You will write three papers for this course. All three papers should adher to the following specifications.

Specifications for Writing 2 Papers:

  • Make sure your paper has a descriptive title (not just "assignment 1"); a seperate title page is not necessary. On the first page, above the title (to help me with my clerical work be sure to include, your name, the name and the time of the course.
  • All papers will be a minimum of 1200 words.
  • Be sure to double space.
  • Margins should be an inch to an inch and a half on all sides.
  • All papers should appear in Times New Roman font, 12 point. This appears to be the standard font for colleges and universities across the country.
  • Do not justify the right hand margin. Leave it ragged.
  • All papers should have a descriptive title, one that gives some idea about what you are going to say.
  • All papers will be submitted via email attachment. If you don't know how to attach files see me or ask one of your roommates.
  • Make sure that your name is on the actual paper (in the file); also please indicate what class you are in (Writing 2 in this case) and the time of the class. These items help me with my secretarial chores.
  • Since you will be submitting your papers as email attachments, you don't need to include headers or page numbers for that matter. I can just scroll down as I read.
  • Do not double space between paragraphs. That is a convention of web writing, but not yet a convention for academic and other types of writing.
  • Formatting Quotations (MLA style) or how correctly to stick quotations in your paper: click here. Also be sure always to "introduce" your quotation. For example:
    Karl Marx writes, "Blah, blah, blah." That first little bit (Karl Marx writes) is the introduction.

General Directions for all Papers:

As you know from Writing 1 I do not assign topics or give so-called "prompts" for papers. That means, as you have seen, that figuring out what you want to write about and what you want to say about what you want to write about becomes the central task of your writing. Of course, the class itself has a rather general huge topic: the Consumer Society; and within that the readings will push your writing in one direction or another. For example, the first readings for the quarter are intended to raise and address, at least partially, the question: what is the consumer society, or a bit more specifically, how for the purposes of this course will the consumer society be defined. The second set of readings address an issue slightly more specific and specific too the consumer society: the issues of advertising and celebrity worship. The third piece of material for the course is the film, "The Truman Show."

As you also already know from Writing 1, I don't expect your papers to "cover" all of the materials we have read, discussed, or viewed. I would much rather you engage in depth a single reading or even a single example (to make whatever point you want to make) than write up a cursory treatment of the readings. This is another way of saying that I hope you do not think of the writing as a form of test on whether you have or have not done the readings.

Class discussions will of course help you to define the thing you must want to say, but in large part what you want to say will arise from how you engage the material and how the material engages you. I hope the material engages you. After all, we live in a consumer society and on top of that at the moment we live in a consumer society in crisis. Looking at this society and at this crisis should affect us in personal ways. What do you think of the consumer society? Where is it going? What are its short comings? Where did it come from and how did it develop? What sort of ethic or morality does it tend to promote.

I certainly hope the material engages you because, ultimately, that "personal" or "subjective" engagement will fuel whatever you decide to write about. In this light, I do not expect you to be "objective" or "detached" from whatever you write about. I do of course hope that you are accurate in your treatment of the readings and fair in your assessments, but this is not the same thing as being objective. This is best described as "being reasonable."

I am interested then in how the materials affect you; what do they help you to see or make you feel.

Paper 1 Remarks:

But beyond these formal requirements things do get more complicated. I would like you to base your paper in some way shape or form upon the materials discussed, viewed, and read during these first three weeks of class. This though is not a memory class. Do not view your paper as a review of the material or a way of showing me what you have read. I am impressed when people have read well and closely, but reading well and closely requires also that one do some thinking about what one has read.

That's the hard part...the thinking part. This will require some engagement on your part, some desire to express a view for example, or to analyze something not quite clear, or to explain something that needs explaining, or to reflect on how the materials may have changed however slightly your view of things.

Mostly I want to hear YOUR response to the topic under discussion as you understand that topic and as you think, reflect, and feel upon it. Because I want YOUR response, I can tell you exactly what to write because I do not know what YOUR response. Hell, I don't even know at this moment what MY response is. I have covered the materials we have covered in class a couple of times now and each time I find myself thinking about what I have seen, read, and discussed in a slightly different way. The way I try to find out what I might be thinking is to write and see what comes out. So, that I guess is what I am asking you to do.

For example, this time I find myself thinking more about the "expressive self." This is mentioned in the video and the readings. What is that exactly. I am not sure, I would have to think about it. But for the time being I will not try to define it, but just say that the video and the readings suggest this "expressive self" was created and produced by social forces, by what I call the consumer society. People like Bernay and Lehman and Herbert Hoover quite consciously saw advertising--the executive arm of the hidden govenment--as an attempt to create something called, not the worker, or laborer, or thinker, or artist, but the consumer.

I find this a little freaky because it means that the very way I experience my self as a self is not my self precisely but a socially created self-view. At other times, people apparently did not experience themselves as consumers; this is hard to get to or understand because we tend to project on the whole history of the world the view of the world that we know, the one we have grown up with.

That's sort of what I am thinking about at this point. If I were to write a four page paper, it would be devoted to saying more clearly by analysis, example, quotations, personal examples what I mean by these foggy thoughts and what they might mean for my understand of myself and the world in which I live.

Something like that.

More on paper 1...

As indicated paper 1 is not a report but a response (that might include analysis, argument, narrative, etc) to the topic. Along those lines I was thinking about the idea of expressive individual, and it came to me that I had seen a Comerica back in the sixties, or early seventies that clearly illustrates this idea (in the commercial!). I forget the product. But this was during the cold war and feature Russia. The Russians didn't have the thing being advertised (who knows what) and as a consequence of that they were the dullest looking people in the world. In the ad, all the women wore drab green smocks and all the men look like idiots. These people were a dull uniform horde because they lacked the product. We americans however were lively and colorful and expressive because we had the product. As Berney would say this advertisement was pure propaganda. A product was associated with the expressive individualism of capitalist consumer society, and those Russians, who were socialists, were consequently projected as dull and idiotic. So in this ad, the product was associated with patriotism, capitalism, consumerism and all were projected as superior to the dull idiocy of the the Russians. I don't know if I would use this example in my paper or not. Maybe I would use it in the first paragraph as a way to get things going.

 

Also to show how this theme of expressive individualism is still being used in ads I might write about those Mac/PC ads.

 

But there a good number of ideas or themes that one might draw from the readings and look at in more detail, by analyzing the article or the idea and by drawing upon your own experience.

David Suzuki starts off his chapter, "The True Cost of Gadgets" with a little thought experiment. He writes:

Imagine you decided to throw away your cell pone, close down your Facebook account, disconnect your high speed internet modem, unplug your satellite television receiver, put away your Blackberry, shut down your Ipod, turn off your DVD player and abandon your HDTV. Friends might think you have lost it. Family members might suggest counseling. "What's Wrong?" they would want to know.

And you could tell them you're leading a completely modern life, circa 1995,

I think one could mull over this quotation in many ways. I was alive in 1995 and I didn't feel back then that my life was impoverished or somehow not complete because I didn't have a DVD player or an Ipod. Of course, the DVD player or Ipod had not been invented or marketed yet. Now, Suzuki says a person might be seen as nuts if he or she went back to living in 1995. This suggests how much we are creatures of our social world; this social world changes and we change with it. Suddenly something that didn't even exist in 1995 because part of everyday reality and a person might feel impoverished or incomplete without a cell phone or a DVD player.

But are these upgrades really upgrades. Do we need them? Or do we want them and is this desire for these things something that comes from the individual or something created in the individual by marketing and social pressure.

A deeper question, of course, is buried here. Is there such a thing as an individual separate from his or her social conditions?

More on paper 1.

I got my Ph.D. in English Literature. I spent a good deal of time reading complicated stuff and then trying to interpret it. Not, in other words, just trying to summarize what it said; but trying to figure out what it meant. Actually, though, these two things cannot be separated. Figuring out what something says usually means one already has some idea what it means; and what it means of course is very much related to a clear statement of what it says.

Over all, I think this way of writing is related to analysis and, through that, to interpretation (or here is what I think it means on the basis of what I think it says).

So one way to think about writing paper 1 and organizing it would be to locate in a couple of the articles some quotations that you think are important. You would then try to relate the quotations, show how they are alike, and pull out of them a common idea that unites them both, and then go on to elaborate upon that key idea through further quotes and examples from the world of advertisements, for example, or from your own personal experience.

I am thinking about interpretation right now because I just finished re-reading Lasch's piece on Narcissism and Consumerism. It's a bit of a tough go; I am not sure a what he means exactly. But as I read, I keep thinking about the idea of identity in consumer society. He brings it up quite a bit. He seems to suggest that in consumer society one is encouraged and socialized to believe that identity is very, very fluid. He even seems to say that now the surface is the self or in other words it is now possible to tell a book by its cover.

I think this idea--the idea of self or identity--in consumer society might be a central idea around which to build a paper.

This is of course something one could think about in a personal way--to test the idea against one's experience to help you figure out further what Lasch might mean.

Say, one tends to feel that the ills of consumerism are the result of individual greed or selfishness or pleasure seeking hedonism. Reading Lasch might cause you to rethink (though not necessarily to discard) that view. He doesn't seem to want to hold individuals responsible for there actions; rather, as a social thinker, he argues that we (and this ties to the Cushman article and the social construction of self) live in a social world, a consumer world, that shapes for us, whether we like it or not, or even if we are conscious of it or not, a certain view of identity or self (and it's really impossible to think one's self out of the clutches of this view).

He writes:

The repeated experience of uneasy self-scrutiny, or submission to expert judgment, of distrust of their capacity to make intelligent decisions, either as producers or consumers, colors people's perceptions both of themselves and of the world around them.

Here I think of the documentary, and the Cushman article especially. These suggest the ways consumer society sets up self-scrutiny of an uneasy kind (do I have bad breath, am I overweight? and then tries to sell us solutions to these nagging self doubts). These solutions, as he argues, are frequently sold to us by "experts," that we tend to believe because we, of course, are not "experts."

Lasch continues:

He [the consumer] learns that the self-image he [sic] projects counts for more than accumulated skills and experience. Since he will be judged, both by his colleagues and superiors at work and by the strangers he encounters of the street, according to his clothes, his possessions, and his "personality"--not as in the 19th century by his "character"--he adopts a theatrical view of his own performance on and off the job.

Here "identity" or self is reduced to its surface presentation. Indeed, Lasch argues, that in consumer society "...the self becomes almost indistinguishable from the its surface." Naturally, then, if the self is to fit in or keep up or be accepted, it must buy those things that allow it to fit in, or keep up, or be accepted. But, as Lasch point out, this constant need, promoted by the consumer society, to update or upgrade one's self, makes selfhood or identity "problematic" or as Cushman puts it, the self becomes or is constructed as "empty." And this is not a good feeling.

That's enough. I just wanted to suggest how by looking closely at quotations, and weaving a few of them together one might, but does not have to write a paper, trying to clarify for one's self as best one can a central thought or idea.

Paper 2: Paper two will be based on the readings, inclass discussions and viewings for weeks five, six, and seven. Paper one is scheduled to be due at the end of the eight week (but these dates are subject to change).

I try to write a couple of paragraphs against advertising to children:

Advertisers have long advertised to children. The Kodak company proudly claims to have been one of the earliest to see the potential of the market for children. They advertised the Brownie the children as a kind of toy. Who else would see the fun in this crazy gizmo used for taking pictures of people. It was a smart stratagy. But as authorities indicate, while companies have long advertised to children, something seems to have really gone out of whack about 1980. A few years before that the Federal Trade Commission held hearings to analyze the effect of advertising on children. They were prepared to start, at least, to regulate the advertising of sugar filled cereals to children. But then the matter came before Congress, and not only were the sensible plans of the FTC turned down, the FTC was stripped of the power to regulate programming to children at all.

And who spearheaded the attack on the FTC? Why, of course, the companies that produced sugary cereals and products for children. One executive testified before Congress, in effect: The United States is a capitatlist country. Every person is responsible for himself. The last thing we need is a National Nanny. This is capitalist ideology, not sound philosophy. Obviously the most important flaw in the argument is that children are children and not adults. One might claim that individual adults should be responsible for themselves; but children are, almost by definition, not responsible for themselves or their actions. When a child nags a parent for a product, the child is not responsible for his behavior. He or she had in fact been manipulated. X and Y write: "Children age 8 and younger are especially vulnerable to the exploitative techniques used by marketers because their ability to reason logically and abstractly is not yet fully developed." In effect, the authors continue a child before the age of 8 simply does not understand advertising. He or she sees a smiling and happy child who is eating a happy looking colorful cereal, and they do not understand that the children are acting and that eating his happy cereal does not automatically make one smile.

 

Paper 3: Paper three will be a response to the film, The Truman Show, and inclass discussions and analysis during weeks eight, nine and ten.