This post is the first in our Fall 10 season. As always, our book reviews cover many diverse areas of culture studies. We invite scholars to scan our Anticipated Books and Reviews section (top right of this page) for currently unassigned books that they might wish to review, and to check our Reviewer Guidelines (bottom of this page) to see how to do so. And we encourage readers to engage our reviewers in conversation by posting comments on the reviews.
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Music and Cyberliberties.
By Patrick Burkart.
By Patrick Burkart.
Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, March 2010. Cloth: ISBN 978-0819569172, $70; paper: ISBN 978-0-8195-6918-9, $24.95. 200 pages.
Review by Reba Wissner, Brandeis University
The digitizing and sharing of music is now a part of daily life. Wherever we go, we encounter music. But nowadays, unlike ten years ago when CDs would play throughout the sound system of retail stores, now there is a good chance that the sounds that we hear come from MP3s, which were ripped from CDs or purchased on the internet, and were downloaded onto an MP3 player that is hooked up to a dock in a speaker system and is distributed aurally. Whereas in the era of CDs, only one electronic device is necessary for the playing of music—a CD player—now, we need as many as three—a computer to convert the CD to MP3, the MP3 player itself, and the dock sound system used to play the music that is on the MP3 player. Patrick Burkart, in his book Music and Cyberliberties, addresses issues such as this. Burkart addresses both the advantages and disadvantages of the technological movement of music sharing, and discusses the ways in which such sharing affects our lives.
Although a relatively thin volume, Burkart’s book manages to address the most important issues related to music copyright and rightful ownership of recorded sound. While this study does build upon the author’s previous published collaboration with Thomas McCourt, this volume takes this work one step further by using the economic and legal implications of music digitalization and explores the impact that this has on music and its rightful place in society. While the recorded object itself is explored in detail, the social agency of the fans and their relationship to political and legal orientation is also a topic of discussion.
Burkart’s study relies heavily on the Theory of Communication by which the distribution of digital music clarifies the concurrent political and cultural conflict surrounding its dissemination. While the book’s introduction prefaces the study as a whole, in it the author proposes that the Theory of Communicative Action can allow us to get a clearer picture of the ways in music participates in the lifeworld. Chapter 1 introduces the principal organizations involved in the regulation of the dissemination of digital music, such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, as well as the role that they play in the legalization of electronic distribution. Burkart establishes the terminology for the remainder of the book, including the concept of the music lifeworld in which music exists and participates in daily life both on and off the internet. Chapter 2 lays the groundwork for the exploration of music’s social agency, and explores music and cyberliberties as a social movement, linking music and Internet Provider law and its concurrent policy changes within the music industry. Here, Burkart introduces four categories of music and cyberliberties activists: the alternative-media activists, the radical media activists, the culture jammers, and the hacktivist-cyberwarriors. Chapter 3 discusses the institutional mode of regulation, and the concept of “clientelization,” especially what the author terms as “The Napster Watershed.” The main focus of this chapter is the legal actions record companies and various social agencies have taken in these matters. Chapter 4 traces the transition to digital media, citing the organic decomposition and recomposition of music, showing how this may lead to a music and cyberliberties movement. The chapter focuses on the action and implications of hacking and its formation of the “hacktivism” movement. The discussion focuses on what Burkart terms the “Celestial Jukebox,” or the dominant system of music, and the ways that collective action in the music and cyberliberties movement creates what he terms an “Alternative Jukebox.” Chapter 5 focuses on the record collector and the ways in which this has created, and to an extent continues to create, music fetishists. In this most economic of the chapters, he attempts a cost-benefit analysis of the conversion of music from hard copy to digital copies, especially for records. Finally, Chapter 6 offers the author’s reflections upon the topics of the book and speculates on the theorization of music and cyberliberties. The book includes an invaluable appendix, reproducing in its entirety the June 1, 2000 “Future of Music Coalition Manifesto.”
Burkart’s overall aim was to call into question the idea of a social movement sparked by the rise of the digitization of music and its inherent rights, and to show that while it may seem that regulation of the downloading of music may seem like it is highly supported, in actuality, it is actually highly contested. While Burkart succeeds in his aims of the book, I do think that he could have offered a little more of his own suggestions for ways in which music activism and music law could be improved based upon his astute observations.
Music and Cyberliberties, hands-down is the most socially relevant study I have read in a long time. This book was not only informational, but the author’s style was also entertaining, grabbing my attention at every corner. Burkart not only discusses these policies, but he also critiques them in a way that is thought-provoking. This book would be of interest not only to those in the fields of music, music technology, law, and policymaking, but also to the average lay person and music fan who should know just what lies behind the sharing of music, an everyday activity that, like breathing, many of us seem to take for granted.
The Great War on the Small Screen: Representing the First World War in Contemporary Britain.
By Emma Hanna.
Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, January 2010. Cloth: ISBN 978-0-7486-3389-0, $75. 224 pages.
Reviewed by Mark Celinscak, York University
The Great War was a watershed moment of the twentieth century. Unprecedented in human history, the war interrupted an entire generation of people. Indeed, the conflict upset value systems and it shook the confidence of many Europeans who once believed that they were the most rational of all people, in control of themselves and leaders of the world. In Britain, remembering the enormity of the war is a national preoccupation. Consequently, the Great War has been recalled and represented in a variety of forms as depicted in painting, poetry, and memorials. Since the 1960s, a dominant form for the commemoration of the war has been television.
In The Great War on the Small Screen: Representing the First World War in Contemporary Britain, Emma Hanna examines numerous British “televisual representations” of the Great War. The author discusses how these programs have influenced modern attitudes about the conflict. According to Hanna, the act of creating and viewing television programs about the Great War has become a prominent remembrance ritual in contemporary Britain. Some programs about the conflict have become national sites of memory and mourning. Accordingly, the author suggests that the visual impetus for these representations has been drawn from Britain’s rich cultural inheritance and traditional frames of reference.
Hanna’s detailed and thoroughly researched work of cultural history tackles a variety of programs, including documentary, drama, comedy, and even “reality” television. Her seven slim chapters unfold more thematically than chronologically. In each chapter the author’s main focus is the narrative and chronological development of the making of the program, offering analysis on the design and imagery presented to the audience. While the sheer number of programs covered in the book means that Hanna is at times describing rather than analyzing, her survey of the vast landscape of British war programs in the postwar period will be useful to most students.
The author’s first chapter illustrates how the British education system has promoted the idea that the Great War can be largely understood through the study of literature or history alone. Yet, due to its increasing popularity -- particularly programs about the Great War -- Hanna correctly shows that contemporary audiences learn much about the past through the medium of television. Unfortunately, a large portion of the remainder of the chapter is spent repeating points that will be discussed in further detail in subsequent chapters.
In “A Monumental Monument: The Great War (BBC, 1964),” Hanna emphasizes the significance of the 1964 BBC documentary The Great War. According to the author, the program has become Britain’s “public war memorial to the dead,” a revered series that subsequent programs about the conflict are often measured against. However, The Great War also offered audiences a grand narrative, which, as Hanna illustrates in later chapters, soon fell out of style. Whether intentional or not, this echoes French philosopher Jean-François Lyotard’s notion concerning the “incredulity toward metanarratives.” In other words, for contemporary audiences, belief in grand narratives has collapsed.
In one of her best chapters, “Survivors: Veterans and the Nature of Personal Testimony,” the author shows how the use of personal testimony engages the listener and brings a sense of immediacy to the subject matter. Hanna contrasts the strength of personal testimony with its corresponding dangers when she shrewdly contextualizes Lions Led by Donkeys (Channel 4, 1985). This documentary program features survivors from the Battle of the Somme discussing their experiences seventy years later. Hanna reveals the problems of the judging of the past through the values of the present. Consequently, the documentary appears to reveal more about the social challenges of the day than it does about the Somme.
In a provocative chapter entitled “Heroes and Villains,” Hanna explains that television programs can push back against generally accepted notions and offer “revisionist conversations” about the past. An example would be the reputation of Field Marshall Douglas Haig, a man who, despite guiding Britain to one of its most brutal victories, is typically portrayed as an “inept and stubborn commander.” In an attempt to offer a more balanced view of the man, Haig: The Unknown Soldier (BBC, 1996) explored the myths that surround him. However, as Hanna makes clear, critics panned the documentary and anti-Haig sentiments remain strong in Britain.
In “Drama, Comedy and Drama Documentary,” her fifth chapter, the author shows once again how programs that challenge the accepted memory of British soldiers in the Great War still struggle to find an audience. Controversy over The Monocled Mutineer (BBC, 1986) erupted over its historical accuracy. The series depicts mutinies and soldiers swearing, drinking and raping, acts that upset the “sacrosanct” memory that many contemporary audiences still hold of British soldiers from the war.
According to Hanna, by the 1990s, a number of programs attempted to explore the psychological effects of the war. In “Over the Top: Reality Experiential Television,” the author defends the often criticized reality series The Trench (BBC, 2002), a program that asked male volunteers to “re-experience” fundamental elements of the Western Front. Highlighting the widespread condemnation the show received, Hanna masterfully demonstrates that, at least culturally, the Great War has spawned firmly entrenched clichés and established images which general audiences find hard to abandon.
In her concluding chapter, “The Fear of Forgetting,” the author stresses how the modes of remembrance utilized in Britain’s “televisual representations” are firmly rooted in its past. Similar to arguments made by cultural historian Jay Winter, Hanna argues that these traditional values and classic images were developed to help the nation remember and grieve the loss of its sons. Traditional modes of remembrance helped mediate mourning.
Overall, Emma Hanna has written a succinct, thoroughly researched book on the influence of television on modern attitudes about the Great War. The author surveys and contextualizes a broad number of television programs. Due to its scope, this occasionally leaves the reader with programs described rather than evaluated. One hopes this means that the astute Hanna will have even more to contribute on the topic in the future.
Playboy and the Making of the Good Life in Modern America. By Elizabeth Fraterrigo.
New York: Oxford University Press, November 2009. Cloth: ISBN 978-0-538610-3, $29.95. 320 pages.
Review by Ron Briley, Sandia Preparatory School, Albuquerque
The extent to which ambiguity and paradox rather than consensus and conformity characterized the 1950s is evident in the fact that amidst the cultural celebration of the suburban family unit, Hugh Hefner in 1953 launched publication of his magazine Playboy, which both challenged and supported mainstream values of the era. The paradoxical nature of Playboy’s contribution to American culture is astutely analyzed by Elizabeth Fraterrigo, Assistant Professor of History at Loyola University Chicago, in Playboy and the Making of The Good Life in Modern America. Although Hefner assisted Fraterrigo with her research into the history of the magazine, the publisher and professional playboy might be disappointed that despite his revolutionary cultural aspirations and claims, Fraterrigo concludes, “Interest in maintaining clearly defined differences between the sexes meant the magazine sustained stereotypes and assumptions about women’s place relative to men, affirming a framework of privilege” (211).
Nevertheless, Fraterrigo does acknowledge that Hefner and Playboy did play a significant role in shaping the consumer culture which characterized post-World War II America. Reflecting his personal dissatisfaction with married life, Hefner attempted to establish a publication that would interrogate postwar visions of suburban domesticity by catering to the interests of the urban, heterosexual, consuming, and single male. Hefner hoped to fill the void which an increasingly tepid Esquire occupied during the 1930s. Hefner argued that he was liberating both men and women by questioning Puritanical notions of sexuality confined to the marriage bed, but as Fraterrigo notes, males retained the dominant position in this more liberated culture where the fulfillment of individual desire was encouraged.
The bachelor who postponed the responsibilities of marriage and parenthood was free to pursue female seduction. To lure his female prey, the playboy would need to impress possible sexual partners with such consumer goods as fine food and wine, sports cars, fashionable apartments and attire, and the latest technological innovations in television and high-fidelity equipment. The ideal playboy was a sophisticated consumer who traveled extensively and appreciated contemporary art, jazz, and culture. In contrast with the suburban environment of the family home, the playboy’s domain was the city, where he could pursue female companionship and other status symbols of the good life. In order to afford this lifestyle, Hefner advised his readers to work hard and play hard. He wanted the country to return to the prosperity and individualism of the 1920s that were eroded by the self-sacrifice required during the depression and World War II. Just as Hefner combined work and pleasure in his Playboy offices, bachelors would find satisfaction in meaningful labor, which provided them with the resources to pursue pleasure and material goods. Thus, Fraterrigo writes that Hefner became “an important spokesperson for the liberal consensus that developed during the Cold War, which presumed that economic growth and private consumption would serve as the wellsprings of prosperity and a more democratic society” (49). In addition, Cold War concerns that homosexuality presented a threat to national security were addressed in Playboy’s affirmation of heterosexual virility.
But to pursue this sexual path, playboys needed playmates such as the single girl celebrated by Helen Gurley Brown. The single girl was willing to support herself, lived alone, postponed marriage, and most importantly engaged in sexual activity outside of wedlock. While the single girl enjoyed a degree of freedom and independence, Fraterrigo asserts that the single girl, similar to the Playboy bunnies, relied upon their sexual allure and failed to fundamentally challenge male prerogatives.
Nevertheless, Fraterrigo observes that as the Playboy empire reached its zenith of influence in the late 1960s and early 1970s, its demise was contained within the increasing cultural acceptance of its message regarding consumerism, pleasure, and individualism. During the civil rights movement, Playboy was criticized for perpetuating “white” definitions of beauty. In response to these critiques, Playboy did expand its centerfolds to provide greater racial diversity, yet such images often focused upon the exotic “other.” Fraterrigo, however, does credit Hefner with using his checkbook and editorial pages to support a more egalitarian racial society. But Fraterrigo suggests that Hefner found it more difficult to square his Playboy philosophy with the emerging counterculture and feminist movements. Playboy’s celebration of sexual freedom and individual pleasure resonated with the hippie idea of “doing your own thing,” but the counterculture, despite Playboy’s questioning of the Vietnam War, rejected the materialism of the Playboy lifestyle, which embraced the status quo.
Even more problematic for Hefner was the emergence of feminism. Hefner claimed that he was shocked to be attacked as a pornographer, for he supported such feminist issues as the Equal Rights Amendment, abortion, and reproductive rights. Yet, many feminists insisted that Hefner represented a sexual revolution that continued to foster objectification and exploitation of women. Some anti-pornography feminists in the 1980s made common cause with conservatives who condemned Hefner and Playboy for undermining the American family and traditional values.
Confronted with these challenges and fading health, in addition to the unfavorable publicity surrounding the murder of Playmate Dorothy Stratton, Hefner in the late 1980s took another stab at domestic bliss, marrying Kimberly Conrad and turning over operation of the Playboy empire to his daughter Christie Hefner. After a decade of domesticity, Hefner has returned to the Playboy lifestyle. Fraterrigo concludes that Hefner and Playboy continue to resonate in American culture because Hefner’s views are today part of the mainstream. Fraterrigo asserts that Playboy “played a catalytic role in the refashioning of gender roles and sexuality mores since the 1950s, and its underlying messages about pleasure, consumption, and the freedom to find fulfillment in a lifestyle of one’s own choosing are now cornerstones of American culture” (210).
Some readers may find Fraterrigo too kind to Hefner. In his masculine consumer ethic, older women appear to have built-in obsolescence and are to be replaced by newer models. Thus, we have the sad and almost comical scenario of a nearly ninety-year-old Hefner, propped up with Viagra, frolicking with twins in their late teens. This ageism and sexism constitute insidious elements of the Hefner legacy. Nevertheless, Fraterrigo in her examination of Hefner and Playboy has produced an insightful book which enhances our understanding of the paradoxes inherent in American culture and sexual attitudes in the post-World War II era.
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The Psychology of the Western: How the American Psyche Plays Out on Screen. By William Indick.
Jefferson, NC: McFarland, September 2008. Cloth: ISBN 978-0786434602, $35. 223 pages.
Review by John T. “Jack” Becker, Texas Tech University
Maybe this book should be titled The Psychologies of the Western, as William Indick leaves no psychological disorder portrayed in westerns unanalyzed. But this quibble aside, fans of Western movies will enjoy this book by Indick, who is an associate professor of psychology at Dowling College in Oakdale, New York. He is the author of two other books on psychology and cinema.
Westerns are considered reflections of the American spirit, America’s myths played out on film. Starting with the Great Train Robbery, (1903) one of the first real feature films ever made, and continuing to 3:10 to Yuma (2007), Indick analyzes films for their hidden meanings and what they tell us about the American Psyche. Over 4,000 movies are considered Westerns, about half B-pictures or serials; between 1926 and 1967 half of all American movies made were Westerns.
The Golden Age of Westerns was the 1950s and this is the decade Indick mines for most of his material. He contends the 1950s, when Westerns developed characters and situations that lent the movies to psychological interpretation. At this time, Westerns became darker, more conflicted, and shaded with torment and internal conflict; thus the psychological Western was born (2).
Indick answers two questions with The Psychology of the Western: what exactly is “psychological” about a Western, and what are the psychological aspects of the genre as a whole? To answer these questions, Indick compared westerns to the Old Testament and Greek Tragedies, and compared Western heroes and villains to their Greek and Old Testament counterparts. He studied films for their Oedipal complexes and other psychological traumas.
Like many other Western movie enthusiasts, Indick states that just as Europe had its knights riding across the landscape of medieval Europe, the US had its cowboys riding across the West, both ready to administer justice as they saw fit (23). Like the knights of old, cowboys were basically loners. But, similar to the frontier they rode, cowboys became a mixture of civilization and savagery, and the ensuing conflict became the overriding theme of all Westerns. It plays out in the often violent competition between the opposing groups: Indians and settlers, settlers and ranchers, outlaws and law men, outlaws and town folk, women and men, and Westerners versus Easterners (as depicted as bankers, railroad men, and other exploiters of western resources).
Two directors of Westerns get special scrutiny in The Psychology of the Western, Anthony Mann and John Ford. Mann is considered, by Indick, as the originator of the “psychological Western.” After “graduating” from B-Westerns he made a series of dark or “adult westerns” in the 1950s. His heroes are socially marginalized, often neurotic, and had something from their past to hide (116). Mann’s favorite actor was James Stewart, who worked with Mann in five Westerns including Winchester ’73 (1950) and The Man from Laramie (1954). D. H. Lawrence said of Americans, “The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer.” Watching Anthony Mann’s movies would prove Lawrence correct.
What James Stewart did for Anthony Mann’s Westerns, John Wayne (and perhaps Monument Valley) did for John Ford. Of the ten Westerns given extensive treatment by Indick that were directed by Ford, seven had Wayne as the leading man. Scenes of Monument Valley appear in at least five of the films, with nearby locations (such as Moab, Utah) accounting for several others. Indick treats Drums Along the Mohawk (1939) as a Western directed by Ford, as he does Northwest Passage (1940). One could argue that these movies take place in what was once the West (proto-West), but purists would usually not put them on any list of movie Westerns.
William Indick’s study is accessible, interesting, and insightful. It is part reference and part (a big part) entertainment. His psychology is entreating and thought-provoking.
Shock, Memory and The Unconscious in Victorian Fiction. By Jill L. Matus.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, October 2009. Cloth: ISBN 978-0521760249, $90. 264 pages.
Review by Rebekah Greene, University of Rhode Island
Jill Matus proffers an intricate and intriguing synthesis of canonical Victorian literary texts and the historical development of trauma as a legitimate field of medical (and psychological) study. Matus’s study, surveying “the period 1850-86” (8), begins with an introductory survey of recent scholarship in trauma theory and Victorian studies, suggesting that the Victorian contribution to the discussion of “emotion, memory, and the unconscious” (60) was crucial to the work of later scientists such as Freud. Concerned with “the effect of shock on consciousness and memory” (8), Matus’s work toggles back and forth between scientific treatise and meaty novel, offering insightful readings of psychic shock and its powerful effects while simultaneously raising concerns about the impact that the rapid expansion of trauma theory has had in the arena of literary studies. One of the most considerable achievements of this toggling is the interdisciplinary focus that Matus is able to achieve as she weaves together strands from medicine, psychology, religion, and law, all while still remaining faithful to traditional literary criticism. The highly detailed critiques that Matus offers of novels such as Daniel Deronda, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and North and South are all extensively researched, making connections to William James, William Carpenter, and Sigmund Freud, among many other key thinkers.
Shock, Memory and the Unconscious in Victorian Fiction offers valuable new insight into the way that the Victorians responded to mental crises. While the work does seem primarily geared towards scholars interested in Victorian history and literature, as well as students of trauma theory, this book is beneficial for novice and expert alike. Thinking about the implications of shock-related injuries through the avenues that Matus provides could prove to be equally illuminating for those interested in other literary periods, art history, or even film studies.
Unfortunately, the excellence of Matus’s project slips during her discussion of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Although Matus succeeds in suggesting that Stevenson had an interest in the scientific discourse relating to multiple personalities, specifically the work of F.W.H. Myers that surfaced during the mid-1880’s, she falls short in situating her reading within the current burgeoning discussion of Stevenson’s relationship to science as detailed in books such as Julia Reid’s 2009 Robert Louis Stevenson, Science, and the Fin de Siècle. After reading the detailed introductions and reviewing the careful notes for each of the previous chapters, the light discussion of current Stevenson scholarship feels abrupt. (A chapter on Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South runs for a similar length but seems to more carefully situate the text under discussion with current scholarship.) In spite of these potential drawbacks for serious Stevenson scholars, Matus does achieve an attractive overview of how Stevenson explored the ideas of consciousness, dreams, and responsibility in both The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and his essay “A Chapter on Dreams.” Still, the chapter could nicely serve in an introductory-level literature class as a complementary assigned reading to historicize Stevenson and his work.
Neatly contrasting this chapter, Matus’s interlacing of biographical data and explication pays off most rewardingly in her excellent close readings of Dickens and George Eliot. Beginning her tracing of memory through two later works of Charles Dickens, “The Signalman” and the unfinished The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Matus gently alerts the reader to Dickens’s own connection to trauma, the result of an 1865 railway accident. Working through this moment of tragedy, Matus suggests, gave Dickens an ability to consider moments of shock and “powerlessness in the survivor” (99), particularly in “The Signalman,” a short story considering notions of guilt and the unconscious. These continued concerns about the unconscious and its potential role in crime continued to haunt Dickens, culminating in The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Matus’s reading of Edwin Drood is nicely punctuated throughout with short asides that compare the novel to Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone (118-119) or cheerfully inform her reader that Dickens was “a practicing mesmerist” (97). The work she performs in this chapter tantalizingly draws her reader in to an informative discussion of shock, association, and the role of “confusion in memory” (119) within a sometimes complicated and perplexing novel.
Comparable to her chapter on Dickens, Matus’s reading of George Eliot’s The Lifted Veil and Daniel Deronda weaves together a rich web of connections between Eliot’s work, George Henry Lewes and “his ideas about physiology and psychology” (124), and “Victorian and subsequent emotion theory” (124). Of particular interest in this chapter is the way that Matus treats the idea of psychic shock in Eliot’s work as something that wounds its victims (138). For Matus, Eliot’s rich treatment of characters particularly focuses on the internal workings of the mind, especially the act of processing emotions that are sometimes so intense that they can be crippling (122). Thinking through this idea, she succeeds in unpacking Eliot’s rich narratives, bringing to light the complicated “struggle” (150) that characters such as Gwendolen in Daniel Deronda and Latimer in The Lifted Veil must endure as they attempt to cope with “overwhelming emotions” (121) that surface as the result of traumatic incidents. The Dickens and Eliot chapters, will, no doubt, be of interest to scholars interested in the work of these two authors. However, Matus’s groundbreaking scholarship here can certainly lend to interesting and informative readings of the role that psychic shock played in the works of the contemporaries of Dickens and Eliot.
Overall, Shock, Memory, and the Unconscious in Victorian Fiction offers a rich overview of the evolution of the Victorian interest in the mind and its complicated processes. Including texts such as scientific treatises and more recent scholarship relating to the development of trauma theory allows Matus the ability to provocatively scrutinize well-loved canonical works of literature for an additional (and previously neglected) layer of meaning stemming from a lively discourse between literature and science. Educational and enlightening, Matus’s book is a useful tool for anyone investigating the intersections between trauma theory and Victorian literature.
Clothing for Liberation: A Communication Analysis of Gandhi's Swadeshi Revolution.
By Peter Gonsalves
London, New Delhi: Sage Publications, March 2010. Cloth: ISBN 978-8132103103, $34.95. 188 pages.
By Peter Gonsalves
London, New Delhi: Sage Publications, March 2010. Cloth: ISBN 978-8132103103, $34.95. 188 pages.
Review by Bridget R. Cowlishaw, Northeastern State University, Oklahoma
In Clothing for Liberation: A Communication Analysis of Gandhi’s Swadeshi Revolution, Peter Gonsalves examines the Indian independence movement led by M.K. Gandhi under three different theoretical lenses. There is no shortage of analyses of Gandhi’s strategies and certainly no analysis can go without examining Gandhi’s use of homespun cloth (khadi) in defeating British rule, however, Gonsalves’ unique contribution is his exclusive focus on clothing as a sign system in this specific historical context.
A concise book—a mere 188 pages including endnotes, charts, bibliographies, photos, and index—this volume is neatly organized into an introduction, three central chapters each analyzing the swadeshi movement from a specific communication theory, and a conclusion. Knowing his audience to be composed more of rhetoricians than historians or linguists, Gonsalves includes a useful glossary of important terms which cannot be translated without losing significance (e.g., the word swadesh itself which he translates as “of one’s own country”).
The second chapter, employing Roland Barthes’s “Fashion System,” convincingly asserts that Gandhi’s swadeshi movement created a new semiologics that counteracted British mystification of clothing. Charts outlining the binary oppositions of the British versus Gandhian sign systems and the relationship of signifiers to signified will be useful to students of semiotics wanting to see Barthes’s theoretical framework used in a historical context. Most interesting in this chapter is Gonsalves’s demonstration that Barthes’s notion of “real cloth” was employed in Gandhi’s targeting the British domination of the textile industry. This is, of course, the most remarkable aspect of the khadi movement: it was both a symbolic and economic strike against British authority.
In the third chapter, Victor Turner’s performance theory of communication is employed to analyze the ruptures within the swadeshi movement, which was not by any means unified in its symbols and goals. Gonsalves graphs the conflicts and liminal stages of the Indian independence movement through its various stages to examine how Gandhi navigated this internal lack of coherence. The resulting conclusion, that Gandhi periodically refocused the central issues of the movement to smooth over these ruptures, feels like a satisfyingly insightful explanation. It would have been more satisfying if the many excellent photographs were presented in this chapter, where they seem to naturally belong, rather than being corralled into an appendix at the back of the book.
The fourth chapter employs Erving Goffman’s ethnography of self in an examination of Gandhi’s personal authenticity. Though to most American readers an inquiry into Gandhi’s sincerity might seem like a quest for low-hanging fruit, there is a fashion for writing about Gandhi as a shrewd manipulator who used the posture of humility in order to humiliate. Gonsalves uses Gandhi’s autobiography and Goffman’s dramaturgical theory of personal performance to refute this trendy cynicism as he concludes, “The symmetry between expressions given and given off, between his interior and exterior selves was now perfect. In his loin-clothed body Gandhi had found the spiritual stability and the psychological equilibrium to sustain his innumerable performances in the socio-political arena for the next 26 years of his very active life” (98).
In the end, this book will be of great interest to three groups of people. Most obviously, those interested in observing classic communication theory applied to a specific historical conflict will find this work a useful employment of Barthes, Turner, and Goffman. Those interested in understanding more about Gandhi as an agent of social change will have to drag through some theory that may seem superfluous but will find the insightful conclusions interesting. But my highest reading recommendation for this book goes to those interested in the power of clothing, not just as a sign system, but as an aspect of our material reality that is always already embroiled in political, economic, and even spiritual struggles. In our current, unsustainable global economy whose apparel industries are implicated in inhumane labor practices, clothing is still at the center of struggles for peace and justice. Gonsalves’s book is well dedicated “to communicators and educators of peace.”
Talking with Television: Women, Talk Shows, and Modern Self-Reflexivity. By Helen Wood.
Urbana: University of Illinois Press, April 2009. Cloth: ISBN 978-0252033919, $65; paper: ISBN 9780252076022, $25. 256 pages.
Review by Yuya Kiuchi, Michigan State University
In Talking with Television: Woman, Talk Shows, and Modern Self-Reflexivity, Helen Wood examines women’s social interactions via and with television. She explains that the book explores how women talk about television, talk on television, and talk with television. What exists at the base of this approach is looking at television and its technology as interactive media through which a new social environment is formed and lived, rather than just as a mere information transmission machine. Just as Janice Radway successfully argued in her seminal work, Reading the Romance in 1991, Wood unearthed how women explored their feminine identities and put them into practice through their participation in television viewing. As Radway investigated the ritual of romance novel reading by a small number of midwestern females in the mid-1980s, Wood interrogated the meaning of a similar ritual around talk show viewing.
Wood focused on British daytime television shows. The programs she studied include This Morning, Good Morning, Kilroy, and The Time … The Place. These shows are not unique to Britain. Wood explains that not only do similar shows exist in the U.S., but topics discussed in them are very prototypical for any talk shows targeting women. Health, romantic relationships, family problems, and other topics are common themes. Especially because these issues are omnipresent in any household and viewers are ordinary British females staying at home or observing the show in a studio, Wood explains that the programs underscore conservative gender norms of females’ roles in society and family.
While Wood’s analysis of television programming is extremely effective, it is also noteworthy that her study has a strong theoretical foundation. The opening two chapters are dedicated to theoretical discussions that become fundamental later in the book. The issue of spectacle and participation, television as a medium to create a feminist public sphere, and other ideas serve as the foundations of her research. Although it is somewhat regrettable that this section reads like a typical literature review from a doctoral dissertation, it is a useful resource for any researchers conducting textual and discourse analyses of media and its implications for female identities.
Wood’s “texts-in-action” approach is unique. Although she takes advantage of more conventional methodologies in her work, this new strategy allows her to simultaneously examine broadcaster’s and audience’s speech. She juxtaposes transcripts of both speeches to demonstrate how exactly viewers engaged themselves with a talk show program. By doing so, Talking with Television shows the way in which female audiences reaffirm and subscribe to many conventional feminine social roles as they are watching a show. While many previous scholarly works studied audience reactions as a set of feedback given at the end of a program (i.e. how the audience reacted to the show as a whole), Wood analyzes a series of feedback given at home throughout the show.
Talk show examples suggest that television programs and audience play separate roles in enabling the self-reflexivity of women. On the one hand, talk shows intentionally use inclusive language to encourage their viewers to feel that they are a part of the program. The use of the word “we,” for example, is a strategic means for producers to urge audience participation both physically and psychologically. Similarly, talk shows frequently talk to the audience on the other side of the television with the pronoun “you.” This method establishes a direct and individualized relationship between the talk show host and numerous viewers. On the other hand, viewers willingly interact with programs. Wood explains that interestingly, the way they respond to talk shows and their hosts is very similar to how daily conversations take place. Responses are short to indicate that they are listening and are not trying to interrupt. They even verbally answer questions. Wood’s analysis reveals that these interactions enable feminine public spheres to exist.
In addition to the texts-in-action methodology, Wood also advances the study of women and media by breaking down the static binary between text and audience. By articulating the dynamic and constantly fluctuating relationship between talk shows and their viewers, the author sheds light on the gender, and often class, negotiations that take place in a living room. The implication of this study is immense for this reason. This approach will disclose the flexible relationship between television and not only working class females in Britain but also males, African Americans, and audience members of other backgrounds. As Wood demonstrated, would such a study reveal a talk show’s emphasis on conservative social norms? Or is this finding unique to talk shows targeting women? Additionally, since the book is based on research conducted almost fifteen years prior to its publication, it makes its readers wonder if the same conclusion would hold even today. The new methodology and its potential undoubtedly add further value to this book for course adaptation in an interdisciplinary program.
Borderline Americans: Racial Division and Labor War in the Arizona Borderlands. By Katherine Benton-Cohen.
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, May 2009. Cloth: ISBN 9780674032774, $29.95. 384 pages.
Review by Tiffany Noell, Arizona State University
At a time when the immigration debate has come to the forefront in Arizona (and across the United States), Katherine Benton-Cohen presents a historiographical examination of many of the underlying issues surrounding the debate. Focused on events in Cochise County, Arizona near the Mexican border during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, she explores what it means to be an “American” from a local, national, racial, and ideological standpoint while troubling the idea that the concept of “American” was/is necessarily separate from “Mexican” or other racialized categories. As one of the largest copper- and silver-mining regions in the world, this geographic area brought together many disparate people including wealthy mine operators from New York and the Midwest, immigrants including Mexicans and Eastern Europeans (all of whom had their racial status questioned and established at the time), local white American citizens, Progressive white women, and Native Americans. She argues that at the time, borderline Americans, or immigrant US residents living near the US-Mexico border, were arbitrarily determined by outsiders, often from the East Coast, to be either white or not, which then had significant effects on daily realities; her argument complicates the often oppositional perspectives of the current immigration debate as well as the binary of the US racial system, which she recognizes as a construct. In the first four chapters, Benton-Cohen investigates how different communities within Cochise County, AZ discussed and classified racial status; the last four chapters focuses on events in the twentieth century leading up to and after the Bisbee Deportation, a key moment of change for the area.
Chapter One looks at Tres Alamos, no longer in existence, where water and land, not racial status, was the key factor in community relationships. Benton-Cohen explores this racially diverse community as a site between the US’s rigid binary racial system and Mexico’s more fluid caste system, where, she argues, people had the ability to “become” a different racial status based on changing socioeconomic and citizenship status, thus exposing the historical construction of race. Chapter Two examines Tombstone, where the fight at the OK Corral between the “lawmen” and the “cowboys” is explored more as the apex of continued tensions between the industrial mining interests and the “outlaw” cattle rustlers, who frequently took advantage of the US-Mexican border, making border security an important issue for both governments. This issue was furthered by Chiricahua Apache hostilities on both sides of the border and the “illegal” immigration of oppressed Chinese, who endeavored to immigrate to the US in spite of anti-Chinese laws and sentiments at the end of the nineteenth century. Chapter Three focuses on Bisbee, a copper mining town and supposedly “a white man’s camp”; Benton-Cohen challenges the validity of that claim as well as how the concept of racial superiority effected wages and the essentializing of many groups into larger categories such as “white” “Americans” or “non-white” “Mexicans” even though there were many people between and outside of that binary. Chapter Four considers the largely middle-class “American” company town of Warren, which was more of a “planned community” than the ramshackle tenant housing of past company towns. Concurrently, Benton-Cohen discusses the growing labor movement in Arizona as a factor in Calumet & Arizona’s decision to create a different type of company town for “American” families, as opposed to single men or “foreigners.”
Chapter Five investigates the changing race relations in four communities, Benson, Cascabel, Pomerene, and Tres Alamos, in the early twentieth century. These northeast Cochise County communities moved away from the diverse interdependent relations towards isolationist towns of either Mexican-Americans or Mormons; the few interactions were largely arguments over water rights. Chapter Six explores the twentieth-century influx of white farmers, drawn by agricultural promoters advertising the ideal “white” “American” family life. As “white” and “American” were increasingly conflated, white women became a focus for the advertisers as imperative for an ideal Western vision, which changed old patterns and relationships within rural Cochise County. Chapter Seven concentrates on the Bisbee Strike and subsequent Deportation of 1917 (also the introductory story of the book) in which all miners not determined to be “American” were rounded up and shipped to New Mexico, often without their families. The deportation of one-fifth of the Bisbee workers was blamed on a combination of racial tensions, national patriotism (as the inciting strike was blamed on German and Mexican interests during the height of World War I), and union concerns. Chapter Eight inspects the decline of mining after World War I and farming with the onset of the droughts of 1919 and the early 1930s. As a result of past events, Benton-Cohen argues that the county and the state became polarized into “Mexican” and “white American” factions while introducing the idea of the unwelcome and “alien” Mexican through unequal relief programs of the New Deal.
Borderline Americans is a case study of the racial complexities in various historical events and communities in Cochise County, Arizona, on the US-Mexican border. Although it is slow to build and can be tangential at times, the book provides a strong historical background into current border issues and race relations. Unfortunately, the connections to modern-day debates are not thoroughly developed; instead, they are relegated to short passages in the introduction and the conclusion. Nonetheless, Benton-Cohen explores many aspects of the present immigration debate within the confines of a frequently evolving and complicated site during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
1989: Bob Dylan Didn’t Have This To Sing About. By Joshua Clover.
Berkeley: University of California Press, November 2009. Cloth: ISBN 978-0-520-25255-4, $21.95; paper: ISBN 978-0520267879, $16.95. 198 pages.
Review by Ron Briley, Sandia Preparatory School, Albuquerque
The provocative title of this volume refers to the revolutionary events of 1989 symbolized by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Celebrating the end of the Cold War, which had threatened the existence of global civilization since the late 1940s, the London band Jesus Jones, in their 1991 hit “Right Here, Right Now,” proclaimed, “Bob Dylan didn’t have this to sing about/you know it feels good to be alive.” At first glance, the popular music of the late 1980s and early 1990s seems to embrace the liberating potential of Western democracy and capitalism as championed by Francis Fukuyama’s essay on the end of history. However, Joshua Clover, Associate Professor at the University of California at Davis, presents a more nuanced reading of popular music which suggests that the dialectic of change was not superseded by the apparent triumphalism of liberal democracy and the marketplace.
Clover focuses his provocative argument on the genres of rap and hip-hop, acid house and raves, and grunge with its antecedents in punk rock, along with the more general category of pop music. He contends that 1989 fostered a shocking absence of confrontation with external groups. This thesis appears to contradict the shift in rap from Black power and Black Nationalist hip-hop to gangsta rap as symbolized by the decline of the politically-oriented Public Enemy, with its Islamic connections and confrontational attitude toward the white community, and rise of N. W. A. (Niggaz With Attitude). In their 1989 epochal album Straight Outta Compton, N. W. A. introduced the music and attitude soon to be associated with gangsta rap. Despite the violence celebrated in this music, Clover astutely observes that with its black-on-black violence, gangsta rap was less threatening to white society. Thus, a political challenge to the white establishment along race and class lines was avoided by the gangsta mode in which a Black underclass and youth were ensnared “in a world of immanent violence that retreated from borders of geography, race, and class—and turned the violence on itself. Internalizing the rhetoric along with the conflict so that it all seemed both to arise from and transpire within the urban core, gangsta acceded precisely to the logic of containment” (37).
A similar containment argument is provided in Clover’s analysis of the acid house and rave movement. Focused in England and celebrating the Second Summer of Love, which lasted from 1989 until perhaps 1991, the raves of this era sought to recapture the 1960s hippie vision of love, peace, and unity but without the more divisive radical politics. Clover concludes that acid house briefly achieved its goal of a unity outside of history, but that its very success contained the seeds of its dissolution as the movement splintered into sub-genres in the commercial marketplace.
Grunge, on the other hand, rejected both the idealism of a Second Summer of Love and the confrontational politics of punk, focusing upon a sense of self-loathing realized in the music of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana. Clover writes, “This spirit of the Summer of Love is the sixties ploughshare that punk had already beaten into a sword, which in turn is the sword that grunge turned on itself” (89). The internalization of punk’s challenge to the established order found in grunge, thus, contained the confrontational politics initially represented by the punk movement.
These insights into genre are crystallized in Clover’s commentary on the pop music of such artists as George Michael, Madonna, and Roxette’s “Listen to Your Heart,” which represent “the feeling of the post-Wall moment without taking a stance regarding it, through its sense of unbounded duration as liberation, its formal evocation of the sudden absence of barricades—and its sense of this as something potentially intrinsic to the music, to the truth of pop” (95). Nevertheless, Clover argues that pop’s apparent embrace of history’s end and the triumph of Western liberal political and economic ascendancy is not quite so simple. Clover reminds us that 1989 also witnessed the suppression of dissent in Tiananmen Square by the Chinese government. In addition, he suggests that rather than subscribing to a universal faith in the marketplace, the protests in China may be perceived as an effort to resist the government’s plunge into capitalism and the global market. Accordingly, Clover concludes that the end of the Cold War has removed the confrontation between liberal democracy and state communism. Celebrations of the end of history, however, fail to acknowledge the continuing antagonism between social classes.
Clover argues that this often hidden dialectic may be found within pop music’s sense of contradiction regarding the lack of fulfillment brought about by the symbolic collapse of the Berlin Wall. Pop music retains a healthy sense of ambiguity which Clover asserts is a needed component for the twenty-first century. Clover harbors hope for pop music and a society free from class exploitation, writing, “The thing that pop knows—that antagonism is not annihilated but concealed, and that it will be needed for real history to be made again—is in some regard testimony against itself. Such knowledge is, if anything, greatly to its credit” (140).
Clover’s contention regarding the ability of popular music to shed light upon larger social, political, and economic issues of our times presents a sophisticated analysis worthy of serious consideration. The book is not an easy read, and more general readers may struggle a bit with its grounding in the vocabulary of cultural studies. In addition, some readers may be unacquainted with the musical artists employed by Clover to illustrate his points. Nevertheless, readers, such as this reviewer, unfamiliar with the rave scene, will still to able to follow Clover’s argument. There is also some generational conflict evident in Clover’s comments regarding the 1960s, but there is also a tendency by listeners of classic rock to discount the contemporary pop music scene. Clover’s astute book, however, suggests that the potential of contemporary pop should not be so easily dismissed.
updated 5:22 PM