Cultural Abstraction

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


I went to watch Sex and The City 2 with my husband while other women entered with their partners or group of friends. It was entertaining to watch the idealistic lives of four rich women, even my husband found this film humorous. Much of the script created shock followed by laughter and I reccommend this film if you are looking for a comedy for a date night or a film to see with a group of girl friends.
In the SATC 2, Carrie, Charlotte, Samantha, and Miranda escape from their life with little hardship and go on vacation to Abu Dhabi. Equality and womens rights is a theme explored lightly throughout this film. In the beginning Miranda quits her job to make a stand for women having a voice. The issue is explored in a little more depth as they travel to a country where women are devalued and sexuality is you can imagine, Samantha creates humor through the satirical script. There are additional troubles in the lives of these women. Samantha's trouble is in dealing with aging menopause and miracualously her lack of interest in younger men. Carrie struggles being newly married and explores a non-traditional marriage while Charlotte's strife is exhibited as a mother and wife worrie about her husband having an affair with the nanny breaking down under the pressure. In the end, everything finds a way of working itself out for all of these women. Even Miranda is able to find an incredible job because all economic troubles are avoided...afterall, we go to movies to escape reality.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Economics Explained by Social Phenomena

Compelled by my last post, I began to consider the social phenomena studied through behavioral economics. Behavioral economics attempts to explain why we do the things we do and how it affects the economy. It looks at how we think basing decisions on a rule of thumb or how the information is framed. While there is difficulty in explaining and measuring our behavior, we can see its impact on the economy. It explains why we hold out on making purchases during deflation and further devalue the dollar and how we assume our past decisions were right and hence we continue to make those decisions. Many times we rely on intuition and act irrationally…so we continue down a destructive path.
A crisis arises because humans are social beings—the cause of irrationality. Our behavior is contagious; in our minds, something that is so widespread and under mass consideration could not be wrong. While the US is not a collective society, there is still a tendency to think and act collectively. And hence there is a domino effect, rather, a downward spiral where information is passed, believed, and followed. In the case of the economic crisis and burst of the housing bubble, such observations were disastrous. Many believed the boom would last forever and housing prices would only appreciate. Being surrounded by ideas that the boom would continue, how could citizens believe otherwise? In response to the housing boom, Robert Shiller, author of “The Subprime Solution,” compared the social epidemic to disease. He explains how the media even had its influence in the bursting bubble and the subsequent collapse of the economy. If our source of information is wrong and widespread, it can cause short and long term consequences…some of which may even be beyond repair. Think of things such as the Milgram experiment where people unethically abided by a social influencer—in this case and authoritative figure. Jim Jones, The Holocaust, and the list of horrendous acts due to mass consideration carries on. While we may be suffering economically from this social phenomenon, this should be yet another opportunity to learn from a historic event…and this time take actions to prevent further tragedy. We should no longer allow our speculations—our belief in the collective—to become our detriment.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Contributing to National Debt...Relief

Most thought that the good times would last forever. Many spent like the well would never dry up. All of us are paying for it. These are the times where few are ashamed to say “I can’t afford this now” or “I lost my job;” it is a sad, but common occurrence. The excessive use of credit spiraled out of control and a gluttonous society could do little to obstruct its destructive path; the consequences were recognized too late. Headlines displaying stimulus packages, housing bubble, unemployment rates, foreclosures, declining value of the dollar, and inflated oil prices were widespread. It was experienced by every economic class—all of the people that had a false sense of security. A trillion dollars, while an incomprehensible number, was effortlessly reached in debt. Today I watched the national debt clock as it grew continuously.
Recession. Now what do we do? How do we respond to the consequences of consumerism and arrogance? We respond with panic. If only recession was just a word, a mere imagined phenomena. Instead, it represents dread for all of us, while some have become unresponsive. What do we do, how do we fix it? Many are discouraged and dizzied by seemingly impossible solutions; consumer’s confidence has sunk. Without an answer people try to ignore it, but the dread never goes away. The mistakes that were made continue to loom over us unrelentingly. But we can do something about it—we can take action. We can contribute money to relieve our national debt. Of course, not everyone is responsible for causing the recession, but all of us are affected, so why not help? If you are interested, fill out this form and donate!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Sex And The City 2: Breaking Through Consumer Culture

On May 27th 2010, it will be that time to again watch Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte on the BIG screen. In Sex and the City, life is big for these four women who have very little to worry about other than men and where to spend their money. Sex and the City is a great candidate for defining American culture. Although I have never followed the show, I can say that the film is an illustration of our consumer culture. It is a typical American film ending happily, but viewers are unaware of the gluttony that results in an empty life. Of course, nothing to imply misery would cause other cultures to love an American film where happy endings are both enjoyed and implied.
Cultures all around the world celebrated Sex and the City the movie, eager for its release. Women came in groups, all of their friends watching the film. While a comedy typically does not travel the world well, women all over fell in love with these women and what they represented—a life without hardships, one that offers all the material items you want without worry (even I found myself yearning for a pair of Manolo Blahnik heels). And who does not LOVE that idea? Why not live in a world where you can have all you desire without any serious consequences? People enjoy a film with elements of aspiration; the mere illusion it offers that they can be placed in that position.
Although the film is a representation of American culture, it displays many ideas that create resentment among other nations; ideas of mass consumption, extramarital affairs and sexual promiscuity are promoted and justified. A stereotype of a female American that is selfish and obsessed with sex is the product of this film. She divulges in her hungers and has no self-control, compulsively surrendering to her urges. These women, below the surface can be observed as weak. While these women appear to break out of traditional roles, they do not. Many times they are viewed as irrational, expected to handle it all, and rely on a man—only he will make her life complete. If she does fall outside of this traditional role, she is self-obsessed (think Samantha). So really, if one looks deeper, it is not the lives we aspire to have; only what they possess and this presents the problem. Consumerism will consume us. Films that contrive aspiration create unintended consequences for Americans and other nations. If consumer culture is showcased in this manner and becomes iconic or even a model for other cultures, it could result in a loss of cultural identity worldwide. Why should this need for emptiness be instilled in others?
In any event, I intend to watch and evaluate Sex and the City 2 when it is released. I anticipate product placement will be a major aspect with consumerism central to this film.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Too Little, Too Late? Responding Through Corporate Social Responsibility

As I sat in class, another student walked in and my eyes were drawn to his bare feet. Immediately I thought of how peculiar it was and how dirty campus is with all of the foot traffic. But then I realized, he was supporting a cause “One Day Without Shoes” for the company Tom’s. Their point is that many citizens in emerging countries are without shoes and end up with illnesses which could easily be prevented. Now while this may seem to be a promotion with contradictions since Tom’s sells shoes, it works. Tom’s donates a pair of shoes to developing countries for each one they sell… very noble, but could be detrimental to their bottom line. So, why does it work? Well, for the same reasons it works for any other company—because, if you are like me, you care.

If I have an option, I will opt for the substitute product that is promoting charitable deeds. Recently I chose my Earthbound Organic lettuce based on the fact they were giving money back for a cause. We like causes…it makes us feel like we are good citizens. But is it too little, too late? Only one person I noticed was wearing no shoes today, so perhaps there is not enough awareness. Participation was low; I would like to think it was because we live in MI, with the temperatures fluctuating constantly. One can say that it is never too late, but maybe from a consumer perspective it is too little.

There is only so much one individual can do, so organizations have decided to step in with their resources offering more power. Companies in developed countries are beginning to change, stand for a cause, and make a difference. Many corporations are jumping on the social responsibility band wagon, seizing the opportunities offered by the market (Stoneyfield Farms, Trader Joe’s, Ben & Jerry’s, and Starbucks to name a few). They turn these opportunities into strategies.
Are their intentions good or is their main focus based on profitability? For companies that are conscious about their surroundings, holding ethical standards and morals has been an important way of securing not only customer satisfaction, but employee acquisition and retention, all translating into an increased revenues. It is obvious that companies are being ambitious in their attempt to get publicity, but I suppose it does not matter. Companies are recognizing consumer’s desires to support a cause and if there is an opportunity within the market, there has been change for the better. Society has been demanding these changes and companies have been forced to react or act proactively.

While change may be for the wrong reasons from a consumer perspective, and while it may not be enough to reverse damage already done, there is still an effort to change and any amount counts. Companies further altering consumer behavior and shifting the general thinking will only increase effectiveness. Right now, the easiest way is the small actions and if the only way consumers can act is through company’s socially responsible policies, then consumers are advocating a revolution. I do not care why companies are socially responsible, their actions are the only thing that matters.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Alice in Wonderland

Many came to follow Alice as she made her return journey down the rabbit hole. On the premier weekend, I too came to experience the fascination I held for the film of my childhood. Enraptured by the exciting imagery and nostalgia offered by this film, it is a must to watch it in 3D. Amid the many enthusiastic movie-goers, I waited in line to enter the theater even though I purchased tickets a day prior before they sold out. The anticipation was exceedingly high as bars were set by the various forms of promotion and numerous recognized actors.

For me, Alice in Wonderland was all about reliving a childhood experience, but after watching the film, I did not understand the hype—it was a bit excessive. It was a match made in heaven; there were elements typical of both a Tim Burton film and the original Disney film—the darkness, adventure, and fantastical images. While the original Alice from the Disney film is an endearing character in her whimsy and naivety, the new Alice, played by Mia Wasikowska, portrayed a cynical young woman; she was heroic, but much less compliant. Nonetheless, Alice was still fascinating, and I think the complexity added richness to the film. The characters generated the feelings of dread, disparagement, and chaos that were part of the original film, but were disheartened—a product of the plot. The film was made for all ages; it appealed to the eager eyes of children and allowed parents to reminisce.

Although, it is an imitative adventure, the 2010 Alice in Wonderland is attractive to the imagination, offering depth and curiosity. I just felt it was disappointing because expectations were high and the storyline was mediocre and at times, lacked meaning. But, in watching a film, I suppose meaning is what many wish to escape. So, for a few moments, I sought a form of distraction. As I moved closer to the strangers in seats next to me so everyone could be accommodated, I was filled with the wonder that one experiences when assuming the role of a child. While I may not return to watch the film again, and I suggest that it is only watched in a theater amidst the enthusiasm of others, it was enjoyable and the film was a wonder to the eyes.

Monday, April 5, 2010

NCAA Championship

March Madness has made way to the final four, and now, the NCAA final. I am not a sports fanatic and I do not understand the hype. I do understand however that some are passionate about sports whether watching or playing. Along the way, I imagine the disappointment that filled people as their chosen team lost or their University’s team made it close but by a few points were out of the tournament. In a snap, a team is gone or a team has advanced. So many feelings are experienced in the course of a game; there is excitement, anticipation, and dread.
The truth is, it is just a game and basketball is a sport. Unless you are playing and it is your career, it is not the center of your life, but I cannot help but observe that many place its importance above all else. They alter their schedules and their responsibilities become secondary as people obsessively track scores and tune into the game. Everything that was once a priority now rides in the backseat. Yes, many idolize the sport, and any sport for that manner. Players are treated like gods and teams are worshipped as they become a part of one’s daily life. While the talents of these men are incredible and important to many, there are many others that deserve this amount of respect and often remain disregarded. Being a college student, I should involve myself in the spirit, but I avoid being consumed by the game. I will not be found calling off prior commitments because my own desire to watch a game has surpassed my concern for others’ time…this is just inconsiderate. I will not allow what happens in a sport to impact my life.
NCAA basketball players and other sport members devote some of their time doing something they love and are given preferential treatment because they draw in a school’s revenue. What about the many students that work hard and give the school a great reputation? That does not seem to matter until it comes time for recruitment and one is billed for tuition. They too bring in money…yes, not as much, but they also do not require as many costs. They are there to care about their education and future recognizing that they will not (most likely) have people around to take care of them every step of the way. Of course, not every athlete takes advantage of their position, but the fame they are offered can sometimes get to everyone’s head. When we put the game above the welfare or mental well being of others, the sport has surpassed passion and one should stand back and examine things.