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Elsewhere in America: The Crisis of Belonging in Contemporary Culture by David Trend (Routledge: 2016)0001

The book uses the term “elsewhere” in describing conditions that exile so many citizens to “some other place” through prejudice, competition, or discordant belief. Even as “diversity” has become the official norm in American society, the country continues to fragment along new lines that pit citizens against their government, each other, and even themselves.  Yet in another way, “elsewhere” evokes an undefined “not yet” ripe with potential. The book argues that even in the face of daunting challenges, elsewhere can point to optimism, hope, and common purpose. Through 12 detailed chapters, Elsewhere in America applies critical theory in the humanities and social sciences in examining recurring crises of social inclusion (“belonging”) in the U.S.  After two centuries of struggle and incremental “progress” in securing human dignity, today the U.S. finds itself riven apart by new conflicts over reproductive rights, immigration, health care, religious extremism, sexual orientation, mental illness, and fears of terrorists. Why are U.S. ideals of civility and unity so easily hijacked and confused? Is there a way of explaining this recurring tendency of Americans to turn against each other? Elsewhere in America engages these questions in charting the ever-changing faces of difference (manifest in contested landscapes of sex and race to such areas as disability and mental health), their spectral and intersectional character (as seen in the new discourses on performativity, normativity, and queer theory), and the grounds on which categories are manifest in ideation and movement politics (seen in theories of metapolitics, cosmopolitanism, dismodernism).

For more information: https://www.routledge.com/Elsewhere-in-America-The-Crisis-of-Belonging-in-Contemporary-Culture/Trend/p/book/9781138654440

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America is big, awesome, and beautiful. We’re also divided in ways we can’t afford to ignore.

In today’s Slate: “This is not to say that the union is tottering on the brink of collapse. There are many good reasons as to why the United States has stayed intact for so long. We had the bloody Civil War some years ago, and the idea of secession has long been discredited as a result. Recent years have seen a number of peaceful secessions, such as the “velvet divorce” between the Czech Republic and Slovakia. It is far from obvious that the United States would be willing to use its military might to coerce Hawaii or Alaska from leaving the union if, for whatever reason, their electorates were determined to do so. So I doubt that it is the threat of chaos and violence alone that keeps us together.

“The United States does not have linguistic divisions that map relatively neatly onto geographical divisions, which helps dampen secessionist sentiment. Yet there is no question that the differences in the cultural sensibilities of, say, the Deep South and the Pacific Northwest are far greater than the differences between Ontario and America’s neighboring Great Lakes states. A few wild-eyed dreamers have thus wondered if we’ve necessarily divvied up North America in the right way, from environmentalists dreaming of an “Ecotopia” west of the Cascade Mountains to white nationalists looking to build an Aryan ethnostate in northern Idaho and Montana. George Kennan, the renowned foreign policy thinker and all-purpose crank, fantasized late in life about a fragmentation of the United States not unlike that which befell the Soviet Union.

“Could America break apart along religious lines, with devout Christians going one way and the rest of us going another? Think of the old “Jesusland” meme—the map of a North America divided between “Jesusland,” the states that backed George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential election, and “the United States of Canada,” consisting of the states that backed John Kerry and Canada that delighted liberals enraged by Bush’s re-election. At least some devout religious believers fear that as the ranks of the religiously unaffiliated grow, and as secular Americans insist on imposing their values on others, the faithful might face persecution. In 2000, Father John McCloskey, a conservative Catholic with a polarizing reputation, penned a controversial fictional take on how America might break apart. In it, a new religiously infused country, the Regional States of North America, secedes from the United States in the wake of a “short and relatively bloodless conflict” with their secularist oppressors.

“Fortunately, good sense usually prevails. Way back in March of 2012, Vice President Joe Biden, he of the loose lips, told an audience at Iowa State University that the Obama administration had “screwed up” the first version of its contraception mandate by failing to provide some accommodation for religious nonprofits that wanted no part of it. Yet the president did eventually accommodate religious nonprofits. And though the White House didn’t want to extend this accommodation to companies like Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court intervened to suggest, gently, that if the accommodation worked for religious nonprofits—that is, if the goals of the contraception mandate could still be achieved without forcing these organizations to do something they’d prefer not to do—it could work for closely held private companies. Rough-and-ready compromises like this one are why McCloskey’s nightmare vision will never come close to coming to pass.

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“Demographic change,” Paul Taylor explains in The Atlantic, “is a drama in slow motion.” The United States is undergoing two simultaneous transformations. It’s becoming a majority non-white country, and a record number of Americans are aging.

But this kind of change is paradoxical—”even though it happens all around us, it’s sometimes hard to see.” As Taylor, who researches demographic and generational changes at the Pew Research Center, observed, “You don’t hold a press conference to announce that we’re becoming older or becoming majority non-whites.”

During a talk at the Aspen Ideas Festival, Taylor showed three ads that aired during the football game or shortly thereafter.

One, a Cheerios commercial, showed a black father and a white mother telling their biracial daughter, via cereal, that they were expecting a baby boy (the ad was a sequel to a controversial spot that ran last spring).

The second ad, a divisive Coca-Cola commercial, featured Americans of various ages, races, and religions singing “America the Beautiful” in different languages.

The third, from Chevrolet, depicted an assortment of families—a heterosexual couple with one child, multi-generational households, single parents, a gay couple with two kids. “While what it means to be a family hasn’t changed, what a family looks like has,” the narrator says. “This is the new us.”

If these commercials had footnotes, they might look something like these charts, from Taylor’s “Next America” study for Pew. (Note that in the third graph, on the immigrant share of the population, the U.S. is actually returningto its makeup before a wave of immigration restrictions between the 1920s and 1960s.)

Corporations, Taylor pointed out, generally aren’t the ones affecting social change—they’re the ones affirming it. “Product advertisers are not in the business of making political statements, and they’re certainly not in the business of making political enemies, not when they’re spending $4 million for 30 seconds before the biggest national audience we have,” he said. “Each of them surely knew, because they focus-group these things to death, and they market-research these things to death, that if you have images of parents who are opposite race and same sex, and if you have ‘America the Beautiful’ being sung in six or seven different languages, you are going to offend some portion of your customer base.”

Clearly, the calculation at Coca-Cola, General Mills, and General Motors was that those outraged customers would be in the minority.

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2014/06/americas-demographic-revolution-in-super-bowl-ads/373639/

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Last week, the Public Religion Research Institute published a study showing that Americans want their fellow citizens to think they are more religiously observant than they really areimgres. When asked by a live human being on the telephone how often they attend religious services, respondents were more likely to say they attend frequently. When filling out a self-administered online survey, by contrast, they were more likely to admit that they do not.

Surprising? Not terribly. But this may be: Liberals were more likely to exaggerate their religious attendance than conservatives. Liberals attend services

Why does this matter? Because it’s more evidence that the claim that liberals are waging a “war on religion” is absurd. You can hardly listen to a GOP presidential hopeful or flip on Fox News without hearing the charge. In 2012, Rick Perry promised that if elected he’d “end Obama’s war on religion.” Bobby Jindal recently warned that “the American people, whether they know it or not, are mired in a silent war” against “a group of like-minded [liberal] elites, determined to transform the country from a land sustained by faith into a land where faith is silenced, privatized, and circumscribed.” Ann Coulter explains, “Liberals hate religion because politics is a religion substitute for liberals and they can’t stand the competition.”

Notice the claim. It’s not merely that liberals are not religious themselves. It’s that they disdain people who are, and this disdain creates a cultural stigma (and a legal barrier) to religious observance. “Bigotry against evangelical Christians is the last acceptable form of bigotry in the country,” Ralph Reed said recently.

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Writing in the New York Times Book Review, UCI Department of Art faculty member Sandra Tsing Loh discusses two recent books on immigration and identity in contemporary America. Loh’s cover-story review, entitled “Secrets of Success,” is  excerpted briefly below:

“Quanyu Huang’s new book, “The Hybrid Tiger: Secrets of the Extraordinary Success of Asian-­American Kids,” may sound like yet another flogging for hapless Western parents, but it’s not.

“You can’t blame American mothers for still smarting from Amy Chua’s best-selling 2011 book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” In breathtaking and bold calligraphic strokes, she laid out her argument: American parents overindulge their children, allowing them sleepovers, video games and laughable ­extracurricular activities like playing Villager Number Six in the school play, as they collect trophies for being themselves in a self-esteem-centered culture. By contrast, Chinese parents strictly limit television, video games and socializing, accept no grades but A’s and insist on several hours a day of violin and piano practice, regardless of their children’s complaints. As a result, ­Chinese-parented kids play Carnegie Hall at 14, get perfect scores in science and math, and gain early admission to Harvard while their floundering American counterparts wonder what on earth hit them.

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