A Cup Full of Meanings

unity-cupToday is Election Day in the United States. (If you have not voted yet, please take the time to do so if you are eligible, and then take the time to read this.) In the midst of this divisive election, when many of us have expressed strong disagreement with others over social media, if not in person, how do we restitch the social fabric in order to work together towards common goals despite all of the ways that we disagree with each other?

The new green Starbucks cup, which features a drawing of diverse people made of one continuous line, becomes an interesting corollary of this challenge. While Starbucks presented their green cups as a “symbol of unity as a reminder of our shared values,” not everyone has seen it that way. Stephen Colbert quipped (at 3:40 at this link) that it was appropriate for Starbucks to produce a cup featuring “people drawn with one continuous line because what says Starbucks more than like a line that goes on forever.” Other responses have been less humorous, as some have complained about the “political brainwashing” that the cups represent, and others have associated the green of the cup with the promotion of Islam and the similarity of the general design (at least in the eyes of some) with the Arab League flag. Continue reading “A Cup Full of Meanings”

S.O.B.

SOBI’ve written before about the curious relationship between form and content — and the manner in which (despite how we usually think about it) meaning is the product of the former.

As but the latest example, consider this Lipton commercial currently on TV here in the US.

Recognize the song? Continue reading “S.O.B.”

“Why would we have that playing at Tennessee?”

leninWhile not aiming to trivialize ongoing conflicts elsewhere in the world, I couldn’t help but make a connection between the above article and a video making the rounds of social media, in which the University of Tennessee’s football coach sniffs out the source of the song “Sweet Home Alabama” playing while his team practices — a song much associated with one of his team’s arch rivals (which, yes, happens to be where I work). Continue reading ““Why would we have that playing at Tennessee?””

What Did You Mean?

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What makes something offensive? In the contemporary context, some attempt to censor (often through social media campaigns) presentations that they consider offensive, making that label particularly useful for restricting public discourse. Two stories from December highlight the complexity of labeling something offensive.

A shopper in California during the holiday season noticed that wrapping paper in the Hanukkah section of a store had swastikas incorporated into the design. Deeply troubled by this symbol that the shopper associated (for obvious reasons) with Nazism, she reported it to the manager. With the story reaching the media, the store removed the wrapping paper with the offensive design nationwide and began an investigation into how the design was created and approved. Continue reading “What Did You Mean?”

Romance and Puke: A Story of Love

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Lest the title of this post leads you to believe that I am about to recount the major details of my college love life, this is, rather, another tale of how the terms we use to define ourselves and our relationships operate as strategies rather than simple, obvious descriptions.  As an example of this, I often ask my students what it means to “be in love,” whereupon they usually talk of romance, giddiness, and a strong chemistry between two people.  But when I ask them how they think their parents might answer that same question, they often get uncomfortable – quickly – for it doesn’t take a room of eighteen year olds very long to figure out that their parents may actually behave in the ways that they were just indicating. Continue reading “Romance and Puke: A Story of Love”

Bayart on Dressing the Part

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The versatility of clothing makes it a preferred means for constructing and negotiating identities; not only individual identities (just think of a teenager’s anxieties when choosing clothes!), but also collective ones. Clothes make the man, and political actors are well aware of this…. As for the military dictators of the twentieth century, they often thought that it sufficed to appear on television in a three-piece suit in order to civilise their regimes and reassure public opinion. One might say, again parodying the French title of J. L. Austin’s book How to Do Things with Words, ‘Dressing is doing.’ (195-6)

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[This is one of an ongoing series of posts, quoting from Bayart’s The Illusion of Cultural Identity, that further documents the theoretical basis
on which Culture on the Edge is working.]

What did you say?

CE NewspaperA New York Times article on Sunday about the use of emoji (the increasing number of smiley face options for texts and social media) discussed differences in the ways people use those symbols in different societies. A Facebook project manager, for example “traveled to India and Japan to better understand the differences.” After his travels, he is quoted as saying.

“We discovered that in the Asian culture, the expression on an emoji face isn’t necessarily what conveys emotion. It’s the context of where that face is located,” Mr. Marra said. Continue reading “What did you say?”

Changing Symbols and the Swastika

Chilocco Indian Agricultural School basketball team 1908-09

Symbols serve as a significant way to express identity within society. Crosses generally identify someone as a Christian, a hammer and sickle as a communist, and black and white houndstooth as a University of Alabama fan. Of course, that simple equation provides an arena for significant competition about exactly which symbol represents which ideas. The apparent incongruency of Native Americans wearing swastikas on their basketball uniforms (Chilocco Indian Agricultural School in Oklahoma, 1908) derives from the assumption that symbols have a defined meaning. As with identity labels generally, the meanings of symbols like the swastika shift over time, and seldom does a symbol have only one meaning.

Continue reading “Changing Symbols and the Swastika”