Selfies and Said

Since I’m arguing that selfies are a Western creation with capitalistic ideals, I wanted to use Said’s ideas of orientalism.

Orientalism is a truth regime. It is based on arbitrary geographical lines and defined from a particular position. Orientalism only exists in order for the West to create an identity of the West. Orientalism is also tied to power. Who can create the discourse around Orientalism indicates who holds the power and which statements will be accepted as true.

On social media sites like Instagram, orientalism is prevalent.

Selfies are designed to perpetuate Western ideals of beauty, power and strength. By posting a selfie in which a woman is showing off her body in the gym, we know that symbolizes power and success. We cement this knowledge by the other images posted.

These images are of rolling landscapes in third-world countries. They feature small children in dirty slums and wild, exotic animals hunting for prey. We feature these pictures, through Instagram accounts like NatGeo, next to images of Western ideals in order to show that, yes, Kim Kardashian posing in her designer shoes means success.

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Gramsci and Rowing

After putting some thought into the development of rowing, the relevance of Gramsci became very clear.  Looking at his thoughts on the importance of cultural practices in maintaining some form of hegemony and how rowing is an example of this started to piece together.

Rowing had been primarily an elitist sport all the way up until after World War II.  This was largely due to the fact of the geographic and monetary needs to even begin in the sport.  These were primarily held by the wealthy.  However, change within rowing organizations began to occur with a more relaxed, all-inclusive nature for the sport following the war.  This brings up the point of the upper class needing to constantly change and adjust to accommodate what the working class might need.  As it was shown in Austria, rowing started to become more relaxed and steered towards becoming a more recreational sport.  There was an interest in rowing by all classes, resulting in a push to incorporate everyone.  As Gramsci might argue, rowing was and continues to be a cultural practice that conforms to, and reinforces the hegemonic structure within certain certain societies.

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Bringing Althusser Back

I think I’ve had a break through.

So my case study is a more culturally-focused derivative of my SYE on the significance of grape wine in China. I’ve honestly been wrestling with the topic for over a year, been muddled by my own observations, and fighting with myself and the endless contradictions of China to reach a theoretical grounding.

At the end of my presentation last week, Anna suggested that I deploy Althusser and interpellation to explain how the myth of wine consumption disguises the greater consequences of capitalism. I replied that I was hesitant about using interpellation, as it seems restrictive to the point that those who are interpellated do not have agency as actors—they identify themselves within the ideology, then live it in practice

After reading into the Chinese Communist Party more, especially its crisis of governance and constant scramble for performance legitimacy, I realized that Althusser may actually be the best way to explain how wine functions in China. Within the last decade, political theorists have examined the foreign policy of the CCP and determined it is guided by three major goals: maintaining the status quo, economic development, and enhancing nationalism. I won’t explain too much of that here, but essentially I believe that the economic satisfactions of the middle class—provided through wine, luxury consumption, and market capitalism—reinforce regime legitimacy for the CCP.

Although the Chinese middle class, according to income alone, is over 200 million, and that there are several million-millionaires, this is a group of power that do not have any political leverage. Seriously—if you’re not in the CCP, you don’t have any institutional legitimacy, though perhaps some cultural leverage. This again rules out Gramsci, because if this middle and upper-middle class of people continue receiving the perceived benefits of the market system and enjoying fine wines from China and around the world, I can’t imagine them seeking alternatives. This could be a dangerous assumption, but I’m working with the historical reality that the Chinese were restrained from these lifestyles during Mao’s socialist period, thus the rapid introduction of the western world simply allowed capital, speculation, and development to skyrocket. It also just so happens that many of the CCP are also millionaires. Althusser tells us that Ideological State Apparatuses such as family, media, religious organizations, and the education system create the discourse that signals people ideologically, and then they materially reproduce the lifestyle. And because the majority of Chinese ISAs (particularly media outlets) are still state-controlled, this means that the CCP control not only the forces of material reproduction, but also cultural reproduction.

For my SYE, I may have to discuss the influence of media and branding (bringing back Naomi Klein) as it functions within interpellation and the myth of wine, luxury consumption, and capitalist advancement. We’ll see how it fits within the word count of the final paper for GS 302.

I also really appreciated Ally’s question about if there is a theorist that could possibly predict the future for China. I’m again hesitant to say yes, because the majority of the theorists, particularly political economists, are steeped in Eurocentrism. I already pointed out that China needs to be considered in terms of postmodernity because it has not fulfilled the teleological trajectory of Marxism, so at the same time I feel like all the other economists and political scientists who are waving their hands trying to capture this monolith culture. However, if China continues to integrate itself globally and develop unevenly without ameliorating the social inequities, the CCP’s regime legitimacy will be in face of a new crisis. Can it be theorized by Polanyi, and the instability of capitalism? I don’t think anyone is sure yet.

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Selfies in the News

When I was doing some writing, I came across a news story that broke today. Apparently, President Obama took a selfie with two other world leaders at the memorial for Nelson Mandela. Quickly, criticism started calling it inappropriate given the place. Others celebrated that our world leaders are “just like us,” and that they take selfies.

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I can only imagine this picture going up on instagram with the caption: ” #mandela #memorial #selfie #lol ”

I believe this shows just how widespread selfies are. Many new trends tend to infiltrate one generation or group. Although mentalities and sayings like YOLO and video-capturing apps like Vine are popular, they are dominated by young people. However, selfies seem to be acceptable for any age, gender, socio-economic group (even though Obama’s selfie may have been inappropriate for the place).

This sounds like William’s idea of dominant culture. Since dominant is not static, and in turn attempts to incorporate new forms of culture in order to stay dominant, selfies have been accepted by society in order to prevent these social media interactions from deviating from the dominant. Selfies were part of an emergent culture, but have now become household and normalized that even the President takes them in his down time.

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Memes for thought #YOLO







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Businesses and Hashtags

In looking at hashtags it became clear that businesses have suddenly become a huge supporter of them.  Marketing through hashtags has not only helped sales for many companies, but hashtags have also led businesses to see where their products will sell and where they wont.  This is why through my analysis of hashtag’s I looked into Bourgeoisie and businesses forcing products on young kids.

Not only do adds show up on every social media cite, but there are also promotions through hashtags.  Companies will put out a picture say on Instagram saying the first 1000 to re-hashtag or re-post you get a free ___.  If you decide to participate in this, then your followers see if and can do the same thing.  Then the picture will go to facebook saying this many of your friends liked this product on instagram.  In turn the photo just went from one person uploading it, to a huge network of people seeing the latest styles.  This therefore shows how fashions and brands of the upper class get filtered to lower classes and become the norm all around the world.

Through the new technologies, yes you may be able to see the tragic disaster in a foreign country, but you are also constantly being exploited to the new trends that your friends have, celebrities have etc.  Gramsci is right in saying that this new emergent culture can not stray from those who control the trends.

Hashtags however have also started to hurt businesses.  There are entire #McDstories that just destroy McDonalds.  This has happened with Starbucks as well with people writing down wrong names on their coffee cups.  People bash the employees by saying how stupid people are that work their.  At the same time however, people want to go to Starbucks to see if their name is completely wrong.  These companies are so established in who they are that even with these hashtags it doesn’t effect business as much as it could a smaller start up company.


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Branded Athletes

Every big name extreme sport athlete is connected to a brand, or several brands. From energy drink companies and cameras that sponsor just about all sports to smaller companies more specific to a sport, like surfboards or ski helmets, brands play a pivotal role in the culture and subcultures of extreme sport.

In some respects, athletes can be bought as living advertisements. They become branded in a sense that they are contracted to wear, drink, or use a certain label and product. On the other hand, it should not be ignored that some of these company-athlete relationships may be quite mutually beneficial. While companies benefit a great deal from media showing someone pulling a revolutionary trick, setting a record, or simply doing whatever it is they do with style while using their product, so does the athlete. For many of these athletes, success for them is simply doing what they love as much as they can, even if it means sacrificing job security and a constant salary. When companies showcase an athlete, it acts as both an advertisement and promotional material for the athlete.

Brands, in turn, engrain themselves into extreme sport culture. Even budding athletes will put brand stickers on their snowboards, whitewater kayaks, and even their personal computers. This happens because the connections fans have with their favorite athletes is also a connection to the brands they represent.

Take a look at Red Bull’s athletes, from NBA superstars to Rally Car drivers, household names are aplenty.


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Women’s Rights At Risk


While reading additional articles about China’s ‘leftover women,’ I found an article that discusses the status of women and the progression from their traditional roles as females since the Mao regime.  Progress, however, is not being made currently in China.  “Women’s Rights At Risk” written by Leta Hong Fincher illustrates the hardships experienced by young women who have been dubbed ‘leftover’ by men and the media.  The consequences that several women face as a result of their independence include verbal and physical abuse from their male partners.  The Mao era was supposed to be a move in the right direction for women and their status in society, as they grow more and more independent and no longer reliant on men.  “Overcoming traditional forms of male-female inequality” was unfortunately put on the back burner and is considered a “revolutionary goal” that was never achieved (Fincher, 2).  “Skyrocketing home prices, a resurgence of traditional gender norms, a state media campaign pressuring educated young women to marry, and legal setbacks—has contributed to a fall in the status and material well-being of Chinese women relative to men” (Fincher, 2).  Though the Marriage Law instituted in 1950 guaranteed women property rights, the revised Marriage Law in 2011 now gives the property rights to the person who owns the home, and in most cases, the legal owner is a man.

In this particular article, Wu Mei is a thirty-one year old accomplished woman who earns “around one million RMB (roughly $150,000) a year as an attorney in Beijing, a salary that likely places her in the top 1 percent income bracket in China.”  She is one of the richest women in China, yet instead of being celebrated, her husband heartlessly abuses her, forcing her to file for divorce as a way to escape something he claims Wu “brought on herself.”  These kind of instances are all too common in China as a result of the society’s progressive globalization and move away from traditional customs.


FINCHER, LETA HONG. “Women’s Rights At Risk.” Dissent (00123846) 60.2 (2013): 36-40. Academic Search Complete. Web. 8 Dec. 2013.

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Putting Campers in Their Place

While brainstorming how interpellation functions at summer camp, I began to reflect on my own experiences as a camper, but especially as a camp leader myself. How do we put campers “in their place”? Also, how can interpellation function both inside and outside of camp? I originally viewed Althusser’s theory on interpellation and social reproduction as a singular expression of camp’s relation to society. That is, I thought only about how camp prepares youth for their role in the capitalist system rather than how camp can be seen as a microcosm of power structure on its own.

Certainly, summer camps have a strict hierarchy of authority and power that functions to interpellate campers. Like many other theories I have examined so far, the idea of interpellation ultimately speaks to the dominance of the ruling class. Is it possible that summer camp has its own “ruling class”? Do camp directors and other leaders mimic the power hierarchies at play in the wider realm of American society?

I think it’s absolutely true that summer camp is only made accessible to the middle and upper classes for the most part, although there are increasingly programs and scholarships specifically made available to underprivileged youth. Still, the typical “traditional” summer camp will interpellate and churn out a certain elite kind of individual. Chapter 1 of Abigail Van Slyck’s A Manufactured Wilderness, is titled “Putting Campers in Their Place”.

Van Slyck outlines how the structures at summer camp, especially those of an increasingly more permanent and modern nature, reflect a false sense of “freedom” and wilderness. In fact, she says, “camps enveloped campers in an environment akin to the modern suburb: safe, bucolic, and somewhat artificial” (Van Sylck 38). In this sense, Van Slyck is arguing that camps merely interpellated campers in the same sense that a school or home community might. This much is evident in other facts of my research as well. Still, the question remains: how might the inner-workings and power structures in a camp reflect small-scale societal interpellation?

Based on my own experiences teaching and following endless camp rules and expectations, I have no doubt that we interpellate campers so that they behave themselves and help our camp to run more smoothly as a whole. Other than these personal experiences, however, I am have been unable to find many examples to answer this question.

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Gramsci and Williams on Going Green

I chose to incorporate Gramsci and Williams into my case study of sustainability in society because I feel that both theorists acknowledge and emphasis my point of half-incorporation of subaltern views in society. One of the points I am trying to highlight is how businesses and individuals only do some sustainable practices to be part of this trendy movement. Other, more extreme sustainable practices, may be ‘too sustainable’ to incorporate into everyday, thus threatening the dominant ideology and beliefs.

One of Gramsci’s main arguments is his use and description of hegemony, which is “a group or class really making parts of the subalterns’ worldview its own.” Hence, one of my examples, Walmart, uses sustainability to remain a dominating retailer in the world because it wants to appear that it is concerned for the environment so the alternative groups will continue to support Walmart. Regardless of the extremely unsustainable practices that Walmart does, it wants to appear ‘green’ to maintain control over and capital from the alternative groups.

Similar to Gramsci, Williams also acknowledges how alternative and subaltern views are being “acknowledge and incorporated” into society by the dominant ideology. More so than Gramsci, Williams talks in-depth about the subaltern groups noting the emergent and residual cultures. I’m arguing that the sustainability movement is more residual than emergent because environmental concerns have existed in societal history; this isn’t a completely new, emergent form.

Both Gramsci and Williams will support my half-incorporation vs. full-incorporation idea about sustainability in society. Both theorists notice how the dominant ideology tries to incorporate subaltern views, whether that be environmental, feminist, LBGT, etc. into their own structures to appear “open” and “respectful” of all members of society. When, in reality, the genuine intent is missing, further dividing the dominant and subaltern groups.

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