A Voice of Reason: Sane Views for a Crazy World

June 8, 2007

The Formation of Cultural Icons: A Critical Analysis Pt. I

This is a paper I am presenting and thought it might generate some interest here.

Icons are a part of any culture. However, they often serve a role which detracts from a role which would be more fitting. In the sense of this report, an icon is an object which takes upon mythical meaning beyond the symbolism which it attempts to represent. Three areas of society which could easily be identified as icons are elaborated upon in this analysis of three historical studies.

How common beliefs become part of a cultural curriculum – or in a sense an icon – was the topic of a study (Wineburg, Mosborg, Porat, Duncan; 2004) performed concerning generational perceptions of the Vietnam War. The study posed to answer the question how historical knowledge is transmitted across generations. Over a thirty month period the authors interviewed fifteen families, drawn from three different communities. The author’s purpose was to ascertain how two generations defined moments of history, and whether the history represented by the generations formed a “collective memory” with regard to a historical event.

Over a course of 30 months, 30 members of 15 families were interviewed about how their conceptualization of the past may form a collective concept about a historical era. The sample families represented Evangelical Christians, lapsed Roman Catholics, Buddhists, and Jews. Four of the families consisted of members who had been born outside of the United States; twelve families were Caucasian and one each as African American, Native American and Asian American. One parent and one child from each family were interviewed about their knowledge and conceptual framework concerning American involvement in Vietnam. Each member participating in the study was also asked to provide their interpretation of well known photographs taken from the Vietnam Era, which could easily be identified as icons of the era.

Prior to the interviewing the student’s perceptions of the Vietnam War and the instruction offered concerning the topic were analyzed by the researchers. Despite the detailed instruction concerning the issues at stake in the Vietnam War by the schools of the students, as a group, had a similar perception of the Vietnam War – “a war without a reason”.

During the interview process both parent and child were asked to write down their reactions to the pictures shown by answering open ended questions, such as, “What do you see in this picture?” and “What associations does this picture bring up?” Both participants would then be asked to respond to the photo and their corresponding interpretation, with the child. This was done in order to protect against parental input having an impact upon the child’s answer.

Later on the responses elicited by each respondent was coded with a graphic textual spreadsheet in order to develop emergent themes from the interview process. Various combinations of grouping students with other students, students and parents from one subset being compared to other students and parents from other subsets, and then groupings based on conceptual agreement were formed.

The first photo used was a picture of a veteran of the Vietnam War looking upon the names etched on the wall while his hand gingerly touches the wall. Of all the photos presented, this one image was the most identifiable picture. All of the teens and all but one of the parents (who had been born in the former Soviet Union) were able to recognize the memorial. Every student also knew what the man was attempting to do – search for a name on the wall and then etch it into a piece of paper he held in his right hand. For the parents, the picture brought back memories of loved ones or friends who had served in the Vietnam War, and the veteran took on a symbolic identification of long remembered people from their past. However, the students’ answers were more general, with the man depicted in the photo not taking any symbolic meaning at all. The experience for the adults in the study also reflected their own personal opinions concerning America’s involvement in Vietnam. Words and phrases such as “resolution”, “respect that was deserved” appeared in the responses in the adults. Interestingly, the man portrayed in the picture is seen by all as a victim of the war, and not as a perpetrator of war, who is worthy of respect and pity, not hatred.

The second photo is also an icon of the Vietnam War era, a photo of a young man placing flowers in the barrels of guns of soldiers in the 1967 March on the Pentagon. The adults surveyed instantly identified the clash between the flower and the guns as a symbolic clash of war opposed to peace. Terms used to qualify the event express the antithetical symbolism the picture displays, “Blocking soldiers with flowers”; Peace, not power”; and “a divided country”. For the students there was a significant disconnect with the interpretation of the picture. Only eight of the fifteen could identify the basic concept of peace versus might. The symbolic elements of the picture were even less easily discerned by the youngsters. One student thought the soldiers were North Vietnamese, another felt the incident was meant to mourn the dead. Interestingly, for the adults, the first photo brought about feelings of the nation coming to reconciliation about the war, the second photo brought the sharp divide felt by their generation back to the forefront. One parent spoke warmly of the camaraderie felt by members of the anti-war movement towards each other; another contemptuously replied, “He’s a slime-bucket”. Part of the student’s problems with this photo was their failure to identify the clean cut youth as a “hippie”. His appearance does not align with their perception of the prototypical hippie of the 1960’s.

The third photo, a “hard-hat” rally drew strong responses and identification by the adults in the group, and almost universal misunderstanding by the younger generation. The rally, which was a pro-war response by blue collar workers in New York City in support of the war in 1970, elicited two polarized replies. One reply stated that “although there was confusion about the issues in the war, these guys, typical working men, were going to support the government”. This picture also drew a rather strong comment by an opponent of the war, “These men are a bunch of assholes, guided by their penises”. On the other hand, the majority of students were unable to interpret the photo. One person identified the type of people represented, “blue collar workers”, but had no idea what the purpose of the rally served. One thought that a sign, which referred to “Building America”, was an anti-war sentiment, as it contrasted the destruction which was going on in Vietnam.

Many of the students were surprised to learn that people actually protested in favor of the Vietnam War. More than one of the students cited the movie Forrest Gump, which had framed their perception that all of America was against the war, when in reality as late as 1972 a Gallup Poll showed that 70% of the nation felt a renewed confidence in the prosecution of the war.

The findings of this study concluded that the younger people perception of the war had not been formed by instruction or by a true understanding of the concepts involved, but had been formed images found in media such as movies about the Vietnam War, and that despite various ethnic and cultural variance, a consistent perception about the war had been formed by these young people, and their perception about the war was remarkably similar than their parents who had experienced the war from a more personal vantage point. The young people’s perception allowed no room for pro-war demonstrations and “the silent majority” that supported the Vietnam War. In the eyes of this generation, removed by the war from time, the Vietnam War was one fought without supporters. In a real sense cultural occlusion has come about with regard to this historical event, and in effect, the icons of the Vietnam War have been selectively used or occluded to create a historical construct.


May 3, 2007

Where You Stand Politically

So, you want to  know where you stand and how you can get that cool little icon like I have on my blog?

Well, just go to this site and take the quiz.  I would put no opinion if you are not sure about something.

Please post your results, and you get BIG TIME BONUS POINTS for reasonableness if you score Moderate, Conservative or Liberal!  I “hope” I have constructed a place where divergent views are allowed and where we gain from seeing each other’s perspective.  I also hope that sometimes someone will say, I see your point, or something like that.

So often politics are too personal, so maybe this would at least bring back agreeable discussion and dissent to the forefront.

I’m posting this on all topics to hopefully get maximum participation.

IF you wish to take the quiz it is here.


April 26, 2007

Rosie Leaves “The View”

I don’t talk too much about Rosie O’Donnell. I don’t care for her too much, never felt she was particularly funny, didn’t really care about her trials to adopt children, and when she and Donald Trump, not really my favorite person on the planet, the row it was reminiscent of choosing sides in the Iran – Iraq War. However, even Trump wins over O’Donnell in an easy slam dunk. The inane “Loose Change” trash she spewed with some regularity on her shows, speak rather more loudly than her obnoxious voice about her intelligence and agenda. Her views about Roman Catholics and Christianity in general were rather disturbing, and the only thing that is disconcerting is that Disney and ABC let her get away with it.

So, she and ABC/Disney have parted ways. Is anyone shocked that there was problems with the contract? Did the lovey-dovey relationship with Barbara Walters go bad?  Last week her statements about admittedly cursing at her children had to have raised a few eyebrows to Disney executives who basically market to exploiting the image if you don’t take your kids to their theme parks at least a dozen times in their lifetime you are somehow guilty of child abuse. Family value advocates need to remember that Disney didn’t get into the flap about the smears on Catholicism and Christianity sponsored by their programs next time they are planning a “family” vacation, and the information at this time shows it was really an issue over length of contract, ABC/Disney wanted three years, which wouldn’t show that Disney was overly concerned with their faux family image. For those that think Disney was more than happy to pull the plug on Ms. O’Donnell, certainly, the last straw may have been when she grabbed her crotch and said “Eat me” at a recent luncheon.

Will Rosie end up somewhere, probably, but companies may be wary about signing her onboard. She and Imus should get together. They truly deserve each other, as there are probably not two more people whose own self loathing express itself in diatribes against everyone better than those two miscreants.

April 13, 2007

Imus’ Plug is Pulled

As expected, CBS radio fired Don Imus due to the rising pressure over his statements concerning the Rutger’s University Woman’s Basketball Team.

The firing is certainly justified, and outrage over this incident was correctly lead by Rev. Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Jackson.  Now, it is time for them to raise their voices against the vitriole produced by “gangsta rappers” and other “hip hoppers”.  The lyrics of these songs make Imus’ comments sound as if they come from a woman’s rights group, or the NAACP.  Fair is fair, and it is high time that a concentrated effort be raised not only be leaders in the black community, but also by those who sponsor such radio shows nationally to exert similar pressure as was correctly applied to Mr. Imus.   Somehow, I have a feeling that won’t happen.

Before you cry too many tears for Mr. Imus, he is an exceptionally wealthy man, who earned $8 million per year for his radio show, and I have little doubt if he wishes, will land on some other radio station after the heat has blown over.

April 9, 2007

Don Imus Gets a Slice of Humble Pie; It’s not Enough

For years I’ve listened to Don Imus on WFAN.  There have been times when I’ve been a regular listener, and his parodies, ascerbic sense of social commentary, and the quality of the guests that he features on his show, typically prominent politicians, including President Clinton, VP Gore, VP Cheney, and President Bush (41), high profile writers and social commentators such as Frank Rich, Maureen Dowd, Mike Lupica, James Carvel, Mary Matlin, and Anna Quindlen among many others, have made his show part of the morning for mainstream Americans and power brokers.  By giving politicians and pundits large blocks of time, typically fifteen minute segments, Imus has provided a venue not given to many by the mainstream media an outlet for their voice and ideas.  However, another part of his show are more than a bit over the edge.  If anyone thinks that this incident involving calling a woman’s basketball team a bunch of “nappy headed hos” is a one time breach of etitquette you are hardly correct, and Imus, CBS Radio, Westwood and NBC News need to be held accountable for his words.

MSNBC hosts an airing of the Imus show every morning, and typically members of their news media, Tom Brokaw, Bryan Williams, Tim Russert, and other NBC regulars appear on the Imus show regularly benefit tremendously from their patronage of this show; and they need to have their feet held to the fire for this incident.  Can you imagine the uproar had this incident been perpertrated by Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity on their radio shows?  Will this incident, which is just one example of many from this raise the furor of all members of the media, and those politicians, and candidly Democrats are more welcome on his show than GOP politicians; one can argue that this show was the John Kerry network during the last Presidential election, the calls from all sectors of the media, would be immediate, prolonged, and effective.  These commentators would correctly be fired, as well as others who were responsible.  Will politicians raise their voices as was correctly done when Ann Coulter made an incorrect remark at CPAC?

Don Imus should be fired, his positive work with children notwithstanding.  If he is allowed to get away with  just an apology, it would be a blow to the cause of responsible journalism.  Don Imus is not a “shock jock”; he is a power broker, and now he has to pay the price for his irresponsibility.  The same can be said for NBC, which is fast leaving the realms of responsible journalism.

April 7, 2007

Quote of the Day:

Filed under: Culture,Entertainment,Inspirational,Philosophy,Quote of the Day,Uncategorized — avoiceofreason @ 9:25 pm

As you are
As you were
As I want you to be
As a friend
As a friend
As a known memory

Kurt Cobain

April 5, 2007

Cultaral War Against Easter: Part IV – The Angry Atheist

First a short disclaimer, I don’t see atheists as my personal enemies, I see them as the loyal opposition. Sadly, many of the aforementioned see me, and those who follow religious principals as the enemy. How unfortunate. Before those of you who may be atheistic and wandered into this valley of pernicious Christian dogma – though some of the more zealous in their faith call this a den of relativism, which makes me hopeful that I’ve offended both extremes, consider this wonderful image which is so typical of the angry atheism I see about:

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Now, I don’t mind a joke at all, and I also don’t mind poking fun at religion. However, this one goes a bit far, and this is among the more milder forms of hatred towards the concept of religious identity that is so often portrayed by the “Angry Atheists”. Now, many would say this is the “liberal left”, trying to destroy the Christian culture of the US. Christian culture, I’m not so sure about that. Look at the news, and the types of attitudes that run about the US, and let’s be careful before we start comparing America to some sort of Christian panacea. I also know that many atheists have a sense of decency, and are in fact like the vast majority of other people, other than that God thing, heck many of them are libertarian, and I’m not going to try and prove my basis of faith to you. Remember, I don’t hate you, you’re just the loyal opposition. However, I do suspect that many who would wear this type of stuff, actually have a mind frame that is probably way left of center, and by the way can you who are slightly to the right of center leave us centrists and sometimes liberals who really share 90% to 99% of the values you share alone, and stop blaming “Liberalism” which has become a dirty word with cultural hatred. You see the angry athesists are just as hateful as those who do acts of violence on the behalf of God, and the number of Christians who do these acts is VASTLY overstated.

Now, just to show that I don’t mind satire being used with regards to my own faith, here’s an icon a rather like, even though it is surely likely to offend some. I present to those of you previously unenlightened with “The Buddy Jesus”

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I don’t have one of these in my car, but I’ve thought about it.  And, honestly, while I don’t ever mean to demean my belief in the divinity of Christ, I am constantly more amazed and connect to the concept that Jesus really was one of us, and therefore he gets it.  I would tease those who I love, and confess, I have a deep abiding love for Jesus, my Lord, my saviour, my best friend, and my brother.  He gets my teasing, and somehow I have a feeling he’ll one day get a good amount of getting even in eternity, and I have no doubt that he’s better at pulling pranks than I am.  He has more clout!

However, this movement is forged by out and out angry atheists, who certainly have a right to not believe, but stop being killjoys goes a little bit beyond the often needed satire.  It’s good to see and maybe make fun of the specks or beams in your own eyes after all.  Here’s a memo to you atheists out there, No one is lining up to “make you convert”. At least I hope so.  Candidly you have have your own mind and a free will, and on behalf of Christians who may have offended you by actling like A**holes, I apologize, but they really aren’t the majority of us, even us Evangelicals. However, you have to understand that you are culturually in the minority, and just deal with it.  That’s they way life goes, and cultural minorities have the dominant culture sometimes cramp their style.  

For those angriest of the atheists, for people who don’t believe in God, you certainly seem to hate him enough.  Be more apathetic about the whole concept and that may set a better example of your enlightenment. We promise we won’t make you bow and kneel and have Christ enter your life, and I think that the vast majority of people of faith will treat you civilly and respectfully.  Please, do not use that line, “It’s hard to believe people who think you’re going to hell, really respect you”.  Remember, You Don’t Believe In It.  At least – and since you are sooooo intelligent this shouldn’t be a problem – be consistent, and then work on being civil.

Cultural War Against Easter? Part III Public Displays of Affection

Those who read this blog regularly, know that I am all for a Christian ethic being about in public life. I’m not talking about prayer in public schools, or having public spaces become a Christian Sam’s lot, with The Ten Commandments – which of course would have been borrowed – manger scenes (I really dislike the term “Kresh”) or replications of the three crosses of Calvary in my local park. I like my religious affections, like most public displays of affection, understated. Slobbering over each other, whether it is a young couple, or you and your religion in public has never and never will be in good taste. I’ll make an exception for the type of PDA that was unleashed on VJ Day – Here’s what I mean.

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Now, if the Iraq War ends favorably, I may actually do this same scene, even though to compare it to WW Two is not the best analogy out there, and I think all Americans should do the same, but I don’t think we need such PDA every Holy Day season. For those who would say, but this is about the redemption of my soul, and I must express it. Of course you can do so, have a blast, but is it really needed to be laid out in the public eye for all to see all the time every year? I’m not saying I have a problem with Christmas lights, Easter displays on public places, but I also don’t see it inherently as a part of the spiritual importance of these days. The signficance can of course be expressed by a sense of joy, and that is most often best expressed by the manner in which people engage life. Is there a cultural weakening of the “Christian” message in holidays, probably so, but the nature of the public celebrations has never been particularly Christian, but more secular and commercial, at least in the United States. Part of the leaders of this attack, and there is some merit of the cultural war against “Christian” traditions by “angry atheists”. We’ll deal with these people shortly.

Cultural War Against Easter? Part II “Wabbit Season”

I recall a photo that I saw many years back, and I wish that I had access to it now to post. It is a picture of Christ on the cross and he’s flanked by the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus. A picture is worth a thousand words, but I’ll try not to go that long.

This post will likely blend Easter and Christmas together, but that’s okay, because Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny go about as well as baseball, apple pie and America, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. One thing it does lack is a third member to make up their own Trinity, but as Meatloaf said, “Two out of three ain’t bad”. In order for me to be theologically correct, I’ll gratuitously throw in Halloween as that certainly does fit the other two “Holy Days” of Easter and Christmas, and All Saints Day. It also keeps my trinity theme in mind, and being thematically tight is a sign of cogent thought, even when on a rant, and a sure sign of reason.

I have to say, I do a mean imitation of The Grinch or Scrooge around Christmas, and during Easter it is often “Wabbit Season”. However, this goes for all of the holidays. I don’t care too much about them, and the obligatory buying of gifts, and hanging out with the family, which I always dread, and then typically enjoy heartily. I think that Seinfeld’s Festivus, with the annual feats of strength and airing of greivances would be a much more enjoyable family holiday. “A Festivus for the rest of us”.

I never told my own children that “Santa Claus” or the “Easter Bunny” was going to leave them stuff. I was actually shocked when I learned that some people expected or participated in “Easter Presents” other than chocolate rabbits and “Peeps”. So much for being of the popular culture. I even have gotten in trouble for telling my middle school aged students when reading a story, I think it was “The Gift of the Magi”, and when answering questions, explaining that there were cultural reasons for Santa Claus and the Easter bunny. Yes, one irate parent complained to the Principal and even wrote a letter to the Board of Education that I had ruined the “Holy Days” for her thirteen year old child. By the way, an ironic aside; this child was part of the “School Improvement Team”. Where students worked with administration, parents and staff to make the school better. Great idea eh? Now, I’m all for giving kids a voice in education, but it seems to me, that the only choices in the school day that this child, and most twelve year olds should make is what they want to buy from the cafeteria or if they want to brown bag. This girl brown bagged by the way as she was a rather radical Vegan and let everyone know it. Ahhh, the idiots I am forced to deal with. I bet most of these idiots really see the contemporary versions of Christmas and Easter as being Holy Days. You need to wake up and smell the choclate laced coffee.

My son, who makes my cynicism look like I’m a member of the Christmas and Easter rotary club is even more Scrooge like. Now, don’t get me wrong, he’s 18 and good at it. He doesn’t want to buy anyone anything, but more than expects to have others shell out big bucks for him. I guess we should have known there was a problem when we were called into the school office for him upsetting the class by saying that Santa and the Easter Bunny were a scam. He was in first grade.

For those who feel that this is an anti-Christian rant, it’s not. I am an equal opportunity hater of Halloween, one of the worst holidays in my mind. When I was a younger and not so reasonable man, I lived in a rather rural area, and would make the habit of tying my rather ornery 100 lb. German Shepherd – who was always in a bad mood towards strangers on my front porch. I wouldn’t allow my own children to trick or treat as I said there is much more to life than begging candy from friends. Well, that happened once or twice until my own kids were ready to start playing tricks on me. They actually didn’t, but I started to give out tricks instead. I still am tempted to do so, but the imminent threat of my lovey dovey hippy wife has brought antoher change. I used to randomly put ketchup packets, duck sauce, taco bell hot sauce packets in the little Halloween wrappers. I also have been known to give out a six pack of tuna fish for Christmas parties with a gift certificate buried inside, oh the pure evil joy of the holidays. I’ve mellowed since. IAgain, threats of divorce or castration while I sleep are powerful motivators and now we buy tons on Halloween candy and typically give all to my 18 year old son when it is done, as we have few visitors even though we live in a fairly well populated area. However, when I see some older teen ager hitting me up for free choclate, I want to bring out the ghost of “Baron” or run to the fridge and take out a handful of ketchup packets.

So much the same for Easter, and the trappings. I don’t need it, and happily proclaim it as “Wabbit Season”.

March 30, 2007

GOP Lawmakers Call in Expert to Testify About Pardons

The National Journal reports that the expert being called in is former President Clinton.  GOP lawmakers are hoping to use the criteria to open the door for a pardon of Scooter Libby.

A letter of invitation was sent to the former President stating that “”You are no stranger to controversial pardons, most notably the pardon of Marc Rich on your last day in office,” Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, no friend of the former president, wrote pointedly in a letter dated Monday. “I can think of no better person than you to speak on this issue.” Tongue planted firmly in cheek, Smith noted that Clinton had extensive “experience with exercising the pardon authority and defending it from intrusion by Congress.”

If this comes about, it may actually make having C-Span2 worthwhile.

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