Saturday, May 15, 2004

First Analysis Critique

Producing, Analyzing, and Explaining America
America is an extremely difficult topic to study or to even document. Unmatched and creating a culture and lifestyle like no other country, the United States of America has set the stage for a trend that is sweeping the globe. Yet while outsiders view this country with mistrust, hatred, jealousy, or admiration, internal conflicts mask themselves behind the minds of its citizens. Identity is becoming a controversial topic that is revealing itself in the art and literature of the modern era. Works such as Gursky’s 99 Cent, Sullivan’s “The Pursuit of Happiness: Four Revolutionary Words,” Alexander’s “Cool Like Me,” and Gordon and Lee’s “Look-Look” are all presenting an aspect of America with intentions of either explaining or documenting it. Each piece exhibits its own argument and provides its own justification for a specific conclusion.
Flipping through the colorful pages of my English textbook, I come across a captivating picture depicting a common sight in most US cities: a few sparsely arranged customers dotting supermarket aisles with signs displaying “99¢” hanging from the ceiling or placed along shelves. The photograph, entitled 99 Cent, was taken by Andreas Gursky, a German photographer (McQuade and McQuade 385). Vivid colors and an overwhelming amount of objects, as well as a surprisingly stark uniformity, allude to a possibly much-debated purpose. The photograph is meant to show the variety and abundance that occurs in American society, but also the lack of real differences among its products or people. There are many different colors, shapes, and sizes represented by the photograph, but they are arranged in a manner that doesn’t really allow a particular one to be distinguished.
Gursky and his photograph do a rather fine job of portraying American society. What better way is there to show the sense of identity, opportunity, and normality that exists in this country than by means of our famous supermarkets? Yet, further analysis of the picture shows that it is almost too manicured, too perfect. As with common experience, no grocery store has such immaculate aisles and clean lines. This also relates to American society. Not every person fits into the tidy mold that has been created by the visions of some Americans and foreigners alike. We have not yet become robots or clones; therefore, the photo seems somewhat unrealistic, both visually and purposefully. The concept however is a good one and the point it makes is clear.
Rather than depicting American society in terms of a picture, “The Pursuit of Happiness: Four Revolutionary Words” is an essay that uses the “somewhat overshadowed” yet well-known phrase placed in the Declaration of Independence to rationalize anti-American sentiment (Sullivan 400). Andrew Sullivan’s piece explains why “the United States still elicits such extreme hatred in some parts of the world…” (400). The author presents a solid argument, explaining that pursuing happiness has set Americans apart from every other nation on the planet. Sullivan explains that happiness used to be viewed as a by-product of some “virtuous” deed or accomplishment, not a thing that could be actively sought after using one’s own definition (401). Americans are known for their extremist views and unconventional attitudes, as well as their astounding freedoms. Our founding fathers wrote into our destiny the ability to discern our own happiness. “Its content is up to each of us” (402). Sullivan explains that this idea angers many different nations or religions because happiness and the freedom to ultimately choose challenges their traditional laws or beliefs (403). By proving that American freedoms and liberties are another aspect of globalization, it can be seen why some factions are stepping back in time and are resisting the U.S. at extreme levels. However, Sullivan does not explore other avenues such as political leadership, money, or technology to possibly support his argument.
In spite of the lack of scope, Sullivan does a great job of logically reasoning his one-sided argument, providing various examples to prove his point. Comparing and contrasting America with other countries such as Germany, Pakistan, and Great Britain, and looking at religions such as Christianity and Islam, he thoroughly explores the ideas of “pursuit” and “happiness” in relation to American and non-American culture. But one little phrase in our Declaration of Independence cannot be the determining factor for dislike. The essay is extremely convincing because it plays on the emotions of Americans. We are all trying to logically explain the events of September 11th, and this piece provides everyone with a good explanation, without making the United States look like the horrible, immoral giant. This essay could be a very good start to a novel investigating global feeling towards our country.
Turning away from attitudes had by the rest of the world, Donnell Alexander brings up a hot American issue about the meaning and origin of “cool” in our society. Citing the ever-present conflict between blacks and whites, “Cool Like Me” is an attempt to explain that “cool” has its roots in African American slavery and the “making of something out of nothing…then to make that something special” (Alexander 447). Looking back at plantations, the author states that “[c]ool was born when the first plantation nigga figured out how to make animal innards…taste good enough to eat” (447). Taking limited and seemingly condemned resources and turning them into something habitable and unique is a process that the author calls ‘cool’ and relates to such things as jazz music, sports, and street-style clothing (447). This line of reasoning does seem logical because people deemed “cool” are often rebellious, crafty, young adults who defy the “norm” and create popular looks using out-dated or simply unthinkable materials. Our society is one that admires radicals. This short essay also proves that ‘coolness’ is about finding oneself; anyone can ultimately be ‘cool’ (448). Alexander says that “some white people are cool…because they’ve found their essential selves amid the…media replications of the coolness vibe…” (448). He claims that coolness has been butchered and copied in order to be bought and sold (449). It is true that signature looks have been combed through and copied by various manufacturing giants, selling “cool” to any kid who has enough money. One special person starts a trend, but, from then on, every adolescent in America manages to get their hand on the exact same “threads.”
Although Alexander presents a good argument involving his views the origin, definition, and method of becoming cool, he lacks multiple perspectives on the subject. The topic is looked at solely from an African American point-of-view and includes nothing of the numerous other cultures present in America. After all, don’t these people have a say in the matter as well? ‘Cool’ is an American ideal and all Americans should be involved in its definition because they were all in some way involved in its creation and continuation. It makes it hard to connect with a story when “cool” is placed so haughtily on one particular race. Maybe I take offense to the story because I don’t particularly agree with the author’s definition of “cool,” or maybe I am offended because it is true. Nevertheless, Alexander’s reasoning is good considering an idea such as ‘cool’ really cannot be classified or identified.
Trends are another aspect of American “coolness.” Whether clothing, music, hairstyle, or hangout, trends are what make America the free, idolized country that it is. In an interview entitled “Look-Look,” Dee Dee Gordon and Sharon Lee attempt to prove that popular trends in youth culture can only be found on the streets where they are developed and followed. These women created a company that uses “correspondents” to search the streets and find what exactly is considered “in.” The information gathered is then sold to various companies who market or sell this image (McQuade and McQuade 460). All-in-all, Gordon and Lee’s reasoning seems incredibly simple, almost common sense. By searching for unique kids called “trend-setters,” the women explain that they find trends before they are really born. The kids who wear the trends do seem to be the best people to consult on the matter. This seems like it would be a great plan, yet the world of American marketing and industry is an extremely unpredictable and fluctuating business. After all, if the idea is so simple and seemingly brilliant, why has it not been done before? How do these women account for the constantly changing mind of the adolescent? The aspect of finding trendsetters is somewhat flawed. There are vast amounts of teens attempting to ‘think outside the box’ and create their own style; how can a simple rebel and a trendsetter be distinguished? I am a teenager and know that no two kids are alike and have the same taste in fashion. These women are picking out a certain group of youngsters to market to, most of whom take their clothing initiatives from celebrities and rock stars. In my opinion, this trend-finding business is too erratic. However logical the argument might seem, it is too risky and dependent on culture, race, and taste in American pop culture.
The ideas, trends, and freedoms that are America are extremely broad and debated matters, to which definition and explanation are limited. However, the photographer and authors previously discussed basically provided sound interpretation and evidence to support their conclusions. Although some of the works could be improved, the arguments were excellent.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? essay

What role does religion/spirituality play in the novel? What point do you think Dick is trying to make about the spiritual lives of human beings?
Religion is one of the most important aspects of life, as viewed by the current society. Spiritual teachings and morals, if we have and/or follow them, control our every action and dominate our thoughts, viewpoints, and the decisions that we make throughout life. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is an incredibly profound novel that includes a bottomless pit of religious analogies and references. Yet, a main aspect of the story itself is the religion had by humans in a time of loneliness, destruction, and instability. The religion of the people, known as Mercerism, serves as hope and unification in a time of intense need and aids in the distinction and definition of human and non-human. Philip K. Dick also uses the novel to comment on the spiritual lives of human beings, saying that men need something to believe in, some type of help to get through life. He also proposes that men create things in their quest for knowledge, technology, and ultimate greatness, which destroy the very foundations on which the men themselves are based.
The world that Dick created in his novel is one that exists in the year 2021, rocked and mutilated by a nuclear war and plagued with nuclear fallout and radioactive dust (Dick 4). A barren wasteland uninhabitable except for a few key areas, the earth has been trashed and wasted by humans who now flee it and their guilt (16-17). Those who remain on the desolate mother-planet and those who inhabit the decrepit colonies on Mars have no beauty and no vitality because of the hideous, isolated conditions in which they dwell. This depressing existence, coupled with a severe loss of population, fuels the need for Mercerism. The religion allows humans to connect with each other in order to ease the haunting burdens of loneliness and despair. “You have to be with other people…[i]n order to live at all” (204). This connection is maintained by the use of the infamous empathy box, as character in the novel explains, “…it’s the way you touch other humans, it’s the way you stop being alone” (66). It encourages the joining of humans to share their experiences, happiness, and grief, the goal being the “fusion of their mentalities orient[ing] their attention on…the need to ascend…[s]tep by step…” (22,173). By having a common belief and contributing to the mutual effort of climbing the eternal hill, life regains meaning and hope is forged to lift up humanity. Breaking through the shackles that bind them and slowly ascending to a better place, the united human race can once again thrive. This religion provides a means by which the isolated populations can interact and promotes needed unification. Mercerism and its eternal spokesman, Wilbur Mercer, inspire hope by allowing the humans to rely on each other.
The religion also establishes or validates the crucial divide that exists between humans and androids. In the novel, the soul characteristic that makes humans the superior race is empathy. Being able to feel compassion and sympathy for another living thing is what Mercerism and the human society revolves around, and what androids supposedly cannot comprehend.
An android…could make no sense out of the fusion which took place routinely among
followers of Mercerism. [T]he empathetic faculty probably required unimpaired group instinct…Evidently the humanoid robot constituted a solitary predator…[and] possessed no ability to feel empathetic joy for another life form’s success or grief… (30-31).
The idea of empathy was just another aspect of the sect of Mercer- one that fit very well into the humans’ views of superiority. In areas such as intelligence, appearance, or occupation, androids could not be distinguished from humans and were sometimes more successful (30). As a result, empathy, the one trait in which humans reigned supreme, was held above all others, with Mercerism serving as its validation. How else could the humans explain and rationalize their dominion without this religion?
Although Dick uses religion as a major theme in the novel, he also uses it as an underlying interpretation of the spiritual lives of men. In an attempt to sabotage and bring confusion to the world of men, the androids of Earth and Mars, as well as the adored media icon Buster Friendly, anxiously expose Wilbur Mercer as an old, drunken actor and claim that “Mercerism is a swindle!” (209). But how does this echo the spiritual lives of men? Although the religion that has been the humans’ salvation is butchered by their faithful TV friend, the revelation puts no damper on their spirits- “Mercerism isn’t finished” (211). Men need something to believe in; it is that simple. No shocking revelation or outlandish claim could ever tear apart the deeply personal relationship that each character had with their beloved Mercer. Humans need hope and wisdom and will always look outside of themselves to find it, as did John Isidore and Rick Deckard. As long as men face challenges and need help, a belief in a higher power will persist. Dick uses the character of Mercer to directly correlate with Christianity’s Jesus Christ, the problem of challenged belief also existing in the current society. Yet, as stated in the novel, Mercer “is eternal,” as is Jesus, and lives in the hearts and minds of humans, never vanishing (76).
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? demonstrated that the challenging of religious beliefs comes directly from the creations of men. Androids, seemingly wonderful inventions, were created by men and, in return, the androids attempted to break the foundation of mans’ beliefs. Nowadays, the deconstruction of religion and the belief in a higher power comes from science, technology, and the pressing for outrageous freedoms. Because so much looseness has been introduced in society, anyone can openly challenge anything. By creating such movements, freedoms, and theories, control has been lost and devastation has erupted. Creations backfire and things change, in both the novel and the real world.
Philip K. Dick added religion and belief to his novel because of the importance it has in real life. His point is that Mercerism, as does any religion, naturally serves as a tool to inspire hope and unify its followers who are spread all over the universe. Sometimes the only way for people to really come together involves their deep-rooted faith and values. Also, like any written work, the novel reflects and critiques the problems and issues that are present during that era. Humans have complex yet faithful spiritual lives that are slowly being challenged and threatened by society’s creations. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a science fiction novel displaying a portrayed image of the future, but it is composed of elements of the present.