Wednesday, December 16, 2009

"We All Run On Instinct"

At first glance, the “Twilight” saga by Stephenie Meyer may seem to be a radical romance; the young, virginal Bella sexually pursues Edward, a sexy vampire who insists on abstinence until marriage, an idea uncommon in fiction. But the fact that Bella actually waits until marriage in order to have sex is not as innocent as it sounds. While masquerading as a Mormon parable of abstinence, the “Twilight” Saga, specifically New Moon, actually subliminally perpetuates the idea that a female who saves herself until marriage to a controlling male shall reap the benefits of a passionate, happy marriage and happy ending. This image of the “perfect” and “ideal” male like Edward leads adolescent girls to expect this from males in real life, wherein they falter substantially. This unreal image bears the detrimental weight of disappointment and heartbreak, because it involves masochistic self-control which most adolescents do not possess. Bret Easton Ellis’s Rules of Attraction also features masochistic and controlling relationships experienced under cyclical intoxication; these stories do not have the picturesque happy ending which girls and women seem determined to fulfill. The fact that females aged 10 to 45 flock to the “Twilight” series and movies illustrates their fantasies of a “devoted” male who seeks only the happiness and safety of his female; in fact, Edward’s strict rules and ambiguous theories smother Bella and direct her into a thrill-seeking, danger-filled era of Post-Traumatic Stress when he leaves her. This image of the controlling male needs to be replaced with a more realistic image; otherwise, males will continue to fail in comparison to those images which are taught to adolescent females.

            The vampire theme occurs in literature and usually features a predatory (male) character that bewitches and/or tricks a naïve female into becoming like him. Traditionally, the female has to invite the vampire into her home (and thus, her life), and his seduction begins. The “Twilight” saga challenges the traditional vampire in that, instead of being an older figure as defined in How to Read Literature Like a Professor, the vampire Edward Cullen shall remain perpetually frozen at age seventeen. But because his transformation into a vampire occurred a hundred years prior to the modern setting of the novel, Edward retains a timelessness that deems him an older figure. In Twilight, when Bella discovers Edward’s secret, he complains to her that every quality about him lures her in; he nobly denounces the lifestyle he lives, claiming he would have chosen otherwise given half the chance. He admits to being “sexy…alluring, dangerous, [and] mysterious,” as traditional vampire figures are (Foster, 16). Bella, a plain antisocial girl of divorce also challenges the victim role in traditional vampire stories. However, she has not lost her virginity, and the fact that Edward longs for her blood in a way dubbed “la tua cantante” (her blood sings to him) indicates her purity and innocence. Much like a traditional vampire story, Bella becomes a vampire, indicative of “a stripping away of her youth, energy, [and] virtue” (Foster, 19). But unfortunately, the “Twilight” saga ends with Bella as a happily married vampire with a hybrid human-vampire child, as if the family created at the end negates the fact that she has lost her chances at a normal, human existence. In fact, her naïve insistence on having Edward make her a vampire, and his moral insistence that the lifestyle is fraught with degradation into primal, evil existence, serves as Twilight’s antithesis to vampire lore. But Edward’s supposed protection of Bella’s virtue (and soul) develops into a sick dependence on and obsession with adrenaline-induced stupidity. When Edward’s newest adoptive brother loses his moral control over his instinct to feed on human blood and nearly kills Bella, Edward persuades his family to leave. When Edward has to leave Bella, he convinces her that he never loved her and that he chooses to leave. Just as Edward’s vampire nature is to feed on Bella’s blood, Bella feeds on the danger into which she puts herself when Edward leaves her.

            Stephenie Meyer unskillfully makes attempts at retelling classic literary works. She connects her first work, Twilight, to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, with the vampire Edward as a modern-day immortal Mr. Darcy and the pedestrian Bella as a contemporary yet still headstrong Elizabeth Bennett. Meyer develops the saga in New Moon, her weak homage to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, with Edward and Bella as the lead characters and Bella’s best friend-turned-werewolf Jacob as Paris ("Stephenie Meyer Talks About Breaking Dawn"). This connection falls short, however, in that Juliet does not return Paris’s admirations, yet Bella eventually falls for Jacob and chooses Edward instead. The third installment of the saga, Eclipse, makes distinct connections and intertextual references to Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, with Bella’s obsession and selfish behavior mirroring that of Catherine. According to Meyer, the conclusion to the saga (told in primarily Bella’s perspective, that is), makes references to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, among other literary inspirations ("Stephenie Meyer Talks About Breaking Dawn").

            Much like the first Biblical temptation in Genesis, vampires play on the first sexual seduction a girl encounters. And the “Twilight” saga continues this theme, as even the actor who plays Edward Cullen comments: “Twilight is a big metaphor for sexual abstinence, and yet [it is] erotic underneath” (Singh, 1). The eroticism that pervades the saga, from the first encounter between the two characters to their love’s consummation post-wedding, attracts female fans because of their desire to arouse the perhaps long-lost feelings of the rush of first love, or for females finding solace in the supposed perfect romance and love as portrayed in the novel. The first seduction of woman – the serpent convincing Eve to take a bite of the apple of the Knowledge of Good and Evil – has since connected evil with sex (Foster, 16). In fact, the cover of the Twilight novel depicts a pair of milky white arms proffering a shiny red apple, thus illuminating the vampire’s offer for the human to taste his evil. In the first encounter between Edward and Bella, wherein Bella has to sit next to Edward in Biology class, Edward does very little to conceal his abhorrence of Bella and leaves her wondering what heinous act she has committed in order to deflect a perfect stranger. Thus begins the masochistic relationship. He returns and manages to properly introduce himself days later, and Bella’s fascination with Edward’s bronze (not just brown) hair, luminous golden (not hazel or brown) eyes, and proper gentleman-like manner of speaking lures her to pursue relations with him even after he warns her to stay away. Edward then teeters between showing Bella contempt (under the guise of the difficulty of resisting her blood) and expressing concern for her safety. Once Edward has successfully seduced Bella into his magnetic and electrifying presence, he expresses the danger he poses to her.

In a scene from Twilight in an almost magical meadow secluded in the woods and hills, Edward demonstrates his strength and speed, comparing himself to a masochistic lion and Bella concedes that she plays the part of the naïve lamb tempting him. But these two characters pursue the relationship (even after knowing that it could emotionally and physically cripple the either of them), because “[Edward] refuses to defile her, and [Bella] loves him so dearly that she [desperately wants] him to do just that” (Flanagan, 1). Bella’s persistence and desire fuels the relationship, with Edward supposedly acting honorably by refusing to acquiesce. Bella manipulates the relationships she has (with Edward and Jacob) so that she ends up with her strongest wish – she submits to her human desires.

            In Rules of Attraction, Ellis blatantly exposes primal desires without shame – thus portraying adolescent reality as found in the female archetype embodied in Lauren. Lauren experiments with drugs and guys, sleeps with guys to get over her ex, and changes her major frequently if her pursuits are thwarted. As Chris Barker discusses Meehan’s female archetypes in his Cultural Studies, Lauren represents “the harpy, [who is] aggressive and single” (Barker, 408). She goes after what she wants if she really wants it, even if she does so while intoxicated, and she rarely settles with one guy for an extended period of time. Then again, Lauren also portrays the “victim: passive, suffers violence or accidents” as marked by her rape that opens the novel, followed by her inconsistent slew of guys who do not love her or sleep with her for drugs, all the while as she pines for Victor (Barker, 307). Even though Lauren and Bella represent two different females, they may also represent two facets of most women; in that, Bella’s naïveté and innocence deem her the young adolescent female experiencing a first love, and Lauren’s promiscuity and obsession with Victor depict the woman burned by love and made cynical by a generation of men using her for sexual gratification. Bella’s portrayal as a victim, a clumsy girl who finds herself frequently suffering paper cuts and throws into glass tables and attacks by less-humane vampires (as in  Twilight and New Moon), differ from how Edward claims to see her; he sees her as the “decoy [who is] apparently helpless, actually strong” (Barker, 307). He views her as a human whose mysterious allure and ability to resist vampires’ heightened abilities (for example, Edward can read every mind but Bella’s) make her a prize worth the temptation; he pursues her because he cannot figure her out, much like a confusing puzzle that has baffled many. Bella’s selfish behavior in Eclipse, as marked by her comparison of Edward and Jacob to two magnets with the same polarity that when pushed together actually physically push away each other, tries to have the best friend who loves her alongside a man-boy who desires her on every possible level. Her desire to have, quite literally the best of both worlds (as in this mythical modern world, vampires and werewolves have an innate animosity within them that has spanned all the generations of werewolves and vampires), makes her the “bitch [who is a] sneak, cheat, [and is] manipulative” (Barker, 307). She admits to her conniving behavior at the very end, after she realizes she loves Jacob as more than her best friend, but that cannot excuse the damage she inflicted onto those closest to her. Her selfishness and unwillingness to compromise make her a cruel young woman.

            By examining Bella’s behavior’s after Edward leaves her (under the impression that he acted for her best interest), one can understand how the relationship registered as a controlling force that dictated the rest of Bella’s fate. When Edward leaves Bella stranded in the woods, incoherent from the news that he did not love her and only pretended to love her, the young leader who turned out to be the werewolf pack leader discovered her and brought her back home. Bella then lapsed into a comatose phase marked by four empty pages in the novel, each titled a passing month (New Moon, 85-92). Much like Lauren’s blank entry after the abortion in Rules of Attraction, these blank pages signify a loss and feeling of emptiness. For Bella, “it was a crippling thing, this sensation that a huge hole had been punched through [her] chest, exercising [her] most vital organs and leaving ragged, unhealed gashes around the edges that continued to throb and bleed despite the passage of time” (New Moon, 118). Even Lauren’s abortion couldn’t heal the ongoing hurt from Victor and Sean, as not a single character in Rules of Attraction took responsibility for sex or the repercussions of such irresponsible sex. If anything, Lauren fills the void in her life by holding onto Victor because she has no memory of how her first sexual encounter happened; and in contrast, Bella wants the loss of her virginity to be the last ‘human’ experience she has (she gets her wish).

            Both Lauren and Bella deal with their loss and emptiness in different ways, as previously discussed; but Bella fills her void with Jacob yet Lauren stays wanting. Bella’s depression begins with Edward abandoning her: “ ‘You’re not good for me, Bella’…How well I knew that I [was not] good enough for him” (New Moon, 70). But with Lauren, as she attempts to re-assemble the broken pieces of her life post-Victor, she still pines for him: “I have not painted in over a week. I am going to change my major unless Victor calls” (Ellis, 102). While thoughts of Edward send Bella into a painful frenzy (she grabs her torso to keep herself from keeling over), Lauren’s every thought fixates on Victor, and every boy she sees is Victor in her head. As Bella slowly opens up and eases into her close friendship with Jacob, she realizes that “Like an earthbound sun, whenever someone was within his gravitational pull, Jacob warmed them. It was natural, a part of who he was” and this makes it easier for Bella to enjoy his company (New Moon, 145). The brotherly affection Jacob has for Bella develops into a romantic interest, one which Bella deflects because she has an obligatory, magnetic connection to Edward. But she concedes that Jacob fills the void left by Edward, only to feel guilty for betraying the once-magical surreal romance with Edward. She pursues adrenaline-ridden activities like riding a motorcycle and cliff-diving because she knows that Edward would be disappointed in her, and she develops hallucinations of Edward telling her to go home and to be reasonable. Bella realizes her insanity as she endeavors on an adrenaline run and asks herself, “Had I turned into a masochist – developed a taste for torture? I should have gone straight to La Push [the reservation where Jacob lives]. I felt much healthier around Jacob” (New Moon, 159). The joke about the definition of insanity as being the repetition of the same thing expecting different results; Bella realizes that her foolish actions do not bring Edward back to her small town, yet she pursues such ends in an almost unconscious act of suicide. She even knows that Jacob suits her better, provides a more stable relationship for her, yet she recoils from his advances out of spite and guilt. Even Lauren admits that her means of passing the time and grief do not fix the holes in her heart: “I like Franklin’s body and he’s good in bed and easy to have orgasms with. But it doesn’t feel good and when I try to fantasize about Victor, I can’t” (Ellis, 116). Lauren’s concession that her life had become a simplification to the abortion she had to have admits her downfall and her subsequent break up with Sean (“I realized I did not love him, and never had, and…I was acting on some bizarre impulse”) provides partial closure to the emptiness she felt for the majority of the novel (Ellis, 257, 265). Much like the Camden students in Rules of Attraction, Bella becomes so isolated from even herself that a human life and existence is not enough to sustain her; only the promise of Edward’s return and marriage proposal (with a demand of abstinence) completely pull her out of her isolation. Both Lauren and Bella fill their voids with obsessions – Lauren’s obsession with an idealized romance even though she experiences relationships devoid of any romance, and Bella’s obsession with trying to regain the tangibility of a ‘perfect’ relationship that combines love, sex, and romance.

            A more realistic storyline to portray would not feature a picturesque happy ending – marriage, family, new car, the prodigal white picket fence. Instead, a doomed relationship (like Sean and Lauren’s, who constantly fight in order to feel something) would naturally fade away, with a continuation of the previous lifestyle. Humans are biologically driven to engage in relationships, as the tagline for the Rules of Attraction movie said: “We all run on instinct” – so they find excuses to either stay in relationships or to explain why the relationship never had a chance to succeed. Sean, while at Vittorio’s party with Lauren, can not stand the attention Lauren receives, and admits “this is the end of the relationship. I knew it was coming to an end. She was starting to bore me already” (Ellis, 191). In order to protect his male ego, Sean negates responsibility for the failed relationship as most people would naturally do.  His dramatic failed attempt at suicide, followed by his deflection of Lauren’s infidelity accusation, proves his true human qualities, and thus a realistic ending to an imperfect relationship (Ellis, 210-213). Growing up in a generation of adolescents so completely detached from themselves, Lauren and Sean experience an expected, unhappy ending. Lauren further explains and justifies her human behaviors by saying “ ‘No one ever knows anyone. Ever. You will never know me’ ” (Ellis, 227).  Lauren’s honest acceptance that she keeps everyone at distance, perhaps because of the mask she may wear at school in order to fit in with social norms, suits the theme of the novel. “We all run on instinct” but ultimately, we have to choose the best, most healthy relationship. And sometimes that choice is to be single. Paul’s explanation for failed relationships matches the relationships in the “Twilight” saga: “No one ever likes the right person” (Ellis, 261). And the cycle of poorly-chosen, masochistic, vapid relationships continues with the novel ending as it began – midsentence.

            Milan Kundera said that “we can never know what we want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come” (Barker, 235). Bella wants immortality with the man-child she supposedly loves, forsaking a life with her human family, and Lauren wants release from the pain of unrequited love. But unrequited, unresolved love occurs more frequently than a fairy tale ending, and for young girls and middle aged women to fixate on pursuing a perfect romance is not only careless and stupid, it is unrealistic. Edward’s ‘concern’ for Bella only existed because he ran on instinct – anyone who reads Midnight Sun, the fifth book in the “Twilight” saga as told from Edward’s perspective, knows that he had the strongest desire to shred Bella apart, and he fantasized different ways of killing her with the least amount of collateral. His moral ambiguity and dubious proclamations force Bella to choose dangerously. The fairy tale ending taught to girls just disappoints them when they face reality – not all boys will pursue as adamantly, very few boys will lay down their lives (let alone hearts) for a girl, and most importantly, relationships require commitment and sometimes end in disappointment. Rules of Attraction eloquently portrays realistic adolescent relationships, complete with an unhappy ending, and this kind of relationship should replace the carefree, picturesque notions taught in most young adult fiction.

Barker, Chris. Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice. London: Sage Publications. 2008. Print.
Ellis, Bret Easton. The Rules of Attraction. New York: Vintage Books. 1987. Print.
Flanagan, Caitlin. “What Girls Want”. Atlantic Monthly. Dec 2008. p 108-120. Online. 18 Nov 2009.
Foster, Thomas C. How to Read Literature Like a Professor. New York: HarperCollins, 2003. Print.
Meyer, Stephenie. Eclipse. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2007. Print
Meyer, Stephenie. New Moon. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2006. Print.
Meyer, Stephenie. Twilight. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2005. Print.
Singh. Anita. “Twilight Teaches Teenage Girls That Abstinence Can Be Sexy, Says Robert Pattinson” Telegraph Media Group. 28 Nov 2009. Online. 1 Dec 2009.
Twilight. Screenplay by Melissa Rosenberg. Dir Catherine Hardwicke. Online. 15 December 2009., Stephenie. “Stephenie Meyer Talks About Breaking Dawn.” LittleBrownBooks. 11 June 2008. Online. 1 December 2009.

Monday, November 9, 2009

"Sex and the City"

For the "Sex and the City" presentation, I was responsible for generating Chapter 12 Barker questions and Samantha archetype/character trait questions. We decided as a group to all read and discuss Chapter 10 and Butler's piece as well, and incorporated all three subject matters together. My Samantha questions focused on her fierce personality and pointed out how she is also dedicated to her friends. I also took the Samantha group (although they were really characterized by our quiz as Carrie) and tried to facilitate their mini-discussions. I bought the cups and umbrellas for our apple-tinis and Cosmopolitans.

My questions were:

Barker defines postmodernism as: (a) cultural style marked by intertextuality, irony, pastiche, genre blurring and bricolage (the rearrangement and juxtaposition of previously unconnected signifying objects to produce new meanings in fresh contexts); in what ways does "Sex and the City" fit this definition? How does it differ?

Barker discusses place and space. Place is the socially constructed site marked by emotional investment, whereas space is dynamic and based on social constructions constituted in and through social relations of power. Consider this: "Attempts by some women to 'reclaim the night' are essentially spatial practices" (Barker, 377). What do you think this means? How do the women of "Sex and the City" fit into this?

How does the culture of "Sex and the City" influence the show? If it were set in another city, would the show have been as much of a success? Why or why not? (See Barker, 386) How does this TV setting affect its fans?

Samantha is s a sexual tigress, with a nonchalant attitude toward love and relationships, but who eventually falls in love and commits to a relationship. Is her symbolism of powerful feminine sexuality portrayed well throughout the show? How has this influenced women in our modern culture?
Samantha has been quoted saying, “I will wear whatever and blow whomever I want as long as I can breathe and kneel.” But she is also loyal to her friends, outspoken, confident, a survivor of breast cancer, and quite successful in business. How would you define her character archetype?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Carrie Bradshaw Falls in Dior

Barker identifies cultural economics as a branding for a city, associating it with desirable 'goods' (386). This includes the culture industries, including film, tv, ad agencies, and the music business. The fashion industry, an ever-present figure in "Sex and the City," is a character in an of itself throughout the entire show's run. From Jimmy Choos to Dior to Manolos, the four girls wore name-brand only and never wore off the rack. With the show set in New York City, a hub for theater, fashion, Wall Street, US history, international commerce, etc., the girls are at a cultural center. Each of the girls has a well-paying job, so they are able to afford high fashion. That being said, fans of the show and followers of the characters' fashion believe that the couture is easily accessible, or at least aspire to have the taste in fashion that Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda each possess. There are four aspects of the feminine represented in the show, and so the fashion presented can appeal to different views of femininity throughout the nation and globe.

Carrie's fall in Dior is not only funny, it makes the idea of the store more tangible. The general public who may live paycheck to paycheck in the suburbs may trip and fall in their local Wal-Mart; for Carrie Bradshaw, a published writer, to fall in the middle of "high-class" Dior in New York City, well that makes the store seem almost normal and attainable for those who don't make six figures.

The culture of New York City and that of the girls is transmitted through the show, across the globe, into our living room television sets, and influences our own economics. With this show came a rebirth in high-class couture and design, cultivating a generation of modern women who (want or) have the high-paying job, family and/or friends, and the matching handbag and high heels.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Slaves and Fools for Love

Slaves and Fools for Love
The characters in Bret Easton Ellis’s The Rules of Attraction engage in promiscuous sex, an excess of alcohol and drugs, and a series of unrequited romances. The recurring ideas of sexuality, college life, love, and bourgeois lifestyle shape these students in their academic as well as social lives, so that the product of their lifestyle is their dependence on and abuse of each other. The Camden students merely act on their upper-class upbringing, devoid of any true responsibility, and therefore engage in cyclical, hedonistic acts in an effort to express and validate themselves (sexually and otherwise).
Paul’s open bisexuality and confidence in sexual prowess embodies untraditional masculinity. Barker in Cultural Studies defines modern masculinity as being associated with “performance orientation… manifested in grandiosity… and deep feelings of inadequacy and depression” (302). Paul subscribes to his privileged upbringing in that he wants outside students to know that he attends a pretentious school (Ellis, 122) and therefore only partakes in relationships that would benefit his social standing; however, with these loveless relationships he subjects himself to perpetual disappointment. Foucault’s History of Sexuality discusses the power that sex has over individuals and societies. A sexual power struggle arises in the relationship between Paul and Sean, and Foucault maintains that “pleasure and power do not cancel or turn back against one another; they seek out, overlap, and reinforce one another. They are linked together by complex mechanisms and devices of excitation and incitement” (Foucault, 690). This sexual game between Paul and Sean feeds off the pleasure as well as the ambiguity that arises in their interpretations of what happens between them (Ellis, 83-4).
Additionally, the relationship plays into the “peripheral sexualities” that Foucault discusses, which came to be correlated with a combination of both sexes found in one person (Foucault, 687). Foucault goes on to say that sexuality has evolved into another way for people to identify themselves as individuals (689); neither Paul nor Sean claim to be homosexual or bisexual, but Paul’s actions identify him as bisexual with leanings towards homosexuality and Sean’s apathy identifies him with ambiguous sexuality. Their sexual relationship may be deemed a perversion, but this is only aided by the bourgeois culture: Foucault claims that “society succeeded only in giving rise to a whole perverse outbreak” (689). Perhaps Sean’s understanding of the sexual experiences with Paul differs from Paul’s because of Sean’s confusion and/or shame regarding the sexual perversions.
In Rachel Baker’s Sigmund Freud for Everyone, one of Freud’s patients sought his guidance regarding a physical ailment of hers. A governess working for a young widower, she had to educate his two young daughters. In a session, Freud asked her if she loved the widower. She responded, “‘ it hurts my feelings to be in love with someone who considers himself superior to me, and who will never notice me’” (Baker, 51). Freud’s ideas of repression emerged from here, and he conceded that if hidden feelings are not dealt with, they can manifest in various ways, ie, obsession (Baker, 51). Sean’s confusion and rejection of homosexuality seemed to manifest itself into his obsession over Lauren, who he had falsely idealized as his admirer. Ultimately, he (like Paul) pursues relationships doomed to perpetual disappointment.
In Cultural Studies Chapter 2, Barker identifies culture as values, norms, and material or symbolic goods within a society, and Camden student identify their culture by their commodities. Jean Baudrillard’s The System of Objects how there are now so many objects by which people can personalize themselves. He dictates that advertising’s control over society creates a moral code, “[creating] a hedonistic morality of pure satisfaction” (Baudrillard, 410). The Camden students’ attendance at sexually-infused parties, pervasive with drugs and a lack of parental authority, allows for this hedonism to occur, thus perpetuating their sexual sharing cycles and spats. These students define themselves based on the people they have slept with, the drugs they enjoy, their preference for beer, the major they are registered to but disinterested in; as Baudrillard puts it, “people define themselves in relation to objects” (413). Commodities identify the three main characters: Lauren’s emptiness post-abortion defines her mundane existence (Ellis, 268), Sean’s departure from his family’s expectations explains his disappointment (Ellis, 47), and Paul’s relationship with the “slutty” Sean simplifies his existence (Ellis, 81).
But while these students ravage each other, painstakingly isolating themselves from one another, their culture cannot be deemed consumption; the authority-free, sexually liberated, intoxicated youth create the playground for consumption of one another. By giving everything to them, society cultivated this generation of upper-class yuppie youth into hedonists with latent morality.
Works Cited
Baker, Rachel. Sigmund Freud for Everybody. London: Popular Library, 1963. Print.
Barker, Chris. Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice. London: Sage Publications. 2008. Print.
Ellis, Bret Easton. The Rules of Attraction. New York: Vintage Books. 1987. Print.
Rivkin, Julie and Michael Ryan, eds. Rivkin, Julie and Michael Ryan. “The Politics of Culture” Literary Theory: An Anthology. Malden: Blackwell, 1998.
Rivkin, Julie and Michael Ryan, eds. Baudrillard, Jean. "The System of Objects." Literary Theory: An Anthology. Malden: Blackwell, 1998.
Rivkin, Julie and Michael Ryan, eds. Foucault, Michel. "The History of Sexuality." Literary Theory: An Anthology. Malden: Blackwell, 1998.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Nelson, Desiree
English 313H
MW 1230

Ethnography – Simi Valley Town Center Mall

I observed the Simi Valley Town Center Mall for about an hour on a week day evening, in various locations of the mall. I expected to see couples and young families with their children. I found that the mall is definitely more of a social venue, since more people had some sort of companion.

While sitting in the child’s play area, I watched couples walk the long way down the mall corridor as well as the families in the play area. I saw a middle aged male putting a shoe on a young boy while talking on his cell phone. The adult never looked at the boy except at his feet.

A young couple with a single female had two children in the play area. The male from this couple watched while sitting his date played with the two children. The caregiver of these two children occasionally jumped in to play with the children. When the three adults got up to leave, the young couple was looking at each other while walking forward; the female with children walked to the left of them, talking to them.

A young couple, probably in their twenties, were talking and laughing together as they walked. They looked only at each other. The male had his arm around the female’s shoulders and she had her arm around his waist. He carried a bag in the hand draped over her shoulders.

I moved to the center promenade once all the families left. I saw a young couple dressed in sweats walking into Bath and Body Works. The male trailed behind, with his hand on the small of her back and both looked forward. I then saw another young couple dressed for a night out – male in collared shirt, nice jeans, and white sneakers; female in nice black jacket, jewelry, and high heeled boots. They were holding hands as they walked, talking to each other. Then they entered Abercrombie and Fitch. A Latin couple, probably aged 30 walked past the center promenade, each carrying a shopping bag. They talked together but neither looked at each other nor engaged in any physical contact. My last observation was of a young Asian family that consisted of two daughters, mother, and father. The older daughter trailed behind, texting, as the mother walked with the younger daughter slightly behind the male leader of the family.

I noticed that of the couples I observed, the males and females were either so “in tune” with each other, or so radically distant. I found it interesting that I saw a dad with his son as well as a mother with her two children; to me this means that both parents take a parental role in our modern times. However neither parent that I observed was engaging completely with their children. In fact, the young mother played less with her children than her friend did! And the dad who never once looked at his son while putting on his shoe really irritated me. Maybe he was on the phone with the child’s mother, or it was an important business call, but it indicated to me that families are very busy these days and have little time for “play”.

Additionally, all the females I saw fit into our cultural expectation of femininity – dainty appearance, makeup, feminine dress. I think the location – a mall that offers family events as well as romantic ambiance – caters to young couples. The stores sell items that the youthful generation buys, and every time I go there I see more couples than single people – if there are people without companions, they are at least with another couple. This tells me that as a society, we are more inclined to be part of a partnership than to be a lone person.

It seemed to me (and my mother, who came along since she enjoys people watching) that the older couples looked around more but the younger couples seemed to look “through” their surrounding environments, or focused on each other. This tells me that the older couples actually look at the world around them, whereas the younger couples focus on themselves. It also appeared to me that the females were leading the way. I think this is because the mall is associated with shopping, which is an activity primarily enjoyed by females. Overall, I saw traditional demonstrations of relationships and was not very surprised at my observations.