Saturday, January 30, 2010

Now and Then

Alas, my time at Fordham University is coming to a close. Fortunately, this semester seems to be off to a good start. I have to say that overall, I have had a very rewarding experience at Fordham and I am very thankful for that. Yet as I think about how thankful I am, I also ask myself, what other choice did I really have? Sure, I could have attended a different university. But not going to college was never an option for me. It was assumed (for practically my whole life) that after graduating high school I would head off to college and get my degree. I think it’s safe to say that this is the case for many youth of my generation. They are expected to go to college. Luckily, for me personally, I had always wanted to go to college and therefore was excited about my new academic beginning.
During a phone conversation with my close friend, we both reached the conclusion that we wish life could go back to the way it was in the 1950s- a time when young men and especially women didn’t have to go to college. Of course, we were making an overstatement. But nevertheless, important generalizations can be made about that era in US history. For instance, relationships between guys and girls seem to have been different in the ‘50s. “Dating” actually existed, while now this concept has almost become extinct. As Dr. Naison of the American Studies faculty repeatedly stated to my class last semester, “None of you kids fall in love anymore.” While this may be a bit of an exaggeration, I think he is on to something.
Fifty years ago it seems that people my age grew up faster. Men and women tended to marry and have kids younger than most do now. There was not an economic necessity for teens to spend thousands of dollars on college after graduating from high school. People, especially men, had the potential to earn substantial salaries right out of high school. Though the 1950s was a segregated time, positive changes for African Americans were taking place. The era saw the largest equality of incomes out of any period in American history. While men tended to receive higher paying positions than women, large numbers of women began to work. However, it was much more possible for married couples with kids to raise a family on one income alone.
Nowadays, the need for both parents to work is much greater. It seems to me that in the present (especially with the current economic situation) many families are under a lot of stress. Many people I know rarely get to enjoy family dinners because their family members always have such busy schedules. Call me old-fashioned, but in my personal opinion, I think time for the family to sit down together and converse is important. Situations where both parents need to work full-time can be extremely burdensome.
While I am happy that feminist pushes have led to greater opportunities for women in the workforce, sometimes I wonder whether the role of being a mother has lost its significance. Has the traditional calling of fulltime motherhood become obsolete or unacceptable? What if a woman’s passion is to be a stay-at-home mom who takes care of her house and children? Is that so bad? In our world, does that mean a woman is lazy?
In my “Approaches to Studies” class from last semester, we examined particular keywords which have significant, yet often very flexible and controversial meanings. The word “family” was one of these keywords. According to Carla L. Peterson, family is “a malleable process” (Peterson 113). Today two working parents seem to be the norm for families, or at least middle class ones.
I tend to feel that in many ways the stay-at-home mom (and/or dad) is an ideal. Families may be more stable and better functioning if both parents were not always struggling out of the house to be financial providers. Perhaps someday this ideal can become a reality once again. This may become possible due to advanced technology.
Technology has enabled more people to not only become educated in their homes, but also to work from their homes and therefore spend less time away from their loved ones. A January New York Times article entitled “Are Doctors Ready for Virtual Visits?” demonstrates technology’s current potential. The article discusses how telemedicine (“or the use of satellite technology, video conferencing and data transfer through phones and the Internet”) is enabling doctors to communicate with patients from all over.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Accent on America

Growing up, I was blissfully unaware of my heavy Long Island accent. After all, everyone spoke the way I did, which made it near impossible to ever pick up on the difference. This came to an end the minute I came to college freshman year, when I was randomly placed to live with a girl from Boston. Our initial interactions were actually about the way we both spoke and those first few weeks living together were filled with laughter about our varied pronunciations of utterly common nouns (she said "cah" instead of "car," I said "cawfee" instead of "coffee). Even more than pronunciation variances, we learned that we had different mannerisms, called common items and stores different names and that we often used different phrases (Bostonians seem to think "wicked" is a universally appropriate adjective, mind boggling, I know). I think we focused on these differences because there was actually little else that divided us- we both came from middle class suburbs, attended good public high schools where we were involved in very similar activities, had close-knit families and were planning to pursue similar majors. We even had other more visible similarities, most strikingly almost identical wardrobes and a love of the color pink. It truly was our regional accents which set us apart and, for whatever reason, we fixated on them.

As college continued, I became very self-conscious of my accent, trying my hardest (especially on job interviews) to remain accent neutral and I definitely have noticed that my roommate now uses "wicked" less. I thought that this was just a natural progression, a possible sign of maturity and a way to practice professionalism. Turns out, our behavior is actually reflective of a much larger phenomenon that originally occurred in the 1960s, according to a New York Times Magazine article printed this week called "Speech Therapy: Is TV like 'Jersey Shore' Helping to Preserve Regional Accents" by Virginia Heffernan.

First off, I promise I will not talk about the horribly addictive yet disgusting television show on which the article focuses, just the basic premise of the article. Heffernan explains that William Labov "the father of sociolinguistics" conducted a study in 1966 which found that many people, especially New Yorkers, possessed a "lingustic self-hatred," thinking that their speech portrayed them as "distorted" and "sloppy." Heffernan goes on to explain that an era of "Newscaster English" followed this, a time when Americans focused on assimilation and refinement, and in line with this, displayed a strong desire to hide their regional badges. Heffernan then credits a wave of mass media for reasserting linguistic pride in America, like Saturday Night Live and Taxi.

Today, according to the article, shows like Jersey Shore tend to exaggerate regional accents and mannerisms in an effort to convene regional subcultures instead of ignoring them. Heffernan believes that "instead of erasing longstanding regional and social distinctions, television will help preserve them." I see her point, but think it is important to recognize that these accents are inauthentic- they are exaggerated. In producing these largely inauthentic accents, characters on these shows are not really uniting a subculture but forming their own new subculture- in the case of the Jersey Shore an especially disturbing one that repulses some of the original culture from which it it originates.

As American Studies majors, we are constantly reflecting on ways to study American culture and the many subcultures that exist within it, especially on the formulation and roles of community and identity. I never thought of American accents as strong identity markers or badges and this article made me think about that. The article also ended on an interesting note, stating that "cultivating and stylizing accents in order to stand out as part of a subculture- to represent in other words- may be as American as the melting pot."

The ability of accents to both unite and divide is perplexing. My roommate and I were divided because of accents yet our fixation on the source of division was something that actually brought us together, uniting us. Divided yet united- seems like an appropriate description of America to me.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

2009 Year of Movies

I consider myself to be something of a movie aficionado and since the Oscar season is upon us I figured this would be a good time to give some thoughts on movies that have come out in the last year.

My pick for best movie of 2009 is The Hurt Locker, I saw this movie twice in theatres and it was worth more than cost of the two admissions. This Iraq war drama featured some amazing character work by actor Jeremy Renner as an explosives expert who lives for his work. The film provides viewers with an inside view of the men and women who have become so accustomed to living in dangerous situations that they are unable to function without it once they return home.

Jeremy Renner of The Hurt Locker is my pick for best actor- his performance as a man struggling to live within a high testosterone, high adrenaline environment.

Supporting Actor is undoubtedly Christoph Waltz of Inglorious Basterds. In Tarentino's exceedingly well-made film, Waltz steals the show the bigger name actors like Brad Pitt, though I have a feeling this was Tarentino's intention in his throw-back, mash-up of WWII movies.

Tarentino deserves the award for best director for Basterds which far surpassed the expectations I could have had for it.

As if there was any question over animated picture, Up! will win the award. Though Wes Anderson's The Fantastic Mr. Fox was another of my animated favorites but I have a soft-spot for stop-motion animation.

I did not see many foreign films this year (well I watched plenty of foreign films but only a couple that came out in the last year), but the clear winner of the ones I viewed was White Ribbon a German "children's folk tale" about a serious of mysterious events in a small town with evidence that points towards a suprising conculsion about the society in the months before WWI.

On a side note, I imagine that James Cameron's Avatar will most likely be a top contendor for Best Picture. In my opinion, remaking Disney's Pochahantas in 3D with dragons doesn't deserve an Academy Award, but I'm sure a lot of people will disagree with me.