Tag Archives: quotidian

As Seen on a Greeting Card

A lithographed drawing of a cow, with the text:

“You’re useful and delicious.”

And now for some analysis…

The Humor Angle

So one reason humor “happens” is when two usually unrelated things are presented right next to one another. In this case, the cow is being simultaneously given subjectivity by an unseen speaker (the card/speaker addresses the cow in the second person–you) and is immediately objectified (made an object by the card/speaker telling the cow how useful it is as food and whatnot). So the humor is in the unexpected collision of these two states of being that are bestowed upon the cow: it is given subjectivity only to have it taken away in the service of a human smile.

It is also funny because it combines admiration and brutal honesty. The narrator of the card is writing this ode of appreciation to the cow because it can be killed and used for food and clothing and other human needs. The narrator is defining what the cow is in human terms. It is appreciating it for its lack of agency–its lack of subjectivity–even as it ironically addresses it as if it is a subject, not an object.

Expanding the Analysis

Of course, the entire card objectifies the cow–an icon both standing for itself as an individual who can be addressed (although not easily interpellated*) as a singular subject, as well as a representative of an entire category of non-human animal. The cow is an object that conveys humor to the reader, the consumer of the card. Who is a human. Who identifies with the sentiments expressed on the card in the act of chuckling at their meaning. Haha, cows are delicious and useful! That cow doesn’t know what it’s in for…ha! The narrator could be interpreted as tricking the cow, first lulling it into a false sense of camaraderie (you implies that the speaker and the addressee are equal in the sense that they can communicate with one another as individuals), and then destroying those expectations built just moments before by putting the cow in the place of being a mere representative of a type. A class of animal that humans have categorically created to be the very things that the narrator is seemingly praising the individual cow for being: useful and delicious. See cow? You aren’t a person. You’re just an object. A thing with desired characteristics.

It’s quite an instance of animal cruelty, when you think about it. Albeit a funny one that only the humans are in on. Which is in turn exclusionary and therefore rather mean.
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*I use interpellation here in the Althusserian sense, although I’m also twisting it. For Althusser, the subject is always already existent, created by social processes. While I think the subject still has to interact with the social situation in order to become a subject of the interaction (uptake/use makes meaning!). Althusser contends that the social interaction itself creates subjects; that the structure makes subjects of what the structure hails. Maybe…I’m a bit fuzzy on this, actually. Grad school was a while ago.

ANYWAY, since I am of the nihilistic relativist opinion that there is no way to absolutely know whether or not you are communicating with another species–or even another human being who is ostensibly of “the same” culture–it would be very difficult indeed for the narrator of the card to claim that the cow it is addressing was interpellated with the narrator’s use of “you,” even if the cow chose at that moment to serendipitously look over at the narrator.

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Filed under Animals, Bovinity Infinity, Contemporary

We Cannot Prepare for the Future: The Inescapable Exclusion of Segments of the Population from Society on the Basis of Age*

Can we, the youth, imagine a time when we won’t know what’s going on? Because it’s going to happen.

Culture changes, usually. This is natural. In Western societies, these changes are intertwined with technological “development.” As different technologies and ways of doing things are adopted by society at large, the old are often left behind. Technology kills parts of culture, altering them to nearly unrecognizable states of being. As new technologies are taken up, not everyone can keep up. Those set in their ways are left in the dark, relegated to less participatory modes of existing in society. This happens especially to the older generations. Perhaps it is because they are not as involved in the development of these new technologies, these new modes of societal interaction. Perhaps they have hit maximum capacity when it comes to learning new things, to keeping up with all these changes by reading about them. After all, when you aren’t immersed in these changes, you start to lose the background necessary to comprehend all that comes after. The young inherit the earth, and infuse the society at large with their culture. Hegemonic change disenfranchises the older generations.

This will happen to us, too. Sure, we can keep pace with new technology now, but we won’t always be able to. There comes a time, for most of us, when we decide it’s enough: we have all we need; we can exist in a current mode. And we stop adopting the latest things. When this happens in one’s life cycle varies, but it isn’t a problem at first. Who cares if we don’t understand every little thing our kids or nieces and nephews are talking about? We’re functioning just fine as adults in the world, thanks. We have all we need.

But as we age, we become less able to care for ourselves. We rely on others, younger people who have kept abreast of cultural changes; who know the newest technologies. And their knowledge of the world suddenly overcomes our own: we are no longer in charge of ourselves. We do not know quite how to operate in this brave new world taken over by the young with their new-fangled gadgets and ways of communicating. This loss of control, of knowledge, of feeling like you can exist competently, invades even the smallest, most mundane aspects of culture.

A few years ago, a 90-year-old friend of mine complained that she could no longer do the crossword puzzles in the newspaper because there were so many words she did not know. Words like “iPod.” Trying to explain these words to her and what they represented in the culture just caused her to wave her hand at me, as if to suggest that keeping up was a lost cause. (She could still watch Jeopardy, though, turned up to ear-splitting level.)

At any rate, as members of the current youth generation, the ones employed in sectors that develop and/or use new technologies we feel on top of things. We don’t understand or use every single little gadget that comes out, nor do we understand every nuance of society shifts, but we still feel generally confident about making our way through the world. This confidence allows us to harbor the fantasy that all the changes we are living through are becoming the new status quo–and will remain hegemonic. But at this rate of change–or any rate of change, really, this cannot be the case. There is no way to prepare for how out of touch we will become as we age.

Just look at how things such as the car changed society. Entire infrastructures, ways of procuring food, distances considered manageable, all changed. Changes in media technologies are also a good example. Radio and television changed the way we learned about the world, and how wide a radius of the world we knew about. It changed the ways in which we interacted with people: family, friends, strangers on shows, even. And who on earth was prepared for what the internet has done? Talk about altering the fabric of society with a “simple” medium of communication.

We simply cannot conceive of what’s coming and the changes new ideas and technologies will trigger. The flip-side of this–or at least, a related consequence, is the loss of cultural knowledge. Those of use alive in Western societies today would not know how to operate in a world without natural gas, or telephones, or national voting systems, or any number of things. We do not as a society know how to grow food for our families, wear knickerbockers, or make candles.

Societal and technological changes are constant and mutually constitutive: there is no escape. Not from the loss of culture, from the generational disenfranchisement, from the often sudden incongruity of life experiences. We cannot prepare for how lost we will feel in the midst of future changes. Everything will be different: some things slightly, some things radically. But at least we can count on our grandkids or grand-nieces and grand-nephews rolling their eyes at our ignorant, old-fashioned ways.

 

*I’d like to extend thanks and partial credit to a friend of mine for originally introducing me to this phenomenon in 2006. Without her, it would not have occupied my thoughts and driven me to write this post.

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Filed under Contemporary, Historical, Sweeping Generalizations

A Throw-back to Old Things

Something about music, and other triggers of atmosphere such as dress and attitude, just seem to transport one more easily back into imagined eras:

John Reynolds and the Rhythm Club All-Stars

Good night, all.

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Filed under Art of all Kinds, Check This Out!, Contemporary, Historical

Mundane Matters

There is great value in studying the quotidian (as my archaeologically-inclined colleagues would say). The mundane is the nitty-gritty of culture: where it all happens. Where the pop gets transformed into the everyday, and where the everyday asserts itself as a force separate from the pop. It is in everyday practice that culture occurs; not just the mass-mediated, the recorded, the great-man sweeping narratives. No. You are making history, are engaging with culture, and creating and being and becoming. We are all engaged in an ever-evolving, dialogic process of meaning-making.

This post ends now, before the New Age hippy-dippy swallows the more practiced academic tendencies and trips out on the groovy similarities.

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Filed under Contemporary, Historical, Meta