Sunday, 31 October 2010

Two keywords related to FYP

The presentation will be on two keywords from Keywords for American Studies. The chapters are by Pamela Perry who wrote the chapter titled ‘White’ and Roderick A Ferguson who wrote the chapter ‘Race’.

Both of these chapters focus on some of the aspects in my FYP which is looking at the leaderships of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King jr. during the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama. The authors have spoken from different perspectives about whites and race in America with some focus on equality, identity, privilege, and how both these, the white citizens and African American citizens are affected by their different cultures.

My presentation will be focusing on the differences between the white citizens and the African Americans and how they saw the challenges that were faced by different cultures.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

FYP: The Beauty myth.

The title of my FYP is 'Are American women still enthralled by the beauty myth?'
I am going to employ a case study methodology, I will do this be examining a variety of cultural products to show how they might be said to represent ideal representations of American femininity. I will explore if it is affecting modern women more so now than ever before.
With my first chapter I will focus on how the beauty culture and women in contemporary media looking at magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Vogue. I will contrast this analysis of print culture with an examination of such TV series as Extreme makeover where women are transformed into completely different people, through various means of surgery, dental work and make up in order to be deemed 'beautiful' by American society.

Having laid out the basis of my final year project I will contrast the main stream reps of chapter one with an analysis of how the beauty myth in the modern culture affects women of ethnic minorities in particular looking at African American women. I will do this by looking at the works of writers such as bell hooks and Alice walker. But also looking at how African American women are represented in the media. For example on Cosmopolitan’s web page out of 139 magazines covers shown in a gallery only 4 of the women were African America and two are of the same person.

In the final chapter I will question the critical orthodoxy as detailed by Wolf and others that the beauty myth as negative force. I will use and give proper bibliographic information By looking at articles such as 'the beauty myth is no myth' which argues that wolf is wrong in claiming that the beauty myth has been created by society and that it is in fact down to natural selection and science and is no myth at all but a inevitably reality in western society.

As Peiss mentions in Hope in a jar, the cosmetics industry grew after World War I and since the 20’s the expectations of beauty for women have been around, the beauty myth is nothing new.
Women now use their femininity to manipulate the Beauty myth in order to get ahead. Evidence the beauty myth can is a positive aspect of contemporary American society.I will use my conclusion to balance out all arguments and come to what I feel the beauty myth means for American women today

I feel my chosen FYP topic is appropriate as an American studies topic as it is an American issue. The ideals of what most western countries consider 'beauty' have stemmed from America and it is the country where plastic surgery and the cosmetics industry has grown dramatically.

With companies profiting billions of dollars a year from women's insecurities, it seems very American.

FYP: Attitudes towards craft brewing and beer consumption in the USA

This FYP aims to investigate the importance of beer making and beer consumption in the US. It will try to understand why Americans have certain attitudes towards alcohol, and why they choose a particular brand. The importance of independent business is also to be discussed, when comparing certain case studies of craft breweries against those of the corporate giants (such as Anheuser Busch).

The study of branding is also central to this project, as it will highlight how particular businesses wish to present themselves, as craft beer now has a reputation as a whole food - a hand made (crafted) product with a sense of tradition and honesty. An interesting example of this is how many corporate breweries now choose to imitate independent breweries (again by breweries such as Anheuser Busch) by tapping into a niche market, as craft beer is now seen to be a specialist product. Furthermore, I intend to investigate how America seeks a sense of permanence and history through it's beer production and consumption, by creating a new cultural memory built on brewing.

The materials I will gather come from varying sources, I plan to combine sales figures taken from annual reports by breweries, memoirs from brewers and histories of breweries. I will also select sources from more obscure origins also, such as documentaries and even down to a bottle shape or label, as they are designed to provoke a reaction within a consumer to purchase a product.

This truly is an American Studies dissertation as it deals with the core values of modern America: Consumption, Competition and Corporation. It can show how independent businesses transform into corporations, and how private business thrives in America, even when surrounded by the moral judgement of alcoholism and the long lasting effects of prohibition.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

FYP: Documenting Migrant Life in 1930's America

My FYP is an American Studies FYP because it deals with an important decade in America's history (the Great Depression of the 1930s) with a specific focus on the American people.

I’ve chosen to focus my FYP on a particular theme of the FSA (Farm Security Agency) Photography Program - the documentation of the displaced migrant worker’s
journey; from leaving their hometowns, to life on the road, to their prospective destinations. I plan to address the history of the Great Depression, including the New Deal and President Roosevelt’s work towards alleviating the consequences of economic crisis and collapse, paying particular attention to how the FSA’s Photography Program affected the ideology of the American Dream.

Obviously, one of the main sources that I will be drawing upon will be the FSA photographs themselves, such as Dorothea Lange's work (namely Ditched, Stalled and Stranded and Migrant Mother), but I will also examine the representation of the migrant families in documentary prose (predominantly James Agee and Walker Evans’ Let Us Now Praise Famous Men), literature (Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath), memoirs and letters (Down & Out in the Great Depression, edited by Robert S. McElvaine) and film (The Plow That Broke the Plains and John Ford’s Grapes of Wrath adaptation.)

My work can be defined in terms of American Studies quite easily, as it explicitly concerns American history, culture (media) and society - all of which we have studied continuously these past three years.


My FYP is an American Studies FYP for several reasons;
Primarily whilst the Zombie is a result of Haitian Vodoun ritual, it is America that has manipulated its image and turned it into a globally known icon through the mediums of film, television, literature, and computer games. Thanks to America the 'Zombie' has become a household term describing lazy teenagers, cocktails, and even failing businesses, although these factors are only a fraction of what makes the Zombie and American FYP topic.

It can be argued that the primary interpretation of the American Zombie by scholars and academics is that of a metaphor for consumerism as Zombies are portrayed to be driven solely by the desire to consume (the living) and many texts place them in urban settings, in malls or shopping complexes. This is a arguably a very narrow minded interpretation as the majority of Zombie texts are Apocalyptic and therefore portray an environment where comodification is difficult, also apart from the underground slave trade and prostitution, it is possible to question the validity of the theory of people as consumer products.

It is much easier and arguably more accurate to read Zombie texts as metaphors for the manifestation of Puritan American fears of the 'Other'. When studying the American Gothic, it can be argued that it is well documented that Americans fear outsiders, that which they do not understand for example science, and those who are not Christian, all three of which can be found within the majority of Zombie texts.
It is also notable that many Zombie texts can be seen to portray representations of the corruption and loss of self, fears that were also very resonant during the height of the cold war.

For these reasons my FYP will ask the question is Consumerism the most appropriate metaphor of the American Zombie, or is it more accurate to assign the Zombie as a manifestation of Puritan American fears of the 'Other', science, the government, non-Christians, corruption and loss of the self, and the death of America and the American Dream? It is the relevance of the American Gothic, Consumerism and Globalisation, Black Atlantic, American film, and Cultural studies modules, to this FYP, that support the argument that my FYP is an American Studies FYP.

24: American Culture's Reply to 9/11

My FYP is an American Studies FYP because it deals with the way the media reflects America's response to major events, this case dealing with '24' the events of September 11th. The series 24 deals with a lot of political debate especially in regards to torture. I shall look into the claims that Jack Bauer is having a negative impact on people’s views towards how information should be extracted from terrorists, especially those on newly recruited military cadets. I will also look at the current Obama administration and how their policies have affected the final seasons of the show. Is torture acceptable if it could save hundreds, thousands or even millions of lives?

I shall focus on the political stances of the main people involved in making the show and especially the creator Joel Surnow’s personal political stance which ultimately makes a huge impact on both Bauer’s character and the series itself. Bauer represents the American public exceptionally well, as the popularity of the Bush administration declines Bauer begins to mistrust authority and breaks away from the government like many Americans do when they find out they were lied to concerning Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and the increase in those believing in conspiracy theories concerning 9/11. However, if the American people distrust the government so much, is Jack Bauer an exception considering he works for the government?

I will also deal with how ‘24’ has impacted the Post 9/11 period and if it is responsible for the cease of terrorist attacks on the nations soil as "Since Jack Bauer has appeared on television, there has not been one terrorist attack on American soil." I will also look at the current democratic Obama administration effect on the show as it moves away from representing a republican government. I will also look into the basis that the show itself had a huge impact in the American people electing President Barack Obama as ‘24’ had already led the way with the fictional African American President, David Palmer.

Aims of FYP

My FYP is an American Studies FYP because the Civil Rights Movement created an atmosphere of questions for the white American citizens. These questions and fears are still believed and asked today.

I will be looking to see if the positive leaderships of Rosa Parks in Montgomery with the Bus Boycott, and by Martin Luther King jr. in Birmingham, Alabama and setting those positive actions against the negative beliefs and actions of the white citizens in Alabama. I will be seeking to find out if the confrontations achieved anything in the 21st century with the Election of Barack Obama.

I will be researching, using the internet and books such as the Parting the Waters by Taylor Branch, as it gives a detailed look at the circumstances that were being fought for the right to equality in Birmingham, Alabama. For the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States in November 2008, I will be using the internet to see what it means for America to have an African American President in the twenty-first Century. I will be doing this by comparing the results and views to previous President Elections to see if having an African American as President-Elect influenced change in the meaning and direction of voting.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010


Attempting to define the term 'America' is an incredibly difficult task.
As Grueszs keyword definition paper makes evident. When attempting to define America it is necessary to consider all the notable uses of the term including, geographical, cultural, social and ideological.

Geographically as mentioned in Grueszs paper there are many debates surrounding this use of the term and it is interesting that originally 'settlers' did not refer to themselves as 'American' preferring to name settlements after their native countries, it wasn't until later, and arguably until the formation of the United States, that, as Walt Whitman states, the 'race of races' became a unified nation and a notable geographical space. This directly ties into the cultural consideration as both 'America' and the United States are areas of diverse cultural heritage from native inhabitants and from the wealth of immigrants that populate the 'Americas' which is highlighted within Grueszs paper with the mention of the debate that describes 'America' as ultimately possessing a 'narrative of shared origins'. It is social and ideological consideration that present the most debate about 'America' as a term, the United States present a very dominant image over the rest of the nation and due to its global influence and power it is easy for the United States to over shadow the rest of the 'Americas' and this can be seen in the writings of activists such as W.E.B Debois. and C.L.R. James who as mentioned in Grueszs paper criticize the United States interventionist and influential tendencies.

Essentially Grueszs paper highlights the difficulty in attempting to define 'America' as a term, as there is so many contributing and conflicting factors to take into account.

Definition of America.

From reading Gruesz's Article it is evident that America is not a nation that can easily be defined and attempting to define it seems almost impossible.
'America' is a word that provokes many different ideals and images and can even be seen as somewhat controversial.
Despite this it is an identify that American people choose to have,for such a new country it is odd how patriotic America as a nation is,even though it is more like 50 countries rather than states. Each as diverse and different as the next and yet all states unite to be identified as American.

This ties into Whitman's 'Melting pot' and how America is 'the race of races' all races and religions come together to become one America,although the liberty,freedom and the pursuit of happiness has not been found for many Americans and the American dream as failed many they still remain optimistic that the dream will one day happen for them.
An example of how strongly people feel about America as one identity is Zangwill's article in which he states "America is God's Crucible, the great Melting-Pot where all the races of Europe are melting and reforming!" [Israel Zangwill The Melting Pot]

America has however been described more as a 'salad bowl' in which different ethnicities are like the different ingredients mixed together, yet they contain their own single identities rather than 'melt' into one single American identity.

American identify is a lot more complex than a few simple metaphors and for varying people the view of their American identity and America changes dramatically, so to define America in one definition is impossible.

Definition of America

Gruesz's article raises many points within the contentious debate of American Identity. It is an ongoing debate, and one that clearly has no real ultimate result. It is entirely subjective as to what being "American" would mean to an individual.

The name "America" has an importance to it's people, in that it is the first instance of them claiming something for themselves, effectively decolonising themselves from Britain, and distancing themselves from other nearby countries such as Canada through the act of naming their own nation. "America" would no longer be simply "the New World", but a nation to be taken on its own merit. This idea of a new independent entity is reflected in De Crevecoeur's iconic writings, Letters From An American Farmer, asking the question "What is this new man, an American?" Even with this early study into America, there are already questions being raised as to why America has such a strong identity and a national fabric of patriotism and exceptionalism.

However, as noted in the article, "America" is by no means limited to the borders of the USA, with the term becoming a catch-all for the surrounding continent and countries. The question to ask then is why has this term had such a lasting impression upon the USA? Why wouldn't a Canadian or Mexican refer to themselves as "American"? If an individual labelled themselves as a "Latin-American" it would be clear that they would originate from the South American continent of the Caribbean, but if an individual labelled themselves as an "African-American" or an "Italian-American" it would be assumed that they originated from the USA. This adds validity to Whitman's idea of America being a "race of races", in that a person can retain their original identity, but blend it into an American hybrid. This therefore allows a person an element of nostalgia for their past traditions, but also the ability to have the drive and ambition of an American.

The Definition of America

Kirstin Silva Gruesz's article tackles not only the demographics or geography behind the term "America" (and "American"), but rather the ideological implications of the name as it pertains to the United States.

Gruesz's inclusion of the ongoing debate over where the name "America" originates from serves to highlight the ironic need that some Americans have to attach a specific ethnic, racial or religious group to the historical importance of their country - a country that from its discovery was described as a New World, and became synonymous with new beginnings; a place for people to go to escape persecution in their homelands; a literal tabula rasa. It's interesting that Gruesz addresses this debate as it suggests that some Americans are deliberately looking back at their history before there technically was any history (of the United States, that is) - before the America of the modern world that had become synonymous with looking forward, progress and modernity - almost to define America (or the United States) in terms of its discovery, its origins.

The term "Americanisation" is discussed, in reference to the assimilation of immigrants into the U.S. in the post-Civil War years. Gruesz suggests the term to refer to the adoption of American values and lifestyle, suggesting that American values were unique and different than those of European values.

Gruesz focuses heavily on the distinction between America as a country (the US) and America the continent (or rather two continents - North and South America), making reference to the negative connotations of America (when used in connection with the US) in terms of Americanisation and the stereotypical images and symbols that the America of the United States portrays. Gruesz discusses the notion of "divorcing the name of the nation from the name of the continent" and how it has stumbled because of the lack of appropriate substitutions, giving examples such as Frank Lloyd Wright's "Usonian".

Gruesz's article rightly suggests that defining the term "America" is a very different matter to defining the country, the United States of America.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Definition of ‘America’

‘America’, symbolises and engages many images come to mind when you hear the word. One of the main focus points that signify the word America sums up is ‘melting pot’ as Walt Whitman claimed with the diverse cultures of the ‘race of races’. With what Kirstein Silva Gruesz claims to be questionable as to who named America, is it any wonder that it became a melting pot of different cultures and provides differentials of possibilities to people.

Do the variations of the word American indicate the importance of how America as well as people outside America perceives the country? America denotes a variety of feelings and thoughts to different people, one of the empowering aspects of the word America or American is the response of how they feel with the well known iconic phrase ‘American Dream’.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

The Definition of 'America'

After reading Kirsten Gruesz article on the definition of 'America' it is clear that there is not simply one definition. The word 'America' itself is not limited to the fifty states that abide by the U.S Constitution. It includes Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Cuba and the many other countries that make up the Americas. To many, America is more of an ideological image that symbolises freedom and a utopia, that not seen in Europe or the rest of the world at the time of America's discovery.

Edmundo O'Gorman states that "America was invented before it was discovered demonstrated that Europeans had long imagined a mythical land of marvels and riches they then projected onto the unfamiliar terrain." This suggests that people were eager to have something that was not associated or linked to the evils and inequality that existed in Europe at the time. Walt Whitman's definition sums up the United States quite well, "The genius of the United States is not best or most in its executives or legislatures, not in its ambassadors or authors or colleges or churches or parlors...but always in the common people." America is mainly seen as a land where anyone regardless of ethnicity and gender can succeed and have the same rights, no one is above anyone else. However, this is not the reality which can be seen previously with the repression of African Americans and more recently people who belong to 'Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender' (LGBT) and an unrecognised
class system.

So is the United States the only modern nation founded on an idea - Democratic equality - rather than on a shared tribal or racial ancestry? I believe so, mainly due to the fact that apart from the Native Americans, all the colonialist settlers had originated from Europe being France, Spain, the Netherlands or Britain and many came to escape religious prosecution. Gruesz importantly points out that colonialists "tended not to refer to themselves as Americans, since the term then conveyed an indigenous ancestry." So do Americans have to right to refer to themselves this way if they have no link to Native Americans?