focused on ethnoscapes, which refers to the landscape of people who establish the fluid world we live in, it includes tourists, immigrants, exiles, guest workers, and moving groups and individuals in general. I researched India gurus that immigrated to the U.S. and infamously attended Woodstock in 1969, encouraging the crowd that “the time has come for America to help the whole world with the spirituality.”  In addition to the Indian immigrants coming to the U.S., tourists began to travel to India. Western tourists wanted to experience the “true Indian culture,” where they are bombarded with advertisements for yoga clubs and classes.  Both ethnoscapes and mediascapes influenced the globalization of yoga and how Americans view India.

discourse through stereotyping

The stereotypes that have been used in the creation of identities in this show are very typical for the South, and they perpetuate the essence of Southernness. This show recreates the archaic notions of someone who is from the backwoods and their ways of living. For example, there is the main character Tim. He is the head of his distillery and he is virtually uneducated in the sense that he never received a formal degree. In the show, he is most often not wearing a shirt but he always has a dirty cowboy hat on and overalls. He drives an old pick up truck that is rusting on all sides and looks very cheap. “The function of myth is to empty reality,” in which this southern discourse does just that (Barthes 143). The representation of Tim is not a realistic one; it is created by the producers in order to ignite the essence of Southernness in the audiences mind. In the beginning of the season he is boasting about his love for moonshining. He explains that he grew up in the business and that he has been watching and helping his father makes it for his entire life. He also shows a small portion of arrogance for having watched his father’s distillery get raided once, but it not having the ability to scare him away from the business, and it has taught him what to do in order to stay one step ahead of the law. There is a large shift in his attitude by the end of the season. He begins looking into the process of making his distillery legal, despite the social implications within the moon shining community.

the creation of Southernness

The process of signification lends itself to be mystified by an ideology or central power; Barthes more cleverly refers to this as mythical signification. Within this process, the core history of a practice is drained and filled with a new discourse and a new set of meanings. The sign, signifier, and the signified are also distorted into a new myth, form, and concept. The formation of disillusionment “gives them the simplicity of essences, it does away with all visible, it organizes a world which is without contradictions because it is without depth, a world wide open and wallowing in the evident” (Barthes 143). This creation of an essence is also naturalized within the realm it was created. The new form of the myth becomes something that is not questioned, rather followed blindly.

The creation of the reality television show has indeed rendered moon shining as a mythical signification. Through the new process of signification, the cultural practice of moon shining has lost some of its history and former identity. Moon shining is no long a sign, but a myth. The signifier that follows is also much different; it is a form of the myth. The meaning behind it has also changed; it now has the resignation of outlaws and criminality. The images that run through the heads of the public when moon shining is mentioned are the criminal act these distillers are participating in and the essence of Southernness. The signified is no longer the same, but has been transformed into a concept. This new concept would be the incessant perception that moon shiners are only Southern and that it is only distributed around the south, i.e. leading to Southernness.

Analyizing the Power and Structure of Occupy within a National and International System

After exploring my research questions and reading many different newspaper articles on the movement, I decided to use several different theorists. I wanted to use Gramsci to talk about class structure, hegemony, and dominance. I wanted to use Foucault to discuss disciplinary theory and bring up the issue of surveillance. To expand on the issue of surveillance and give the social dominance aspect of the Occupy movement the historical context of colonization, I decided that I wanted to use David Spurr.

The Occupy Wall Street movement is questioning the current world order and its construction of power. Gramsci explains his view of power with the two subsections of hegemony and domination. In his view, the state employs the most power in the system through the creation and enforcement of law and order with the ultimate goal of establishing hegemony over its citizens. With all dominant practices like hegemony, there are counter movements. The counter-hegemony has the ability to eventually become the hegemony. In a hegemonic system, Gramsci believes that the subaltern classes can develop and transform the state, especially through the modes of civil society. The Occupy Wall Street movement is an example of civil society and a counter-hegemonic movement. The world is in a transition phase from the hegemony of the United States to coping with its declining global power. This has left room for the Occupy Wall Street movement to emerge and challenge the hegemony, forcing the ruling class to exert their dominance over the protesters using the police and judicial systems.

Foucault discusses his concept of power-knowledge in his theory on disciplinary power. The hierarchy of power-knowledge values scientific knowledge as the most important type of information, leaving the knowledge of the subaltern classes ranked far below science in terms of importance. The larger distribution of power in disciplinary theory allows resistance to happen anywhere, yet it is more difficult to galvanize and topple the entire system compared to a sovereign power system that typically possesses one head ruler that the masses can align and overthrow. Under the disciplinary power structure, movements like Occupy Wall Street have more opportunity to gain power. A higher distribution of power allows them to resist anywhere and at multiple points.

Spur addresses the issue of gaze, which is an instrument of construction, order, and arrangement that on one hand offers aesthetic pleasure while instituting information and authority. The concept of surveillance has been more unconscious in the media’s portrayal of the Occupy movement. Reporters have the ability to interpret and exclude or include details of each of their stories. The reports across the board have focused on the social disturbances caused by the camps, marches, flag burning, negative police interaction, and arrests. The historical process of colonization has left a rhetoric and culture of hegemony that allows it to be easily internalized and accepted by modes of civil society.

After selecting the three theorists and the aspects that I wanted to focus-on, I slowly related the theories to the actions and experiences of the movement. It very soon became apparent that the issues faced by Occupy Wall Street with in the United States had a pattern, and the same concerns and obstacles faced the international power structure and their international movement. As reflection continued about colonial historical roles, the concerns drifted nicely into new roles of globalization that raise questions about neo-colonial economic power. As I thought about the declining power of the United States and its strive to maintain dominance, it dawned on me about the origin of the Occupy movement itself. The resistance in my cultural example of the subaltern was subaltern within the United States and it does share parallels with subaltern groups across the world. But, my example’s ideology was born from within a dominant rhetoric of West, and their ideas of equality, rights, distribution, and success where not devoid of the social constructs and larger influence of the dominant. Yet, no group in the world is devoid of influence from a larger more dominant social entity. At the rate of globalization and extent of Western influence, many non-American originated subaltern groups define themselves in terms of the West as what they are or are not. Recognizing the Occupy Wall Street movement positionality did not increase or decrease the strength of their argument. It just gave me another way to analyze them and understand my own immersion in the dominant structure striving to maintain hegemony.

Neoconservatism and Economico-Religous Discourse

Now, what I believe is the most prominent and compelling aspect to The Total Money Makeover are its religious allusions and similarities. Firstly, the “motto” of the book, which is printed on the bottom of each page, is “If you live like no one else, you will live like no one else.” It would be a bit extreme to accuse Ramsey of attempting to pose as something like the Jesus Christ of our contemporary milieu – adapting his teachings and saving discourses to common contemporary issues, but the closeness is striking.

The book is interspersed with biblical quotes, some of which directly pertain to debt, and some of which are interpreted in some questionable ways by Ramsey.  The book is also filled with various “success stories” written by people who accomplished the total money makeover and write back to Ramsey. These stories not only affirm Ramsey as an authority and validate his “teachings,” but also emphasize the best part of the makeover: when the undertaker had enough money to give.

Ramsey also openly admits he is a strongly believing Christian in the preface, and the “narrative” of the book is quite biblical. Ramsey, and the reader, through self-denial and rigid morals they achieve the ability to influence and help others – both through monetary donations and by influencing others with regard to their achievement. Ramsey not only writes about financial “fitness,” but financial “peace,” and “freedom.” He wants to save the reader but seeing a slave to lenders – the Bible did not permit usury. It also worth mentioning that Ramsey has developed a program called “Financial Peace University” which has a body of literature and hosts classes in churches and is making its way into educational institutions.

The book also invokes an interesting, and Foucauldian, confession – what I will call the “economico-religious” confession. Ramsey provides budgets worksheets and various other tables that not only cause the reader to measure his subjectivity, but to confess his financial sins – to constantly examine and judge himself:

The dreaded B word enters the picture here. You must set up a budget, a written budget, every month. This is a book about a process that will enable you to win with your money, a process that others have completed successfully, and I assure you virtually none of the thousands of winners I have seen did it without a written budget. (Ramsey, 95)

The reader must constantly be thinking of the future in order to reach his goals, to “live like no one else.” He must confess his financial obesity, and work to fix it with every ounce of his self. The reader must measure himself before he acts, and then contemplate whether each action is in accordance with his “plan.” The eating disorder comment above is especially resonant here. “If they think you are crazy, you are probably on track. (105)”

More Discourse Analysis

Myth: Leasing a car is what sophisticated people do. You should lease things that go down in value and take the tax advantage.

Truth: Consumer advocates, noted experts, and a good calculator will confirm that the car lease is the most expensive way to operate vehicle. (34)

There is an interesting irony at work here that is pervasive in the self-help genre. What we have is an intense emphasis on asociality – you can’t trust the experts – but you can trust Ramsey. Everyone else is listening to the experts, but Ramsey knows. Another important trope in these books, especially The Total Money Makeover is marketing the practices they recommend as an alternative, eclectic lifestyle. This seems to be how Ramsey validates asociality and increases the reader’s dependency. He consistently indicts American culture for being about “status,” “consumerism,” and “showing-off.” He also makes various anti-intellectual statements against academics who study finance and the economy, and anyone who proclaims to “know something” about money. Everyone is trying to take your money – the world is working against you – but it’s your fault. You must become stronger, fitter, and resist. You must become mentally strong to achieve financial fitness.

Again, this book is not telling the reader how to get out of debt for practical reasons; it is offering the reader a lifestyle. To achieve financial fitness, to win, to find “peace” you have to utilize what Ramsey calls “gazelle-like intensity. (Ramsey, 121)” He writes, “the way out of debt is to outmaneuver your enemy and run for your life” (121, original italics). The reader must stay away from anything that could steer him off track of his goals. He must be aggressively frugal, so frugal that the neighbors and family notice – but they won’t get it. They are still denial. They have not found salvation via The Total Money Makeover.

Another Fragment and Analysis

Once I understood those obstacles, I began a process to lose weight, grow muscle, and become more fit. Your Total Money Makeover is the same. You need to realize there’s a problem, but you must also see what could hinder your move toward financial fitness…Look in the mirror. Take a long look…. focused intensity, life-or-death intensity, is required for you to reset your money-spending patterns and one of your biggest obstacles is DENIAL. The sad thing is that you can be financially mediocre in this country, financially flabby, and still be average. (Ramsey, 9-10)

This is another rich passage, from a chapter titled “Denial: I’m not that Out of Shape.” The sports/fitness metaphors are extremely palpable; it could be said that Ramsey is recommending “financial anorexia”: telling the reader he is fat, ugly, in debt, and useless. All of these are equitable. He is also telling the reader that these issues are his problems – not his boss’s, the governments, or some kind of institutional issue. It his fault, he is out of control, fat, and must confess. He is also asking the reader to judge himself, and ask if they even want to be normal. Ramsey is offering the reader to be more than normal: “this book is about winning” (10). The mention of a mirror is demanding the reader to survey himself: to constantly judge whether he is “succeeding” in his Total Money Makeover, and acknowledge that he isn’t, he isn’t until he takes the steps that Ramsey is demanding he take.