Black Friday: The Philosophy of Gift Giving on Crack

***This is a post from last semester written by Angelia Powers that I consider to be good***

As Halloween comes to an end, we must make way for the next major holiday in the rotation: Thanksgiving. But, I am not here to talk about that holiday (which I’m sure will be written about many times over in the coming weeks), I’m focusing on the buffer between Thanksgiving and Christmas: Black Friday. As a retail worker, I am dreading going home for Thanksgiving break because I will have to work incredibly long hours early in the morning to meet the standards of what I think is a commercial consumerist disaster of a day. In the spirit of gift giving, we are coerced into finding the best deal available, and search store after store looking for the best value possible. Black Friday has turned into a capitalist monster that has consumed the “appreciating what we have” nature of Thanksgiving.

The “shopper’s holiday” gets its name from retailers beginning to turn a profit again in the Christmas shopping season. The craziness really started to gain footing around 2011 when stores like Target and Best Buy opened at 12am, and Walmart even opened at 8pm on Thanksgiving, pushing other stores to open at 6 or even 5pm. Violence among shoppers and violations of parking and other laws are a common reoccurrence. The frenzy to get the last flat screen TV or Princess Unicorn Doll is too much for some and can result in hospitalization. Gift giving has become less of a way to show people how much we care and turned into a war reparation. It has become a competition between who can run the fastest.

And in the middle of all this are the employees. Those people have to give up their holiday and work at Kmart from 6am on Thanksgiving morning (no seriously, and those sales flopped anyway). Is it ethical to keep a worker for longer hours than necessary to tame the beast of Christmas shopping? All so that corporations can keep funneling money into their accounts at the expense of middle class mom and dad struggling to get their kids everything they want. By no means will Black Friday cease to exist in the coming future, because I can certainly attest to my Christmases being incomplete without monster deals left and right. Just tone it down a little, corporate America. The sound of giving thanks is being drowned out by your cry for profit.

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Literal Cultural Appropriation

***This is a post from last semester that, although long, I consider to be very good. It was written by Gabi Hulsey***

“Cultural appropriation” is a term defined by the Oxford Reference Dictionary as describing…

[T]he taking over of creative or artistic forms, themes, or practices by one cultural group from another…[I]n general used to describe Western appropriations of non‐Western or non‐white forms…[C]arries connotations of exploitation and dominance. 

Cultural appropriation of abstract things such as symbols, images, or aspects of culture has evolved out of – and alongside – the appropriation of material cultural objects. From bones (the Kennewick man) to over 15 tons of marble artwork (the Elgin marbles), the sheer volume of objects which colonizers and conquerers have taken from their ‘subjects’, it wouldn’t be hyperbole to say that they took pretty much everything that wasn’t nailed down (and even some things that were). 

In some cases, the less-than-noble origins of objects on display in museums are relatively obvious: archeological records definitively placed the Euphronios krater  in Italy prior to 1971, when it disappeared from the tomb it was buried in. By 1972, the krater had reappeared in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (by way of American antique dealer Robert E. Hecht, who had sold it to the museum for a cool $1.2 million). The shady players in this deal (fortunately) left a pretty obvious paper trail  for an object of which the location had been identified in modern times (post-WWII). The krater was returned to it’s rightful owners…on the condition that the country  give the museum multiple “comparable” artifacts on a long-term loan. 

In other cases, museums (and nations) have been much more antagonistic about art repatriation. Some of the most powerful arguments against repatriation are clearly based on remnants of the self-entitled thought processes that led to colonialism in the first place. In the long-running dispute between Greece and England over the Elgin marbles, the British government made the following argument: if every artifact that had crossed national borders illegally or under mysterious circumstances was returned to it’s country of origin, then most famous Western museums would be practically empty. The museums claim that their refusal to concede on even a single request for repatriation is framed by the potential consequences of the modern legal system. For one thing, in England (as in many European countries) it is actually illegal for museums to “dispose” of their holdings (which really means sell or repatriate, not throw out) without formally going through the process of amending the British Museum Act of 1963 for each artifact (the Elgin marbles are considered a single artifact). The act specifically says that even if the artifacts were known to have been stolen, that England’s museums do not even have a moral obligation to return those stolen items. And in many cases, the objects which museums claim were legally acquired were under colonial control or heavily dependent on a European ‘patron’ country at the time of the  transaction.

The legal arguments made by the countries in possession of the artifacts are certainly made in questionable moral taste. Even more unsettling are the arguments that seek to justify retention of artifacts in the same way that custody is decided in a divorce hearing. One of the main points of contention between advocates of repatriation and people who believed that England was the rightful owner of the Elgin marbles was what Greece was going to do with the statues if they got them back. British news media (and at least one Stanford professor) believed that there would only be a moral argument for returning the marbles if the Parthenon was being restored, and the Greek government would install the Elgin marbles as part of the restoration. Otherwise, the British claim to be better stewards of the marbles (and other artifacts) and that having the artifacts in museums serves a larger social purpose than if the artifacts were returned to their countries of origin. 

If any of this sounds paternalistic, it’s because it is. They’re saying that the countries which these artifacts came from should not have them back because the British (or whoever) are in a better position to preserve the artifacts, spread knowledge and cultural awareness, and that if it were not for ‘archeological colonialism’, some of these artifacts might never have been discovered or would have been looted and disappeared into private collections.

They argue that if the artifacts were repatriated they would be seen by far fewer people. The British Museum has claimed (based on visitor statistics) that if the Rosetta Stone was repatriated and exhibited at the Cairo Museum, 3 million fewer people would see it a year (compared to the number of people in a year who would see it if it were exhibited at the British Museum). Lest we question why it’s important that people having artifacts all around the world (and especially in metropolitan hubs) encourages international scholarship and intellectual exchange. 

Perhaps most offensively, they argue that the artifacts are not just part of the history of the country they came from, but part of some sort of ‘universal’ human history. And if you thought that arguments against repatriation couldn’t get any more looney, it has been argued that the presence of artifacts in museums outside their country of origin serves to foster cultural understanding, and tolerance. 

Of course, it goes without saying that if another country asked to borrow, say, Stonehenge in the interest of cultural exchange, the British would not find it such a compelling argument. To even argue that these appropriated objects foster cultural understanding is ingenious.  The people who live in the countries who possess the artifacts don’t consider the modern descendants of the people whom the artifacts were taken from have any right to them. The history of the artifacts that is significant to them consists of the time period in which the artifacts were created and then the life of the artifact from when it came into English possession until the moment they stepped into the museum and saw it themselves. The life of the object from the time the civilization it was a part of collapsed/evolved to the time that it was discovered by one of their countrymen is completely excised from historical memory. Unless they can point to an instance in which the artifacts were nearly or partially destroyed (in which  case they’re expecting gratitude and thanks from the people they took the artifacts from for having saved that part of their cultural history) until a Western archeologist stepped in to whisk them away to safety, you couldn’t be blamed for thinking that the artifacts disappeared from physical existence and were wiped from the minds of locals until the artifact was uncovered by – you guessed it! A Western archeologist (re)discovered them. 

Most people don’t think about where the things in the museums they visit actually came from or how they actually ended up at the museum. The real perpetrators of the insidious myths that colonizing or conquering countries rightfully own the artifacts they either stole (or finessed away) are the governments of the possessing countries. The governments are totally reluctant to have a discussion about repatriation because it would mean that people might also want to talk about exactly what their governments were doing in those countries (i.e. colonization, slavery, or less formal exploitative relationships) in the first place. And that’s uncomfortable and embarrassing for the government. So in the cases that they can make even the most remotely plausible claim to having gained to artifacts legally, they do so all the while intentionally ignoring the political context of those transactions. Consider the case of the Koh-i-Noor diamond.Koh-I-Noor roughly translate to “Mountain of Light” in Persian and when it was mined in the 13th century,  it was an astounding 793 carats.  It was once the largest diamonds in the world (after an incredibly amateurish early cut which reduced the stone to under 200 carats, it has been through additional re-cuts while in British possession and is now a little over 105 carats). The Koh-I-Noor was claimed by England’s Governor-General of India Lord Dalhousie on behalf of the British East India Company in the 1840s when he confiscated the diamond along with the entire Indian province of Punjab, which became part of British India. To judge by the responses of the British government (to altogether ignore or simply dismiss India’s requests), it would seem that Britain won’t even concede that the circumstances under which they acquired the diamond might be exculpatory (as in “Yes, we [England] took the diamond. But that was as part of colonizing India.  Now we recognize that colonialism is bad. But the people who advocated for colonialism didn’t think about it like that. Sorry that they did that. We know colonialism is wrong, and because we know that, we’ll give you back the stuff we took when being imperialistic jerks. So here’s your diamond back”). 

The museum ‘industry’ is similarly culpable. The curators and trustees who hide behind their government’s laws and claim that (even if the country the artifact came from did have a legitimate claim – which is something even most museums are not prepared to concede), the laws of the country where the artifact is currently located prohibit the Museum from repatriating it. But of course, with few exceptions (and almost all of them involved museums in America, which has demonstrably stronger repatriation laws than most European countries), no museums have advocated for changing the laws that prohibit museums to repatriate artwork. In the case of British repatriations, it would not even be possible (not that this is the appropriate remedy) for the countries to purchase their artifacts from the British government without amending the laws.

The excuses for keeping artifacts, the arguments against repatriation, and the laws preventing repatriation are all instances of structural violence that quietly survived the end of colonialism. The very same argument that the locals would not put their cultural artifacts to good use (i.e. displaying such that the number of people who see them is maximized) was made to justify colonization (that the British would use the resources that the local societies were not properly exploiting). Contemporary insistence on a policy that seems to be based on the idea that if it isn’t talked about openly, then even though it still happened, they can pretend that the citizens of the countries that were colonized are not still feeling the effects of their subjugation. By virtue of insisting that they keep (literally priceless) cultural artifacts, aren’t the British and other European nations acting out a remote (as in geographically distant) occupation of those countries by keeping parts of their cultural landscape (taken wholesale) and artificially making those artifacts part of their own cultural landscape?   

Is Atheism a Religion?

***This is a post I consider to be very good from last semester written by Ijji Skiffington***

Today in class we talked about religions and beliefs, and what makes a religion. As an atheist I have always believed that I had no religion, however last night I conversed with a friend who also shared my views, and an interesting question came up: Is Atheism a religion?

Because the question caused me to question my previous thoughts I figured I would ask the all-knowing Google. After searching briefly through a few lengthy articles, I found a shorter one which really caught my attention. If you want to read it, you can click here.

The author, who was also an Atheist was making the point that Atheism was not a religion. He draws the comparison that “if Atheism is a religion, then bald is a hair color.” This also goes with the ideas that we looked at in class, that in order for there to be a religion there has to be some belief in a higher power, which at first glance Atheism does not, since the whole point of Atheism is that you don’t believe in a higher power.

However if you start to dissect this, you start to see many parallels. The first being that most Atheists look at science, which we look at in class, saying that it could be a religion. With this in mind, could evolution be looked at as a higher power? Perhaps in simpler terms, being the power of nature itself.

The next point he makes against Atheism not being a religion is that not all Atheists believe the same thing. There is a general consensus that there is no God, he says “the only common thread that ties all atheists together is a lack of belief in gods and supernatural beings… atheists do not have a common belief system, sacred scripture or atheist Pope. This means atheists often disagree on many issues and ideas.” However, isn’t there disagreements in many religions? Isn’t what makes it what you believe in, interpreting the way you see it, not all people in one religion live their lives the same way. They have interpreted their religion into what they believe fits the system.

From what we have learned in class, and all the questions I have pondered over, as well as all the views of others on this subject I have come to the conclusion that religion is what you interpret it to be.

Use of the word ‘fag’ over time

Apropos of our reading of Dude, You’re a Fag this week, here is a fascinating chart that Wheaton student Sammy Tannatta generated via a Google program that tracks the occurrence of the word ‘fag’ over time.
Fag

As Sammy says, “It wasn’t surpassing to me that throughout the 60’s all the way to the 80’s, during a time of acceptance, the use of “fag” dropped significantly; now during the 2000’s, as the conversation of gender has become a hot topic, the use of the word “fag” is on the rise again and is at it’s peek. I think this an interesting parallel of cultural anthropology and linguistic athro. – looking at events of a particular time period and the way it’s talked about and expressed.”

From an anthropological perspective, I would add that we should also be curious about the (multiple?) meanings of ‘fag’ and how they have changed over time. A linguist would refer to this as the indexicality of the term ‘fag’. This is something that is not necessarily represented in the chart. The most obvious example of this is simply how ‘fag’ is sometimes used in the UK, as indexing a cigarette.

Kiss Cam–Encouraging a Culture of Sexual Assault?

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A couple months ago there was some controversy over the kiss cam, the popular down-time entertainment at many sporting events. An op-ed published last fall in the Syracuse Post Standard sparked debate on whether the kiss cam can actually encourage or even enforce public sexual assaults of unwilling women. Syracuse University has since stopped deploying the kiss cam.

This is an interesting debate in itself, when we think through it with ideas of gender, culture, and society that we have been reading about and discussing this week. But, as Wheaton student Neil Henry, who emailed the above links to me, points out, it echoes parts of Dude, You’re a Fag where Pascoe discusses “how men enforce their masculinity on women by touching and kissing without their consent.”

Neil continues, “Pretty much what this article talks about is how the “kiss cam” at sporting events instills almost a rape culture in our society. The thing I found most interesting is when this was posted on Facebook, a majority of the people who commented were men and they were all saying it was stupid to stop the kiss cam. There is also a poll on the website that takes people’s opinion on the article and as of right now, most people find the kiss cam to be innocent.”

So, what do you think? Is the kiss cam innocent? Or might it be an example of how a certain version of masculinity is socially reproduced and imposed, sometimes with the willing consent of partners but sometimes at the expense and forced submission of women?