American History Culture Paper

Hist. 262


Section A

Question 1.

Throughout the past century, the world has become a less tangible place. Ideas and emotions can now be transported with relative ease and proliferated more extensively throughout the virtual universe in which most Americans now claim residence. New mediums of transport are developing at an exponential rate, and the effects of such media are still to be determined. Clearly, supporters of this new technology emphasize the unique freedom, general efficiency, and educational value, which the new media make available. Opponents of the information superhighway, on the other hand, argue that the proliferation of access may extend the corporate control already prevalent in our society and the moral corruption inherent in mankind. Whatever the consequences of the new media, positive or negative, a definite influence upon the human psyche is apparent everywhere in our post-post modern world.

Indeed the present character of humanity tends to accurately reflect this rapid evolution as now, “our media is our shared and weightless collective psyche” (Rushkoff 182). In a world where citizens interact with each other in chat-rooms instead of actual rooms, and we attend such interactive events as auctions and chess matches at the click of a mouse, it is not surprising that our psyche is quickly evolving from the tangible to the virtual. William Gibson accurately described the current situation many years before the takeoff of the Internet, as he “imagined the ‘Net’ as a consensual hallucination” (Rushkoff 182). In our new, tech-oriented society, every member chooses to partake in these new virtual realities, and another world is indeed being created, through the movement of electrons at the flip of a switch. We are participating in a hallucination, which we can control to large extent, and through willing exposure to new ideas, can actually change us. Whether this change is a so-called “positive” variation or a “negative” one is a constant debate for “over there in the ivy towers” where “the blind men scribble their learned tomes, dissecting some stray paisley footprints” (Cinnamon Twist 204). Hopefully the following dissection will help to shed a ray of light on this current controversy over the role of media in society’s system of values.

In the first “ivy tower”, defending media’s role in a positive light, sits the likes of Ivy League graduate, Douglas Rushkoff. From his room in the tower, Rushkoff proclaims the scientifically proven benefits of media, pointing to the fact that “psychologists have noticed an improvement in intellectual abilities--problem-solving, creativity, visual and spatial conceptualization--among college students who play video games regularly” and additionally “video games…improve hand-eye coordination in recovering stroke victims” (Rushkoff 182). Indeed it appears that if utilized in a specific manner, new forms of interactive media may improve our collective psyche when coping with new obstacles. Essentially “by focusing on discontinuity, rather than avoiding it, we can come to understand its nature” (Rushkoff 23). In other words, instead of trying to avoid different kinds of technology and media, society should embrace the discontinuity of this new era of development and bask in the benefits of such innovative knowledge. Although, Rushkoff and other technology optimists remain extremely positive about the benefits of media, there are definitely many detrimental aspects to the media as well.

Sitting in the other “ivy tower” are the technological skeptics including Jerry Mander and Mark Crispin Miller. Obviously nothing on this Earth is one-hundred percent positive, and Mander raises a seldom-debated topic: whether or not computers are totally beneficial to mankind in the long run. Mander points out the negative aspects of computers in: “1) pollution and health, 2) employment, 3) quantification and conceptual change, 4) surveillance, 5) the rate of acceleration, 6) centralization, and 7) the worst-case scenario: automatic computer warfare” (Mander 54). The possible abuses and destruction resulting from computers is truly astronomical, yet these major detriments are seldom addressed.

Miller, on the other hand presents the negative influence of corporate America upon different forms of media. Just by glancing at some of Miller’s statistics, the corporate grip on music industry is apparent, as six hugest music companies gained control of “81 percent of U.S. market share by 1974.” (Miller 11) The corporate world has truly dictated the pop culture for the past few generations of fans. Miller may seem a bit cynical when he claims “sweet music always had the Man behind it,” (11) but essentially Miller is pointing out an inherent flaw in the music industry. It’s true that the only way for the public to find new, talented musicians is to “go looking for them” and then “you will find a multitude of excellent musicians ready, willing, and quite able to rip it up” (Miller 15-16). In other words, its hard to find good music that is truly independent of corporate influence, but it’s out there if you look hard enough.

Obviously modern forms of media influence humanity. The “ivy tower” debate is conflicted as to whether or not media is predominantly beneficial or detrimental, but no scholars doubt the extent of the influence of these new mediums. Technology is evolving at a hugely rapid pace, and as it does so, it is transporting humanity from a tangible world to a virtual one with every click of a mouse.

Question 2.

Black artists have always played a role in American history, but they had not been accepted as true members of dominant American culture. Since the dawn of such musicians as Nat King Cole and Chuck Berry, America has viewed African-Americans in specific way, which is essentially the manner that the corporations dictate. Although, the difference between television life and real life for blacks is often blurred, it is obvious that the two spheres are widely incompatible with each other, and usually allow viewers to form inaccurate, often biased opinions. The presentation of African-Americans in this manner creates a dominant, fictional black culture, which in no way represents the true situation of African-Americans in society today.

Obviously, the dominant portrayal of African-Americans in the media is skewed from reality. On television blacks are portrayed in fictional scenarios as middle class and almost stereotypically “white.” Whereas in so-called “reality” shows, such as documentaries about inner-city life for African Americans, blacks are typified as criminals from broken homes with strong female figures, but weak, childish males. Essentially the two varieties of shows are presenting a contradiction of sorts in showing viewers what blacks can be, and they seem to be to white America. By presenting the majority of the actual African-American community in such a negative light, the media tends to make blacks appear as oppositional or anti-dominant figures towards the mainstream, dominant American culture. (Omi)

The music industry also has a long history of perpetuating stereotypes of African-American artists as opposing dominant American culture, rather than creating it. Originally starting with one of the early crooners, Nat King Cole, the music industry portrayed Cole as a crossover artist to the “white” genre of music, after all Cole sounded “white,” so he could not be authentic in the eyes of most members of the public. Whereas Cole and Frank Sinatra shared a similar style, Sinatra was largely exalted as one of the most talented musicians of all time and Cole was simply branded as a crossover musician. Because of the color of his skin, Cole was denied the status he deserved. (E. Smith)

Screamin Jay Hawkins underwent a similar ordeal in his quest for fame. Hawkins was largely labeled as crossover black musician to dominant, “white” music. At the urging of Alan Freed in the 1950s, Screamin Jay made the crossover to white music by taking advantage of the stereotypical white horror associated with “animalistic” black men. Playing on middle class white kids’ fear, Screamin Jay jumped out of a coffin on stage scaring and pleasing his white audience at the same time. His act was an original, yet because Jay was regarded as a crossover artist and not a uniquely talented musician, he was not given the full credit that he deserved. Later white bands, utilizing his innovations, were given much credit as Jay was tossed into the shadow of history.

Other, more recent black artists often unconsciously help to perpetuate, stereotypes to gain exaltation from largely white audiences at the urging of the corporate world. Salt “N” Pepa, black sistas, tell their listeners to beware of the insincere black men who are pursuing them, and to learn to be independent of these suitors. While, this is supposedly the message of the song, the sistas help to show their dependence upon men by using men’s money for their own benefit, rather than acting independently and earning their own. Salt “N” Pepa are essentially singing a contradiction, which advocates for independence through dependence, and in doing so reaffirms the dominant idea of a male hierarchy.

The portrayal of African-American “gangstas” also helps to perpetuate a stereotype of black’s inferior place in the world as outsiders to a dominant white, suburban culture. White oriented movies helped to set the stage for a future of a black orientated gang/drug culture. In the early 1970s, a scene from The Godfather referred to blacks dealing drugs, saying “they’re animals anyway, let them lose their souls” (Boyd 339). This submersion of a particular idea about black’s was “viewed by many African-Americans as prophetic, seeing that the release of The Godfather in the early 1970s closely paralleled the upsurge in underworld drug activity throughout the African American ghetto communities” (Boyd 339). Indeed, it seems as though the popular influence of one of the most viewed movies of all time (produced by a white corporate America), was a green light for the development of a “gangsta” culture in the media, as opposed to the old school white Italian gangsters who had by this point in time assimilated to dominant white culture.

To be part of the dominant culture in America today, is to perpetuate constantly evolving stereotypes. The United States is a country obsessed with assigning everyone a neat role to fill in order to break down and deal with the “chaotic” influx of cultures and races. The popular media simply helps to reaffirm what is dominant and what is not. In essence the media determines what is normal and what is oppositional.

Section B

Question 3.

Our modern, highly technological world is truly one of corporate influence. Recent advances in technology have allowed this influence to proliferate even more quickly. Today, it seems that to separate the corporation from almost any aspect of modern pop culture is essentially analogous with eliminating modern culture. Indeed even the most innocent looking environments such as theme parks with silly, oversized, costumed characters, are organized around corporate values which came into being through usage of the media and new forms of technology.

The corporate influence at a major theme park is overpowering if analyzed in depth. Everything in such a space is created for a specific purpose, making money. At an amusement park, such as Disney World, a patron must accept and expect the inevitable planned corporate influence and in doing so, reject anything unplanned. Susan Willis claims that at Disney World “the erasure of spontaneity is so great that spontaneity itself has been programmed” (Willis 744). Its true that corporations don’t want consumers to think about anything but spending, and the only purpose of an entertaining relaxed atmosphere is to eliminate distractions which would be detrimental to profits. In such a relaxed, controlled environment, few patrons expect to be taken advantage of, and therefore they put their trust in the corporation. This is a big mistake.

Through its marketing plan, Disney profits immensely by selling its culture as “all visitors are, by definition, consumers, their status conferred with the price of admission” (Willis 749). Media representations within the park help to play a huge if not the hugest role in the success of the park. Everywhere a visitor looks are representations of characters that were at point or another on the movie or television screen, and memorabilia of these media characters are marketed everywhere. It seems that a trip to Disney is not complete without clothing and souvenirs full of media images, a.k.a Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. These innocent images of children’s characters are truly a ruthless multi-billion dollar business.

Technology plays an essential role in success of Disney World. Without the technology of the motion picture and television set, Disney never would have gained such a high level of popularity to begin with. Within the park, hidden surveillance cameras monitor everything, and allow people to feel safe. It seems that much of Disney is high tech, with an entire section of the popular Epcot Center devoted to futuristic technology and with a sleek, futuristic monorail floating by periodically. It can even be argued that the technology at Disney, in the form of rides, helps as “Disney World puts the family back together” (Willis 748). The rides cause families to think about their organization and the responsibility of each of its members, as they choose seats on a ride, and essentially the technology brings families together in decision-making. Family life at Disney becomes built around the technology.

Theme parks are never innocent, yet they are quite innovative as they constantly find new ways to make people feel secure and happy, and then to subtly or blatantly sell products to these naïve, yet eager consumers. The theme park is organized around a corporate mass produced culture, which utilizes various tools such as technology and media to accomplish profit-maximizing goals. It is hard to find anything in our modern world, which is not directly under corporate influence, from clothes, to entertainment, to education. Corporations have a disproportionate influence upon America today.

Question 1.

Twentieth century America has experienced more technological change than all four of the previous centuries since Columbus’s arrival. This technology can be seen as shrinking the world with rapid advancements in communication and transportation, but the technology can also be seen as creating an entirely new world, within its own boundaries. This new media/technology created world is fast and chaotic, but the technology also allows people to deal with such speed and chaos and use it to their benefit and enjoyment. Modernity in this new media oriented age is truly defined by technological advancement and constant increases in speed.

In the past two decades, interactive media has really taken off. Whereas previously, the public simply consisted of passive observers, modern viewers can now interact with their media, having more choices and more chances for input. By playing video games such as Warcraft and Civilization you can essentially play God and can control the every move of your “citizens.” On the other hand by net surfing or channeling surfing, viewers may locate precise information, which interests them, and customize their media experience. Modernity today can essentially be defined as utilizing a form of media, which can best fulfill your needs, and constantly expecting more tailored, higher quality media. (Rushkoff)

Interactive media, which requires more thinking, can cause a resentment of large, dominant institutions, which control the media. People in this modern age come to expect interaction from their media and are much more skeptical than consumers forty years ago, but this skeptiscm, isn’t necessarily detrimental. New kinds of technological interaction allow the public to view dominant culture in a new way, recognizing it’s largely hierarchical shortcoming and allowing change for the better. The interconnectedness of new forms of media allows for skeptics and protestors to unite more easily and to speak out against social problems as well.

In a perfect modern utopia, most scholars would advocate for a more limited corporate influence, and a more efficient and interactive public. There are inherent problems with modern technology that helps to aid to these problems, and therefore must be addressed. For example Fern Chapman, claims that “the Web is rife with ‘stealth sites,’ which appear to offer unbiased content but are really marketing material in disguise” (Chapman 195). Indeed, technology has not created a utopia, but simply the tools with which can, if utilized properly, lead us closer to a perfect world. Because the corporate world’s main goal is to sell products, not to make a more honest and helpful society, it is not surprising that big business has tainted many of the good things which technology can bring to society. It is not surprising that scholars such as Chapman are skeptical of many of the corporate influences upon the Internet, and therefore many writers cry out for a limited corporate influence upon information presented to us.

Scholars also shout out their support for the way in which today’s younger generation is adapting to this new fast paced world. Rushkoff asserts that, “in the workplace of the future, a broader attention range and shorter absorption time will be valuable assets” (Rushkoff 51). It is certainly true that in our world has sped up and is much more efficient than at any other period in history. Without the ability to multi-task it would be impossible for people to keep up with the technology, which we create. This new recently developed ability to adapt our minds to the technology, is essential for a thriving humanity in the future.

To be modern in this age is to be technologically advanced. Human adaptation to digital speed allows this to take place, and will help to bring about the spread of ideas and social change into the future. Within this new world which technology presents, there exists the possibility for positive changes such as communication between people over long distances, but there is also the possibility of abuse of the technology by corporations who may willingly mislead the public in an attempt to boost sales. Where our modern world evolves from here, remains to be seen, but it is inevitable that our world will be speeding up even more into the 21st century.

Works Cited

Du Gay, Paul, Stuart Hall, Linda Janes, Hugh Mackay, and Keith Negus. Doing Cultural Signs.

London: SAGE Publications, 1997.

Maasik, Sonia and Jack Solomon. Signs of Life in the USA. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s,



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