Berlant, "The Face of America and the State of Emergency"

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Selections from: Lauren Berlant, "The Face of America and the State of Emergency"

Read the following sections:
a) "On Being Normal, Average, Common..." pp 180-182 (66-68 of the course packet, section on Forest Gump)
b) AND pp 209-220 (82-88 of the course packet, section on Michael Jackson's "Black or White" and the conclusion).

And please post your discussion question below, using the following as a guide:

1) Lauren Berlant points to the "privatization of citizenship" as a worrying trend visible across a range of media. What does she mean by the "privatization of citizenship" and why is it a concern? How do media participate in this tendency, for Berlant?
2) According to Lauren Berlant, what arguments is the movie Forest Gump making about public and private life and about "good citizenship"?
3) How does Forest Gump imagine "America" as a constructed national entity?
4) How does Michael Jackson's music video Black or White both participate in and complicate the "privatization of citizenship" and the related tendencies that Berlant observes?
5) In your experience, what kinds of arguments have you noticed media making about what counts as "good citizenship" and the kinds of "national life" good citizens ought to engage in? Do you agree with Berlant that this production of norms participates in the "privatization" of citizenship? If not, why not? If so, what do you think are the consequences?

12 Comments

In the last paragraph of Lauren Berlant's section on Forest Gump she makes the statement, "Explicating this ejection of a nonconjugal and non-mass-mediated public life from the official/ dominant present tense in the United States involves coordinating many different plateaus of privilege and experience" (p. 184). What does Berlant mean by " plateaus of privilege and experience" and what are they?

Michael Jackson's music video conveys the element of privatization of citizenship as well as addresses many elements of diversity within the song. How are both of these concepts culturally significant in modern day life? What is MJ's music video long term affect over human social interaction?

Lauren Berlant's article gave a very interesting spin upon the movie Forest Gump. She talk's about how Forrest Gump depicts "normalcy." This is through the conservative make up of the movie. Berlant suggests that a normal person just does what they are told and is almost naive to most situations or problems. In Gump's case, he doesn't necessarily recognize the problems going on around him, he doesn't question Vietnam, or question the problems of government. Is being naive the definition of a good American in Berlants' eyes? I'm not sure if that's what she is trying to say.

I believe that this article pointed out some significant themes on citizenship in the U.S. and especially, as I am an international, to understand the culture in American and what it means to be “American” that I never imagined before. While I was reading Berlant’s article, I suddenly got curiosity about argument made by Berlant. From the reading, he claimed, "Throughout the text the problem of immigration turns into the problem of abject America: we discover that to be an American citizen is to be anesthetized, complacent, unimaginative...for the attainment of safety and freedom from the anxiety for survival...."
What Berlant wanted to deliver the meaning to the audience that “American citizen is to be anesthetized?” Do you really think American citizen is to be complacent and unimaginative? Do you believe is it true? Does American citizens really situated that Berlant described in today’s society?

Lauren Berlants says that Forrest Gump expresses recent history of the United States using an image archive from contemporary rage at the radical movements of the 1960s, and it narrates history of post-1968 America as a split between the evil of intention. What is it?

Lauren Berlant addresses the conservative slant of the movie Forrest Gump by outlining multiple cases where Forrest is not limited or restricted from succeeding solely because he is a white, heterosexual male who conforms to the American norms or standards. Despite being disadvantaged and unable to think critically about the culture he resides in, Forrest succeeds by simply adhering to rules and doing as he is told. He is not barred by what would normally constrain someone who is mentally disadvantaged. I thought this was an interesting point because Forrest Gump is quite successful throughout the entire movie without ever needing the social skills most others heavily rely on to survive. That being said, do you feel that his success can be attributed to the movie's supposed conservative slant? What other factors could be responsible for this?

The public life, as Lauren said, is more like the life that Gump has. He is indifferent about everything, yet excels at everything. He involved in business and Vietnam war, which glorifies the America. The private life, as Lauren described, is quite like the life Jenny has in Forest Gump. She went through each form of public and sensual degradation, which lead her to have AIDs finally. Gump's life can be an example of good citizenship since he participated in every great national activities, and survived and exceled.

Early in the article it is asked, "What does it suggest that these nostalgic, familial references to nationally sanctioned racial violence are translated through someone incapable of knowing what they mean?" In essence, it seems that the author of the article does not believe that the civil right movement and the Vietnam War should have been translated through a simple minded american southern white boy, but through another medium perhaps. What other types of citizens could the film have been translated through if not through Forrest? How could they be more effective in telling this story?

OK , now I haven't seen the video, but there were a few things that caught my eye and wanted to reflect on:

Could the overreaction of MJ's video just be the fault of the public and not seeing the art as MJ intended?

I understood the video as a possible juxtaposition and/or commentary of the ideas in his first part of the video and the ideas he sees prevailing in today's society (namely inner city areas)?

I liked the inclusion of "Destruction of Jackson's own text" when referring to the edited release of the video.

We ended Monday's class with what is truly normal. In recent blog posts I have proposed this question as well - who decides what is normal and what isnt? Am I normal? By being a white straight male, so far in this course, I am ...normal. I know im abnormal compared to others because of my individuality. Berlant talks about Forrest Gump and being abnormal but being perfect in every way. Financially, heroically, sports stardom. I liken this to today's America wanting the perfect feeling of abnormal. Could the "abnormalities" of real life be the norm for media?

The background of movie “Forrest Gump” was the history of America in 1960s-1970s. Even though Forrest Gump was a mentally retarded child, this movie shows us through his sight. The world will never be the same once you’ve seen it through the eyes of Forrest Gump. Forrest Gump was just one of them in the Alabama in 20s, but he represent a person who realized American dream. He didn’t care about politics, history, movement, ideology, and something like that, but he just focus on his closely related, and he always tried to be just promise with them. As a result Forrest Gump’s characteristic and simple life style made world better, and made him as a famous American. Forrest Gump include many historical happens. There are Vietnam war, water gate, racialism in the U.S., hippy, drug, and etc. in the movie.

We discussed the idea of 'normality' in relation to disabilities in class Monday and it seemed as if we came to the conclusion that the level of exposure to people with certain attributes should be higher. We tend to view someone who is deaf as disabled, though many of them learn to adapt and live perfectly normal lives without a perfect sense of hearing. Do you think exposure to characters such as Forrest Gump who may be considered classically disabled, but are portrayed as success stories, can lead to a wider understanding of 'disabilities' to be seen as, perhaps, 'modified attributes'?

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This page contains a single entry by zimme313 published on November 12, 2012 10:52 PM.

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