An Identity-Specific Analysis of Cultural Geography Concepts, Part III
The readings this week included chapter 5 of Cultural Geography: Environments, Landscapes, Identities, Inequalities by William Norton and Margaret Walton Roberts, and “Looking at Landscape: The Uneasy Pleasures of Power'' from Feminism and Geography: The limits of geographical knowledge. We also read “The Dark Side of Disneyland,” an article written by Donald Britton, and watched a clip from “The Fifties Vol 2:Selling the American Way,” a video documentary about innovations and landscape in the 1950s, and how the American government manipulated public perception through propaganda, with the help of marketing experts. As I’ve now come to expect from this class, I had strong emotional reactions to each of these materials. Like the egotistical human that I am, I immediately began applying their concepts to my own life and experiences. This was especially true this week of my experiences working for the Army for the last 16 years and my personal perception of the motives and trustworthiness of the American government. I also reflected on how the Disney empire has affected me, a white female child of the late 80s, and continues to do so into adulthood. As is true every week, I reflected on the ethics of my job as the lead copywriter for a small marketing company. I was happy to see that this week's reading answered some of my queries from last week, especially those regarding how people communicate and the continued adaptations of human and cultural geography study. I was encouraged to read about the continued persistence of the argument toward subjective analysis in understanding both historical and present landscapes. It is my personal opinion that an infinite number of realities exist simultaneously and that in a very real, much more tangible sense, every perspective of reality shapes what our collectively agreed upon reality is, and what it becomes. This indeterminate potential for actual reality and the vastly underestimated ability of the human mind to affect change are my drives to activism.
Once again, the wisdom and confidence of Dr. Carl O. Sauer piqued my interest in this chapter, and I was most excited to read him refer to his passion and commitment to his work in historical geography as “the apple of my eye” (127). I feel that as a scientist, it would have been an exciting time to have these topics and complex revelations about not only the entire reality and portrayal of human history but their potential ethical implications for an indeterminable period to come. I was also really intrigued by his suggestion that agricultural innovation resulted from the comfort and free time (relaxed sustainability) that allowed for experimentation. Though I’m not sure I can say I fully agree with that idea, I understand where he’s coming from. Environmentalism is the “apple of my social justice eye,” and I would love to be able to believe that Sauer was right, in order to justify abandoning some innovations in culture to slow the exploitation of the natural world. My personal belief is that the development of capitalism from pre-capitalism was the tipping point at which we lost control of environmental stewardship, conservationism, and common-sense sustainability. My fixation on social justice was also indulged when this chapter laid out in detail the role of Europe, specifically European Imperialists and explorers, in cultural diffusion, often highly influenced by early Capitalist relationships. I’m glad the chapter spelled out the foundations of the social hierarchy during the time (which would continue for centuries) and the role of the initial power dynamic (dominance-dependence) in building that hierarchy. It’s anxiety-inducing for me to read texts like these, because I believe organized efforts can dismantle these power dynamics. Still, I am reminded how deeply rooted these systems of oppression are, and what it would take to dismantle them.
The power dynamics discussed in Gillian Rose’s article once again hit home for me, as a feminist and a woman. I loved the way she discussed elements in the painting and how they portrayed (or implied) systems of oppression that build such a carefully structured representation of reality. In the same way that Ike Eisenhower’s campaign team (including “The Prince of Sell,” Rosser Reeves) depicted reality in a very specific and deliberate way, it was only a depiction, and not in any way the reality of the landscape or individuals contributing to it. The class discussion made me further appreciate the symbolism throughout the painting, including the ominous sky (I hadn’t interpreted it that way) and the sideways glance from Mrs. Andrews. I thought an excellent point was made toward the argument that you can’t separate the art from the artist, a debate I’ve pondered often as a painter, a writer, and a fan of some incredible music created by contentious artists throughout history. Noticing what wasn’t depicted was a great insight for me. Another was the feminization of nature/”naturalization” of women concept. It reminded me that even as an activist, advocate, and ally, there are many details about the representation of privilege, status, and extreme wealth throughout American history that I don’t notice at first glance. Or second. Or ever, unless I am actively considering the perspectives of those around me. Here is the painting in reference, decide for yourself what it depicts about the landscape:
Similarly, Britton’s piece about the horrors of Disneyland made me relive and unpack some of my experiences with the Disney empire. First, I’ll preface this by saying I never went to Disneyland as a kid. We were very poor, and that was a “someday” promise that my parents perpetually made but were never able to fulfill. However, I did have the pleasure of being part of the first generation of American kids to not have to question whether there was a VCR in the house wherever we went. My grandmother bought every Disney VHS tape ever released for my viewing indulgence, and indeed I did indulge. For a while, I lived between my grandmother’s house and my working-class, single mother’s house. In short, Disney movies raised me. They taught me everything I thought I needed to understand about the nature of relationships. This includes romantic relationships (obviously white, heteronormative, toxically patriarchal) and relationships between children and adults, as Britton mentions. It also came to be my experience that the adults in my life were not trustworthy, beginning when I was very young. I’m sure I internalized that along with the messages Disney was sending about my value to society being in only my youth, level of attractiveness, and ability to keep a positive disposition. That’s a belief I held that was sadly reaffirmed by society hundreds, if not thousands of times throughout my young adulthood. While I have since challenged the systems that allow that experience to be the status quo, I’m still unpacking how the unhealthy Disney depictions of my assigned female “role” in our social hierarchy have affected my perception of romantic relationships and female friendships. I thought it was wild to read Britton’s interpretation of Disneyland as an attempt to bring to life an alternate reality in which death and “evil” do not exist/cannot prevail. In agreement with my introductory statement about believing in a multitude of realities, I'd say he was probably right.
The visceral reaction that I had to the "Selling the American Way” Youtube video this week (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VfXeStBYex4&t=2197s) was indicative of my personal, unpleasant exposure to the nefarious practices of the United States government. Members of the CIA endure a rigorous hiring and vetting process, and within the United States government, it is considered a prestigious role. Within American society, I would venture to say that the role carries some symbolism of trustworthiness, competence, and integrity. Based on my interactions with civilians while in uniform, I imagine that the American public views the United States Army in a similar way, although potentially to a lesser degree. This video clearly depicted the malicious intent and origins of both of these “prestigious” and socially praised entities. I can fully relate to the intentional deception, corruption, greed, and oppressive tactics that the United States government disguised as a battle against communism in an effort to preserve the massive wealth of influential “banana man,” Sam Zemurray. The US government and military behavior, in this case, aligns with my continuous personal experience with the trustworthiness, integrity, and intentions of the United States Army and Department of Defense as a whole over the last decade and a half. Like influencing audiences non-consensually through marketing and persuasive writing, many aspects of working for the DoD routinely force me to question the ethics of investing my creative energy, aptitudes, abilities, and training into problem-solving for such a corrupt, landscape shaping body. However, there are many systems in place to conceal the nature of DoD operations, as there were in the case of The United Fruit Company and Guatemala. As I approach retirement eligibility in the next five years, I repeatedly question whether I am too invested in my own economic and personal interests to see how big a moral conflict serving as a soldier and consultant for the US military is.
I was also disgusted by the Marine LTC’s interview about training soldiers in Guatemala. His generation of soldiers had no problem going against their moral intuitions to fulfill whatever order was given, regardless of ethics or rules of engagement. Examples in this case included the LTC's compliance in training the soldiers with crude tactics, sending a 20-30 man group in to challenge a standing democracy (which he laughed about), convincing them they were doing good for their country’s future, and not objecting to the response he received when he said he didn’t suit the role. Today I perform final military funeral honors for soldiers like the LTC in the video, ceremoniously folding the flags that drape over their coffins, and presenting them to their families as a final show of solidarity within the subculture. I wonder whether the inability to think and act as humans before soldiers is something that will die out with these vets and the death of toxically masculine behavior within the organization. I am not currently registered to receive military honors at my own funeral, because my association with the US government and loyalty to them is something I find very difficult to be proud of sometimes. I am also not confident at this time that if I continue in my career for the next five years, I will be able to trust the American government to pay my entitled pension when I retire. Videos like these only reaffirm my doubts. I question my ethics as the lead copywriter for a marketing company as often as my military service, and can say the video did not over-vilify the ruthless sales tactics marketers use in persuading an audience to consume, or in persuading a political audience. I blame capitalism for putting these types of difficult moral challenges on the shoulders of individuals, while convincing them to continue to self-indulge with the infinite distractions of consumerism.
This week's connections to feminism, consumerism, the commodification of fantasy, and the intentionally manipulated representations of American and global history put me into a tailspin of deep thought. This course has very much lined up with my academic and activist interests over the first four weeks, and I am grateful for its timing.
Norton, WIlliam & Roberts, Margaret Walton. Cultural Geography: Environments, Landscapes, Identities, Inequalities, 3rd Ed. Oxford University Press, 2014. Chapter 5.
Gillian Rose: “Looking at Landscape: The Uneasy Pleasures of Power" from Feminism and Geography: The limits of geographical knowledge.
Britton: "The Dark Side of Disneyland"