February 19, 2008

Culture in the Cupboard

Following a series of readings about cultural value and capital, we've been asked to modify a classroom lesson about cultural diffusion--the spread of elements from one culture to another. In short, the lesson asks each student to trace the origin of items that s/he has chosen represent his/her culture. The lesson looks fun, and I think most students would enjoy it, and they would 'get it:' culture is constrained and inspired by many influences. However, are readings about culture and value made me wonder if the lesson couldn't be adapted to encourage students to think critically about what kind of value we assign to these same objects.

Where the lesson asks students to create a world map to show the selected objects' physical origins, perhaps each student might also be encouraged to create another "map," more of a thought web, to show who brought these items into the students' life, or who these items the student associates these items with. The student could enhance the web by linking in other items associated with this person, or even adjectives to describe the person, object, or its origin.

By sharing these maps, students could begin discussing the notion of value, and how value might be assigned to each cultural object. Are some objects more valuable because of their physical or relational origins?

February 5, 2008

Barbie without Ken

Hi Friends,

I just want you all to know that I've spent the last 2 hours or so working on my blog post, only to post it and have it disappear. So what follows is a briefer version of my post comments. I HATE technology.
Spigel's ethnography of Barbie collector culture concludes that collectors are not a mass of individuals with a unified and shared perspective on Barbie, but rather a diverse group, who interact (and often subvert) the mainstream “Barbie message? in many ways. For example, she recognizes a distinction between those collectors (mostly women) who craft garments for themselves and for Barbie, and through craft endow her with a new value. This manifestation of Barbie culture is not considered ‘high art,’ however, the photos and art layouts of mostly male and gay collectors have found their way into museums and cultural studies.
I was glad that this article wasn’t simply a ‘why Barbie is bad’ article, and was particularly struck with one of Spigel’s observations toward its conclusion. She commented on the relative redundancy of the feminist intellectual in current popular and academic Barbie discussions, and noted that Mattel responded to the AAUW’s criticisms of talking Barbie by creating a line of “career-girl? dolls. “Like all successful capitalists,? she observed, “Mattel is very good at accommodating dissent.?
Mattel’s employees and collectors have found a way to allow the mainstream message of Barbie (a white-centric , conventionally attractive, ultra-heterosexual and ultra-feminine doll who will never upset the status quo) to co-exist with a variety of narratives; the confessional woman collector, and the campy gay man to identify a few. On this super Tuesday, I can’t help but think that she’s the ultimately politician! However, this careful tolerance of these voices (and Barbie consumers) should not obscure the fact that Barbie reflects an almost unobtainable ideal. To paraphrase our Jenkins article last week, young people are avid and savvy consumers of technology and mass culture. However, they do have a weaker skepticism toward many mass sources of information, and the need for media studies and literacy is ever more pressing. Likewise, students should learn to be careful consumers.

January 23, 2008


Omigod it's so cold

Technology is not my friend. I hope this works.