Archive for February, 2011

The Green Book

Travel guide helped African-Americas navigate tricky times


It’s the Inequality, Stupid!

beginnings of Cohen paper

How does Lizabeth Cohen understand the relationship between consumption and democracy as it developed between approximately 1932 and 2003?  Do you think this is a net plus for the country or has it done more harm than good?  Explain.

Drive around most any American town, in any state, and one can see the same familiar sprawl of suburbanization – enclaves of neighborhoods with thematic street names that are similar in style, color themes, and size; dating from the 1940’s to modern construction.  Strip malls with a grocery store, hardware store, fitness center, coffee shop, restaurant, and perhaps even a bookstore that has managed to stay in business.  Acres of blacktopped parking areas surrounding massive shopping malls anchored by name brand stores such as Macy’s, Dillards, Sears, Zales, Victoria’s Secret, and multi-plex movie theaters.  All of these choices, too much to choose from, and massive commercialization and consumerism right at one’s finger tips.   Yet how often does the average citizen contemplate the meaning of all that is available for them to consume and the history behind this consumerism and democracy? Lizabeth Cohen’s book, A Consumers’ Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America, guides the reader to understanding the economic, political, racial and social needs that drove the United States’ need for consumption in the name of democracy during the time frame of post World War II to 2003.

The country was going full-tilt with war time production, employment, and personal savings but with the conclusion of the war, the economy needed to be re-evaluated and decisions had to be made in order to keep the proverbial ball rolling, supposedly for the best-interest of the country and subsequently, for the people of the country.  This took on the form of pushing consumption by every day citizens in order for them to do their democratic duty for the benefit and well being of the United States and her citizens.

The influx of returning soldiers caused issues within society from the factories, businesses, and other venues that had hired women and minorities in record numbers as replacement workers for the departing warriors.  When these soldiers returned, the government took action to provide them with several key benefits that still impact our country today – the G.I. Bill, or the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944.  This legislation provided an opportunity to restart their lives by offering “unemployment pay while looking for a job, tuition and subsistence allowances for further education or training, and loans to purchase homes or farms or to start a business” (p. 137).  The main purpose was to avoid economic issues that had happened after World War I – high unemployment, political unrest, and economic disruption.  The passing of this Act created social and economic fallouts highlighted by the inequalities between veterans and non-veterans, female versus male veterans, and Caucasian versus African American veterans yet the Act also created a very new type of America – one in which its’ citizens would be much more upwardly mobile through education, home ownership, and the purchasing of consumer goods.


Consumption and Race

Cohen discusses the rise of consumerism in post-war America and how this rise was tied into politics and policies.  While the push was on for returning soldiers to buy homes, attend college, and attain the American Dream, African American soldiers were not a ready mix into this blooming economic period.  Their voices were largely ignored, starting the bigger gaps between the haves and the have-nots.  Poorer, colored people were banned from shopping centers and by homeowner associations.

The majority of people in some areas then, had the least amount, while the top tier of their society controlled the majority of things.  Almost one hundred years after the Civil War, the Jim Crow laws, and fighting with honor in their country’s Armed Forces, yet many African Americans could not participate in the rise of consumerism that was transforming America in the 1950s and 1960s.  However more African Americans were becoming educated, attending college, looking towards their future and wanting what the American Dream that was being sold to everyone else.  They were tired of getting second class goods and services. Enough was enough and it was time for a revolution – the Civil Rights movement.

I found this video production interesting.  I liked the early scientific journalism techniques regarding the interviews, equipment, and volleying between the scientist and the interviewers.  I was also struck by the vocabulary and level of discussion that many of those interviewed showed.  But the biggest surprise was that this took place in Pennsylvania, a northern state.  I am interested in knowing a demographic breakdown of the occupations and education levels of the 60,000 people who lived in Leviitown and what impact that had on prevalent attitudes.

Many of the people interviewed were in favor of the African American family moving into the neighborhood. Offering that they would be neighborly, talk with them, and let their children play together.  The folks in Leviitown who were against integration of their neighborhood all had very similar arguments as to why the their new neighbors should not be in their neighborhoods.  The reasons given being devaluing the neighborhood, increased crime, and the potential for African American and white children to grow up together and like each other, increasing the possibility of marriage outside of one’s race.

This was after WWII, the Korean War had stopped, and Viet Nam was sleathily beginning.  It seems that more people would have been like the open-minded neighbors and realized that integration was impossible to stop and a natural evolution of the times.  The argument that property values would decrease with an African American family, or more, living in the neighborhood was not convincing to me.  Yet the realization that this was probably a prevalent attitude throughout much of the country during this time is disconcerting and underscores how much the Civil Rights movement was needed in the South, but through the whole country.

I was not part of last week’s discussion, so I am putting down my thoughts and reflections from watching the movie clip.

Watching this Barstow Family movie clip was a walk down memory lane.  My first trip to Disneyland was when I was two or three with my parents and grandparents.  Apparently the Pirates of Caribbean scared me quite badly and had me crying.  My grandparents retired to Santa Barbara and taking me to the Magical Kingdom was a staple part of my childhood.  My last trip there was in 1979 or 1980, as I distinctly remember my grandfather paying for my brother and I with two twenty dollar bills and getting four newly minted Susan B. Anthony dollars back in change.

The Magic Kingdom was a small, anticipated part of my childhood for over a decade.  The fairy tale quality of the park, with everything being so neat and well orchestrated was a constant in the changing flow of childhood.  Books I read came to life. I have strong memories of The Swiss Family Robinson tree houses.  The land of The Jungle Book and the boat rides with hippos, alligators, and monkies.   Seeing that old Mississippi water boat.  Journeying through different cultures in It’s a Small World.  Buying the Mickey Mouse hats with my name embroidered onto them.  Movies I had seen came to life at Disneyland giving some credibility to the imaginary world of celluloid.  Riding the monorail around the park and looking at all of the buildings, flowers, theme areas, and the expanse of parking lots.  The ticket books for rides and seemingly different letters for different categories of rides.  The Electric Light Parade and fireworks at nighttime when all of the characters walked through the streets.

I plan on taking my son there in the next year or two.  I fear if I wait until he is too much older, the magical aura of the place may not have the same charm as I remember, as he will have outgrown some of that vivid imagination and the focus will be primarily on the rides.  I am almost hesitant though, in going back there and having what I know now, as blatant commercialism, attacking us from all sides.  The cost for tickets, food, and gimmicks will shock me and my conservative spending, I’m sure.  I realize I will have to keep my disdain with the commercialism at bay. Yet I do want him to experience the Magic Kingdom and have memories, albeit it different from mine which is all right, as we will each have a reference point from our childhood to keep in our memories.  In my mind, Disneyland is one of the American icons, like baseball, McDonalds, and Corvettes.

The movie clip I enjoyed for a variety of reasons.  First, I really enjoyed the creativity that the Barstow family demonstrated with the projects they made for the contest.  I also found the cinematography of the home movie to be very creative and I wondered who choreographed parts of it, who designed the “skit” or layout of the movie.  Was it done after the fact for the benefit of the tape company?  Or did the family create the movie on their own?  The movie also showed a glimpse of mainstream America – the house in the suburbs, three children, a mom and a dad, the proverbial family vacation, the clothes and other backdrops of middle class America in the mid 1950s.

The question of, “Are today’s children too jaded to appreciate a trip to Disneyland?” has me leaning towards no, but I feel it is how children are raised within their homes.  Yes, children won’t have their gadgets to play with, but the Magical Kingdom is a huge, interactive gadget.  I believe that seeing classics would be appealing.  Depending on the age of the children, taking their own movie clips and photos with their iPod touches or iPhones would offer them a chance to merge their experience with their “gadgetry” and creativity to create a cool memoir of their trip to the Magic Kingdom.  However, I can see how Disneyland could be low-tech, or slow for some children (but remember I haven’t been there in 30 years).  In that case, I would think a trip to Epcot Center in Florida could be substituted.  I went there once in the late 1990s and for me, it was like a grown-up version of It’s a Small World.  I felt that exhibits and displays focused more on technology, science, and the future rather than relics of nostalgia that Disneyland provides.

I did not know about this.

Social Reality

“I love America, but I fear Amerika: the globalist society formed of consumerism, liberal democracy and a hedonistic society.”

Assessing Reagan at 100