Revisiting Revision

Posted On November 15, 2007

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Nancy Sommers brings up some very interesting points in her essay entitled “Between the Drafts.” Some of the things she mentions about writing a first draft I have certainly dealt with as a writer so I can easily relate. One of the things she mentions that struck home with me was the personal side to writing a paper. Sometimes I feel as though my finished draft just isn’t where I would want it to be because it wasn’t personal to me and suffered as a result. At times I find myself researching to find a supported claim and I then present said claim without making it personal to me. I am just repeating what has already been said. This kind of writing is by no means groundbreaking, it is monotonous. By writing a strictly “research” paper I am disregarding my own beliefs and am not writing with a purpose. Sommers believes that through the revision process, students should be able to write something that is “exploratory, thoughtful, and reflective.” I feel like through some of my own revisions I am able to create a work that has some of these qualities but there is usually a weakness in one aspect. In order to better myself as a writer I need to be able to not only use my research but expand upon it and question more than I did when writing the draft.

The writing conferences that took place this semester helped me greatly to move towards the kind of revision that Sommers discussed in her essay. When I walked into the conferences, I typically felt like my paper was missing some research or some perspective and by the end of the conference I felt like I could expand for another couple hundred words on a completely new related topic of research. The sessions helped me to make my papers more personal and took away from the “research” feel I got while reading over the paper for the first time. Through the revisions of this semester’s three papers and those that I will write in the future I hope to change my style of writing into a style that Sommers describes. A style that is unique, personal, and reflective, in addition to being backed by research.

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Brent Staples: Just Walk on By

Posted On November 7, 2007

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Certainly times have changed a bit since Staples accounts of white uneasiness around him but some of the actions by white males or females are still seen today. I know this for a fact because my sister lives in New York and has described to me a few times in which she thought she might get mugged by an African American passer-by.  She is not racially prejudiced but if you were to see the neighborhoods surrounding her building it is not hard to imagine the criminal activity that goes on in the area. She reacted similarly to the other women described in Staple’s short essay by speeding up her walking or going out of her way to be in a more crowded or lit area of the city.

                You can’t help but feel bad for Staples and other African Americans like him when he talks about his “ability” to alter pubic space as he describes. He mentions that he is not an aggressive person but due to the actions of some stereotypical “thugs” from his race he is then characterized to be one; and therefore likely to commit crime. The fear of the African American race by whites and especially women is so deeply rooted in our culture and would be hard to eliminate even today. While there are still inner-city ghettos there will continue to be criminal activity because for someone on welfare, stealing is a way to survive or make a living. As Staples describes, once the first mugging or act of thievery by a young “thug” occurs, it is only easier to repeat the action further down the road or move on to more serious criminal activity. This need to be “manly” drives some to do things they would not normally do if they were in a better predicament. The fact that they see no other means to survive drives them to commit such atrocities and further the stereotype that Staples falls victim to.

More Reasons to Hate Abercrombie and Fitch

Posted On October 29, 2007

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I never really enjoyed the store Abercrombie and Fitch and after reading this article, my beliefs about the store remain the same. This store is designed to exploit the nature of young people to belong in a social group. I remember wanting to buy the store’s clothes when I was younger only because I saw older people wearing their shirts and wanted to be “all grown up” like they were. I never got to wear those shirts or cargo pants with eight pockets down the side because those shirts cost 30 dollars and those pants 60 dollars; both prices my parents were not willing to pay. But for those kids with fat allowances or their parent’s credit card, the store serves as a perfect way to be popular. This idea is certainly one that can only damage the younger generations. When I was younger I failed to see the ignorance of these ideas: that I was what I wear. I was not an unusual kid so I imagine a great deal of the younger generation feels today like I felt like not long ago concerning my attire in school. Somehow, the Abercrombie and Fitch logo has come to mean in certain social situations that you are considered cool and popular amongst your cool and popular friends without saying a word. The president of the company has no problem with this idea and actually considers it ideal. He wants the company to portray the “popular” image in hopes of “popular” kids coming in and buying their overpriced clothes. It is hard to find anything ethical about this idea but the president is very open about his aims for the company in terms of marketing and it seems to work better every year despite the lawsuits against them for their hiring practices and suggestive clothing. As long as kids continue to feel the need to fit in, the company will certainly continue to prosper despite any negative press in my opinion. The end to this need, however, is certainly never going to commence in our society.

Coke’s Urban Marketing

Posted On October 26, 2007

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In this brief article, the authors MacArthur and Chura go into the world of soft drink advertisers in inner city neighborhoods. The soft drink that they mostly talk about is the Coca Cola brand. Advertisers for this soft drink company along with others like Pepsi are beginning to target poor neighborhoods more and more over the last few years. The kind of advertising I believe the authors are most unhappy about is that which is direct; where the companies go into the neighborhoods themselves and hand out free cans of their soft drink. To appeal to the mostly African American crowd, they equip their vans with loud audio systems that blast rap music to attract attention and draw their consumers in. Like the author, I find this kind of marketing to be a little bit unethical. For the corporations, it is just a way to increase sales and is an incredibly cheap form of marketing when compared to the cost of television or magazine ads. For the poor consumer, however it really does them no good. If someone is living in poverty, the last thing that they need is to be exposed to this kind of product manipulation and in turn continually purchase the soft drink. The kind of advertising that some of these soft drinks use is only hurting the communities in which they promote their product. If coke or Pepsi wanted to do something beneficial to the communities, they should donate a portion of their profits back into the community or at least take their advertising elsewhere to a wealthy neighborhood where people can actually afford to buy soft drinks habitually. It just seems like the right thing to do. This might not generate more sales as a result, but at least poor people won’t be spending the little money they have on a soft drink rather than a necessary item.

The Consumerist “Cult”

Posted On October 23, 2007

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In this excerpt, the author Kalle Lasn brings up some interesting points and questions to consider. One question she asks is in the final line: “What does it mean when a whole culture dreams the same dream?” She implies that Americans today all have to same goals in life: a big house, power, and a lot of material objects that in turn make us happy. In this way, Lasn believes, we are all in a social cult although we do not realize it. She argues that the holidays and pastimes that we commonly share force us into buying things that we would not normally purchase under normal circumstances. Due to this, we become pawns for the corporations who are willing to buy anything if it is cool enough for the crowd. Lasn also goes as far as to suggest that there are certain messages that consumers hear constantly to remind them how important it is to buy things. Messages like “consumer confidence is down”, “spending is stagnant”, or “the retail sector is hurting” imply that the lack of consumerism is somehow hurting the country as a whole.

                I am not quite sure if I believe that every single person in America is driven to material goods because I certainly know a few people that are quite the opposite. My own brother, a professor at the University of Iowa, lives the simplest of lives and enjoys every minute of it. In his house there are records, books, food, and a bike for transportation. On the other hand, I certainly do agree with Lasn’s other point about messages to the consumer like “the market is down.” I recall many times when I heard messages similar to this on the evening news during a discussion on the economy. They imply that the consumer is not doing their part to keep the economy going when it is really the individual company’s fault for cramming so much advertising down the throat of the consumer. I feel like this is terrible and only hurts the economy in the end because we are spending our money on the non-essentials constantly as a result. There is not much the consumer can do about this except stop buying these mass produced items but the end to that is certainly nowhere in sight at this point.

Edward Said Essay about Palestinians

Posted On October 4, 2007

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Edward Said describes the many troubles the people of Palestinian decent have faced for the past fifty or so years in this particular essay. From his personal accounts as well as other accounts, Said shows how the Palestinians have lived in exile for the more recent part of their history. In many Arab nations, Said’s people are ridiculed or persecuted and in many cases, are not permitted to inhabit. One Palestinian describes his experience in exile, “I was kicked out in 1948 and went to Lebanon.  Then I was driven out, and went to Africa. Then to Europe. Then to here. Today I received a paper telling me to leave this country… Where am I supposed to go now?”  According to Said, this is only one of the many instances of the banishment of Palestinian peoples. Another problem for Palestinians according to Said is the lack of a cultural Identity due to this exile over the past half century. Without a place to call their home and the banishment from their true “homeland” has caused many to lose touch with their Palestinian roots and lose this cultural Identity; Said even goes as far as to say that, “[t]here are no Palestinians.” This could be true because based on the way Said is describing the recent history of Palestinians, it sounds like they could have inherited Lebanese, Syrian, Egyptian, or Beirut’s cultures since their return to the Israeli region.  

                There are many problems facing the Arab world today and personally, I was not aware of these hardships that the Palestinian people have had to endure since the end of World War II. Certainly the loss of culture and national identity to these Palestinian people is Said’s main focuses of the essay and for good reason. It would be a shame to see these conflicts continue well into the next century but at this time, there seems to be no stopping them as of now.  

Pratt’s “Contact Zones”

Posted On October 2, 2007

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The reading by Mary Louise Pratt about contact zones brought up some very interesting points. A “contact zone” is, according to Pratt, “social spaces where cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in contexts of asymmetrical relations of power, such as colonialism, slavery, or their aftermaths as they are lived out in the world today.” There is a lot to be explored when talking about these contact zones throughout history. During European colonialism, for example, Christianity was brought to the Americas and the efforts of missionaries as well as other forceful methods of conversion can still be seen today as a result. Had this contact never taken place, the cultures of these peoples would have been retained.

                Pratt believes that upper-level schools in America should place more emphasis on these contact zones to show that we, as a society, are much more homogeneous than we previously believed. In her own experience in a class devoted entirely too studying European influence in the Americas through colonization, she found the discussion to be very insightful and sparked her interest in the topic of contact zones. Personally, I do see the need for discussing the effects of one culture on another, but the work seems monotonous. There are simply too many instances in which this occurs to spend a great deal of time talking about.  I was always taught the key historical term “cultural diffusion” in lieu, I guess, of Pratt’s contact zones and was also taught to use the term whenever cultures collided so I see very limited importance of contact zones. It seems just as wise (to myself) to study history with the knowledge that there is always going to be cultural diffusion whenever two or more different cultures meet; especially when one feels superior to the other. Pratt is certainly correct when she says that the talk of contact zones is important in our understanding of societies today, but I believe that she may be stressing the topic a bit too much.  

General Education Conference

Posted On October 1, 2007

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The seminar I attended during the General Education Conference was titled, “Selling You ‘You’: The Impact of Advertisements on American Culture.” Both of the speakers at the conference had interesting things to say regarding the uses of advertisements and what aspects need to be changed about advertisements that would benefit society. The first speaker talked about the use of models in advertising. She thought that these ads portray an unrealistic body type to the market and force many to believe that a models’ body is healthy and desirable. Even kids toys such as G.I. Joe and Barbie re-enforce this body type to their target market. These toys, if put into real-life dimensions, would look very different. Barbie, for example, would be five foot nine, 110 pounds, and have an 18 inch waist. G.I. Joe, on the other hand, would have a 27 inch bicep and have a waist smaller than this arm muscle. The second speaker talked more about the effects of advertisements on the younger generation. The author found the use of cartoons and other audio/video techniques in ads to be very manipulative of children and heavily influence the appeal for the product. The connection was then made between these ads and obesity in America. According to his research, one in five children is considered obese. The speaker thought that ads with cartoons characters were especially influential of younger kids in a time when they should be developing healthy eating habits but are also very easily influenced by a character such as SpongeBob or Scooby Doo.

                Both speakers brought up interesting points but the changes that they described in their papers seemed a bit un-realistic. The first speaker believed that ads should put more “average” people into their ads to show a more healthy body type to people. The problem with this is that people purchase items with beautiful skinny models in the ads because they associate the product with this appealing body/face etc. Advertisers do this on purpose to sell their product. No company is going to alter their ads at the risk of losing money just to show more “average” people in their ads. The second speaker believed that advertisers should not target children while promoting their product with the use of cartoon characters and other subliminal messaging. I feel that this would be just as difficult to accomplish as the previous goal of removing models from ads for some of the same reasons. I feel like, in the end, it is the parents’ job to go to the grocery store and buy food for their children. If they choose to buy the SpongeBob fruit snacks instead of some real fruit, it is their choice.

Deciphering Historical Texts

Posted On September 25, 2007

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The reading by Hans Kellner was difficult to understand at first, but once some of the concepts were absorbed it seemed slightly easier to comprehend.  The main point seemed to be that history can be interpreted much deeper than a series of events in a chronological timeline. Kellner says that instead of getting the story straight, the reader should get it “crooked”.

                The idea of getting a story “crooked” is not easy to understand at first. What I interpreted it to mean was that while reading a historical narrative, a reader should think about the sources for the historical narrative and what their motives could have been in writing the historical accounts. Kellner says, “[historians] will assert that the guarantee of adequacy in the historical account is found in the sources. If the sources are available, scrupulously and comprehensively examined according to the rules of evidence and compiled in good faith by a reasonably mature professional, the resulting work will most likely ‘image’ reality.” This approach can be very helpful because there are many accounts of history that are never heard because the opposing side is never heard.

                There is a cliché that is often used when describing historical events: “history is written by the victor.” This applies very well to the ideas that Kellner presents. When reading secondary sources, or even primary sources of historical events, the reader must understand that there is going to be some kind of bias in the writing. In our American newspapers, we describe the war in Iraq in terms of casualties of American soldiers and Iraqi infidels but the people and the newspapers in Iraq probably paint a much different picture. We Americans see ourselves as liberators but Iraqis probably see us as the people who bombed their cities and kill their friends and families. Sometimes it is not easy to see the other perspective because it is hard to think that the other side could be right about a certain issue in a historical context. It will be interesting in a few years to see what the next generation’s textbooks say about a war like the one we have today and see what kinds of biases are in place.

A Journey Into the World of Writing: A Young Student’s Story

Posted On September 3, 2007

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Jesus' SonUntil my junior year in high school, I had probably read or written for pleasure a grand total of zero times. My passion (if any) for these subjects began for me when my half sister gave me a journal to write in and some reading materials she thought I would particularly enjoy. At the time I was being held captive in my house for undisclosed reasons and she felt like these items would help me to escape from my anger or fears, and she was completely right. I found that writing in a journal allowed me to express myself and really get out what I wanted to say, in a very healthy and therapeutic way. I could write down whatever I was feeling and I found this to be a great way to cope with stress and really evaluate my problems as I was writing them down.

            In addition to the journal, the books that were given to me really opened up my mind to the idea that writing was cool. I jumped deep into each of the books that she gave me, not being able to put down a single one until I was finished. This was the first time I truly enjoyed reading in my entire life. Some of my favorite authors during this time were William Burroughs, Hunter S Thompson, Jack Kerouac, Ernest Hemmingway, and Denis Johnson. I developed a minor obsession with a particular work by Denis Johnson; Jesus’ Son. I must have read this book half a dozen times in a row, examining the particular style that Johnson used in his writing. Each of the inter-connected stories within Jesus’ Son flowed like they were selections of poetry and always ended leaving me wanting more. I used the inspiration I got from these books to continue my writing through the rest of high school.

            In my junior year I was lucky enough to have a teacher that was obsessed with Ernest Hemingway. I read so much Hemingway that year that I grew to love his writing style. We never did much writing in that class until the end of the year because my teacher always said, “you won’t know how to write until you read enough good writing.” I found this to be very true as I saw my writing styles progress from just being able to write a paper for a grade into writing with a passion and trying to develop my own unique writing style.

            I continued with this trend well into my senior year; the year I wrote the most for a teacher. I was lucky again to get a wonderful English 12 teacher who assigned a lot of papers with broad directions that were left open to interpretation by the writer. Almost any essay that a student turned in could be as formal as they chose, allowing the writer to truly express what they were feeling without holding anything back. Yes, I do mean anything. No paper that I ever turned in was read by anyone but her so I wrote in a similar style to my journal; in a completely raw and honest way. She did not care if you were vulgar in your writing as long as you stayed on topic in a grammatically correct manner. Her main point was that writing is not boring when you put your emotions into it and enjoy what you are writing about. I find this to be very true and will use the tactics that have been given to me as I continue my journey into writing at a college level.

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