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Soundtrack: Bikini Kill—“The Singles”

Short post tonight! Been perusing the Journal of Popular Culture (through my university’s ProQuest hookup) all night—and all I can say is, there’s a lot of pointless research going on. No wonder people like A.C. Douglas get annoyed with our society! I mean, I’m as obsessed with my pets as a person can possibly be, but did we really need a thing like Elizabeth Atwood Lawrence’s “Feline fortunes: Contrasting views of cats in popular culture” (JOPC, Winter 2003)? The point of the article (which is mostly just an encyclopedia-style account of changing attitudes toward the cat from Ancient Egypt to the present) seems to be this:


Speculation about the causes of the cat’s current popularity in American society includes “changes in life style”-both spouses work and there is “crowded housing” (Dunlop and Williams 615). Cats are more easily maintained as pets because they sleep a great deal, use litter boxes, and do not have to be walked like dogs. But I assert that beyond these superficial factors lie deeper motivations for owning cats that are related to the image of the cat in society. Acceptance and valuation of the cat’s observable and perceived traits, as they are interpreted through the lens of a particular ideology, ultimately determine whether cats become cherished pets or detested enemies in a certain cultural context.

Earlier on, we got this startling bit of info:


In the human mind, cats frequently have a feminine image. Undoubtedly that concept influenced the formerly maledominated veterinary profession, with its traditional macho attitudes, to devalue cats. When I was in veterinary school, women students were totally unwelcome, but if, grudgingly, there was going to be an appropriate job for them at all in the profession, then it might as well be treating cats, which the men disdained (Lawrence, Anthrozoos 162). Gender discrimination and speciesism were correlated.

This is a published article? Why? What could have impelled this person to do this? Clearly, the desire to publish an article predominated over all other considerations…

And how about Samantha Barbas’ brilliant “I’ll take chop suey”: Restaurants as agents of culinary and cultural change” (JOPC, Spring 2003), which begins with platitudinous remarks about how people like to gather at restaurants, and builds toward this:


What this case study of Chinese restaurants and Chinese American food may suggest is that culinary preferences do not always correlate with racial and social attitudes-that cultural minorities, for example, may seem far less threatening to dominant social groups when placed in the context of food and dining. For that reason, restaurants, particularly ethnic restaurants, may be more interesting and lively sites of cross-cultural exchange and interaction than scholars have traditionally assumed. Notably, Harvey Levenstein has written that Italian American restaurateurs initiated boundary-crossing in the 1920s and 30s Italian restaurants were largely responsible for the popularity of pasta and pizza among mainstream American consumers-and historian Donna Gabaccia, in We Are What We Eat: Ethnic Food and the Making of Americans, has suggested that Jewish and Mexican American restaurants may have sparked similar patterns of culinary transmission and exchange. What is needed in the fields of American studies and American culinary history are more case studies and explorations into the ways that particular foods and restaurants have facilitated cultural and dietary diversification, transforming how we cook, what we eat, and ultimately, who we are.

How are we supposed to respond to this? Clap politely, mumbling “good… good”? I could go on, but I won’t.

Now, you may ask: how can this guy run other people down when he’s planning a dissertation on “Marvel Comics and the Puritan Legacy in America”? Well, I’ll tell ya—at least I’ll be making huge, controversial claims about the society we live in—such as: the kind of theological debates that blazed through colonial New England have persisted into the Post-Puritan era, under new guises and altered as America’s role in the world has changed. Unquestionably, the most important of those changes occurred after World War Two, when a formerly overwhelmingly isolationist society was thrust into a position of global dominance. As they say—“with great power comes great responsibility”—and the comic books produced by Marvel during the era of the Vietnam conflict (and increasingly, the letters pages reprinted therein) offer perhaps the most naked insight into this new outbreak of doctrinal warfare within the Mind of America. (okay, so no one should be convinced by a few hastily-written sentences like those, but you’ve gotta admit, there’s some meat there! And when this thing is done, complete with coherent reasoning from one point to the next and footnotes galore, you’ll at least want to read it, right? Well, that’s what I’m hoping, anyway… But I guess I won’t try and shop this to people at the JOPC. I’m sure they’d rather I just write about how Stan Lee & Jack Kirby decided to do “somethin’ different for the kids!”

Good night friends!

Dave

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4 comments

  1. Perspective, perspective. Like upholstery, that’s what life is all about. In this case, I strongly suspect the author’s of the ‘cats’ and ‘chop suey’ treatises that you found so trivial would laugh their asses off (or, if they lack a sense of humor, which they may, would at least sniff in disdain) just as much over your mining of superhero comics for portentious social/religious commentary as you have at their work.

    Personally, being a comics geek, of course I think your stuff is interesting, but, honestly… perspective. Lots more people like cats than comics. Probably lots more people eat chinese than care about comics, too. I’m not saying we should decide how important things are by taking a head count. I am saying, ‘judge not lest ye be judged’. Or, people who live in houses made entirely from piles of yellowing Silver Age comic books shouldn’t be lighting blowtorches.

  2. Darren,

    I agree with you about the (my? okay, my) need for perspective, and I think it’s fine to write about cats and chinese food (otherwise I wouldn’t read the JOPC–yikes! I just realized I probably should not have left those two items alone on my list–bad associations, y’know–anyone see “Gummo”?), but I just felt that those articles were particularly banal. You can write about anything you want, but you’ve gotta do it in such a way that people might bother to respond to it–even if it’s only to disagree. But what is there to say about the statement–“ethnic restaurants bring new foods into a culture and promote diversity”. All you can do is nod, right?

    Thanks for responding!

    Dave

  3. As the author of one of the the “banal” articles in question, I really do wish that you would have read the article more carefully. The point of the article was not simply that “ethnic restaurants promote diversity.” That would indeed be banal. What I have done in that paper was trace the history of the introduction of Chinese food into America, and the particular process through which ethnic foods are assimiliated into mainstream culture, a subject which has not been documented before. Whether or not this is trivial is beside the point. I simply wish you’d make a fairer reading of the article before making these kinds of comments in a public forum.

  4. Yikes!

    Well, I suppose I put my foot in my mouth there! But I stand by what I said (and I did read the article carefully), namely that encyclopedia-style accounts of events that no one has any reason to dispute should not be the stuff of academic journals (which is not to say they have no value, if they are well-written–and this particular article is)…

    Dave

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