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CULTURAL STUDIES Volume 2 Number 3 October 1988 CULTURAL STUDIES is a new international journal, dedicated to the notion
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Editorial Board EDITORS Lawrence Grossberg Della Pollock ASSOCIATE EDITOR Mark J.Olson ASSISTANT EDITOR Ted Striphas BO
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Editorial Board EDITORS Lawrence Grossberg University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign USA Janice Radway Duke University US
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Cultural Studies Theorizing Politics, Politicizing Theory VOLUME 17 NUMBER 5 SEPTEMBER 2003
Cultural Studies continues to expand and flourish, in large part because the field keeps changing. Cultural studies scholars are addressing new questions and discourses, continuing to debate long-standing issues, and reinventing critical traditions. More and more universities have some formal cultural studies presence; the number of books and journals in the field is rapidly increasing. Cultural Studies welcomes these developments. We understand the expansion, reflexivity and internal critique of cultural studies to be both signs of its vitality and signature components of its status as a field. At the same time, cultural studies has been— and will no doubt continue to be—the subject of numerous attacks, launched from various perspectives and sites. These have to be taken seriously and answered, intellectually, institutionally and publicly. Cultural Studies hopes to provide a forum for response and strategic discussion. Cultural Studies assumes that the knowledge formations that make up the field are as historically and geographically contingent as are the determinations of any cultural practice or configuration and that the work produced within or at its permeable boundaries will be diverse. We hope not only to represent but to enhance this diversity. Consequently, we encourage submissions from various disciplinary, theoretical and geographical perspectives, and hope to reflect the wideranging articulations, both global and local, among historical, political, economic, cultural and everyday discourses. At the heart of these articulations are questions of community, identity, agency and change. We expect to publish work that is politically and strategically driven, empirically grounded, theoretically sophisticated, contextually defined and reflexive about its status, however critical, within the range of cultural studies. Cultural Studies is about theorizing politics and politicizing theory. How this is to be accomplished in any context remains, however, open to rigorous enquiry. As we look towards the future of the field and the journal, it is this enquiry that we especially hope to support. Lawrence Grossberg Della Pollock
Contributions should be sent to Professors Lawrence Grossberg and Della Pollock, Dept. of Communication Studies, CB #3285, 113 Bingham Hall, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599–3285, USA. They should be in triplicate and should conform to the reference system set out in the Notes for Contributors. An abstract of up to 300 words (including 6 keywords) should be included for purposes of review. Submissions undergo blind peer review. Therefore, the author’s name, address and e-mail should appear only on a detachable cover page and not anywhere else on the manuscript. Every effort will be made to complete the review process within six months of submission. A disk version of the manuscript must be provided in the appropriate software format upon acceptance for publication. Reviews, and books for review, should be sent to: Stuart Price School of Arts de Montfort University The Gateway Leicester LE1 9BH UK poumist[email protected] Gil Rodman Department of Communication University of South Florida 4202 East Fowler Avenue, CIS1040 Tampa FL 33620 7800 USA [email protected] Alvaro Pina Rua Jose P.Chaves 6–3 Dto 1500–377 Lisboa Portugal [email protected] Ien Ang Institute for Cultural Research University of Western Sydney Parramatta Campus BCRI Building L2 Locked Bag 1797 Penrith South DC NSW1797 Australia [email protected]
Contents VOLUME 17 NUMBER 5 SEPTEMBER 2003
Articles THE DISNEYFICATION OF DR SEUSS: FAITHFUL TO PROFIT, ONE HUNDRED PERCENT? Philip Nel
DISRUPTING THE NUPTIALS AT THE TOWN HALL DEBATE: FEMINISM AND THE POLITICS OF CULTURAL MEMORY IN THE USA Melissa Deem
THE ROMANTIC SELF AND THE POLITICS OF INTERNET COMMERCIALIZATION Thomas Streeter
THE SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION OF A CULTURAL DISASTER: NEW LABOUR’S MILLENNIUM EXPERIENCE Jim McGuigan
PARTIAL PUBLICITY AND GENDERED REMEMBERING: FIGURING WOMEN IN CULTURE AND PERFORMANCE Shannon Jackson
SURVIVAL AT WORK: FLEXIBILITY AND ADAPTABILITY IN AMERICAN CORPORATE CULTURE Megan Brown
Book reviews ‘HONOURING THE DIGNITY OF THE SPECIFIC’: FEMINISM, CULTURAL STUDIES AND THE POLITICAL RESPONSIBILITIES OF RESEARCHERS AND THEORISTS Janice Radway
AN AUTOMATIC CHOICE Greg Elmer
Notes on contributors
Notes for contributors
CULTURAL STUDIES 17(5) 2003, 579–614
THE DISNEYFICATION OF DR SEUSS: FAITHFUL TO PROFIT, ONE HUNDRED PERCENT?
Abstract This essay takes a critical look at the Disneyfication of Dr Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel, 1904–1991), examining how a man whose books encourage critical thinking became a brand name, and is increasingly becoming an affirmation of consumer culture. Since his death, Dr Seuss’s name and characters have been used to promote cereal, credit cards, and action figures (among other things); this strategy has led many to cite Suess’s indifference to money and his reluctance to exploit his characters for commercial gain. And, as this article points out, posthumously licensed products are more likely to encourage consumption for its own sake, whereas ones licensed during his lifetime tend to encourage creative or imaginative play. However, the Disneyfication of Dr Seuss is not strictly a posthumous phenomenon. After losing a 1968 case against companies that marketed ‘Dr Seuss’ products based on his 1932 Liberty Magazine cartoons, Dr Seuss accepted his lawyers’ (and the court’s) conclusion that trademark is more powerful than copyright, and approved the production of a vast array of Seussiana. Drawing on legal research, analysis of the products themselves, conversations with Dr Seuss Enterprises and with his biographers, the article concludes that Seuss’s Disneyfication is a symptom of a legal system designed to benefit capitalism more than moral or artistic values. Keywords Seuss; copyright; trademark; marketing; law; children IN THE NOW-CLASSIC holiday picturebook, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (Seuss, 1957b), the Grinch is shocked when—despite his having stolen everything from the Christmas trees to the last can of Who-hash—‘Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small,/Was singing! Without any presents at
Cultural Studies ISSN 0950–2386 print/ISSN 1466–4348 online © 2003 Taylor & Francis Ltd http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals DOI: 10.1080/0950238032000126847
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all!’ Against all his efforts to prevent it, Christmas arrives ‘just the same!’ Like Scrooge on Christmas morning, the Grinch on Christmas morning is a changed man—or, at least, a changed Grinch. In his memorable epiphany: ‘Maybe Christmas’, he thought, ‘doesn’t come from a store’. ‘Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!’ Like Charles Schulz’s A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965), which made its television debut the year before Chuck Jones’s animated Grinch (for which Seuss himself wrote the screenplay), the book How the Grinch Stole Christmas! criticizes the commercialization of the holiday. Now, as Schulz’s TV special did and as popular holiday records—such as Stan Freeberg’s ‘Green Chri$tma$’ (1958)—have done, Seuss’s Grinch profited from satirizing those who exploit Christmas for profit. CBS-TV paid MGM $315,000 for the rights to air the animated Grinch before Christmas in 1966 and 1967; the TV-special has gone on to become a holiday tradition (Morgan and Morgan, 1995:191). And, noting this irony, one might be inclined to point to the book’s complicity in that which it criticizes: after all, doesn’t Seuss’s Grinch sell well every holiday season precisely because it is a Christmas book—a Christmas book promoted by its own TV-special? Such a charge suggests that Seuss could launch a critique from outside the economic system of which he was a part and that he would want to oppose a system in which he had succeeded. By the time of his death, ‘Dr Seuss’ (Theodor Seuss Geisel, 1904–1991) was a multi-million dollar industry; in 1998, Herb Cheyette of Dr Seuss Enterprises estimated that over 400 million Dr Seuss books had been sold (An Awfully Big Adventure, 1998). As a former advertising man, Seuss may well have viewed the financial success of the Grinch as a moral success: the more people who see Jones’ Grinch or read Seuss’s Grinch, the more who receive Seuss’s message. As his World War II cartoons and political books demonstrate, when writing as a propagandist, Seuss wished to persuade as many people as he could. He might have enjoyed the irony of having written a successful commercial against commercialism.1 But would Seuss approve of the past decade’s hyper-commercialization of his work? During his life, Dr Seuss did license ‘spin-off’ products other than animated TV specials. There were ‘World of Dr Seuss’ lunchboxes, Cat in the Hat plush toys and the ‘Sam-I-Am’ See-n-Say Storymaker to name but a few. For the most part, the products permitted by Seuss tend to encourage creative play. The Seuss Multi-Beasts introduced by Revell in 1959 and 1960 had interchangeable parts: you could make Tingo, ‘the noodle topped stroodle’; you could combine Tingo’s
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parts with those of Gowdy, ‘the dowdy grackle’, or Busby, ‘the tasselated Afghan spaniel yak’. As their boxes proclaimed, ‘SNAPS TOGETHER—PULLS APART in THOUSANDS of ways’; the first four Multi-Beasts could be combined in 14,000 ways by Revell’s estimate (Publishers’ Weekly, 1959:53). In addition, a child could play-act with a Cat in the Hat plush toy or create new stories from the Seen-Say Storymaker. Seuss did not allow characters from his books to be used in advertising for unrelated products and often turned down requests to license his work, once remarking, ‘I’d rather go into the Guinness Book of World Records as the writer who refused the most money per word’ (Morgan and Morgan,1995: xviii). However, since his death, Seuss’s name has been attached to a wider range of items, including a Seuss theme park in Orlando, Florida, and commercials featuring Seuss’s characters. Contradicting the notion that Christmas ‘doesn’t come from a store’, the Grinch himself has sold Kellogg’s Frosted Mini-Wheats, Nabisco’s Ritz crackers, VISA credit cards and York Peppermint Patties. It is time we look at the Disneyfication of Dr Seuss, examining how a man whose books encourage critical thinking became a brand name. Disneyfication In Inside the Mouse: Work and Play at Disney World, Karen Klugman (1995) defines ‘Disneyfication’ as ‘the application of simplified aesthetic, intellectual or moral standards to a thing that has the potential for more complex and thoughtprovoking expression’ (1995:103). The film of the Grinch (2000) is the cinematic embodiment of this definition and the most vivid example of the Disneyfication of Dr Seuss. To be fair to the filmmakers, they do get the central message of Seuss’s book: indeed, the film has Cindy-Lou Who and the Grinch each undergo spiritual crises about the meaning of Christmas so that each may separately conclude that the holiday is more about community than capitalism. The Grinch (played by Jim Carrey) retains Seuss’s lines about Christmas not coming from a store but meaning a little bit more. To emphasize this moral, prior to the Grinch’s pronouncement, the film provides a scene in Who-ville’s town square on Christmas morning. Cindy-Lou Who’s father Lou-Lou Who (Bill Irwin) tells us: ‘I’m glad he took our presents. I’m glad’. In the tone of a villainous sit-com boss, the mayor replies: ‘He’s glad. You’re glad. You’re glad everything is gone. You’re glad that the Grinch virtually wrecked—no, no, no, not wrecked— pulverized Christmas! Is that what I’m hearing from you, Lou?’ Cindy-Lou Who gazes adoringly at her father, as he responds: ‘You can’t hurt Christmas, Mr Mayor, because it isn’t about the gifts or the contests or the fancy lights. That’s what Cindy’s been trying to tell everyone. And me. She’s been trying to tell me’. Finally, to make absolutely sure we get the point: Mr. Mayor: What is wrong with you? This is a child!
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Lou-Lou Who: She’s my child, and she happens to be right, by the way. I don’t need anything more for Christmas than this right here: my family. Merry Christmas everybody! The scene is overdone, the dialogue is cloying, but it does spell out how Christmas means ‘a little bit more’. Although it simplifies aesthetically and intellectually, the screenplay does emphasize Seuss’s moral, even if—as The New York Times’ A.O.Scott points out—the moral ‘is learned not so much by the Grinch but by the Whos themselves, who must overcome their corrupting materialism before they get their mountains of presents, a perfect Hollywood moral’ (Scott, 2000:105). Regrettably, the excesses of the production undercut even the Hollywoodized moral message. The film imagines not only Who-ville but even the Grinch’s cave as elaborate, gadget-filled amusement parks. While Seuss’s books display a fondness for Rube-Goldberg-esque inventions, the special-effects-encumbered Grinch film seems designed to encourage viewers to buy these inventions, to purchase the action figures, to come to the theme park. Who-ville’s remarkably clean garbage chute, which empties into the Grinch’s mountaintop cave, is like a waterslide that works both ways: The Grinch and Cindy-Lou Who delight in riding it down and up the mountain. As the camera follows them around turns, catching the mirthful expressions on their faces, the Grinch whoops and CindyLou screams in delight, suggesting a commercial for a Wet N” Wild theme park or Orlando’s ‘Seuss Landing’ theme park. Even the Grinch’s sled behaves like an amusement-park ride—appropriate, given that Seuss Landing offers a sled-ride with the Grinch down Mt Crumpit (Palmer, 2000:8). On the way down the mountain the first time, it’s a sled-spaceship hybrid, complete with rocket boosters; on the way down the second time, it’s a sled-motorboat, with CindyLou driving and the Grinch skiing behind it, hanging on to a rope in a manner that suggests water-skiing. The film feels like a commercial because it dwells on spectacle at the expense of character and narrative. As director Ron Howard has said: ‘What we tried to do with The Grinch is use the latest state-of-the-art technology to be able to really create an atmosphere, scope, and scale that’s really pretty seamless’ (We All Dream of Oz, 2000). His film may be seamless, but it is more about its ‘state-of-the-art’ production values than about the story itself. The narrative of the film, unlike that of the book or of Jones’s animated version, stresses the values of self-improvement, emphasizing a quintessentially American narrative: if you work hard, anything is possible! Young, blonde and spunky, Cindy-Lou Who is equal parts social worker, therapist and investigative reporter. Perceiving the Grinch’s essential virtue, she interviews the Grinch’s guardians and childhood acquaintances, discovering the truth about his sad childhood: after being mocked by his peers and suffering an unrequited love for Martha-Mae Who, the 8-year-old Grinch exiled himself to the mountaintop cave. Before Cindy-Lou intervenes, the Grinch is given to announcing, ‘Now to take care of those pesky memories’ and then smacking himself in the head with a
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mallet. But that adorable Cindy’s message of love and community involvement helps the Grinch reform. In Seuss’s book, he changes from Grumpy Grinch to Good Citizen, too, but there’s no emphasis on self-improvement: he hears the Whos singing, has an epiphany and he’s a new Grinch. In contrast, the film emphasizes the recovery process: Cindy-Lou suggests that his dislike of Christmas may be ‘just a misunderstanding’ and counsels the Grinch to ‘reunite with the Whos and be a part of Christmas’. It is a misunderstanding, and his joining with the Whos is the final step in his 12-step programme. As Interbrand consultancy president Martyn Straw has observed, ‘American brands are about anything being possible—the core value of all of them is optimism. America is not a country, it’s an idea.[…] [T]he Disney brand is almost exclusively dependent upon that’ (quoted in Weber, 2002:78–9). The Seuss brand is becoming dependent upon that too. Even an original Seuss book like Oh, the Places You’ll Go! is not as optimistic as its status as perennial graduation gift would suggest. Its central character lands in ‘the Lurch’, ‘a Slump’ and ‘the Waiting Place’, all of which make the possibility of failure very real. However, recent ersatz Seuss books bring the Seuss brand much closer to the Disney brand, promoting the idea that anything is possible as long as one keeps a positive outlook. Tish Rabe’s Oh, the Things You Can Do That Are Good for You! (2001) and Bonnie Worth’s Oh Say Can You Seed? (2001)— both marketed as volumes in ‘The Cat in the Hat’s Learning Library’—are saccharine, moralistic guides to self-improvement. Seuss did write more overtly ‘educational’ books, like I Can Read with My Eyes Shut! (1976) and The Cat’s Quizzer (1978), but in these books the Cat in the Hat retains some of his subversive appeal. The Cat may not be the anarchist that he is in The Cat in the Hat (1957a) or The Cat in the Hat Comes Back (1958a), but his narration of both I Can Read with My Eyes Shut! and The Cat’s Quizzer happily mocks the ‘educational’ genre of which both books partake. In the former, the Cat advises a young cat about reading, which (if done with eyes open) can teach you about ‘fishbones…and wishbones. You’ll learn about trombones, too. You’ll learn about Jack the Pillow Snake and all about Foo-Foo the Snoo’ (Seuss, 1976). The latter includes such absurd questions as ‘What would you do if you jumped in the air and didn’t come down?’ and provides appropriately whimsical answers, like ‘If you get stuck in the air, fly to the nearest telephone. Dial “0” and ask for a ladder’ (Seuss, 1978:41, 60). In contrast, the Cat of Oh, the Things You Can Do That Are Good for You! and Oh Say Can You Seed? takes himself quite seriously. He is still smiling, but now he works out. The former book’s cover shows him clad in running shorts and a tank top, going jogging with Thing One and Thing Two, all carrying water bottles in their hands. He introduces the Tac-Toe-Tapping Tweets, who ‘are strong and they’re wise/for they know to stay healthy/they need exercise!’ (Rabe, 2001: 9). Thing One and Thing Two, formerly pure id, are now all superego: they lift weights, stay clean and do their homework. The now well-behaved Cat shows us the Zanz, who sings a ‘song/about washing your hands’: ‘Wash
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your hands carefully./It’s up to you./Use soap and warm water./It’s easy to do./ Rinse them and while/we all sing this refrain,/germs from your hands/will slide right down the drain!’(Rabe, 2001:14, 16–17). Oh Say Can You Seed? trots out the Cat to explain botany to young readers: ‘Just what is a seed,/you are wondering, maybe?/Well, you might say a seed/is a tiny plant baby!’ (Worth, 2001:12). The book concludes with verses such as ‘But whether they stick/or they blow or they fly,/seeds bring us life,/and now you know why’ (Worth, 2001:38). These books turn the Cat in the Hat into precisely what the original Cat in the Hat rebelled against: preachy, didactic, obviously ‘educational’ primers. Of course, books like The Cat in the Hat, The Butter Battle Book and The Lorax do have morals, but they deliver these morals by provoking their readers, not by preaching to them.2 To be fair to the authors of these books, we should note it is difficult to imitate Dr Seuss—a challenge that may have been compounded by the tangled origins of ‘The Cat in the Hat’s Learning Library’. As Herb Cheyette of Dr Seuss Enterprises explains, NASA in 1993 asked if its new robotic space probes could be named DRSEUSS, ‘an acronym for Data Relay Solar Electric Upper Stage Spacecraft’. An image of the Cat in the Hat would be featured on the probes, and NASA also wanted the Cat to serve as narrator for a series of ‘children’s beginning science books’ that were to be ‘based on NASA supplied materials’. After five years of negotiation, contracts had been signed by Dr Seuss Enterprises and Random House, and, just as NASA was about to sign, ‘everyone involved in the project on NASA’s side was either fired or reassigned, and the project was peremptorily aborted by the agency’. Having invested a great deal of time and money into the project, Dr Seuss Enterprises and Random House decided to go ahead with the idea of ‘using the Cat as a narrator to teach simple science’ (Cheyette, 2003). Despite the project’s difficult beginnings, Oh Say Can You Seed won the 2003 Ohio Farm Bureau Children’s Literature Award for books with an agricultural theme. The books also feature an endorsement from Barbara Kiefer, Associate Professor of Columbia University’s Teacher’s College: ‘The Cat in the Hat’s Learning Library™ shows young readers that books can be entertaining and educational at the same time. This is a wonderful series!’ While I do not concur with these assessments, we must note that ‘The Cat in the Hat’s Learning Library’ does have some admirers: in this respect, the series has overcome both its troubled start and its aesthetic deficiencies. If you know the original Seuss books, the ‘new’ ones are obviously not Seuss books. As Herb Cheyette says, ‘To suggest that anyone would buy one of these books thinking it was by Dr Seuss is absurd; almost as absurd as thinking that comparing their literary quality to that of an inimitable genius provides a demonstration of critical acumen’ (Cheyette, 2003). But the unwary may take the iconic image of the Cat in the Hat (or, in some cases, the name ‘Dr Seuss’) as a sign of the book’s authorship. For example, though Ron Howard’s Dr Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (2000) differs from Dr Seuss’s version, it uses Seuss’s name in the title and its phenomenal success (it grossed $55 million in its
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first weekend alone) may make it the best-known version of Seuss’s story.3 The film, the pseudo-Seuss books and the television show The Wubbulous World of Dr Seuss (its title an obvious play on The Wonderful World of Disney), sanitize Dr Seuss. Contrary to these projects’ heavy-handed moralism, Seuss was a contrarian who enjoyed challenging people to reconsider their assumptions. He was a mainstream publishing phenomenon who used his celebrity to promote an activist agenda. Seuss wrote The Sneetches (1961) to criticize anti-Semitism, modelled Yertle the Turtle (1958b) on the rise of Hitler, created The Lorax (1971) to call attention to corporate abuse of the environment, and penned The Butter Battle Book (1984) as a critique of Reagan’s enthusiasm for the nuclear arms race. Turning Seuss into another Disney threatens to make ‘Seuss’ synonymous with the ambiguous power of global capitalism. Just what the doctor ordered? Before we too-quickly attribute the Disneyfication of Dr Seuss to the machinations of the marketplace, we must consult Dr Seuss Enterprises, the corporation that oversees the licensing of all Seuss merchandise—everything from the original books and TV specials to the action figures and the theme park. All major decisions by Dr Seuss Enterprises are arrived at by consensus of the Board of Directors (Audrey Geisel, Karl ZoBell and Herb Cheyette), of which Mrs Geisel (Seuss’s widow) is prima inter pares. Seuss saying that he would ‘rather go into the Guinness Book of World Records as the writer who refused the most money per word’ may indicate that Cheyette and Geisel are not upholding Seuss’s wishes. However, the source of the Guinness anecdote is none other than Herb Cheyette. Recalling that Theodor Seuss Geisel ‘was reluctant to merchandise Seuss characters’, Cheyette tells the story of ‘a major television advertiser who offered a vast sum of money for the right to use a Dr Seuss character in a holiday message’ (Lathem, 1996:24). Jed Mattes, then Geisel’s book agent, sent some unpublished Seuss verses to the delighted sponsor, who in turn created storyboards based on the verses. When Ted saw the storyboards, he ‘indicated that he really didn’t want Dr Seuss to be connected to a particular religious holiday or with a product large doses of which might have uncertain effects on children’ (Lathem, 1996:25). In response, the sponsor offered even more money. Ted still wouldn’t allow the commercial. In a final attempt to persuade him, Cheyette said, ‘Let me put on my agent’s hat for a minute. These verses consist of less than a hundred words. If you accept this deal you will go into the Guinness Book of Records as the writer who was paid the most money per word’. Ted thought for a moment, and then answered, ‘I’d rather go into the Guinness Book of Records as the writer who refused the most money per word’ (Lathem, 1996:26). Though Dr Seuss objected to this particular project, Cheyette says that he was not philosophically opposed to marketing schemes.4 He Says that Seuss responded ‘to more than one marketing proposal’ by asking,‘Why should I spend my time
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correcting the works of others when I can spend the same amount of time creating new works? There will be plenty of time after my death’ (Cheyette, 2001a). In other words, Seuss’s resistance to marketing proposals may have arisen not out of any desire to prevent what I have been calling Disneyfication, but out of perfectionism. As Cheyette explains, Seuss was a ‘still-creative perfectionist’ in the ‘final quarter of his life’: were he to involve himself with marketing proposals, his creative output would suffer. Seuss’s biographers agree that his perfectionism led him away from ‘commercial decisions in his final years’, but doubt that Seuss would approve of ‘the swift flood of after-death marketing’ (Morgan, 2002). In 1997, Judith Morgan, who was also a neighbour of Ted and Audrey Geiesl, told the New York Times’ Dinitia Smith, ‘You look back: there weren’t even t-shirts’. Of the recent flurry of marketing, she said, ‘I do not think he would have allowed it. It’s become an empire since his death. It used to be one man and one desk’ (Smith, 1997: B12). Christopher Cerf, the son of Bennett Cerf (Seuss’s publisher at Random House), appears to agree with Ms Morgan. Interviewed for the same article, Cerf observed, ‘If’ he were around, he would be absolutely resisting this, or riding herd like the perfectionist he was. I hope things remain true to his vision’. Though Cerf, like Cheyette, identifies perfectionism as the cause of Seuss’s resistance, he does not express any enthusiasm for the recent hypercommercialization of Seuss. Seuss’s opposition may, indeed, have stemmed from perfectionism. In 1959, he was critical of the Revell Corporation’s versions of Seuss creatures; in the 1980s, he didn’t like Coleco’s versions either—and in 1987, Cheyette arranged for a buyout of the rest of Seuss’s contact with Coleco (Morgan and Morgan, 1995: 165, 259–60). ‘The Morgans’ portrayal of Ted Geisel as a monetarily indifferent idealist is only partially true’, Cheyette says (2001a). After all, Seuss’s roots were in advertising: before writing children’s books, Seuss sold mail-order sculptures and made his name with campaigns for Flit bug spray and Essolube motor oil. Seuss has even credited his advertising experience with being ‘helpful to me as a writer of children’s books’, because it ‘taught me conciseness and how to marry pictures with words’ (Wintle and Fisher, 1975:115). Professing indifference to wealth (Seuss often called money ‘a necessary evil’ (Wintle and Fisher, 1975: 123)), Seuss gave away much of his. Through the Dr Seuss Foundation (established in 1958), Seuss gave to the Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation in La Jolla; Tougaloo, a small Mississippi college; and SOFA (Strongly Organized for Action), ‘a nonprofit group that operated a child care center for La Jolla’s ethnic community’ (Morgan and Morgan, 1995:258). In 1998, when San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre wanted to give poorer children free tickets to its stage production of How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, Audrey Geisel ‘waived all royalty payments and donated more than $100,000 from the Dr Seuss Foundation to help cover costs’ (‘Giving a Grinch for the Holidays’). In addition, Mrs. Geisel gives to most of the charitable organizations in San Diego and La Jolla, including the San Diego Museum of Art and the Museum of Photographic Art. She also provided a $20 million
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endowment for the University of California at San Diego, was the principal donor for the Dr Seuss National Memorial and is a major continuing benefactor of Dartmouth College. Today, the Dr Seuss Foundation provides primary support for over one hundred medical, cultural and socially active institutions (Cheyette, 2003). As Cheyette (2001a) puts it, ‘A literary and artistic genius not indifferent to the relationship of art and commerce, [Seuss] spent a great deal of thought making certain that his estate would continue to generate income to benefit society’. Some may be inclined to ask—surely Seuss’s many books and several TVspecials generate enough income to keep the Dr Seuss Foundation in robust fiscal health? That is, the continued popularity of the Seuss oeuvre may prompt speculation about whether or not the more recent projects are desirable. Trademark vs. copyright Herb Cheyette, Audrey Geisel and Karl ZoBell (Mrs Geisel’s lawyer) all say that the best way to protect an author’s rights is through trademark, not copyright. As Cheyette points out, ‘A peculiarity of the American legal system is that commerce is valued more than art. As a consequence, copyrights are protected for a limited period of time, trademarks are enjoyed in perpetuity. Trademarks can only be acquired by utilizing works for commercial purposes’ (Cheyette, 2001a). ZoBell notes, ‘Under the rules governing trademarks, if you don’t defend them or use them you lose them and they fall into the public domain. In order to protect the characters, we had to go into the marketplace’ (Smith, 1997:B12). Or as Audrey Geisel says, ‘I wish the Cat to go on indefinitely as a literary cat, not a cartoon cat. The alternative was to kill it’ (Smith, 1997:B1). If the alternative to pursuing trademark protection was to ‘kill’ the Cat in the Hat by allowing him to remain under the protection of copyright alone, then we might wonder how and why trademark would be more advantageous than copyright. According to US Copyright Law (title 17, passed 1976), copyright applies to ‘original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device’ (Copyright Law of the United States, 2001). Copyright does not protect titles, names, short phrases, or slogans (US Copyright Office, 2000). In contrast, trademark is ‘a word, name symbol or device which is used in trade with goods to indicate the source of the goods and to distinguish it from the goods of others’, according to the US Patent and Trademark Office (US Patent and Trademark Office, 2001). In plain English, copyright protects authors (and artists), but trademark protects products and the marks attached to those products. So, copyright protects the TV special or book of The Cat in the Hat, but trademark protects the image of the Cat himself, as the logo of Random House’s ‘Beginner Books’ series or as attached to any product. Another strength of trademark is its duration. Trademarks last as long as they remain in use, although they need to be renewed every 10 years (if granted on or
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after 16 November 1989) or 20 years (if granted prior to 16 November 1989). In contrast, copyright lasts for a fixed period of time. As per the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, signed into law on 27 October 1998, copyright on works published after 1978 now lasts for the author’s life plus 70 years. For ‘pre-1978 works still in their original or renewal term of copyright’, copyright lasts 95 years from ‘the date that copyright was originally secured’ (US Copyright Office, 2001). Therefore, The Cat in the Hat and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, both published in 1957, will remain under copyright until 2052. In contrast, a Grinch action figure could be protected by trademark indefinitely—as long as it’s being made, the trademark would be enforced. In other words, Mr Cheyette, Mr ZoBell and Mrs Geisel make a valid claim. If trademark is more powerful (and therefore more desirable) than copyright, then why not bring the Cat and the Grinch into the marketplace? Since trademark protects products, take a literary character and turn him into a commodity. Under American law, ‘commerce is valued more than art’, as Mr Cheyette says. Theodor Seuss Geisel may have arrived at the same conclusion in 1968, when he encountered ‘Dr Seuss’s Merry Menagerie’, a series of six different vinyl dolls based on cartoons he had drawn for Liberty Magazine in 1932. The resulting lawsuit —Geisel v. Poynter Products Inc., Alabe Crafts Inc., Linder, Nathan & Heide Inc. and Liberty Library Corporation—offers a glimpse into how and why Dr Seuss and his heirs would seek protection under trademark instead of copyright. Dr Seuss’s cartoons ran in Liberty from June through December of 1932, for which Geisel was paid $300 a piece. Regarding ownership of these cartoons, Geisel understood that ‘while Liberty had the complete rights to publish these works in one issue of Liberty Magazine, Liberty held all other rights to this work (including the right to renew the copyright and the right to make other uses of the work) in trust’ for him. However, there was no written agreement. Fulton Oursler, Liberty’s editorin-chief, thought that Dr Seuss cartoons would be ‘very suitable’ for the magazine. Geisel agreed, and Oursler said, ‘Glad to have you on board’. That conversation was the contract (Geisel v. Poynter Products, 1968b). Liberty Magazine ceased publication in 1950, and Lorraine Lester—herself an author of stories that appeared in the magazine—bought its copyright library. In 1964, at the suggestion of Robert Whiteman, she founded the Liberty Library Corporation in order to ‘make money by exploiting the literary properties’ contained in the magazine. In December of 1964, Whiteman invited Geisel to join with Liberty Library in developing products based on this material or to repurchase the rights to these works. Geiesl declined, and his attorney, Frank Kockritz, sent a telegram indicating that he did not recognize Liberty’s rights to these cartoons and that he ‘reserv[ed] the right to institute a lawsuit’ (Geisel v. Poynter Products, 1968b). Without his or Geisel’s consent, Liberty Library signed an agreement with Universal Publishing, which in 1967 published Dr Seuss’s Lost World Revisited: A Forward-Looking Backward Glance, marketing it as ‘A book for grown-ups by the celebrated author-illustrator of the most popular children’s books of our time’ (Seuss, 1967). That same year, Liberty sold to Poytner
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Products the rights to produce dolls based on the cartoons. When they hit the marketplace in March of 1968, the dolls were advertised as ‘Dr Seuss’s Merry Menagerie’ and ‘From the Wonderful World of Dr Seuss’. In April, Geisel filed an injunction against Poynter, Liberty, Alabe Crafts (distributor of Poynter’s products), and Linder, Nathan & Heide Inc. (manufacturer’s representative for Alabe), claiming that they had violated trademark laws by ‘falsely representing these dolls as the product of Dr Seuss, which they are not, or has having been approved by Dr Seuss, when they were not’ (Geisel v. Poynter Products, 1968a). In a NewYork federal court on 9 April, Judge William Herlands declared that there was a ‘reasonable probability’ of Geisel’s success in proving this claim, and ordered the defendants to stop A. Representing that defendants’ doll, toy or other similar product has been created, designed, produced, approved or authorized by plaintiff [Geisel]; B. Describing defendants’ doll, toy or other similar product as having been created, designed, produced, approved or authorized by plaintiff; or C. Representing, describing or designating plaintiff as the originator, creator, designer or producer of defendants’ doll, toy or other similar products. (Geisel v. Poynter Products, 1968a) So, Geisel won that round and was poised to win the case. However, the defendants paid close attention to the language of this preliminary injunction and realized that all they needed to do was to change their language. Which they did. After the injunction, they changed the tags from ‘Dr Seuss’s Merry Menagerie’ to ‘Merry Menagerie. Toys Created, Designed & Produced Exclusively By Don Poynter. Based on Liberty Magazine Illustrations By Dr Seuss’ (Geisel v. Poynter Products, 1968b). And they not only continued to sell the toys but stripped away the strongest element of Geisel’s legal case: protection under the Lanham Act (also known as the Trademark Act of 1946), which prohibits ‘false or misleading description’ likely to deceive the public into thinking (in this case) that Dr Seuss had authorized production of the dolls. As Judge Herlands concluded on 10 December 1968, the new tag’s use of the phrase ‘based on’ now ‘accurately clarifies the genetic link between the cartoons and the dolls’ (Geisel v. Poynter Products, 1968b). Geisel also objected that the dolls were ‘tasteless, unattractive and of an inferior quality’. If you compare the Poynter dolls with the Seuss Multi-Beasts produced by Revell (and authorized by Geisel), then you will see that this objection is absolutely right. Poynter’s dolls are not nearly as attractive products, and their ugliness entitled Geisel to protection against defamation: poor-quality dolls bearing the name ‘Dr Seuss’, Geisel’s lawyers argued, ‘hold him up to ridicule and contempt in his profession as a distinguished artist and author’. While conceding that Dr Seuss was a ‘distinguished artist and author’, the judge lacked the aesthetic sensibilities to perceive the dolls’ mediocre quality, concluding instead that the dolls
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had been ‘made with great care skill and judgment by a qualified designer and manufacturer’. Since the judge had not deemed the products inferior, Geisel’s case was all but hopeless in US courts. The Berne Convention recognized Geisel’s right ‘to object to any distortion, mutilation or alteration of his work’ even after the copyright had been transferred to another party, but the USA did not (and does not) uphold the Berne Convention. More damaging to Geisel’s lawsuit was the judge’s conclusion that Liberty Library (as owners of Liberty Magazine) owned the copyright to Seuss’s cartoons and that because they owned this copyright, Dr Seuss had ‘no absolute monopoly in the name “Dr Seuss”’. In other words, though Ted Geisel had been using the pseudonym ‘Dr Seuss’ since 1927, the court ruled that he did not own exclusive rights to his name: Liberty Library owned at least the portion of his name connected to these cartoons. In a ruling that was at times sarcastic and condescending—it called two of Geisel’s expert witnesses ‘incredible and facetious’ and their testimony ‘simplistic and unconvincing’—Judge Herlands decided in favour of the defendants (Geisel v. Poynter Products, 1968b). Dr Seuss lost. He was unable to prevent production of these products and he received no financial compensation from their sale. This experience may well have led Seuss and his agents to conclude that, in America, copyright can best be protected in the marketplace, via trademark law. As Charles Cohen writes, ‘On the heels of the Poynter case,Ted approved the largest single production of Seussiana as the new decade began’ (Cohen, 2002). In 1970, characters from Seuss’s children’s books appeared on lunchboxes and bedroom sets (including beds, bedspreads, sheets, curtains, wallpaper, tables, towels and bathmits), and in the form of puppets, talking dolls and educational toys. So, what I have been calling the Disneyfication of Dr Seuss is not strictly a posthumous phenomenon. It begins in 1970, as Seuss accepts his lawyers’— and the court’s—conclusion that trademark is more powerful than copyright. As Jane M. Gaines points out in her Contested Culture: The Image, the Voice, and the Law (1991), since the landmark Sam Spade case (1954) entertainment law has come to see trademark as more powerful than copyright. The Sam Spade case— officially know as Warner Brothers, Inc. v. Columbia Broadcasting Co.—‘turned on whether Warner Brothers’ motion picture rights to the novel The Maltese Falcon included the right to enjoin author Dashiell Hammett from using the character in sequels’. The court allowed Hammett ‘to continue to use his literary creation’, but it also decided that characters were ‘mobile pieces in relation to the work, the wholeness and totality of which is crucial to copyright law’ (Gaines, 1991: 211). The result was that the ‘Characters—the “mere chessmen”, devices or vehicles for telling the story—were now seen as less protectable as authorial creations than the work itself’ (Gaines, 1991:211–12). Where copyright law failed to protect the characters or title of a work, trademark, ‘with its emphasis on source, origin and sponsorship, not authorship, protected both title and character if one or the other “indicated” programs or stories emanating from the same source’ (Gaines, 1991:212). Seuss had been operating under an older version of copyright law, and his loss in Geisel v. Poynter Products taught him that the law had changed since 1932. Since
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copyright law no longer protected him as it once had, Seuss did what many in the entertainment industry did. He sought protection under trademark law. Regarding the use of trademark law, James Wadley, Professor of Law at Washburn University, suggests that Dr Seuss Enterprises’ motives may differ from Dr Seuss’s motives. Wadley, who specializes in intellectual property, notes that '[u] sing a Seuss character as a trademark will not undo’ the copyright law: barring another copyright term extension act, The Cat in the Hat and The Grinch will go into the public domain in 2052 whether or not action figures bearing their likenesses are being sold. The real motive of going for trademark protection, Wadley suspects, is to scare others away from using it. As he says, ‘What the Seuss people are telling you is that given the inevitability of things moving into the public domain, the best they can hang onto is some of that as trademark’ (Wadley, 2002). Wadley’s remarks bring to mind an earlier—and perhaps the earliest— definition of Disneyfication. Ariel Dorfman and Armand Mattelart’s How to Read Donald Duck: Imperialist Ideology in the Disney Comic says that Disneyfication ‘is Dollarfication: all objects (and, as we shall see, actions […]) are transformed into gold’ (Dorfman and Mattelart, 1984:62). While Seuss himself was not averse to marketing his own work, his books have a literary, artistic and (often) moral value in addition to their capacity to generate profit. In contrast, many ‘new’ Seuss items add little to his creative legacy, and some detract from that legacy. This is the key difference between ‘spin-off products produced prior to Seuss’s death and similar products produced after it. The posthumous Seuss: a reader’s guide These spin-off products are symptoms of a legal system that has, in effect, reversed trademark law. As Gaines explains, trademark law is supposed to protect the public, guaranteeing that ‘the buyer could expect, from the source behind the goods, the same values and qualities received with the last purchase’. However, ‘the inversion of this principle in American common law’ means that ‘the trademark comes to ensure not that the public is protected against fraud but that the merchant-owner of the mark is protected against infringers’ (Gaines, 1991: 211). This ‘inversion’ of trademark law leaves the public vulnerable: legal experts and business people can readily tell you that a Seuss spin-off is just that, but average consumers may not be as adept at doing so. For example, of the Grinch film and related posthumous ‘Seuss’ creations, Cheyette says that ‘there was no pretence that any of them were created by Dr Seuss. I cannot believe that even the most fanatical Janeite would claim that a book derived from the movie Clueless diminished the literary reputation of Jane Austen’ (Cheyette, 2001b). Yet, given that the title of Amy Heckerling’s 1995 film is not Jane Austen’s Clueless or even Jane Austen’s Emma but simply Clueless, its title does not suggest that the film will accurately represent Austen’s novel (though it captures the spirit of Emma quite well). In contrast, a film titled Dr Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas! does at
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least imply an authorized version of the source text. That said, Dr Seuss Enterprises has made an effort to distinguish Seuss’s Grinch from Howard’s. As Cheyette notes: the commercials for Frosted Mini-Wheats, Nabisco, Visa and Peppermint Patties all relate to the promotion by Universal of the How the Grinch Stole Christmas! motion picture and do not use illustrations from what Dr Seuss Enterprises commonly refers to as classic Dr Seuss (i.e. the books). (As a matter of fact, in order to reinforce this distinction, Dr Seuss Enterprises required Universal to depict the Grinch as he appears in the motion picture rather than in the book illustrations. For similar reasons, the Cat in the Hat puppet in the Wubbulous World of Dr Seuss was required to differ from the classic Cat in the Hat.) (Cheyette, 2003) While Dr Seuss Enterprises has worked to clarify the differences between the Grinches, the marketing of some posthumous ‘Seuss’ products makes these differences less clear. The name ‘Dr Seuss’ appears on all covers and related packaging and, when a book has been altered for a new format, its cover does not announce this fact. For the sake of Seuss’s literary reputation, it is important that readers do not confuse (for example) the ‘Fabulous Flaps’ version of Green Eggs and Ham with Dr Seuss’s original Green Eggs and Ham; for the same reason, it is equally important that people recognize that some books published since 1991 are valuable additions to the Seuss canon. Not all recent Seuss products are examples of Disneyfication. Here’s how to tell the difference. Exhuming Seuss: the recommended, the unfinished and the mediocre The Secret Art of Dr Seuss (Seuss, 1995) and Richard H.Minear’s Dr Seuss Goes to War (1999) are two outstanding posthumous Dr Seuss books because they contain his original work, unaltered. The former offers a generous selection of Seuss’s paintings that, as Maurice Sendak says in his introduction to the volume, convey a ‘milky, thirties movieland dippiness’ suggesting ‘the private Seussian dreamscape’ (Seuss, 1995). The Secret Art of Dr Seuss also reminds us that even though Seuss never would have called himself a ‘serious artist’, he was indeed a serious artist. Dr Seuss Goes to War introduces us to Seuss the political agitator, and Minear provides great historical context. Notably, both it and the University of California at San Diego’s website Dr Seuss Went to War take the warts-and-all approach: we meet the heroic Seuss-championing the rights of Jewish and black Americans— and the not-so-heroic—stereotyping Japanese Americans. These cartoons remind us that even without Disneyfication, there are Seuss books that are not politically progressive in their thinking. One expects that Dorfman and Mattelart might describe If I Ran the Zoo (1950) and Scrambled Eggs Super! (1953) as imperialist narratives that create ‘a parody of the underdeveloped
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peoples’ and that use adventure ‘to mask the origin of wealth’ (Dorfman and Mattelart, 1984:98, 73). Arguably, both books encourage the child to imagine himself (both protagonists are male) into the role of American capitalist, exploiting underdeveloped nations for his own gain. In If I Ran the Zoo, Gerald McGrew envisions a grand ‘New Zoo, McGrew Zoo’ full of creatures from exotic parts of the world. In order to catch the Bustard and the Flustard, he’ll ‘hunt in the mountains of Zomba-ma-Tant/With helpers who all wear their eyes at a slant’. After that adventure, he decides to ‘capture a scraggle-foot Mulligatawny’, the ‘beast that the brave chieftains ride’, concluding: ‘A Mulligatawny is fine for my zoo/And so is a chieftain. I’ll bring one back, too’ (Seuss, 1950). Though these books were written at a time when ethnic jokes were not seen as insensitive, helpers who ‘wear their eyes at a slant’, the importation of a ‘chieftain’ as if he were a raw material and the illustration of the natives from ‘the African island of Yerka’ will to modern readers seem at odds with the pro-equality message of The Sneetches and with Seuss’s PM cartoons attacking racism. In Scrambled Eggs Super!, Peter T. Hooper, similarly disappointing by contemporary standards, instructs ‘brave Ali’ to take eggs from the Mt. Strookoo Cuckoos. Though Ali is viciously attacked by the birds, Seuss presents his suffering comically, focusing instead on the fact that Hooper gets his eggs. And, contrary to the pro-conservationist message of The Lorax (published 25 years later), Hooper orders a massive tree to be cut down because it’s good for the egg acquisition business: ‘I ordered a tree full. The job was immense,/ But I needed those eggs, and said hang the expense!’ (Seuss, 1953). In each book, the peoples of fictional third-world nations appear as objects of fun, ready to help the American businessboys (Gerald McGrew, Peter T.Hooper) carry their country’s riches back home. To borrow Dorfman and Mattelart’s language, the ‘treasure is attained by a process of adventuring, not producing. Yet another name […] to mask the origin of wealth’ (1984:73). The Dr Seuss of If I Ran the Zoo and Scrambled Eggs Super! is not the Dr Seuss of The Sneetches, The Lorax, Yertle the Turtle, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! or Horton Hears aWho! One reason for the discrepancy, as Judith Morgan suggests, may be that If I Ran the Zoo and Scrambled Eggs Super! were published before The Cat in the Hat. After The Cat in the Hat, Seuss grew much more popular, and, using the clout conferred upon him by this popularity, ‘his messages grew stronger’ (Morgan, 2002). A related reason for the discrepancy, I think, is that Seuss did not see the earlier two books as political and he did see these other, later books as political. Of course, all books have political dimensions and one should not overlook these ideological blind spots. At the same time, most of Seuss’s other original works present much more progressive messages about wealth, power and people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. He was very worried, for example, when someone told him that the stars on his Sneetches might be seen as antisemitic. As his publisher Robert L.Bernstein remembers, Seuss ‘despised even the slightest hint of any kind of racism, and had to be convinced that his book would not be misinterpreted’ (Lathem, 1996:42).
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Though Seuss created many books that were progressive in their racial politics, not a single book published during his life presents an admirable female protagonist. However, one book published after his death does: Daisy-Head Mayzie (1994). As Alison Lurie pointed out in a 1990 essay, Seuss’s work has an ‘almost total lack of female protagonists’: ‘little girls play silent, secondary roles’ (Lurie, 1990:51) and adult females—like Mayzie of Horton Hatches the Egg (1940) or Gertrude McFuzz (whose story appears in Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories)— are portrayed as vain or selfish. One little girl who does not play a secondary role soon learns that she should: in ‘The Gunk that Got Thunk’ (from I Can Lick 30 Tigers Today and Other Stories) she thinks up a dangerous Glunk, which her brother then must un-think. Lurie concludes, ‘Moral: women have weak minds; they must not be ambitious even in imagination’ (Lurie, 1990:52). Seuss responded to her criticism by noting that most of his characters were animals, adding, ‘if she can identify their sex, I’ll remember her in my will’ (quoted in Morgan and Morgan, 1995:286). Whether or not one agrees with Seuss’s reply, Daisy-Head Mayzie offers a stronger rebuttal in the character of Mayzie McGrew, who inadvertently grows a flower out of the top of her head. As in David Small’s Imogene’s Antlers (1985), the problem is not the unusual item sprouting from the girl’s head, but grown-ups’ reactions to it. If flower or antlers are metaphors for each child’s imagination, then both books appear to praise girls’ minds while satirizing those who are offended by such ‘abnormal’ cranial activity. Although the flower disappears near the end of Daisy-Head Mayzie, we learn on the final pages that it ‘occasionally’ pops up ‘now and then’ and that Mayzie is ‘getting used to it’ (Seuss, 1994). Valuable for its central female character, Daisy-Head Mayzie succeeds less well in its story and in its art. The book derives from a draft of a script by Seuss, which was then finished and animated by Hanna-Barbera Cartoons. While its verse is never as leaden as that in Oh Say Can You Seed? or other ersatz ‘Seuss’ books, Daisy-Head Mayzie’s poetry does feel more like an early draft than a finished product. Its illustrations are not Seuss’s but, according to the dust jacket, ‘were inspired by Dr Seuss’s sketches found in his original manuscript’. When reading the verse or looking at the pictures, it is not clear how much comes from Seuss’s original and how much was adapted or revised by Hanna-Barbera. Hooray for Diffendoofer Day! (Seuss et al., 1998) solves the problems of Mayzie by including a facsimile of the original draft at the end of a book, in a section titled ‘How This Book Came to Be’. Offering readers a glimpse at the creative processes of Dr Seuss, the section also distinguishes Seuss’s contributions from those of his collaborators, each of whom is quite distinguished in his own right. Poet Jack Prelutsky and illustrator Lane Smith do not merely try to imitate Dr Seuss: each brings his own distinctive style to the project, and in so doing enters into a genuine artistic collaboration that succeeds magnificently. The result is not a Dr Seuss book; it is a Seuss-Prelutsky-Smith book, and a good one at that. Lane —a Caldecott honouree for Jon Scieszka’s The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales (1992)—and Prelutsky—known for his irreverent verse in books like
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The Snopp on the Sidewalk (1977)—share Seuss’s ability to view the world from the wrong end of the telescope. Like Seuss’s, theirs is a wacky creativity, a nonsense that ignites the imagination. In Diffendoofer School, Seuss, Prelutsky and Smith create a delightfully offbeat classroom. Unlike the test-driven world of today’s public schools, Diffendoofer School’s ‘teachers are remarkable,/They make up their own rules’. From a faculty full of unconventional teachers, Miss Bonkers is the students’ favourite: ‘She even teaches frogs to dance,/And pigs to put on underpants./One day she taught a duck to sing—/Miss Bonkers teaches EVERYTHING!’ (Seuss et al., 1998). More than just an admirable adult female character, Miss Bonkers answers the question, ‘If the Cat in the Hat had a (human) cousin who became a teacher, what would she be like?’ Through its surprising teachers, the book suggests that unconventional methods work best: when forced to take a standardized test, the students of Diffendoofer receive ‘the highest score!’ and their principal declares it ‘Diffendoofer Day!’ and gives everyone the rest of the day off. Diffendoofer Day! is a not-Seuss book that is very much in the spirit of Seuss. Along with The Secret Art of Dr Seuss and Dr Seuss Goes to War, Hooray for Diffendoofer Day! is one of the three best ‘Seuss’ books to be published since his death. If Diffendoofer Day! deserves three cheers, then My Many-Colored Days deserve about two. Accompanied by illustrations done in the style of colour field painting, Seuss’s verses affirm the varieties of emotional experience: ‘Some days are yellow. Some are blue./On different days I’m different too. You’d be surprised how many ways/I change on Different Colored Days’, Seuss advises (Seuss, 1996d). Its co-illustrator Steve Johnson has, like Lane Smith, worked with Jon Scieszka, but Johnson adopts a style here that’s less zany (and less Seussian) than his work in Scieszka’s The Frog Prince Continued. According to Mrs Geisel, the illustrations of Johnson and Lou Fancher are intentionally different: ‘Though his inspiration for this book was personal, he [Seuss] felt that someone else should bring his or her own vision to it. He wanted the illustrations to be very different from his’, she observes on the back inside flap of the dust jacket. The front inside flap of the dust jacket quotes a letter from Seuss, in which he hopes ‘a great color artist who will not be dominated by me’ would illustrate the book. In the portion of the letter not quoted on the dust jacket, Seuss adds, ‘Of course I would love to paint this book myself, but I have so many major Dr Seuss books that I have got to do, I just won’t have time’. Earlier in the letter, Seuss identifies My Many-Colored Days as ‘one of three I am working on for next year’s [1974’s] Beginner Book Bright and Early line, under different bylines. One will probably be a Seuss, one a LeSieg, and this color book probably under another nom de plume’ (Geisel, 1973). While the published version of My ManyColored Days was illustrated by ‘great color artists’, it was not done as a Bright and Early Book under a different pseudonym—Seuss used different names (most frequently Theo LeSieg) on books he felt were not quite up to the ‘Dr Seuss’ standard. So, if My Many Colored-Days does not rank with the greatest Dr Seuss books, we should know that Seuss did not want his famous pseudonym associated
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with it. While the book does not appear to have been produced entirely in accord with his wishes, it does offer readers another side of Seuss and it is at least not Disneyfication. Even among the worthy posthumous Seuss projects, we have something of a mixed bag: Hooray for Diffendoofer Day!, The Secret Art of Dr Seuss, and Dr Seuss Goes to War are welcome additions to the Seuss oeuvre and to children’s literature. Lesser works Daisy-Head Mayzie and My Many-Colored Days are, nonetheless, of interest by showing other facets of Dr Seuss. In any case, in the realm of posthumous Dr Seuss books, these are the best of the bunch. The aphoristic Seuss Seuss-isms (1997b), Seuss-isms for Success (1999a), and Oh, Baby, the Places You’ll Go! (1997a) all bear the ‘Dr Seuss’ name, but they are not really ‘Dr Seuss’ books. At 27 pages in length and less than six inches tall, the books seem designed to be sold at the check-out counter as an ‘impulse’ purchase. Each attempts to capitalize on Seuss’s penchant for aphorism by providing ‘Seuss-isms’ selected or adapted from Seuss’s works. Given Seuss’s gift for providing pithy morals, one can see the appeals of such a project. Many Americans could quote ‘A person’s a person, no matter how small’ (Seuss, 1982) and ‘I meant what I said,/and I said what I meant…/An elephant’s faithful/One hundred percent’ (Seuss, 1940). The latter appears in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations (16th edn, 1992), next to a quotation from The Cat in the Hat. Of these three small ‘Dr Seuss’ books, Seuss-isms: Wise and Witty Prescriptions for Living from the Good Doctor most nearly lives up to its premise. The quotations are both well chosen and well captioned. For example, though One fish two fish red fish blue fish may not be explicitly about diversity, the caption ‘On diversity’ works well when accompanying verses like ‘We see them come./We see them go./Some are fast./And some are slow. Some are high./And some are low./Not one of them/is like another./Don’t ask us why./Go ask your mother’ (Seuss, 1997b). Placing this quotation under this heading suggests that One fish two fish red fish blue fish (1960/1988b) suggests that Seuss was already thinking about the anti-discrimination message of The Sneetches, published the following year. And ‘On equality and justice’ is the perfect heading for ‘I know, up on top you are seeing great sights/But down at the bottom we, too, should have rights’, a couplet from Yertle the Turtle, a book that advocates standing up for one’s rights. In her introduction to the volume, Audrey Geisel wisely suggests that Seuss’s ‘books contain more sane, sensible and just plain hilarious advice for living than most of the self-help books crowding bookstores today’ (Seuss, 1997b). While it is not known whether Seuss himself aspired to publish self-help books, My Many-Colored Days and his many pieces for Redbook could certainly be placed in the self-help genre. As Mrs Geisel concludes, ‘I think Ted would have approved of Seuss-isms’. While he may well have approved of Seuss-isms, it is doubtful whether Dr Seuss would have endorsed Seuss-isms for Success: Insider Tips on Economic Health
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from the Good Doctor, and perhaps the absence of any introductory remarks from Mrs Geisel signals a tacit acknowledgment of this fact. Under the heading ‘On Growth’ is the following quotation from The Lorax: ‘I laughed at the Lorax, “You poor stupid guy!/You never can tell what some people will buy”.//Business is business! And business must grow/regardless of crummies in tummies, you know’ (Seuss, 1999a). Though the excerpt provides no indication, the ‘I' is the Onceler, Seuss’s repentant ex-industrialist, explaining how his business practices destroyed the environment. Seuss’s book criticizes the Once-ler for giving the Brown Bar-ba-loots ‘crummies in tummies’, but Seuss-isms for Success conveys the impression that ‘crummies in tummies’ are a natural part of ‘growth’: for business to expand, people will suffer—don’t worry about it. Seuss’s The Lorax disagrees with this message and with the Once-ler’s proud claim, ‘You never can tell what some people will buy’ (Seuss, 1971). The Lorax quite clearly condemns the Onceler’s Thneed corporation for exploiting the environment, but Seuss-isms for Success praises the Once-ler’s business acumen. Unlike Seuss-isms, which does not twist Seuss’s verse to promote values that Seuss opposed, Seuss-isms for Success snips quotes from context, sometimes bending them against their author’s intentions. Like the Seuss-isms books, Oh, Baby, the Places You’ll Go!: A Book to Be Read In Utero bears the name ‘Dr Seuss’ on the spine. Unlike these other books, the front cover includes the words ‘adapted by Tish Rabe from the works of’ (in a small font) prior to the name ‘Dr Seuss’ (in a font nearly three times that size). If it does at least acknowledge its ‘adapted’ status on the cover, Oh, Baby, the Places You’ll Go! takes a step beyond the aphoristic Seuss, creating a bland pastiche of Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, Happy Birthday to You!, Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories, The Sneetches and Other Stories, Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose, The Cat in the Hat, Horton Hears a Who!, Green Eggs and Ham, Scrambled Eggs Super, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, McElligot’s Pool, Hop on Pop, On Beyond Zebra!, To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew, If I Ran the Circus, If I Ran the Zoo, and including references to Daisy-Head Mayzie, Hunches in Bunches, and The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, thrown in for good measure. All of that in 27 small pages. As might be expected, blending pieces of 20 books creates an incoherent mess. However, the book’s inspiration, according to its introduction, is Dr Seuss’s interest in research on babies whose ‘mothers and fathers read aloud to [them] in utero’ (Seuss, 1997a). The parents read The Cat in the Hat, and researchers found ‘increased uterine activity during the reading’ .The book does not cite any research indicating why parents would want or need to switch from a first-rate Seuss book (like the Cat in the Hat) to a third-rate amalgamation (like Oh, Baby, the Places You’ll Go!), but this research could be still ongoing. Whatever the intentions of Ms Rabe may have been, Oh, Baby, the Places You’ll Go! reads rather like a commercial for Dr Seuss. It ought to be called Dr Seuss’s Greatest Hits, since its narrative consists of introducing a baby (who in at least one drawing resembles R.F. Outcault’s ‘Yellow Kid’) to Dr Seuss’s characters: ‘There’s Daisy-Head Mayzie/and Cindy-LouWho,/Hunches in
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bunches/and Lolla-Lee-Lou’. And ‘Bartholomew Cubbins,/Marco, and Max,/ and also the North-/and the South-Going Zax’. And on and on. Wubbulous If Rabe’s ‘adaptation’ of Seuss creates a bland pastiche, then the ‘Wubbulous’ books embrace pastiche in a truly Jamesonian sense. They are (in Fredric Jameson’s terms), ‘blank parody’, a ‘neutral practice of […] mimicry, without any of parody’s ulterior motives, amputated of the satiric impulse’ (Jameson, 1991:17). Books labelled ‘The Wubbulous World of Dr Seuss’ are not of Dr Seuss’s world. Derived from Jim Henson Productions’ television series of the same name, the ‘Wubbulous’ books star Muppets dressed up as Seuss’s characters, with a supporting cast of other Muppets portraying what are supposed to be Seuss character types. Suffering from fundamentally flawed scripts, these particular Muppets put on saccharine productions that deliver morals in a heavyhanded way. As ‘The Cat in the Hat’s Learning Library’ series does, The Song of the Zubble-wump (Rabe, 1996) transforms the wily Cat in the Hat into a paternalistic moralist. Upon rescuing a Zubble-wump’s egg from the Grinch (who, in the illustration, looks like the love-child of Grover and Oscar the Grouch), the Cat announces, ‘That egg is a miracle!’ and then delivers a homily on sharing. Megan Mullaly, the Muppet-child to whom the sermon is addressed, demonstrates that she has learned her lesson by reciting a speech that ends with ‘amen’ (Rabe, 1996). However, in his own writing, Seuss resisted such preachy clichés: he avoided ending How the Grinch Stole Christmas! with ‘Amen’ precisely because he did not want to ‘sound like a second-rate preacher or some biblical truism’ (quoted in Morgan and Morgan, 1995:159). Wubbulous books seem quite comfortable with such clichés, however. As David Hiltbrand writes in a review for TV Guide, the scripts ‘leave much to be desired’. ‘The Wubbulous World of Dr Seuss’, he concludes, ‘doesn’t live up to its pedigree. If you’re going to put Dr Seuss’s name in the title, you had better be wubbulous and then some’ (Hiltbrand, 1998:66). The King’s Beard (Rabe, 1997) resurrects Yertle, casting him as advisor to King Lindy, a Muppet with a long beard. ‘Good King Lindy’—though ‘no one thought he was clever’ — remains on the throne because he has the longest beard. Where Yertle the Turtle encourages political protest, The King’s Beard does not. In Seuss’s original, Mack’s ‘burp’ topples the despotic King Yertle; in The King’s Beard, Yertle is cast in the role of ‘Great Crowd Unrester’. Suggesting that activists have purely selfish motives, Yertle pits Kings Lindy and Noodle against one another. As Yertle explains, ‘when these kings go to war,/the result will be chaos like never before./ And when the smoke clears, I’ll be king—for all time!/King Yertle the Turtle of Nug and of Lime!’ (Rabe, 1997). In the end, one king’s daughter marries the other’s advisor and both kings rule benevolently over their kingdoms. While it is accurate to cast Yertle in the role of the villain, the book is at variance with Seuss books in suggesting that activists are sneaky and monarchs benevolent. As Henry
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A. Giroux says of Disney’s films: ‘The seemingly benign presentation of […] dramas in which […] leadership is a function of one’s social status suggests a yearning for a return to a more rigidly stratified society, one modelled after the British monarchy of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries’ (Giroux, 1997:63). In this sense, The King’s Beard is much more like Disney than like Seuss, whose post-war books tend to be sceptical of leaders whose primary qualification is their social status. If there is good news here, it is that the Wubbulous books—which, incidentally, have produced spin-offs of their own, such as The Zubble-wump! (a ‘Chunky Shape Book’), What’s a ZubbleWump? (a ‘Lift-And-Peek-A-Board Book’) —may soon be unavailable. The television show, which remains available on videocassette, was cancelled and the books are now out of print.5 Whatever the aesthetic failings of the Wubbulous series or the Grinch film, it is vital to understand that Dr Seuss Enterprises does not have complete control over the final product. The company chooses people with a good track record: Jim Henson Productions, which has given us the delightful series Bear in the Big Blue House; Ron Howard, the director of some fine films, including Splash, Apollo 13 and the Academy-Award-winning A Beautiful Mind; and Brian Grazer, who in addition to producing The Grinch, has been nominated for 20 Academy Awards and 17 Emmys. After making these choices, Dr Seuss Enterprises has to trust the creative and commercial instincts of the people it has chosen. As Herb Cheyette explains: Movie and television productions cultivate a mass audience. Because it costs far more to produce a movie than a book, studio and networks are unlikely to violate the norms of popular culture to avoid deterring possible ticket buyers and viewers. A rights holder such as Dr Seuss Enterprises can either abstain from mass media exploitation or agree to such exploitation under the most favourable auspices. Because of its financial responsibilities and objectives, and knowing that Ted had entered into two motion picture agreements himself, Dr Seuss Enterprises chose the latter course. The wisdom of this decision is attested by the fact that the commercial success of the motion picture dramatically stimulated book sales and prompted many foreign publishers to seek translation rights. (Cheyette, 2003) So, then, as Cheyette points out, Jim Henson Productions, Ron Howard and Brian Grazer sought to conform to ‘the norms of popular culture’ in order to cultivate the widest possible audience—and, given their ‘commercial success’, they succeeded. Or, as Karl ZoBell wrote after reading an earlier version of this article, ‘Mr Nel’s opinions concerning the artistic merit of The Grinch motion picture, or of the television series, are of little interest. Neither was made for him; Universal and Henson had other audiences in mind’ (ZoBell, 2003). And, as Cheyette says, Dr Seuss Enterprises’ choices regarding both the film and the series are more than justified by the projects’ financial rewards.
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I also find it interesting that gifted people (in my opinion) stumble when adapting Dr Seuss. Just Jim Henson Productions and Ron Howard have done some excellent projects, so the authors of the book and lyrics of Seussical the Musical (2001) have some great work to their credit. Eric Idle, credited with the concept, was a member of Monty Python and of the Beatles-parody group the Ruttals; Lynn Ahrens wrote ‘A Noun Is a Person, Place, or Thing’ and ‘Interjections!’ for ABC-TV’s Schoolhouse Rock; Ahrens and composer Stephen Flaherty wrote the musical Ragtime. Though Seussical has its problems, Idle, Flaherty and Ahrens do much better than Jim Henson Productions or Ron Howard. As Ben Brantley wrote in his review of the musical, ‘The show isn’t dreadful in the manner of’ that ‘conspicuous eyesore of a movie, Dr Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas!’ (Brantley, 2000). Unlike Tish Rabe’s Oh, Baby, the Places You’ll Go!, Seussical’s pastiche has been assembled with much greater care. And, to be fair, we should note that Ahrens and Flaherty may have been hampered by copyright restrictions, limiting which Seuss books they could use. As Ahrens recalls: ‘We didn’t have the rights to use the actual Cat in the Hat books, although we did have the right to use the character’ (Inside Borders, 2001). Featuring the Cat in the Hat as MC, the main plot mixes Horton Hears a Who! with Horton Hatches the Egg, weaving in subplots borrowed from McElligot’s Pool, The Butter Battle Book, Oh, the Thinks You Can Think!, I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew, Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories, Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?, Hunches in Bunches, Oh, the Places You’ll Go! and references to If I Ran the Circus, The Lorax, and Green Eggs and Ham. If the romance between Horton and Gertrude McFuzz (who here is Horton’s ‘next-door neighbour’) feels a bit forced, casting the Cat in the Hat and Horton as defenders of the imagination is very much in the spirit of Dr Seuss. Unlike the ‘Wubbulous’ Cat, Seussical’s Cat in the Hat is much more like Seuss’s anarchistic original. To its credit, the musical also retains some of the darkness absent from Howard’s Grinch and form the Wubbulous books. Not only is there every indication that Horton may fail, but the Cat in the Hat’s performances of ‘How Lucky You Are’ are both undercut by the dangerous contexts in which he performs them. When he first sings the song, the planet of Whos is plummeting to earth; the second time, we see bandaged Whos and the Cat himself getting caught in a rope (Seussical, 2001). The problems of Seussical appear to rely more in the staging and direction than in the script. A sense of relentless cheerfulness overwhelms the irony and blunts some of the edginess of the book and lyrics. As Brantley writes, ‘The heightened brightness of the ingredients—the eye-searing design palette, the dizzying lighting effects, the bouncy orchestrations, those mega-watt smiles—perversely meld into a general gray dimness’. He concludes, ‘The Whos may survive the predations of a larger, destructive universe; Seussical, sadly, does not’ (Brantley, 2000).
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Repackaging Seuss: board books and other products While Seussical might have fared better in a different production (or a different reviewer), the Dr Seuss ‘board books’ and ‘flap books’ would not. Although it may seem that they were produced in an attempt to secure new copyright dates and to obtain legal protection under trademark law, Herb Cheyette says that this is not the case. ‘Far from being part of a nefarious plot to deceive the unwary or to extend the life of the original copyright’, he says, ‘they are designed for fans of the original who have now become parents or grandparents and want to introduce toddlers to the joys of the books at the earliest possible age’ (Cheyette, 2003). Although I am willing to take Mr Cheyette at his word, I think it worth noting that the covers of Seuss’s board books might state more clearly that they are abridged versions of the original. The cover of the board book version of The Carrot Seed identifies it as being written by Ruth Krauss and illustrated by Crockett Johnson, and it does in fact contain the same text and illustrations as the original edition, published in 1945. However, the board books of Seuss’s Mr Brown Can Moo! Can You?, The Foot Book, Dr. Seuss’s ABC, and There’s a Wocket in My Pocket! have all been truncated for the new format while retaining the original cover design. Small print on the copyright pages does disclose that each book is ‘adapted from’ the original, and the covers provide a subtitle: The Foot Book is Dr Seuss’s Wacky Book of Opposites, and Dr Seuss’s ABC is An Amazing Alphabet Book. While perhaps these items should be sufficient notice of the changes, not everyone is paying attention to the subtitles and the announcements on the copyright page. My own informal interviews with students, booksellers and parents lead me to believe that, despite Dr Seuss Enterprises’ good intentions, some consumers are confusing the originals with the shortened versions. If this phenomenon is more widespread, it would be unfortunate. For instance, the board book of Dr Seuss’s ABC diminishes Seuss’s poetry and may confuse a reader unfamiliar with the original version. The original Dr Seuss’s ABC introduces us to ‘L’ with ‘Little Lola Lopp/Left leg./Lazy lion/licks a lollipop’ (Seuss, 1991/1963). The board book offers ‘lion with a lollipop’ (Seuss, 1996a). For ‘M’, the original describes ‘Many mumbling mice/are making/ midnight music/in the moonlight… Mighty nice’. But the board book provides only ‘Mice in the moonlight’. As David Handelman wrote of the board book versions of P.D.Eastman’s Go, Dog. Go! and Dr Seuss’s ABC, ‘both use the art from the original books but muffle the voices of their authors’. Supporting Handelman’s claim, the letter ‘S’ in the original Dr Seuss’s ABC observes, ‘Silly Sammy Slick/ sipped six sodas/and got/sick sick sick’. The board-book ABC says only ‘Sammy’s sipping soda pop’. Since Seuss accompanies this description with an illustration of a green-faced Sammy and six nearly empty soda glasses, board-book readers may wonder: why is he green? Why does he look sick? Board books can be wonderful for infants and toddlers more interested in chewing than reading. That said, it bears noting that the board books have a different flavour than the original versions.
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The same is true of the ‘Flap Book’ versions of Seuss classics, which have also been ‘adapted’—a fact again made clear in the fine print. The ‘Flap Book’ of Green Eggs and Ham—an orange-covered book very slightly shorter and about two centimetres wider than its original—may appear to be the Green Eggs and Ham. However, a few clues highlight its differences from the classic version: the words With Fabulous Flaps and Peel-Off Stickers are on the cover, albeit in smaller print than the title. The cover art includes Sam-I-Am, though the original’s cover art does not. And, while the original book bears the words ‘By Dr Seuss’ at the bottom, the flap book says only ‘Dr Seuss’ at the bottom. Placed side-by-side, these differences easily mark the ‘Flap Book’ as a new product. But a reader not familiar with the original or who does not read the small words ‘Adapted by Aristides Ruiz’ (located at the bottom of the back cover) might think that Dr Seuss actually wrote this book. Yet, as Herb Cheyette explains, any confusion is unintentional. The advantage of ‘Flap Books’ is that they ‘possess the quality of interactivity’, a feature that may appeal to younger readers more than the original version does (Cheyette, 2003). While Cheyette may be right, the alterations give these ‘Flap Books’ few other appeals. In addition to moving the verse around, ‘Flap Books’ take characters out of their original context, squash some artwork into smaller spaces, redraw other artwork and rearrange the layout. Near the end of the original Green Eggs and Ham, Sam-I-Am, the (unnamed) black-hatted character, a goat, a mouse, a fox, a car and a train all tumble down on to a boat. Emphasizing the playful nature of this higgledy-piggledy collision, each character is far enough apart from the next one, suspended in mid-fall. The ‘Flap Book’, however, tries to merge that illustration with an earlier illustration and to include a flap to be lifted. As a result, the lightness and playfulness of the original drawing gets crowded out. Instead of being spread across the page, Sam-I-Am, the blackhatted character, goat, mouse, fox, et al. are all crammed into a tiny flap. Perhaps Mr. Ruiz, the book’s adapter, thought that doing so would leave ample room to bring in the train tracks from the original book’s previous two-page spread and to type the verse above the tracks. But it doesn’t leave enough room. What was spread over four pages is now wedged into a single page. Why? These books have new copyright dates, which led me to suppose that extending the copyright was the reason for creating the books. According to the US Copyright Office’s ‘Circular 14: Copyright Registration for Derivative Works’, a derivative work eligible for a new copyright ‘must be different enough from the original to be regarded as a “new work” or must contain a substantial amount of new material’ (US Copyright Office, 1999). Both ‘Flap Books’ and board books are different enough to warrant a new copyright date and to claim protection under Trademark law: the ‘Flap Book’ of Green Eggs and Ham is ‘TM & © 2001 Dr Seuss Enterprises, L. P’ and the board book of Dr Seuss’s ABC is ‘TM & © 1963, 1996, renewed 1991 Dr Seuss Enterprises, L. P’. However, when I made this claim in an earlier version of this article, Mr Cheyette said that extending copyright was not the reason for creating the books. As he told me:
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As [for] your contention that the books are part of a secret conspiracy to extend the copyright of the originals, be advised that the derivative copyright only protects the new content. Since the derivative books contain nothing but material from the originals, the new copyright only protects the derivative format. The contents will become public domain when the original copyrights expire. (Cheyette, 2003) So, while it may appear that the later, lesser Green Eggs and Ham will remain under copyright after the original is not, the contents of the board books and ‘Flap Books’ will also become public domain when the original copyrights are up—in this case, that would be 2061, 70 years after Seuss’s death. Fortunately for Dr Seuss Enterprises, copyright law is likely to be extended again before Seuss’s books run into any danger of wandering into the public domain. As Lawrence Lessig notes in his The Future of Ideas (2001): In the first hundred years [of copyright law], Congress retrospectively extended the term of copyright once. In the next fifty years, it extended the term once again. But in the last forty years, Congress has extended the term of copyright retrospectively eleven times. Each time, it is said, with only a bit of exaggeration, that Mickey Mouse is about to fall into the public domain, the term of copyright for Mickey Mouse is extended. (Lessig, 2001:107) If Lessig’s prediction holds true, then creating ‘new’ Seuss items to which a trademark might be applied may well prove redundant. Mickey first appeared on screen in 1928 and Dr Seuss’s first book, To Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street, was published in 1937. As long as the Disney Corporation continues to lobby on behalf of Mickey’s copyright, Dr Seuss’s works will continue to enjoy protection under copyright law. Since Mickey is nine years older than the first Dr Seuss book, copyright term extensions on behalf of Disney’s mouse should grant legal protection to Dr Seuss’s characters well in advance of their copyright’s expiration. Dr Seuss from then to now The legal system does value commerce more than art, and so we can certainly understand why Dr Seuss and his heirs would seek protection under trademark laws. Copyrights on the original Green Eggs and Ham, Dr Seuss’s ABC and The Cat in the Hat will expire in 2055, 2058 and 2053 (under current copyright law). Protecting the original work by means of spin-off products is a legally sound solution. As Cheyette observes, there is ‘no pretence that any of’ these spin-off products ‘were created by Dr Seuss’ and careful readers familiar with the originals should see the imitations for what they are. However, some may confuse the imitations with the originals because spin-off products bear Dr Seuss’s name or
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characters: a reader encountering a ‘Flap Book’ of Green Eggs and Ham for the first time may have no knowledge of the original, may not be aware that there are two versions or may think that both versions are essentially ‘the same’. According to Publisher’s Weekly, the board book of Mr Brown Can Moo, Can You? now outsells the original version (Turvey, 2001:25–6). Either these sales figures suggest that many people think they are the same or, as Cheyette says, the ‘success of Mr Brown Can Moo as a board book attests to its appeal to toddlers and the correctness of Random House’s market analysis’ (Cheyette, 2003). Irrespective of why the board book has succeeded, the increasing presence of repackaged versions of classic children’s books will likely inspire more critics to claim, as David Handelman has, that ‘In today’s marketplace, it seems as though authors can be regarded almost as nuisances who, while they are alive, needlessly limit their own earning potential’ (Handelman, 1999:39). Seuss’s characters have always been commodities, but if Handelman is correct, they risk becoming only commodities, existing to inspire consumption but not to inspire imagination or critical thinking. The lesser quality of most spin-offs, the presence of Dr Seuss characters in advertising, and the proliferation of products bearing the ‘Dr Seuss’ imprimatur all create the impression that these items intend to promote consumption for its own sake. As Dorfman and Mattelart write, ‘Surely it is not good for children to be surreptitiously injected with a permanent compulsion to buy objects they don’t need. This is Disney’s sole ethical code: consumption for consumption’s sake’ (Dorfman and Mattelart, 1975/1984:66). Seuss was a businessman, but his ethical code was never consumption for its own sake. As a 1958 Publishers’ Weekly article describing Seuss’s ‘autographing tour’ notes: Dr Seuss feels very strongly that children shouldn’t be forced to buy, and he objects to it when stores attempt to remove youngsters from the waiting lines if they have not actually spent any money. […] He has autographed countless cards and slips of paper as well as books. The publishers also supplied huge cut-outs of Dr Seuss characters to be used as wall decorations in the book departments he visited. Neither these cut-outs nor the buttons carry any promotion copy. (Publishers’ Weekly, 1958:13) If it seems hard to reconcile the Dr Seuss portrayed in this Publishers’ Weekly article with the ‘new’ Dr Seuss, whose characters sell crackers, credit cards and candy, then we should remember that the article was published 45 years ago. The business of publishing children’s books has changed since 1958, and Dr Seuss knew that it had changed. As Cheyette points out, in 1990, ‘Ted licensed film rights to Columbia for Oh, the Places You’ll Go! […] The license included a grant to the producers of all movie related merchandising. The deal was unattainable otherwise. Ted knew this and accepted it’ (Cheyette, 2003).6 In other words, just as the Poynter lawsuit did, the investment required to make a film prompted Seuss to enter into a variety of licensing agreements. Not only did
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Seuss agree to this merchandising, but he endorsed the idea of a theme park. As Cheyette recalls: In 1989 or 90, Marvin Josephson [founder of International Creative Management] and I visited Ted to convey a proposal for a theme park. Ted responded by asking, ‘What would you call this thing?’ Someone responded, ‘Seussville’. ‘Well’, he said, ‘it’s too late in my life for this’. Then he turned to me and asked, ‘Do you want to be mayor of Seussville? That’s something for you to look forward to’.7 In other words, as the culture industry changed, so did Dr Seuss. Whatever one may think of it, Seuss is but part of a trend: Curious George appears in advertisements for Altoids (in the ad, the phrase ‘The Curiously Strong Mints’ puns on George’s name), Warner Brothers has licensed a variety of schlock bearing Harry Potter’s name and Winnie the Pooh sells his own brand of cereal, ‘Hunny B’s’. As Gary Cross’ Kids’ Stuff: Toys and the Changing World of American Childhood (1997) and Stephen Kline’s Out of the Garden: Toys, TV, and Children’s Culture in the Age of Marketing (1993) point out, characters from children’s books are routinely transformed into corporate pitchmen. In his Creating Ever-Cool: A Marketer’s Guide to a Kid’s Heart (1998), marketer Gene Del Vecchio reports that American children ‘spend about $11 billion in such categories as snacks, sweets, toys/games and clothing […]. And beyond their own income, children also influence the purchase of more than $160 billion in family goods and services. And there is no abatement in sight as some estimate that kid wealth has been growing at a rate of 20 percent a year’ (Del Vecchio, 1998:20). Children are a huge market; so, from a businessperson’s perspective, it could make sense to use Dr Seuss to reach that market, generating profits for companies and the estate. Children’s books are big business, and it is impossible to pretend otherwise. As Jack Zipes explains in his Sticks and Stones: The Troublesome Success of Children’s Literature from Slovenly Peter to Harry Potter, even the children’s book publishing business has grown more interested in creating marketable products than in nurturing good-quality books (Zipes, 2001:51–2, 59). If, as he contends, the industry itself now caters more towards blockbuster books, then we can hardly be surprised at the increasing use of characters to sell products. According to the US Trademark and Patent Office, Dr Seuss Enterprises has filed trademarks for ‘Seuss Wear’, ‘Hop on Pop Ice Cream Shop’, ‘Gertrude McFuzz’ Fine Feathered Finery’, ‘Circus Mcgurkus Cafe Stoo-Pendous’, ‘Sylvester McMonkey McBean’s Very Unusual Driving Machines’ and even the ‘Once-Ler’s House’. Dr Seuss Enterprises has also sought trademarks on many use characters for use in merchandise. For example, it applied for a trademark (serial number 75613066) to use the Lorax in connection with over 100 goods and services, including: trading cards, iron-on transfers, paper placemats, envelopes, gloves, sweaters, plush toys, bowling balls, bath toys, toy wagons, ‘decorative pencil top ornaments’, ‘stand alone video output game machines’ and ‘tutorials
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and seminars in the field of literacy’. This range of products may seem ironic, given that Seuss’s Lorax specifically argues against consumption for its own sake. However, it would not be fair to say that Dr Seuss Enterprises is merely heeding the counsel of a marketing expert, trying to sell spin-offs to as many children as possible. As Herb Cheyette explains: Under the rules of the trademark office, trademark applications can be narrowed, but not expanded. Therefore, it is customary practice for trademark lawyers to originally file for the widest possible scope with the understanding that the application will be reductively amended when the client finalizes plans. Most of these trademark applications were filed at the behest of Universal while it determined its merchandising plans for the How the Grinch Stole Christmas motion picture. (Cheyette, 2003) In addition to it being standard practice for trademark lawyers to file for ‘the widest possible scope’ and then to amend that scope later, a second but equally important consideration is that trademark law must constantly be used to remain enforceable. As Gaines tells us, ‘American trademark law gives an emphasis to “use” that it doesn’t have in other countries, where, for instance, it is not necessary to demonstrate “use” […] before registering a mark. Whereas in other countries, first registration guarantees the monopoly […], in the US “use” stakes out the owner’s claim’ (Gaines, 1991:223). In other words, Dr Seuss Enterprises not only need apply for licenses that cover a much broader range of products than it plans to license, but also must license some merchandise in order to protect the legal rights of Dr Seuss. Tellingly, many of the trademarks for which Dr Seuss Enterprises have applied appear to be motivated primarily by legal concerns. For example, that it has applied for a trademark on the word ‘Nerd’ (which first appears in If I Ran the Zoo) suggests that these trademark applications may be more of a pre-emptive strike than a marketing plan. That is, would many people wear ‘clothing articles and apparel, namely T-shirts, tops, made of all processes including knits and wovens, in all infant, children’s and adult sizes’ if these items bore the trademarked ‘Nerd’? Given the negative connotations of the word ‘nerd’ , one suspects that Nerd T-shirts might be a hard sell. In addition to following the standard procedure of applying for the widest possible range of products, this trademark application can prevent others from capitalizing on ‘Nerd’. Considering Seuss’s willingness to seek legal protections in the marketplace (as evidenced by the post-1968 marketing bonanza), Dr Seuss Enterprises is not intentionally contradicting Ted Geisel’s wishes. In light of trademark law’s strength, the Disneyfication of Dr Seuss must be seen as a symptom of a legal system designed to benefit capitalism more than moral or artistic values. If the close relationship between commerce and law begat Dr Seuss’s Disneyfication, then the USA might consider adopting the Berne Convention, thereby
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strengthening copyright law and removing the need for artists or their heirs to seek protection under trademark law. The USA signed the Berne Convention in 1988, but did so in a way that exempts itself from upholding it: as the chair of the Republican Policy Committee wrote at the time, ‘Its provisions are not directly enforceable in US Courts; instead, the private rights granted by the Convention exist only to the extent provided by US Law’ (Updike, 2001). If Dr Seuss Enterprises has to sell lesser versions of Dr Seuss’s work in order to strengthen that work’s legal standing, then there’s something wrong with the system—and perhaps enforcing the Berne Convention would help fix that system. Although I understand the legal reasons for pursuing so many trademarks, it is truly staggering to see such range of items. On the day I used the Trademark and Patent Office’s Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) to search for ‘Seuss’ trademarks, I found 162, of which 71 were ‘live’ (i.e. currently active). On that same day (26 March 2002), I found only 17 for ‘Harry Potter’, 16 of which were active. While American trademark law requires licensing agreements in order to be enforceable, one nonetheless wonders what H.A. and Margret Ray would think of the Altoid advertisements, or what A.A.Milne would think of ‘Hunny B’s’ cereal. ‘Mickey Mouse’ is a synonym for mediocrity and, to prevent ‘Dr Seuss’ from becoming a synonym for mediocrity, we need to grow wary of what we are being sold. If a consumer knows the difference between the original and the spinoff, then she will know which one to buy. If a reader learns to examine closely any ‘Dr Seuss’ book with a copyright date after 1991, then he will not mistake the ‘Wubbulous’ for the real thing. And, if US copyright law were to enforce the provisi ons of the Berne Convention, then Dr Seuss Enterprises would not have to license Seuss spin-offs in order to gain the stronger protections provided only under trademark law. Otherwise, under these marketing plans, the iconoclastic Seuss risks being overpowered by the marketing-icon Seuss— faithful to profit, one hundred percent. Acknowledgements For suggestions that helped me to improve the essay, thanks to Judith Morgan, Neil Morgan, Kevin Shortsleeve and two anonymous readers from Cultural Studies. For research assistance, thanks to Herb Cheyette, Charles Cohen, James Wadley, Lynda Claassen of UCSD’s Mandeville Special Collections Library and Sarah I.Hartwell of Dartmouth’s Rauner Alumni Library. Notes 1 Though he never addressed this question (to my knowledge), Seuss was once asked whether toys—then under development—based on his characters would be antithetical to the message of The Grinch, given that these toys would be sold during
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Christmas. Seuss replied, ‘I see no dualism in purpose. These are not strictly Christmas toys. They will be sold throughout the whole year’ (Corwin, 1983). 2 I develop this point at greater length in ‘Dada Knows Best: Growing Up Surreal with Dr Seuss’, the second chapter in The Avant-Garde and American Postmodernity: Small Incisive Shocks (Nel, 2002), and in’ “Said a Bird in the Midst of a Blitz…”: How World War II Created Dr Seuss’ (Nel, 2001). 3 John O’Brien’s ‘How The Schnook Stole “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”’ (2000), a verse criticism of the film, casts the movie’s producers as ‘the Schnook’ and excoriates them for (as O’Brien sees it) violating the principles of the book. Foreseeing movie versions of other Seuss books supplanting the originals, O’Brien imagines the Schnook saying: ‘Don’t worry, don’t fret, don’t look so perplexed—/Just wait ‘til you see what’s coming up next!/ Some sneetches will form a star-bellied Aryan nation/While the Lorax is promoting massive deforestation./The Butter Battle Book’s adapted to start a big war—/Just give us some time, and we’ll come up with more!’ O’Brien’s speaker continues: ‘And so, one by one, our illusions are shattered,/Were we naive to believe that the Doctor still mattered?’ In a version of the song, ‘You’re a Mean One, Mr Grinch’, O’Brien writes: ‘You infuriate me, greedy Schnook/You’re an unrepentant crook/You’ve grasped all you could grasp /And you took all you could took/Greedy Schnook!/ I’ve got just one thing to say to you and I’ll say it right now/“Give…back…the… book!”’ 4 Both Herb Cheyette and Karl ZoBell concur that Seuss’s business ethic would include marketing plans such as these. Cheyette says that the implication […] that merchandising and commercialization in all its forms were contrary to Ted’s philosophy and offensive to his business ethic […] is simply bunk.[…] Dr Seuss Enterprises has engaged in no activity that Ted did not also engage in. Ted knew the way of the world and was not about to deprive himself of a desirable opportunity for reasons of commercial disdain. The key question, of course, is what was a desirable opportunity? The Christmas commercial of my anecdote was not desirable. A motion picture was, and so was a theme park. (Cheyette, 2003)
ZoBell adds I performed legal services for Ted for over 30 years, and was probably his only lawyer for the last 10 or 15 years of his life. Ted also entrusted me to serve as co-executor of his will, and as co-trustee of his trusts. We spent a great deal of time discussing difficult legal matters, business matters, and personal matters, and I found him to be a highly sophisticated person with an acute mind, and a healthy interest in making sound economic decisions. He was, indeed, exceptionally generous with local and national philanthropies, and he did not call his generosity to public attention. He was also keenly aware that generosity (as well as maintaining the lifestyle that he enjoyed) required that he look after his business interests, and protect, preserve and
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enhance the assets he had created. I am wholly convinced that none of the business decisions which have been made by Dr Seuss Enterprises since his death are inconsistent in kind from decisions he made during his life time, and/or expected and projected to be taken following his death. (ZoBell, 2003) 5 In response to these criticisms, Herb Cheyette writes: With regard to The Wubbulous World of Dr Seuss, Jim Henson and Ted admired each other. Jim died three weeks before a scheduled meeting with Ted to discuss possible television projects. When Brian Henson, Jim’s son, indicated renewed interest on the part of the Muppeteers, Dr Seuss Enterprises was receptive, especially since the creative head of the project was Michael Frith, a former associate and collaborator of Ted’s at Beginner Books.The affinity was so close, Michael even looked like Ted. Sorry that the completed programs didn’t also resemble Ted’s work to your satisfaction. (Cheyette, 2003) 6 Cheyette also notes that Seuss ‘had completed four drafts of the film script before he died’. As for the movie’s current status,’ [s]even scripts later, this film project is now at Universal’ (Cheyette, 2003). 7 Cheyette adds, ‘When the opportunity for a Seuss theme park re-presented itself after Ted’s death, Audrey, who was present at the previous meeting, welcomed the possibility. Dr Seuss landing is a work of art. It is tasteful, brilliantly executed and Ted would be proud to have inspired it. It is a lasting addition to Ted’s legacy’ (Cheyette, 2003).
References An Awfully Big Adventure: The Making of Modern Children’s Literature [Dr Seuss] (1998) Dir. Roger Parsons, BBC. Bartlett, John (1992) Familiar Quotations. Ed. Justin Kaplan, 16th edn. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Co. Brantley, Ben (2000) ‘“Seussical: The Musical!”: The Cat! TheWhos! The Places They Go!’. New York Times, 1 December 2000. Available online: http://www. nytimes.com/ 2000/12/01/arts/01 SEUS.html? pagewanted=11 Cheyette, Herb (2001a) Letter to the author. 3 October 2001. —— (2001b) Letter to the author. 15 October 2001. —— (2003) Letter to the author. 22 May 2003. Cohen, Charles D. (2002) The Seuss, the Whole Seuss, and Nothing But the Seuss. Exhibition catalogue, Springfield , MA: Connecticut Valley Historical Museum. Copyright Law of the United States of America (2001) Chapter 1, Section 102. Revised to July 2001. Available online: http://www.loc.gov/copyright/titlel7/ 92chap1.html (accessed 6 February 2002). Corwin, Miles (1983) ‘Author Isn’t Just a Cat in the Hat’. Los Angeles Times, 27 November 1983. Sec. Metro, 1, 3.
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Cross, Gary(1997) Kids’ Stuff: Toys and the Changing World of American Childhood. Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press. Del Vecchio, Gene (1998) Creating Ever-Cool: A Marketer’s Guide to a Kid’s Heart. Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing Company. Dorfman, Ariel, and Mattelart, Armand (1984) How to Read Donald Duck: Imperialist Ideology in the Disney Comic. Trans. David Kunzle, New York: International General. (Originally published 1975). Dr Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (2000) Dir. Ron Howard, Universal. Dr Seuss Went to War (2000) Mandeville Special Collections Library, University of California at San Diego. Available online: http://orpheus-l.ucsd.edu/ speccoll/ dspolitic/index. htm Gaines, Jane M. (1991) Contested Culture: The Image, the Voice, and the Law . Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press. Geisel, Ted (1973) Letter to Mrs Phyllis Jackson, 13 Sept. 1973. UCSD, MSS 230, Box MC-106, Folder 22. Geisel v. Poynter Products Inc., Alabe Crafts Inc., Linder, Nathan & Heide Inc. and Liberty Library Corporation (1968a) 158 USPQ. Geisel v. Poynter Products Inc., Alabe Crafts Inc., Linder, Nathan & Heide Inc. and Liberty Library Corporation (1968b) 160 USPQ. Giroux, Henry A. (1997) ‘‘Are Disney Movies Good for Your Kids?’’ In Shirley R. Steinberg and Joe Kincheloe (eds) Kinderculture: The Corporate Construction of Childhood . Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 53–67. Handelman, David (1999) ‘Curiouser and Curiouser’. NewYork Times Book Review, 16 May 1999:39. Available online: http://www.nytimes.com/books/99/05/ 16/bookend/ bookend.html Hiltbrand, David (1998) ‘Flat in the Hat’. TV Guide, 21 March 1998:66. Inside Borders (2001) ‘You Will Love It on a Page, or on CD, or on a Stage’. Inside Borders, May. Jameson, Fredric (1991) Postmodernism; or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham and London: Duke University Press. Kline, Stephen (1993) Out of the Garden: Toys, TV, and Children’s Culture in the Age of Marketing. Londonand New York: Verso. Klugman, Karen (1995) ‘Under the Influence’. In Inside the Mouse: Work and Play at Disney World. The Project on Disney. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 98–109. Kuenz, Jane (1995) ‘It’s a Small World After All’. In Inside the Mouse: Work and Play at Disney World. The Project on Disney. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 54– 78. La Jolla Light (1970) ‘Seuss Creations Inspire Furniture’. La Jolla Light, 27 August 1970:6. Lanham Act (1946) Title 15, Chapter 22, Subchapter III, Sec. 1125, Repr. Legal Information Institute. Available online: http://www4.law.cornell.edu/ uscode/15/ 1125.html Lathem, Edward Connery (ed.) (1996) Theodor Seuss Geisel: Reminiscences & Tributes. Introductory note by Audrey S.Geisel. Hanover, NH: Dartmouth College. Published in a limited edition of 2,000 copies. From 1991 memorial service, remarks made by Victor H.Krulak, Jed Mattes, Judith & Neil Morgan, Herbert Cheyette, Chuck Jones, and Robert L.Bernstein. Lessig, Lawrence (2001) The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World. New York: Random House.
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Lurie, Alison (1990) ‘The Cabinet of Dr Seuss’. New York Review of Books, 20 December 1990:50–2. Minear, Richard (1995) Dr Seuss Goes to War: TheWorldWar II Cartoons of Theodor Seuss Geisel. New York: The New Press. Morgan, Judith (2002) ‘Re: Seuss chapter attached’. Email to author, 30 July 2002. Morgan, Judith, and Morgan, Neil (1995) Dr Seuss and Mr Geisel. New York: Random House. Nel, Philip (2001) ‘“Said a Bird in the Midst of a Blitz…”: How World War II Created Dr Seuss’.Mosaic, 34(2):65–85. —— (2002) The Avant-Garde and American Postmodernity: Small Incisive Shocks. Jackson, MS and London: Mississippi University Press. O’Brien, John (2000) ‘How The Schnook Stole “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”’. In David Bedno (ed.) The Dr Seuss Parody Page. Available online: http://www. seuss.org/ seuss/schnook.html (accessed 23 April 2002). (Originally published 2000.) Palmer, Debra (2000) ‘Audrey Geisel: On Top of the World of Dr Seuss’. San Diego County , 2 November 2000:7–8. Publishers’ Weekly (1958) ‘The One and Only Dr Seuss and His Wonderful Autographing Tour’. Publishers’ Weekly, 8 December 1958:12–15. Publishers’ Weekly (1959) ‘Revell, Inc’.. Publishers’ Weekly, 31 August 1959:53. Rabe, Tish (1996) The Song of the Zubble-Wump. Adapted from a script by David Stephen Cohen, illustrated by Tom Brannon. New York: Random House. —— (1997) The King’s Beard. Adapted from a script by Will Ryan, illustrated by Joe Mathieu. New York: Random House. —— (2001) Oh, the Things You Can Do That Are Good for You! Illustrated by Aristides Ruiz. New York: Random House. Scott, A.O. (2000) ‘Sense and Nonsense’. New York Times Magazine, 26 November 2000: 48–52, 105 . Available online: http://www.nytimes.com/library/ magazine/home/ 20001126mag-seuss.html Seuss, Dr (1940) Horton Hatches the Egg. New York: Random House. —— (1950) If I Ran the Zoo. New York: Random House. —— (1953) Scrambled Eggs Super!New York: Random House. —— (1957a) The Cat in the Hat. New York: Random House. —— (1957b) How the Grinch Stole Christmas!New York: Random House. —— (1958a) The Cat in the Hat Comes Back. New York: Random House. —— (l958b) Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories. New York: Random House. —— (1961) The Sneetches and Other Stories. New York: Random House. —— (1967) Dr Seuss’ Lost World Revisited: A Forward-looking Backward Glance. New York: Universal Publishingand Distributing Corporation. —— (1971) The Lorax. New York: Random House. —— (1976) I Can Read with My Eyes Shut! New York: Random House. —— (1978) The Cat’s Quizzer. New York: Random House. —— (1982) Horton Hears aWho!New York: Random House. (Originally published 1954). —— (1984) The Butter Battle Book. New York: Random House. —— (1988a) Green Eggs and Ham. New York: Random House. (Originally published 1960). —— (1988b) One fish two fish red fish blue fish. New York: Random House. (Originally published 1960). —— (1990) Oh, the PlacesYou’ll Go!New York: Random House.
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—— (1991) Dr Seuss’s ABC. New York: Random House. (Originally published 1963). —— (1994) Daisy-Head Mayzie. New York: Random House. —— (1995) The Secret Art of Dr Seuss. New York: Random House. —— (1996a) Dr Seuss’s ABC: An Amazing Alphabet Book. New York: Random House. —— (1996b) The Foot Book: Dr Seuss’s Wacky Book of Opposites. New York: Random House. —— (1996c) Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You?: Dr Seuss’s Book of Wonderful Noises. New York: Random House. —— (1996d) My Many-Colored Days. Paintings by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher. New York: Random House. —— (1997a) Oh, Baby, the Places You’ll Go!: A Book to Be Read in Utero. Adapted by Tish Rabe from the works of Dr Seuss. New York: Random House. —— (1997b) Seuss-isms: Wise and Witty Prescriptions Jor Living from the Good Doctor. New York: Random House. —— (1999a) Seuss-isms for Success: Insider Tips on Economic Health from the Good Doctor. Introduction by Tom Peters. New York: Random House. —— (1999b) The Cat in the Hat’s Great Big Flap Book. New York: Random House. —— (2000) Gerald McBoing Boing. Based on the Academy Award-winning motion picture by Dr Seuss. Pictures adapted by Mel Crawford. New York: Random House. —— (2001) Green Eggs and Ham: With Fabulous Flaps and Peel-Off Stickers. Adapted by Aristides Ruiz. New York: Random House. Seuss, Dr, Prelutsky, Jack and Smith, Lane (1998) Hooray for Diffendoofer Day! New York: Knopf. Seussical (2001) Original Broadway Cast Album. Decca Broadway. Small, David (1985) Imogene’s Antlers. New York: Crown Publishers. Smith, Dinitia (1997) ‘A Purist’s Creatures Go Commercial’. New York Times, 13 February 1997: B1. Turvey, Debbie Hochman (2001) ‘All Time Bestselling Children’s Books’. Ed. Diane Roback and Jason Britton. Publishers’ Weekly, 17 December 2001:24–7. Updike, Nancy (2001) ‘Green Eggs and Lawsuits’. LA Weekly, 20–6 July 2001. Available online: http://www.laweekly.com/printme.php3?eid=26588 (accessed 19 June 2002). US Copyright Office (1999) ‘Circular 14: Copyright Registration for Derivative Works’. June 1999. Available online: http://www.loc.gov/copyright/circs/ circl4.pdf (accessed 27 March 2002). US Copyright Office (2000) ‘Circular 1: Copyright Basics’. December 2000. Available online: http://www.loc.gov/copyright/circs/circl.html (accessed l0 January 2002). US Copyright Office (2001) ‘Questions Frequently Asked in the Copyright Office Public Information Section’. 5 December 2001. Available online: http://www. loc.gov/ copyright/faq.html (accessed 6 February 2002). US Patent and Trademark Office (2001) ‘What Are Patents, Trademarks, Service-marks, and Copyrights?’. 24 April 2001. Available online: http://www. uspto.gov/web/ offices/pac/doc/general/whatis.htm (accessed 10 January 2002). US Patent and Trademark Office (2002) ‘Trademark Information’. Available online: http://www.uspto.gov/web/menu/tm.html (accessed 27 March 2002). Wadley, James (2002) ‘Re: Query about Dr Seuss, Copyright, and Trademark’. Email to author. 8 February 2002.
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We All Dream of Oz (2000) Dir. David M. Bryant and Pamela Kerlin, Turner Network Television. Weber, Jonathan (2002) |‘The Ever-Expanding, Profit-Maximising, CulturalImperialist,Wonderful World of Disney’. Wired, 10(2):70–9. Wintle, Justin, and Emma Fisher (1975) ‘Two Letters: Dr Seuss and E.B. White’. The Pied Pipers: Interviews with the Influential Creators of Children’s Literature. New York: Two Continents, 113–31. Worth, Bonnie (2001) Oh, Say Can You Seed? Illustrated by Aristides Ruiz. New York: Random House. Zipes, Jack (2001) Sticks and Stones: The Troublesome Success of Children’s Literature from Slovenly Peter to Harry Potter. New York and London: Routledge. ZoBell, Karl (2003) Letter to Herb Cheyette. 22 May 2003.
CULTURAL STUDIES 17(5) 2003, 579–614
DISRUPTING THE NUPTIALS AT THE TOWN HALL DEBATE: FEMINISM AND THE POLITICS OF CULTURAL MEMORY IN THE USA
Abstract This essay argues that cultural memory in the USA, both academic and popular, for largely ephemeral feminist and queer practices is dauntingly limited. In this case, the prevalent conceptions of feminism as juvenile and/ or dead must be engaged for future possibilities. The use of history to discipline feminism is not only related to structures of cultural memory that animate the mass-mediated public sphere, but masculinist desires which privilege male agents as the judges of feminist and queer practices. This paper turns to the anomalous political practices of Jill Johnston, Village Voice critic and author of Lesbian Nation. Johnston as the forever-juvenile ‘trickster’ has not fallen prey to the discourses heralding feminism’s death. Through an examination of her politics of reinscription, mobility and interstatiality, much can be learned about cultural memory and minoritarian political practices. The ephemerality of politics in the public sphere can be even momentarily arrested and available for future political possibilities through practices of reinscription. Not only is ephemerality arrested, but also new contexts for reading events, acts and histories are created. Through this reinscriptive politics, mobility is produced which can at particular moments escape the death sentence of molar politics with new understandings of eventfulness and change. History from this perspective is not filiative; it is contagious and corrosive and always open to multiple lines of investigation and articulation for future possibilities. Her interstitial politics cut across the dominant logics of histories and movements and produce something other than the taken for granted. This interstatiality is crucial in producing new contexts for political practice. Through her performances and politics of reinscription, a better understanding of the connections between masculinist desire and cultural memory can be developed. This practice, even if only provisionally, can interrupt the practices of cultural memory which privilege the discursive practices of masculine agents.
Cultural Studies ISSN 0950–2386 print/ISSN 1466–4348 online © 2003 Taylor & Francis Ltd http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals DOI: 10.1080/0950238032000126856
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Keywords feminism; Jill Johnston; reinscription; mobility; cultural memory CONTEMPORARY MEDIA is replete with images of immaturity, pubescence, and even the figuration of powerful females as not only young, but preternatural (Bellefante, 1998; Rosenzweig, 1999; Snowden, 1999; Prose, 2000). Popular series such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Charmed and Dark Angel attest to the powers of young, often enhanced females. Ally McBeal and Providence demonstrate adult women’s inability to grow up as they instead embark on a perennial search for a man (Prose, 2000). Feminism in the popular has been consumed by and with ‘Girl Power’ and its corollaries. I am not concerned with feminism examining and making connections with youth, or with ‘young’ feminists, but instead with the exoticization, commodification and containment of feminism in a juvenile form and the implications and possibilities this might have for feminist politics and history in the USA. Interestingly, the contemporary moment has been heralded as both the ‘aging of America’ as the baby boom generation matures and the ‘teening of America’ (Hirschberg, 1999; Gardiner, 2000).1 Similarly, the most prominent discourses pertain to feminism’s death and its pubescence. While the discourses of feminism’s death are most explicitly visible (Bellafante, 1998; Brown, 1998; CNN/ Time, 1998; Deem, 2001), there are also intersecting discourses of feminism’s pubescence and its inability to mature (Wolcott, 1996; Bellafante, 1998; CNN/ Time, 1998). Something particularly insidious is taking place in the machinations of the juvenalizing discourses of feminism. Rather than extend vitality and potency, feminism is delegitimated. In this paper, I want to discuss, through a rather circuitous route, the pubescence of feminism and the politics of cultural memory in the USA. The contemporary discourses partake in a regressive nostalgia that laments the development of feminism from a tough, strident and powerful set of practices into an immature, narcissistic and ineffectual discourse. The use of history for these discourses partakes in larger structures of cultural amnesia that animate the mass-mediated public sphere, although in ways specific to feminism. Feminist history is restricted by homogenizing the corporeal specificities of particularly female bodies to an undifferentiated body of youth in the figure of the ‘girl’, which is then easily discounted and rendered impotent, especially when that girl is an adult.
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Cultural memory for largely ephemeral feminist and queer practices is dauntingly limited. As such, the need to examine the complex interplay of gender, sexuality and cultural memory in the USA is critical. I argue that feminism must practice a creative production of its multiple and varied histories in order to create multiple future political possibilities, which are largely prevented by current practices of remembering. The unintelligibility of contemporary discourses concerning feminism requires, in the words of Meaghan Morris (1984), ‘adroit reading practices’. The field of reference for feminism must be expanded in such a way that the complexity of feminism’s contextual political practices and its future possibilities are not constrained by dominant conceptions of its past. The past must instead be an active resource for future action (Deem, 1999). Roof (1995) has argued that the narrative logics of history have trapped feminism within particular familial structures that perpetuate exclusions around the axes of sexuality and race. From this perspective, simply expanding the field of reference is not enough to produce different histories. Roof advocates the telling of partial histories that may not leave in place the dominant historical structures of familial, heterosexual, declarative and reform logics. However, feminist scholarship must do more than write partial histories or recognize that all histories are interested (King, 1994). I argue for a creative use of history that, rather than being filial (along a reproductive logic), is involuted or contagious in its production (Deleuze and Guartarri, 1987). In this manner, it is important to begin in the contemporary moment and create histories with not only a past, but also a present and a future. Grosz (2000) has argued for the need to clear a conceptual space for the ‘indeterminate future’ open to women. In this way, virtual futures can be conceived by ‘folding the past into the future, beyond the control or limit of the present’ (2000:1019). Meagan Morris (1998) has persuasively argued for the importance of turning to history for a context, which prolongs the life of the ephemeral item or ‘case’ or event. Turning to history in this sense refers to a critical practice that can extract from its objects ‘a parable of practice that converts them into models with a past and a potential for reuse, thus aspiring to invest them with a future’ (1998:3). We need to understand how contexts are made, unmade and remade and how they change the meaning and value of cultural practices in order to make interventions within the contemporary cultural/political milieu. Understanding the reinscription, circulation and appropriation of cultural artifacts is crucial for the development of feminist politics within a discursive terrain, which vilifies and contains the future possibilities of feminist political practice. There is a critical need to expand the field of reference for feminism and create histories that allow for the complexity of feminism’s contextual practices as well as for future possibilities not constrained by dominant conceptions of the past (Morris, 1994, 1998; Deem, 1999). Roof (1995) singles out Jill Johnston, author of Lesbian Nation, as someone who, in the early 1970s critiqued and fought against the heterosexism of feminism. I believe that Johnston, with her disruptive performances, Village Voice
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column and her manifestic Lesbian Nation, did far more than critique the heteronormative logics of feminism. I think she is a particularly apt figure for interrogating cultural memory given the cultural amnesia that circulates around her and the events in which she participated. The practices of Johnston are key within this contemporary juvenile moment for several reasons. First, Johnston was, and is, not only seen as immature, but as having never grown up—she is the perpetual trickster. Second, the ephemerality of Johnston’s performances along with her discursive practices of reinscription and mobility, both defied containment and continue to produce new contexts in which to read her own performances as well as feminist and queer history. Third, Johnston practiced an interstitial politics that never aligned with the molar logics of the movements for social change such as feminism or the gay liberation front.2 She Performed a politics and historical contextualization, which could serve as a model for future feminist politics and which, in fact, is constitutive of the feminist cultural work that I call for in this essay. Johnston’s practices register the emergence of a kind of politics and commodification that is mobile and announces a different logic of interventionism. In this essay, I turn to Johnston for an examination of the politics of mobility, reinscription and interstitiallity to open spaces for writing ‘other’ histories, which might be productive of previously circumscribed futures. Forgetting Jill Johnston One might think that such a blatantly misogynistic and seemingly dated text as Norman Mailer’s ‘The Prisoner of Sex’ (1971) could have no contemporary purchase. However, James Wolcott’s 1996 New Yorker essay, ‘Hear Me Purr: Maureen Dowd and the rise of postfeminist chick lit’ serves as a warning about the masculinist logics of cultural memory and the propensity for men to be called forth as experts on the writings of women and feminists. Wolcott summons feminists of the past, who are quite different in their politics and style, to chide by contrast contemporary feminist and ‘post-feminist’ writers. Before standing to testify, contemporary feminists must pass masculine authority. ‘The Prisoner of Sex’ provides the grounds for the judgment that the feminist prose of the 1960s and 1970s was much more satisfyingly hard-hitting. Wolcott claims, presumably on Mailer’s authority, that’ When the women’s liberation movement got cranking…polemicists such as Ti-Grace Atkinson, Germaine Greer and Valerie Solanas (the author of the SCUM Manifesto) spurned the steady brushstrokes of belletristic prose to spray-paint ideological graffiti worthy of the lavatory wall’ (1996:57). Wolcott deploys Mailer as a shield as he quotes Mailer to support the claim that these women wrote like ‘very tough faggots’: ‘It was a good style. At its best, it read with the tension of an anger profound enough to be kept under the skin’ (quoted in Wolcott, 1996:57). Wolcott argues that this ‘butch sensibility’ (Mailer’s term), however, never ‘moderated or modulated into maturity’. As a result, its impacted anger could not be contained; ‘it either has to
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blow as in Solanas’ assassination attempt on Andy Warhol, or has to dissipate into a more general satisfaction’ (1996:57). Wolcott couches his attack on contemporary feminism within a critique of New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd.3 He chides Dowd both for not being ‘womanly’ and for not exhibiting that more masculine trait of offering ‘throbbing opinions’. It is feminism that is blamed for this ‘wimpy’ prose style: ‘One of the odd aftereffects of feminism is that it seems to have softened and juvenilized so much of women’s journalistic swagger’ (1996:57). By Wolcott’s account, contemporary feminist and post-feminist writers, with their flirtational and personal style, are popular precisely because they are so ‘unthreatening’ to men. Women are effectively elided from the primary audience of feminism within the national political imaginary. The erotics of style that are foregrounded in ‘The Prisoner of Sex’ are more subtle, but still present, in Wolcott’s account of feminist prose. Mailer is attracted to the harderhitting, scatological, even violent prose of Valerie Solanas, yet is seduced by the sweet, liberal, and reassuring prose of Germaine Greer, who assures men that the penis, far from being obsolete, is still desired by women. Wolcott shares similar affinities. What both men find titillating is dangerous prose that threatens the male’s safe haven of abstraction by making his body vulnerably present. Wolcott operates with different discursive genres than Mailer, but judges by the same standard—whether or not he finds feminist prose seductive. Wolcott is not aroused by the ‘unthreatening’ prose of contemporary feminism.4 Along with casting contemporary feminist writers outside of his erotic economy, Wolcott creates an historical narrative in which feminism, far from fostering the movement of women, has stunted their development into a perennial girlhood. Feminism’s past is reclaimed, not for political possibilities within feminism, but in order to measure the ‘growth’ of feminism. Today’s feminism can’t measure up; it is deemed immature, girlish and, worst of all, satisfied. The past becomes a regressive nostalgia that limits the possibilities for feminisms in the public sphere by placing them in the service of masculine desire. Feminism’s multiple and diverse histories are collapsed to the erotics of prose for a masculinist, heterosexual audience and then measured against a specific masculine standard. Two issues of Esquire that eroticize feminism further serve to illustrate the manner in which feminism is cast within seductive terms. The more recent issue covers a new phenomenon, ‘do me’ feminists, who, like Greer, use scatological prose and like sex with men. Important for this genre of feminism is the use of sexual and scatological language, which eroticizes feminism and assures men that not only can beautiful women be feminists, they also like sex with men. The more recent article references Sara Davidson’s 1973 article, ‘Foremothers’, which appeared in Esquire some twenty years earlier. In 1973, Esquire heralded a new generation of feminists: one whose proponents were male-friendly, who liked sex, and practiced a softer prose—a connection is drawn between sex, style and feminist politics. Both of the Esquire articles make their own generation of ‘new’ feminists male-friendly. In the 1973 issue, a segment called ‘Five Days That
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Shook Up the World’ includes the Town Hall debate5 In which Jill Johnston, Germaine Greer and Norman Mailer took the lead (1973). The debate was occasioned by the publication of ‘The Prisoner of Sex’ in Harper’s Magazine (Mailer, 1971) and was so spectacular because Johnston had two female friends jump on stage and perform an enactment of three-way public sex. Jill Johnston’s 1973 collection Lesbian Nation examines the politics and erotics of style for feminism precisely in relation to Mailer and the Town Hall debate. Lesbian Nation serves as a shadow text for both the early 1970s accounts of feminist style and for the contemporary reclamation of early 1970s feminism. Lesbian Nation, while ignored by Wolcott, serves as a counterpoint to Mailer’s account of the women’s movement in ‘The Prisoner of Sex’. Lesbian Nation is crucial for understanding the erotics of feminism in the early 1970s in the USA and provides critical understanding of the desires which constrain feminist speech within the contemporary US public sphere and which highlight the need to understand the complex dynamics of cultural memory. What ‘The Prisoner of Sex’ and these texts point to are, on the one hand, the many ways in which feminists have negotiated writing, and, on the other, the machinations by which masculinist desires serve as ‘modes of containment’ (Berlant, 1988) for feminist discursive practices. In other words, these texts are sensitive to the rhetoricity of feminist discursive practices and domesticate the radical possibilities of this rhetoricity through reinscribing these discourses into masculine fantasies of female desire and transgression. In contrast, Lesbian Nation operates as an intervention within a discursive context where female and feminist speech and writing is disciplined, not only within the national political imaginary through masculine desire but also within the movements for social change. Dead feminist history It is important to situate Lesbian Nation within the context of recent feminist history. Alice Echols’ Daring to Be Bad (1989) has not unproblematically come to offer the most authoritative source on radical feminism in the USA (Snitow, 1990; King, 1994). Echols offers a narrative of the development and growth of radical feminism and, from there, its decline into cultural feminism, which turned to a politics of lifestyle, ultimately resulting in radical feminism’s demise. Interestingly, this advent of cultural feminism and decline has everything to do with sexuality coming to the foreground for feminist politics. In this narrative, the feminist development of a counter public sphere—as articulated in the work of Rita Felski (1989) and Nancy Fraser (1992)—with its Habermasian roots becomes threatened as feminism is transformed from a political movement into a cultural one. Of course, the rupture of women as a cohesive category around the boundaries of sexuality is what, for Echols, displaces feminism from a political movement to a cultural one, thereby disrupting the democratic promise and political transformations of feminist counter publics.
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The publication of Lesbian Nation in 1973 and the political performances preceding it appear precisely at the historical moment when Echols dates feminism’s decline, and, not surprisingly, Johnston becomes a marginal figure who in many ways is simply emblematic of a turn to separatism and lifestyle politics. However, situating Johnston’s performances more broadly interrupts this narrative and offers another history not premised on fragmentation and decline. Johnston worked at the interstices of cultural politics and the development of counter publics within the gay liberation front and the women’s liberation movement. At the same time, far from being a political separatist, she actively wrote and published in public presses and performed her outrageous practices in majoritarian public space. It was in her Village Voice column—much of it collected in Lesbian Nation—that Johnston displayed her antics and pursued her political forays into the bastions of heteronormative public culture. She moved across established categories of feminist, lesbian and gay politics and traversed the accepted categories of lesbian separatism and cultural feminism that marked the 1970s. Unlike the lesbian communities of the early 1970s that Carr (1993) documents, both the gay liberation front and the established women’s movement vilified Johnston and named her as their enemy. Both in her experimental writing and in her improvisational performances, she disrupted established politics within the various movements arguing for civil rights. The complex configuration can perhaps best be exemplified in the performances surrounding the 1971 Town Hall debate. Johnston’s ‘happenings’ or ‘disruptions’ were pulled from countercultural practices that did not directly align with the development of a feminist counter public sphere. She performs these acts, creates these events, and, after the fact, inscribes a politics through redeployment. She operated on several registers at once, managing an adroit politics of mobility, which not only evaded certain majoritarian logics but also cut across the molar logics of feminism and the gay liberation front in what I call interstitial politics. She was an improvisational performer whose initial politics were at the level of the singularity or the event. Her critical practice continued through the reinscription of the event. In this discursive practice, she takes up whatever position is prescribed her within the majoritarian public sphere and puts it in motion. The speed and movement of Johnston’s discursive practices can be seen as emblematic of the mobile sites of queer public life in the USA. The very mobility of sites of queer public performance is what makes these sites possible, ‘but also renders them hard to recognize as world making because they are so fragile and ephemeral’ (Berlant and Warner, 1998:561). Reinscription and textual politics resists ephemerality—they can later be redeployed, even in the case where much of the political function is unintelligibility. Part of the mobility of Johnston’s politics involves her practice of meta-commentary, where she analyses her performances and their articulations within a complex discursive field. Through her politics of movement and reinscription, Johnston performs a minor politics that opens possibilities for women, at the same time that it is subject to the dangers of life in the cramped space of the majoritarian public sphere. It is
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precisely Johnston’s mobile and interstitial politics that produces a richness in her practices but also risks historical displacement. Ironically, even though Lesbian Nation was widely read at the time of its original publication, its place in history proves the ephemerality of certain practices. In the October 1993 issue of the Voice Literary Supplement entitled ‘The Waves: Feminists Ride Again’, Carr (1993) claimed that Lesbian Nation and the work of Jill Johnston more generally, appears to have been widely read in the height of 1970s activism. Lesbian Nation was not just a separatist polemic but also a beacon of hope that inspired new forms of associational life. Johnston was seen as the sign of female freedom with her spectacular antics and outrageous writing. She was known for her essays in the Voice where she documented her own emerging feminist and lesbian consciousness and was one of the first public figures to openly declare her lesbian sexuality. Johnston was an icon of lesbian feminists who closely followed her Village Voice column where she was transformed from dance critic to lesbian feminist advocate to a performative ‘trickster’ (Carr, 1993). While she has received recent attention within the realm of art and dance criticism for her anomalous rhetorical practices (Banes, 1994), no such attention has been given to her more overtly political writings on lesbian and feminist politics. Interestingly, in recent years Johnston has commented on the lack of understanding of Lesbian Nation and argues that Lesbian Nation failed at some level because of the resistance of the text to be inscribed within dominant discourses of the time (Johnston, 1993, 1997). Johnston links her project with that of Monique Wittig, particularly through sexuality and rhetorical style (Johnston, 1994; Braidotti, 1991 makes a similar linkage). The publication of Admission Accomplished (Johnston, 1998a) at a time when second wave feminist history is coming under scrutiny from feminists in the USA might garner Johnston some of the feminist recognition her work has lacked. Admission Accomplished is primarily a reprint of Lesbian Nation sans the essay contextualizing the Town Hall debate. The title yet again demonstrates how Johnston moves on. It is not that she believes that there is no problem with gender and sexuality, just that Lesbian Nation is no longer her site of struggle. Interestingly, cultural amnesia for the influential, or at least spectacular, practices of Johnston is not limited to the majoritarian cultural sphere’s nostalgia. Even within the now numerous histories of the women’s and gay and lesbian movements Johnston is at most given a footnote.6 Inface most of these accounts simply ignore her textual production, as well as her outrageous political spectacles that were fuel for the alternative media as well as for the culture pages of major newspapers.7 When Lesbian Nation is cited in more contemporary texts concerning feminist or queer politics, it is most often relegated to the category of separatism, which defines so much of early 1970s feminism (for this containment of Johnston’s work, see: Echols, 1989; Berlant and Freeman, 1992; Parker et al., 1992; Zimmerman, 1995).8,9 Lesbian Nation is just one in a long list of second wave texts that go unread, are difficult to locate and are out of print.10
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What can account for feminism’s neglect of its own recent past? US feminists seem almost embarrassed by their own past which is viewed as simplistic, antitheoretical and worst of all essentialist. Perhaps, most problematic, feminism’s own historical narratives not only seem to create this view of early feminist textual production but also, more importantly, participate in obscurantism by eliding those texts which do not fit within these narratives or more precisely do not partake of the molar logics of the women’s movements.11 Of course, culpability must be institutionally located. It is important to note that only recently has research on contemporary feminist history been a viable project for academic feminism; in other words, there was no institutional legitimation of this as a viable area of study. The body that Jill built/reading Lesbian Nation Lesbian Nation is a collection of Jill Johnston’s political writings, which first appeared in the Village Voice in the late 1960s and early 1970s.12 Though featured in the New York Review of Books, with a picture of Johnston on the cover, Lesbian Nation was published without much spectacle. Lesbian Nation is both a radical manifesto and the account of Johnston’s personal journey through the cramped and diabolical space of 1950s and 1960s US public culture. Two trajectories, that of manifesto and that of travel diary, merge in the political configuration of her radical lesbian politics, although not in anticipated ways. In other words, Lesbian Nation does not necessarily function through the logics of separatism culminating in ‘The Feminist Solution’.13 To the contrary, the text resists any narrative containment with its circular and repetitive prose, and anomalous rhetorical practices. Even so, reviewers at the time of publication seemed to ignore the anomalous rhetorical practices, and instead they either positioned the text within the genre of personal writing or tamed the prose by summarizing the text within a traditional argumentative structure (Webb, 1973; Braudy, 1975; Hayman, 1975). In this manner, rather than develop a reading of the complexities of the rhetorical practices, these readers overlaid the text with a rational structure, which tamed or elided the rhetoricity of the text. Unfortunately, this approach seems all too common among readers of Lesbian Nation. The contemporaneous readers of the text failed to see political theory/theories emerge out of Johnston’s toopersonal prose. As a result of these two forms of reception, the text was either relegated to the merely personal or reduced to a separatist polemic. Johnston opens Lesbian Nation with remarks directing the interpretive practices of the reader. She insists upon a closed hermeneutic within the frame of the text,’ All explanations work and explain each other’. She directs the reader to read the book as an ‘interlocking web of personal experience and history and events of the world forming a picture’, in this case of a female emerging out a particular historical moment: ‘a straight middle unconscious post-war amerika’. She asserts that ‘All speculations of biological destiny and social reality and the complexities of cause and effect between the two are true explanations of personal history and
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understanding reading back from the individual life into the dim archetypal past of our collective memories’.14 Johnston’s directives serve as a guide, albeit obliquely, to the arrangement and tempo of the text. The anecdotes herein cannot be read as personal in a strict sense of the word, but all serve as a form of collective history and social critique which cannot be measured for accuracy or ‘truth value’ outside of the logics and stories of the book itself. Crucially, this book is not ‘bound’ in a strict sense; it is a complex assemblage of history, performance and reinscription. In other words, Johnston is calling for a different way of reading and thus a different history, one that in many ways runs counter to the historical logics of movements like feminism and gay liberation. While Lesbian Nation can be read as a personal history, it is much more productively read as a collective history that reinscribes certain spectacular acts and life events within the cramped space of the majoritarian public sphere. An examination of the shifting or shuttling between polemological and utopian spaces is necessary to provide possibilities within majoritarian political formations (Morris, 1988). Lesbian Nation moves between insanity and despair to the productive possibilities of insanity and the utopian spaces of the parthogenetic woman, when men will be rendered obsolete by the undermining of heteronormativity. Johnston’s recuperative practice makes visible within the majoritarian political imaginary precisely that which has been remaindered, the positivity of the eroticized lesbian body.15 Her anomalous and minor rhetorical practices reinscribe the materiality of bodies, which have been excised. Johnston demonstrates the machinations whereby the majoritarian public and counter publics discipline and rationalize bodies. The text not only directs the interpretive practices of the reader but also continually turns upon the practice of writing and discursive style. The book is first and foremost the manifesto, not of a new nation constituted by lesbian citizens, but of the becoming writer of the previously silenced and outlawed fugitive. Lesbian Nation is about creating a position from which to speak when none is given in discourse.16This position should not be seen as stable but always in movement. Lesbian Nation shuttles between a transparent journalistic prose style and a style with very scattered punctuation and sentence structure, usually associated with a personal journal or diary—yet this text is most definitely not the publication of a private manuscript; this was written precisely for public consumption. Johnston’s prose defies categorization into genres of autobiography, postmodern fiction, or even fiction/nonfiction.17 Lesbian Nation orchestrates Johnston’s performances within the cultural and personal milieu in which they are embedded, primarily at the interstices of gay, feminist and majoritarian cultural practices. She begins Lesbian Nation with a discussion of her most spectacular event, the Town Hall debate, and attempts to reread and thus reinscribe the event in such a way that a moment of possibility can be opened to women. She then proceeds to construct a disjointed narrative of the struggles and dangers of lesbian life in America. She constructs a body to be read that travels through the diabolical spaces of majoritarian culture. This ‘body’
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is a disjointed assemblage of different practices, forms and bodies produced throughout Lesbian Nation.18 Town Bloody Hall The Town Hall debate was organized by the Theatre for Ideas as a forum on the women’s liberation movement with Norman Mailer as the moderator following the publication of ‘The Prisoner of Sex’ in Harper’s Magazine in March of 1971. The panelists, who each presented prepared speeches, consisted of Diana Trilling, Jacqueline Ceballos (of NOW), Germaine Greer and Johnston.19 Johnston performed a speech which drastically exceeded time constraints and humorously, outrageously and repetitively declared that ‘all women are lesbians’, an act of blasphemy in such a hallowed heterosexual hall.20 Johnston’s relentless performance employed puns and historical inversions in order to challenge masculinist conceptions of women and history. Mailer was derided throughout, but most effectively when Johnston played off his reputation as a ‘lady’s man’. In the middle of her diatribe, she looked to Mailer and said, ‘He told me he wanted my body. I said, “Sure you can have it when I am done with it’”. This produced uproarious laughter from the audience and visible anger and disgust from Mailer. Her rhetorical performance jeopardizes the centrality of the male body. The male body is made vulnerable precisely in relation to an erotic economy which functions through the positivity of female desire, not through the heteronormative logics of negation and lack, which constitute desire for the female within majoritarian culture. These logics are in fact rendered powerless within the affective economy of lesbian desire. The male is rendered into an object of derision as his hypersexuality is rendered transparent. Johnston not only pushed at the logics of heterosexuality but at the limits of decorous speech with such depictions of women who were not yet politically aware as ‘wanting their cock and eating it too’.21 When she refused to end her polemic, Mailer interrupted and called for a vote from the audience to end Johnston’s diatribe. As Johnston argued, since male voices are louder than female voices, the vote was overwhelming for her to leave.22 Mistaking the pause as their cue, two women bounded on stage for a theatrical enactment of ‘love making’ with Johnston. The three women offered a bodily performance (one that Johnston felt was far too tame) of lesbian erotics in ‘reserved public space’ (Miller, 1995). This cut against the very rules that constituted the moment and broke the codes of speech and bodily deportment. Mailer attempted to circumscribe Johnston through the disciplinary apparatus of proper and decorous ladylike behavior, ‘Come on Jill, be a lady’ (Johnston, 1973:38; Shenker, 1971:19). Mailer could not tolerate his own lack of position in an erotic economy where he was not just obsolete but non-existent. After the performance and the vote, Johnston left the stage as previously planned. The event continued in her absence. There had been general agreement that women in the movement should boycott the debate (Greer, 1971; Johnston, 1973; Carr, 1993). Kate Millett and
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Ti-Grace Atkinson refused invitations, while Robin Morgan offered to accept only upon the condition that she could bring a gun and shoot Mailer (Greer, 1971). The panel was ostensibly about women’s liberation. However, women’s liberation was actually only a pretence. In this ‘debate’, women’s liberation was articulated to a ‘literary, cultural, commercial event’, which did not need either the women’s movement nor women to go forward—the event came to be all that mattered (Johnston, 1973:25).23 The Town Hall debate was inscribed in majoritarian masculine culture as a spectacle of female transgression.24 It was not just the event itself that proved Johnston’s point, but the media coverage which tellingly contained evidence to indict the normative structures that enforce dominant heterosexuality and the oppression of women. The coverage of Town Hall cast the spectacle firmly within the erotics of masculine heterosexual voyeuristic desire for lesbian sexuality (Ai-Mei, 1971:4; Bronstein, 1971; Dillard, 1971a: 4, 1971b: 82; Kaurin, 1971; Keiper, 1971; Lichtenberg, 1971; Morton, 1971).25 Johnston quoted Rosalyn Dexter’s depiction of the debate in her Village Voice review of the event: would Norman, Germain, and Jill pose for modern sex tableaus, each taking the sexual position which suited them (or their cause) best? Would Jill go down on Germaine, while Norman, poised above Germaine’s head, attempted to give her ‘head’… Or would Germaine straddle both Jill and Norman at the same time as if riding two magnificent white horses around a circus ring? (Johnston, 1973:45–6) Johnston, through her reinscription did not contest the depiction, instead she showed appreciation for the images, which were as ‘good as the event to describe its decadence’ (1973:46). Writing for survival In discussing the Town Hall affair, I am interested in both Johnston’s improvisational performance and her textual reinscriptions, which themselves constitute new performances. Johnston’s political practice is marked by experimentation, disruption and evasion through the multiple reinscriptions of her indecorous performances. In this way, rather than a set politics, which dogmatically must be held in the face of the disciplinary practices of the media, Johnston can take up the politics assigned to her performances and evade, even momentarily, heteronormative traps. The first and longest chapter, entitled ‘Tarzana from the Trees at Cocktails’ situates both Lesbian Nation and Johnston’s practices within the context of her own history of performing disruptive antics culminating in the Town Hall debate.26 Much of this chapter was not previously published in the Voice as was most of Lesbian Nation. The chapter begins by placing her personal growth alongside
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events of import for women and serves as a contextualization of Johnston’s work within the feminist movement. The Town Hall debate is radically contextualized within Johnston’s history of outrageous performances, her discursive reinscriptions of those performances, and the ways in which these performances and reinscriptions (themselves constituting performances) articulate to feminist and majoritarian dogmas and histories. While she does mark time by the Stonewall Riots, the primary cultural markers for Johnston are the public figures (Friedan, Millett and Steinem) and discourses (anti-lesbian and elitist) of the women’s liberation movement. The centring of feminist history in the first section of Lesbian Nation is crucial precisely because the early 1970s afforded a space for feminist histories, but not so for gay and lesbian histories. At one level, this text documents the developing consciousness and political acumen of Johnston as she travels through majoritarian politics, but just as or more importantly, it documents and constructs a subterranean history of what she now terms the ‘First Wave of Lesbian Feminism’ (Johnston, 1998b). In this manner, the reader is tempted to see a double or parallel movement consisting of Johnston’s maturation alongside that of feminism. It is through her body that she retells the splits, ruptures and incommensurabilities of life in the movements for social change. Of course, reading the maturation of feminism along with that of Johnston is dangerous, for Johnston, like contemporary feminism, never grew up, and troubles the boundaries of acceptable behaviour. Johnston turns to writing to grasp the moment of performance, to retrieve it from the trap of heterosexual desire and the ephemerality of queer public life. Prominent in Johnston’s account of the Town Hall affair is her own status as a survivor and a warrior, and most desperately of all, a writer (1973:45–6). Johnston was not glorified for this disruption but instead was further shunned by not only the ‘old culture people’, who staged the debate, but also by women in the feminist movement (1973:6). Johnston was criticized for her style both in her written and bodily performances. Her practices were disruptive and personal, yet intimately political. The anecdote of the Town Hall debate serves as a context in which Johnston brings together not only the personal travails of her journey through ‘beatdom’ but also her conflicted relationship with both feminism and the gay liberation front. It is precisely in the interstices of these two movements that Johnston finds and constructs the space in which she may survive.27 The medium of her survival and the outlet for her rage and madness at the collective injustice perpetuated against women, especially lesbians, is writing and the struggle to be a writer. Johnston’s spectacular politics make being a writer a sought after goal, never quite obtainable, yet always in movement. Through writing the experience of individual madness can be articulated to a collective struggle. Additionally, the ephemerality of the event is at least momentarily arrested as Johnston creates new contexts, new histories and thus expands future possibilities.
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Post-hoc politics Johnston’s meta-commentary on the debate can only be made with the perfect hindsight produced by her politics of mobility. Only in her reinscription can she discuss the impossibility of the event: ‘women’s liberation is not a debatable issue’ (1973:20). She did acknowledge that the popular view was that women should not participate in the debate. However, her ‘low feminist consciousness and noninvolvement’ along with her belief that she was the one with the ‘true message and the style…to deliver it’ made her the perfect person to participate (1973:21). As she wants us to believe with her other disruptions, the politics of her attendance at, and disruption of, the Town Hall debate was not thought out in advance. Johnston believed herself invited as the token lesbian, especially since the debate was closely preceded by the publication of ‘Lois Lane is a Lesbian’, the Village Voice piece credited as Johnston’s ‘coming out’ essay.28 After recounting the process she went through to decide whether or not to participate, Johnston casts the invitation to participate as a real coup. She would have an audience comprised primarily of the cultural elite to listen to her hyperbolic claim that all women are lesbians. As she understood, ‘It isn’t every decade that the enemy invites the opposition right into its own camp to tell it off’ (1973:22). Even so, Johnston claims that she did not grasp this so much as politically significant but as personally significant. At the time, Johnston’s most radical contacts were the ‘radicalesbians’, and they let her know that they had done their lavender menace actions, which they found ineffectual.29 They recommended that, ‘the best thing to do was to retreat and get your own shit together and build lesbian nation from the grass roots out of your own community of women’ (1973:22). Johnston did not disagree, it was just that she thought that both disruptive actions aimed at the transformation of majoritarian life and the retreat should happen simultaneously. Johnston was in fact not a member of any organized group of either lesbians or feminists and instead was ‘still a flourishing free enterprising capitalistic individual and as such I could do what I wanted to do’ (1973:23). Her only collectivity was a loose group of friends who supported one another. Johnston argued that boycotting would not have stopped the event by providing a post hoc rational for participation, one that she had not yet developed at the time of the debate. This points to precisely why the publication of Lesbian Nation becomes so critical. In Lesbian Nation, Johnston reinscribed her practices and situated them within new contexts that allowed for the possibilities of mobility for women in a masculinist heterosexual culture. In many ways this book is not the documentation of an event, a politics, or a life, but a reinscription of all of these, which is in effect a new performance seeking to disrupt heteronormativity. Johnston turns to Valerie Solanas and the SCUM Manifesto for her belated analysis of the boycott:
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As Valerie Solanis (sic) said dropping out is not the answer; fucking up is. She said most women are already dropped out; they were never in. Dropping out gives control to those few who don’t drop out; dropping out is exactly what the establishment leaders want; it plays into the hands of the enemy; it strengthens the system instead of undermining it, since it is based entirely on the non-participation, passivity, apathy and non-involvement of the mass of women. Endquote. (1973:20)30 Just as quickly as Johnston reinscribed her participation in Town Hall with a politics derived from Solanas, she swerved, ‘I wish I could say I was thinking along these lines myself but I wasn’t. I was to be honest hardly thinking at all’ (1973:20). Johnston admits that if anything, she thought the whole ‘show’ was a bad idea for women, but she participated anyway. She claims, ‘as an exhibitionist in my own write it was a hard invitation to turn down…thus my position was merely that of a person in conflict over wanting to do something that a lot of other people disapproved of’ (1973:20). Johnston relished the configuration of the debate, ‘So here was a sick dirty dangerous lesbian appearing on the sacred puritan jewish territory and by their own invitation’ (1973:19). After providing a political logic to her participation, a ‘fuck you’ of sorts, Johnston pulled back from political strategy into the art of disruption. She wanted to be disapproved of and to see the looks of shock and disgust on the faces of the audience. The seduction of Lysistrata Johnston not only acknowledges the eroticization of the event, but also takes up that very eroticism and makes it move. With Norman Mailer, male culture hero of a nation, as the moderator, and Germaine Greer as exotic feminist from abroad, Johnston more aptly termed the debate a heterosexual love story—an allegory of the majoritarian culture and feminism. Mailer was the culture hero of a nation, Greer the exotic other, the beautiful foreign woman coming to the masculinist nation of ‘Amerika’, not to castrate male power, but to eroticize feminism. Men were tired of the US stock of feminist culture stars and needed new territory in which to prove their masculine prowess. Greer was billed ‘as a saucy feminist, one that even men could love’ (Johnston, 1973:34; Pollitt, 1995: 122). Feminism served as the ground for masculine pleasure and desire. This event served as sexual play, a flirtation with the male culture hero, with Mailer’s ‘The Prisoner of Sex’ providing the foreplay and Greer’s own rhetoric and body providing the eroticized space of feminism. In this event, Johnston figured as anomalous, representing noone, while Greer was the women’s representative (Johnston, 1973:34). Johnston was out of place, she felt ‘rented and excited’ (1973:32–3). She was the ‘culture star from the bowery and the bellevue’ (1973:19). Johnston represents not feminism but an individual lesbian of the time, the dirty, sick lesbian from below 43rd Street
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whose improvisational performances eluded any narrative containment. In her characterization of her participation in the debate, Johnston continually pushes at the bounds of the category ‘women’ and produces a displacement through the enactment of the ‘lesbian’. Johnston did not relate to the topic well. As a ‘realesbian’, her position as a victim or woman was relatively ‘like that of a ghetto minority to the center of action’ (1973:33). Childcare, abortion rights and equal pay are based on the greatest intimacy with the oppressor; hence Johnston believed they no longer affected her personally. In fact, her strategy was to ‘disengage from the oppressor such that these issues would no longer be issues but practical problems in a woman’s society’ (1973:33). Paradoxically, Johnston was one of the most ‘public’ of the figures involved in the politics of sexuality and gender. Johnston viewed this debate as the first shot of male retaliation against the ‘new’ wave of feminism. Feminism, a ‘movement for revolutionary social change’, was converted into an expensive ‘gladiatorial performance’. In this scenario, the event immediately accomplishes the liberation of women, through their ‘proper seduction’ (1973:25). Johnston unveiled the majoritarian logics, which inscribe heterosexual desire as the obligatory grounds of feminism and the feminist complaint (Berlant, 1988; Deem, 1996). Mailer and Greer readily complied with the demands of the event: Into a nuptial ceremony celebrating the amorous public encounter of the chief representatives of the warring factions: the educated goddess from abroad and the general of books and machismo at home. The warring parties found each other attractive. Here possibly was the essence of the reaction: the pacification of Lysistrata through the presentation of a trophy. The liberation of women is accomplished immediately by their proper seduction. The shining example of this couple would put an end to the feminist complaint. The angry feminists after all they needed was a good fuck might be a line you’d expect to find in the very article that brought us all together. (1973:25–6) Rather than comply with both the demands of the event and the logics of the complaint, Johnston attempted to interrupt the heterosexual love affair. Through the performance of lesbian sexuality, both in her speech and her erotic performance, the heterosexual drama was diverted through the bodily insertion in public space of a different modality of pleasure, one that could not be satiated by a masculinist seduction. Heterosexual desire was to have no power in the economy of lesbian sexuality. However, this disruption was not enough to transform the majoritarian public sphere: at most it was an interruption; as Johnston notes, she and her friends walked out, but left the marriage ceremony intact (1973:45–6). As the coverage of the debate demonstrated, even Johnston’s performance was cast
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within the erotics of masculine voyeuristic desire, only now desire for an erotic economy from which men have been remaindered. Along with establishing the heterosexual logics of the national political imaginary, Johnston uncovers the mechanisms, which discipline certain bodies through the improper and the inappropriate. The lesbian body had no proper place within the reserved public space that disciplined and marked as perverse those bodies not conforming to heterosexual designs. Occupying the position of the token, her place within discourse was questionable and her speech in its very utterance was inappropriate. The Theatre for Ideas was not the time to argue that all women are lesbians, and it was certainly not the place. ‘All women are lesbians’ could not be ‘tolerated’ or incorporated into the masculinist heterosexual economy. Not only was Johnston problematic for the majoritarian political imaginary, she was problematic for feminism. As she noted, feminism was not ready for her either. Johnston’s narrative takes account of the public ‘courtship’ between Mailer (masculine culture) and Greer (feminism) that followed the debate. Such an examination is critical for a recontextualization of the ceremony, which was left intact at Johnston’s departure. At the time of the debate, Greer was under the sway of heterosexual desire. Johnston claimed that Greer told her that she wanted to ‘fuck’ Mailer. Even so, Greer attempted to parody the event.31 She hyperfeminized her performance by wearing a long elegant gown and a fox stole. It didn’t work; only Johnston among the chroniclers of the debate understood the parody. Johnston herself had thought of different performances that might parody Mailer; however, she thought better of it. Parody would give too much honour to Mailer and the majoritarian culture, which he fronted. In this case, parody too easily fell prey to heterosexual logics. Johnston questioned the viability of a parodic politics, not just for the problems of intentionality, but also for the problems of audience and immobility. Parody underestimates the cunning logics of the majoritarian public sphere and its ability to contain the possibilities of minoritarian bodies. In this case, Greer’s hyperfemininity turned against her thereby containing her within rigid gender norms, which did not allow for movement. Her position centred the masculine figure and marginalized other women. As Johnston observed, Greer ‘displayed more interest in the convicted criminal than she did in her jury of peers her sisters’ (1973:38). In her Esquire article on the Town Hall debate, Greer continued to decentre Johnston when she described the participants. Eventually, however, she discussed Johnston’s ‘exquisite and outrageous poem’, as by far the most entertaining part of the event. Greer was not as flattering in her remarks on Johnston’s disruption, ‘if only the love scene at the end had not been quite such an anticlimax’ (Greer, 1971:214). Rather than taking account of the polemic attesting to women’s lesbian sexuality, Greer aestheticizes the speech and transforms Johnston’s manifestic rant into a beautiful piece of poetry. In this manner, rather than discuss the politics of the performance (both the speech and the disruption, including their aesthetic dimensions), Greer more femininely distances herself from the
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lesbian erotics and politics both by calling the performance scene ‘anticlimactic’ and by restricting herself to the aesthetic dimensions of the speech. Ironically, Greer joined forces with Mailer by mirroring his strategy of reducing feminism to a prose style and then measuring it for erotic effect. Unfortunately for Johnston, Mailer found the performance disgusting while Greer found it simply unsatisfying. Greer described the way in which the popular media cast this debate and the ensuing tensions between herself and Mailer into an erotic narrative of seduction. Even as she was able to comment on the erotic narrative, Greer was caught up in the story. She eventually discussed her hurt at being abandoned by Mailer when he lost interest and turned to other pursuits (Greer, 1971). After Greer realized the opportunism of Mailer, Johnston notes that she renounced her attraction and hence ‘the engagement was broken and the appetite of the criminal remained unappeased and feminism lives’ (Johnston, 1973:45). Yet, feminism only narrowly and momentarily escapes this seduction. Greer’s move was reactionary, she was rooted within a heterosexual matrix until Mailer lost interest and then as spurned lover she recanted, a discourse easily cast within the genre of the complaint. She was released, but only from Mailer’s grasp. The logics were still in place that condemned her and feminism to heterosexual hyperfemininity. Re-reading the criminal ‘The Prisoner of Sex’, by Mailer’s own account, was written in response to queries by a Time reporter regarding his status as ‘perhaps the primary target of their (women liberationists) attacks’ (Mailer, 1971:43). Johnston admits she had not even read Mailer’s text before the debate. However, she did read the Harper’s Magazines article after (Mailer, 1971) and engages it through a double movement. Johnston refutes ‘The Prisoner of Sex’ and the ensuing debate by depicting it in juridical terms with Mailer cast as the criminal, a play upon his self-nomination as the prisoner.32 She simultaneously inscribes Mailer’s rhetorical practices onto his masculine body by transforming his rhetoric of female degradation to one of male compulsion and misogyny. This double movement situates Lesbian Nation within a debate begun by Kate Millett in Sexual Politics and in the rhetorical lushness of the SCUM Manifesto. Johnston casts her critique in legal terms, which transforms ‘The Prisoner of Sex’ from the grounds for an anti-feminist attack to an indictment against the criminal. Johnston is able to interweave the scatological and the juridical into a powerful force against misogyny. Johnston found that Mailer’s article ‘was just a substantiation by quotes of his own work’ (1973:30). He cooperated by defending the masculine work that Millett ‘was exposing as sexually politically degrading to women’ (1973:30). Mailer affirmed Millett’s description of the male by embracing it as natural, with all the ‘glory to the male mystique and right up on the backs and into the cunts of women’ (1973:30). Johnston noted that it was a curious form of rebuttal to affirm that which he appeared to be countering. It is in Mailer’s rhetorical practices that he gathered
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even more evidence against himself. He in effect pleads ‘innocent using the evidence of the prosecution’ (1973:32). Just as problematic to Johnston was Mailer’s use of ‘feminist folk hero’, Valerie Solanas. He delved into her accusation that the male has ‘pussy envy’: ‘The accused somehow incorporates this notion beautifully into his elocunt plea for understanding how his pal miller has captured something in the sexuality of men as it had never been seen’ (1973:32). Quoting Mailer regarding men’s compulsion for sex, Johnston claims that these serve to illustrate ‘Valerie’s’ point. Mailer not only eroticizes feminism, he embraces the position of the hyperembodied male who is prisoner to his own physical drives. Mailer takes pleasure in the lushness and viscosity of his prose. Johnston makes the scatological move: she tosses it back at Mailer and the national political imaginary, not simply to expose, as did Millett in Sexual Politics (1970), but to play with and contaminate Mailer’s prose with the very lushness and corporeality of the scatological. Mailer embraced Solanas’s description of man’s obsession with sex with women, thereby affirming for Johnston the heterosexual dynamics of majoritarian culture. In this way, Mailer analyses feminism, not for liberatory possibilities, but for its ‘turn on’ potential for men. Johnston enters an argument begun by Millett. Millett indicts Mailer by reciting his own rhetoric and making selfevident the problems of his misogynistic discourse—Millett sought to make Mailer’s politics transparent. Mailer in turn embraces the scatological and turns this practice back upon Millett. Mailer claims that he has never read a text so obsessed with the male and yet learned so little about men from reading it (Mailer, 1971). Mailer was also able to cast the masculinist assessment onto Millett’s own body by containing her through the charge that she was an ‘unattractive woman’. Millett wrote like a ‘gossip columnist’ and a ‘night school lawyer’—definitely not a ‘turn on’ for a man such as Mailer. Johnston does what at first appears to be a similar strategy to Millet but, as she is apt to do, swerves away from the taken-for-granted transparency of Mailer’s misogyny. Johnston plays the scatological game with Mailer. She takes his own rhetorical practices and returns them to Mailer as an indictment of the position he and other men occupy. Mailer’s rhetorical practices, rather than depict women through the resident features of the masculinist imaginary, now are firmly attached to male physiology. In effect, she reclaims the scatological from Mailer by showing his intimate relation to it. However, Johnston was not unaware of the dangers of this strategy. She embeds the scatological and women’s ‘new’ access to it within a cultural milieu not always hospitable to women: ‘And by some neat turn that we didn’t know about the very black man we had emulated by example of our white brothers was a soul on ice whose prime fantasy was rape of the white woman’ (1973:43). This revolution allowed women to ‘use the lingo’ and have a good time but ultimately to receive the fringe benefits of a man’s revolution which meant more and better ‘women to fuck and more shit on the women’s heads for doing everything they always did as well as taking care of the new pleasure oriented freaks’ (1973:43). The male counterculture let women speak
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this scatological rhetoric and participate in their own violation.33 Mailer, ‘the first philosopher of hip’, lived in a milieu in which the beat poets were ‘misbehaving’, but it was a closed scene and women certainly weren’t able to participate (1973: 40). Johnston had recognized that by 1970 the ‘hipsters and hustlers of the left’ were the same ‘old wolves in new sheep’s clothing’ (1973:40). She turns to Solanas who she argued was very advanced to have recognized by 1967 that the commune and the left were about ‘all the free pussy’, for the male at least (1973: 41). Johnston transformed Mailer’s groveling in the corporeal lushness of male compulsion into an institutional critique (see Deleuze and Guattari, 1986). For Johnston, ‘The Prisoner of Sex’ was just another chapter in the old ‘war between the sexes’ with the critical difference that women are now making ‘this broadside attack on the entire heterosexual institution which they analyse as the root cause of all oppression or at least I do and many do I think see the sexism of the institution as its modus operandi’ (1973:30). However, the recalcitrance of ‘The Prisoner of Sex’ is evidenced by its contemporary purchase. What is even more alarming is that only Mailer is left with an enunciative position in this rearticulation; it is the women who have been elided. Of course, this recalcitrance should not be surprising. Johnston commented on the unseemliness of a convicted criminal being ‘offered the opportunity of presiding over a debate over the treatment of the victims of his crimes. Possibly women’s liberation was about reparations’ (1973:33). If women’s liberation is reduced to abortion rights, equal pay and childcare, Johnston feared that the imposition of a masculine moderator and the possibility of reparations was the best for which women could hope. Her message, rather than concerning reparations for male transgressions, concerned women in relation to women and hence had little chance with the over half male audience. Mailer’s position as moderator demonstrated the lie of feminism with its intimate connection to heteronormativity: The accused was perfectly right. I don’t know why the feminists were so upset. The accused had corroborated the testimony of the prosecution and the jury in the form of apparently thousands of literate people had swept down on the newsstands like a school of piranha to devour the evidence in every last issue of the march Harper’s magazine to regurgitate the verdict of guilty. (1973:33) Unfortunately, Johnston’s prediction was overly optimistic. Moving on While through Greer, feminism is condemned to the position of the wronged lover, Johnston moves on. She was an improper body, always inappropriate in majoritarian public space. Johnston took up this position and pushed it to its limits, she performed the improper and made it move. In both her speech and
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‘love making’, Johnston’s performances pushed a logic that had no place within the theatre of the debate. Johnston’s speech was belated, always ‘too soon, too late’ with ‘never a moment of eventfulness’ (Morris, 1994). Having left the stage and the heterosexual dynamic firmly in place, it was up to Johnston’s reinscription to produce a moment of possibility for change in a movement ‘not to be won overnight’ (Morris, 1994). After articulating a politics through her practice of reinscription she backs away from any proper reading of her performance. Town Hall became just another event, another space of disruption. She reins in any set politics by reinscribing her practice as the ‘improbable art of public nuisance’ in the service of ‘chaos and corruption’. If there was any purpose to this politics it would be ‘to stop all the polite chatter and see the faces register amazement or disgust or something behind the tin foil masks at the disturbance in the trees, I dunno, I could say other things about this mode of inspiring social change’ (Johnston, 1973:39). Johnston’s reinscription produced the very possibility of the performance to effect social change. Often, as in the following, Johnston slips into the third person in a rhetorical move that decentres her from the narrative: She came pleased enough to think that,as David Dalton said of Janis Joplin, her presence seemed to corrode everything other people took for granted and that to approach too closely meant the possibility of some kind of personal detonation. (1973:45) Infusing her performances with a corrosive effect offers an important insight. Rather than depict the politics of the performance as revolutionary, in the sense of overthrowing the institutional logics and structures of the ‘male corporation’, she inscribes them with a different temporality for social change. These performances seep inside and eat away at the majoritarian logics, possibly producing new opportunities for women. Johnston’s ability to reinscribe social change is related to the collectivity of her erotic performance. The hazardous terrain of the majoritarian landscape is traversed as Johnston connects the various positions women have occupied through an appropriation of Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’: She came both as a celebrant and as a victim of the second wave of the beat generation. She came as one who had seen the best women of her generation destroyed by madmen, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix. She came as a warrior in the ginnunga gab wearing arm or of faded denims and rose patches.… She came bringing libations of coffee-to-go and baby bottle of martini in honor of the resurrection of Amazon Nation. She came as a survivor of the dark ages of her own submission. She came thinking she was beautiful and all that and she came. (1973:45)
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What grounds this politics, at one level is a practice that interrupts or stops the polite, decorous and insidious norms, which constitute the social. However, even this reading is pulled away from as Johnston lists other possible readings then pulls away from them, producing a practice concerned with multiple entries and possibilities for her performances. Ultimately, Johnston enjoys her own disruptions and its corrosive effects, ‘Like Janis said of herself…the lights, cameras, and I was standing up there singing into this microphone and getting it on, and whew! I dug it’ (1973:45). Pleasure and Johnston’s centring of herself is crucial for her; only as long as her performances remain spectacular can the possibilities of a politics of reinscription matter. Johnston writes that after she left the stage, she was informed that Mailer asked what she was planning to do with the ninety percent of the population that were not gay or lesbian. Rather than directly answer the question, Johnston swerves. In her Voice column, she tells Mailer that his own performance had actually enlarged her constituency. Even though Mailer did not recognize it, he was through: the women are on their way and the next town hall is gonna be an international convention of the Amazon generals and lieutenants to discuss what should be done if anything to alleviate the suffering of the males who survived the holocaust of stag nation and are no longer fit to assume any leading responsibilities. (1973:38)34 However, it is Mailer who gets the last word. It is the criminal who is called upon to judge not only feminism but also the twentieth century (Wolcott, 1996; American Masters, 2000). Resuscitating feminist histories Johnston’s form of personal writing should not be articulated to a politics of testimony or female witnessing, which reinscribes the violences done to women daily (Deem, 1996). Instead, Johnston’s is a politics of adroitness that attempts to somehow evade the traps and discursive pitfalls ever present in the majoritarian public sphere as well as in the molar dogmas of the movements for social change. She was not an activist in the 1960s and early 1970s sense (a programmatic regimen for political action did not guide her practices) but in a more experimental and improvisational sense. Johnston’s critical performances undercut her separatist polemics. Her place in history, while often non-existent, is one of the outsider, the extreme. My aim has been to reinscribe Johnston, as a minor figure, into narratives of the second wave. I do this, not by subsuming her practices within these narratives or by making her central to the women’s movement, but by demonstrating that it is not necessary to be contained in the molar logics of feminist history to have everything to do with the movement of women in the late twentieth century. Her politics was not about the creation or
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preservation of the private, as in dominant modes of civil rights rhetoric, but was concerned with no less than the reconfiguration of the political through corrosive practices. Johnston can, in many ways, be seen as a precursor to contemporary political formations around the politics of gender and sexuality that have, in certain cases, moved beyond a civil rights model of minority rights to a disruptive, transgressive politics aimed not at private rights, but at the transformation of the very political and semi-political spaces that relegate sexuality to the accidental within notions of agency, citizenship and political will (especially noteworthy are the practices of such groups as Queer Nation, Bitch Nation and the Lesbian Avengers). The practices of these groups are abrasive and confront majoritarian politics by targeting the assumptions which allow this space to operate in a painfully cramped way for certain bodies variously marked by race, gender and sexuality. Berlant and Freeman (1992) term this a form of critical pedagogy around gay visibility. Making the shunned, shamed body of perverse desire visible within a spectral culture, which not only devalues but which is structured upon the symbolic, discursive and physical violence perpetuated upon bodies marked by ‘perverse’ sexuality, is a risky form of pedagogy. These contemporary politics are saturated with scatological rhetorics and indecorous acts which disrupt the democratic fantasy of a bounded political space operating upon and through abstract logics of speech and citizenship. Interestingly, given these politics, depictions of contemporary feminism in the mass mediated public sphere are not replete with threatening, confrontative or strong feminists or women. Instead, contemporary feminism is juvenilized and contained through the commodification of ‘Girl Power’. These depictions produce powerful ‘girls’ and incompetent women as the representatives of feminism in the USA. In order to produce these images, processes of cultural amnesia structure the mass mediated public sphere in such a way that cultural memory functions along masculinist logics which eroticize, tame and elide the multiple practices of feminists and queer politics within the political. As demonstrated through Wolcott and Mailer, men function as both the audience and judge of feminism. Unfortunately, judgment functions through a masculinist erotic economy through which feminism gains cultural cache by allowing itself to be seduced and rendered palatable through the figure of the magical and powerful girl or the ‘kittenish’ woman. I am not arguing here for a lineage from Johnston to these more contemporary practices. Instead through the logic of contagion, one can note the infectious nature of particular political practices. One must also note their ephemerality and it is for this reason that Johnston’s practices become so important. Through her work we can gain some understanding of the manner in which disruptive and outrageous political acts can be imbued with a context that produces ‘even a moment of eventfulness’ (Morris, 1994). Through her performances and politics of reinscription, a better understanding of the connections between masculinist desire and cultural memory can be
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developed. Even though Johnston in many ways travelled alone, her politics occupied and articulated a collective condition. Her practices, as I have argued, produce an experimental history for feminism, one not based on an uninterrogated or dislocated category of experience (Scott, 1992), but upon a very specifiable and located experience to be deployed against historical narratives which render certain bodies mute or deviant. This practice, even if only provisionally, can interrupt the practices of cultural memory which privilege the discursive practices of masculine agents. Feminism is more often an object of vilification and derision within the popular. This is not to argue that there are not feminists actively publishing and speaking in the public sphere. It is instead to argue that a broader understanding of the conditions that allow feminism to circulate within US public culture is necessary. This is especially true given the barrage of discourses that now seek to define, discipline and lay to rest US feminism. The expansion of the field of references for feminism within the public sphere is critical. Johnston is a contemporary figure, which as the forever-juvenile ‘trickster’ has resisted the discourses heralding feminism’s death. Through an examination of her politics of reinscription, mobility and interstatiality much can be learned for future political practices. The ephemerality of politics in the public sphere can be momentarily revived in order to create a performative disruption in presently calcified and calcifying histories of feminism. Not only is ephemerality revived, but also new contexts for reading events, acts and histories are created. Through this reinscriptive politics, mobility is produced which can at particular moments escape the death sentence of molar politics with new understandings of eventfulness and change. History from this perspective is not filiative: it is contagious and corrosive and always open to multiple lines of investigation and articulation for future possibilities. Her politics would not be complete without the ability to cut across the dominant logics of histories and movements and produce something other than the taken for granted. This interstitiality is crucial in producing new contexts. I think it is worth reiterating Morris’ argument that doing critical historical work extracts ‘a parable of practice that converts them into models with a past and a potential for reuse, thus aspiring to invest them with a future’ (1973:3). Unfortunately, the disciplining of female bodies and discursive practices, which Johnston has fought so powerfully against still continues. Thus is the importance of a provisional politics that understands the need for reinscription and mobility. It is not Johnston’s or the collective enunciation of feminism called forth by cultural memory. Instead, it is men like Wolcott and Mailer, who stand in judgment of women and their discourse through heteronormative practices that centre masculine desire and render the female as pubescent and supplicant to male pleasure. The recalcitrance of the male body (Miller, 1998) is stupefying as it travels in magistrative robes to yet again sentence women and feminism.
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Acknowledgements I would like to acknowledge the helpful comments by Dilip Gaonkar, Jill Johnston, Christopher Kamrath, Herman Grey, Kyra Pearson, the reviewers at Cultural Studies and the participants at the Counter Cultures/Counter Publics Conference at Northwestern University and the Sociology Colloquium at the University of California, Santa Cruz. I also want to acknowledge the invaluable research assistance provided by Kathryn Cady. Notes 1 Even though ‘Girl Power’ may have developed with a radical edge, it has now become safe. Interestingly, these discourses intersect the overt hypercriminalization of ‘youth’ in the USA in what has been termed an ‘age of delinquency’ (Siebert, 2000). The dominance of the ‘Bad Girl’ figures in disturbing ways with the criminalization of especially minority youth while the unmarked Girl escapes such punishments. 2 Molar is the position and organization of the dominant. At one level, molar can be thought of as certain dominant organizing logics of feminism such as sisterhood, female oppression and female consubstantiality. The molar and molecular are not strictly opposed, but function simultaneously and refer to different organizational codes.The molecular is a line of decoding, more akin to a becoming, while the molar is a more normative or reining force (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987). 3 Paradoxically, he both argues that she is not really a feminist and that her writing is the logical outcome of feminism. 4 Ironically, when analyzing Dowd’s coverage of Clinton’s 1995 address in Germany to American troops preparing to be deployed in Bosnia, Wolcott accuses her of measuring Clinton in erotic terms. Wolcott argues that, ‘Clinton’s sin seems to be not that he is a failed President but that he is an erratic performer. He doesn’t quite satisfy her’ (1996:59). 5 Town Bloody Hall is a film of the event (Carr, 1993; Greer, 1971 talks of the copyright fights over the film). 6 Neither Lesbian Nation nor Jill Johnston is mentioned in feminist histories such as Evans (1979) and Castro (1990). Echols (1989) mentions her and her Voice column as a side figure to the feminist debate over Salle. The only anthology of the period, which includes work by Johnston, is Amazon Expedition: A lesbian feminist anthology. Not incidentally, Johnston was one of the editors of the volume. Faderman’s important lesbian history, Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers (1991) mentions Johnston only in relation to a cover of Library Journal that features Johnston after the publication of Lesbian Nation. She is not even discussed in connection with the chapter entitled ‘Lesbian Nation’ in the book. Johnston is similarly left out of lesbian and gay anthologies. Katie King’s (1994) influential essay ‘Lesbianism: feminism’s magical sign’ does not even footnote Johnston. Michelangelo Signorile’s Queer in America: Sex, The Media, and the Closets of Power (1993), a book on the outing of homosexual public figures, ignores Johnston and her writings on outing. The House that jill Built: A Lesbian Nation in Formation (Ross, 1995) documents the development and decline of a lesbian community in Toronto. Surprisingly, given
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the title, which plays with a line from the Town Hall debate, Jill Johnston is never mentioned in the book. More recently, Crow (2000) has included two works by Johnston in her anthology, Radical Feminism. Straight News: Gays, Lesbians, and the News Media by Edward Alwood (1996) credits Johnston with not only being a media spectacle but also with being the first lesbian to out herself in the media. One notable exception is Paglia (1997), who argues in a recent Chronicle article that Johnston’s trickster antics and sexual politics in the 1960s are the precursor of her kind of feminism. Besides placing Johnston’s feminist political spectacles in the wrong decade, Paglia practices a politics completely at odds with that of Johnston that I articulate in this essay. The other notable exception that is much more interesting is Parker et al.’s Nationalisms and Sexuality (1992), which discusses the linkage between the nation and the mother. Lesbian Nation is indicted as an ‘unironic use of the nation’, while Monique Wittig is cited for her ironic rewriting of ‘history in a female-only world of mothers and amazons’ (1992:7). These authors seem unaware of the genealogy constructed by Johnston or her performative and discursive politics. Banes (1994) writes about Johnston’s impact on modern dance criticism (1957– 1965) and specifically discusses her prose style as mimetic of experimental dance. Lesbian Nation went out of print in 1993. Other important second wave texts, which are out of print, include Amazon Odyssey by Ti-Grace Atkinson, Mothers and Amazons by Helen Diner, Out Blood and Right Wing Women by Andrea Dworkin, and Woman’s Estate by Juliet Mitchell (Carr, 1993). Molar is the position and organization of the dominant. The molar and molecular are not strictly opposed, but function simultaneously and refer to different organizational codes. The molecular is a line of decoding, more akin to a becoming, while the molar is a more normative or reining force (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987). In 1955, Johnston wrote her first piece for Art News where she became a critic and columnist from 1959 to 1965. During this time, she was also a columnist for the Village Voice (1959–1978) and a critic for Art in America (1983–1987). Besides Lesbian Nation, she has published numerous books including Marmalade Me (1971), Gullibles Travels (1974), Mother Bound (1983; volume 1 of Autobiography In Search of a Father) and Paper Daughter (1985; volume 2 of Autobiography in Search of a Father), Secret Lives in Art (1994) and Jasper Johns: Privileged Information (1996). She has published in such venues as On The Issues: The Progressive Women’s Magazine, Art Forum and Queer Representations: Reading Lives, Reading Cultures (Duberman, 1997). Johnston has just finished a manuscript, Write First, Then Live, which chronicles her escapades within feminism (Johnston, 1998b). As previously noted, the spring of 1998 saw the publication of Admission Accomplished: The Lesbian Nation Years and the reissuance of Marmalade Me. Admission Accomplished is comprised of a new introduction and selected writings from both Lesbian Nation and Gullibles Travels. Importantly, this publication centres on her more political writings that have not received recent attention. Zimmerman (1995) critiques the dogma and universalism of Lesbian Nation through a reference to its subtitle, The Feminist Solution. While it is clearly problematic to ever posit one solution for such a diverse and complex formation, Zimmerman fails to offer any reading of the text or Johnston’s performances. These remarks presciently bring up the tension between essentialism and constructivism and the interdependence between these explanatory schemas. See
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Fuss (1989), Anderson (1992), and the special issue of differences (1989, 1(2)) devoted to questions of essentialism. See Honig (1993) for a discussion of remainders within the context of political theory. The remainders can be seen as that which cannot be contained within normative discourses. In an interview with Bonnie Zimmerman (1995), Susan Sayer argues that Lesbian Nation is implicated in a debate over the criteria of membership and inclusion in the lesbian community. However, this is done with neither an historical discussion of the circulation of Lesbian Nation or an analysis of the text. Banes (1994) discussed the categories and development of Johnston’s prose style in her dance criticism from 1955–1968. Gloria Steinem discounted the political impact or effectivity of Johnston’s writing by relegating it to the genre of fiction and hence rendering her prose innocuous to women in the movement. See Deleuze and Guattari (1987) and Grosz (1994) for a discussion of the body and machinic assemblages, which create a body beyond the physiological body of the human. Greer was coming to the USA in the wake of the publication of her widely read and discussed The Female Eunuch (1970). The text of the speech was later published in the Village Voice and Lesbian Nation as ‘On a Clear Day You Can See Your Mother’ (1971). The politics of the outrageous were omnipresent at the time of the Town Hall debate. See Herman Gray’s (2000) ‘Cultural politics as outrageous’ for an examination of the outrageous and racial politics. Johnston optimistically claimed that in 1973, at the time of the publication of Lesbian Nation, a man would neither be allowed to moderate a panel on women’s liberation nor stop a woman from speaking in public. Greer similarly discusses the commodification of this event. Mailer commissioned the filming of the debate and attempted to gain exclusive rights to the transcripts. Greer, however, tied Mailer up in legal battles over these rights that prevented the distribution of the film. Greer claims that ‘All that remains of his title fight with the women is a hundred and twenty quarto pages of transcript and a few reels of film which no one has any right to use. And there let it rest. “When the revolution comes it will not be on television. It will be live”. Mailer won’t be there, and no will miss him’ (Greer, 1971:216). More accurately, the women won’t be there, while Mailer lives on in the national political imaginary through The Prisoner of Sex’ (1971). While discussions of the debate did appear in the New York papers, it was still largely an East Coast urban phenomena. Johnston recounts her experience of telling the story to an audience in Oakland in 1972. No one seemed to know what she was talking about and as Johnston notes, ‘some of us were under the impression that it was an intergalactic event’ (Johnston, 1973:23). The cover of the Village Voice (6 May 1971) had two photos, one of Greer and Mailer in the midst of a seemingly intimate discussion and the other of Jill Johnston in the embrace of an ‘admirer’. Unfortunately, this essay, which provides a detailed analysis of the Town Hall debate, is not included in Admission Accomplished (1998). In fact, Carr (1993) discusses Johnston as not only emblematic of the gay—straight split that is so reified in feminist history but also of the gay—gay split over the
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30 31 32
question of separatism. Webb (1973) similarly situates Johnston within the gay— straight split that she argued ripped sisterhood apart. The history of the lesbian feminist split has much to say to the more contemporary debates over the differences and antagonism between queer theory and feminist theory (see special issue of differences , ‘More Gender Trouble’). Johnston claims that several of the essays she refers to and/or reprints in Lesbian Nation are her coming out essay. Importantly, each one of them is marked by their rhetorical features. Each of the essays as she accounts for them in the text, is progressively bolder, transparent and angry while exhibiting less shame. Alwood (1996) credits Johnston as being the first lesbian to come out in the media. Lavender Menace actions were disruptions of the heteronormative events of women’s liberation groups by lesbians, who would amass in the audiences. While many of these actions were successful in bringing the issue of sexuality to the forefront of feminist debates, they ultimately were seen as unsuccessful mechanisms of change within the movement. The gay—straight split that has been mythologized in feminism became particularly fraught around these actions. By the time Johnston disrupted the Town Hall debate, the Lavender Menace was not an active political strategy. Solanas harassed and wrote death threats to Johnston for misspelling her name (Johnston, 1998b). See Butler (1990) for a discussion of parody. Johnston continually refers to Mailer as the criminal. The criminal serves both as a refusal of Mailer’s prisoner status in relation to heterosexual desire and female degradation and a mark of Mailer’s violent stabbing of one of his wives (Johnston, 1973). Johnston’s insight is critical, given the self-conscious use of scatological rhetorics by feminists of this period. SCUM was inscribed by Solanas’s contemporaries within a tradition of rage emanating from the black power movement. In this passage, Johnston is referring to Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice (1968). While not cited by Johnston, Solanas seems to lurk behind this position. For Solanas, those men that accepted their position would be allowed to watch monitors of SCUM in their new society. As with Johnston, this was an act of compassion to those males left after the female nation became a reality.
References Ai-Mei (1971) ‘OPHUC’. The Village Voice, 17 June: 4. Alwood, Edward (1996) Gays, Lesbians, and the News Media. New York: Columbia University Press. American Masters: Mailer on Mailer (2000) Dir. Richard Copans and Stan Neuman, Reciprocal Films and Films d’Ici. Anderson, Amanda (1992) ‘Cryptonormativism and the double gestrue: the politics of poststructuralism’. Cultural Critique, 21 (spring):63–96. Banes, Sally (1994) Writing Dancing in the Age of Postmodernism. Hanover: Wesleyan University Press. Bellefante, Ginia (1998) ‘Feminism: it’s all about me’. Time, 29 June 1998:54–60. Berlant, Lauren (1988) ‘The female complaint’. Social Text, 7(1–2):237–57.
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Berlant, Lauren and Freeman, Elizabeth (1992) ‘Queer nationality’. Boundary, 19(1): 149– 80. Berlant, Lauren and Warner, Michael (1998) ‘Sex in public’. Critical Inquiry, 24(2): 547– 66. Braidotti, Rosi (1991) Patterns of Dissonance: A Study of Women in Contemporary Philosophy. New York: Routledge. Braudy, Susan (1975) ‘Stalking the wild Jill Johnston’. Ms., 4(5):80–2, 122–6. Bronstein, Lynne (1971) ‘The lady vanquishes’. The Village Voice, 29 July 1971 :4, 57. Brown, Janelle (1998) ‘Is Time brain dead?’ Salon, 25 June 1998. Available online: http:// www.salon.com/media/1998/06/25media.html Butler, Judith (1990) Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge. Carr, C. (1993) ‘Birth of a nation: Jill Johnston’s trickster visions’. Village Voice Literary Supplement, October 1993:15. Castro, Ginette (1990) American Feminism A Contemporary History. Trans. Elizabeth Loverde-Bagwell. New York: New York University Press. Cleaver, Eldridge (1968) Soul on Ice. New York: McGraw-Hill. CNN/Time (1998) Newsstand, 20 September. Crow, Barbara (2000) Radical Feminism: A Documentary History. New York: New York University Press. Davidson, Sara (1973) ‘Foremothers’. Esquire, July:71–5, 154–62. Deem, Melissa (1996) ‘From Bobbitt to SCUM: re-memberment, scatological rhetorics, and feminist strategies in the contemporary United States’. Public Culture, 8(3):511– 37. —— (1999) ‘Scandal, heteronormative culture and the disciplining of feminism’. Critical Studies in Mass Communication, 16(1): 89–93. —— (2001) ‘The scandalous fall of feminism and the “first black president”’. In T.Miller (ed.) A Companion to Cultural Studies. New York: Blackwell, 407–29. Deleuze, Gilles, and Guattari, Felix (1987) A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Dillard, Dahl (1971a) ‘Sex makes strange bedfellows’. The Village Voice, 10 June 1971: 4, 18. —— (1971b) ‘Female chauvinist sow’. The Village Voice, 29 April 1971:82. Duberman, Martin (1997) ‘On the beginnings of lesbian literature in the United States; a symposium with Maria Irene Fornes, Bertha Harris, Lisa Kennedy, and Barbara Smith’. In his (ed.) Queer Representations: Reading Lives, Reading Cultures. New York: New York University Press, 347–55. Echols, Alice (1989) Daring to Be Bad: Radical Feminism in America 1967–1975. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Evans, Sarah (1979) Personal Politics. New York: Vintage Books. Faderman, Lilian (1991) Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in TwentiethCentury America. New York: Columbia University Press. Felski, Rita (1989) Beyond Feminist Aesthetics: Feminist Literature and Social Change. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Fraser, Nancy (1992) ‘Rethinking the public sphere: a contribution to the critique of actually existing democracy’. In Craig Calhoun (ed.) Habermas and the Public Sphere. Cambridge, MA and London: MIT Press, 109–42.
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Fuss, Diana (1989) Essentially Speaking: Feminism, Nature, and Difference. New York: Routledge. Gardiner, Judith Kegan (2000) ‘Masculinity, the teening of America, and empathic targeting’. Signs, 25(4):1257–61. Gray, Herman (2000) ‘Cultural politics as outrageous’. Renaissance Noire, 94–101. Greer, Germaine (1970) The Female Eunuch. London: MacGibbon & Kee. —— (1971) ‘My Mailer problem’. Esquire, 76(3):92–3, 214–6. Grosz, Elizabeth (1994) Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. —— (2000) ‘Histories of a feminist future’. Signs, 25(4):1017–21. Hayman, Jane (1975) ‘Revolt of the loyal opposition’. The Nation, 12 November 1975: 506–8. Hirshberg, Lynn (1999) ‘Desperate to seem 16’. The New York Times Magazine, 5 September 1999:42–9, 74, 76–9. Honig, Bonnie (1993) Political Theory and the Displacement of Politics. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Johnston, Jill (1971) Marmalade Me. New York: E.P.Dutton & Co. —— (1973) Lesbian Nation: The Feminist Solution. New York: Simon and Schuster. —— (1974) Gullibles Travels. New York: Links Books. —— (1983) Mother Bound: Autobiography in Search of a Father. New York: Knopf. —— (1985) Paper Daughter: Autobiography in Search of a Father Vol. II. New York: Knopf. —— (1993) ‘Fictions of the self in the making’. New York Times Book Review, 25 April 1993:1, 29–33. —— (1994) Secret Lives in Art: Essays on Art, Literature, Performance. Chicago: Chicago Review Press. —— (1996) Jasper Johns: Privileged Information. New York: Thames and Hudson. —— (1997) ‘Write first, then live’. In Martin Duberman (ed.) Queer Representations: Reading Lives, Reading Cultures. New York: New York University Press, 343–6. —— (1998a) Admission Accomplished: The Lesbian Nation Years 1970–75. London: Serpent’s Tail. —— (1998b) Interview. Kaurin, Briger (1971) ‘Fetch a pail of water’. The Village Voice, 20 May 1971:4. Keiper, Anne (1971) ‘Amiss understanding’. The Village Voice, 10 June 1971:4. King, Katie (1994) Theory in its Feminist Travels: Conversations in US Women’s Movements. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. Lichtenberg, Margaret (1971) ‘Theater for bullies’. The Village Voice, 20 May 1971:4. Mailer, Norman (1971) ‘The prisoner of sex’. Harper’s Magazine, 242(1450): 41–92. Miller, Toby (1995) The Well-Tempered Self: Citizenship, Culture, and the Postmodern Subject. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press. —— (1998) Technologies of Truth: Cultural Citizenship and the Popular Media. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Millett, Kate (1970) Sexual Politics. Garden City, NY: Doubleday. Morris, Meaghan (1984) ‘Identity anecdotes’. Camera Obscura, 12:41–65. —— (1988) ‘Banality in cultural studies’. Discourse X.(2):3–29. —— (1994) ‘“Too soon too late”: reading Claire Johnston, 1970–1981’. In C. Moore (ed.) Dissonance: Feminism and the Arts, 1970–1990. St. Leonard’s, New South Wales: Allen and Unwin, 126–38.
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—— (1998) Too Soon Too Late: History in Popular Culture. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. Morton, Frederick (1971) ‘A sex moratorium’. The Village Voice, 17 June 1971:29, 58. Paglia, Camille (1997) ‘Academic feminists must fulfill their noble, animating ideal’. Chronicle of Higher Education, 25 July 1997:B4-B5. Parker, Andrew, Russo, Mary, Sommer, Doris and Yaeger, Patricia (1992) ‘Introduction’. In their (eds) Nationalisms and Sexualities. New York: Routledge, 1–20. Pollitt, Katha (1995) Reasonable Creatures. New York: Knopf. Prose, Francine (2000) ‘A wasteland of one’s own’. The New York Times Magazine, 13 February 2000:66–71. Roof, Judith (1995) ‘How to satisfy a woman every time’. In Diane Elam and Robyn Wiegman (eds) Feminism Beside Itself. New York: Routledge, 55–69. Rosenzweig, Jane (1999) ‘Ally McBeal’s younger sisters’. The American Prospect, 23 November 1999:62–4. Ross, Becki (1995) The House That Jill Built: A Lesbian Nation in Formation. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. Scott, Joan (1992) ‘Experience’. In Judith Butler and Joan W.Scott (eds), Feminists Theorize the Political. New York: Routledge, 22–40. Shenker, Israel (1971) ‘Norman Mailer vs.Women’s Lib’. NewYork Times, 1 May 1981: 19. Siebert, Charles (2000) ‘Sentenced to nature’. NewYork Times Magazine, 17 December 2000:56–61. Signorile, Michelangelo (1993) Queer in America: Sex, the Media and the Closets of Power. New York: Random House. Snitow, Ann (1990) ‘A gender diary’. In Marianne Hirsh and Evelyn Fox Keller (eds) Conflicts in Feminism. Routledge: New York, 9–43. Snowden, Lynn (1999) ‘Calista bites back’. George, May 1999:68–73, 106. Webb, Marilyn (1973) ‘The self that Jill built’. The Village Voice, 31 May 1973:27–8. Wolcott, James (1996) ‘Hear me purr: Maureen Dowd and the rise of postfeminist chick lit’. The New Yorker, 20 May 1996:54–9. Zimmerman, Bonnie (1995) ‘From lesbian nation to queer nation’. Interviewed by Susan Sayer. Hecate, 21(2): 29–43.
CULTURAL STUDIES 17(5) 2003, 579–614
THE ROMANTIC SELF AND THE POLITICS OF INTERNET COMMERCIALIZATION
Abstract This essay looks at some examples of ways that certain pre-existing imaginary forms of ‘selfhood’ have been culturally mapped onto historically pivotal moments in the Internet’s development. It focuses less on how technologies have shaped culture than on the reverse: on certain ways that culture has shaped society’s embrace of the Internet. What the Internet is and will come to be, the essay suggests, is partly a matter of who we expect to be when we sit down to use it. Specifically, it looks at two key examples of ways that certain pre-existing imaginary forms of selfhood—ways of understanding oneself as a self—have been culturally mapped onto historically pivotal moments in the Internet’s development: the initial explosion of the Internet in the early 1990s and its supporting ethos exemplified by Wired magazine, and the Open Source Movement in the late 1990s. The essay suggests that significant parts of the culture of computing have been not only individualist, but also composed of two distinct if intertwined strands of individualism, romantic and utilitarian, and that their difference has political significance. Like its ancestor, the 1960s counterculture, the case of the computer culture suggests that romantic individualism stands in a tangential relation to capitalist property relations (and the utilitarian ‘I’ they imply), sometimes working in concert with markets and privatization, as was the case in the early 1990s, and sometimes working to call them into question, as was the case towards the end of the 1990s. Keywords computers; Internet; identity; culture; open source; romanticism WHO ARE YOU WHEN, on an ordinary day, you use the Internet? Are you a technician? A manager? A citizen? A consumer? An artist? Are you looking for
Cultural Studies ISSN 0950–2386 print/ISSN 1466–4348 online © 2003 Taylor & Francis Ltd http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals DOI: 10.1080/0950238032000126865
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the familiar, or are you hoping to be surprised? Are you trying to control something, to reaffirm who you are, or are you hoping for some selftransformation? The notion that computers are in some sense identity machines has generated a lively body of discussion, often inflected with postmodern enthusiasms.1 Yet, experiments with online gender-bending and the like should not encourage us to succumb to the notion that computers provide a world apart, that they create a separate sphere of social relations. As fascinating as the more radical instances of identity play can be, even these experiments are taking place, not exclusively within the ‘world’ of the Internet, but within a history and social relations in which networked computers play a part. And the vast majority of computer use— functionally speaking, computers remain to this day largely a kind of office machine—involves practices that are considerably less dramatic but perhaps tied to deeper currents in the culture.2 This essay, then, focuses not on radically new identities enabled by computers but on identities that people have brought to computers from the culture at large. It focuses less on how computer technology has shaped culture than on the reverse —on certain ways that culture has shaped society’s embrace of the Internet. Specifically, it looks at two key examples of ways that certain pre-existing imaginary forms of selfhood—ways of understanding oneself as a self—have been culturally mapped onto historically pivotal moments in the Internet’s development: the initial explosion of the Internet in the early 1990s, and the Open Source Movement in the late 1990s. Most of the literature along these lines has focused on the computer culture’s tendency towards a naive abstract individualism or libertarianism, towards a view of selves as naturally and preferentially isolated and autonomous. Paulina Borsook (2000) has argued in Cyberselfish, for example, that this abstract individualism often aligns itself with a myopia towards social conditions, and with the conventional conservative notion of freedom as purely negative, as freedom from, not freedom to. And she and others have expressed concern that the Internet and the related institutions of the ‘new economy’ became associated with an avoidance of the political, of interconnectedness, of the unpredictability and unknowability of relations with others that comes from being social creatures (Ullman, 1999). Indeed, beginning in the early 1980s, as the computer became a symbol of what is good about the market in many a policymaking mind around the globe, a powerful fusion between the computer culture and neo-liberalism, the global enthusiasm for markets and privatization, was forged.
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Yet, the nature of this fusion should not be oversimplified. Indeed, for some, playing with a computer in fact has come to feel like an escape into another, more autonomous world, into a kind of freedom. But it is probably not coincidental that this feeling happens to mostly white, mostly male, mostly educated and middle- and upper-middle class people in the USA. How a culture comes to associate a shared experience—the dreamlike isolation of web surfing, say, or the more obsessive, out-of-time absorption of programming—with a political philosophy like abstract individualism is clearly complex. Gender is a factor, for example. Software engineer Ellen Ullman (1996) has explored what she calls ‘a male sort of loneliness that adheres in programming’. Yet, she hints at the layers of complexity in the phenomenon when she quips, ‘Fifteen years of programming, and I’ve finally learned to take my loneliness like a man’. This essay addresses some of the complexity of the association between computer networks and individualism by suggesting that it is composed of two distinct strands, romantic and utilitarian, and that their difference has political significance. In particular, it calls attention to the importance of the romantic individualism, which holds that people are inherently expressive and selftransforming, and on the tension between this form of selfhood and the utilitarian, market-oriented one that assumes that people are rational and utility maximizing. It looks at the role of the romantic self in the expansion of the Internet and the Open Software Movement, partly because these two events have been significant in the development of the contemporary global economy and partly because they indicate the conflicting directions in which this cultural pattern can operate. Romantic and utilitarian ‘forms of selfhood’, as I use the phrase, are forms, not types of individuals. They are discursive patterns embedded in institutions and historical processes that become available to individuals as ways of making sense of who they are in given contexts. They are longstanding varieties of what John Frow (1997:187) has called ‘the imaginary forms of selfhood through which we experience the world and our relation to it’. One never simply is a utilitarian or romantic self. Rather, most of us find it necessary or useful to adopt roles, to think and speak of ourselves in various established ways, at various moments in our lives. We often have to think of ourselves, for example, as alternately passionate and as administrators, one moment as caring individuals and the next as selfinterested rational actors in a marketplace and after that as competent professionals with resumes. ‘Imaginary forms of selfhood’, then, are not fully-fledged ‘identities’, nor are they complete or determinate in some kind of mechanical way. They are plural and fluid, but not infinitely so; there are typically several forms available to any given individual in any given context, and it is possible, and probably sometimes necessary, to move between them.3 We all regularly negotiate the tensions inherent in this situation in our own ways, of course, but the contingencies of social process and history provide us a shifting set of available strategies for accomplishing that negotiation.
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The case of computers and the Internet provide an example of ways that the historical contingencies of selfhood can have material consequences. Just as the history of books is also the history of reading, the history of computers is also a history of the social context of their use. Visions of computers’ purpose and social capacities, this essay suggests, are bound up with competing constructions of self, motivation and social relations. However, the larger implication is in the fact that the visions that prevail at any given time shape how computers are designed, and so in a way become embedded in the computers themselves.4 People who design, build and use computer networks, in other words, work with a variety of ideas about self in a variety of contexts as they do so; those ideas in turn shape both how emerging technologies are used and how they are constructed. What the Internet is and will come to be, then, is partly a matter of who we expect to be when we sit down to use it.5 Literary machines: the romantic self and technology The standard histories tend to describe computers as either mathematical or logical devices, with the latter lending itself to the discourse of artificial intelligence, the idea that computers are thinking machines (Edwards, 1996; Rosenzweig, 1998). However, there exists a third way of thinking of computers that has not been discussed much in most of the potted histories of the field but in a way has quietly triumphed in their practical use: that is the notion that computers are writing machines, tools for communicating symbolically, whose history is better understood in the context of the histories of writing and reading—a tradition that sometimes goes under the heading ‘the history of the book’—than in the context of histories of maths, engineering or cognitive psychology. Here one can only mention a few key indicators of this third way of envisioning computing.6 One is the fact that since about 1970, most computers have been used for non-computational purposes like databases, whose primary organizational system is the alphabet, not mathematics. Another indicator is the fact that since about 1980, by far the most common computer application has been word processing, followed closely by email. It is also evident in the tradition that emerged in the 1960s in the work of Douglas Englebart, the inventor of windowing and the mouse, and further developed by people like Andries van Dam and Theodor Nelson. That tradition was then pursued by Xerox PARC in the 1970s, copied from them by Apple computer in the early 1980s to make the Lisa and the Macintosh, and subsequently copied by Microsoft to make Windows (Hiltzik, 1999). The under-acknowledged character of this tradition is evident in the fact that, over and over again in the history of computers—from the Internet to microcomputers to the Macintosh to Prodigy to the WorldWide Web — communities of computer designers have been taken off guard every time people seem to use computers mostly as literary machines.7 Elsewhere I (Streeter, 1999) have argued that the specifically romantic individualist strand in the history of computing is well illustrated in the influential
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writings and career of Theodor Nelson, who coined the word hypertext. Nelson was an early champion of personal, easy-to-use, graphics-based computing. His magnum opus, the 1974 self-published Computer Lib, presciently promoted all these ideas by essentially transposing the style, format, and counter-cultural iconoclasm of the Whole Earth Catalog into the world of computers. It is apparently not unusual to encounter computer professionals who say that ‘Computer Lib changed my life’.8 Nelson is frequently credited as one of the first to envision a system of interlinked electronic texts like the one we have in the World Wide Web: in 1974, he proposed a hypertext system called ‘Xanadu’, named after the exotic ‘pleasure palace’ in Coleridge’s opium-induced poem Kubla Khan, and in the early 1980s published a book on hypertext computing called Literary Machines.9 Nelson a little bit like a libertarian, computer-philic version of the early romantic poet William Blake: both are witty, aphoristic, philosophically sweeping, economically inauspicious writers and self-described radicals, who do their own illustrations and are given to endless neologisms. And both are captivated with the idea of unmediated, personal control over the process of producing texts for the purpose of self-expression— in Blake’s case, via hand-coloured etchings; in Nelson’s, via networked computers. The story of Theodor Nelson’s contributions to personal computing and the Internet is indicative of a larger pattern. The inevitably dry, technical and bureaucratic detail that makes up the history of computing since 1970 is peppered with moments of rebellion, personal revelation and utopian vision. The influences of the 1960s counterculture within the computer culture have been observed in the development of the microcomputer and the Internet.10,11 With the appearance of Wired magazine, which was self-consciously modelled on the early Rolling Stone, they became near-mainstream (Keegan, 1997).12 Of course, there is something comic about the idea of people sitting at computer consoles imagining themselves as Byronic heroes. One has to approach this with a sense of irony and scepticism; the feminist critiques of Internet culture are a necessary starting point here (e.g. Cherny and Weise, 1996). One way to make sense of this is to think of romanticism as a social formation, not just an aesthetic or a philosophy, and so to think not just of people like Byron and other romantic figures, but of the readership of Byron, more than a few of whom were in a sense bored bureaucrats, people with relative material security suffering from alienation in their narrow, specialized and technical professions, dreaming of a different life. (I suspect one might be able to trace a fairly direct line from some of the earliest masculine heroes of romantic literature—Goethe’s young Werther, say —onward to the protagonists of cyberpunk novels, who are typically ‘geeks’ who have spent a large part of their lives sitting at computer consoles engaged in narrow, technical tasks, but then in the course of the story have dramatic adventures.) A recent line of scholarship produced by a collaboration between literature and law professors has pointed out that one of the ways in which these stories about selves have force—one of the ways they articulate with material institutions—is
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through intellectual property law, which in an odd way tends to rely on a romantic notion of individual genius, on something like Foucault’s authorfunction, to draw the line between original works and ideas and imitative ones. The image of the romantic self, in other words, is being called upon to draw the property boundaries in cyberspace (Woodmansee, 1984; Frow, 1988; Jaszi, 1991; Boyle, 1996). Theodor Nelson, in fact, has long favoured copyright protection of software, but in contrast with figures like Bill Gates, Nelson’s arguments are not so much about business models or efficiency. His concern for property rights has been about securing a kind of perfect authorial identity wherein acts of expression are permanently and unalterably linked to their creators, unmediated by publishers, editors or bureaucratic institutions. The remainder of this paper will suggest that the connection runs deeper than just property law. This will be illustrated by tracing these ideas in two contexts: the first is the context in which the program Mosaic, one of the first web browsers, appeared on the Internet, and the second is the context of the more recent Open Software movement. The moment of Mosaic The first version of Mosaic for Unix was released by the National Supercomputing Center at the University of Illinois in January 1993, and the PC and Mac versions were released in August of that year. Mosaic was not the first web browser, really, but it was the first that worked on a fully point and click basis and the first that easily displayed images. Among the small but rapidly growing groups of people with Internet access—at the time mostly in universities and high tech corporations —Mosaic was a smash hit, the kind of thing you’d call a colleague about and tell them, ‘you gotta try this thing’. Mosaic quickly became known as the ‘killer app’ of the Internet, and it indeed had that effect, generating a flurry of interest in the Internet that took it out of the realm of technical experts into broad popular consciousness. One of the companies founded to produce a commercial version of Mosaic, Netscape, would go on to astonish the world with the largest IPO in history, establish a new model for high tech investing, and thus serve as the opening gong in the period of irrational exuberance in the stock market. Within a few short years of this initial breakthrough into public visibility, the Internet would become the network of networks and URLs would begin appearing in ads for soft drinks. Why did this happen? As always, there are multiple factors. Crucially, the Internet became a craze and then accepted as the inevitable networks of networks before anyone was successfully making a profit selling via the Internet and even before Internet access was all that widely available. Most of these changes, then, happened before the technology had a chance to have much concrete effect at all and before traditional market mechanisms could exert influence. So it is not a question of real market pressures or of technical efficiency: no one was making any
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money to speak of, and Mosaic was a slow and cumbersome way to get information, particularly on the graphics-impaired computers of the first years. Mosaic was not a case of desire satisfied, but of desire provoked. The excitement around the Internet of the early-to-mid-1990s was very much anticipatory; excitement based on what people imagined would happen, not what had already happened. Mosaic was not so much efficient as it was pleasurable and it provided pleasure of a specific type. Surfing the web using Mosaic in the early days shared certain features with the early stages of a romantic affair or the first phases of a revolutionary movement: the dreamlike experience of pointing, clicking and watching images slowly appear generated a sense of anticipation, of possibility. It was not the content per se, which was quite limited at the time, but the hope inspired by the content and the means of access to it. In the early 1990s, then, the Internet did not so much cause new things to happen as it served to inspire people to imagine that new things would happen. In this sense, the Internet’s effect was more like the effect of poetry or fiction than like, say, technological advances such as the mass-produced nail or the discovery of oil. The Internet suggests the power of the ‘desire to desire’ even in the supposedly pragmatic managerial worlds at the heart of the global political economy. The ‘information superhighway’ as a political economic mid-life crisis In the heat of the moment, romances and revolutions feel like they come from nowhere, like they are their own explanation and driving force. Of course, psychologists of coupling and historians of social change caution that this is too simple: in retrospect, there is generally some set of exterior factors at work setting the conditions for the fervour, like a mid-life crisis, a frustrated and underemployed middle class, etc. The same is true of the Internet fervour: it came in a very particular context. The early 1990s was characterized by a lull of uncertainty in the winds of dominant political economic philosophy in the USA. Specifically, the faith in markets and new technology so characteristic of the 1980s had lost some of its energy. The background against which Mosaic stood out, then, was a moment of uncertain groping among political and industrial elites, exemplified in the tired technocratic optimism of Al Gore’s ‘information superhighway’ rhetoric. At the time Mosaic appeared in 1993, microcomputers had recently become ubiquitous in offices. By then a new computer was becoming a standard feature of a job offer at a university, for example. And as a result they had lost much of their sheen: the least glamorous of the 1980s microcomputer companies, Microsoft, had achieved that much prized and much hated state common to technology industries, a practical monopoly. The ‘microcomputer revolution’, as it was called in the 1980s, was over. This happened at a time when neo-liberal economic policy —the fascination with markets, privatization and deregulation and a correlate antipathy
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to government regulation—seemed to be on the wane. After the Reagan years, deregulation had lost much of its appeal even to the business community: the stock market had crashed in 1987 and the US high-tech sector was threatened by the Japanese, particularly in the area of memory chip manufacture. As a result, consortia and business-government co-operation were coming back in fashion. Corporations were quietly moving back towards asking for government help to organize and stabilize industries; calls for government to intervene on behalf of things like ‘level playing fields’ and ‘regulatory backstops’ were becoming increasingly common. And in some circles, the invitation to reregulate was not euphemistic: for example, some representatives of high technology industries began calling for government co-ordinated ‘technology policy’, which was a vague term for the use of government to provide things like tax incentives, research money, and antitrust waivers. A US Congressman argued for government involvement in the creation of a US broadband network by saying, ‘[t]he Japanese will have an information superhighway by the year 2005 and the USA won’t’ (Stewart, 1991:12). It was in this context that Senator Al Gore sponsored legislation that funded the creation of NSFnet, under the heading of what he was then calling the coming ‘information superhighway’ and later the ‘national information infrastructure’. The general principle was a variation on the Fordist theme characteristic of US high technology policy going back at least as far as WWII. Government sponsored research in sophisticated computer networking, the theory went, would yield practical benefits that would eventually be exploited by the business world. While this blurring of boundaries between public and private sectors has been politically problematic—‘military-industrial complex’ is an epithet —over the last half-century, the pattern of developing technology with initial public money followed by commercialization has been well-tested: it has brought us satellite communication, microwave ovens, computers, jet airplanes and the Internet.13 The NSFnet went on to become the backbone for the evolving Internet, which would explode on the national scene a few years later. These efforts were what Gore was referring to when, early in the year 2000 presidential campaign, he said ‘I took the initiative on the Internet’. In a classic case of sound bite politics, the statement was eventually twisted into the inaccurate claim that ‘Gore said he invented the Internet’.14 It is galling to many that the sound bite was so successful; it seems plausible that the ‘Gore said he invented the Internet’ quip did at least as much damage to Gore’s final vote count as Ralph Nader. However, while it is factually untrue, the sound bite is funny. And it may be funny because it appeals to a common scepticism about the technocratic optimism and perhaps arrogance of the managerial mode of thought associated with technology policy: it’s common and it’s fun to be sceptical of the overly optimistic visions of order and predictability that so often seem to motivate this kind of policy logic. Contrast Gore’s phrase, ‘information superhighway’, with the word ‘cyberspace’. ‘Information superhighway’ sounds clean, obedient and orderly; it
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sounds a bit like a vision from 1950s futurology, found in pamphlets with pictures of smiling, clean, deliriously nuclear happy families out for Sunday drives in their flying cars. The connotations of ‘cyberspace’, in contrast, are darker, less regimented, more scary, more thrilling, particularly if one knows a little about the term’s origin in the ur-cyberpunk novel, Neuromancer. It is not an accident that the word cyberspace has outlived information superhighway in popular usage. However, back in 1992 and 1993, after Clinton was elected and Gore became Vice President, Gore’s enthusiasm for technology in general and networking in particular turned the phrase ‘information superhighway’ into the slogan of the moment. Because of the rich mix of political and economic energy to which the phrase became attached, it developed a lot of momentum. Politicians sought to ride on its coattails and industry factions began to try to capture it; phone companies claimed they could provide the information superhighway, provided the government stayed out of it, thank you, and the cable industry countered by politically correcting the name of their newest technology from ‘500 channel TV’ into cable’s information superhighway. ‘Information superhighway’ became so common it sprouted its own metaphorical universe, engendering phrases like ‘road kill on the information superhighway’. At the time, few people outside universities associated all this with the Internet. Huge sums were being spent at the time on completely private forms of computer networking, things like video on demand systems and private subscription services like CompuServe. Statements made by telecommunications executives tended to dismiss the Internet as a pure research tool, if they mentioned it at all. The computer programmer as romantic hero: Netscape through the lens of Wired It was in the early 1990s that Mosaic began wowing white-collar professionals across the USA and Wired magazine began to introduce these audiences to a countercultural view of computing; within a year it would have a circulation over 100, 000 (Koenenn, 1994). A pivotal moment occurred early in 1994, when Wired published an interview with Marc Andreessen, the co-founder of what was to become Netscape (Wolf, 1994). The article appeared just as the Internet and Wired magazine itself were breaking into the mainstream and catching the attention of a business management already made curious about networking by the ‘information superhighway’ hoopla. The interview revealed that Andreessen had just abandoned the public sector for the private one in pursuit of wealth and glory; after being a key figure in creating Mosaic while in graduate school at the University of Illinois, Andreessen then had been lured to Silicon Valley. The article, grandiosely titled ‘The (Second Phase of the) Revolution Has Begun’, was enamoured with this twenty-something young man full of adolescent bravado and driven by a blurry but intoxicating vision of simultaneously getting rich and heroically setting the people free by slaying the dragon of the Microsoft monopoly and ushering in a social utopia. This was not
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about industrial policy or technological improvements in communication; it was the computer programmer as Byronic hero. It was all deeply contradictory: Andreessen repeatedly denounced Bill Gates, but Netscape’s strategies were not so different from those of his Microsoft adversary. His approach was commercial and proprietary after all and he was more interested in creating than conforming to standards; his goal was to dominate rather than share in the web browser market. But those contradictions were all very typical of Wired: computer technology coupled to libertarian values would allow anyone who was hip enough to see it coming to successfully meld dreams of wealth with dreams of freedom, utopia and individual heroism. At the time, this dream (or discourse, if you prefer) was as powerful as it was wrongheaded. What this article, and the mode of thought associated with it, did was take the dry industrial policy of the information superhighway and turn it into an unpredictable and thus tantalizing cyberspace; it was a rich if contradictory fusion of romantic individualism with economic libertarianism. The article dubbed Mosaic the ‘killer app’ of the Internet, predicted another revolution in the computer industry on parallel with the microcomputer revolution, identified Andreessen’s new company as the enterprise likely to dominate the new revolution—it was in fact not the only company trying to commercialize Mosaic at the time but this article may well have had the effect of a self-fulfilling prophecy so the other companies soon disappeared—and suggested that this represented the only possible threat to Microsoft’s monopoly.15 This Wired article —and the vision of which it was emblematic—thus arguably played a key role in the ensuing explosion of both the Internet and the stock market by providing a particular vision that fused a 1960s-styled romantic hope for radical change with pecuniary desire: those who regretted not investing in Microsoft in the 1980s might have a second chance. The article helped make markets hip, and made hipness a way to make new markets. Importantly, the article did not just target a good investment or an exciting new technology or business as a normal trade magazine piece might have; it did not put Andreesen next to the senior partner of the company, Jim Clark, who was an experienced Silicon Valley executive. Instead, it separately interviewed the junior partner, Andreesen, and portrayed him as a subtle and potent mix of countercultural romantic hero and entrepreneur. This little bit of storytelling in turn provided a compelling model of personhood, a way of thinking about the relation of self and society in capitalism, which could be picked up by computer programmers, executives and stock market investors alike. He wasn’t the first business person portrayed this way: Steve Jobs and Wozniak had also been painted in a similar light in many a business profile. But it came at a crucial moment and it was coloured this time around by the figure of the arch-villain of Bill Gates, who was much respected for his business acumen in traditional circles but who had no counter-cultural cachet. It was a way to culturally rescue business activity from the dreary image associated with large corporations, an exciting alternative to the man in the grey flannel suit. This vision had quite an effect: this Wired
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article’s representation of Netscape as not only a useful software tool but also as the ‘next best thing’ did much to override traditional managerial scepticism and set the stage for Netscape’s record-setting IPO ten months later, which in turn served as the investment model for the Internet stock craze and the period of ‘irrational exuberance’ in the stock market.16 The moment of Open Source Since the early 1990s, the Microsoft monopoly and the reaction to it in the rise of Open Software and Linux have changed the tone and economic reasoning surrounding computers and the Internet. As of this writing, it remains to be seen how successful Linux will be, and even if it does survive against—or even defeat —Microsoft, it is not clear that this would make much of a difference economically or institutionally by itself. However, Linux is interesting in terms of what it introduces into the contours of public debate. In particular, the Open Software movement is on the one hand a marked departure from the economic libertarianism that so far has dominated the intersections of the computer culture with the worlds of law and business. On the other hand, the success so far of that movement has depended on an effort to frame Open Software again in romantic individualist terms. As usual, there are several overlapping strands in the recent intellectual history of the Open Software movement. There are of course software communitarians like movement founder Richard Stallman, whose arguments are frequently but not always of a fairly naive sort: software should be free because sharing is better than not sharing, both ethically and in terms of efficient software development. And the Microsoft monopoly is of course central: the monopoly made it so difficult to compete in traditional ways that companies like Sun and IBM were forced to wander far afield in search of solutions, and this economic desperation was often further fuelled by a widespread (and in many cases kind of adolescent) resentment towards Bill Gates among computer professionals. Another component of the movement’s success so far is a set of justifications and self-descriptions that frame the movement in romantic terms. The core piece here is an essay by a movement leader called Eric S. Raymond. His essay called ‘The Cathedral and the Bazaar’ (1999) circulated in 1997 and 1998 beyond the Internet into the offices of key business executives and copyright lawyers. This is the article that persuaded Netscape to open source its browser in January of 1998, and not long after that, Apple to base its next generation operating system on an open source foundation, and IBM and Sun Microsystems to adopt open sourcing as a key strategy (Moody, 2001).17 These are all business strategies that would have been considered deeply irrational as recently as 1996. It is important that the essay’s arguments are not communitarian; Raymond dismisses altruism out of hand. The central rhetorical accomplishment of the piece rather is to frame voluntary labour in the language of the market: the core trope is
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to portray Linux-style software development like a bazaar, a real-life competitive marketplace, whereas Microsoft-style software production is portrayed as hierarchical and centralized—and thus inefficient—like a cathedral. The metaphor of the market is thus associated with voluntary labour and dissociated from conventional capitalist modes of production. Part of what makes this curious reversal work is Raymond’s focus on programmers’ motivations. For an essay about such a dry and technical topic as the management of software development, there is an awful lot of reference to the internal feelings, psychological makeup and desires of programmers. (Subsequent discussion of Open Software seems to have maintained some of this focus [e.g.Taylor, 1999].) Almost like an Entwicklungsroman, Raymond presents a first-person account of his own experiences in software development, during which he tells the story of how he became converted to the Open Software model. This narrative of personal revelation is interspersed with numbered principles or aphorisms, the first of which is: ‘Every good work of software starts by scratching a developer’s personal itch’.18 Because Raymond’s audience is in the worlds of business and law, he immediately sets out to reconcile his psychologically tainted portrayal of motivation with a utilitarian one. ‘The “utility function” Linux hackers are maximizing’, Raymond continues, ‘is not classically economic, but is the intangible of their own ego satisfaction and reputation among other hackers’. Raymond goes on to draw analogies with fan subcultures, wherein the enhancement of reputation among the other members of the community is understood as a key motivation.19 Raymond thus frames the motivation to write software as something born of a not entirely rational fascination or ambition (an ‘itch’), of a desire to have one’s accomplishments recognized not with money but with the psychological satisfactions of acclaim and a desire to be open to transformations of self. One could of course criticize this as both an empirical description and as a philosophical argument, but what is significant to my argument is first, how the dream of having one’s ‘itch’, one’s inner passions, acknowledged by a community of the like-minded is a characteristically romantic structure of feeling, and second, how much Raymond’s statement of the problem, whether or not it is philosophically coherent, has resonated with the computer culture at large and had some impact on the larger business culture in a way that communitarian or managerial arguments have not. It is important that, in the minds of quite a variety of people, this vision of passionate programmers provides a much more appealing way to deal with the perennial industrial problem of monopoly than something like industrial policy or antitrust law. The first sentence of Raymond’s essay is, ‘Linux is subversive’. Of course, that is not true. Open Software is already being treated by many as just another business model, and by itself is unlikely to change things dramatically. That opening sentence and its absurdity nicely captures yet another example of the grandiosity of the computer culture. However, it is not coincidental that there is
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something vaguely Byronic about that grandiosity: it is connected to a deeply rooted cultural tradition. Conclusion: culture, subjectivity and the making of markets Like its ancestor, the 1960s counterculture, the case of the computer culture suggests that the romantic ‘I’ stands in a tangential relation to capitalist property relations (and the utilitarian ‘I’ they imply), sometimes working in concert with markets and privatization, and sometimes working to call them into question. The shifting articulations of romantic forms of selfhood in the computer culture lend weight to various schools of thought that explore the intersections of culture with the commodity form and its institutional supports in law and technological systems. John Frow (1996:217), for example, has argued that it is at the level of everyday life—that moment of experiencing the world—that the logic of commodity culture and the logic of gift cultures interact most dynamically and contradictorily. Similarly, the case of the computer culture lends weight to the analysis of Colin Campbell’s (1987) neo-Weberian book, The Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism. The book is problematic in several ways but its general argument is a compelling one: that the consumer culture is romantic in its structure, that the forms of individualism it encourages tend to be more about selftransformation and anticipatory pleasures—about the desire to desire—than about the satisfaction of utilitarian needs. And he suggests that romanticism is both a necessary condition to capitalism as we know it and a common feature of many substantial movements of resistance to capitalism, the paradigmatic case being the 1960s counterculture. It is not just long hair and beards that the computer counterculture shares with the 1960s, then: it is a structure of feeling characterized by an expressive, individualist understanding of self. The case of the computer culture also helps foreground the question begged by most popular accounts of markets: the question of how markets come to be in the first place. As the field of economic sociology has taught us, markets are created by way of variable social and institutional processes that are prior and crucial to the character of markets that emerge. Markets are made not born and they can be made in any number of ways with any number of different consequences; making markets is a social, and typically political, act. The existence and stability of markets is not a fact of nature, in other words, but is rather something that needs to be explained by looking at prior or exterior institutional, political, and cultural processes (Polanyi, 1971 ; Zukin and Dimaggio, 1990). This is partly a matter of inquiring into what conventional economists too often assume to be self-explanatory market preferences: people’s preferences are often not fixed but learned, and bound up with various ideas of themselves or subject positions. In other words, it is certainly true that people often act out of selfinterest, but first they have to learn who their selves are and what they are interested in, and that happens through culture. In some ways, it is also the
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Weberian question, first raised in The Protestant Ethic, about explaining the relations between culture and the economy in terms of the moral fabric that undergirds market relations. For markets and property relations to exist, they have to make sense to people, they have to seem fair and legitimate. Market legitimacy, furthermore, is not just a matter of broad worldviews or ‘official’ ideologies, but of complex moral textures or architectures experienced on the level of everyday life and common sense. In particular, people have to make sense of working in a world of economic exchange while at the same time feeling, thinking and acting in ways that cannot be explained purely in terms of the marketplace itself. Politically, romantic individualism is not much of a solution by itself; it can conceal as much as it reveals. By the same token, it need not be dismissed as a naive ideology either. With the rise of the Open Software movement, we have seen the appearance of a version of romantic selfhood in an economically and legally significant community that seriously conflicts with existing structures of commodification. Through 1998, the computer culture was an important source of apologias for an aggressive, neo-liberal expansion of property rights. Since then, if the Open Software Movement has any authority at all, that seems to be changing. If Linux itself is not subversive, useful lessons about how real change might come can be derived from its popularity. In particular, it suggests that, in public political and legal arguments, starting with the common lived experience of a contrast or tension between popular romantic ideals of self and the economic realities of our industries is in many cases likely to be a more fruitful approach, analytically and politically, than simply dismissing the follies of individualism wholesale.20 A case in point: towards the end of the Wired interview with Marc Andreessen, the interviewer, Gary Wolf, wrote that Andreessen, ‘may have conjured the Bill Gates nemesis out of the subtle miasma of his own ambivalence’. Wolf goes on to note the contradictions already mentioned and observes that Andreessen, ‘is being forced by the traditional logic of the software industry to operate [in ways] distinctly at odds with the open environment of the Web’. When Wolf presses Andreessen on these issues, after some waffling, Andreessen replies: ‘The overriding danger to an open standard is Microsoft… [but] One way or another… I think that Mosaic is going to be on every computer in the world’. Wolf waits for more. Andreessen repeats himself, ‘One way or another’. That is how the article ends. What is interesting here is the ‘another’ in Andreessen’s phrase and the fact that Wolf highlighted it by making it the last line of the article. This is worth listening to. At the very moment he is fully enthralled by the logic of capital, Andreessen tells an interviewer—and the interviewer senses that this is important—that there is not just one way to do it; there is ‘another’. This is a man who was at the centre of the stock market boom, of Internet commercialization, and a darling of the ‘new economy’, who has since become a captain of industry, saying in an influential article in the pages of a house organ of technolibertarianism, that there
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is not just one way to make products and to organize the new media. There is another. There is another way. Andreessen is no theorist of alternative modes of production. The point is rather that even someone like him, even magazines like Wired at the height of their influence, can express an awareness, however dim, that there are other ways to do things, that the existing market approaches do not always do the trick. In so far as democracy is about listening to others, it is incumbent on those of us concerned about democratic culture to take heed. Notes 1 Sherry Turkle, for example, professed ‘great excitement’ over the fact that many of her subjects were using virtual reality environments and in the process ‘exploring, constructing, and reconstructing their identities…in an environment infused with a postmodern ethos of the value of multiple identities’ (Turkle, 1996:365; also see Stone, 1995). 2 The predominant use of personal computers, and probably the predominant use of computers in aggregate, remains word processing, both in the office and at home (Richtel, 1998): ‘Eight out of ten computer users employ them for word processing, far higher than the 51 per cent who perform calculations. Seven out of ten engage in “general business use”; six out of ten play computer games’. 3 At any given time and place, it is easier to adopt some forms of personhood than others. The pressures one feels to act as, say, a martyr for Allah, a profit-maximizing businessperson or a self-sacrificing parent vary according to time, place and context; they are not determinate in a mechanical way, but are deeply shaped by forces of history and social relations. 4 The desktop metaphor, for example, has helped drive many of the technological developments in microcomputers over the last decade and a half, e.g. graphics chip sets and displays optimized for fonts, icons and scrolling windows. 5 Among technologies, the case for the socially constructed character of computer systems is relatively easy to make. To a significant degree, computers are whatever we make them. They are programmable; the same microprocessor or operating system can guide a missile, run a word processor or drive a home game console (which is why the US State Department has tried to limit the exportation of PS2 computer game machines—a machine intended as a toy—because of its potential military applications). And even if computers sometimes have unintended consequences, even if they surprise us, that surprise may be more about us than it is about anything inherent to the machines, about some kind of technological determinism. 6 For an analysis that provides one of the very few mainstream text-centred views of computing, see Brown and Duguid (2000). 7 To mention just a few examples: the Arpanet was created largely on the theory that it would expand access to large mainframe computers for scientific purposes but, early in its life, the dominant use unexpectedly became e-mail. The idea that computers were largely for numeric and database purposes is also the common explanation for why the large corporate computer manufacturers did not foresee the
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8 9 10
popularity of microcomputers, leaving the field wide open to entrepreneurial upstarts. The success of the Macintosh computer, originally introduced in 1984, was severely hampered because Apple computer reportedly told software developers not to waste time producing word processors for the machine. Prodigy was originally designed in a centralized, one-to-many structure that proved to be a problem when the dominant use became many-to-many email messaging. Personally, I have met one such person; Nelson claims to have encountered at least fifty such individuals (in the 1987 edition of Computer Lib). I have a 1983 copy of his self-published Literary Machines, which is described as a fifth edition. Levy (2001 ) details how many key individuals were influenced in various ways by the counterculture. Lee Felsenstein, for example, was and remains a product of 1960s utopian radicalism, which provided much of his motivation in helping create the microcomputer by helping to organize the Homebrew Computer Club that incubated the fledgling microcomputer industry in the mid-1970s. Throughout the book, Levy emphasizes how the loosely rebellious culture of hacking borrowed liberally from the 1960s counterculture, even among those with few political leanings. Hafner and Lyon (1996) provide numerous anecdotes, such as the BBN programmers working on Arpanet who wore sneakers and anti-war pins to briefings at the Pentagon in 1969 (1996:112–13), or the appearance of a controversial, very early e-mail message in 1972 on Arpanet—which was then understood as primarily a military communication system—calling for the impeachment of President Richard Nixon (1996:205). Abbate (2000) contains similar anecdotes, but with better attention to the broad shifts in social vision that went into the development of Internet technology. Others have noted the computer-and business-culture’s borrowing from the 1960s counterculture, particularly Rosenzweig (1998), Barbrook and Cameron (1996) and Frank (1997). Theodore Roszak (1986) himself has noted the connection—see also Streeter (2000). A key figure in popularizing and promoting the counter-cultural vision of computing is Stewart Brand, who created the counter-cultural compendium The Whole Earth Catalog in the late 1960s. Brand (1972) first brought the countercultural strains in computing to the attention of the wider world in a celebratory Rolling Stone piece. In the wake of the success of the Catalog, Brand helped create Coevolution Quarterly, which was guest edited by the Black Panthers in 1974 but, by the early 1980s, had evolved into the Whole Earth Software Review (Kleiner, 1986). Coevolution Quarterly staffers Art Kleiner and Kevin Kelley eventually became key figures at Wired. Historian Thomas Hughes (1998) grumbles about the difficulties of convincing both the left and the right of the post-1960s generation that what he calls the ‘militaryindustrial-university’ complex was valuable. The statement was first attacked in print by libertarian Wired magazine reporter Declan McCullagh in early 1999, and eventually morphed by various Republicans into the inaccurate sound bite that Gore said he ‘invented’ the Internet. For McCullagh’s version of events, see Declan McCullagh (2000). For a more detailed account sympathetic to Gore, see Wiggins (2000).
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15 In July of 1994, at least ten companies had licensed Mosaic from the University of Illinois for commercial development, including the well-connected Spyglass and Spry (Corcoran, 1994). 16 The argument, of course, is not that this one article had a linear, direct cause on all this, but that the vision that this article embodied and fostered was a condition of possibility for the subsequent self-fulfilling pattern of exuberantly high expectations that drove the economy for the next six years. 17 The argument here, again, is not that this single essay by itself directly caused major corporations to adopt new strategies; rather, Raymond’s essay helped promulgate a way of understanding software development that played a key role in the corporate shift; it was a necessary but not sufficient part of the conditions of possibility of the move towards Open Software. Of course, these companies had an economic interest in the new strategy, especially given the Microsoft monopoly. However, the economic conditions behind the change had been in existence for several years; an economic explanation alone cannot explain why these companies made their policy changes all within a roughly one-year period (1998). Another key factor in the success of the Open Source movement was the creation by Eric Raymond and others of the ‘Open Software Initiative’ shortly after Netscape’s announcement that it would release its source code; the Initiative self-consciously sought to move away from the language of ‘free software’ because it was problematic to business executives and to use the language of ‘open software’ instead. See, ‘A History of the OSI’ at http://www.opensource.org/docs/history.html. 18 Several more of these aphorisms refer to internal states: ‘4. If you have the right attitude, interesting problems will find you’, for example, and ‘18. To solve an interesting problem, start by finding a problem that is interesting to you’. 19 The piece does in various ways acknowledge and elaborate the obvious values of cooperation and sharing, and thus has to somehow distance itself from the more simplistic forms of romantic individualism. However, the idea of creativity is still very much heroic and Promethean. Consider this passage: The only way to try for ideas like that is by having lots of ideas—or by having the engineering judgment to take other peoples’ good ideas beyond where the originators thought they could go.… Andrew Tanenbaum had the original idea to build a simple native Unix for the 386, for use as a teaching tool. Linus Torvalds pushed the Minix concept further than Andrew probably thought it could go—and it grew into something wonderful. In the same way (though on a smaller scale), I took some ideas by Carl Harris and Harry Hochheiser and pushed them hard. Neither of us was ‘original’ in the romantic way people think is genius. But then, most science and engineering and software development isn’t done by original genius, hacker mythology to the contrary. The results were pretty heady stuff all the same—in fact, just the kind of success every hacker lives for! And they meant I would have to set my standards even higher. 20 One can see some of the different valences of these two strategies in the growing body of critical work on intellectual property. James Boyle’s 1996 book articulately criticizes what he calls the ‘author ideology’, but that has resonated much less in
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many circles than Lawrence Lessig’s Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace (2000), which makes similar arguments but tends to focus more on the contrast between romantic notions of freedom and corporate and market tendencies, rather than directly attacking the romantic notions themselves.
References Abbate, Janet (2000) Inventing the Internet. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Barbrook, Richard and Cameron, Andy (1996) ‘The Californian Ideology’. Available online: http://www.wmin.ac.uk/media/HRC/ci/calif5.html Borsook, Paulina (2000) Cyberselfish: A critical romp through the terribly libertarian culture of high-tech. New York: Public Affairs Press. Boyle, James (1996) Shamans, Software and Spleens: Law and the Construction of the Information Society. Boston, MA: Harvard University Press. Brand, Stewart (1972) ‘Spacewar: fanatic life and symbolic death among the computer bums’. Rolling Stone, 7 December 1972. Brown, John Seely and Duguid, Paul (2000) The Social Life of Information. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press. Campbell, Colin (1987) The Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism. New York: Blackwell. Cherny, Lynn and Weise, Elizabeth Reba (1996) Wired Women: Gender and the New Realities in Cyberspace. Seattle: Seal Press. Corcoran, Elizabeth (1994) ‘Mosaic gives guided tour of Internet: companies rush to refine an on-line resource’. The Washington Post, Financial Section, 11 July 1994:F19. Edwards, Paul N. (1996) The Closed World: Computers and the Politics of Discourse in Cold War America. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Frank, Tom (1997) The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Frow, John (1988) ‘Repetition and limitation: computer software and copyright law’. Screen, 29(1):5–20. —— (1996) Time and Commodity Culture: Essays in Cultural Theory and Postmodernity. Oxford: Clarendon Press/Oxford University Press. —— (1997) Time and Commodity Culture: Essays in Cultural Theory and Postmodernity. Oxford: Clarendon Press/Oxford University Press. Hafner, Katie and Lyon, Matthew (1996) Where Wizards Stay Up Late, The Origins of the Internet. New York: Simon & Schuster. Hiltzik, Michael A. (1999) Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the dawn of the computer age. New York: HarperBusiness. Hughes, Thomas (1998) Rescuing Prometheus. New York: Pantheon. Jaszi, Peter (1991) ‘Towards a theory of copyright: the metamorphoses of “authorship”’. Duke Law Journal 455 Keegan, Paul (1997) ‘Reality distortion field’ . Interview with Louis Rosetto on Upside.com, 1 February. Kleiner, Art (1986) ‘A History of Coevolution Quarterly’. In Art Kleiner and Stewart Brand (eds) News that Stayed News: Ten Years of Co-evolution Quarterly 1974–1984. San Francisco: North Point Press, 336–7.
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Koenenn, Connie (1994) ‘E-Mail’s mouthpiece; in just a year, Wired magazine has become the guide down the information superhighway’. Los Angeles Times, 30 March 1994, Part E:1. Lessig, Lawrence (2000) Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace. New York: Basic Books. Levy, Steven (2001 ) Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution. Harmondsworth: Penguin. McCullagh, Declan (2000) ‘The mother of Gore’s invention’. Wired, 17 October. Available online: http://www.wired.com/news/politics/0,1283,39301, 00.html Moody, Glynn (2001) Rebel Code: Inside Linux and the Open Source Revolution. Cambridge, MA: Perseus. Nelson, Theodore (1983 ) Computer Lib/Dream Machines: New Freedoms Through Computer Screens. South Bend, IN: self-published. Polanyi, Karl(1971 ) ‘The Economy as an Instituted Process’. In K.Polanyi, C.M.Arensberg and H.W.Pearson (eds) Trade and Markets in the Early Empires: Economics in History and Theory. Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 243–69. Raymond, Eric S. (1999) ‘The Cathedral and the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary’. O’Reilly & Associates. (Versions of this essay are usually available at: http://tuxedo.org/~esr/) —— (no date) ‘A History of the OSI'. Available online: http://www.opensource. org/docs/ history. html Richtel, Matt (1998) ‘Computer use at home looks a lot like work’. The New York Times, 17 September 1998, Section G: 3. Rosenzweig, Roy (1998) ‘Wizards, bureaucrats, warriors, & hackers: writing the history of the Internet’. American Historical Review, 103(5):1530–52. Roszak, Theodore (1986) From Satori to Silicon Valley: San Francisco and the American Counterculture. San Francisco: Don’t Call It Frisco Press. Stewart, Alan (November, 1991) ‘NCF flexes its muscles’. Communications International, 18 (11):12. Stone, Allucquere Rosanne (1995) The War Of Desire And Technology At The Close Of The Mechanical Age. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Streeter, Thomas (1999) ‘“That deep romantic chasm”: libertarianism, neoliberalism, and the computer culture’. In Andrew Calabrese and Jean-Claude Burgelman(eds) Communication, Citizenship, and Social Policy: Re-Thinking the Limits of the Welfare State. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 49–64. —— (2000) ‘Notes towards a political history of the Internet 1950–1983’. Media International Australia incorporating Culture and Policy, 95(May):131–46. Taylor, William C. (1999) ‘Inspired by work’. Fast Company, 29(November):200. Turkle, Sherry (1996) ‘Constructions and reconstructions of the self in virtual reality’. In Timothy Druckrey (ed.) Electronic Culture: Technology and Visual Representation. New York: Aperture Foundation, 354–65. Ullman, Ellen (1996) ‘Come in CQ: the body on the wire’. In Lynn Cherny and Elizabeth Reba Weise(eds) Wired Women: Gender and the New Realities in Cyberspace. Seattle: Seal Press. —— (1999) ‘Wouldn’t you rather be at home? The Internet and the myth of the powerful self’. Lecture delivered at the University of Vermont, 9 October 1999; excerpted as Ellen Ullman (2000) ‘The Museum of Me’. Harper’s, May: 30–3.
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Wiggins, Richard (2000) ‘Al Gore and the creation of the Internet’. First Monday, 5(10). Available online: http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue5_10/wiggins/ index.html. Wolf, Gary (1994) ‘The (second phase of the) revolution has begun: don’t look now, but Prodigy, AOL, and CompuServe are all suddenly obsolete-and Mosaic is well on its way to becoming the world’s standard interface’. Wired, 2(10). Woodmansee, Martha (1984) ‘The Genius and the copyright: economic and legal conditions of the emergence of the “author”’. Eighteenth-Century Studies, 17: 425–48. Zukin, Sharon and DiMaggio, Paul (eds) (1990) Structures of Capital: the Social Organization of the Economy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
CULTURAL STUDIES 17(5) 2003, 579–614
THE SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION OF A CULTURAL DISASTER: NEW LABOUR’S MILLENNIUM EXPERIENCE
Abstract This article presents the findings of an Arts and Humanities Research Board project on London’s Millennium Dome exposition in the year 2000. The Dome was generally considered to be a cultural disaster in the news media and public conversation. It became a political embarrassment for Britain’s New Labour government but did not prove damaging in the 2001 general election. The article does not dispute the media’s damnation of the Dome but questions its acuity. It also questions the managerialist perspective on the Dome’s ‘failure’ whilst taking into account claims regarding a managerial ‘turnaround’ and an ‘under-reported success’. Empirical evidence and theoretical analysis concerning the political economy of the Dome’s production, its representational meanings and visitor reception provide a more complex and multidimensional explanation. Corporate sponsorship played a key role in the cultural disaster and, in this particular case study, it exemplifies social democracy’s symbolic as well as material coalescence with neo-liberalism. A distinction is made between associative and deep sponsorship that is illustrated with examples from the Dome. A typology of generous and reflexive visiting is also formulated in order to analyse the visitor data. Keywords multidimensional analysis; sponsorship—associative and deep; visiting— generous and reflexive Introduction THIS ARTICLE PRESENTS a case study of London’s Millennium Dome exposition. It examines the public debate concerning the Dome as constructed in
Cultural Studies ISSN 0950–2386 print/ISSN 1466–4348 online © 2003 Taylor & Francis Ltd http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals DOI: 10.1080/0950238032000126874
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the news media and presents a multidimensional analysis of its cultural, economic and political significance. From a policy-oriented perspective, it is vital that cultural studies should engage with current issues of controversy in such a way that contests official discourse and the limitations of journalism. The New Millennium Experience, the centrepiece of which was an exposition housed in a dome-like tent, became the biggest news story in Britain during the year 2000. Yet, in spite of the enormous amount of news coverage and comment it attracted, journalists failed to explain satisfactorily how and why the Dome turned out as it did. While many criticisms were made of the exposition, in effect, such criticism proved to be remarkably superficial in light of the in-depth research on its production and reception that is presented here. Moreover, multidimensional cultural analysis provides a more adequate account of the Dome problem than the kind of managerial explanation (or excuse) that was eventually given by government, as this article demonstrates. The problem ran much deeper than a matter of administration, whether in terms of a governmental blame game or the subtle pragmatics of the governmentality perspective in cultural policy studies (see my critique of this perspective: McGuigan, 1996; reprinted in Lewis and Miller, 2003). The Dome was dubbed a ‘disaster’ soon after opening by journalist Polly Toynbee in the Daily Mail (6 January 2000). Her article was reprinted from the Guardian of the previous day. It had passed, then, from the leading left-liberal broadsheet to conservative Middle England’s favourite tabloid. Unlike the journalists who had damned the thing before it opened, Toynbee (2000a, b) claimed to have been favourably disposed towards the Millennium Dome as a site of national celebration, that is, until she actually visited it. She said, ‘alas this is not a great exhibition. It is a deep disappointment. It doesn’t work on any level, from the most mundane purchase of a cup of coffee to any bit of really good fun’ (Toynbee, 2000a:20). The ‘disaster’ for Toynbee was cultural in the sense that the exposition was unimaginative, tawdry and full of queues on a busy day in the school holidays. That was a personal and educated response but not an explanation. In what follows, I aim to explain the social construction of this cultural disaster. Nevertheless, it is important to take into account evidence of an ‘underreported success’ and the extraordinary gulf between most visitors’ responses and the conventional wisdom enunciated at both elite and popular levels that the Dome was a dismal failure. The case of the Dome is inextricably bound up with the pretensions of the New Labour government elected to office in May 1997. The Dome project was begun under the previous Conservative government. Labour’s incoming
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government could have abandoned the project but, instead, adopted the Dome as a symbol of the new regime. Had the Conservative Party not virtually imploded in the late 1990s, the failure of the Dome might possibly have impacted upon New Labour’s prospects of re-election in 2001. The Dome turned out not to be disastrous for the government in electoral terms, though it was a huge and continuing embarrassment long after closure. While the Dome was the object of incessant dispute in the public sphere, the reasons for its troubles were not delved into very deeply by the news media. The present account offers a multidimensional analysis that seeks to go beyond the usual terms of debate, particularly by focusing upon the role of sponsorship in the social production, representation and consumption of the Millennium Dome. Under consideration here is a complex and variously faceted phenomenon. Although it is a particular and indeed peculiar case, the Millennium Dome also has a general significance symbolically and materially with regard to understanding the intimate relations between government and corporate power today; and, specifically the coalescence of social democracy with neo-liberalism. New Labour’s millennium experience The publicity slogan for the exposition in a dome-shaped tent at Greenwich during the year 2000 was ‘one amazing day’. M. & C.Saatchi’s television advertisement for the opening showed a child being amazed by the apparently marvellous spectacle on offer. Responding to critics of the project in his ‘People’s Palace’ speech of February 1998, Prime Minister Tony Blair had himself already promised amazement: Picture the scene. The clock strikes midnight on December 31st, 1999. The eyes of the world turn to the spot where the new Millennium begins —the Meridian Line at Greenwich. This is Britain’s opportunity to greet the world with a celebration that is so bold, so beautiful, so inspiring that it embodies at once the spirit of confidence and adventure in Britain and the spirit of the future in the world. This is the reason for the Millennium experience. Not a product of imagination run wild, but a huge opportunity for Britain. It is good for Britain. So let us seize the moment and put on something of which we and the world will be proud. Then we will say to ourselves with pride: this is our Dome. Britain’s Dome. And believe me, it will be the envy of the world. (Blair, 1998:1) On adopting the Dome project from the outgoing Conservative government in June 1997—despite the misgivings of senior Labour politicians including the Culture Secretary—Blair had set down five criteria for it. First, ‘the content should inspire people’. Second, ‘it should have national reach’. Third, ‘the management of the project should be first rate’. Fourth, ‘[it] should not call
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on the public purse’. Fifth, ‘there should be a lasting legacy’ (Blair, 1998:2). He went on to say: It will bring the nation together in common purpose—to make a difference. It will unite the nation. It will be a meeting point of people from all backgrounds. It will be an event to lift our horizons. It will be a catalyst to imagine our futures. (1998:3) Blair claimed the New Millennium Experience would be an educative guide to conduct, particularly for children. He said, ‘I want today’s children to take from it an experience so powerful and memories so strong that it gives them that abiding sense of purpose and unity that stays with them through the rest of their lives’ (1998:4). The demotic and personalizing quality of Blair’s rhetoric is well known and has been analysed carefully (Fairclough, 2000). Yet, the idea that such an exposition might actually influence popular conduct in a fundamental way was well beyond its sell-by-date in the media age. The amazing thing about the Millennium Dome was not so much its would-be Foucauldian impact on the conduct of conduct but that it was done at all and in the way that it was done. Although visitors to the Millennium Dome generally approved of it, there was little expression of amazement except for the building itself, as had been anticipated prophetically in The New Yorker (Goldberger, 1998). It was not a dome in the traditional sense but closer to a suspension bridge in engineering terms (Wilhide, 1999), designed by the Richard Rogers Partnership. It was, in fact, a big tent—a very big tent coated with Teflon. Built on the partially reclaimed yet still deeply toxic site of an old coal-fired gasworks at Greenwich Marsh (Irvine, 1999), the Millennium Dome was indeed massive, in the words of the Queen, ‘the largest enclosed space on earth’ (NMEC, 2000:5). It dominated a southeastern peninsula of the Thames where the Prime Meridian cuts across the tip of the peninsula like a circumcision. However, the amazing thing did not dominate the cityscape in the way the Eiffel Tower looms above Paris (Barthes, 1979). Tucked far away down the river in East London, the Dome could just about be glimpsed from the top of the London Eye ferris wheel, which was also built to mark the Millennium, on the other side of the Thames from the Palace of Westminster. Unlike British Airway’s (BA) London Eye, the Millennium Dome provided no panoramic view of London. The greatest sights on offer were to be inside. As an icon of the Millennium, the Dome was best seen in aerial photography, through mediated rather than direct vision. The world was supposed to be amazed. More amazing than the thing itself or its image circulating globally was how the project was constructed as a display of Britain’s ‘greatness’ at the turn of the Millennium. It was an artefact of the National Lottery that was introduced by John Major’s Conservative government in 1994. A large part of the proceeds from the lottery was to be spent on celebrating the Millennium. A Millennium
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Commission of ‘the great and the good’ was set up to plan the celebrations (Rocco, 1995). Deputy Prime Minister Michael Heseltine—the politician who had been responsible for bringing about the overthrow of his bitter enemy Margaret Thatcher—was a key figure on the Millennium Commission. He had a ministerial record of promoting urban regeneration schemes. Heseltine (2000) regretted the fact that Greenwich had been neglected in the docklands regeneration of the 1980s, the most prominent aspect of which was the Canary Wharf office complex across the Thames from the Greenwich Peninsula. In choosing Greenwich for the Millennium Dome, Heseltine had sought to make amends for its earlier neglect. Claims are made, of course, for the local regenerative effect of the project (McGuigan and Gilmore, 2001) but, in 1996, Heseltine enunciated an even grander purpose for putting on a Millennium Festival with Greenwich at its core: I want millions of visitors to visit the country, share in the festival and go away deeply impressed, much excited by British achievements. The excellence of UK companies, the pre-eminence of the City of London as a financial centre, the technological prowess, the innovative genius will leave an indelible impression. We can do that only in partnership with our leading companies. It is not a bureaucratic concept of central government, or a whim of the Millennium Commission. It is about selling ourselves and our country. (quoted by Nicolson, 1999:2) Heseltine is especially noted for his patriotic capitalism, which was the cause of his conflict with the Atlanticist Thatcher. For Heseltine, the Millennium Dome was to be a re-run of the Great Exhibition. Strenuous efforts were made to bring ‘British’ business on board. No private company, however, not even BA, would agree to run the project. Instead, the New Millennium Experience Company (NMEC) was set up as a curious hybrid of a limited company and a ‘non-departmental public body’. The single shareholder in the company was to be the minister charged with overseeing its operations. When the New Labour government was persuaded to adopt the project from the outgoing Conservatives, the minister given responsibility for the Millennium celebrations was not the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Chris Smith, but, instead, the arch ‘spin doctor’, Minister Without Portfolio, Peter Mandelson. He immediately started spinning on behalf of the Dome: ‘Greenwich is the home of time. The meridian line runs through the exhibition site. It’s a chance for Britain to make a big statement about itself and the rest of the world’ (quoted by Harding, 1997). Mandelson was well aware that the Dome was a tricky proposition, already hugely controversial long before opening (Richards, 1997). Its funding was the principal matter of concern. An initial National Lottery grant of £200 million would have to be increased to £450 million, Mandelson realized on entering office. Eventually, £628 million of lottery money would be
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spent on the New Millennium Experience in addition to nearly £200 million of ‘taxpayer’s money’, spent by the regeneration agency English Partnerships on buying and reclaiming the site. Another significant source of funding was corporate sponsorship, which was not so readily forthcoming as Heseltine had hoped. Mandelson—like Heseltine—was one of the leading characters in the Dome drama. Its continuous and interweaving storylines were distinctly soap operatic over the years up to, including and beyond 2000. The Dome’s unfolding narrative also had features of situation comedy with a cast of eccentric characters stuck together for a succession of disasters and temporary resolutions. Mandelson’s maternal grandfather, Herbert Morrison, had overseen the post Second World War Labour government’s Festival of Britain in 1951 (Banham and Hillier, 1976). This, rather more than Heseltine’s Great Exhibition, was a constant reference point for Mandelson in promoting the Dome. He was, however, to be accused of wishing to dumb down the exposition on visiting Disney World in Florida for inspiration (Bayley, 1999). When Mandelson was forced to resign for the first time from the government in December 1998 over a loan scandal, ‘Mandy’s Place’ (Lewis, 1999) became the responsibility of another comic character, Lord Charles Falconer, the old school pal of Tony Blair. Mandelson was eventually welcomed back into government but had to resign for a second time when he was accused of selling passports to the Hinduja brothers for their modest and taxexempt donation to the Dome’s Faith Zone. The media had a field day with this ‘scandal’ and other endlessly entertaining storylines. The fact of the matter is that the Millennium Dome was the biggest news story in the British media during the year 2000, if only because of the sheer volume of broadcast time and column inches devoted to the crisis-ridden exposition (McGuigan, 2002). Journalists at Canary Wharf were constantly reminded of the Dome when they glanced out of their office windows just across the river. It took the lorry-drivers’ protest at the price of petrol, which threatened to close down the British economy, to topple the Dome from lead news story in September on radio and television and in the press. Yet, even at the height of the fuel crisis, the problems of the Dome’s sell-off and its need for further lottery subsidy to stay open occupied second place in the news media. The cultural disaster Years of negative comment concerning the good sense of the project seemed to be confirmed on the opening night of 31 December 1999. National newspaper editors, the BBC’s director general and many other guests for the launch party were detained at Stratford Underground station for a security check that lasted up to three hours before they were bussed into the Dome at North Greenwich. News media immediately dubbed it ‘a fiasco’. The New Millennium Experience itself was attacked as a cultural ‘disaster’ by leading commentators in the press. The amazing thing was very soon judged to be distinctly uninspiring by
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both broadsheet and tabloid journalism. The Dome itself became the object of incessant popular conversation and, indeed, derision. NMEC’s management had lost the public relations battle straight away. Then, it transpired that, while the Dome had opened on time, it had not opened on budget. The company’s contingency fund had been depleted in order to meet escalating costs as time ran out before opening. Only one-third of the expected number of visitors for January went to the Dome that month. Just over half the predicted 12 million for the whole year actually visited the Dome. On opening, several sponsors had not yet paid up and some of them had not even concluded contracts with NMEC. By the end of the first month, the company was virtually bankrupt. NMEC asked for and received £60 million of additional lottery money from the Millennium Commission in February, at the time described as a ‘loan’ but with little likelihood of ever being repaid. This was the first of four extra tranches of lottery funding through the year. Another £29 million was agreed in May. On the Millennium Commission’s deal to sell the Dome to the Japanese investment bank Nomura for £105 million, £43 million was made forthcoming in August as an advance on the sale’s proceeds. When Nomura pulled out of the deal in September because of confusion over contractual ownership of properties at the Dome, the Millennium Commission awarded it another £47 million to keep going until the end of the year. A city ‘troubshooter’ was appointed the third chair in succession of NMEC in order to bring about solvent liquidation of the project. This involved breaking up and hastily selling off the contents at knockdown prices in February 2001. It is not surprising, then, that the key theme of media coverage was that the Dome was a waste of public money that would have been better spent on genuinely good causes. That was particularly embarrassing for the New Labour government since it had prided itself on being more fiscally prudent than Old Labour. In September, the Prime Minister issued an ‘apology’ in a television interview with David Frost in which he blamed the Dome disaster on inadequate management rather than the very concept and social construction of the New Millennium Experience as such. The managerial paradigm Back in January, a group of sponsors had defined the problem as a managerial one and demanded that something should be done about it. They commissioned research that purportedly showed association with the Dome was bringing them bad publicity (BBC2, The Money Programme, 6 February 2000), though it did not demonstrate a loss of sales. Long queues at the high-street chemist Boots’s Body Zone, for instance, had been widely reported as indicative of poor management. In effect, the sponsors’ revolt brought about the sacking of the chief executive officer, Jennie Page, former civil servant and previously head of the Millennium Commission. She was replaced as NMEC’s CEO by an unemployed 34-year old former vice president of Disneyland Paris, P.-Y.Gerbeau.
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He was inaccurately reported as the man who had been responsible for ‘turning around’ Disney’s French operation. The idea was that Gerbeau would do the same with the Dome. Gerbeau, in fact, had been in charge of ticketing and car parking at Disneyland, Paris. It was his mentor, Phillippe Bourgignon, the CEO, who had presided over the turnaround at the Disney theme park outside Paris. The replacement of Page with Gerbeau certainly did result in a shift of managerial style. Page was the epitome of the public bureaucrat who had no experience of running a visitor attraction and blamed the problems of the Dome on political interference (Page, 2000). As Blair later argued on television and at the October Labour Party Conference, it was essential to bring in commercial expertise for running a visitor attraction in a business-like manner, which is exactly what Gerbeau represented. He was imbued with the new managerialist ‘philosophy’ of customer service and flat organizational structure. A stratum of middle management disappeared. Gerbeau was a showman who became a popular figure in the media and was said, as well, to be popular with the black-and-yellowclad hosts, the front-line workers suffering from the flak being thrown at the Dome day-by-day. Changes were made more or less cosmetically, such as the issuing of time-slot tickets for visiting the Body. Gerbeau knew whom he had to please first and foremost: the sponsors. He redefined them as ‘partners’ (interview with the author). Under the Gerbeau regime, large placards were erected in front of sponsored zones making corporate beneficence quite clear to the visiting public. Access to the Dome’s main entrance was cordoned off in order to route visitors through ‘the sponsors’ village’ of shop units and past BSkyB’s Skyscape cinema where the Blackadder Back and Forth film was screened at regular times during the day. While Gerbeau ensured that corporate logos were given more prominent display than previously, it would be quite wrong to assume that he was responsible for the overwhelming presence of sponsorship at the Dome. Corporate sponsorship was at the heart of the whole project from its hesitant beginning to its bitter end. Page had said that she would not allow the exposition to become ‘Logoland’, yet it already was so before the advent of Gerbeau. For example, McDonald’s sponsored Our Town Stage where children from around the country had their day performing at the Dome. McDonald’s had sought copyright in the performances but had to settle for copyright of recordings. Involvement in the New Millennium Experience’s National Programme, in effect, facilitated McDonald’s incursion into schools. Furthermore, McDonald’s was a massive presence at the Dome. On the outside, directly across from the main entrance, was the largest McDonald’s in Europe. There were two more McDonald’s eateries inside. In January, before the regime change, an advertisement appeared on television asking, ‘What’s in the Dome?’ The answer: ‘McDonald’s’. Moreover, it is quite inadequate to explain the Millennium Dome’s manifest ‘failure’—or even its latent ‘success’—as simply a matter of management, particularly the lack of private-sector skills for running a public-sector project on
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opening. That the Dome picked up increasing numbers of visitors towards the end of the year and that approval ratings were high are perhaps grounds for the managerial argument. However, as visitor research shows, scepticism of its damnation in the media was a more pronounced motive for visiting the Dome than awareness of improved management. Gerbeau himself admitted in interview that the changes he brought about were not fundamental. Incidentally, the managerial paradigm framed BBC Television’s six-part series, Trouble at the Big Top. This was a special edition of a long-running programme, Trouble at the Top that looks at problems of management in various walks of life. The first four episodes were screened at weekly intervals up to and including the opening of the Dome. The fifth episode appeared on the digital channel, BBC Knowledge (now BBC4), in June. That particular episode represented sponsors’ complaints uncritically and contained interviews with newspaper editors who had suffered the indignities of the opening night. The final episode summarized the disastrous narrative of the Dome from beginning to end and was screened on its closure at the end of 2000. Multidimensional analysis Various different accounts of the Millennium Dome were given before it actually opened, ranging from managerial analysis (Lewis et al., 1998) to belle-lettreiste critique (Sinclair, 1999). While controversy still raged, the Dome was attacked as symptomatic of New Labour’s disingenuous populism by a former Conservative politician (Walden, 2000). There are several other insightful and largely journalistic accounts of the Dome’s cultural disaster (such as Martin, 2000 and Morrison, 2000). None of them, however, apply a rigorous method of cultural analysis or a critical suspension of partial judgement. In accounting for such a phenomenon as the New Millennium Experience, it is important to look at it in the round, that is by taking into account the multiple determinations and agencies in its production, representation and consumption. There are diverse kinds of cultural analysis that focus on particular aspects of production, representation and consumption (for instance, the political economy of cultural production, textual analysis of cultural artefacts and audience research). All of these are valid in their own terms and exemplify a practical division of labour as well as the contest of rival paradigms in cultural and media studies. However, there is a case for a combined approach, for tracing various moments in the circulation of culture and their interconnectedness in order to grasp the ontological complexity of a specific phenomenon (Kellner, 1997). The case of the Open University’s study of the Sony Walkman (du Gay et al., 1997), which adds identity and regulation to the trinity of production, representation and consumption, is a good example of such analysis. As a comparatively bounded object, the Millennium Dome exposition lent itself to multidimensional analysis, not all aspects of which can be dealt with fully in a single article. The point is to illustrate the value of multidimensional analysis of a controversial phenomenon to
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a policy-oriented, though critical, cultural studies. The general framework of the analysis is sketched in here (see McGuigan and Gilmore, 2002, for greater empirical detail, particularly on the data from visitor interviews; and McGuigan, forthcoming, for reflections on the Dome in relation to the tradition of expositions universelles, great exhibitions and world’s fairs (Greenhalgh, 1988)). What, then, are the key features of the Millennium Dome’s production, representation and consumption? Here, I shall concentrate on the following aspects. The role of corporate sponsorship in the production of the New Millennium Experience is examined. The ideological features of the Dome’s representational elements are related to its social-democratic inflection of neoliberalism. A typology of generous and reflexive visiting is presented, which aims to explain the paradox of relatively high levels of recorded visitor approval in the face of the mediated construction of the Dome as a disaster. The foregoing discussion of the public debate—political statements and media coverage—is part of this multidimensional analysis since the meaning of the object itself is a highly mediated and contested phenomenon. The role of sponsorship Consideration of the role of corporate sponsorship is at the heart of explaining how the Millennium Dome turned out. Sponsorship eventually amounted to less than one fifth (around £150 million) the amount of public money spent on the New Millennium Experience (around £800 million, including £628 million of lottery money). Yet, corporate sponsors had a decisive impact on the exposition’s focal concerns, design and management. Typically, sponsors were associated with a particular thematic zone; so there was BT’s Talk, Ford’s Journey, Manpower’s Work, Marconi’s and BAe Systems’s Mind, Marks and Spencer’s Self Portrait— the main zones discussed here. Some zones did not attract sponsorship, such as Living Island and Play. Living Island was critical of environmental pollution. Play lost its sponsor, BSkyB, because it was not designed to publicize that company’s products. An obvious motive for sponsorship was commercial promotion to the public. This was manifestly evident in the cases of BT’s Talk Zone and Ford’s Journey Zone. Both companies negotiated ‘turnkey’ contracts with NMEC, which meant they were allowed to design, build and run their own zones, in effect, with minimal interference from NMEC. The only motorcars in the Journey Zone were Ford. BT and Ford spent a great deal more on their zones than was normally spent on the zones ostensibly under NMEC’s control. On the other hand, several sponsors quite evidently paid less than the official tariff for association. In addition, ‘value in kind’—equipment, etc.—was often supplied instead of money, such as Coca Cola’s ice rink. NMEC had editors allocated to zones and a ‘Litmus Group’ of luminaries from the entertainment industry to advise on the representational aspects of the exhibition. There was a great deal of hiring and firing of designers in the
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production of the Dome’s contents. Nevertheless, even in these cases, it is evident that NMEC relinquished a great deal of control to sponsors. Some sponsors brought in designers that they had worked with before on product launches. In fact, many of the zone designers came from the world of corporate communications rather than museum design. In the Work Zone, for example, its sponsor, the American employment agency Manpower, was permitted to put up a display of jobs on offer through the agency as well as extolling the brave new world of flexible labour. Left-wing critics of the Millennium Dome attacked its promotional culture, for instance, Jonathan Glancey: ‘The Millennium Experience, its entrance flanked by a branch of McDonalds, proved to be an exhibition of corporate sponsorship’ (2001:26). This was an accurate criticism to a certain extent, but not very deep in accounting for the political economy or ideology of sponsorship at the Dome. With a few notable exceptions, such as Greg Palast (2001) in the Observer, journalists hardly penetrated the deeper motives of corporations for sponsoring parts of the Dome. It is easy enough to see why Boots took the opportunity to promote pharmaceutical products but harder to see why BAe Systems put money into the Mind Zone, the most intellectual of zones, designed by deconstructionist architect, Zaha Hadid. One of the largest arms manufacturers in the World, BAe Systems does not sell directly to the public; nor did the Mind Zone publicize its production of submarines, naval platforms, radar scanners and military aircraft such as the Eurofighter Tycoon, F-22 and Joint Strike Fighter. Unlike the brazenness of several other sponsor/zone relations, Mind did not manifestly promote BAe’s core business. Instead, the ostensible purpose of the zone was to represent modern engineering and encourage the education of engineers. However, like a number of other sponsors, BAe may have had ulterior motives for supporting the Dome. In 1997, the New Labour government promised to pursue an ‘ethical foreign policy’, which might have meant not sanctioning the sale of weapons to dictatorships such as the genocidal Suharto regime in Indonesia. Soon, this ‘unrealistic’ policy was quietly dropped since the production of armaments is one of the few remaining buoyant sectors of British manufacturing and exports in what is said to be a ‘weightless’ informational economy. The government’s U turn on foreign policy—the unrestrained issuing of export guarantees to armaments manufacturers and the conduct of diplomacy on their behalf—was of more than incidental benefit to BAe Systems. This was of greater significance than the much commented upon allegation that the Hinduja brothers’ modest donation to the Faith Zone bought them British passports, a story that, incidentally, brought the reporters who broke it the journalist of the year award. The Hinduja passports-for-sponsorship scandal was only the tip of an iceberg, the greater part of which the news media largely ignored. As the former marketing director of one of the corporate sponsors remarked in interview, everyone had a political deal. This was evidently so of the Work Zone’s sponsor Manpower in building its business in Britain. Manpower handled human
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resources for the New Millennium Experience, hiring, training and relocating employees on closure. Yet more significantly, in association with Ernst and Young, Manpower won nine out of fifteen contracts for the management of employment zones around the country, a little remarked upon feature of the New Labour government’s privatization of public agencies. This may perhaps just be coincidental. There are several other coincidences to note. The supermarket chain Tesco — sponsor of the Learning Zone and heavily involved in promoting its business through computing in schools—must have been pleased when the government decided to withdraw its proposed legislation for taxing out-of-town car parking at retail estates. BA and BAA (British Airports Authority)—co-sponsors of Home Planet, the closest thing to a ride at the Dome—must have appreciated the government’s sanctioning of Terminal Five at Heathrow in face of popular protest on environmental grounds by locals against its building. It came as something of a surprise when Camelot—sponsor of Shared Ground—had its National Lottery contract renewed by a Labour government that had vowed to replace its profit-making operation with a not-for-profit operator. Rupert Murdoch’s BSkyB— sponsor of Skyscape—benefited from the government’s light-touch policies on broadcasting and digitalization, not to mention its relaxed press policy. There are other examples. It may all just be coincidence. However, it is reasonable to infer that sponsorship of the New Millennium Experience was more than a publicity exercise. Ideology and meaning In carrying out the present multidimensional analysis, it is necessary to demonstrate that the role of corporate sponsorship was not only about behindthe-scenes deals but had consequence for the construction of meaning at the Dome. John B.Thompson (1990) identifies a number of different modes of ideological representation (legitimation, dissimulation, unification, fragmentation and reification) each with their typical strategies of symbolic construction (such as displacement and euphemization for dissimulation). Examples of all these ideological modes and strategies could be found scattered around the Dome, of which only a few brief illustrations can be given here. Thompson treats ideology as a matter of symbolic domination and subordination, thereby avoiding questions of interest and distortion. This is unfortunate since interest and distortion in the critique of ideology (Lovell, 1980) are manifestly pertinent to analysing the construction of meaning in representation at the Dome, especially in sponsored thematic zones. It is not necessary, however, to claim that some essential truth was masked over at the Dome or that ‘real’ reality was simply misrepresented. Instead, it is possible to argue the case from the dialogical perspective of critical theory (Calhoun, 1995) that not only questions the form and content of the Dome’s attractions but also imagines what might otherwise have been there. The potential articulation of alternative views in the
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spirit of rational-critical debate (McGuigan, 1996) could reasonably have been expected from an exposition that was very largely funded by the public in a democratic polity and only marginally by corporate sponsors. Ideological representation with regard to corporate sponsorship worked differently in different parts of the Dome. Sponsorship was extremely intrusive in some cases, for example, in Manpower’s Work Zone. In other cases, it was comparatively unobtrusive, as in Marks and Spencer’s Self Portrait Zone. The Mind Zone came in between. In yet other cases, it was entirely absent, as in the Millennium Show. Moreover, in the interstices and on the edges, there were signs of something different from ‘an exhibition of corporate sponsorship’, for example, in artworks such as Antony Gormley’s Quantum Cloud on the River Approach. To take the most straightforward example first—Manpower’s Work Zone— this was crudely propagandistic for both the agency and government policy on vocational training. Visitors were told didactically to assemble ‘new skills’ for a flexible labour market in which there are no more ‘jobs for life’—communication, literacy, etc.—and test them out in the games room at the termination of the zone. ‘Old work’ was reified as pure drudgery compared to the excitements of ‘new work’. Furthermore, there was no mention of past labour struggles to establish worker rights or the extreme exploitation and oppression of sweated labour in the world today. Quite differently from the crude propaganda of Work, the Mind Zone was very subtle. Its primary ideological mode was dissimulation in that the arms industry was displaced ostensibly from its focal concerns. Instead of representing technologies of warfare, the emphasis was on communications and the networking principle so thoroughly analysed by Manuel Castells (1996). Euphemism is commonly used in discourses of war; and this was replete within the Mind Zone. With its (post)modern art, Internet and ant colony, the Mind Zone was a curiously dehumanized zone, a celebration of ‘the inhuman’, in Jean-Francois Lyotard’s (1991) term (see Sim, 2001), the coagulation of body and machine, alongside the superior yet uncreative powers of artificial intelligence. There was, however, a startlingly humanistic exception plonked into the middle of the zone, Ron Mueck’s sculpture, the enigmatic Boy. In criticizing the Mind Zone, it is necessary to imagine what might have been said. It would have been reasonable for the Dome to contain a War Zone that looked critically at the history of military conflict as it has developed into the virtual reality and inhumanity of hi-tech warfare. Instead, there was the intellectual obscurantism of Mind. The editorial relation between business and design in the Millennium Dome case illustrates an important distinction and a significant transition that was taking place in a cultural project largely funded by the public. It is necessary to distinguish between associative sponsorship and deep sponsorship. Associative sponsorship is the standard form in the arts and public sector of cultural provision. Sponsors may accrue kudos through association with artistic culture, particularly prestigious
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events, but are not supposed to influence content. As critics have argued (such as Shaw, 1993), this is not what actually happens in practice. Sponsorship exerts all sorts of subtle pressure on editorial decision-making, programme selection and so forth. Nevertheless, the norms of associative sponsorship are still claimed and defended officially in order to protect cultural integrity: for instance, sponsors of Tate Modern are not supposed to select the artworks and dictate exhibition policy, though donations of money and work, of course, are gladly accepted. On the other hand, the purpose of deep sponsorship is, unashamedly, to actually construct culture in the interests of corporate business. This is evidently so in, for instance, product placement in Hollywood films and sponsorship of sporting events, where corporations have even sought to change the rules of the game. The most extreme form of deep sponsorship is autonomously created culture, usually of a popular kind so that the form itself is a vehicle for advertising, merchandizing and public relations. Disney was a pioneer in this respect. Corporations’ construction of children’s culture in both entertainment and education is perhaps the most profound and widespread instance of deep sponsorship. Several zones at the Dome were instances of deep rather than associative sponsorship, perhaps most notably Tesco’s Learning Zone that connected its display to the supermarket chain’s long-standing sponsorship of computer-aided education. Other examples of manifest editorial command by sponsors include zones that were ostensibly under NMEC’s control—such as Manpower’s Work Zone and the most patronizing of all, the City of London’s Money Zone—and the two that were not—BT’s Talk Zone and Ford’s Journey Zone. As ‘Ford’s Dome person’ told me: ‘We let them [NMEC’s editorial staff and advisors] believe they were influencing things but in actual fact we took no notice of them’. The Journey Zone’s history of transport included no motorcars other than Ford. Ironically, however, unlike most of the Dome’s contents it afforded a sense of history. Mandelson had insisted that the Dome was to be about the future, not the past. The past was to be consigned to the dustbin of history along with Old Labour. Yet, the Dome generally failed to articulate an exciting new world order. When history is abolished, it is difficult to imagine the future. Curiously, though, Ford’s autonomous and very expensive Journey Zone was an outstanding exception to the general obliteration rather than representation of time—past, present and future—at the Dome. The Journey Zone was designed by Imagination, the firm that had for years designed Ford’s displays at the annual Motor Show in Birmingham and which had original been hired to manage the design of the exposition as a whole. It traced the history of transport technologies, including trains, trainers and planes as well as cars, such as Ford’s futuristic gas-powered vehicle, Project FC5. It polled visitors on their attitudes to transport and environmental issues. Near the end of the zone, four different future scenarios for travel, devised by the University of Sussex, were presented to consider on wide, head-height monitors. On the opposite wall a notice said: ‘There is not one future, there are many’. According
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to the Journey Zone, the future is a matter of choice, not predetermined. Its sponsor, Ford, one of the world’s greatest manufacturers of mobile pollution, insisted on environmental friendliness. Journey felt like an exhibit in a trade show. It was also, however, the zone which did most to address the question of time, supposedly the core question of the exposition, with a chronological sense of history and comparatively intelligent speculation about the future. Ford’s Journey was, then, a transparent yet somewhat sophisticated example of deep sponsorship in the construction of meaning at the Millennium Dome. Gerbeau did not initiate deep sponsorship at the Dome; he merely justified it in his fashionable rhetoric of ‘public-private partnership’ and, specifically, in his argument that you cannot take money from sponsors without allowing them to influence what is on display. Yet, the vast majority of funding did not come from corporate sponsorship but, instead, from ‘the public purse’. Lottery money, in this sense, is a kind of public subscription that was disbursed by the Millennium Commission but which failed to police editorial integrity at the exposition. The National Lottery has, to be sure, been criticized as an informal tax on the poor to the benefit of the comparatively well off through the disbursement of funds to ‘good causes’, especially cultural causes. A visit to the Dome was an expensive day out that attracted visitors mainly from the south east of England, the richest part of the country, though the social demography of visitors was actually quite mixed. Still, the Lottery must be regarded as a means of generating ‘public money’ even if it is a substitute for tax revenue in the formal sense as a source of subsidy to culture and other public goods. Clearly, the Dome was a site of tension over public and corporate control— in effect, regulation. That there were notable instances of associative sponsorship and absence of sponsorship in parts of the Dome demonstrates the tensions at play. An example of associative sponsorship is Marks and Spencer’s Self Portrait Zone, which dealt with British national identity. In this zone, contradictions were set up by the juxtaposition of placard’s extolling the virtues of Britishness —‘creativity’, ‘fairplay’ and so on—with Gerald Scarfe’s sculptures representing the darker side of Britishness, such as a football hooligan with a boot for a head and a respectable racist. It would have been unlikely for this zone to point out that Marks and Spencer’s was a ‘quality’ and hitherto ‘patriotic’ retail chain that was currently losing custom and turning towards sourcing product from cheap labour around the world as part of the solution to its business problems. Nonetheless, the sponsor did allow a questioning of Britishness and an opening up of debate over national identity to be articulated in its zone; and did not manifestly promote its own products there as was so in several other sponsored zones (see McGuigan, 2003). According to visitor research, the most popular feature of the Dome was the Millennium Show in the Central Arena, an aerial ballet choreographed by Mark Fisher and with music by Peter Gabriel, which told an allegorical love story linked to the emergence, destructiveness and collapse of industrialism. The pivotal motif of a rising and falling gas holder recalled the previous use of the Dome site. There was also a spectacular light show. It is interesting to note that
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the Millennium Show had no sponsor. Moreover, ‘a lasting legacy’ from it was intended and perhaps realized. Young people had been selected and trained in the performance skills associated with the Canadian dance troupe, Cirque de Soleil, leaving a greater pool of modern circus talent than had previously existed in Britain. Generous and reflexive visiting Analysis of a cultural phenomenon such as the Millennium Dome must take into account its consumption—visitor experience, not just mass-mediation—as well as the political economy of production and the ideology of representation. Curiously, even an excellent study of a comparable phenomenon—Susan Davis’s (1997) research on Sea World in San Diego—does not seriously engage with visitor research. My research on Dome visiting draws upon quantitative evidence gathered by MORI (McGuigan and Gilmore, 2001) and qualitative evidence gathered for the Arts and Humanities Research Board (AHRB) project (McGuigan and Gilmore, 2002). The details of that research are not reported here in this article. Instead, I shall concentrate on how the paradox of media damnation and visitor approval can be explained in the case of the Millennium Dome. Although it only attracted 6.5 million, instead of the possibly unrealistic projection of 12 million, those who actually visited the Dome generally said they liked it. A great many people did choose to find out for themselves whether or not the Dome was any good, in spite of the media damnation. NMEC claimed, with some good reason, that it was an underreported ‘success’. MORI polling revealed high approval ratings, stretching into the region of 90% of visitors who had a good day out at the Millennium Dome. However, the visitor experience at the Dome was not just about numbers and bald approval ratings. How did visitors experience the Dome? There are bound to be differences of orientation, interpretation and appreciation. This is worth thinking about in terms of qualitative differentiation rather than just crude percentages for satisfaction and dissatisfaction. The marketing model of museums, exhibitions and entertainments tends to use customer typologies that stereotype differences of orientation, for instance, ‘streakers’, ‘strollers’ and ‘readers’ (Perin, 1992). NMEC had such a classification of visitors, as ‘divers’, ‘swimmers’ and ‘paddlers’. Divers were the clever ones who could penetrate the deep meanings of the Dome. Paddlers would not really be concentrating due to their intellectual deficiencies or having to deal with screaming kids. Swimmers were identified as coming between the extremes of ‘brainy’ and ‘thick’ (Parton, 1999). It is necessary for cultural analysis to go beyond such stereotyping in order to explore the actual texture of visitor experience. The following typology, developed for the AHRB project on the Millennium Dome, identifies two major co-ordinates of visitor orientation, generosity and reflexivity. These are not mutually exclusive categories or crude
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stereotypes. On the one hand, you could be generous and reflexive or generous and unreflexive. On the other hand, you could be reflexively or unreflexively ungenerous. Crosshatched, this produces four general modes of visitor orientation. The point of such a typology is to create a general framework for exploring the complex and different ways in which attractions like the Dome are negotiated by visitors and, in the case of ungenerous and unreflexive perhaps, non-visitors. Typology of visitor orientation
The typology facilitated the conduct and analysis of conversational interviews with visitors to the Dome. Visitors to the Dome were typically found to be generous in their orientation, willing to give the benefit of the doubt and keen to make the best of what was on offer. For example, there is the case of a family from Middlesborough—three hundred miles from London—who visited the Dome in March 2000. A grandmother, a mother, a toddler and a boy of about ten had set off by coach from the North East at four in the morning and were going on to the London Eye after the Dome before returning to Middlesborough at two the following morning. The adults and the boy did not say much except that they were having a great time, which is just as well, considering the sheer expenditure of time, money and effort they had put into their ‘one amazing day’. If you went at all, you were likely to make the best of it. Visitors were well aware of the controversial nature of the Millennium Dome. Typically sceptical of its damnation in the media, they came, in the spirit of practical criticism, to see for themselves. As one visitor summed it up, ‘it is nothing like the disaster you read in the newspapers’. Typically, the general experience of the visit exceeded expectations. For some, the Millennium Show was worth the price of the entrance ticket alone. Hosts, however, mentioned a small minority of visitors who had come to confirm their expectation of just how bad it was. Three general conclusions can be derived from the visitor research for the AHRB project. First, it has to be registered, visitors did not complain much about the role of sponsorship. That does not necessarily mean they approved of it or that it was inconsequential for their experience. Instead, it is reasonable to suggest that many people these days simply take the logoscape for granted, rarely questioning its significance so normalized has it become under present conditions. Second, it was not unusual to find visitors expressing approval for the Dome in general, the building and its central attraction of the show, rather more than its particular elements, especially the thematic zones. As a visitor experience, in effect, the Dome amounted typically to more than the sum of its many tainted
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parts. Third, the under-reported success that the Dome, arguably, did achieve in terms of visitor response was due more to the generosity of visitors, determined to have a good day out, than of sponsors determined to have their pound of flesh. Conclusion—a shell for neo-liberalism Amongst the determining factors of the Dome ‘disaster’, the role of corporate sponsorship—economically, ideologically and politically—was decisive. It is an extreme case of the impact of corporate sponsorship on public culture, illustrating the inordinate power symbolically as well as materially of business in liberaldemocratic polities today. For a small fraction of the public money spent on it, sponsoring corporations were allowed to have the loudest say in most of the Dome’s thematic zones. The role of corporate sponsorship was actually more important ideologically than financially. The four extra tranches of National Lottery money spent to keep the Dome going throughout 2000 amounted to more than the value of sponsorship. It might have been possible albeit ideologically inconceivable to have put on an exposition without any sponsorship at all. That would have been contrary to the whole point of the project from a governmental perspective, which was to represent Britain as a nation of corporations instead of a democratic people engaged in debate over their time and place in history. It is a sad coda to the project that the Dome and its site were literally given away to corporate business in the end. A series of failed attempts were made to sell off the place before and after closure. Had the Dome been demolished, the land would have been more profitable to developers. To let that happen, however, would have been a final admission of failure for its flagship project by the New Labour government.The place was eventually given away to the Meridian Delta consortium in summer 2002 in the vague hope that the government might at some time in the future receive a share of the profits. Profit is to be made from use of the Dome as a sports and entertainment venue by the American Anschutz Corporation and property development around it by Quintain Estates and the Australian Lend Lease Real Estate Group. There is a paradox, however, that needs to be explained, between the publicly mediated ‘failure’ of the New Millennium Experience—‘the disastrous Dome’— and evidence of an under-reported ‘success’ according to expressions of visitor approval. Many visitors brought levels of hopeful anticipation and intellectual engagement to the Dome that much of its contents did not actually merit. The Millennium Dome was, to put it mildly, a disappointment in spite of strenuous efforts on the part of visitors to make it better than it really was. Visitor generosity and reflexivity towards an ideologically distorted exposition in a big tent at Greenwich are symptomatic of the imperilled standing of the public cultural alternative to commercial speech today. In the face of the taken-for-granted dominance of neo-liberal values and corporate machinations, there is little masspopular resistance.
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The case study of the Millennium Dome further illustrates the operations of cultural policy as display (Williams, 1984; McGuigan, forthcoming).The Dome exposition was an extreme instance both of nationalistic hubris, particularly considering its failure to articulate a sufficiently multicultural Britishness, and of corporate violation of publicly funded culture. That an exposition on this scale should have been mounted at all in the same year as the official successor to the international tradition, Hanover 2000, is peculiar to say the least. Interestingly, Hanover 2000 met with a similar fate to the Millennium Dome. It attracted only 16 million of a projected 40 million and was an object of persistent criticism and public debate. The corporate presence was massive at Hanover as well and countries like Nigeria used it as a marketplace to sell off public assets. However, unlike the British exposition, it played host to countries from around the world, although the USA refused to participate. Hanover 2000 still, however residually, represented a world of nations whereas the Millennium Dome represented a nation of corporations. The Dome was an incoherent vehicle for old delusions of national grandeur allied to corporate power in a neo-liberal world. In toto, though in complex and variable ways, it represented New Labour’s ‘Third Way’ politics, the reconciliation of ‘social-ism’ with ‘market forces’. Perry Anderson (2000:11) has remarked, ‘the Third Way is the best ideological shell of neo-liberalism today’. The Great Exhibition of 1851 represented the original liberalism of free trade, with imperial Britain in a commanding position. The 1951 Festival of Britain represented a post-imperial, nationalistic social democracy, a vision of the future that was eventually given concrete form in the South Bank arts complex and the pedestrian precinct of Coventry city centre. In the 1990s, the British Labour Party, having been out of power for eighteen years, relinquished the substance of social democracy whilst retaining some of its rhetoric in order to subsume Thatcherism in a new governmental project that has reasonably been labelled ‘post-Thatcherite’ (Driver and Martell, 1998). It not only inherited the neo-liberal agenda; it inherited the Dome. New Labour’s Millennium Experience, in effect, represented the government’s subordination to the imperatives of big business at great expense to the public. References Anderson, R (2000) ‘Renewals’. New Left Review l (Jan-Feb): 5–24. Banham, M. and Hillier, B. (eds) (1976) A Tonic to the Nation—The Festival of Britain 1951. London: Thames & Hudson. Barthes, R. (1979) The Eiffel Tower and Other Mythologies. Berkeley, Los Angeles& London: University of California Press. Bayley, S. (1999) Labour Camp—The Failure of Style Over Substance. London: B.T. Bashford. Blair, T. (1998) ‘Why the Dome is good for Britain’. People’s Palace speech, Royal Festival Hall, 24 February, pp. 1–5. Calhoun, C. (1995) Critical Social Theory. Cambridge, MA and Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
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Castells, M. (1996) The Rise of the Network Society. Malden, MAand Oxford: Basil Blackwell. Davis, S. (1997) Spectacular Nature—Corporate Culture and the Sea World Experience. Berkeley, CA & London: University of California Press. Driver, S. and Martell, L. (1998) New Labour—Politics After Thatcherism. Cambridge: Polity Press. du Gay, R, Hall, S., Janes, L., Mackay, H. and Negus, K. (eds) (1997) Doing Cultural Studies—The Story of the Sony Walkman. London, Thousand Oaks, NJ and New Delhi: Sage. Fairclough, N. (2000) New Labour, New Language. London and New York: Routledge. Glancey, J. (2001) London—Bread and Circuses. London and New York: Verso. Goldberger, P. (1998) ‘The big top’. The New Yorker, 27 April–4 May:152–9. Greenhalgh, P. (1988) Ephemeral Vistas—The Expositions Universelles, Great Exhibitions and World’s Fairs, 1851–1939. Manchester: Manchester University Press; New York: St Martin’s Press. Harding, L. (1997) ‘Lift-off for £750m Dome’. Guardian, 27 June 1997:3. Heseltine, M. (2000) Life in the Jungle—My Autobiography. London: Hodder & Stoughton. Irvine, A. (1999) The Battle for the Dome. London: Irvine News Agency. Kellner, D. (1997) ‘Critical theory and cultural studies—the missed articulation’. In J.McGuigan (ed.) Cultural Methodologies. London,Thousand Oaks and New Delhi: Sage, 12–41. Lewis, B. (1999) Looking for Mandy’s Place—An Epic Millennium Poem. Loughborough University School of Art and Design. Lewis, J. and Miller, T. (eds) (2003) Critical Cultural Policy Studies. Malden, MA and Oxford: Blackwell. Lewis, P., Richardson, V. and Woudhuysen, J. (1998) In Defence of the Dome. London: Adam Smith Institute. Lovell, T. (1980) Pictures of Reality—Aesthetics, Politics and Pleasure. London: British Film Institute. Lyotard, J.-F. (1991 ) The Inhuman—Reflections on Time. Cambridge: Polity Press. Martin, P. (2000) ‘Dome and gloom’. Sunday Times Magazine, 9 July 2000:40–6. McGuigan, J. (1996) Culture and the Public Sphere. London & New York: Routledge. McGuigan, J. (2002) ‘The public sphere’. In P.Hamilton and K.Thompson (eds) The Uses of Sociology. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 81–128. McGuigan, J. (2003) ‘A shell for neo-liberalism—New Labour Britain and the millennium dome’. In S.Burnett, E.Caunes, E.Mazierska and J.Walton (eds) Relocating Britishness. Manchester: Manchester University Press. McGuigan, J. (forthcoming) Rethinking Cultural Policy. Buckingham & Philadelphia: Open University Press. McGuigan, J. and Gilmore, A. (2001) ‘Figuring out the dome’. Cultural Trends, 39: 41–83. McGuigan, J.and Gilmore, A. (2002) ‘The millennium dome—sponsoring, meaning and visiting’. International Journal of Cultural Policy, 8(1):1–20. Morrison, B. (2000) ‘That was the dome that was’. Independent on Sunday, Sunday Review, 3 December 2000:14–16. Nicolson, A. (1999) Regeneration—The Story of the Millennium Dome. London: HarperCollins. NMEC (2000) Millennium Experience—The Guide. London: New Millennium Experience Company.
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Page, J. (2000) ‘The millennium dome’. RSA Journal, 3–4: 1–8. Palast, G. (2001) ‘Ask no questions…’. Observer, Business section, 25 March 2001: 6. Parton, J. (1999) ‘My doomsday at the dome’. Mail on Sunday Review, 5 September 1999: 58–9. Perin, C. (1992) ‘The communicative circle—museums as communities’. In I.Karp, C.Mullen Kramer and S.D.Lavine (eds) Museums as Communities—The Politics of Public Culture. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 182–220. Richards, S. (1997) ‘Interview: Peter Mandelson—I used to be a sceptic, but now I’m a true believer, says Millennium dollar man. The alternative would be spam, spam and more spam’. New Statesman, 4 July:16–17. Rocco, F. (1995) ‘The great millennium lottery’. Independent on Sunday, Sunday Review, 1 January 1995:8–12. Shaw, R. (ed.) (1993) The Spread of Sponsorship—in the Arts, Sport, the Health Service and Broadcasting. Newcastle: Bloodaxe Books. Sim, S. (2001) Lyotard and the Inhuman. Cambridge: Icon Books. Sinclair, S. (1999) Sorry Meniscus—Excursions to the Millennium Dome. London: Profile Books. Thompson, J.B. (1990) Ideology and Modern Culture—Critical Social Theory in the Era of Mass Communication. Cambridge: Polity Press. Toynbee, P. (2000a) ‘I paid up, I queued up, and now I’m thoroughly fed up’. Guardian, 5 January 2000:20. Toynbee, P. (2000b) ‘The £758 million disaster zone’. Daily Mail, 6 January 2000: 6–7. Walden, G. (2000) The New Elites—Making a Career in the Masses. London: Allen Lane. Wilhide, E. (1999) The Millennium Dome. London: HarperCollins. Williams, R. (1984) ‘State culture and beyond’. In L.Apignanesi (ed.) Culture and the State. London: Institute of Contemporary Arts, 3–5.
CULTURAL STUDIES 17(5) 2003, 579–614
PARTIAL PUBLICITY AND GENDERED REMEMBERING: FIGURING WOMEN IN CULTURE AND PERFORMANCE
Abstract This essay brings representational issues of female publicity into recent discussions about space, community and memory. Cultural analysts in a variety of fields have used these concepts to foreground the radically contextual and socially embedded nature of artistic production as well as to incorporate psychic and material notions of representation into the analysis of the political. I argue that such conceptual work is implicitly gendered, something made clearer by asking feminist questions about the function of memorial space in imagining publicity. To focus an interrogation, I investigate one disciplinary strain within cultural studies: theatre and performance studies. Throughout, I position performance—both theatrical and social—as an exemplary site with which to investigate the linguistic, spatial, and embodied practices of culture. Such forms expose the gendered operations of language, space and gesture as well. Furthermore, the field of performance studies has produced theoretical paradigms that derive from larger theories of memory and space. By thus positioning it as both a site of culture and a site of cultural theory, I argue that performance can illuminate the tacit gendering of culture more generally. My investigation of publicity and civic memorial will build upon three relatively recent examples of civic performance in Chicago: the performance of First Lady at the 1996 Democratic convention, the 1996 inauguration of the Jane Addams Memorial Park in Chicago, and the premiere of Chicago-born playwright David Mamet’s The Old Neighborhood in 1997. I frame both Chicago theatre and other kinds of Chicago performances as different types of civic memorial in order to speculate on relationships amongst different types of genres. More importantly, I illustrate the different ways that women function allegorically and indirectly as vehicles for imagining publicity and for lamenting its failures. My examples suggest how women—living and/or memorialized, ethnically marked and unmarked—can figure paradoxically
Cultural Studies ISSN 0950–2386 print/ISSN 1466–4348 online © 2003 Taylor & Francis Ltd http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals DOI: 10.1080/0950238032000126883
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as the object blamed for the loss of extended affiliation even as (conversely) they are also blamed for its ‘unnatural’ public promotion.
Keywords memory; space; gender; performance; culture; locality ‘The strategy is to give her back her voice, but have her campaign for, rather than with, her husband’. (Spokesperson for the Clinton 1996 Presidential Campaign on Hillary Rodham Clinton) ‘A goal was to create a monument that is purposefully non-monumental’. (Architect Miriam Gusevitch on the design for the Jane Addams Memorial Park) ‘How d’you think I’m doing at my job?’ (Deeny in David Mamet’s The Old Neighborhood) IF ONE HAD TO name an American woman who best exemplified the possibilities and perils of being a ‘woman in public’ in the last decade of the twentieth century, Hillary Rodham Clinton would be a likely choice. Conflicts are, of course, built in to the concept of ‘First Lady’: a ‘first-ness’ that is always secondary, an ideal of ‘lady-ness’ that braces against the demands of the job, a title that exposes the assumptions of masculinity and heterosexual pairing behind the apparently gender-neutral concept of ‘President’. Stories of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s attempts to navigate such perils are legion: her haircuts, her name changes, her cookie baking. The ambivalent interpretive structures behind such episodes would later prompt public critiques of her work in children’s rights, her health-care plan and of her investment successes; a similar ambivalence would also prompt public approval of her forays into international aid as well as her status as the wronged wife of an adulterous husband. The conflicts came into higher relief as Rodham shifted modes of female publicity from First Lady to New York senator. Rodham’s popularity increased domestically whenever she travelled internationally and decreased when she returned; her public acceptance rose with the resuscitation of her victimhood and fell when it was forgotten. Such patterns
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testify to the indirect, roundabout and often racialized methods by which women’s ventures into publicity are made palatable. Such patterns also illustrate the difficulties such public women have when they try to stand up for themselves, one that, as I will argue, has everything to do with the representational difficulty women face when they try to stand in for themselves. While the predicament of Hillary Rodham Clinton as First Lady might be used to introduce a number of issues, I am most interested in foregrounding a formal problem of female representation. As a long tradition of feminist political theory tells us, public women bear the burden of standing in for the communities to whom they are speaking in a way that exceeds and skews the conventions of representation, in political and performative senses of the term. The political representation built into the concept of the ‘man of the people’—senator, candidate, president or community leader—is certainly a surrogated relationship, one where one figure stands in for a larger one. However, the concept of a’woman of the people’ compounds the surrogation in other directions. Functioning allegorically as an embodiment of community, women often take on the attenuated task of creating public spaces without receiving full participation or direct recognition for their role in maintaining them. Thus fettered with other kinds of relationality, women’s installation into explicitly politicized and individuated public roles becomes less seamless or more friction-ridden. The exercise puts more interpretive pressure on the preposition in the phrase ‘of the people’, asking whether the female stand-in supports the people or emerges from the people and of whether she stands in front of the people or behind them. Such seams and such friction in turn prompt women’s ambivalent performances—in name changing, in cookie baking, in political rhetoric. Public women must find a way to speak before a public without withdrawing from their role as the tacit support system behind a public. In this essay, I seek to bring representational issues of female publicity into recent discussions about space, community and memory. In many ways, the discussion of such terms is fundamental to cultural studies. Cultural analysts in a variety of fields have used these concepts to foreground the radically contextual and socially embedded nature of artistic production as well as to incorporate psychic and material notions of representation into the analysis of the political. I want to suggest that such conceptual work is implicitly gendered, something made clearer by asking feminist questions about the function of memorial space in imagining publicity. My desire to model the gendered frictions between memory and space also stems from several related concerns. The first derives from an interest in the possibility of forming attachments, affiliations, affections, and commitments beyond the domain of a privatized, hetero-normative family. This means considering how memorial representation interacts with a discourse of public welfare in spaces that are local as well as global, intimate as well as diffuse. It also means exploring the different ways that persons imagine that possibility, about the relationship between such diverse structures as, for instance, fictive kin, neighbourhood, state and federal welfare, or that mythical ‘Village’ that Hillary
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Rodham Clinton says it takes to run a country and to raise a child. Additionally, I have found that such an extended mode of affiliation specifically requires a spatial imagination, an ability both to figure an environmental relation outside of the four walls of the private home as well as to denaturalize the relations that occur inside them. Such spatial conundrums loosen the analytic conventions that oppose locality and globality, intimacy and anonymity, domesticity and publicity. Finally, such public imaginings position racially marked and unmarked women differently, making the possibility of conceiving alternatives an ambivalent and volatile process. As cultural studies scholars theorize the role of memory and space in the constitution of collectivity, it is important to interrogate the gendered implications of such terms and the ways that our models indirectly constrain gender transformation. To focus my interrogation, I investigate one disciplinary strain within cultural studies: theatre and performance studies. Throughout, I position performance— both theatrical and social—as an exemplary site within which to investigate the linguistic, spatial and embodied practices of culture. Such forms expose the gendered operations of language, space and gesture as well. Furthermore, the field of performance studies has produced theoretical paradigms that derive from larger theories of memory and space. Scholars such as Joseph Roach, Richard Schechner, Della Pollock and Una Chaudhuri have argued for the role of memorial space in community making and emphasized the spatial and performative dimensions of collective memory. By thus positioning it as both a site of culture and a site of cultural theory, I suggest that performance can illuminate the tacit gendering of culture more generally. The precedent for combining an analysis of theatre, performance and culture can be found not only in contemporary scholarship but also in the work of some of cultural studies’ founding figures. As I have argued elsewhere, the fact that Raymond Williams started out as a ‘drama’ scholar is significant for his models of culture; an involvement with the medium of performance anticipated his concern with the relationship between the discursive and the material, between language and sociality (Jackson, 2001). As it happens, a feminist critique of Williams’s work also anticipates the feminist concerns of my argument. If Williams’s approach to culture is both provocative and pervasive; its focus on ‘rootedness’, on ‘the bonds of locality’ and on ‘community as an entity or place’ risks perpetuating a gendered blindspot (Watts, 1987:94, 97). The products of community, rooted memory and local space can install tacit gendered divisions of labour. Indeed, as I proceed with a discussion of performance, the theorizing of the tacit becomes extremely important for conducting a feminist critique of culture. My investigation of publicity and civic memorial will build upon three relatively recent examples of civic performance in Chicago: the performance of First Lady at the 1996 Democratic convention, the 1996 inauguration of the Jane Addams Memorial Park in Chicago and the premiere of Chicago-born playwright David Mamet’s The Old Neighborhood in 1997. I find it is interesting to frame both Chicago theatre and other kinds of Chicago performances as different
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types of civic memorial, partly to speculate on relationships amongst different types of genres. Mostly, however, I am interested in how all of these examples help to illustrate the different ways that women function allegorically and indirectly as vehicles for imagining publicity and for lamenting its failures. While female memorials may serve most often as mechanisms for achieving communal formation, they do not do so simply or transparently. They also can serve as vehicles with which to lament its lack of achievement as well as to vilify the threat of its achievement. These examples suggest how women—living and/or memorialized, ethnically marked and unmarked—can figure paradoxically as the object blamed for the loss of extended affiliation even as (conversely) they are also blamed for its ‘unnatural’ public promotion. Neighbourhoods In his most recent three-act play, The Old Neighborhood, former Chicago playwright David Mamet follows a character named Bobby Gould, a heterosexual, Jewish man divorced from his non-Jewish wife. Plagued by pervasive feelings of loss and regret, Bobby longs to find a space of reconnection in which to recover an amorphously defined lost object. Indeed, it is sometimes the conflation of this space with this object—an imagined equivalence between structure and thing— that animates Bobby’s search and Mamet’s dramaturgy. This is how, for instance, a play that constantly revisits Bobby’s failed, neglected or missed relationships with women (the object) can simultaneously frame itself as a search for ‘the old neighbourhood’ (a space). The first act, entitled ‘The Disappearance of the Jews’, begins with a divorced Bobby reminiscing with his childhood friend Joey. Together they recall Maxwell Street, Jewish summer camps and girls whose names and alignments (who slept with who) are exchanged in ricochet-like dialogue. Bobby: The two Debbies… Joey: Debbie. Yeah. Right. Bobby: Rubovitz and Rosen. Joey: Debbie Rubovitz and Rosen. Bobby: For five bucks, which one was mine? (Mamet, 1998:7) Upon finishing the recollection of girls whose faces they cannot recall, they both express feelings of loss and displacement in their current lives as Jewish-American men. Bobby blames his feelings of alienation on his marriage to an ethnically unmarked woman: ‘I should never have married a shiksa’ (1998:12). Joey similarly longs for a return to Jewish roots: ‘I’ll tell you where I would of loved it’, he says, ‘in the shtetl. I would of loved it there. You, too’. As the conversation continues, Joey and Bobby celebrate such shtetl-like spaces of authenticity and tradition— where ‘people have a connection… Where they are a dream of their environment… Where questions are answered with ritual’ (1998:33). At other
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moments, however, the two pause and stutter as they also consider how such Old World rituals might have constrained other behaviours: ‘You think they fooled around?… With Polish whores?… You think you would have’ (1998:23). After imaginatively inventing a scenario where shtetl inhabitants sanction rather than condemn sexual philandering—‘Some young daughter of one of my customers… she comes to me. The whole town is silent with sympathy. “I baked this for you”’— Joey and Bobby end with a brief discussion of Deeny, a Jewish woman who dated Bobby in the ‘old neighbourhood’. Bobby’s interest is piqued when Joey tells him that she is divorced and now sells cosmetics at Marshall Fields. ‘Did she get fat? What does she look like?’ Bobby asks. Joey replies, ‘She looks the same’ (1998: 39). In the second act, Bobby visits his sister Jolly. The text suggests a shift in perspective to a ‘woman’s point of view’, something marked by the act’s title— ‘Jolly’—and by a cast that lists Jolly first and ‘Bob’ second as ‘her brother’. The act is intriguing as a meditation upon whether a female figure can maintain this kind of rhetorical primacy. Once again, Bob and Jolly discuss the importance of community and Jewish tradition, albeit from a different angle. They remember the damage of a fraught family life and long for the return of meaningful religious performance: ‘We would light the candles on Friday, and we would say all those things, and all those things would be true’ (1998:83). The conditional tense of their ‘memories’ shifts at points to the conditional future, a projected nostalgia that asks the future to revise the past. It eventually becomes clear that Bob and Jolly associate the break up of their family with their mother’s second marriage to a non-Jewish man—‘my mother marries a sheigetz and we’re celebrating Christmas’ (1998:71). Bob and Jolly condemn what they perceive as a withdrawal of maternal love. ‘Fuck her, and fuck the lot of ‘em…it’s cruel. Jol. They’re cruel. They were cruel toward us’ (1998:60–1). While Bob ardently expresses his sympathy for Jolly and assists in the condemnation, the shadow of Bob’s own familial withdrawal hangs over their conversation. Jolly interrupts: ‘NO. You weren’t there, you know. You weren’t there. I was there. I see where it all comes from’ (1998:47). Bob stutters between Jolly’s descriptions of the work she did for the family, visiting hospitals, raising children, caring for dying relatives, fending off financial difficulties: ‘But she was my mother. And I was there while she was dying I was there. I was there. He’d drop her off, and I was left, an infirm woman’ (1998:53). The recountings underscore the fact that Bob was not around to help with these trials. Finally, Bob admits that he also ‘left’ Jolly alone, an admission that Jolly receives within her own performance of female nurturance and understanding. Bob: Jol, I’ve been well fuck ‘remiss’… Jolly: I know. You’ve got a Busy Life… Bob: Hey, I’ve been lazy. I’m sorry. I owe it to you. I’ve been… Jolly: …and I know it’s been a difficult time for you, Buub… Bob: And so I came here to get Comfort. Jolly: Times of stress, you…
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Bob: Isn’t that ‘selfish’ of me…? Jolly: …times of stress, you… We need comfort. You think that you can do without it? You can’t. (1998:73–4) Bob longs for the comfort of ritual and reconnection without having engaged in the processes by which such connective comforts are maintained. The scene dramatizes the gendered implications of Bob’s disingenuous nostalgia, for he leaves such tending to his sister. In the final act, ‘Deeny’, the text places Bobby in a restaurant across the table from Deeny, the un-aging former girlfriend whose abstract and disconnected speech—couched in Mametian staccato tones—highlight her allegorical function in Bobby’s displaced search for origins. She expresses her longing for a garden, where one would get up early ‘out of love’. ‘Rather than a sense of duty’, Bobby finishes her sentence, ‘or the two would be one’. Deeny accepts his conclusion: ‘Well, that is what I’m saying. Isn’t it?’ By embracing his image of the fusion of love and duty, Deeny seems to embody a fiction of female ideality. Positioned within competing male fantasies, she evokes the ‘young thing’ of the first act, the ‘daughter of one my customers’ with whom sexual intercourse could be an affirmation rather than a violation of community values. Deeny’s challenge is to embody the traits of the old neighbourhood from within a beautiful female body, one that has not aged despite its association with age-old tradition. As the namesake for this final act, however, her formal burden is even greater. Functioning as the female vehicle for male nostalgia, she is responsible for framing herself as the symbol of belonging for a man who himself has not maintained the reciprocal structures of belonging in the first place. This social conundrum manifests itself textually in Deeny’s speech, words that echo themes of connection, origin, and community at the level of content but that do so without recourse to an interlocutionary context that gives them coherence. Her speech jumps from a discussion of the garden to coffee—‘And I had a vision of coffee …Coffee or cigarettes tended to…paralyze’—back to garden seeds—‘They call it forcing’—to sex —‘I…vary between thinking that “it is a mystery” and “it is a convenience”’— and to biology—‘They tell us always in the newspapers, every day, some new unit, and you think, “surely this is, the thing you tell us now, must be the smallest unit”. Or, “you should”, you think, “you should confess that there is no end to it. That there is no smallest unit, and it is your science that is lacking”’ (1998:90– 3). Deeny’s speech is both rhapsodic and disjointed as she invokes the rituals of ‘tribes that mutilate themselves’ where ‘you know…you are frightened [but] you know that it is the community that forces you, then might you not feel… You undergo the pain…And that sorrow of years, that sorrow of years is condensed, do you see into a ceremony’ (1998:97). Her language thus recalls Bobby’s quest for a place where people are a ‘dream of their environment’ and where the enactment of rituals ‘are true’, placing the dream of forced authenticity onto a culture even more othered than that of the Old World shtetl. However, the disconnection
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amongst and between all of these references resists a satisfying image or concluding argument. Deeny’s vaguely metonymic chain of associations do not proceed from stable rhetorical ground, just as, finally, Deeny herself does not emerge from the practiced environment of female nurturance for which Bobby longs. ‘Because I never’, Deeny later concedes, ‘more importantly, nor, will I. I never planted a garden, nor will I plant a garden, and when I question myself as to why, I have no answer’ (1998:94). Though he lives on the East Coast, Chicago most often provides the source material for David Mamet’s plays. He is what many have called the East Coast’s foremost Chicago playwright. Chicago also functions as a kind of adjective for the ‘gritty’, ‘masculinist’, ‘can’t-hold-me-back’ quality of his theatre and, indeed, much of the theatre that likes to identify itself with the city of Big Shoulders. In many ways, however, The Old Neighborhood can be read as a more and less selfconscious meditation on the gendered urban nostalgia that has underwritten much of Mamet’s dramaturgy, a nostalgia that has its parallels in an American social imaginary. Furthermore, this play usefully thematizes the relationship between memory and the spatial processes of urbanization, a coincidence that further invites reflection on theories of memorial space in theatre and performance studies. For Pierre Nora, a theorist of memory who has been frequently incorporated into both performance and cultural theory, the most heinous effect of modernity is its replacement of what he calls milieux de memoires with lieux de memoires. Associating the former with a lost peasant culture where social memory is passed down through ‘gestures and habits…Zin the body’s inherent selfknowledge’, which, Mamet might say, ‘condenses’ the history of ‘the community’, the latter are detached, self-conscious memorial locations separate from the rhythms of everyday life. Nora’s paradigms have profoundly influenced theoretical models of memory and performance (Nora, 1989:9). In a quotation that performance historian Joseph Roach also cites in his Cities of the Dead (1996), modern lieux de memoires are ‘moments of history torn away from the movements of history…like shells on the shore when the sea of living memory has receded’ (Nora, 1989:12). Nora’s account of the fracturing of the environments of ‘true memory’ and Bobby Gould’s search for the ‘old neighbourhood’ thus follow a similar structure. Both mourn milieux de memoire where questions are answered with ritual, though the lost milieu that Nora associates with peasant culture is one that Mamet associates as well with a lost form of urban culture. The play recalls not only the shtetl but also Jolly’s memory of neighbourhood: ‘We could go back. To Seventy-first Street is where we could go. To the Jeffrey Theatre. And Saturday kiddie shows… And we’d go to the Peter Pan Restaurant. On the corner of Jeffrey, and get a Francheezie, and French fries, and a cherry Coke’ (1998:82–3). The loss of the old neighbourhood is thus a loss at the level of spatial practice. The continuity of the neighbourhood is dependent upon the restoration of environmental behaviours, the actions of walking, eating and watching that repeatedly constituted community identity. Torn from such
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‘movements of history’, Bobby finds himself instead inside the alienated nostalgia of a lieu de memoire. Theatre scholar Una Chaudhuri suggests that, ‘if a rule of disorder could be found to explain the mysterious functioning of the theatrical apparatus, it would surely be a spatial rule, a practice or policy of relating people to place’ (1997: 21). Such spatial rules point to the analytic significance of theatre as a cultural form. Its apparatus indexes and makes explicit the social politics of spatial behaviour. To bring such a speculative rule to bear on The Old Neighborhood is to consider how a policy of ‘relating people to place’ occurs in the play’s integration of dialogue and embodiment. Furthermore, its arrangements of words and bodies illustrate the gendered disjunctures of community and publicity. As I suggested above, the playtext’s dialogue is rife with spatial metaphors of neighbourhoods, rooms, houses, material objects, streets, stores, rituals and repeated gestures. As a performance-text, however, the play is relentlessly static. The characters in Acts 1 and 3 never leave their chairs at the bar and the restaurant. In Scott Zigler’s 1997 direction of the play, characters only moved in Act 2—and then it was Jolly, who sat, stood and walked about the kitchen while her brother Bob remained seated. While the play thematically frames Bobby’s lost space of belonging as a series of relations (rituals, ceremonies), Bobby continually chooses to wait for self-recovery rather than to activate it, reluctant to participate in the interchange of social space himself: ‘I think I invent ceremonies, but never keep them up. I know I should, I say if I forget them now, I’ll never keep it up, but I don’t’ (1998:34). Bobby’s physical inertness is a metaphor for his emotionally stalled inertia. The static staging thus performs the play’s paradoxical themes, creating a negative space whose nonrelational motions brace against Bobby’s supposed longing for relationality. A second aspect of this play’s ‘policy’ occurs in its implicit and explicit confrontation with the gendering of spatial memory. In her chronicles to Bobby, Jolly makes valiant attempts to embrace her female role in the transmission of cultural memory to her own children: ‘You see, Bob? Do you see? This is a family. And some day, Bob, I’m going to be dead. Some day they are going, they are going to be in a kitchen. And they’re going to say. To their girls… “My mom…” Because this is a Family. You see? “My mom used to do it this way”. “This is what my mom taught me”’ (1998:68). Despite his own quests for familial comfort, Bob cannot adequately respond to Jolly’s example. Having conceived of comfort as a thing uni-directionally possessed rather than as a relation reciprocally produced, he falters in front of his aging sister who tends to the hardships of this ‘old neighbourhood’ and its memories. Weighed down by the duties of nurturance and the ‘one-way street’ of kinship work, Jolly expresses her exhaustion through a traffic story: Fella comes up to me, I’m drivin’ the girls somewhere… ‘Did you know. This is a One-way Street’… My mind is racing. ‘Did you know… ‘Did I drive down on PURPOSE? I did not know…why would I, and even, I HAD, how terrible is that… Whether or not I knew…your ‘rights’ end
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with ‘this is a one-way street’,…and I’m SEETHING at this, this emasculated piece of shit who has to take out his aggression on some haggard, sexless, unattractive housewife, with her kids in her station wagon. (1998:76–7) Jolly’s story of the one-way street is a spatial metaphor for the restrictions placed on women’s aspirations and social mobility. At first, she braces against the accusation that she might have intentionally broken a rule—‘Did I drive down on PURPOSE?’—and then more radically questions the importance of the rule at all —‘and even, I HAD how terrible is that’ (1998:76). Jolly realizes that she cannot hope to find a two-way street of social interaction without being perceived as sick, crazy or inflated in her sense of entitlement. To hope for such reciprocity is to overstep her bounds. More than simply a differential arrangement of men and women in space, The Old Neighborhood and its traffic address a more fundamental ‘policy of relating people to place’, one that positions men as the ‘people’ and women as the ‘place’. Barbara Johnson illuminates this kind of relation in her essay, ‘Is female to male as ground is to figure?’ (1998). By interrogating the conceptual vocabulary of visual arts, Johnson highlights women’s role as providers of the ‘ground’ on which male self-figuration occurs. Similarly, Jolly’s role is to maintain the space of human development rather than to develop herself. Although Jolly moves all the time, her physical mobility does not translate into social mobility. To perform ‘ground’ in this theatrical scenario is rather to engage in a repetitive and circumscribed network of motions (in kitchens, in stationwagons, in gardens) that are essential to the cultivation of spatial comfort. Those motions, furthermore, come with no guarantee of public recognition—only with the indirect satisfaction of having created the possibility of public connection for others. Consequently, Jolly’s explicit transgression of such conventionally tacit motions can generate high anxiety. Whether by entering into the foreground, by attempting to become a figure, or by turning incorrectly onto a one-way street, a woman’s foray into an explicitly marked publicity disrupts the spatial balance of representation and community. Most significantly for cultural and historical studies, this feminization of ‘place’ and ‘ground’ reflects back on the theoretical vocabulary of memorial performance. Nora’s milieux de memoires are similar spaces of stability on which individual and community identities can be figured. At the same time, it is important to ask: who maintains such environments of ‘rooted’ kinship, unspoken tradition and spontaneous belonging? Such spaces depend upon a belief in the integration of love and duty and on the role of self-sacrifice before the needs of the community. From a contemporary vantage point, however, women are more often saddled with the task of internalizing that integration and sacrifice. Thus, just as The Old Neighborhood underscores the disingenuousness of Bobby’s nostalgia, it also serves to highlight a gendered blind spot in Nora’s memorial paradigms. If women are more often responsible for creating such spaces of public
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connection, mourning a lost milieu de memoire can mutate too easily into the condemnation of women for falling down on the job. The text of The Old Neighborhood further marks a number of ambivalences, threats and ethnic projections in gendered spatial policies. In addition to gendering the connective comforts of a stabilizing milieu, the play also reifies their performance as ethnically and racially authentic. Ethnically-identified women are positioned as best-suited to the work of kinship and cultural transmission (Leonardo, 1987). By the same token, the loss of extended affiliation is conceived, not only as a lapse in female performance, but also as a rejection of ethnic identification. Bobby’s mother and Bobby’s shiksa wife dis-identify from Jewish lineage and thus are linked, in Bobby’s imaginary, with the erosion of ‘old neighbourhood’ rituals, spaces and values. This structure creates obfuscations on several levels. As suggested earlier, it allows Bobby to ignore his own role in the erosion of Jewish ritual, pinning such losses instead on the indifference of inauthentically ethnic women. At the same time, such laments over the loss of extended kinship easily flip into anxieties over the threat of kinship’s constraints. Ethnically marked women who take up the task of cultural stability will also receive aggressive attacks from the figures whom they stabilize. Jolly will endure taunts from inside her stationwagon. Joey’s model Jewish wife Judy and her children will be the object of his violent fantasies: ‘There are times, a feeling I think gets so overpowering it becomes a fact, and you don’t even know you did it. Sometimes I think, “Well if they were killed…if they died” and sometimes I think I’ll do it myself’ (1998:30–1). Even when Jolly’s final monologue to Bobby recounts her nightmares about her mother, the text mixes its figure of maternal withdrawal now with a figure of maternal suffocation. ‘And I’m having this dream…Mother: Mother’s voice, from just beyond the door: “Julia, Let Me In.” “I will not let them hurt you…” the sweetest voice… “I will not let them Hurt You. OH. My Dear…” I open the door, this sweetest voice and there is Mom, with this expression on her face… (Pause) And she wants to kill me’ (1998: 84). Additionally, the particular image that this play presents of the traditional ethnic female is engaged in its own selective process of remembering and forgetting. To use this image as a surrogate for lost connection is particularly to conceptualize the notion of ‘tradition’ within an Anglo-American complex of gendered behaviour, one that places women and men in respectively private and public arenas. If Joey and Bobby remembered other ritual behaviours of the shtetl — especially a division of labour that often placed Jewish women in a public commercial arena and men at home as students of holy scripture—then a notion of traditional Jewish female behaviour would be much less clear (Boyarin, 1995). Perhaps the most obscure of the text’s spatial obfuscations concerns the paradox of environmental maintenance, for the tacit and incorporated performance of a milieu de memoire ensures that its maintenance is rarely ever noticed. The reflexive character of Nora’s ‘true memory’ in bodies, habits and repeated rituals is also what separates it from explicit recognition. As Deeny says in one of her decontextualized abstractions,’ “It got be a cliché, because it was true”. But if you
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think about it, if that’s its reward, that’s a poor reward. Isn’t it? It was true…what it used to be was true, and it did it so well that it got to be the other thing. Which is that we ignore it’ (Mamet, 1998:95). Creating a ‘place’ for the making of people and cultivating ‘ground’ for the creation of figures are, by definition, activities of the background and, by design, activities that are ignored when they are done ‘well’. They provide the context for but not the content of memorial transmission; they are the terrain on which memorial occurs rather than the subject remembered. Earlier aware of the ‘poor reward’ of such a position, Jolly’s second-act declarations are partial efforts to bring the work of the latent background into the patent foreground. Asserting that her daughters might one day recall ‘My mom did it this way’, she hopes for an explicit articulation of implicit lessons, a desire that is understandable psychically but whose fulfilment is difficult rhetorically. Jolly hopes that work on the ‘ground’ eventually might yield her own retroactive figuration. Finally, Deeny’s entry onto the stage of The Old Neighborhood must navigate the conventions of women’s backgrounded relationship to publicity. Her description of the garden and its tending rituals literalize women’s association with the ground —‘in the most safe and in the most protected settings in the world’ (1998: 92). Similarly, her invocations of rituals of origination and ceremonies of cohesion seem to embrace such a position. And yet, Deeny ultimately does not perform the movements she describes. Like Bobby who does not maintain the ceremonies he tries to invent, she also remains inert, wondering at her own inaction: ‘I say to myself that it is the opposite of trouble. It’s joy. Well, then, I say. Well then, draw yourself up and do it’ (1998:94). Of course, given Jolly’s conflicted feelings as an exemplary female cultivator of such rituals, Deeny’s ambivalence might be justified. Deeny senses that Bobby is disappointed by her hesitation and tries to offer another perspective. ‘And you say, “this is ending”. Well then, there’s another thing. And that will take its place. And sometimes that’s okay. But then, sometimes that’s just cold comfort. Isn’t it’ (1998:95). For a man who returned to the old neighbourhood for comfort, the thought of such an ending might feel ‘cold’ indeed. Deeny’s next disjoint question is initially cryptic in its referent but ultimately cold in the comfort it keeps at bay. ‘How d’you think I’m doing at my job?’ (1998:95). The line is figuratively resonant, perhaps referring to her prospective garden or to her interlocutionary role as a provider of comfort. Casting off both of these connotations, Deeny turns out to be referring much more literally to her current job at Marshall Fields: ‘…because they’re going to offer me, oh, you don’t want to hear it, you may want to hear it…It’s nothing. It’s…a bit of buying. Ordering, mainly, accountancy… “Accountancy?” “Accounting”… Bookkeeping… I keep track of some things. There really is a bit of buying’ (1998:96). The text thus makes a familiar gesture by opposing a woman’s career aspirations to a woman’s obligations to familial and filial nurturance. Insecurely placed in both and neither of these positions, however, Deeny’s speech falters, leaps, digresses and stalls. Unable to accommodate herself to the ignored and clichéd duties of ‘true memory’, she also has difficulty
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inhabiting the position of explicit memorial recognition. Fettered representationally with a female relation to the ‘ground’, Deeny’s status as a would-be ‘figure’ is indirect (‘it’s nothing’), unseemly (‘you don’t want to hear it’), compromised (‘accountancy?’) and partial (‘a bit of buying’)—an impacted rhetorical performance that testifies to the perils and paradoxes of gendered publicity. Villages If memory is best understood as a complex process of both remembering and forgetting, then societies need, as Joseph Roach says, surrogates for affecting this vexed simultaneity. Roach’s model of surrogated performance has been widely recognized in performance, cultural, and literary studies. In Cities of the Dead, his figural substitutes and delineated stand-ins signify a represented past, but they do so because of, not despite, their ill-fit. Rather such gaps ensure the surrogate’s representational flexibility, making him available for use in a variety of differently framed civic memorials. I would argue, however, that often a different structure operates around a female surrogate. Sometimes, her ‘non-fit’ can be foregrounded rather than disavowed, naturalized as a partiality that warrants the surrogate’s exclusion. If one further adds to this insight a feminist critique of the concept of surrogation—its associations with stalled maternity and artificial reproduction, its perpetual rerouting of an anxiously masculinist search for origins—then the gender dynamics of the surrogate come more pressingly into view. Given her naturalized role in processes of reproduction, a woman’s non-fit within processes of representation can be read as personal lapse rather than, as they are in Roach, a representational inevitability. Such a dilemma speaks back to Deeny’s predicament. For instance, the effect of Deeny’s lingustic struggle on an audience is far from clear. On the one hand, they may receive the play as a meditation on Bobby’s misplaced nostalgia and on her impossible position inside it. Perhaps (though the play does not seem to encourage it) some may even interpret her ‘accounting’ and ‘bookkeeping’ as revisiting rather than rejecting the public dimensions of traditional Jewish womanhood. On the other hand, Deeny’s disjoint, stylized speech might be read less as a negotiation of partial publicity than as an index of her incompetence as a speaking subject. With Mamet’s addition of verbal flubs such ‘accountancy’, her simultaneous ill-fit as a stand-in for neighbourhood (a woman behind the public) and her ill-fit as a working woman (a woman in front of the public) can be read together as personal deficiency. Put another way, the ill fit of all surrogated representation can be reduced to a character flaw when the surrogate happens to be female. Joined to the predicament of Hillary Rodham as First Lady, such a reading illuminates how the effects of an impossible rhetorical position can be naturalized as female inadequacy. I would now like to shift such questions about the gendering of space, surrogacy and memorial to revisit Hillary Rodham and to consider a parallel Chicago performance. Such a move also provides an
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opportunity to translate the above feminist reflection on memorial space from the formalist reading of a play text to an investigation of the complex spaces of civic performance outside of the theatre. As The Old Neighborhood was rehearsing and opening at the American Repertory Theatre and New York, another memorial was fraught in controversy. The creation and inauguration of the Jane Addams Memorial Park resulted from nearly a decade of campaigning on the part of several female civic leaders. It would be Chicago’s first memorial expressly dedicated to a woman. While other female forms populate the cityscape, they were all allegorical symbols that stand in for such noble concepts as ‘The Spirit of Music’ in Grant Park or ‘The Republic’ in Jackson Park. Replicating the gendered relation of figure and ground, such female bodies did not stand in directly as individuated figures but as representative of something other than themselves. As many Chicago newspapers reported, these ‘semi-nude’ substitutes contrasted sharply with the figures of Abraham Lincoln or Ulysses S.Grant who received ‘realistic’ representation in city statues, that is, a type of memorial that did a better job of hiding its surrogated nature and where the representational relation was direct and literal. The Jane Addams Memorial Park was thus a muchawaited opportunity for a woman to (seem to) stand in for herself. The inauguration was timed to coincide with another Chicago performance—the 1996 Democratic convention. And the most public of public women—Hillary Rodham Clinton, cautiously re-emerging after her vilification around national health care—was slated to serve as mistress of ceremonies. Much discussion occurred about the role that Hillary Rodham Clinton should play in the 1996 campaign for re-election, particularly in light of what were perceived to be her mistakes in the 1992 campaign and after. Consequently, her self-presentation in 1996 as ‘Mrs Clinton’ shifted at the level of content. She broached what were perceived to be ‘safe themes’ of ‘children and their futures, their health, their education’, attempting to argue for social commitment within the delimited space of maternal care and without entering the overly socialized space of national health care (Laurence, 1996:10). Any remaining proposals for wider networks of affiliation remained discretely tucked within the palatable language of It Takes a Village, an articulated commitment to a concept of neighbourhood that would still receive criticism from the political right (Clinton, 1996). If Mrs Clinton argued for gun control or welfare benefits or government funding for education, she expressed it out of maternal concern for the nation’s children. In acting as their surrogate maternally, children thus acted as Hillary Clinton’s surrogate rhetorically, enabling a partial and indirect argument back to politicized issues. An attachment to the legacy of Jane Addams helped Hillary Rodham Clinton with this alternative return into publicity. A selective remembering of Jane Addams’s key achievements allowed the First Lady to argue for her role as a public woman by casting herself within the memory of a dead one. Jane Addams’s life spanned the era retroactively named the Reform Period when she emerged as the most famous woman in Chicago and later the United States. The first
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American woman to receive a Nobel Peace Prize, she was involved in nearly every issue of concern in her day: immigration protection, suffrage, juvenile delinquency, juvenile justice, factory labour reform, child labour, public health, public housing and international peace. There was, however, a specific environmental and relational history surrounding Jane Addams, one that braces against the individuation in the park monument’s name but that linked her to the neighbourhood values of Mrs Clinton’s Village. Jane Addams’s career as a reformer began when she and others moved into an abandoned mansion in an immigrant and working-class neighbourhood, founding what they came to call Hull-House and participating in what they eventually called the settlement movement. As the years went on, privileged—most often white, most often unmarried—women and men moved into Hull-House and other city settlements to ameliorate the working and living conditions of their new ‘neighbours’ in activities ranging from baby clinics to ethnic festivals to school lunch programmes to protests to legislative lobbying. They also established the first playground in the Nineteenth Ward and laid the seeds for establishing the Chicago Park District, a civic entity in charge of creating parks and playgrounds in the less wealthy neighbourhoods of the city (later the entity responsible for deciding whether to allow the Jane Addams Memorial Park at all). As I have discussed elsewhere, these female reformers thus employed a series of spatial innovations to reconfigure urban community (Jackson, 2000). Most explicitly, they emphasized the environmental logic of ‘settling’, the belief that relevant and ethical social change could only happen through co-habitation, long continuity and daily contact in the same space, through a backyard politics that sprung only after persons of diverse nationalities and classes were willing to share the same backyard. Other histories surrounding Jane Addams—histories only partially remembered —also suggested an intriguing counterpoint to Mrs Clinton’s installation within this genealogy of female memorial. The First Lady referred only obliquely to this less than harmonious past in her speech to the Democratic convention. While Jane Addams was sometimes celebrated as America’s secular saint, she and HullHouse were also vilified for fostering an unnatural space of female authority, one where unmarried white women lived outside a hetero-normative family and worked in public arenas outside the home. Jane Addams’s most famous response to this kind of accusation was her argument for ‘social housekeeping’, saying that women who were traditionally experienced in attending to the health, safety, nourishment and education of children were simply extending their duties to a larger sphere. Later, Addams employed such an indirect argument in the service of suffrage, choosing not to argue for suffrage as a fight for women’s equality as such and more on the vote as enabling women in their role as public nurturers (Addams, 1930). The discourse of social housekeeping had an all-too familiar rhetorical structure: suffrage would allow women not so much to represent themselves but to strengthen their ability to stand in for something other than themselves. Addams thus worked within the self-allegorizing argument that Hillary Clinton would use later. Clinton’s rhetorical devices of ‘children’ and ‘the Village’ revived both the
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content and structure of ‘social housekeeping’, sidelining an individuated model of representation in favour of an indirect and self-deferential one. At the same time, Clinton’s speech carefully sidestepped the larger implications of Jane Addams’s model and its social history. Historians of social welfare now place Hull-House as an origin point in the American concept of public welfare. The principles and practices of social housekeeping eventually propelled the extension of public care at the federal level, initiating legislation and entities such as the Children’s Bureau that formalized public interest in heretofore private matters. In a 1996 context virulently suspicious of national health care, Clinton’s connection to this more explicit female history threatened to overly ‘socialize’ her newly benign social programme. Furthermore, the least emphasized aspect of Jane Addams’s history could have easily disrupted Clinton’s transhistorical connection, a history concerning the charge of ‘unnaturalness’ waged against Hull-House. The spatially lived reality of social housekeeping at Hull-House was itself a tacit incarnation of non-normative and socialized kinship. While some settling men and women married each other, most remained uncoupled all of their lives or took up same-sex attachments. The decision to become a Hull-House settler meant constituting oneself within a diffuse fictive family in a public household. Most settlers attended to children who were not biological offspring, kinship behaviours and ‘queer domesticities’ that resisted the conventional dynamics of an autonomous, privatized family (Jackson, 2000). Amid condemnations of race suicide directed at the lowering rates of reproduction in white women, settlement women argued that they were raising figurative children, framing the city as their larger home and substituting this public domesticity for a private one. Thus, if explicitly recalled, Hull-House’s daily performances of neighbourhood and kinship threatened to queer Hillary Rodham Clinton’s articulated conceptions of Village and family. While Hillary Clinton and her staff prepared her speeches for the Chicago Democratic convention, another staff of women prepared the grounds, layout and figures for the Jane Addams Memorial Park. Though commissioned by the Chicago Park District, this entity interestingly did not fund it, leaving it up to a network of committed female city leaders to raise the money: this group commissioned sculptor Louise Bourgeois to create the monument. A sculptor with an interest in ‘woman as nurturer of child and humanity’ since her earliest projects such as the 1940s Femme Maison, Bourgeois found in Addams an illustration of her ideas and decided that anything like a ‘realistic’ statue or bust of Jane Addams would be thoroughly inappropriate. ‘A goal was to create a monument that is purposefully non-monumental’, said Park District architect Miriam Gusevitch, ‘a literal representation would interfere with the act of revealing the broader meaning of Jane Addams’ (Gusevitch, no date). Louise Bourgeois chose instead the image of the hand, indeed several hands of varying sizes, to convey the ‘broader meaning’ of ‘social housekeeping’. Working from a passage on hands written by Addams herself (one that recounts her vision of a sea of hands when visiting a London slum), together this ‘Waltz of Hands’
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metonymically depicted the bodies, desires, needs and struggles of persons at different stages in the life span. For Bourgeois and Gusevitch, ‘their variety promotes inclusion, allowing a diversity of viewers to feel a greater sense of personal identification than is possible with the traditional representation of a solitary hero’ (Gusevitch, n.d.). As an allegory, the monument also foregrounded rather than disavowed its surrogated status as public memorial, illustrating Barbara Johnson’s extension of allegory’s etymological link to the public sphere. Instead of reproducing the fiction of ‘immediate readability’, writes Johnson, ‘allegory is speech that is other than open, public, direct. It is hidden, deviant, indirect, but also, I want to emphasize, public. It holds the public unto itself. It names the conflictuality of the public sphere and the necessity of negotiating these conflicts rhetorically’ (1994:60). By choosing not to give Jane Addams a literal embodiment, the indirection of allegorical representation thus also matched the indirection of social housekeeping; it avowed figuration in memorial much as Addams’s concept of public welfare avowed the rhetorical and partial—not simply literal and natural —construction of human collectivity. By using hands to stand in for Jane Addams, the memorial used a surrogated and partial representation to represent the surrogated, partial and necessarily relational nature of public welfare. For the park designers and landscape architects, the philosophically sound sculptures still presented a paradox. Miriam Gusevitch solved what she called ‘the impossible task’ of mediating ‘the miniature scale of the life-sized sculptures [to]… the gigantic public scale of the park’ by creating ‘an enclosed, intimate space…an oasis away from the bicycle and pedestrian traffic’ that could withstand the wind from the lake and the enormous shadows cast by the nearby Lake Point Tower (one of many of Chicago’s big shoulders). Quoting the ‘womblike’ space of the Villa Giulia in Rome, she arranged the hands on large rocks amid an array of indigenous grasses and flowers, planting what she called ‘the understory’ of the monument so that the hands ‘would seem to float’ in a sea of hardy Midwestern greenery. As an urban planner preoccupied with the use of space, she designed the circle of pathways next to a nearby beach to maximize the environmental potential of the site, framing ‘the lake and city as sublime backdrop’ to a space where bicyclers travelled, children played and strollers rested in quiet contemplation (Gusevitch, n.d.). The park design thus fostered a performance of urban behaviour that implicitly recalled the ‘settling’ behaviours of neighbourhood and community so central to Hull-House’s mission. Still, when the park opened, many objected to the non-literal representation; that is, what made the sculpture interesting formally also made it vulnerable socially. Newspapers asked ‘why the abstract artwork portrayed a collection of hands instead of its subject’, not appreciating this reversed form of allegory from a memorial that was supposed to counter the allegorical use of females (Anonymous, 1997). Others, furthermore, wanted immediate readability: ‘If we have the one and only park dedicated to a woman, then it should be something people can see and understand what it is’, said Rosalind Keeting with SOAR (the Streeterville Organization of Active Residents), another woman who had saddled herself with the task of
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neighbourhood maintenance (Kiernan, 1997). Finally, some declared that this allegorical mode still seemed only reserved for women. ‘Why can’t we have some nice heroic sculptures of our own?’ wrote Barbara Brotman, ‘…at least something approaching the heroic and realistic sculpture accorded Michael Jordan recently’ (1995:8). Many newspaper descriptions illustrated the park’s successful function as an integrated environmental performance, complete with stories of children playing or persons relaxing. However, the fact that a student could be found sitting on a nearby bench, ‘occasionally lifting her head from her textbooks to admire the way the sailboats seem to glide through a screen of rustling grass’, became positively scandalous when she could not say ‘what lies in that silvery stand of prairie that dips just below her, well, she knows there’s something in there. She’s just never taken a look’ (Kiernan, 1997). Thus, despite the various recreational aspects of this urban milieu de memoire, it did not function properly as a lieu de memoire. Though its tacit and reflexive memorial performance implicitly recalled a history of Hull-House, the park did not explicitly recall that history; that is, it did not replicate the self-conscious, non-spontaneous, officially framed, bicameral structure of modern memorial. Furthermore, unlike memorials to Ulysses S.Grant and Michael Jordan, its non-literal figures displayed rather than hid their partiality as memorial representation. The phenomenon of a memorial that one newspaper called ‘hidden in plain sight’ could itself have been another ironic allegory for the gendered work of memory, relationality and social housekeeping, operations whose efficacy relies on a condition that paradoxically keeps them unrecognized. Partial publicity ‘And some day, Bob, I’m going to be dead… And they’re going to say. To their girls… “My mom… My mom used to do it this way”’. Jolly’s emphatic anticipation of her own future memorialization strains against similar representational paradoxes. While one day her girls’ performances ‘in kitchens’ and other household spaces might latently recall their mother’s doings, a patent awareness of the work of kinship is not always forthcoming. Similarly, Deeny’s cryptic understanding of such structural invisibility echoes the structures of invisibility that keep visitors to the Jane Addams Memorial Park from remembering Jane Addams: ‘It did it so well that it got to be the other thing. Which is that we ignore it’. At the same time, any attempt to adopt the alternate conventions of explicit recognition will also show strain when the object of such a lieu de memoire is female. The park designers, themselves most committed to the creation of the park, simultaneously felt that the literality of a ‘monumental’ and ‘solitary hero’ would have been an ‘inappropriate’ means of remembering. Jane Addams had adopted an indirect, relational and backgrounded model of female authority, one that can be construed retroactively as both an index of her genius and of her capitulation. The Jane Addams memorial would thus face a
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representational dilemma derived from the history that it recalled. It tripped upon the difficulty of creating a figure from a woman’s performance of ground. In many ways, Jane Addams understood a representational lesson in the early twentieth century that Hillary Rodham Clinton would be compelled to learn again in the late twentieth-century. Newspapers anticipated her public appearance in Chicago by critiquing her earlier strategies of self-presentation, strategies most notable for having foregrounded a ‘self’ at all: ‘What’s different is that the Clintons [were] the first presidential couple to really flaunt her role’ (Anderson, 1996). Such comments suggested that Rodham Clinton’s difficulties lay in the form as much as the content of presentation. Contrasting her to earlier First Ladies whose ability to keep power depended upon the willingness to acquire it indirectly, they commented upon ‘the very openness with which Hillary Clinton [had] carved out a place for herself in the White House’ (Laurence, 1996). Significantly, such characterizations addressed the form as much as the content of Hillary Clinton’s position, emphasizing the First Lady’s reluctance to play ‘ground’ to Bill Clinton’s ‘figure’. The perception of flaunting or openness emerged as a contrast to a power that retreats and remains in the background. That the Clintons initially presented themselves as a partnership—calling themselves a two-for-one ‘blue-light special’ and often [saying] ‘we’, not just ‘he’, when discussing policy— was perceived as an inappropriate use of the first-person plural, a ‘shocking’ attempt by Hillary Clinton to position herself as a subject in her sentences and to ‘carve a place for herself’ in the foreground (Anderson, 1997). Hillary Rodham Clinton, such comments indicated, had turned the wrong direction onto a oneway street. It is thus no coincidence that the discursive ironies surrounding Mrs Clinton and the spatial ironies surrounding the Jane Addams Memorial Park would converge in the way that they did. A few days before the event, organizers learned that Operation Rescue planned to use the First Lady’s appearance at the park’s inauguration to stage an anti-abortion demonstration—the scene of latetwentieth century anxieties about stalled maternity and (as they wave posters of endangered white embryos) race suicide. Despite the best-laid plans, Hillary Rodham Clinton was forced to step down as mistress of ceremonies at the inauguration. Fearful of having the grass trampled and mindful of the removal of a similar Bourgeois sculpture from proximity to a Holocaust Memorial in Battery Park, organizers might also have anticipated the unwelcome associations that these partial hands would provoke next to the ‘foetal imagery’ of anti-choice rallies. For those who wondered how anti-choice activists could be so disrespectful of a woman so unproblematically esteemed as Jane Addams, one might offer the reminder that —as the mother of social work (and not biological children), as a woman in a Boston marriage with fictive siblings and figurative children—Jane Addams practiced different kinds of family values than the privatized modes advocated by Operation Rescue. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s self-presentation at the Democratic convention went on as planned. Mrs Clinton had a hard act to follow. Elizabeth Dole’s
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performance at the Republican convention had uncannily navigated the perils of female publicity. Taking the stage by entering the audience, delivering a speech by eschewing the podium, Mrs Dole wandered through the auditorium to solicit voices other than her own. Careful to use the male third-person pronoun whenever substantive issues arose, Dole offered a highly choreographed display of spontaneity and gendered capitulation, a monumental performance of nonmonumentality. While not matching Dole’s expert environmental performance, Rodham Clinton’s speech also was praised for its self-deference. Her new coiffure, her new attire and her decision to refrain from using the first-person plural happily reproduced the most palatable conventions of female self-allegorization. By referring to ‘my husband’ instead of ‘we’, to ‘his ideas’ instead of ‘ours’, ‘Hillary Clinton’, one newspaper wrote unironically, ‘got back her voice’ (Laurence, 1996). Thus, by not standing in for herself, the First Lady navigated the conflicting dynamics of public womanhood. Her approval rose to the degree that she willingly performed a naturalized form of gendered surrogation. ‘How d’you think I’m doing at my job?’ While it is necessary to frame all acts of representation—imagistic, literary, performed, memorial—as ill-fitting modes of substitution, it is equally important to consider the particular dilemma women have negotiating this surrogated status —whether in partial hands or third-person pronouns—especially when so many other masculinist memorials still pass themselves off as literal, as something other than partial. Indeed, the notion of female surrogacy has a kind of redundancy in light of women’s naturalized function as stand-in, support, allegory and as guardian of someone else’s origin narrative. A similar formal dilemma haunts the discourse of public welfare, one that may espouse the inherent relationality of all members of society even as it condemns the ‘dependency’ of certain members while allowing others to maintain a personal belief in their own autonomy and lack of contingency. Furthermore, the milieux de memoire for which so many long did not necessarily spring as spontaneously as the ‘living memory’ with which it is associated. It more often depended upon a great deal of gendered work that created the space of affiliation, the ‘understory’ on which others could be spontaneous and through which they could feel the ritual comfort of performed belonging. Despite feminist critiques of kinship and female labour, such gendered blind spots can persist in even the most well-intentioned scholarship on performance and culture. Without an adequate incorporation of the historically gendered work behind the production of rootedness, community and locality, our invocations of memory and spatial performance can indirectly constrain gender transformation. While issues of public welfare, neighbourhood and authority continue to swirl in different versions of similar paradoxes around gender, memory, and publicity, it is helpful to remember such understories at the level of form as much as content. Such structures of allegory, milieu de memoire and social housekeeping
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perhaps more accurately reflect the partial and relational nature of all human beings, even those who pass themselves off—literally—as solitary heroes. It is similarly important for theorists of memorial space not to lament the loss of relational performance more than we examine the deleterious effects of a different relationality—one that might sustain unequal divisions of labour, one that might work by cultivating the partial recalls of civic nostalgia, one that might disavow the omnipresence of its own anti-social relationality through a selective form of gendered remembering. References Anonymous (l997) ‘Memorial’. Chicago Tribune, 28 September 1997, section four: 2. Addams, Jane (1930) ‘A cultural approach to civic problems through early women’s clubs’. In her The Second TwentyYears at Hull-House. New York: Macmillan. Anderson, Lisa (1996) ‘Speech will let first lady reshape the “Hillary factor”’. Chicago Tribune, 27 August 1996, section 1:1, 12. Boyarin, Daniel (1995) Unheroic Conduct: The Rise of Heterosexuality and the Invention of the jewish Man. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Brotman, Barbara (1995) ‘Must memorial to heroic females hit rock bottom?’ Chicago Tribune, 20 November 1995, section 6:1, 8. Chaudhuri, Una (1997) Staging Place: The Geography of Modern Drama. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press. Clinton, Hillary Rodham (1996) It Takes a Village. New York: Simon and Schuster. Gusevitch, Miriam (no date) Unpublished statement in possession by the author. Passim. Jackson, Shannon (2000) Lines of Activity: Performance, Historiography, Hull-House Domesticity. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press. —— (2001) ‘Why modern drama is not culture: disciplinary blindspots’. Modern Drama, Spring: 31–51. Johnson, Barbara (1994) ‘Women and allegory’. In her The Wake of Deconstruction. Oxford: Blackwell. —— (1998) ‘Is female to male as ground is to figure?’ In her The Feminist Difference: Literature, Psychoanalysis, Race, and Gender. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 17–36. Kiernan, Louise (1997) ‘Hidden in plain sight’. Chicago Tribune, 28 September 1997, section four:1. Laurence, Charles (1996) ‘Hillary gets her voice back to win the female vote’. Daily Telegraph, 28 August 1996:10. Leonardo, Micaela di (1987) ‘The female world of cards and holidays’. Signs, 12: 246–61. Mamet, David (1998) The Old Neighborhood. New York: Vintage Books. Nora, Pierre (1989) ‘Between memory and history: les lieux de memoire’. Representations, 26(Spring):7–25. Pollock, Della (1998) ‘Introduction: making history go’. In her (ed.) Exceptional Spaces: Essays on Performance and History. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1–45.
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Roach, Joseph (1996) Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. Watts, Carol (1987) ‘Reclaiming the border country: feminism and Raymond Williams’. News from Nowhere, 6:89–107.
CULTURAL STUDIES 17(5) 2003, 579–614
SURVIVAL AT WORK: FLEXIBILITY AND ADAPTABILITY IN AMERICAN CORPORATE CULTURE
Abstract Using such business self-help bestsellers as Spencer Johnson’s Who Moved My Cheese?, Harvey Mackay’s Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive and Kevin Kelly’s New Rules for the New Economy, this article analyses a recent trend in the American business world’s use of Darwinian discourse: the increasing centrality of two specific traits—flexibility and adaptability— to corporate ‘survival’ in the 1980s, 1990s and today. The article argues that this focus on adaptability and flexibility has two especially troubling implications: individuals may be compelled to adapt ceaselessly, and the problematic idea that one can survive or succeed through sheer individual will may become naturalized. Keywords corporate culture; business; self-help; Darwin; Deleuze Don’t forget this…it’s the law of the universe that the strong shall survive and the weak must fall by the way, and I don’t give a damn what idealistic plan is cooked up, nothing can change that. (Walt Disney, quoted in Schlosser, 2001:37) Look, it’s ridiculous to call this an industry… This is not. This is rat eat rat, dog eat dog. I’ll kill ’em, and I’m going to kill ’em before they kill me. You’re talking about the American way of survival of the fittest. (Ray Kroc, quoted in Schlosser, 2001:37) ‘THE GIANTS OF e-commerce, who walked among us, are culturally extinct now with a war on’—so writes John Schwartz (2001) for the New York Times. In his rather gleeful description of the dramatic fall of the New Economy, ‘Dot-Com
Cultural Studies ISSN 0950–2386 print/ISSN 1466–4348 online © 2003 Taylor & Francis Ltd http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals DOI: 10.1080/0950238032000126892
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is Dot-Gone, and the Dream With It’, Schwartz likens defunct e-commerce firms to dinosaur bones lodged in a kind of Silicon Valley Tar Pit. Just in case readers somehow manage to miss the point of the story, a Tyrannosaurus Rex skull, jaws agape against a purple-plaid backdrop evocative of a computer screen-saver, dominates one half of the ‘Sunday Styles’ supplement front page. Schwartz points out that those ‘e-Decade’ cheerleaders who prematurely announced the rise of a brave new economic world are now trying to sell memoirs about their own business failures. In short, he suggests, US corporate philosophy is turning away from New Economy discourses and toward more traditional—and perhaps more reliable— business practices. More importantly, Schwartz suggests, those firms that do not change with the cultural climate are destined for extinction. The Darwinian imagery of Schwartz’s narrative is nothing new. Businesspeople, financial writers and management theorists have long been suggesting parallels between corporate policies and natural selection. What does change over time, however, is who plays the roles of hunter and hunted, who winds up a fossil and who wins the ‘survival of the fittest’ sweepstakes. Primarily through a discussion of three popular business self-help books, which I will describe in more detail below, I will trace in this article a recent trend in business culture’s use of Darwinian concepts: the increasing importance of two specific traits— flexibility and adaptability—to corporate ‘survival’ in the 1980s, 1990s and today. I am also interested in how the term survival itself is deployed, as well as some of the possible implications of that deployment. Ultimately, I will suggest that shifts in Darwinian discourse have changed what it means to be a good worker or a good manager, but not necessarily in positive ways. As I see it, the focus on adaptability and flexibility has two especially troubling effects. First, individuals may be compelled to adapt ceaselessly. Second, the idea—central to contemporary corporate culture and business self-help—that one can survive through sheer will belies a truth central to the theory of natural selection, the same point that frightened so many of Darwin’s contemporaries when On the Origin of Species was first published: when it comes to evolution, no one individual gets to choose to survive. After an opening section that discusses historical examples of Darwinian language and imagery in American business, the second section of the article will engage with a late 1980s version thereof. Harvey Mackay’s (1988) Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive: Outsell, Outmanage, Outmotivate, and Outnegotiate Your Competition—the number eight bestseller on the Publisher’s Weekly business non-fiction list for 1988, alongside books by such 1980s luminaries as Lee Iacocca and Donald Trump—is a significant example of how corporate culture began in the 1980s to move away from office-centric management and toward optimizing
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all aspects of individual adaptation for enhanced performance (Cader Books, 2002). Mackay’s somewhat hesitant gestures toward less hierarchical, more flexible work structures point the way toward policy developments to come, as do his images of what it means to be fit for survival. The article’s third section examines more recent forays into Darwinian corporate philosophy. Some of the most successful self-help business books of the late 1990s—including Spencer Johnson’s (1998) Who Moved My Cheese?: An AMazing Way to Deal With Change in Your Work and in Your Life—emphasize the idea of personal growth. Johnson, whose book has been on Publisher’s Weekly’s hardcover non-fiction bestseller list for more than 300 weeks, tells the story of individual evolution through self-actualization and provides readers with methods for improving their ability to adapt at will. Kevin Kelly’s New Rules for the New Economy: 10 Radical Strategies for a Connected World takes the notion of personal adaptation a step further, positing ‘intangibles’ like ‘ideas, information, and relationships’ as keys to success for the individual worker, the company, and the market as a whole (Kelly, 1999:2). Kelly, an Editor-at-Large for Wired magazine and one of the most popular management gurus of the 1990s, compares businesses and markets to ecosystems while retaining a sense that the fittest will survive a rapidly changing economy. His is a kinder, gentler image of natural selection, with an insistence on the interconnectedness of contemporary business. His image of office environments is likewise ‘friendlier’, attuned to employee creativity and playfulness, as well as flexibility, on the job. Both Kelly and Johnson imply that flexibility—willingness to embrace change—is central to survival in the corporate world. As I will suggest in this article, however, this flexibility may not be as appealing for workers as the self-help books seem to imply—particularly because it entails potentially ceaseless effort. While Michel Foucault’s ideas of disciplinary power and technologies of the self are clearly appropriate choices of theoretical apparatus for a discussion of business self-help discourse, I have opted to approach the topic from a different angle.1 The seeming endlessness of adaptation in corporate culture is central to Gilles Deleuze’s (1990) study of contemporary modes of power, which informs my own analysis throughout. Deleuze’s control society concept, which builds upon (but does not supplant) Michel Foucault’s discipline model of power, is characterized by mechanisms for eternal training and assessment, such as continuing education, frequent training seminars for office workers and competitive, flexible wage hierarchies based on performance. While the discipline model is often based within institutions (schools, militaries, workplaces) where the segmentation of time (through scheduling) and space (through office hierarchies or assembly lines, to name a few examples) affects what people can potentially do, the control model accounts for what Deleuze calls the ‘breakdown’ of many societal institutions by extending the presence of power in people’s daily lives (1990:178). Where discipline aimed to fix people in their positions, control embraces mobility, constant communication and adaptability. Instead of working under (and responding to) the watchful eyes of managers and
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supervisors, workers are now held accountable for their performance through communication devices—e-mail, pager or cell phone contact, for instance. Office space itself becomes part of the quest for constant communication; open meeting areas replace cubicles, optimizing possibilities for contact between co-workers and their supervisors. Meanwhile, the cybercommuter exemplifies how work’s presence in daily life can increase exponentially in control society—instead of Fordism’s segmented eight-hour day, workers now have less structured yet potentially endless work time: ‘in control societies you never finish anything’ (Deleuze, 1990:179).2 In this control model, workers’ fitness for business success is in part based upon their constant availability, but mere availability is not enough to ensure survival in increasingly dog-eat-dog workplaces: ‘businesses are constantly introducing an inexorable rivalry presented as healthy competition, a wonderful motivation that sets individuals against one another and sets itself up in each of them, dividing each within himself (Deleuze, 1990:179). It therefore makes sense that an intensified and constant attention to the betterment of the self is one important hallmark of Deleuze’s control society concept, and is clearly germane to the twentieth-century flowering of the self-help industry, both within and outside the business field. Power’s workings are made increasingly efficient as individuals constantly strive to improve their lives through different types of training or adaptation (from education to physical exercise to attitude adjustment through therapy or self-help readings). These improvements can benefit individuals as well as their workplaces: ‘[m]any young people have a strange craving to be “motivated”, they’re always asking for special courses and continuing education; it’s their job to discover whose ends these serve’ (Deleuze, 1990:182). That final point—the concluding moment of Deleuze’s essay—resonates with ongoing discussions within cultural studies about the role of individual will as a concept in discourses of self-help and self-improvement. A recent article from Cultural Studies usefully engages with this issue. While the type of fitness they describe is first and foremost a physical fitness, Jeremy Howell and Alan Ingram’s argument about recent developments in American health discourse suggests connections with the business self-help discourses I am examining here. Howell and Ingram describe a 1980s ‘cultural landscape’ where Reagan and the New Right strategically promoted the traditional American value of self-reliance in order to deflect attention from their ‘draconian’ social and economic policies (Howell and Ingram, 2001:329). This promotion manifested itself in the impressive growth of the personal fitness industry, which instructed self-reliant individuals to take responsibility for themselves through discipline in diet and exercise. I cannot do justice to the complexity of their analysis in these pages, but Howell and Ingram posit a simultaneous, parallel process in 1980s discourse about welfare and employment: any individual strong enough to take responsibility for him/herself could get and keep a job, without depending on government aid. Personal and economic responsibility are thus linked: ‘Illness, health care and unemployment were redefined as private issues of character—as a failure in
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individuals who refused to fight the good fight’ (Howell and Ingram, 2001:329). Like the business advice books I will discuss below, the personal fitness industry is part of a web of discursive forces that presume and reinforce the sovereignty of individual will by suggesting people can do whatever they commit effort to doing, regardless of social, physical or economic circumstances.3 The problem is that this prevailing self-help sentiment—that people can control every aspect of their lives —ignores the significant power of said circumstances, institutions and discursive formations. People cannot always choose to succeed, much less survive. In their analysis, Howell and Ingram suggest that the discourse of all-American self-reliance was used to mask the nefarious workings of Reagan’s policies and the ‘contradictions of capitalism’ contained therein (Howell and Ingram, 2001:330). I am unable to unmask, in similar fashion, any one prevailing ‘man behind the curtain’ of Darwinian business self-help, or any one particular way in which the discourse works. Rather, I am inclined to agree with David Carlone’s recent analysis of the effects produced by business advice books such as Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: in various ways, these books help to shape what people can and cannot do (Carlone, 2001). The recourse within business discourse to Darwinian imagery—most of which is oversimplified and perhaps even utterly misinterpreted for the purpose of making metaphors or parables —has the effect of naturalizing potentially harmful aspects of corporate life, for example the potentially boundless injunction for workers to adapt to changing circumstances, or the idea that failures (and successes, for that matter) are solely attributable to individual will.4 I do not wish to suggest that we can simply look under the surface of business self-help books and see how they function as tools for the powers that be. Instead, I aim to examine what cultural work is accomplished through the valorization of adaptability and flexibility. The evolution of ‘evolution’ Although the bulk of my discussion will focus on more or less contemporary American examples, the connection between evolution theory and business culture is much older, and did not originate in the USA alone. The link was forged in the second half of the nineteenth century with the rise of social Darwinism, a set of beliefs initially espoused by two contemporaries of Darwin: English philosopher Herbert Spencer and Yale sociology professor William Graham Sumner.5 In fact, credit for the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’ belongs to Spencer, not Darwin (Caudill, 1997:71). Social Darwinism was a multifaceted movement, with sometimes-contradictory tenets, but its application to economics was fairly consistent; Spencer argued that laissez-faire, free market competition, without any government interference, was the natural way to ensure a community’s economic health. Like the lions of the African savannah, businesses should have to compete with each other for resources and those best adapted to survival will eventually eliminate their competition. Sumner further developed this idea, using it to attack socialism: ‘Let it be understood that we
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cannot go outside this alternative: liberty, inequality, survival of the fittest; notliberty, equality, survival of the unfittest. The former carries society forward and favors all its best members; the latter carries society downward and favors all it [sic] worst members’ (Caudill, 1997:76).6 The tenets of social Darwinism were taken up in the twentieth century by some of America’s best-known tycoons. In his autobiography, Andrew Carnegie describes himself as a ‘disciple’ and personal friend of Herbert Spencer—an unsurprising disclosure, given Carnegie’s theories about business conduct (Carnegie, 1920:333). For example, Carnegie espouses a survival of the fittest philosophy not unlike the one endlessly rehearsed in the popular stories of Horatio Alger: in a free market, dedication and unflagging diligence, rather than class distinction, will lead individuals to business survival and, ultimately, success. For Carnegie—who himself rapidly rose through business ranks without the purported advantage of high society connections—the most significant and inspirational element of evolutionary theory was the idea that species progress toward optimum fitness: ‘I had found the truth of evolution. “All is well since all grows better” became my motto… Man was not created with an instinct for his own degradation, but from the lower he had risen to the higher forms. Nor is there any conceivable end to his march for perfection’ (Carnegie, 1920:339). Clearly, this creative interpretation of natural selection corresponds well with Carnegie’s Alger-like vision of business: through constant perseverance, workers will themselves to become increasingly fit and successful. Similarly, Henry Ford, in My Life and Work (Ford and Crowther, 1922), distinguishes between two types of business competition: unproductive competition for material gain and monopoly vs. healthy competition between workers and companies to be the best in their field. In this autobiographical account of his business ideas, he contends that Americans—as opposed to ‘foreigners’ who ‘are content to stay as straw bosses’ and remain satisfied with steady employment —continually strive for advancement by working (or thinking about how to improve their work) non-stop (Ford and Crowther, 1922:100). Perhaps Ford’s most noteworthy link with social Darwinist concepts, however, was his social welfare programme. Inspired by the idea that low wage businesses are inherently unstable because workers become distracted by their struggle for subsistence, Ford devised a plan to share company profits with workers who fit into certain defined categories—for example, married men ‘living with and taking good care of their families’ and single men ‘who are of proved thrifty habits’ (1922:127). Ford employed 50 investigators who observed workers at home and decided whether they fit the plan’s standards of ‘cleanliness and citizenship’ and were therefore worthy of a share in the profits (1922:128). In this way, Ford defined and enforced a certain type of fitness for his workers, not only for paternalistic reasons, but also for the benefit of the company’s continued survival in an increasingly competitive market: ‘A man who is living aright will do his work aright’ (1922:128). In My Life and Work, Ford repeatedly insists that humans are inherently unequal in terms of fitness (abilities and talents), and that any
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society, government, or workplace endeavouring to foster equality is unnatural, and therefore doomed to failure. To highlight two striking mid-twentieth-century examples of Darwinian discourse in American business culture, two of the most legendary and successful men in the history of commerce, Walt Disney and Ray Kroc, described the corporate world as an instance of natural selection. The epigraphs at the beginning of this article amply demonstrate how these founders of the Disney and McDonald’s empires used Darwinian and Spencerian language, but their business policies are even more remarkable in this regard. Both men unabashedly attempted to destroy anything that hindered their progress toward market dominance. Challenges to their authority from competitors, as well as from their own workers, were squelched using an impressive variety of tactics. Disney fired employees who wanted to unionize and bought advertising space in Variety in order to accuse members of the Screen Cartoonists Guild of being Communists (Schlosser, 2001:36). He demanded loyalty and diligence from his staff, which in turn would keep his studio at the top of the industry; Eric Schlosser writes that Disney once ‘made a speech to a group of employees, arguing that the solution to their problems rested not with a labor union, but with a good day’s work’ (Schlosser, 2001:37, original emphasis). Similarly, Kroc, in an attempt to maximize profits by minimizing salaries, lobbied for a federal bill that would allow his company to pay teenaged workers less than the national minimum wage. McDonald’s competitors fared no better than the restaurant chain’s counter help. Kroc always tried to stay several steps ahead of other fast-food restaurants by lowering prices and by introducing menu and technological innovations. In doing so, he destroyed many smaller food service chains and independent diners (Schlosser, 2001:24). While Darwin himself might never have recognized any connection between these business policies and his evolution theories, both Disney and Kroc envisioned themselves survivors of the fittest kind. The concept of personal survival has for several decades been a central theme in American popular culture as well as business, and the two realms have become increasingly intertwined with the popularity of business self-help. From Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I Will Survive’ to Survivor’s ‘Eye of the Tiger’ to Destiny’s Child’s ‘Survivor’, song lyrics about getting through tough times have long dominated the US radio airwaves and Billboard sales charts. Book bestseller lists abound with survival-related titles that fit neatly into the self-help genre—for example Dave Pelzer’s Child Called ‘It’ series or Iyanla Vanzant’s Yesterday, I Cried. There are daily meetings for adult survivors of rape, incest, parental alcoholism, cancer…the list goes on, seemingly without end. Also, Nielsen ratings from the past few years demonstrate the faddish appeal of television shows like Survivor and The Weakest Link, programmes in which contestants compete to win money by being the last person left standing. On both of these shows, however, it is very rarely the ‘best’ player who survives (the one who is strong enough to withstand tests of strength and endurance on Survivor or, on The Weakest Link, the one who is able to answer the most trivia questions correctly). Instead, survival takes a certain amount
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of strategizing: making oneself appear to be non-threatening and mediocre until the last possible moment. The ultimate adaptation is neither physical strength nor intellectual prowess, but the ability to eliminate your competition before it eliminates you.7 As I will show in upcoming sections of this article, personal strategizing has become a key element of contemporary business self-help discourse about survival as well; again, constant effort to adapt supposedly ensures success. Greil Marcus has hypothesized that the high point of survivor discourse came in the 1970s. After the social turbulence of the 1960s in America, people who had escaped relatively unscathed and, perhaps, relatively unchanged were survivors. As Marcus points out: Through the magic of ordinary language, ‘survival’ and its twin, ‘survivor,’ wrote the 1960s out of history as a mistake and translated the 1970s performance of any act of personal or professional stability (holding a job, remaining married, staying out of a mental hospital, or simply not dying) into heroism. First corrupted as a reference to those ‘survivors’ of ‘the sixties’ who were now engaged in ‘real life’, the word contained an implacable equation: survival was real life.8 In this 1970s model of survival, those who lived through periods of great change without changing themselves were considered to be survivors. Change, here, was something to live through, and this model evinces a nostalgic desire for an idealized past, as well as anxiety about the precariousness of modern life. In the 1980s and 1990s, however, stasis and fear of change came to seem more like risks than assets. According to many popular business books from the 1990s, like Johnson and Kelly’s, global corporations and workforces, like human bodies adapting to infections, must finally change if they do not wish to suffer or perish. But, as Emily Martin notes, ‘can we simultaneously realize that the new flexible bodies are also highly constrained? They cannot stop moving, they cannot grow stiff and rigid, or they will fall off the “tightrope” of life and die’ (Martin, 1994: 248). To bring the survival problem back to the corporate context, as Martin does, even those workers who seem most adapted to their surroundings are under constant pressure to keep up with the ever-changing world. Those who stop moving with the times place themselves at risk. In short, flexibility itself may carry a steep price: the flexible worker must remain flexible at all times, and must constantly train him/herself in order to become ever more flexible. Martin argues that modern immunology—and specifically the prevalent notion that a flexible, adaptable body is a healthy, happy and prosperous body— is a metaphor that extends into contemporary corporate and political philosophy as well as strategies for everyday living.9 She traces the genealogy of popular thought regarding the human immune system; her series of interviews with people from all walks of life, placed alongside analysis of popular science magazines, school health class materials and films, reveals a trend moving from 1950s concepts of
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body-as-fortress (good hygiene acting as barrier against possible invasion by germs) to 1970s depictions of healthy bodies as well-oiled, Taylorized machines. In the 1980s and 1990s, increased attention to the AIDS pandemic resulted in increased attention to the immune system, including a reconceptualized vision of that system, when healthy, as flexible—adaptable to new and emerging situations or environments. Martin suggests that now and in the near future, ‘[what] will be forged is a conception of “fitness” in which, just as surely as in nineteenthcentury social Darwinism…some will survive and some will not’ (Martin, 1994:xviii). This idea of fitness currently applies to getting by in the work world (where flexible specialization and openness to change contribute to individual and company success) and to surviving a rapidly changing social realm (new demographic patterns, race relations, class structures, and globalization). Today, worker flexibility takes a variety of forms, and the implications of emphasizing flexibility for survival are vast. Ulrich Beck has described flexibility in terms of work schedules (‘flex time’, compressed or part-time hours, temporary assignments, freelancing) and diverse work activities and skills—the popular resume phrase, ‘multitasking’. In The Brave New World of Work, Beck shows how corporate emphasis on flexibility in an increasingly global marketplace works to disguise ‘a redistribution of risks away from the state and the economy toward the individual’ (Beck, 2000:3). Simply put, flexibility can really signify job insecurity —‘discursively “sweetened”…by the rhetoric of independent entrepreneurial individualism’ (Beck, 2000:4). In this way, the individual employee, never the employer or the economy, is to blame when downsizing occurs. Anyone who becomes part of the mass in a mass layoff did not train and adapt diligently enough. Beck and Martin’s analyses suggest a possible problem with this picture: how much adaptation is enough? Is survival of the fittest truly the American way, as Ray Kroc once suggested? The business truisms of the 1990s suggest as much. And now, since the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001, US corporate culture seems to be moving toward the cutthroat competition once favoured by Disney and Kroc. In part, this trend can be attributed to drastic changes in economic circumstances: dips in the stock market, new lows in the consumer confidence index, massive hits to certain industries (air travel, national and international tourism), ethical scandals and impatience with so-called e-commerce firms that have no net profits.10 The US unemployment level has increased and competition for available jobs is fierce. In this tense climate, business culture’s emphasis on self-help, individual adaptation and flexibility persists, and is perhaps stronger than ever. After all, advice on equipping oneself to handle change in the workplace seems particularly appropriate as workers get downsized and firms remain unsure of their fate. The boot camp for natural selection Harvey Mackay’s (1988) business self-help book, Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive, was a phenomenal best seller in the late 1980s and early 1990s,
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and its title, alongside the violently physical language used throughout the book, suggests a survival of the fittest theme writ large. Such chapters as ‘Smile and Say No Until Your Tongue Bleeds’, ‘Make Decisions with Your Heart, and What You’ll End Up with is Heart Disease’ and ‘The Best Way to Chew Someone Out’ offer no-nonsense advice for managers—and repeatedly indicate that corporate competition is an example of natural selection. To survive that selection process unscathed, one must cultivate the proper attitude: ‘Who says you’re not tougher, smarter, better, harder-working, more able than your competition?’ Mackay — CEO of Mackay Envelope Corporation—asks. ‘It doesn’t matter if they say you can’t do it. What matters, the only thing that matters, is if you say it’ (Mackay, 1988:80). If you have confidence in yourself, those marauding lions will go after another zebra in the herd. Furthermore, in Mackay’s vision, one must always try to fill the lion’s part oneself by constantly remaining several steps ahead of all competitors. Like Carnegie more than half a century earlier, Mackay insists that individual will can ensure survival in often-inhospitable business environments. Mackay’s book implies a sinister connection between adapting to changes in one’s workplace and keeping one’s job; his recommendation of constant training — ‘just keep on learning’—is unabashedly linked with job security and natural selection throughout Swim With the Sharks. In a saturated market, Mackay advocates doing the best one can and waiting for the competition to slack off and/or die off: ‘Position yourself as Number Two to every prospect on your list…there are going to be Number Ones that retire or die or lose their territories for a hundred other reasons and succumb to the Law of Large Numbers’ (Mackay, 1988:65). This kind of coldly competitive strategy, he argues, is only natural; the envelope business, for example, is increasingly challenged by modern communication technologies, so, for the company to remain profitable and their jobs to remain secure, Mackay’s employees must fight to take someone else’s customers. Since there is no more room for territorial expansion, companies must deepen their market share instead.The way to accomplish this task is through constant, unrelenting effort. Therefore, Mackay’s number one enemy in Swim With the Sharks is useless activity: ‘With all of the Anonymous Groups we have for dealing with human imperfection, why is it we haven’t organized to combat the most dangerous, expensive, and self-destructive habit of all: wasting time?’ (Mackay, 1988:74). Since Time Wasters Anonymous has not yet been invented, Mackay provides a set of tips for optimizing one’s ‘down time’, for example travelling with a tape recorder to jot down notes, keeping that same tape recorder on one’s bedside table for night-time note taking and listening to business advice cassettes during commutes (a handy piece of selfpromotion, perhaps, given the availability of audio versions of Swim With the Sharks). Mackay is also straightforward, if not blunt, in his equation of attitude improvement with human evolution. In one of the many inspirational stories sprinkled throughout Swim With the Sharks, he notes that for many years, no one believed that any runner could break the four-minute mile record. Then, in the
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year after Roger Bannister accomplished this supposedly unattainable goal, 37 other runners followed suit: ‘What happened? There were no great breakthroughs in training. Human bone structure didn’t suddenly improve. But human attitudes did’ (Mackay, 1988:80). This point is the book’s central focus, one that has been explored by many self-help authors before and after Mackay: with selfconfidence (or even arrogance), anything is possible; training yourself to be selfconfident is training yourself to be fit. But there is an important difference between Mackay’s advice and many earlier versions of otherwise similar business counsel. Unfortunately for those who might endeavour to follow Mackay’s advice, survival Mackay-style requires constant commitment to one’s work— placing salesmanship, for example, over and above all other aspects of life. Witness his hiring policy, tellingly titled, ‘Mackay’s Boot Camp for Natural Selection’ (Mackay, 1988:200). All Mackay Envelope job candidates are subject to a lengthy human resources process: nine in-person interviews with upper level staff members, one phone interview with Mackay, a series of reference checks, an interview with Mackay in the candidate’s home (‘I want to see the candidate’s personal values at work in the most revealing setting. It’s also a great integrity test'), a social event (‘How does this person act in a social setting? It’s especially important for salespeople because that’s when they need to be their most skilful and persuasive’) and an appointment with an industrial psychologist (Mackay, 1988:200).11 Mackay also sends applicants to meet two or three of his peers— fellow business people considered to be masters in the sales field.12 And, while these hiring practices may seem downright bizarre on paper, they are actually not so unusual in terms of business practices—he merely describes extreme versions of policies and strategies, such as elaborate personality testing and multiple interviews, used by many firms today. The expanding emphasis on individual performance described in Deleuze’s control society essay is apparent in these hiring policies, and throughout Swim With the Sharks as a whole. Mackay wants to know what his employees are like when they are out of the office, at home or at social events. He wants to know how they spend their weekends, because, as he suggests, workers and managers alike (himself included) must constantly strive toward self-improvement: ‘You have to keep changing and keep learning…adding a few new songs to your program every chance you get. If you don’t, the world will pass you by’ (Mackay, 1988:253). It follows that the workers who are most diligent in their constant self-improvement are also those most likely to keep their jobs. Mackay does not explicitly make this connection; in fact, his calls for employee and manager self-improvement are couched in typical self-help language: you should do what is best for you. Control mechanisms are effective for precisely this reason: what’s good for your workplace is also, it seems, what’s good for you. I will say more about the double-edged relationship between self-help discourses and business practices in the next section of this article, but it is worth noting here that the promotional materials for Mackay’s newer book, Pushing the Envelope: All the Way to the Top (2000) highlight several ideas that suggest further movement
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toward mechanisms of Deleuzian control, especially the emphasis on endless worker self-improvement as beneficial to corporate organizations. According to Mackay’s official web site, ‘pushing the envelope’ means ‘pushing the boundaries and pushing yourself to better maximize your advantage—to be better, faster and smarter and to get the results you want, in business and in life’ (Mackay, 2000). Chapters are devoted to keeping up with younger competitors (by mastering new technologies) and taking speed-reading courses if your ability to retain information is slowing down with age. In short, the undercurrents of natural selection language remain strong here, but Mackay seems to be swimming upstream this time.13 ‘Move with the cheese and enjoy it’ Spencer Johnson’s Who Moved My Cheese? strongly suggests that adaptation and flexibility training are indeed endless. This phenomenally successful self-help book, full of advice geared toward workplace issues as well as personal relationships and family dynamics, posits flexibility as something that can be willed and developed through individual dedication. The book is divided into three main parts: the first section describes a group of friends at a high school reunion, talking about how their lives have changed since graduation. One of the friends offers to tell a story that inspired him to deal with life changes in a healthy way. Part two of the book is that story: a tale of two mice (named ‘Sniff’ and ‘Scurry’) and two ‘littlepeople’ (named ‘Hem’ and ‘Haw’) who live in a maze. The mice, as rodents are wont to do, run through the maze in search of food to eat each day. The littlepeople, however, ‘used their brains, filled with many beliefs and emotions, to search for a very different kind of Cheese—with a capital C— which they believed would make them happy and successful’ (Johnson, 1998:26). Hem and Haw eventually fall into a routine, going to the same place each day, where Cheese always awaits them. Finally, one day, they are shocked to discover that the Cheese is gone. Fear and resentment paralyse them as they wait in vain for the Cheese to return. Finally, when they find themselves on the brink of starvation, Haw decides to take action and bravely ventures forth into the maze in search of new Cheese. As he travels, he writes affirmations and guidance on the walls: ‘If You Do Not Change, You Can Become Extinct’ (Johnson, 1998:46) and ‘The Quicker You Let Go Of Old Cheese, The Sooner You Can Enjoy New Cheese’ (Johnson, 1998:4). In the end, he learns to laugh at his predicament, finds new and improved Cheese and learns to enjoy life again. Hem never reappears, but the end of the tale suggests that he is on his way to meet the nowenlightened Haw. The third part of Who Moved My Cheese? returns to the friends at their reunion. They discuss the story and, in case its larger meaning is not already obvious, slowly spell out how the parable relates to their lives. They compare themselves to the different characters in the story: are they more like the mice, which instinctively knew to move forward when their cheese disappeared? Or,
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are they like Hem, who was so blinded by rage that he could not move on with his life?14 The reunion attendees also make connections between the story and their work situations: ‘Hem reminds me of a friend of mine… His department was closing down, but he didn’t want to see it… We all tried to talk to him about the many other opportunities that existed in the company for those who wanted to be flexible, but he didn’t think he had to change’ (Johnson, 1998:79). One attendee believes that Hem eventually decided to embrace change and find new Cheese, but another disagrees: ‘some people never change and they pay a price for it. I see people like Hem in my medical practice. They feel entitled to their “Cheese”. They feel like victims when it’s taken away and blame others. They get sicker than people who let go and move on’ (Johnson, 1998:83).15 Essentially, in this last passage, people who are sick and frightened must empower themselves instead of becoming resentful about the painful changes in their lives. Johnson’s version of survival of the fittest is fairly straightforward: personal reluctance toward change is a potentially fatal flaw, but everyone has the capacity to learn how to adapt to new situations. It is difficult to discuss this book without resorting to disgusted critique. After all, as Thomas Frank points out, the book rather shamelessly justifies corporate downsizing: ‘[Haw] sets off through the maze again, running the rat race, but finding along the way that job insecurity is good for his soul… Those who had been fired learned to relish their new situation (‘there was New Cheese out there just waiting to be found!’) and those who were permitted to stay stopped complaining and bowed to management’s new scheme’ (Frank, 2000:250). While Frank’s argument is persuasive, his analysis of the upshot to Who Moved My Cheese? is perhaps more productive: ‘Will the time ever come, Americans might well ask, when we get to move management’s cheese?… “Change”, like the American corporation itself, is the product of argument and social conflict. We have as much a role in it as the “change agents” on high, whether they ask our opinion or “listen” or not’ (Frank, 2000:250). A book like Johnson’s is not simply and solely harmful to readers, for it can also be used to justify employee desires for change, rather than just management whims. Also, in a time of economic uncertainty, if a book can help people to feel better about the unpleasant and often unavoidable changes in their lives, so be it. But for Johnson, change is avoidable or, if not, at least agreeable: for example, through individual flexibility training, he suggests, workers can probably prevent themselves from being downsized before it even happens. Then, if it happens anyway, welladapted workers are already equipped to adjust to their changed circumstances. It’s a highly disturbing ‘win-win’ scenario. In his New Rules for the New Economy: 10 Radical Strategies for a Connected World (1999), Wired Editor-at-Large Kevin Kelly broadens and intensifies the version of individual adaptability found in Johnson’s work by showing how it connects with the evolution and survival of companies, and even entire economies. Like Johnson, Kelly depicts evolution in a way that naturalizes employee downsizing, as well as firm takeovers and bankruptcies: ‘[N]o balance exists in nature; rather, as evolution proceeds, there is perpetual disruption as new species displace old, as
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natural biomes shift in their makeup, and as organisms and environments transform each other’ (Kelly, 1999:108). Like organisms and species in nature, workers, companies and industries come and go. As such, Kelly espouses the philosophy, ‘No Harmony, All Flux’. He amplifies other business writers’ emphasis on adapting to change by claiming that flux is now the way of the corporate world, just as it has always been in the natural world. Change is oldfashioned because it is linear and causal, whereas flux is an unpredictable network of interconnected changes, ‘like the Hindu god Shiva, a creative force of destruction and genesis… This dynamic state might be thought of as “compounded rebirth.” And its genesis hovers on the edge of chaos’ (Kelly, 1999: 109). Kelly advises companies to embrace flux by cultivating ‘sustainable disquilibrium’— natural harmony is fleeting and, therefore, corporate harmony must be a stagnating, life-threatening force. Kelly even advocates devolution for ‘stuck’, maximally adapted organisms/companies. Oddly, despite these descriptions of a business ecosystem marked by unpredictability, Kelly’s faith in individual human will remains: he assures readers that they can choose to evolve or devolve as they see fit. His empowering take on chaos clearly does not correspond well with elements of chaos theory, upon which it appears to be loosely based. The kind of determinism implicitly championed in New Rules for the New Economy— the idea that people can teach themselves to (d)evolve with the predictable result of business success—contradicts chaos theory’s emphasis on the unpredictability of the universe. While most of New Rules for the New Economy eschews the comforting self-help conventions of Johnson, Kelly’s discussion of devolution makes sympathetic gestures toward readers intimidated by flux. He writes, ‘Organizations, like human beings, are hardwired to optimize what they know—to cultivate success, not to throw it away’ (Kelly, 1999:85–6). He acknowledges that it is easy in business to stick with what’s comfortable, with what works. As is the case with Who Moved My Cheese?, however, situations that seem easy and comfortable can suddenly become menacing. Even though doing so may seem counterintuitive, temporarily devolving, without the ‘Hem and Haw’ of delay, is sometimes what’s best for you and your workplace. Like Emily Martin’s image of flexible bodies forever struggling to remain balanced on a tightrope, workers and companies, in the schema put forth by Kelly and Johnson, must always be aware of (and prepared for) flux. Given these images, it seems that this endless adaptation for survival—with its accompanying, constant paranoia about what lurks in the future —is almost more painful than not surviving at all. Other than his account of ‘the dark side of flux’ (Kelly, 1999:110)—the everlooming possibility of extinction for those who don’t embrace disequilibrium— Kelly’s description of the New Economy seems lively and freeing in many ways. He dismisses the Taylorist principle of optimal efficiency as counter-productive and naïve; efficiency is for machines and robots while opportunities are for humans, who should ‘demand flexibility, exploration, guesswork, curiosity’ and other fun aspects of New Economy work (Kelly, 1999:147). Also, he insists that
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the brave new version of American corporate capitalism is available to anyone who chooses to retain an open mind: ‘a persistent, invisible swell pushes the entire econosphere forward, slowly thickening the surface of the earth with more things, more interactions, and more opportunities. And that tide is accelerating, expanding a little faster each year’ (Kelly, 1999:141). Whereas Harvey Mackay acts as a doomsayer about capitalist change—arguing that ‘[n]o matter how bright you are or how good you are at what you do… Capitalism constantly devours its own creation and gives birth to new ones’ (Mackay, 1988:256)—Kelly celebrates ‘the remarkable ability of evolution to create a bit more, on average, than it destroys’ (Kelly, 1999:141). Is Kelly still celebratory now, as more and more e-commerce companies head for the Chapter 11 Tar Pits? The answer is yes. John Schwartz, after comparing the US recession’s dot-com casualties to fossilized dinosaurs in a recent newspaper article, refers to Kelly’s opinions about business in 2001: Kevin Kelly, who…helped create the heroic ethos surrounding dot-com entrepreneurs, acknowledged ‘it came tumbling down with the towers’. But Mr. Kelly insisted that these people would rise again. The generation of tyro executives who crashed and burned ‘got better business education than they could if they had gotten a Harvard MBA’, he said, ‘They didn’t set out to learn, but, boy, they are much smarter now’. He predicts that the last decade has been the ‘lay-up’ for a true cultural revolution to come —he could not be specific, and his words may strike many as more dotcom hyperbole. (Schwartz, 2001:4) And so, the dot-commers who lost jobs or businesses gained valuable knowledge from their experiences, and will be stronger and even better equipped for survival when they rebound. Regardless of whether Kelly is right or wrong in his prediction, his hopeful take on the future of e-commerce again depicts survival as something that can be guaranteed, or at least made much likelier, through adaptation and flexibility. Where there’s a will? As I have suggested throughout this article, business culture’s depictions of endless flexibility and adaptability as survival tactics tend to focus on individuals rather than companies or economies. In terms of their natural selection metaphors, one aspect of Darwinian theory that these depictions neglect is the significance of population (rather than single organism) survival in the evolutionary process. Future business philosophy and self-help literature might work differently if survival (and its corporate analogue, success) were not portrayed as something that individuals can always determine entirely for themselves. While it might seem counterintuitive for self-help books to de-emphasize the power of the individual,
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it also seems appropriate—especially given today’s unpredictable economy—to stick closer to Darwin’s theories when Darwinian imagery is used, to acknowledge the sometimes inconsequential nature of individual agency within evolution and, by extension, in business. Kevin Kelly’s work gestures in this direction; in the passage I cite here, he contradicts his belief that people can prepare themselves for flux: ‘One day, along the beach, tiny red algae suddenly blooms into a vast red tide. A few weeks later, just when the red mat seems indelible, it vanishes… The same biological forces that multiply populations can decimate them’ (1999:33). No one individual cell in the red tide is accountable for the decimation of this population, and no one individual worker is fully responsible for the failure or success of his/her workplace. This idea is easily lost or forgotten in the face of injunctions to adapt and remain flexible ceaselessly. Unfortunately, Kelly does not devote much space to identifying those crucially important ‘biological forces’—and, by extension, those forces in the business world —to which he briefly refers. In nature, those forces might include climate, environment or predation, and in business the forces are social and economic circumstances, other institutions and discursive formations. Also, in business as in nature, the combination of factors affecting organization or population survival is unpredictable. The story of Enron—once seemingly invulnerable like Kelly’s red tide, now a scandalous embarrassment—provides a dramatic example that illustrates the significance of these factors and forces. Some former employees of Enron attribute the company’s collapse to its extremely competitive workplace culture. In ‘Victims and Champions of a Darwinian Enron’, New York Times business writer, David Barboza, interviews ex-Enronites who recall the selfinterested ‘kill-and-eat culture’ at their office: ‘People tried to take work away from you’, recalls Brandon Rigney, who once operated Enron’s official website, ‘There was a Darwinism for ideas, for projects’ (Barboza, 2001:C5). While many factors contributed to Enron’s downfall, the type of workplace strategizing advocated by business self-help gurus like Mackay and Johnson seems to have had the opposite of its intended effect: rather than insuring individual success and shielding workers from downsizing, it helped to destabilize an entire company and led to mass layoffs and bankruptcy. In short, the kind of corporate culture encouraged in the books I have described here helped to foster an environment of rampant ethical abuses, which in turn undermined chances for workers’ success and the corporation’s staying power. Barboza learns from his ex-Enron interviewees that competition between workers and departments ‘undermined the company’s health… For example, it is widely believed that compensation for the people who negotiated deals with other companies was based on the size of the transactions rather than their longterm effect on the bottom line’ (Barboza, 2001:C5). In addition, the endless adaptations favoured within Enron—constant pressure to find new ways to make profits, like trading electricity rights and introducing the concept of water rights —may have distracted workers from paying attention to bottom line issues, particularly the importance of ethical conduct. According to a recent issue of
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Business Week, increasing post-Enron concern about the ethics of corporate executives has prompted many companies to increase their ranks of managers, in the hope of providing checkpoints for business decision-making processes (Byrne et al., 2002). Business schools are scrambling to make room for required ethics classes in their lists of course offerings (Singer, 2002:11). As new instances of creative bookkeeping are uncovered seemingly every day, it seems that ethical conduct—paying attention to the circumstances and forces in which all organizations are embedded—is an emerging success and survival strategy in business. And, in the wake of the Enron disaster, the business world is becoming more vigilant about an issue outlined by Deleuze more than a decade ago, in his descriptions of control society: who benefits from certain business policies and decisions, and does the answer to that question need to change? Given the dismal fate of Enron and other now-notorious companies, it is clear that survival is not something that can be willed or chosen, and that the notion of individual will cannot account for which businesses will succeed and which will go bankrupt. Perhaps the focus on personal survival and self-interest —found in self-help bestsellers, popular television shows and pop singles—is part of how current versions of corporate capitalism have strengthened their hold on American culture. In a post-Enron landscape, with media vultures circling over dying companies felled by scandal, a move away from the individual— including its power to ceaselessly adapt and to be flexible—might not only salvage the reputation of American corporate culture, but also, much more importantly, might benefit the workers who keep that culture running. Acknowledgements I am grateful to Jeremiah Dyehouse, Jane Juffer, Jeffrey Karnicky, Janet Lyon, Elizabeth Mazzolini, Jeffrey T.Nealon, Susan M.Squier and two anonymous reviewers for their suggestions and assistance. Notes 1 The links between Foucault’s work and self-help discourses—both within and outside the business realm—have been usefully traced by Rimke (2000) and Rose (1996, 1999). Also, Alan McKinlay and Ken Starkey’s edited essay collection, Foucault, Management and Organization Theory: From Panopticon to Technologies of Self (1998) provides important perspectives on these links from business, economics and management scholars. 2 It is important to underscore here Deleuze’s insistence on the co-existence of discipline and control models of power. For example, the American corporate offices of a transnational company like Nike may exhibit many of the tendencies described by Deleuze in his essay, but the people who provide Nike’s outsourced sweatshop labour may (and often do) live under a disciplineoriented management regime.
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3 In a 2000 article for Cultural Studies, Heidi Marie Rimke argues that self-help texts about relationships—notably the well-known phenomenon of codependency— demonstrate that ‘[t]he self-help genre presents individual “development” and “personal growth” as a free moral and ethical decision… Individuals are rendered entirely responsible for their failures as well as their successes, their despair as well as their happiness’ (Rimke, 2000:63). 4 Whether or not business writers use Darwinian imagery in an accurate manner is not my primary concern here, except in one important respect: the way corporate culture tends to focus on individually willed survival rather than species survival. This paper is not a science studies approach to evolution and business practices, and I am not a Darwin scholar. I am more interested in how Darwinian ideas and images get taken up in various ways by corporate culture. 5 In Darwinian Myths: The Legends and Misuses of a Theory, Edward Caudill notes: ‘That social Darwinism could be derived from On the Origin of Species is obvious, but it is debatable whether Darwin supported the idea. Although he never endorsed the idea, Darwin did not protest the application of his biological theory to society, and passages from his writings even suggest that Darwin himself made such applications’ (Caudill, 1997:64). 6 For detailed accounts of the history of social Darwinism, I recommend Caudill (1997), Hawkins (1997), Rose (1998) and Rosenberg (2000). 7 ‘If the stupidest TV game shows are successful, it’s because they’re a perfect reflection of the way businesses are run’ (Deleuze, 1990:179). 8 Marcus (1989:46). Marcus also provides a lengthy list of 1970s rock and disco song or album titles that contain some variant of the verb ‘survive’. 9 For the full argument, see Martin (1994). 10 The downfall of the New Economy probably began earlier than September 11, as many writers, including John Schwartz for the New York Times, have noted. 11 Despite his policy of sending job candidates to an industrial psychologist for training, Mackay only seems interested in how employees think when it affects what they do on the job. 12 Mackay is equally insistent on knowing and documenting information about his customers. For example, he advocates what he calls the ‘Mackay 66’, which is essentially a customer profile comprised of 66 questions. All of Mackay’s employees, not just official sales representatives, must be able to answer these questions—some fairly straightforward, others oddly private (about medical history, drinking habits, marital status)—about each regular customer and potential client. This information, he argues, is key to establishing any lucrative business relationship. 13 Age-related anxiety permeates Swim With the Sharks. For instance, Mackay advises parents to ‘tell…kids to take chances… The wheel is tilted in their favor, the system is biased on their side, because it is based on change. On destroying the old’ (Mackay, 1988:258). 14 In terms of the evolution argument, it is interesting to note that the mice in Johnson’s book are depicted as being much better suited for survival than the humans are. Johnson repeatedly reminds readers that the mice survive because they don’t stop to think about things, and don’t spend any time moping about what they lose.
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15 This passage is a strange manoeuvre on Johnson’s part, considering that many selfhelp books are sold to people who believe themselves to be victims and seek reassurance and support from such books.
References Barboza, David (2001) ‘Victims and champions of a Darwinian Enron’. The New York Times, 12 December 2001:C5. Beck, Ulrich (2000) The Brave New World of Work. Trans. Patrick Camiller. Cambridge: Polity Press. Byrne, John A., Lavelle, Louis, Byrnes, Nanette, Vickers, Marcia and Borrus, Amy (2002) ‘How to Fix Corporate Governance’. Business Week, 6 May 2002: 69–78. Cader Books (2002) Publisher’s Weekly Bestseller Lists 1900–1995 [Internet]. Available online: http://www.caderbooks.com/best80.html (accessed 15 October 2002). Carlone, David (2001) ‘Enablement, constraint, and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’. Management Communication Quarterly, 14(3):491–7. Carnegie, Andrew (1920) Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie. Boston, MA and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. Caudill, Edward (1997) Darwinian Myths: The Legends and Misuses of a Theory. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press. Deleuze, Gilles (1990) ‘Postscript on control societies’. In his (1995) Negotiations: 1972– 1990. Trans. Martin Joughin. New York: Columbia University Press, 177–82. Ford, Henry and Crowther, Samuel (1922) My Life and Work. Garden City, NY: Garden City Publishing Company. Frank, Thomas (2000) One Market Under God: Extreme Capitalism, Market Populism, and the End of Economic Democracy. New York: Doubleday. Hawkins, Mike (1997) Social Darwinism in European and American Thought, 1860–1945: Nature as Model and Nature as Threat. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Howell, Jeremy and Ingram, Alan (2001) ‘From social problem to personal issue: the language of lifestyle’. Cultural Studies, 15(2):326–51. Johnson, Spencer (1998) Who Moved My Cheese?: An A-Mazing Way to Deal With Change in Your Work and in Your Life. New York: G.P.Putnam’s Sons. Kelly, Kevin (1999) New Rules for the New Economy: 10 Radical Strategies for a Connected World. New York: Penguin. Mackay, Harvey (1988) Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive: Outsell, Outmanage, Outmotivate and Outnegotiate Your Competition. New York: Fawcett Columbine. —— (2000) Harvey Mackay. Available online: http://www.mackay.com (accessed 15 October 2002). Marcus, Greil (1989) Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Martin, Emily (1994) Flexible Bodies: Tracking Immunity in American Culture—From the Days of Polio to the Age of AIDS. Boston, MA: Beacon Press. McKinlay, Alan and Starkey, Ken (eds) (1998) Foucault, Management and Organization Theory: From Panopticon to Technologies of Self. London: Sage Publications. Rimke, Heidi Marie (2000) ‘Governing citizens through self-help literature’. Cultural Studies, 14(1):61–78.
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Rose,Michael R. (1998) Darwin’s Spectre: Evolutionary Biology in the Modern World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Rose, Nikolas (1996) Inventing Our Selves: Psychology, Power and Personhood. New York: Cambridge University Press. —— (1999) Powers of Freedom: Reframing Political Thought. New York: Cambridge University Press. Rosenberg, Alexander (2000) Darwinism in Philosophy, Social Science and Policy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Schlosser, Eric (2001) Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal. Boston, MA and New York: Houghton Mifflin. Schwartz, John (2001) ‘Dot-Com is Dot-Gone, and the Dream With It’. The New York Times, 25 November 2001, section 9:1, 4. Singer, Paul (2002) ‘After Scandals, Business Schools Wonder Where to Put Ethics’. Intelligencer Journal Business Monday, 26 August 2002:11.
CULTURAL STUDIES 17(5) 2003, 579–614
■ Book Reviews
‘HONORING THE DIGNITY OF THE SPECIFIC’: FEMINISM, CULTURAL STUDIES, AND THE POLITICAL RESPONSIBILITIES OF RESEARCHERS AND THEORISTS Angela McRobbie, British Fashion Design: Rag Trade or Image Industry? (Routledge, 1998); Angela McRobbie, In the Culture Society: Art, Fashion and Popular Music (Routledge, 1999). ‘No research is carried out in a vacuum’, Angela McRobbie wrote in 1982. ‘The questions we ask are always informed by the historical moment we inhabit. …’ These words appeared early in her important article, ‘The politics of feminist research: between talk, text and action’, one of the first and still one of the best meditations on the specific conditions, problems, and political possibilities of feminist research. In that article, McRobbie reflected thoughtfully on her own research practice and explored the question of the political responsibilities of the feminist researcher. Acknowledging the unequal distribution of prestige, status, and income that often marks the relationship between feminist researchers and the women they study, she argued persuasively that despite this divide, certain shared disadvantages and the kinds of habits developed in response could sometimes enable women to talk fruitfully across social boundaries. In such cases, women’s mutual ‘entrapment in the ghetto of gossip’ could generate conversation that might create new knowledge about women’s experiences in a patriarchal and sexist society. Since she wrote this statement, Angela McRobbie has continued to research and write about the conditions of girls’ and women’s daily lives even as she has continued to comment trenchantly on the political responsibilities and effects of academic research and writing. She has also commented thoughtfully on the relationship between researchers and the historical moment and local situations
Cultural Studies ISSN 0950–2386 print/ISSN 1466–4348 online © 2003 Taylor & Francis Ltd http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals DOI: 10.1080/0950238032000157294
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within which they work. Although she recognizes that the specificities of the local can sometimes limit the applicability of knowledge generated in any context, she also is clearer than most about the fact that all knowledge is generated within particular, limiting conditions. According to McRobbie, it is the responsibility of the researcher to take account of those conditions and to be responsible enough not only to describe them as fully as possible, but also to intervene in them when necessary. McRobbie recognizes that academic researchers enjoy significant social prestige and, while not among the wealthiest in society, often are insulated from the very worst effects of the social conditions they seek to describe and to critique. She is not afraid to ask, therefore, how this kind of privilege works to enable certain forms of grand theory that describe the world in highly abstract terms and tend to dismiss all locally-oriented research and political strategy as limited and accommodationist. Angela McRobbie pursues these methodological and political concerns in her two most recent books, both of which focus on the nature of labor in the culture industries during the 1990s. Bearing the marks of their conceptualization during the years when debates about postmodernism preoccupied cultural studies and the traditional disciplines, both of these books take up questions about the structural transformation of capitalism in a global environment. More immediately, they respond to the ‘New Times’ debates in Great Britain about so-called ‘designer capitalism’ and the political affinities of the new cultural workers, that is, as to whether they should be thought of as ‘Thatcher’s children’. Although I can imagine that some might suggest as a consequence that the books’ embeddedness in a specific theoretical and political situation makes them dated and too locally bound, I would argue otherwise. In fact, what I like most about both volumes, but especially about British Fashion Design, is the way in which McRobbie takes up the propositions and arguments of theorists like Fredric Jameson, David Harvey, Anthony Giddens, S.Lash and J.Urry and subjects them to scrutiny through the concrete particularities of the case study. She is not interested in merely confirming or disconfirming their insights about globalization or the increasing importance of culture within capitalist economic strategies. Rather, what she aims to do in her focused study of the British fashion industry is to ask precisely how the sweeping changes theorized by Jameson and company are lived on the ground by people who do the work and try to find meaning within it. Additionally, she wants to know what our knowledge of their experience of that work can enable in the way of political organization and change. Angela McRobbie does not stop at describing what is happening to the increasing
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numbers of young people who have been pulled into the culture industries as individualized, self-employed, free-lance workers. What she strives for is political insight into the kinds of affiliations and connections that might be forged in the future in the interest of making that work qualitatively better, financially more remunerative, and imaginatively rewarding for those who have to do it. Among her greatest strengths, it seems to me, are the sense of affinity she feels with those she converses with and her constant recognition that academic researchers are political actors and, as such, responsible for the ways in which they can ‘make their talk walk’. Although British Fashion Design: Rag Trade or Image Industry was conceived in response to the ‘New Times’ debate, it also grew most immediately out of Angela McRobbie’s experience as a teacher. Working at the time in an institution where she was training many young people who aimed to take up creative work in the culture industry, she was skeptical about the confident pronouncements of some on the left who argued that new cultural workers like her students were functioning as ‘designers for capitalism’. ‘The designers I knew personally’, she writes, ‘including the fashion designers, rarely saw themselves in this way. The extent to which notions of art, creativity, and culture intruded upon and defined their practices as designers produced, at the very least, a sense of tension between themselves and the world of business’ (p. 1). She explains further, ‘This kind of comment poured scorn upon the enthusiasm and hard work of the ex-students I knew who were struggling to make a living for themselves in a way which they found rewarding. And, if this is laced by glamour and fantasy, I wanted to argue with the old, puritan Left that these were hardly crimes, nor did they make these young workers automatically enemies of the Left. Much of the work of this book is aimed at producing a more complex and informed account of the new creative workforce’ (p. 3). Her account is also marked by a rigorously feminist framework of analysis that attends to the way in which gender discrimination affects everything in the fashion industry. It also strives for what McRobbie calls ‘political realism’. Her immediate aim is not the wholesale overthrow of capitalism as we know it. Rather, she sets her sights more modestly on the question of what sociologists in particular can do to foster and participate in actual alliances that will both positively affect the working conditions of people’s daily lives and prepare the stage for more thoroughgoing political change in the future. McRobbie’s study is based upon substantial, imaginative research into the history and contemporary state of the fashion industry both worldwide and in Britain. Particularly interested in how young cultural workers in the fashion business think of themselves, their creative work, and the industry within which they labour, McRobbie has looked into the larger history of the British art schools responsible for training so many of them. Tracing what she calls ‘the great debate in art and design education’, she shows how gender and class intersected to produce a dominant ideology of fashion design that emphasizes its creative side and severs it both conceptually and pragmatically from the complex process of actual production. Determined to erase the domestic associations of fashion work
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with the womanly activities of sewing and dressmaking as well as the class marked connection of it with tailoring and the sweated industry of the rag trades, early fashion design educators sought to connect the training they offered with modernist ideologies of the aesthetic and the high art tradition. As a result, McRobbie shows that what emerged was an educational tradition that emphasized the individual creativity of design and suppressed all knowledge of the way clothes were actually made. What this means for graduates of the art schools even today is that they have little familiarity with the financial exigencies of the business, limited ability to sew, and almost no propensity to think socially about the kinds of collaborations that are essential to the industry. For them, fashion design is an individual activity associated with creativity, originality, and the timeliness of the avant-garde. As McRobbie shows, this form of subjectivising discipline keeps the designers from learning about the history of labor relations in their work. It also opens them up to exploitation by manufacturers even as it lessens the chance that they might seek common cause with others in the industry to bring about changed working conditions. Her ultimate goal is to formulate an understanding of these cultural workers and their desires that will enable others to produce a political vocabulary that might spell out the advantages of new forms of collaboration and political affiliation. After three chapters detailing the multiple ways in which gender affects the place of fashion design in British art schools, McRobbie turns her attention to actual careers in fashion. She bases her analysis on extended interviews with eighteen female graduates of the art schools, supplementary conversations with eight established designers, additional interviews with contemporary art school students, widespread reading in the fashion press, and additional interviews with a range of people in the business. What is perhaps most interesting about the account she generates is its longitudinal focus. That is to say, she is able to follow the ups and downs of the young women’s careers over a number of years, thus enabling her to say something about the precariousness of this increasingly prevalent form of individualized self-employment. What McRobbie found was that the art school discipline that emphasized fashion design as creative work led young graduates to aspire most intensely to create their own label of clothing. Although many initially sought work in the fashion business outside Britain, the few that even succeeded in landing interviews were employed only briefly and exploited substantially during that time. According to McRobbie, what she found was that ‘United Kingdom graduates are filling a gap opened up by the absence of state-funded art-school training in fashion design in France, Italy, Germany, the USA, and Japan’ (p. 77). Because of the low pay and exploitative treatment these young women encountered, virtually all returned home to the UK and sought to set themselves up in business either with a friend or by themselves. Those who managed to succeed at doing so managed it through a combination of savings, loans advanced by parents, government assistance, and freelance work for a number of bigger
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companies. In effect, according to Angela McRobbie, they labored within the ‘mixed economy’ of fashion design. She concludes: This is creative work whose distinctive, not to say peculiar characteristics, mean that it connects with and depends upon the postmodern image industries which translate the design work into visual images and then circulate them for consumption in this form…and the (almost) premodern sewing machine (and hand finishing) which remain the tools of the trade. At the same time, it is the truly modern ethos of being a struggling, if not starving artist which provides the graduates with an idea of who they are and what they are doing. This combination shows fashion to be an unstable phenomenon which contains not just traces of the past but is actually founded on elements which span almost two centuries. Raymond Williams might have suggested that contemporary fashion design is composed of certain dominant, residual, and emergent forms. McRobbie wants to stress the unevenness and fractured nature of this kind of work precisely so as to enable the identification of dissatisfactions and insights among the designers themselves which might be used to produce a resocialised, more politicized account of their experience. She is wary of the recent left tendency to read their self-exploitation (which results from long hours of labour and their willingness to suffer a precarious financial existence in the interest of future creative success) as evidence of their alienation and a more thoroughgoing ideological determination. McRobbie does not want to dismiss the designers’ insistent belief in their work as fundamentally creative. She refuses to see it as the simple product of new subjectivising discourses that seek only to individualize and isolate workers ever more thoroughly in new forms of ‘entrepreneurialism’ [work without capital] precisely because the social formation is thereby freed from taking responsibility for them. Although McRobbie recognizes the danger of a voluntarism that would attribute too much agency and resistance to these workers, she does suggest that ‘this idea of work being a source of selfactualisation, a means of escaping “alienation” rather than experiencing it,…is a key issue in this book’ (p. 103). What she is after is ‘a middle pathway between structure and agency’ (p. 104) that will enable us to see how ‘art language serves both to protect the designers from the logic of the market and to mark their distinctive and differentiating presence in the market’ (p. 105). According to McRobbie, what we see among these young art school graduates is a ‘determination to create work against the odds’ (p. 139). She continues, ‘I would suggest that the individualisation of which…contemporary theorists…speak, can actually encourage in the longer term the need for new forms of association. Recognition of the problems arising from having to “fend for yourself” will eventually produce more active and dynamic attempts to organise working conditions along more collaborative lines’ (p. 148).
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Not everyone will be satisfied with McRobbie’s careful but finally quite hopeful account of this new sort of cultural production. For some, it will seem too voluntarist, too naïve. For others, it will seem unsatisfying because she focuses so narrowly on fashion work in only one sector of the industry and specifically on the fashion industry in the UK alone. This, despite the fact that she is well aware that these forms of labor are proliferating around the globe and that the British industry is only one small component in a vast, international commercial economy. Her anticipatory response to these kinds of objections is that they may well be true in an abstract sense but that they do nothing to generate political strategies that might better actual lives. Her interest, she reiterates, is in generating a discourse that would respect workers like these by responding to knowledges and desires they already possess so as to build on them for the future. My instinct is to agree with her here. While I don’t think we can afford to abjure grand theorizing at a moment of monumental economic and political change, I do believe that we will fail as responsible cultural workers if we don’t also seek more immediate ways to make the knowledges we generate socially useful. I should note in closing that Angela McRobbie additionally addresses the question of how this new kind of creative work fits within a larger global economy by focusing in her final two chapters on the fashion press. She takes great pains to show how fashion magazines are essential to the business and yet somewhat severed from it by their own semi-autonomous purposes. She argues, in effect, that the fashion press is actually in the business of circulating fashion and design as images rather than as actual products to be marketed and consumed on the High Street. As she puts it, ‘The style press and other magazines have contributed to the visibility and popularity of fashion culture, but the truly postmodern dilemma for fashion designers is that fashion has a more substantial and a more popular existence as an image on the page than it has as a set of clothes on the rail’ (p. 165). There is some truth to her argument here. After all, her research has demonstrated that international exposure in the fashion press rarely translates for individual designers into extensive, actual sales. Precisely because of that, however, I wonder whether this insight shouldn’t have led McRobbie to place more emphasis on a more structural, less local, less nationalist view. Her research suggests that, in the end, and despite their heroic efforts to engage in unalienated work, these designers and their labor essentially fuel an image industry that is precisely not wholly autonomous. Although the fashion press does not necessarily seek to promote actual sales, it does certainly function to produce the ideological sense that it is in the realm of an everrenewed consumption that the satisfaction of individual and social desires should be sought. The fashion press may not really be interested in selling the actual designs of Katherine Hamnett or Vivienne Westwood or those of their younger competitors but it is certainly intricately connected to a larger, more elaborated industry that copies those designs in a range of fabrics so as to sell them to consumers with very different income levels. The designers and the designs they produce are crucial lynch pins, therefore, in the articulated, complex, globalized consumer culture. Although the kinds of
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political strategies advocated by Angela McRobbie throughout British Fashion Design could conceivably affect the working lives of some—perhaps even lead to different forms of political organization in the future—it is not likely that they will be able to address this larger level of structural integration. That will require more thoroughgoing, indeed revolutionary, change. The question, finally, is whether the realist political strategies offered here could ultimately lead to that level of transformation. And that, of course, remains an open question. Although I have concentrated here on British Fashion Design, it should be noted that In the Culture Society: Art Fashion and Popular Music derives from the same complex of interests and political circumstances that produced the fashion book. In fact, this one might fruitfully be read as a companion volume because, as a set of essays written variously and sequentially over the time she was conducting the research for the fashion book, this collection responds in greater detail and depth to the political and intellectual issues of the moment. In a sense, these essays are almost occasional in nature and, as a consequence, they give us a rich picture of a committed and engaged intellectual responding to the conversations and debates that swirled around her. They could be used very fruitfully, it seems to me, in an advanced undergraduate or graduate seminar on cultural studies that wanted to look at how the field changed in Britain during the 1990s. The essays are also useful because they work comparatively by setting off the peculiarities of fashion design against the specificities of other new forms of cultural work, particularly that in the music industry and in the magazine publishing business.
AN AUTOMATIC CHOICE
Nick Dyer-Witheford, CyberMarx: Cycles and Circuits in High-Technology Capitalism (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1999), 344 pp., ISBN 0–252– 06795–9 Pbk, ISBN 0–252–02479–6 Hbk. Of all the suffixes used to replace and further specialize the new field of Cyberstudies— ‘space’, ‘war’ or ‘terrorism’, to name but a few—‘Marx’, on the surface at least, strikes me as the most ambitious and potentially treacherous. Nick Dyer-Witheford’s Cyber-Marx: Cycles and Circuits in High-Technology Capitalism, however, does not shy away from the pitfalls and rancour of contemporary post/ neo Marxist debate offering a compelling, provocative and very well written and researched book. More than any one passage, chapter or argument, DyerWitheford’s work benefits from a carefully crafted balance of insightful interpretation of Marx’s writings (particularly on the concepts of automation and the ‘general will’) and criticism of much contemporary Marxist thought (particularly as it intersects with the field of media studies and cultural studies). The book begins and ends with a discussion of Marx’s concept of ‘general intellect’, the human mastering of technology and, most importantly, the production process. A majority of the pages in the first two chapters are therefore dedicated to understanding how Marx’s interest in knowledge production intersects with much more recent post-industrial and techno-populist thinkers such as Daniel Bell and Alvin Toffler. And while Marx and Newt Gingrich might on the surface at least have little in common (never mind Bill Gates), DyerWitheford’s odd bedfellows nevertheless successfully highlight the common arguments, concepts and ideas circulated, shared and contested from a myriad of positions in the Academy, corporate boardroom, virtual chat-room and city street. Readers with some background in critical approaches to technology will likely be most interested in Dyer-Witheford’s fourth chapter, the first that systematically lays out the author’s ‘autonomist-Marxist’ approach. Considering the amount of currency Dyer-Witheford affords the autonomist Antonio Negi, the book might have benefited from a more comprehensive discussion of the Italian autonomist tradition (instead the author merely cites Harry Cleaver’s Reading Capital Politically).
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For Dyer-Witheford, the appeal of autonomist thought lies in its sustained theoretical engagement with social and political resistance—particularly as facilitated by the inherent contradictions of the ‘post-industrial restructuring of capital’. Departing from the textual strands of some British cultural studies, Witheford consistently offers concrete examples of political resistance that benefit from appropriating media technologies such as the Internet (many examples are drawn from organized labour in the USA and Canada, but others from marginalized communities throughout the globe including of course the Zapatistias of Chiapas, Mexico). In broader, socio-political terms,Witheford subsequently argues that ‘on occasion, corporate control can be interrupted and spaces opened within which a multiplicity of social movements, all in different ways contesting the dominance of the market, can be connected and made visible to each other’ (p. 121). Unlike many other scholars of new media, Witheford consistently locates such struggles between the technological and social, thereby sidestepping the tendency to equate ‘non-sequential’ media forms (such as hypertext and the web) to a broader decentralized and populist politics. As a decidedly politically optimistic book, though CyberMarx tends to downplay the systematic retrenchment of capital (as is clearly the case with Napster or the Mexican and US governments’ attempts to learn from the post-modern Zapatista ‘Net-war’). Such few criticism aside, CyberMarx clearly offers critical and cultural scholars of media, both ‘old’ and ‘new’, a compelling and positive vision of cultural and technological politics. Whether taking on orthodox Marxists for their overly pessimistic and limited view of class struggle, or in suggesting a comprehensive, well articulated and historically conceptualized agenda for Left-politics—a ‘commonwealth’ replete with specific social goals and programmes—the author succeeds in deftly inserting a politically engaged sense of optimism into cultural studies of technology. Such a bold intervention in Left politics and critical scholarship should be an automatic choice for many readers of Cultural Studies.
CULTURAL STUDIES 17(5) 2003, 579–614
Notes on contributors
Megan Brown is a PhD candidate in the Department of English of the Pennsylvania State University, USA. She is currently working on her dissertation, ‘The Cultural Work of Corporations’. Melissa Deem is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of New Hampshire. She has published in Public Culture, Critical Studies in Media Communication and the Quarterly Journal of Speech. Her book project, Public Intimacies: From Second Wave Memories to Feminist Futures is near completion. Greg Elmer is Assistant Professor of Communication at Boston College, USA. He is author and editor respectively of the forthcoming Profiling Machines: Mapping the Personal Information Economy (MIT Press) and Critical Perspectives on the Internet (Rowman and Littlefield). Shannon Jackson is an Associate Professor in the departments of Rhetoric and of Theatre, Dance and Performance Studies at University of California, Berkeley, USA. Her book on performance and social reform, Lines of Activity, received an honourable mention from the John Hope Franklin Prize Committee in American Studies. Her next book, Professing Performance, is in press with Cambridge University Press. Jim McGuigan is Professor of Cultural Analysis in the Department of Social Sciences at Loughborough University, UK. He has worked for both the Arts Council of Great Britain and BBC Television. ‘The Meanings of the New Millennium Experience’ project was conducted with a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Board. His publications include Cultural Populism (1992), Culture and the Public Sphere (1996), Studying Culture (1997/1993), Modernity and Post-modern Culture (1999), Technocities (1999) and the forthcoming Rethinking Cultural Policy (Open University Press, Spring, 2004). He serves on the editorial
Cultural Studies ISSN 0950–2386 print/ISSN 1466–4348 online © 2003 Taylor & Francis Ltd http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals
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boards of Cultural Studies Critical Methodologies and the International Journal of Cultural Policy. Philip Nel is Assistant Professor of English at Kansas State University, where he teaches courses in children’s literature and contemporary American literature. He is author of The Avant-Garde and American Postmodernity: Small Incisive Shocks (2002), J.K.Rowlings Harry Potter Novels: A Reader’s Guide (2001), and the forthcoming Dr. Seuss: American Icon (2004). His current project is a biography of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss. Janice Radway is Francis Fox Professor at Duke University, USA. She is author of Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy and Popular Literature and A Feeling Jbr Books: The Book-of-the-Month Club, Literary Taste and Middle-Class Desire, both published by the University of North Carolina Press. Her current research interests are in the history of literacy and reading in the USA, particularly as they bear on the lives of women. She is currently working on the history of the book in the USA in the twentieth century (with Carl Kaestle) as part of the American Antiquarian Society’s collaborative project on the history of the book. Thomas Streeter studies media institutions, laws and policies at the University of Vermont, USA. His Selling the Air: A Critique of the Policy of Commercial Broadcasting in the United States (University of Chicago, 1996) won the McGannon Award for Social and Ethical Relevance in Community Policy Research. Other publications include ‘Notes towards a political history of the Internet 1950–1983’ (Media International Australia, 2000, 95:131–46) and ‘Broadcast copyright and the bureaucratization of property’ (in The Construction of Authorship: Textual Appropriation in Law and Literature). He has taught at the University of Wisconsin and the University of Southern California, and has been a member of the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, NJ, USA.
CULTURAL STUDIES 17(5) 2003, 579–614
Notes for contributors
Submission Authors should submit three complete copies of their paper, including any original illustrations to: Prof Lawrence Grossberg and Della Pollock, Editors of Cultural Studies, Department of Communication Studies, CB#3285, 115 Bingham Hall, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599–3285, USA; e-mail: [email protected] It will be assumed that the author has retained a copy of his or her paper. Submission of a paper to Cultural Studies will be taken to imply that it presents original, unpublished work not under consideration for publication elsewhere. In submitting a manuscript the authors agree that the exclusive rights to reproduce and distribute the article have been given to the publishers. This includes reprints, photographic reproductions, microfilm, or any other reproduction of similar nature and translations, though copyright is retained by the author. Manuscript format All submissions should be in English, typed or computer printed in double spacing on one side of the paper only. Please include an abstract of up to 300 words (including 6 keywords) for purposes of review. The authors name should not appear anywhere on the manuscript except for on a detachable cover page along with an address, short biographical note and the title. Please supply an email address if you have one and a contact number. Photographs, tables and figures Photographs should be high contrast black and white glossy prints. Tables and figures need not be rendered professionally but should be neatly drawn in black ink.
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Copyright-protected material Written permission to reproduce photographs, tables, figures, song lyrics or any other copyright protected material must be obtained by authors from the copyright-holders before submission.
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Two or more references to the same author Leach, Edmund (1976) Culture and Communication. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. —— (1974) Levi-Strauss. London: Fontana. Multiple authors Ogden, C.G. and Richards, I.A. (1949) The Meaning of Meaning (2nd edn). London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Two references published in the same year; translated text; two places of publication Lacan, Jacques (1977a) Ecrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York and London: Norton. (Originally published 1966). Article in reader not already cited; multi volume work; article in book by same author Leavis, F.R. (1945)‘“Thought” and Emotional Quality’. In his (ed.) (1968) A Selection from Scrutiny (vol. 1). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 211–30. Article in journal Macherey, Pierre and Balibar, Etienne (1978) ‘Literature as an ideological form: some Marxist propositions’. Oxford Literary Review, 3(1):4–12. Article in magazine or newspaper Burstall, Tim (1977) ‘Triumph and disaster for Australian films’. The Bulletin, 24 September 1977:45–54. Film or TV programme The War Game (1966). Dir. Peter Watkins, BBC.
Proofs Page proofs will be sent for correction to the author whose name appears first on the title page of the article unless otherwise requested. The difficulty and expense involved in making amendments at this stage make it essential for authors to prepare their typescripts carefully: any alteration to the original text is strongly discouraged. The proofs should be returned as quickly as possible. Offprints An ‘eprint’ of the finished article and a copy of the issue in which the article appears will be supplied free of charge to the author; offprints are available on
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request, further information will be supplied with page proofs. There is no remuneration for publication in Cultural Studies. Guidelines for Book Reviews Cultural Studies publishes reviews of current books that are of potential interest to the journal’s main audience: i.e., an international readership of scholars, students, activists, and cultural workers interested in cultural studies (broadly defined). Given the cross/multi-disciplinary nature of the journal’s focus, reviews should focus specifically on the relevance of the book(s) in question to cultural studies (rather than to either the author’s or the reviewer’s ‘home’ discipline). Completed reviews should be concise—i.e., 1000 words or less—and carefully proofread. External citations and endnotes do count against your word limit, so use them sparingly (if at all). Your review should include: Heading information: • Your name • Title of the book review (short, preferably 5–6 words) • Publication information: book author(s)/editor(s), book title, city/cities, publisher, date, page count, ISBN number and price for cloth/hardback, ISBN number and price for paperback. Body of review: • Brief description or explanation of the book’s contents • Discussion of the book’s relevance to cultural studies • Critical engagement with and assessment of the book’s contents Other information (on separate page): • Word count of your review (excluding the heading information) • Brief biographical note for the reviewer (2–3 lines) • Your address/contact information (including phone number(s) and e-mail address) General formatting guidelines: • Reviews should be written in English and adhere to the journal’s usual style guidelines (i.e., Harvard style). • Reviews should be submitted in one of the following formats: Word Perfect (version 9.0 or earlier), Microsoft Word (2000 or earlier), or RTF (Rich Text Format). • Reviews should be submitted either as an e-mail file attachment or on an IBMcompatible 3.5’ floppy disk to one of the book review editors:
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Stuart Price School of Arts de Montfort University The Gateway Leicester LE1 9BH UK [email protected] Gil Rodman Department of Communication University of South Florida 4202 East Fowler Avenue, CIS1040 Tampa, FL 33620 7800 USA [email protected] Alvaro Pina Rua Jose P.Chaves 6–3 Dto 1500–377 Lisboa Portugal [email protected] Ien Ang Institute for Cultural Research University of Western Sydney Parramatta Campus BCRI Building L2 Locked Bag 1797 Penrith South DC NSW 1797 Australia [email protected]
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EDITORS Lawrence Grossberg University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill, USA Della Pollock University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill, USA ASSOCIATE EDITORS Gwendolyn Blue University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill, USA Greg Siegel University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill, USA BOOK REVIEW EDITORS len Ang University of Western Sydney, Australia Alvaro Pina University of Lisbon, Portugal Stuart Price de Montrort University, Leicester, UK Gil Rodman University of South Florida, USA ASSISTANT EDITOR Mark Hayward University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill, USA EDITORIAL BOARD
Charles Acland, Concordia University, Canada; len Ang, University of Western Syndey—Nepean, Australia; Anne Balsamo, Xerox Parc, USA; Tony Bennett, Open University, UK; Milly Buonanno, Università di Firenze, Italy; Lisa Cartwright, University of Rochester, USA; Angie ChabramDernersesian, University of California—Davis, USA; Stephen Chan, Lingnan University, Hong Kong; Kuan Hsing Chen, National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan; John Clarke, The Open University, UK; Paul du Gay, The Open University, UK; John Nyuget Erni, City University, Hong Kong; Judith
EDITORIAL BOARD 749
Farquhar, University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill, USA; Johan Fornäs, NIWL and Linköpin University, Sweden; John Frow, University of Edinburgh, Scotland; Paul Gilroy, Yale University, USA; Henry Giroux, Penn State University, USA; Herman Gray, University of California - Santa Cruz, USA; Larry Gross, University of Pennsylvania, USA; Ahkil Gupta, Stanford University, USA; Ghassan Hage, University of Sydney, Australia; James Hay, University of illinois— Urbana Champaign, USA; James Hevia, University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill, USA; Roman Horak, University of Applied Arts, Vienna, Austria; Shannon Jackson, University of California— Berkeley, USA; Steve Jones, University of illinois—Chicago, USA; May Joseph, Pratt Institute, USA; Myung Koo Kang, Seoul National University, Korea; Mikko Lehtonen, University of Tampere, Finland; Rolf Lindner, Humbolt Universität zu Berlin, Germany; Wahneema Lubiano, Duke University, USA; Doreen Massey, The Open University, UK; Maria Mastronardi, University of illinois —Urbana Champaign, USA; Daniel Mato, Universidad Central de Venezuela, Venezuela; Anna McCarthy, New York University, USA; Toby Miller, New York University, USA; David Morley, University of London, UK; Meaghan Morris, Lingnan University, Hong Kong; Stephen Muecke, University of Technology—Sydney, Australia; Lutz Musner, Internationales Forschungszentrum Kulturwissenschaften, Austria; Cindy Patton, Simon Fraser University, Canada; Alvaro Pina, University of Lisbon, Portugal; Stuart Price, de Montfort University, Leicester, UK; Elspeth Probyn, University of Sydney, Australia; Janice Radway, Duke University, USA; Gil Rodman, University of South Florida, USA; Renato Rosaldo, Stanford University, USA; Andrew Ross, New York University, USA; Ellen Seiter, University of California—San Diego, USA; Jennifer Daryl Slack, Michigan Technological University, USA; Lynn Spigel, University of Southern California, USA; Carol Stabile, University of Pittsburgh, USA; Jonathan Sterne, University of Pittsburgh, USA; John Storey, Sunderland University, UK; Will Straw, McGill University, Canada; Marita Sturken, University of Southern California, USA; Sarah Thornton, University of Sussex, UK; Keyan Tomaselli, University of Natal—Durban, South Africa; Graeme Turner, University of Queensland, Australia; Gail Valaskakis, Aboriginal Healing Foundation, Canada; J.Macgregor Wise, Arizona State University West, USA; Handel Wright, University of Tennessee —Knoxville, USA; Shunya Yoshimi, University of Tokyo, Japan; George Yudice, New York University, USA