Monday, 28 March 2016

Contemporary US Border Issues - Pro & Anti Immigration


This website is rooted with a polemic intention, aiming to make the public aware of immigration statistics and how it damages the economy of the United States. For instance, they claim that 80% of population growth in America is due to relaxed immigration laws. What is surprising is the articles do not directly attack immigrants in a racist manner or discuss themes of assimilation and their effects on the nation. Instead, they debate the economic implications of such policies, suggesting that their allegiance lies with America as a traditional country. Also interestingly, many of the sources they use to back up their arguments are from the 1980s containing theories which have since been outdated and disproven in a modern context.

One feature of the site which is dominant is its Republican political agenda which often favours presidential candidates like Donald Trump. Contrastingly, these articles do not use theories or articles from any time to back up Trump's and their arguments. There is a clear attempt to silence the liberal media simply by clarifying the contradicting statements of the Republican party. Another political issue they concern themselves with is the American method of voting regarding immigrants and their voting rights. Their most recent article entitled 'Voting Rights for Foreigners Devalues American Citizenship' takes a highly journalistic approach with their opening statement calling foreigners 'aliens' which is often considered a racist term, especially to a Latino community.


American Immigration Council is a government-based website which often shows the positive impacts of immigrants over the United States concerning mostly the Latino population. There is a section which focuses greatly on the economic and financial pros of Latino immigration viewed state-by-state. AIC dedicates its articles and journals to academic research and the facts of immigration based upon recent research. This includes papers debating the higher rates of immigration equating to lower rates of crime and also accepting the refugee crisis as a liberal enterprise while also discussing previous histories of such events.

Other than a few sections of the site discussing the current American government, a political party agenda is not specified and so remains neutral which provides a decided advantage over Progressives for Immigration Reform because it stays at a neutral level. Themes of assimilation are also raised in the blog section of the site with the discussion of research of refugees and there integration into American society, an issue often raised by anti-immigration agents.

Both sites have a keen following and have several social media outlets in order to keep in contact with their following. Immigration, particularly concerning the Latino comminuty, is clearly a deeply-embedded debate for the American population and these sites are able to provide a venue where the people can find others with similar views and also share them.

Pro and Anti Latino immigration

Pro immigration

Open Borders is a website dedicated to promoting positive arguments in favour of open migration from Mexico and other countries to the United States. They are split into 6 main arguments; pragmatic benefits, philosophical arguments, tradition/precedent arguments, constitution/originialism argument, American exceptionalism arguments and general references for US-specific pro-immigration arguments. Through these headings they present strong cases from different contributors under these topics.

Anti immigration

One of America's best established anti-immigration groups, 'FAIR seeks to reduce overall immigration to a level that is more manageable and which more closely reflects past policy. Reducing legal immigration from well over one million presently, to 300,000 a year over a sustained period will allow America to more sensibly manage its growth, address its environmental needs, and maintain a high quality of life.' One of their main arguments is that Americans are losing jobs to illegal immigrants who work for less pay. FAIR aims to bring in policies to restrict the numbers of people allowed to immigrate and tougher laws for illegal 'aliens'.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Contemporary US border issues - Pro and Anti Latino immigration

Pro Immigration

Cafe con leche republicans is a pro Latino immigration website that believes that historically politicians get their statistics on immigration from a liberal white man. However the website highlights how the Latino vote holds a large percentage in the US therefore immigrant vote accounts for a large proportion of US democracy. Cafe con leche is an organisation that that welcome new immigrants that they class as "New Americans" through various forms of political activism. This involves making the children have a good education and the immigrants know that it is within their reach to have this opportunity. Also through the Republican party they want to adopt more immigrant friendly policies whilst gaining support for the Republican party. This website suggests that political parties are trying to change the perception of immigrants in the US and using it to their advantage to gain support and membership.

Marco Rubio states that "It's very hard to make the economic argument to people who think you want to deport their grandmother", this highlights a common perception of the Latino community and views of many Americans. It also reinforces the idea that immigrants that are "New Americans" are missing out on certain policies because they are at risk of being deported as many Mexicans are illegally living in the US. As a result of this cafe con leche believes that more support should be available to this group of people as they have a huge political impact.

Anti Immigration

Americans for Immigration Control (AIC) is an activist website that wants to restrict the amount of illegal Mexicans crossing the American border. They also want to deport Mexicans that are already in the US, this suggests that they have a strong viewpoint on immigration. The AIC use various forms of media such as appearances on TV shows and guests on radio talk programmes to "alert the nation to the immigration crisis".  The website has various links to polls, videos and articles about the topic of immigration, one of which is titles a Christian perspective on immigration. This shows that the members want to unite support through the use of Christianity and the dislike of Barack Obama.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Improved status of American women

Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910)
She was the first woman in America to receive her medical degree.  She served as a pioneer for women in the medical profession and promoted the education of women  through lectures and by opening her own medical college for women in 1857. Although she was born and died in England, as both a student and a professor, she was a true pioneer of American education and helped open the door of accepting women into a male dominated profession.

Originally working as a teacher to support her family, and she soon realised that at this time teaching was one of the only professions open to women before they married. Before this time women were limited to being nurses or shadowed physicians. After Blackwell decided she wanted to become a professional doctor, she boarded with medical men who could mentor her whilst she read medical books when not teaching. Every school that she applied to to study medicine refused her application, except for Geneva College in New York state.

'Professors forced her to sit separately at lectures, and she was often excluded from labs.  Blackwell, however, did not give up and eventually earned the respect of many professors and fellow students.  Between her two years at medical college, Blackwell spent the summer at Blockley Almshouse in Philadelphia where she was given permission to observe the patients and physicians.  The physicians, however, did not want her there and were not helpful'.(1)

However, in 1849, despite this prejudice, she became the first women in the world to receive a medical degree; graduating first in her class. 'After 1849 the percentage of women physicians in America steadily increased, until it was about 10 percent in 1914. The situation had improved so much by 1889 that Blackwell wrote: “The avenues by which all may enter into the profession are now so much more widely thrown open, that there is little difficulty in the way of any man or woman who may wish to acquire a legal right to practice medicine.”'(2)

For these reasons she was and is heralded by the Women's Rights Movement and has left a lasting legacy.

Mae C. Jemison (1956-)

 Jemison is the first African-American female astronaut, after being admitted into the program in 1987. In 1992, she became the first African-American woman to go to space; aboard the Endeavour with NASA.  Following her historic flight, Jemison noted that society should recognize how much both women and members of other minority groups can contribute if given the opportunity. In recognition of her accomplishments Jemison has received several awards and honorary doctorates.

Born in a time of considerably sexism and racism Jeminson pursued her dreams of being a scientist telling Ebony magazine that'"in kindergarten, my teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I told her a scientist," Jemison says. "She said, 'Don't you mean a nurse?' Now, there's nothing wrong with being a nurse, but that's not what I wanted to be.' She graduated from high school and entered Stanford University at only 16 years old, later receiving a degree in chemical engineering. At university she again encountered both sexism and racism '"Some professors would just pretend I wasn't there. I would ask a question and a professor would act as if it was just so dumb, the dumbest question he had ever heard. Then, when a white guy would ask the same question, the professor would say, 'That's a very astute observation.'" She later obtained her doctors degree in 1981.

She has shown what women and African-Americans can acheive and opened the door for other African Americans and women to aspire to being astronauts. Since Jemison two more African American women have travelled to space.

Monday, 21 March 2016

The Improved Status of American Women

Billie Jean King ( 1943 - )

"I thought it would set us back 50 years if I didn't win that match. It would ruin the women's tour and affect all women's self esteem." - Billie Jean King (1943)

Billie Jean King, the US tennis legend and the winner of 20 Wimbledon titles, famously beat Bobby Riggs in 1973 for a $100,000 prize in "The Battle of the sexes" after he said to her that men were superior athletes.

There is a vast history that has been recorded in terms of what King has accomplished in furthering the cause of women's struggle for equality in the 1970s. She was instrumental in making it acceptable for American women to exert themselves in pursuits other than childbirth. She played a major part in the initiation of a professional women's tour. She started a women's sports magazine and a women's sports foundation.

After retiring from competitive tennis, she remained in the game -- as an announcer, coach and author. She gave clinics, became director of World Team Tennis, and played on a Legends tour. "In the '70s we had to make it acceptable for people to accept girls and women as athletes," she said. "We had to make it OK for them to be active. Those were much scarier times for females in sports."

Kathryn Bigelow  (1951 - )

"If there's specific resistance to women making movies, I just choose to ignore that as an obstacle for two reasons: I can't change my gender, and I refuse to stop making movies." 

In 2010, Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win an Oscar for “Best Director” in the Academy Award’s 82-year history, for her film The Hurt Locker. What I found to be especially interesting is her wish that one day gender would become a “moot point” when it comes to these types of achievements. The reason I found this interesting is that the shouldn't be an issue in the first place, that you shouldn't be able to achieve as much purely based on your gender. It is worth noting also that Bigelow's directorial works such as The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty whilst garnering critical acclaim have also leaned more towards the action and thriller genre, a genre that is not too often associated with female directors.

The ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) sent three letters to the federal government Tuesday asking for an investigation into institutionalized sexism in the industry. A proposition that could result in rules that would force studios to consider female directors alongside male ones, a proposition that Bigelow fully supports.

Bigelow, one of only four women to be nominated for an Oscar and the only woman to win one, and only 7% of the top 250 grossing films in 2014 were directed by women. 

Sunday, 20 March 2016

The Improved Status Of American Women

  Jean Nidetch (1923 -)
Jean Nidetch is the founder of Weight Watchers, a company that has changed the lives of both women and men through dieting. She has been voted on of the 100 most important women of the 20th century[1] because she has allowed people to live for longer simply by eating better and doing more exercise. The idea of losing weight and keeping off the weight has revolutionised the health industry as society encourages fitness and healthy eating through the use of food packaging and advertisements. Steps have also been made in schools to cut down salt and sugar intake in school dinners; this is all based upon the idea of Weight Watchers but in a different context.

However Weight Watchers has struggled to keep up with the advances of the 21st century, the Washington Post states that "Americans looking to shed a few pounds are looking, instead, to free fitness apps on their smartphones, a simple shift that has devastated one of the most iconic names in weight loss."[2] This shows that today’s societies do not want to discuss their dieting habits with other people and would rather deal with the issue themselves. The use of apps on smartphones is quick and easy to use so saves people a lot of time and is personal to the user. Often taking personal information to cater for various recommendations regarding what foods to eat, how many calories to consume and how much exercise they should be doing.

Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000)
Lamarr was both an actor and an inventor; in 1942 she had an idea to help the war effort in World War 2 with the help of George Antheil. Together they developed anti-jamming device which could be used to prevent enemy spies from intercepting US Military messages. This invention was also known as "frequency hopping", as a result of this their invention also assisted in the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 and to this day is still used in military communications. Furthermore this invention allows our modern day technologies to thrive as it enables people to use huge amounts of cellular devices such as mobile phones, wireless communications and faxes. By being able to control the different frequencies means that companies can handle hundreds of thousands of calls at the same time.  Finally in the 1990s they both received the recognition they deserved by winning multiple awards. A significant achievement for Lamarr was being the first woman to receive a BULBIE which is a lifetime achievement award.

"Lamarr proved that beautiful women also are intelligent, crashing stereotypes that many people hold. She invented a technology that enables some of the most popular modes of communication today."[3] To some extent this perception of beautiful women as not being intelligent still exists today, however the fact that Lamarr was both successful in the entertainment industry and the field of science shows that this is not the case. It is her invention that modern society revolves around today with mass communication and internet; therefore she has not only revolutionised American society but the whole world.  

[2] Drew Harwell, Americans’ new way of losing weight has left weight watchers behind, Washington Post, 29th 0ctober 2014

Friday, 18 March 2016

The Advancement and Improved Status of Women in American History (two examples)

1932 - Amelia Earhart: the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean

Born in 1897, Earhart was delivered into a dominating patriarchal society where the greatest and most notable achievements were accomplished by men. Rather than using a name to reach high societal status like many middle and upper class men did, Earhart gained it through hard work and climbed the ladder of the aviation industry typically associated with masculinity. Throughout this time she still strived for greatness. With aviation as her passion, she flew to Boston in her spare time whilst still working as a social worker. Her flight as log-keeper and standby pilot in 1928 to Wales from Newfoundland threw her into the public eye and completed the infamous 1932 transatlantic flight with the intention to show the public that she was capable of being more than a second-class flyer.

She married George Putnam, the man who managed her career (which lasted less than a decade) but kept her maiden name. 'She is one of the half-dozen women among a hundred men in the National Aviation Hall of Fame'(1), making her achievements hold even more significance. As an influencial public role and a woman simultaneously, social attitudes about what women could achieve began to change. The stereotypical passive woman still existed but at least the public were aware that women did not have to be second-class citizens. Earhart was entirely aware that she had become a role model centred around her gender as she 'used her fame to promote two causes dear to her: the advancement of commercial aviation and the advancement of women'(2) alike.

1921 - Margaret Sanger: American Birth Control League founded

The American Birth Control League has a specific set of goals to help both men and women in the Planned Parenthood scheme, but mostly reach out to minority women in the black and Latino communities. Their primary mission was 'to enlighten and educate all sections of the American public in the various aspects of the dangers of uncontrolled procreation and the imperative necessity of a world program of Birth Control'(3). This was in order to change social attitudes on how women controlled their bodies regarding birth, parenthood while quietly discussing topics of abortion also. This is a crucial moment for the social and political advancement of women as it began the debate of a woman's right to her own body; a debate which still divides America today and stands are the forefront of most voters' minds. Feminist critics like Laura Bates have stated 'from conception to abortion [...] the common misconception that women's bodies are public property is never stronger than when the subject is reproduction'(4). This is clear evidence that the topic is still alive at this moment.

Originally based mostly in northern states, the ABCL aimed to appeal to the liberal masses in the hope that women could be seen as humans capable of more than giving birth. Sanger's efforts are still celebrated today and it is argued that 'women's progress in recent decades [...] can be directly linked to Sanger's crusade and women's ability to control their own fertility'(5).

These women and their efforts to improve the gender equality possible in American society has left a grand legacy that still exists today. Their mission is that of many Americans currently, but would not have been made possible if not for these women creating these controversial discourses.

(3) Engs, Ruth C. The progressive era's health reform movement: a historical dictionary. Westport: Praeger Publishers, 2003.
(4) Bates, Laura. Everyday sexism. London: Simon & Schuster UK Ltd, 2014.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

African American Identity - Bamboozled

The debates over race and representation of African Americans in films have been highly contentious for over a century. Blacks have generally been perceived and stigmatized, throughout history, as trouble makers and intellectually limited, amongst many other demeaning labels attached to them. These labels are connected not only to the history of colonization but also, importantly, to the exploitation of stereotypes through cinematic clich├ęs which have imposed themselves easily and significantly on the popular imagination. 

In the film Bamboozled, Spike Lee satirically attacks the way in which African Americans have historically been misused and misrepresented on screen. The director attempts both to entertain and to educate his audience about the history of African American representation within popular culture.

The characters in this movie stand for different perceptions of the African American identity, representing different images of blackness. Some of the characters reestablish the negative stereotypes that already exist about black people, while others are seen as straying too far from the typical black experience, because they believe that the difficult black experience is something to be ashamed of.

The main character of the movie is Pierre Delacroix, a black TV writer and Harvard graduate who identifies with whites more than blacks. Attempting to expose the racist attitude of the entertainment industry, Delacroix comes up with the idea of creating a modern minstrel show, intending to get fired for ridiculing his boss’s demands. Delacroix is the type of person who, apart from trying to succeed in ‘a white man’s world’, he also tries to actually become a white man.

Through this character, Lee represents the African American who desperately craves for acceptance by white America, and sees the attitudes of other members of his community as “damaging” or “frightening”.

Monday, 14 March 2016

Fresh Prince of Bel-Air- African American Identity
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was a 1990's American sitcom centred around the lives of an African American family. Will is a character that has come from a poor single parent family in a rough neighbourhood, a more stereotypical African American background, who goes to live with his wealthy middle class Uncle. Although it was and is successful with both black and white groups, it offers interesting representations of race. The Banks family are not stereotyped by race and in many ways represent the assimilation of cultures to attain the American Dream; Philip being a successful attorney and Vivian an English professor. They earn enough to afford a large house and have an English butler. Hilary represents a typical 'valley girl' persona which is normally restricted to white American teenagers. They are educated and have achieved the dream through personal hard work. 

In direct contrast Will's character is represented throughout as 'other' and keen to remain true to his black roots, through dress, language and his assertion that he is from 'the hood' and so is stereotypically street wise and represents contemporary black youth.

'Just for the fact that one of the possible intentions of the series is to undermine the traditional way of portraying African American figures in the American production with the purpose to foster a representation of a multifaceted black community, Will’s way of expressing and behaving becomes even more disputable throughout the episodes just because the audience learns to decode Will’s depiction, that is closer to the traditional black stereotype, recognizing the other characters as authentic even if they do not respect the old representations related to African American people.'(1)

It is down to the audience to decide which is a 'true' representation of blackness. Will character from season one humorously questions the authenticity of his relations culture as he sees them as loosing their blackness to fit in with a world that is largely white dominated. However, it can be seen the the Banks represent modern America in terms of racial discourse becoming more open for African Americans to achieve success and the American Dream in all sections of life.

(1) Undermining Traditional Black Stereotypes in “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”, Sara Corrizzato <>

Sunday, 13 March 2016

The Black Report

The Black Report is an online news website that features stories centralising around the African American population. They claim their mission is 'to establish a sense of community for the African Diaspora online by sharing in our common experiences across the globe.' As a website in its own right presents issues of separation from generalised society as there is a need for black representation in the media. From its founding in 2001, The Black Report shares stories, mainly with a political focus, from other news outlets such as USA Today, The Washington Post and Esquire to name a few.

The majority of recent stories focus on the upcoming US election and issues raised by Republican candidates like Donald Trump and Democrats such as Bernie Sanders. The views and articles are mostly written by black people, thus providing a specific viewpoint on the story which may not be presented or pushed by mainstream media sites. There are great focuses on the inequalities of the black comminuty often regarding economic welfare, under-representation, discrimination and the 'Black Lives Matter' online campaign.

Along the right side of the stories page, there are advertisments for other websites featuring similar articles. One of which shines a light of the double injustices again black women in entertainment mainly. What The Black Report shows is a refusal to accept under-representation in the media or to assimulate to general whitewashing. Although 'recent studies indicate that despite progress since the Voting Rights Act, blacks continue to be underrepresented on city councils and the issue of equal representation on the basis of race continues to be debated by researchers and policymakers'(1), this site shows that until there is equal representation, there are people as part of the community who care enough to become part of the process by providing politically fixated stories highlighting these issues.

(1) Darden, Joe T. "Black Political Underrepresentation in Majority Black Places." Journal of Black Studies 15, no. 1 (Sept 1984): 101-116.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Empire - African American Identity

Empire Trailer

Empire is a television series based upon the music industry. Lucious is an example of the American Dream because he came from the ghetto to owning one of the most successful record labels. The Lyon family are an example of assimilation and separatism because they have some financial support from whites and try to sell black music to them because they are the ones who buy records. That being said the focus is on music of black origin, with the artists being predominantly African American, this shows that there is still a sense of separatism because they want to show that underprivileged people can achieve what Lucious has.

The show is interesting in its depictions of the various characters. Andre is the eldest son competing for the company. He is business driven, with a good education and wants power. He is seemingly the best man for the job but his bipolar disorder does not sit well with Lucious and makes him an unreliable leader. As he has a mental disorder this representation shows that you can still be at a high level even if there are obstacles in the way, you just need to accept the help and get through it.

Jamal is the middle son, his character is also interesting because he is gay, something that Lucious does not approve of and is not accepted in the black community. Jamal has the most talent as he is able to both write and produce songs. He has a white boyfriend in the show which Lucious is not accepting of either but accepts Andre's white wife. The fact that the show is representing a gay African American in such a predominantly straight industry is showing the audience it is acceptable. Also that it does not matter what your sexuality is, especially if you are black.

Hakeem is the youngest son who is obsessed with fame and the lavish lifestyle it entails. He does not work as hard as his brothers but is the favourite child so has more help to achieve his goals.

Empire represents various African American identities and does not present African Americans in a stereotypical way. They do not focus on the violence aspect or drugs, but more on achievements of the black community. People support Lucious because he does not forget where he came from yet has achieved his own music career and owns his own label.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Slum children at play, Washington, D.C. Children in their backyard near the Capitol.

This picture is especially powerful as it depicts children as it main focus and does not show adults or any kind of authority and so connotes a further impression that these children seem abandoned, not just by their parents but by America as it is failing to provide them with the kind of happy, safe, childhood depicted in American Dream propoganda. Their backyard is reminiscent of a wartime photograph, with disintergrated objects abandoned and no grass by dirt to play with. The boys are visibly skinny and have no shoes on as if they are at the beach playing with sand; but as the viewer of this picture can see, the boys face is turned away as if disinterested. This is not a happy depiction of nostalgic childhood.

I feel that this image symbolises the end of The American Dream as a concept that can any longer be sold to its people as a carefree and safe childhood is the epitome of succeeding in the American Dream- achieving financially and moving up in social psosition. It is mentioned in the description of this photograph that where they lived was both a white and black area, which again in this time shows that they were not affluent. The very fact that they are white children adds to the shockingness of the  photograph as they looking like arcetyple wholesome American boys and not what is normally associated with the inhabitants of slums, as in minority ethnicities. Although noticably several attempts have been made, their hair looks neat and they appear washed. The Great Depression affected even those generally most protected by their parents. The image of America as having the best standard of living is severly undermined by an image that looks as if it could have been similarly taken in a third world country.

Son of a Tenant Farmer Reading the Morning Paper While Waiting for a Noon Meal, 1939. Lee

Son of a Tenant Farmer Reading the Morning Paper While Waiting for a Noon Meal, 1939. Lee 

From the first look of this photo it is very clear that this is a man who has lost all hope in terms of finding a job and suggests that his day to day life is all very tedious and boring due to him not having a job, and that all he has to look forward his is noon meal. 

This is a prime example of one of the many people that the great depression had a huge affect upon. This also gives the perception of the American dream of a failed or unattainable idea in the eyes of many Americans during this period. 

From the looks of this individual however paints a different picture, he looks rather clean and well kept, which is the polar opposite of the surroundings that he is living in. This could suggest that even though he is currently out of a job, he is still searching to find one and pursue the American dream in the hopes of achieving a better life for himself.

This photo from Russell Lee may simply document the people and interiors he witnessed, they messy arrangements and living quarters may also hint at their distressed lives that have been thrown off balance due to the hardships in this time period.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Great Depression Era Photography

This photo shows a farmer who looks like he has given up hope. The title of the photo enhances this as it is called "Circleville, Ohio's "Hooverville" . Begins to talk: "No man in the United States had the trouble I had since 1931. No man. Don't talk to me. I'm deaf. I lost my farm in 1931. I went to work in an acid factory. I got acid spilt on me; burnt my nose and made me blind. Then I get those awful headaches. I've been to lots of doctors, but that doesn't help me. They come on at sundown. No man in the United States had the trouble I had since 1931." (This last repeated many times through his talking.) "No man. It must be getting on to 6 o'clock now. My head's beginning to pain." He cannot comprehend the destruction that the Great Depression has caused him, he has lost his whole livelihood of farming and when he finds a new job it injures him. He is an example of the American Dream as he worked hard in the farming industry which was once such a promising industry, however due to the rise of mechanisation he lost the American Dream. The man would seem to be fortunate of the times because he managed to find another job after he lost his farm, but has had some disastrous circumstances that have left him severely hurt.

His body language is very slouched and unwelcoming, particularly as he is hiding his face which suggests that he has given up or is embarrassed of the position that he is in. As we cannot see his face it is hard to know what age he is, his long beard would suggest that he is an older man. As a result of this he has had to go through a lot of struggles. The fact that he has had to give up his farm also means that he has given up both his livelihood and his home. This is the reason why the title of the photograph is so bitter and so lengthy because it represents his emotions, it is emphasised by the repetition of "No man in the United States had the trouble I had since 1931". This reinforces the fact that the farm crashed before the wall street crash, which would have significantly reduced the value of his land and crops before the Great Depression had occurred. Therefore those in the farming industry were one of the most hard hit groups of the period.

Friday, 4 March 2016

Migrant man looking up at billboard. Dubuque, Iowa. April 1940. (photograph by John Vachon)

The standout message of Vachon's photograph is the satirical irony surrounded in the political discourses of the day. This was a time when American values were being questioned by the nation and the American people had lost a part of their identity that the government was obviously still clinging onto. While being preached to about opportunity and freedom, this man is carrying his only possessions on his back.

His positioning in the frame is paramount to the meaning of the image. The centralism of this man shows that the people of America were at the centre of this national crisis that affected so many. It is evident that he is a member of over half of Americans living below the poverty level. This does show the American Dream to be an omnipresent force in society, almost on a level with religion and an inescapable ideology embeded into culture and seen as the generalised 'American Way'. Vachon obviously photographed this because these cultural patterns carried a 'cultural significance to what they appreciated in the United States in the late 1930s'(1).

For me, this image shows the death of the American Dream in the eyes of the American people. These images, Vachon's included, which 'began essentially as government propaganda ended up becoming something more'(2). This seems to be more evident in these kinds of images as they show a hopelessness that is not just witnessed in someone's expression. In fact, this is the opposite; the lack of facial inclusion is something which works in Vachon's favour as America has essentially become a faceless and financially empty entity. A single man looking at this one billboard just shows that the American people had given up on this notion of their dream. The ground underneath and even the poster itself is damaged - the care for the dream seems to vanish. The image is open to interpretation, however, as another viewer might see this as a man looking at the billboard and view is as an inspiring piece, that it is accessable to anyone and the tagline acts as a banner of hope.

(1) <>
(2) <>

Monday, 29 February 2016

Re-invention of the self

Re-invention of the self is a major theme in The Great Gatsby as it is what turns James Gatz, the son of a rural farmer from North Dakota, into Jay Gatsby; the wealthy and glamorous figure that we are introduced to by Nick Carraway. It is also an incredibly important theme within the concept of the American Dream- the notion that anyone from anywhere can be anything. Gatsby certainly achieved the American Dream.
In chapter 9 we learn that Gatsby had a sense of dissatisfaction from a young age with the social position that he was born into. In 1906 he had written himself a schedule with times set aside for activities and a list of  'general resolves' for furthered self improvement. His father comments that because of this "Jimmy was bound to get ahead". This mirrors the real life and famous 'thirteen virtues' that Benjamin Franklin wrote for himself in order to become virtuous and therefore more successful. It can be seen that Fitzgerald was intending for this similarity to be clear to readers as Franklin rose from humble beginnings to one of the founding fathers of the United States. This is partly what Gatsby may have aspired to growing up as the American Dream and stories like Franklin's were influential to many people.
Gatsby thus changes his name and reinvents himself with the help of the wealthy Dan Cody and himself becomes wealthy, after fighting in WW1, by partaking in the underground world of organised crime and bootlegging during the period of prohibition. After this he projects an image of himself as a wealthy American who does not need to work so he fits into the world of old money that he desperately aspires to. Without going to this effort to self improve he would not have fitted into this world. Gatsby is the self made man that achieves the financial goals of many people today and when the novel was written in the 1920's. This concept is reiterated in the final paragraph of the novel- 'tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther... And one fine morning..." This sense that stems from the American Dream that everything can always be bigger and better, nothing is ever settled; with the final allusion "one fine morning" that you will be where you want to be one day if you keep working at it. Before this time in history, and especially in the old world, social position and wealth were largely determined by birth and re-inventing ones self was not a concept for people.
Although it is mostly successful for Gatsby, Myrtle's attempt at self re-invention through having an affair with wealthy Tom Buchanan to climb socially and move away her life that she sees as beneath her is wholly unsuccessful, showing that not all acts of self reinvention will be successful and is a warning for readers.
And in contemporary times the obsession with self improvement and reinvention is still important, and that is especially projected by the American Media. Today self help books are big business.
The second most successful on the list, Think and Grow Rich was published in 1937 and has sold over 70 million copies. "Before compiling the text, Hill researched the lives of over 40 millionaires to discover how they became so successful." This seems to allude to everything The Great Gatsby and the character of Gatsby set out to and did achieve. Even the cover seems like a reference to the novel. A more recent example, the 2016 Living Forward: A Proven Plan to Stop Drifting and Get the Life You Want is a step by step guide to " to design a life with the end in mind, determining in advance the outcomes we desire and path to get there". These examples show that this major theme of a book written 90 years ago has as much relevance now as it did then as people continue to believe in self-improvement.

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Crime and Sin in The Great Gatsby

Even though Crime in the 1920’s was not one of the main focal points in The Great Gatsby, it is certainly present in the background of the book. One of the prime examples of a character representing the theme of crime is Meyer Wolfsheim who Gatsby does business with. Gatsby involvement with Wolfheim in illegal activities is implied later on in the book, There is a big possibility that Gatsby was involved with Wolfheim in the production of alcohol and sale of it to even though this is not openly stated, though this could be suggested with all of the lavish parties he has hosted. This would have also been during the time of the prohibition area in which such practises were illegal. 

Gatsby's relationship with Wolfsheim makes Nick and others doubt the honesty in the acquisition of Gatsby's wealth, and Tom later accuses Gatsby of becoming wealthy through criminal business activities.  So although not at the forefront of the story, crime is represented in the novel.

One of the basic facts about Jay Gatsby is that he throws amazing parties at his house every weekend. Alcohol , dancing, and people aren’t even invited — they just show up. These partygoers, it would seem, exhibit the sin of gluttony, in that they eat and drink and dance and party to excess, and take extreme advantage of the offerings of a man they don’t even know. In Gatsby, we see many characters who are a bit more than well-off. Both Gatsby and the Buchanans (Tom and Daisy) live in lavish homes, yet they still yearn for more. It seems that no one in The Great Gatsby is truly content with their current status — everyone is constantly on the lookout for what they can grab hold of next.

Tom Buchanan is a great example of lust. Though he already has a beautiful wife in Daisy, it is revealed that she apparently is not enough for him: he is a serial cheater, and his latest mistress is Myrtle Wilson, a woman from the “Valley of Ashes” between Long Island and New York City. Tom often takes trips into the city, picking up Myrtle along the way so that they can continue their affair. Wrath is presented through the character Tom Buchanan, who not only flies into a tempered fit at one point and slaps Myrtle, but also falsely sends George Wilson, Myrtle’s husband, after Gatsby when Myrtle is killed by a speeding vehicle. Many of Tom and Gatsby’s interactions are rather heated, and Tom has quite the tendency toward flares of temper.

Envy drives the plot of the tale, for it is Gatsby’s desire for Daisy and his jealousy of the rich lifestyle that kicks off his entire persona. Gatsby is made from envy and exists to inspire envy in others, he crafts for himself an image that begs to be desired just as he once desired it.

An example of modern day crime an corruption can be represented through Sepp Blatter and the Fifa scandal in 2015.The 2015 arrests centre on the alleged use of bribery, fraud and money laundering to corrupt the issuing of media and marketing rights for FIFA games in the Americas, estimated at $150 million, including at least $110 million in bribes related to the Copa America Centenario to be hosted in 2016 in the United States. Sepp Blatter can be related to the character of Meyer Wolfheim who is known in the booking for his shady dealings as well as him claiming to the fixing of another well know sporting event, the world series.

Women and Liberty in The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby plays host to three key female characters: Daisy, Myrtle and Jordan, each portraying what appears to be varying aspects of perceived womanhood in the 1920s.

Daisy longs for the days of her 'white girlhood' because she is unhappy in the marriage she forced herself into with Tom. The system of relationships and affairs between the two is complicated by gender-enforced double-standards. For instance, Tom is unhappy when he believes Daisy and Gatsby are having adulterous relations but fails to see the hypocrisy of this as he completes the same actions, perhaps even to a larger scale. In this regard, Daisy is not free but trapped in what the society of the time believed to be acceptable based on gender. Daisy is also objectified throughout the novel, not by Tom but Gatsby who claims to love her, as he sees her as an achievable goal (often viewed as the American Dream personified). The green light could be seen a siren call to lure Gatsby as the seductive woman she is often portrayed, and as the ultimate desirable woman for men. 'Her face was sad and lovely with bright things in it, bright eyes and a bright passionate mouth, but there was an excitement in her voice that men who had cared for her found difficult to forget...' Fitzgerald often describes her in a poetic manner so that she fits the image of the siren. Gatsby sees this as a signifier of wealth and social status.

Jordan seems to be the most forward-thinking of the three main female protagonists as she is a golf player which would generally be seen as a male sport. In this manner, she is free from the boundaries of a socially sexist environment. This is a further achievement the fact Fitzgerald often classifies women as 'girls' in the presence of men at Gatsby's parties. Jordan often counterbalances her own good image with her cynicism and her incurable dishonesty. She too is of a higher class than characters like Myrtle which allows her in this context to act like a dominating force.

Myrtle however is of a much lower social class as she lives in the Valley of Ashes and in this time 'once the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified, the lines that divided women - class, race, age, ideology became more significant' <>. Being viewed as lower down than women like Daisy and Jordan, Tom's affair with her can be percieved as more scandalous and opens her up to a higher chance of victimisation, such as Tom breaking her nose and simply leaving afterwards. Like Gatsby, Myrtle often tries to rise above her general station as she has grand social aspirations but the class system is great boundary of society, and in particular gender.


This is a video of Emma Watson at the United Nations discussing gender equality and her HeForShe Campaign. She talks about how she questioned 'gender-based assumptions' in a modern society and her theory of stereotypes can be applied to The Great Gatsby with regard to the moral double-standards regarding Tom and Daisy. In a digital age, Watson says that she was 'sexualised by certain elements of the media'. Gatsby obtains elements of these objectifying traits as he simply aims to claim Daisy as his own. As Watson calls for gender equality and the unity of men and women, we see in the novel a clear divide between the sexes and also the individuals of the women. Although some of the men intertwine, work together and go on daytrips to New York together, it is rare for the women to be anything but individual. In the modern world, the audience is able to witness the inequalities that have been faced throughout history, which is inclusive of the female characters in Gatsby.

America and Self Absorption - The Great Gatsby

Daisy Buchanan is one of the most self absorbed characters in the novel as she uses her status and love of money to look down on others. She is so driven by her social status and love of money that she does not care that her husband is cheating on her so long as she can remain in a higher status in society. Also she loves to be the centre of attention, she talks quietly so that people will come closer to her, again emphasising her self absorption. This coincides with her selfishness because the reader knows that she loves Gatsby and is only staying with Tom for the wealth and status yet when she is confronted about whether she loves Gatsby she just goes along with what is expected of her. As soon as Tom makes promises to better there relationship by being faithful she quickly discards Gatsby from her life. As long as the situation benefits her she does not care about anything else.

Tom and Daisy are described in chapter 9 as "they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back to their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made" Furthermore the couple are both destructive and self-centred as they completely disregard other people's opinions. Daisy in particular only cares what happens to her as long as she is happy that is all that matters. This is also shown when she lets Gatsby take the blame for killing Myrtle even though she was the one who was driving the car. This act of selflessness on Gatsby's part ultimately leads to his death. He sacrificed everything for the love of Daisy who would not have been able to face the disgrace from society and lose everything she believes in from Myrtles death. Therefore she is a completely selfish and self-absorbed character .

In terms of America today, according to Bill O'Reilly America is self-absorbed and ignorant. He identifies some quite shocking statistics such as 67% of the 1000 peoples asked did not know that the US is Capitalist, 43% could not define the bill of rights yet more than half of those polled could name at least two members of the Simpsons family. He rightly suggests that this is due to the "internet creating a generation of people who are self-absorbed, addicted, distracted and and ignorant people." This is similar to Daisy and she is so self-absorbed she becomes ignorant to the world around her. The fact that such a large percentage of people do not know general knowledge facts about their own country says a lot about how internet culture and teaching in schools has changed how much people are aware of what is going on in their own society. It makes a worrying future for America if statistics like these are not changed soon.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

The Final Scene

The ending scene within the film is one of the most famous scenes in film history, the ending sequence of the film is without dialogue and features music in the background. Ethan returns Debbie home, while the rest of the family return into the house, Ethan is left standing in the doorway alone. He turns directly, facing the camera, a dark silhouette against the the bright backdrop behind him of the desert. He turns and walks into the desert wind as the door closes on him. A possible reason for this is that really he is trying to save the community from himself and wants to stay as far away from them as possible. this is very different to other westerns that were produced in the same era such as Shane, where he was considered a hero and endeared by many.

An interpretation of this scene could be that he felt that he had completed his task for the family, due to Debbie being returned safely to her family. The actions of Ethan could be considered traditional of the western hero and that now he is moving on to pursue other adventures. The lone ranger theme is also very prevalent in this film as he begins to travel on his own.

The Edenic Myth is also featured in this scene. The Edenic Myth is the vision of a paradise with mountain backdrops and desert plains, and this longing to find this paradise can be related to the westward expansion.At the end, Ethan leaves the family which is gathering in the cabin to celebrate Debbie's return and walks away toward the spires. This indicates that he cannot give up on this Edenic myth for civilisation.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

The Searchers - Ethan shoots the Native American's eyes out

The majority of Americans shared similar racist views as Ethan. This scene shows Ethan shooting a dead Native American in the eyes so that he cannot enter the spirit world, instead he must wander the winds forever. Throughout the film Ethan refers to Martin as blanket, which is another racist term to describe Indians, this shows his demeaning attitude towards Native Americans and does not refrain from speaking his mind regardless of the situation.

A critic called Pye argues that "Ethan's obsessive hatred of Indians and the idea of mixed blood are presented in ways designed to distance us from him." This suggests that Ethan is not a true representation of the myths of the West as the audience are supposed to feel distance from him because that is not an accurate portrayal of how white men felt at the time. However Ethan is a bitter character who has personal resentment of the Comanche tribe due to personal experiences regarding his wife. The significance of this scene is that it is one of the first brutal acts we see Ethan do, following this he gradually becomes darker and more driven to kill any Native American that gets in the way of saving Debbie.

Furthermore as Ethan is played by John Wayne who is famous for his roles in the western genre, some critics argue that this has an impact on how the audience perceive Ethan as a character despite his constant racist remarks. John Wayne is notoriously known for his portrayal of a western hero so for him to play a character that is considered to be evil makes it difficult for the audience to distance themselves as Pye would argue. He is still depicted as a hero but has a dark side which makes his character interesting and is a move away from the traditional western hero that would represent the west. Particularly as he has a strong, masculine persona that despite being the hero can be intimidating to some of the characters in the film as he is reluctant to take orders. His leadership ability intertwines with his racist attitude because he is in control, so can be as savage as he wants to be when killing the Native Americans. Yet in the western genre it is the Native Americans who are portrayed as being savage and uncivilised which challenges the traditional conventions of the western genre.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

The Searchers - Opening Scene Analysis

Many critics see the final scene of The Searchers as one of the most influencial within the film but I believe it could easily be argued the opening scene ranks the same. The cinematography between the two is almost identical but simply in reverse. What is enduring about this scene is the very first few seconds as Martha opens the door, as if she is opening the door to the movie narrative and a picturesque landscape overpowers the darkened corners of the screen to present the inside of the house.

In many ways, this simple minute with only one line reinforces many of the ideas and myths that surround the settlement of the West. For example, the notion that they are the only family within sight would have been highly uncommon in reality but media outlets such as the Western film aimed to solidify these ideas because it portrayed a kind of paradise. The score solidifies this idealistic image also with high-pitched strings providing a happy yet calming soundtrack to accompany Martha looking out onto what seems to be a utopian situation. Similar views on settlement are found in literature, in Little House on the Prairie for instance. Many comparisons can be drawn. Both families are shocked to see figures approaching the house. Here we see Aaron in awe of of his brother Ethan's arrival, showing this embedded sense of peace that this family has to the extent that they remain detached from their own family as well as the rest of the outside world.

What is also established in the scene are the generalised ideas of gender. For instance, Martha is consise with her appearance to the finest detail and also immerses into a moment of melodrama with her hand movement whereas Aaron simply struts in front of the house squinting in his rugged shirt and waistcoat. A major contrast between them is the colouring of their outfits - Martha wears white and blue to suggest high levels of domestcity and a certain aspect of innocence also but Aaron wears dark clothes which almost look dirty suggesting he endures the more typically masculine jobs around the land. These ideas can also be found in other Westerns and again, Little House on the Prairie. Aaron falls into one of Frederick Jackson Turner's three catagories of emigrants being 'the pioneer, who depends for subsistence of his family chiefly upon the natural growth of vegetation, called "the range" which certainly seems true of this family's position given the acres of land that surround them with no neighbours to unsettle them.

Turner also speaks of the American need to 'enlarge their dominion over inanimate nature' which can certainly be seen here with them being the only household in sight. This falls into the theorised expansive power which resides in the American identity. What is striking, and particularly visual in this scene, is how subconscious that notion has become - there seems to be no regard for what or who may have previously been settled as their idealised lifestyle is the dominating feature and visualised with extensive beauty in the camerawork as we move from the interior to the exterior.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Nez Perce Tribe

The Nez Perce Indians are original people of Idaho, Oregon, and Washington State. Most Nez Perce people live in Idaho today. 

The Nez Perces live on a reservation, which is land that belongs to them and is under their control. The Nez Perce nation has its own government, laws, police, and services, just like a small country. However, they are also US citizens and must obey American law. In the past, each Nez Perce band was ruled by a chief, who was elected by a tribal council of important men from each village. Today, they are ruled by a tribal council which is elected by all the people. 

The food that the tribe ate included salmon and fish and a variety of meats from the animals that they hunted. They supplemented their protein diet with seeds, nuts and fruits and used cornlike roots to make ‘kouse’, this was also by Native Americans to create a variety of medicines.

By the middle of the 1800s, settlers had flooded into the land of the Nez Perce, which was about 13 million acres. In 1846, the U.S. government took ownership of the land from the British and it became part of the United States. Conflicts arose between the Nez Perce. Many settlers ignored the Indian ancestral rights to the land. Others stole horses and killed the Nez Perce in disputes. Often these acts against the Native Americans went unpunished

Then gold was discovered on the Nez Perce land, and the land became very valuable to the people of the United States. In 1863, the government of the United States offered the Nez Perce a treaty that would take away over 90 percent of the land that settlers hadn’t already taken. 

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma

The Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma prides itself in its enriched seven hundred year history. Before the beginnings of the United States, they inherited areas along the North Platt River in Nebraska. As the U.S. government began interfering in the affairs of Native Americans, Congress labelled them as a "friendly tribe". The Pawnee were present in a lot of wars that enveloped the nation. Having fought in the Indian wars, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Desert Storm and Operation Enduring Freedom, the Pawnee take a great sense of accomplishment in serving their country. In accordance, they host dance events to remember Memorial Day, Veterans Day and even Christmas Day; also hosting an event for the Pawnee Indian Veterans Day on the weekend closest to 4th July each year.

The flag is a dominant symbol in Pawnee culture. The eight arrowheads symbolise the eight wars they have battled through. A central figure on the flag is the wolf, to suggest cunning and courage, with a peace pipe standing for the peace of their people and a tomahawk for defense placed underneath in a cross formation. Throughout their website, there are stories of their involement in wars and speak highly of one story that discusses a battle which saw them outnumbered by double against armed soldiers but drove them away in order to preserve their land. This is a testament to their pride and sense of honour that runs through the heart of their community.

There are several job opportunities within the community and use their website to advertise these. There are departments for education, finance, law enforcement, and even a Pawnee Nation Court and Nation Government as to regulate the acts in their community by their standards. The offices also offer housing, education, health, social and employment aid and services to tribe members. An interesting point to notice is their advertisements for Stonewolf Casino and shows images of Native Americans working as waitresses and game hosts, evidencing further the Native American involvement in the casino industry to stimulate the Pawnee economy in this circumstance.

It is said that the Pawnee tribe claimed more than 60,000 members in the early 18th century and today has a reduced 3,200 enrolled members.

Yurok Tribe           

The Yurok tribe originate from North Western California. They are known for being good fishermen, eelers, basket weavers, canoe makers, storytellers, singers, dancers, healers and strong medicine people. The villages could be located on the Klamath river, with houses being built from materials such as redwood planks that were split from logs and would be tied together with grapevines. Every village would have several family homes and sweat houses. According to the Yurok's traditional stories the redwood trees are sacred living beings, even though they use the trees to build houses and canoes the redwood is still respected as they are believed to be guardians over their sacred pace. 

The main source of food for the Yurok was acorns with fish which would most likely be salmon. Also they had a good source of deer to hunt for meat, in the summer bulbs would be dug and seeds would be harvested. They would collect salt from the seaweed and if a whale was washed onto the shore this would be considered to be prize meat, however they would never hunt for whales. 

By 1849 more and more settlers were staring to move in to Northern California due to the discovery of gold. At first the settlers would make trades with the tribe but as more settlers arrived the attitudes towards each other soon became more hostile. The government was pressured to change laws in order to protect the Yuroks from loss of land and assault but the settlers did not care about this they just wanted to find as much gold as possible. As a result of this Native Americans were killed as settlers passed through, in the process destroying the villages too. By the end of the gold rush era at least 75% of the Yurok people died as a result of bloody massacres and disease, other tribes in California saw a 95% loss of life. Even though the death toll percentage is high for the Yurok tribe when it it put in context with the area of California as a whole it enhances the severity of the impact of the gold rush on innocent human life.

Treaty negotiations also took place between the Native Americans and the white men despite the reluctance from the local tribes and were very much opposed to meeting with Redick Mckee, the representative sent from Congress. This was due to masses of complaints from the settlers to Congress complaining that the Native Americans were receiving an excess of valuable land and resources. Consequently Congress rejected the treaties and did not notify the tribe about this decision. 

Interestingly, to this day the Yurok Tribe is the largest tribe in California with over 5000 enrolled members. They include the local community and are open to enrolling new members into the tribe. They also have a council that discusses issues and solves any issues that arise from the people.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Glacial Meadow and Lake, William Keith

This painting by Keith from the 1870s or early 1880s shows a scene depicted from Tuolumne Meadows in California's Yosemite National park. During this time he travelled around Yosemite with John Muir, an early advocate of the preservation of wilderness in the United States. It was well known in this period when he travelled that Keith 'felt free to depart from geologic reality, placing an imagined glacier or a river in a scene to enhance the beauty of the painting' and so this painting may be slightly altered from the reality of what he saw to obtain awe from the viewer. The great variety in landscape in only one area, how it can go from flat ground with a lake, to hills, and then to mountains exemplifies the great variety of the West in general. His use of people and a horse in the foreground to allow the vast scale and size of the West to be put into perspective, with the valley creating lines so that your eye travels to the mountain range in the background. Furthermore, the use of light in this painting to make the mountains and sky seem bright whilst the foreground is shadowy and warmer that gives the painting a sense of calm and safety and that this wilderness is in fact as safe and welcoming as it is picturesque. Therefore this painting, much like many of his contemporaries when he studied art in Germany, could be seen as a product of Romanticism in art in this period of settlement.

It is perhaps unusual that humans are depicted in this painting, as they are often omitted to portray the wild landscape as untouched by human intervention; but in this case they are seen as entirely peaceful and gives the painting a sense of adventure in such a place of natural beauty as they are merely observing. There is no sense of danger and no wild animals are seen. This links to his agenda to show the West in a way that portrays its need to be preserved.

Natural Bridge, Virginia - David Johnson - 1860

Natural Bridge, Virginia is created by David Johnson is his attempt of the portrayal of the sublime in nature. The painting uses light very well to emphasise the beauty of this natural landscape. As we see the bridge is in the distance, and is surrounded by dense vegetation. This vegetation also gives the sense that a lot of the surrounding areas are unknown and mysterious, that also with the fact the limited amount of light reflecting from the vegetation.

From the look of the painting on the left side, there seems to be the presence of a home, maybe livestock, this gives the indication of human presence, this also gives the painting a balance between man and nature. This balance, paired with the relatively small scale of the work and its elevated perspective, prevents the viewer from being overwhelmed by a spectacular vista, instead, it gives the viewer a more compacted view of the painting, and thus gives them more time to think about a particular aspect.

At one time, Thomas Jefferson owned Natural Bridge and the land that surrounded it. In the nineteenth century, the Virginia land bridge was among the most well known natural wonders in North America. Thousands of European and American tourists journeyed to the site, marvelling at what they saw as evidence of God’s sublime creation.