Brent Staples’ Just Walk on By: A Black Man Ponders His Power to Alter Public Space is an interesting piece that captured my attention from the first sentence. He starts, “My first victim was a woman – white, well dressed, probably in her early twenties…” After this first sentence it is almost impossible to stop reading. Staples goes on to explain this startling introduction. He documents his experience walking the streets of impoverished sections of Chicago, and later Manhattan. At the time, Staples was a black male of significant stature with long hair and a beard. People walking the streets felt threatened by him, particularly females. After all, it is true that females are often victims of theft and muggings, and it seems that the media reports that black men are often responsible. Additionally, it is generally perceived that people with beards and/or long hair are threatening. Regardless of the verity of these generalizations, walking on the streets of such areas can be scary, no matter who you are, and no matter who is on the street with you. I do not think you can blame people for being scared. Staples also noted that when he passed cars while they were stopped at traffic lights, people would lock their doors. Once again, it is hard to blame these people. The media does its job to scare us everyday with horror stories about robberies, hijackings, and muggings. I always lock the doors when I’m driving, and I am often a little scared when anyone is walking towards me in a shady area, regardless of the race of that person, or anything else.

One thing that Staples underlines that I definitely agree with is the “male romance with the power to intimidate.” The same thing confuses me. Why do most men think it is cool to act tough and fight and not show any sensitivity? I honestly do not understand it. I have never had the desire to get into a fight just to say I got into a fight. Even if I did get into a fight at one time or another, I would be ashamed of it; I would not be bragging about it.

On an unrelated note, I believe that Brent Staples’ revision of his piece is definitely more effective in conveying his intended message. His original version focused more on race, and his use of language was not as effective. The first paragraph doesn’t grab the reader’s attention as well as his revised version does. The original also makes it seem like he is playing games with people and trying to scare them, which is a little troubling.

Mike Jeffries

Benoit Denizet-Lewis’ article The Man Behind Abercrombie & Fitch is a very telling piece about Mike Jeffries, the Chairman and CEO of the multi billion-dollar corporation, Abercrombie & Fitch. Jeffries is a very interesting character. Though eccentric, and sometimes even odd, he has had an immense amount of success since taking over A&F. When he took over Abercrombie in 1992, to say the corporation was struggling is an understatement. Jeffries completely turned the image around. His goal was to target what he calls “the all-American youth”. He says, “Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.” I think this is absolutely absurd. This attitude, in and of itself, is at the source of many of today’s problems. Americans today have a ridiculous obsession with image and looks. Their attitude, like that of Jeffries, is completely shallow. Why should we judge people solely based on their looks? Just because someone was born naturally good looking should not determine whether they are popular, well liked, or really anything for that matter. Why are young, attractive people any more valuable than people who are older and less attractive? Jeffries knows how it works; you can tell because he has clearly had plastic surgery and made many alterations to his image so that he would look younger. He wears the same clothes that he is selling to many teenagers. I think it if offensive to say that only skinny, attractive people can shop at Abercrombie & Fitch. This isn’t only about shopping, however, it is also about working. Only attractive people are hired to work in the front of an Abercrombie store. The less attractive people are hidden in the back. It is really unfair, and honestly a form of discrimination. First, they are judging people who don’t fit the image that they want, and then they are discriminating against them.

The Adbusters “Follow the Flock” spoof Tommy Hilfiger advertisement is intended to say something about the people who buy Tommy Hilfiger clothing. This particular “spoof ad” is trying to say that people who wear Tommy Hilfiger clothes are sacrificing their originality and individuality. They are part of the Tommy “cult”. They are part of the “flock” or social group. After looking at some real Tommy Hilfiger advertisements, this interpretation seems very appropriate. Firstly, most Tommy ads have the American flag in the background or somewhere in the ad. They try to appeal to your nationalism and make Tommy products a part of your national identity. Tommy Hilfiger cologne advertisements all say “The New American Fragrance” under the logo. Americans have an inherent desire to fit in. Unfortunately, many Americans adhere to the same standards of fashion. They want to be accepted, but they do not way to stand out in any way. They would rather not develop their own style, and why would they when they can be accepted by wearing brands like Tommy Hilfiger?

Everyone in the Tommy Hilfiger ads is very good looking, young, and happy. They all have the same style, facial expression, and they all seem very satisfied. If there are multiple people in the ad, there is not one that stands out more than the others. There is a sense of balance; everyone who wears Tommy clothes or cologne is part of the “flock”. There is no leader, however. A flock of sheep travels together, under the direction of a shepherd. In this particular case, the shepherd is Tommy Hilfiger himself. His clothing line has created a “flock” of sorts. The people who wear the clothes are the sheep. They dress the same, and often share many other characteristics. They are part of a social group in America. The common thread throughout the group is Tommy Hilfiger clothing.

Kate MacArther and Hillary Chura’s article Urban Warfare shows an interesting marketing practice used by big corporations (particularly Coca-Cola Bottling Co.). “Team Classic” and “Team Sprite” travel to inner-city areas and try to promote their products. This is especially effective in these areas because, they say, the people have very low incomes and are not able to see other advertisements, such as commercials. By going directly to the streets, “Team Classic” and “Team Sprite” are able to reach out to an otherwise unreachable group of people. These teams do not merely just go into these inner-city areas and give away their products, they appeal to the people that they are trying to sell to. They bring in their brightly colored Coke or Sprite truck, covered in logos and stickers and blast rap music. The people that are part of the Coca-Cola teams also do their job to leave a lasting impression on their future customers. If a child asks for a soda, he/she will correct the child and say, “oh, you want a coke?” This way, children get it in their minds very young that Coca-Cola is the right company and that they should be drinking Coke products. Their favorite rap artists and basketball players are, so why shouldn’t they? It is smart marketing, but at the same time something about it is wrong. They are creating a bias in the children at a young age. They are not even offered a choice. Additionally, the Coca-Cola teams try to teach the children manners. They make all of the children say ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ which sounds like it would be good. I just don’t think it is really their place to be teaching America’s youth. They are supposed to be selling products, not teaching children. In a way, they are almost campaigning for Coke. They go from inner city housing project to housing project and try to bribe people into buying their products in the future. And it works.

Kalle Lasn’s excerpt The Cult You’re In is compelling and thought provoking. Lasn carefully and discreetly implants the names of products into his writing in order to parallel how the marketing of these products is often tactfully embedded into our lives.  Though compelling, his point is a rather grim one. He is intent on proving that consumerism is ruining society. Yes, often times people may buy the same things to fit in. To call it a cult may be a little too bold.  Yes, my friends and I generally wear the same brands of clothing. We have similar styles. That is not to say that we all only wear certain brands and we do not stray from these brands. I don’t buy clothes based on brand; I buy what I like.  The problem I see with Lasn’s view is this: although many times people are obsessed with brand names, materialism, and vanity, the fact remains that they do have a choice.  The consumer has a choice whether he/she wants to buy a particular product or not.  Just because everyone is wearing Abercrombie & Fitch does not mean I have to wear it. There is a big problem in the world if people are accepted only based on what they wear and the things they have. You are not defined by the things you have. You are not defined by what you wear. You are defined by your actions and by the things that you do for people. I do not see anything wrong with having to buy things for people for holidays. I don’t see anything wrong with buying nice things and liking them, but there must be a line. If you become consumed by your possessions and by brand names and you need to conform to be accepted, that is when you have a big problem. Lasn leaves his readers with an interesting question. At the end of his piece he asks, “What does it mean when a whole culture dreams the same dream?” This is a scary question, but I do not believe that everyone shares this dream.

A contact zone is defined as “the space in which transculturation takes place – where two different cultures meet and inform each other, often in highly asymmetrical ways.” Mary Louise Pratt describes what she calls ‘contact zones’ and explains the advantages and disadvantages that they bring.  Her view is that a contact zone allows people to interact between cultures and break the cultural boundary.  When a contact zone is established, people are able to gain a new perspective because they are able to interact with people of a foreign culture.  Pratt describes a situation in which the university she works at was struggling with redefining a course.  Ultimately, they made the course more broad and named it “Culture, Ideas, and Values.”  Additionally, they designed a new course focused on “the Americas and the multiple cultural histories (including European ones) that have intersected here.” They found that this particular course attracted a very diverse portion of the student population.  As a result of this diversity, a contact zone was established.  Pratt explains that this made teaching the course exceptionally different than teaching a homologous portion of the student population. Each student had the experience, Pratt says, “…of hearing their culture discussed and objected in ways that horrified them; all the students saw their roots traced back to legacies of both glory and shame…” I believe that this is a very important thing to have.  If you are always with people of the same culture as you, you become used to hearing all of the good things about it.  Every ethnic/religious/regional/cultural group has had its low points, and it is just as important to learn about the low points as it is to learn about the triumphs.

Ian Mortimer’s article “Revisionism Revisited” is not a very objective one.  He does explain many things about revisionist history, however his attitude towards the topic is inherently slanted.  He himself has written biographies and other revisionist pieces, so he is obviously going to be defending revisionism.  That being said, I believe that he does support his opinions effectively, although he is not very effective in looking at both sides.  His argument is somewhat one sided.  At times, he asserts his opinion a little too strongly.  He wastes no time in criticizing George W. Bush.  In the first paragraph he takes a stab at the President and states that Bush is not well informed on the subject.  He goes on to even admit that he is biased because he himself has challenged a specific incident that he believes was originally based on false information.

Mortimer continues to state the obvious: that out of all of the revisionist publications, not all of them are sensationalist.  He goes on to speak about Edward II and Harold II and other specific events in medieval history.  He states “…they are stories from medieval history we all know…” I am not sure who the “we” he is referring to is, because I have never heard any of the aforementioned stories.  His next arguments involve professionalism.  The way the information is presented and the source of it is relevant.

Lastly, he looks at the acceptability of revisionism itself.  People do not want to be told that what they have believed all their lives is wrong.  I honestly cannot blame them.  Unless the evidence is incontrovertible, I would not want to change what I have thought of history.  That being said, I don’t think there is anything wrong with questioning; in fact I believe that you should never stop questioning.  Believing something and merely taking it at face value without considering any other possibilities just doesn’t make sense.  In order to believe in something, you have to know the other beliefs that are out there.  In any argument or rational bit of reasoning, you must consider the possibilities and not just ignore the ones that you don’t like.  But when considering the possibilities, you must look at it logically.  If someone is trying to challenge something that has been accepted as historically factual for hundreds of years, it is going to be very difficult to bring up legitimate new evidence.  For example, if someone is hypothetically challenging whether a medieval king was murdered or committed suicide, and it has been supported and historically accepted that he was murdered, it will be hard to ever be even remotely sure that this is untrue.  Even after researching, the event happened so far in the past that it is almost impossible to be sure about anything enough to disprove an accepted idea.  This is why people are generally skeptical.  Often times the things that are being challenged are ridiculous, and even when they are not it is nearly impossible to be sure about anything.  Everything is theory.

On Friday afternoon, I attended the Third Annual General Education Student Conference in Taylor Hall. I sat in on a session called The Novel: Its Origins and Possibilities. During this session, four JMU students read essays they had written during their time in different English classes. The session was moderated by Professor Elisabeth Gumnior.

Caitlyn Plotkin was first to speak. Her essay was called “Ancient Mariner, Modern Sailor: Parallels Between Coleridge’s ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ and Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’.” She explained that morality was an important part of both stories. Narration style and perspective played a big role. Additionally, she found that in both stories, identity was important. In ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ as well as ‘Heart of Darkness’ the characters do not have names. In ‘Heart of Darkness’, people are identified by profession. She went on to say that both stories defined madness as “a deliberate contradiction of societal norms without any regard for consequences.”

The next person to speak was Diana Hutson. Her essay was called “First-Person Narratives and the Effects of Social Intervention: Blind Assassin, Kelly’s The True History of the Kelly Gang, and Little’s Vernon God Little.” She explained that first person narratives give readers perspective. All of the stories she analyzed were similar in regards to misunderstanding. The main character of each narrative was generally regarded as a criminal. It is not always that simple. Vernon Little in Vernon God Little was used as a scapegoat for a crime that he did not commit. He was convicted and put on death row. Ned Kelly in The True History of the Kelly Gang was by no means a good person. However, he was blamed for many crimes that he did not commit because he was Irish and the British did not like the Irish at the time.

Erin McGurk spoke next. Her essay was about “Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and the Origins of the Novel.” She started off speaking about novels in general. She asked the question, “What is a novel?” Some defined it as a realistic picture of life. Some said that it needed the following features: contemporariness (must be modern and not embellished), familiarity (must appeal to people), empathy and vicariousness (readers can empathize with characters). She argued that Robinson Crusoe contains all of these elements.

The last person to speak was Alexandra Jaggard. Her essay was “Harry Potter and Moral Reasoning in Children.” She explained that some parents argue that Harry Potter is a negative moral influence because it glorifies witchcraft. She argued that it is actually a positive influence because Harry Potter gets children reading and thinking about morals. She gave many examples of how Harry Potter relates to life. For example, Dobby punishing himself is a representation of the idea of ‘an eye for an eye’. Ron Weasley exemplifies loyalty and his character stresses the value of friendship. Hermoine Granger and Percy Weasley are very concerned with following rules and laws. Some people argue that these characters do not stay consistent and they fluctuate due to unforeseen circumstances. They characters are deceiving, but isn’t this realistic? Alexandra argued that this is not negative because in real life people are deceiving also.

I personally found it very interesting that, although none of these girls had read each other’s essays in the past, they all somewhat related to each other. Each essay had a focus on narration. Additionally, while I found all of the essays to be interesting, I thought some were harder to understand than others. The essay on Robinson Crusoe was a lot easier to understand than the previous two because she only had to analyze one work of literature. The first essay was comparing two literary works, and the second compared three. This made it difficult to understand unless you had read all of the works prior to coming to the conference. I found the last essay to be the easiest to understand, mainly because I have read all of the Harry Potter books. I was able to follow the characters and understand everything fully because I already knew the characters.

I am always up late. I am always listening to music.  I am always thinking.  Three things that are constant in my life.  People often ask me what I am doing when I stay up.  I don’t particularly like that question, and I never give them a good answer, but it is often things like this that keep me awake.  There is such an abundance of knowledge out there.  I wish I knew more.  I try to take every opportunity to learn as much as I can, but it is hard.  Earlier, I was listening to a song by one of my favorite bands, As Tall As Lions.  They are a local Long Island band that I was fortunate enough to see live many times.  One of the best live shows around.  Anyway, I was listening to their song “Stab City” before and I wanted to know what it was about, so I looked at the lyrics.

My heavy head is full of debris
Sometimes I wish this city would
sink in the sea
’cause even when I find the love it’s fake
and everything I want to touch
would break

In some strange way
it’s like you’re never there
You just float by
crawling in the air
I’ve been so tired
I can barely breathe
Open your eyes
Once and try to see

So don’t say you’ll see me

This skeleton town
with snakes in the grass
where every single breath you take might be your last
And even when you find the love
it’s fake
and everything you try to touch will break

Our crooked feet
burn up the street
and every time we’re passing by
you feel the heat
of 50,000 burning souls asleep
There’s 50,000 crying out to me

I love this song, and while I was looking at the lyrics I realized that the title may be in reference to a specific city.  I looked up “Stab City” online and I found that it is a nickname for the city of Limerick, Ireland because of the alleged high crime rate there.  Additionally, the line about the snakes in the grass is in reference to St. Patrick, who in legend, banished all the snakes from Ireland.  Good music, to me, is often complex in some way.  This song is so simple, yet complex when you look into it.  At first glance the lyrics seem pretty straightforward, but if you know what the song is really about, it is a lot more interesting.  This brings me to wonder what brought someone to write this song.  Did they have primary experience in Limerick that compelled them to write it or was it just something they wanted to write about because of what they had heard?  This is really interesting to me.  When I listen to a song I always wish I knew the real story behind it, because that gives it so much more meaning.

When I returned to my dorm on Friday afternoon, I was tired. I had spent a good portion of the day in class, and I was physically and mentally drained. Just as I was going to finally relax, I remembered that Desmond Tutu was coming to speak later that night, and that I had to be at the Convocation Center by 4:45 p.m. I immediately forgot everything that had been filling my head before that. Earlier that week, I had volunteered to work at the Convocation Center prior to the event. I volunteered through the Global Nonviolence club here at JMU and I attended meetings during which representatives at the Gandhi Center for Global Nonviolence explained what needed to be done, the significance of the event, and gave us t-shirts to wear to the event. As it turned out, my job was to sell these t-shirts. Printed on the shirts was Gandhi’s face, and the words “Be the Change.” I put on my red “Be the Change” shirt and my black pants and I was ready to go.

It was surprising to me that so many people had not previously heard of Desmond Tutu. A startling number of college students do not know anything about such an important historical figure. Fortunately, I had the privilege of having an excellent world history teacher in high school. Mr. Messinger was, and still is to this day, my favorite teacher of my academic career. He has influenced me more than any other instructor that I have had, and I truly admire him for this. He was the first and only person to teach me about Desmond Tutu. In his 10th grade World History class, we watched Desmond Tutu speak on video. Mr. Messinger was so inspired by Tutu that he had traveled many times to see him speak. The first time he had seen him speak was at Brandeis University, where Mr. Messinger had gotten his college education. This event was clearly one of the utmost significance for him. Anything that was this important to someone I respect that much is something that I would not miss.

Having learned about Desmond Tutu and the background that I had, I was extremely anxious to see what kind of speaker he was and what he was going to speak about. Knowing what I did know, I expected him to be a conservative, serious, and powerful speaker. I was right about the powerful part, but not the other two aspects. The seventy-five year old Tutu was a brilliant speaker. He spoke with conviction, and captivated the whole audience. He told jokes and personal stories that were very easy to understand. His main points were undeniable: that God wants everyone to soar towards goodness, and that people are attracted to a pure unadulterated goodness. His feeling is one that can apply to anyone, which makes it even more powerful. Anyone has the capacity to do good, and this goodness can change the world. His message is inspirational and I am honored to have been able to see him speak during my lifetime.