Sunday, May 16, 2010

A Good Girl and Her Madness

“Every angel in the house-'proper, agreeable, and decorous' 'coaxing and cajoling' hapless men-is really, perhaps, a monster, 'diabolically hideous and slimy” (Gilbert and Gubar 820)

Throughout various types of art (literature, film, music, etc) woman are constantly defined as either “good or “evil”. From fairy tales such as “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” to novels such as Jane Eyre, female protagonists are often depicted to be either “pure and gentle” or “malicious and deceitful”. Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar further explore this dichotomy with their work “The Madwoman in the Attic.” These feminists explain that male authors have created female characters that embody either an angel or a monster. Gilbert and Gubar claim that in order to transcend this angel-monster dichotomy, females must destroy these polar opposites so that a "truer" synthesis may emerge for female characters. However Miguel Arteta's film The Good Girl proves that instead of destroying these two opposites, the consequences of the angelic or monster state remain even after the actions were committed in the past, yielding a third type of character that is both angel and monster.

In “The Madwoman in the Attic” Gilbert and Gubar suggest that the first way to transcend this “angel-monster” dichotomy is to recognize these constructions and destroy them. They claim, “Women must kill the aesthetic ideal through which they themselves have been 'killed' into art. […..] All women writers must kill the angel's necessary opposite and double, the 'monster'” (Gilbert and Gubar 812). Women must recognize these judgments male authors have given to them, proving that females do not fall under one classification or another. Instead, Gilbert and Gubar argue, women fall under a third category, an entirely new entity far from these polar opposites. Gilbert and Gubar's article encourages female authors to deconstruct these characters that have been present throughout literature since Biblical times and ultimately find their own feminine character. These radical authors must “revise” the patriarchal society in which most novels are placed, thus eliminating this confining binary.

Similarly, Miguel Arteta's film The Good Girl depicts this angel-monster dichotomy. However, rather than destroying these unrealistic expectations and discovering a brand-new character type, the protagonist Justine illustrates that this angel-monster hybrid is the truest state. Justine begins the film fulfilling the title assigned to her; she is the epitome of a “good girl”. She obeys her husband, takes care of the household without objection, and follows direction at her job. Despite her good intentions, Justine finds herself ultimately unhappy. She is tired of her passionless marriage and the hopelessness of her job at the local drugstore. She initially tries to perpetuate this “angelic” wifely role, but feels as if she is barely living her life.

At the start of the film, Justine appears to be an embodiment of this angel role. Just as male authors have constructed the angelic, loyal wife, Justine appears to have fulfilled her wifely duties. Theorist Emma Dominguez-Rue describes what it means to be eternally feminine: “The cult of True Womanhood conveniently idealized maternity and defined the virtues of obedience, piety, and passivity as essentially feminine" (Dominguez-Rue 425). Gilbert and Gubar claim that although this virginal state in the male perspective suggests that this traditional femininity is deemed heavenly, they believe it suggests a loss of power between the sexes. They explain, “Their 'purity' signifies that they are, of course, self-less, with all the moral and psychological implications the word suggests,” (Gilbert and Gubar 814). By personifying this “eternal feminine” women are, by definition, giving up their individual control. In “The Good Girl', Justine feels powerless in the world she finds herself in. She cannot fully communicate with her husband and her job requires no intellect or emotion; it is as though every day she must get herself through the motions of life. Justine is truly self-less in her everyday existence; her “sleep-walking” life revolves around her oblivious husband and her seemingly happy co-workers.

Justine is finally “awoken” when she meets a fellow co-worker named Holden. He is about twenty-two years old, always alienating himself from the rest of the world. Justine immediately notices his isolated behavior, admiring him for his dismissal of the outside world. Holden does not act happy all the time like everyone else, instead he reads books like The Catcher in the Rye that comment upon the hypocrisy in the world. Their relationship begins when Justine offers Holden a ride home,, where she is introduced to his lifeless parents and his depressing short stories. She finds herself infatuated with Holden's irregular behavior, realizing that they both share a hatred and hopelessness for the world around them. This infatuation sparks a sexual relationship where Holden ignites Justine's youthful passion.

Justine's adultery immediately “kills” off her once-angelic character. She instead focuses her attention on Holden and the supposed “brightness” he brings into her dull existence. Despite her happiness, Justine has transformed into a selfish monster. Gilbert and Gubar explain that this figure is the ultimate threat to patriarchal society. They describe, “ Emblems of filthy materiality, committed only to their private ends, these accidents of nature, deformities, meant to repel “ (Gilbert and Gubar 820). This monster that Justine has become has ultimately isolated her from the rest of the world, leaving Holden as the only person who understands her. These theorists claim that male authors valued the angelic woman because “all characteristics of a male life of 'significant action'-are monstrous in women precisely because [they are] 'unfeminine' and therefore unsuited to a gentle life of 'contemplative purity'' (Gilbert and Gubar 818). Justine has finally taken control of her happiness, choosing to partake in an affair that finally fulfills her needs. She has disregarded the expectations angelic women are supposed to meet; she has found her own sexuality and does not care about pleasing anyone else. Gilbert and Gubar describe this monstrous role assigned by male authors. They say, “Women use their arts of deception to entrap and destroy men, and the secret, shameful ugliness of both is closely associated with their hidden genitals-that is, with their femaleness” (Gilbert and Gubar 820).

Justine's new-found sexuality parallels Jonathon Swift's depiction of monstrous females. The theorists explore this model: “For Swift female sexuality is consistently equated with degeneration, disease, and death” (Gilbert and Gubar 821). In The Good Girl, Justine's adultery yields the same results. Gwen, one of her fellow co-workers, gets food poisoning from a box of blackberries she got from a fruit stand on the road. She gets horribly sick and is rushed to the hospital. Meanwhile, Justine is with Holden, completely disregarding her sick friend. Mirroring Swift's model of the degenerate woman, Gwen dies before Justine gets a chance to say her goodbyes. The adulteress is so consumed by her affair that she fails to recognize the destruction that is occurring in her real life. Her immoral behavior somehow brings forth death and disease in her world. The monster Justine has become has stained her morality; she is stuck in a life that will undoubtedly result in unforgiving consequences.

Justine and Holden's relationship continues on without any trace. However, just like most monsters eventually reach their fatal end, Justine's secret is soon revealed. Bubba, her husband's best friend, spots Justine and Holden leaving the motel. He soon realizes that Phil's wife has been having an affair behind his back. Bubba does not know how to react, debating whether or not he should tell Phil the truth. Torn, Bubba threatens to blackmail Justine into having sex with him in order to prevent him from revealing her secret. Monstrous Justine eventually agrees to this arrangement and sleeps with Bubba. Just as Justine leaves Bubba's bed, she realizes that Holden has been watching them the entire time.

The Justine that allows herself to yield to Bubba's outrageous demands is a far cry from the Justine who is desperate to please everyone. Justine now personifies a full-fledged monster, similar to the characters male authors have previously created. Gilbert and Gubar discuss Spenser's The Faerie Queen in which a female monster is 'most lothsome, filthie, foule, and full of ville disdaine “(Gilbert and Gubar 820). The monster, as constructed by these male authors, leads a life full of deceit and entrapment. Justine now finds herself lying to everyone, losing control of her own reality along the way.

As this affair with Holden continues, Justine and her husband visit the doctor to find out if Phil is able to produce offspring. A few weeks later, the doctor calls and informs Phil that he is infertile. However, just a few days earlier Justine announces she is pregnant. She knows that the baby must be Holden's, but cannot bear the thought of telling her husband the truth. At this point, she is stuck at the crossroads of her life. She can either continue to live her robotic lifestyle with her passionless marriage and depressing job, or she can act on her impulses and run away with Holden, perhaps leading to the life she was supposed to live. In this scene, Justine finds herself at a street intersection, waiting for the light to turn green and lead her to her fate. When the light changes, she drives back to the drugstore, informing her manager about Holden's participation in a store robbery. The police track down Holden at the motel where he had earlier told Justine to meet him after work. Meanwhile, Justine returns home to her husband to celebrate her maternity, convincing Phil that the doctor was wrong and the baby is his.

Justine's decision to return back to Phil and the drugstore is her desire to seemingly correct her mistakes. The consequences of her affair have finally begun to appear in her life. She wants to go back to being that angelic wife she once was. Justine realizes that a life with Holden could not be her life at all; too many people would be hurt and disappointed and terrible consequences would come. She goes back to Phil and begins to put on that “selfless” mask she once bore.

Justine's return to this selfless state may actually represent a fear of the unknown. In “The Madwoman in the Attic,” Gilbert ad Gubar tell the story of Lilith, Adam's first wife in the Bible. She considers herself to be equal to Adam because like him, she was also created by dust. She refuses to lay next to him and prefers “punishment to patriarchal marriage” (Gilbert and Gubar 822). Her punishment is that she is locked into a vengeance of child-killing, killing even her own children. Gilbert and Gubar explain that Lilith's story “represents the price women have been told they must pay for attempting to define themselves” (Gilbert and Gubar 823). Women are afraid of what will become of them if they fail to fulfill this angelic wifely role. Like these women, Justine is fearful for what may become of her.

Even though Justine wants to return back to her loyal life, her angel is now an angel-monster. Phil finds a credit card statement with her motel purchases on it and asks Justine if she has been having an affair. She confesses, never revealing her partner's identity. She reassures Phil that the baby is his, even though she knows in her heart it is Holden's child. Her attempt at correcting all the mistakes in her life is only masking the truth. She appears on the outside to be an angel, but her deception, lies, and secrets prove that her inner identity is still a monster. This “double-ness' that women can create instills fear in male authors. Gilbert and Gubar state, “Because these other woman can create false appearances to hide their vile natures, they are even more dangerous” (Gilbert and Gubar 820). Similar to Spenser's character Errour, Justine remains to possess both angelic and monstrous qualities. She has the desire to correct her life, but her past decisions only perpetuate even more deceit and dishonesty.

The realization of the angel-monster in literature is actually one of both power and expression. In one article reviewing “The Madwoman in the Attic”, the critic explains that this hybrid allows females to express their suppressed ideas. Helen Mogen claims, “Through a kind of 'double talk' at which women writers became peculiarly adept, patriarchal literary conventions could be followed and yet subverted. So each of the writers examined in this book has herself an evil 'double': her own 'madwoman' who creates a subject that represents her only means of legitimate expression and stands as a metaphorical statement of literal experience” (Mogen 227). This opportunity to explore this realization, through both literature and the real world, finally gives women the chance to reveal their true feelings. Many theorists rejoice at that idea that all women have the angel-monster within them. In the article “The Madwoman and her Languages: Why I Don't Do Feminist Literary Theory”, Nina Bayum claims that “women presently existing contain the madwoman within their psyche” ( Bayum 48). This idea allows women to accept the madwoman as part of her own identity, thus allowing them to express thoughts they may otherwise see as inappropriate for their world.

At the end of the film, Justine narrates a story Holden had given to her before he took his own life. Through reading this story, Justine admits that her relationship with Holden was merely a means to escape her own reality. She realizes that it is impossible to escape her real life, eventually accepting the fact that she must continue to live the same way she always has. Justine and her husband celebrate the birth of their new baby girl, who Phil believes is of his own blood. Her daughter is a reminder for Justine's attempt at escaping her own life, a beautiful presence that will forever stir up feelings of deception. Justine has come to the realization that she can either follow the rules and make it through life or she can completely go against her womanly role and face the consequences. Gilbert and Gubar further explain this idea: “A life of feminine submission, of 'contemplative purity' is a life of silence, a life that has no pen and no story, while a life of female rebellion, of 'significant action' is a life that must be silenced, a life whose monstrous pen tells a terrible story” (Gilbert and Gubar 824). They claim that either way a woman must decide, whether it be creativity or in reality, to frame themselves in the angel or monster binary. Gilbert and Gubar suggest that in order for women authors to surpass this dichotomy they must radically revise the patriarchal world in their writings by destroying these two ideas entirely.

Justine's story exemplifies that radically revising structures in the real world is not yet a possibility. As a woman, she must be obedient and selfless. However, this selflessness only promotes selfish motivation that must either be expressed or repressed. Justine is both an angel and a monster; she is a human being that can never be perfect. As Gilbert and Gubar suggest, she “kills” both the angel and the monster only to prove that they are both present in women everywhere. However, unlike the theorists' suggestion that a radical entity will be created, Justine's story suggests that women are in actuality an angel-monster. This combination destroys the traditional dichotomy created by male authors and proves that women are neither all good or all bad; it is just a matter of how much they wish to repress their true desires and thoughts. Gilbert and Gubar suggest that this repression lies the true destruction of a woman's life. They claim, “For to be selfless is not only to be noble, it is to be dead. A life that has no story[....] is really a life of death, a death-in-life. The idea of contemplative purity evokes, finally, both heaven and the grave” (Gilbert and Gubar 817). By suppressing oneself, just as Justine decides to do despite her desire to escape, she has ultimately sentenced herself to her own death. Her choice of silence is the most fitting for the real world. It is not yet possible to completely revise these traditional patriarchal constructions without facing severe consequences. Justine's case suggests that women need to first accept that both of these beings are present within themselves and only then can accept their identity.

Although Justine desires to return to her angelic life, her realization of her inner “angel-monster” or her “madwoman” has liberated her from the conventions placed upon her existence. Many critics see this discovery as a part of the female experience. Marta Caminero-Santagelo suggests that “the 'return' is not an escape from a dangerous condition, but an expanded state that includes the understanding gained by the 'withdrawal and deep introspection' of madness” (Caminero-Santagelo 123). Justine's return to her life does not destroy the feelings she experienced during her “monstrous” days. Instead, her transition from angel to monster to a hybrid of the two ideas allows her to understand her self even more. She must realize that as a women she is this entity, hopefully propelling her to express her ideas without fear or limits of the constructions placed upon her.

Both “The Madwoman in the Attic” and “The Good Girl” illustrate that women will eventually face a cross-roads in their life. Both also suggest that they do not choose to frame themselves as either an angel or a monster. Ideally they must accept their inner madwoman and speak out against the patriarchal world that has repressed their true nature. In reality, women must experience the same “double-ness” that Justine faces . They need to acknowledge themselves as an angel-monster, a character that is ever present in human beings, and only then can they determine their fate. Justine will never be an angel again. However, she chooses to submit herself to her society even though she realizes that this angel-monster will forever be in her. A radical change for women would be Justine's decision to expose this angel-monster to the world, revealing her true identity regardless of the consequences. Gilbert and Gubar wanted female authors to try this in their writings, but perhaps this choice would be revolutionary if it was revealed in the patriarchal society that has suppressed women since the beginning of time.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Mr. Chow Wants His Purse Back

Although Mr. Chow may be one of the most comical characters in 2009's “The Hangover”, he is the epitome of the Oriental stereotype, according to Said's definition. In his book Orientalism, he describes the “Oriental” as “feminine, weak yet strangely dangerous because [he] poses a threat to white Western women[....]The Oriental is a single image, a sweeping generalization, a stereotype that crosses countless cultural and national boundaries”(Sered 1). From his stereotypical name to his flamboyant clothing and tiny shoes, he embodies this idea of the Oriental.

Mr. Chow's character in “The Hangover” believes that his purse that held thousands of dollars was taken by Alan and the rest of the guys Phil, Doug, and Stu. His character in this plot of “bachelor debauchery” immediately possesses all of the Oriental characteristics Said defines. He is short in stature, wearing a white suit and desperate to get his purse back. His appearance is all too feminine yet he also inhibits this “strangely dangerous” persona. He has means of force-a group of Asian gangsters harassing the guys, and holds Doug, the soon-to-be groom, for ransom.

Although Mr. Chow is used purposely to attribute to the comedy of the film, many can argue that his “femininity” only emphasizes the masculinity of the American men visiting Las Vegas. Said claims that this supposed weakness was to be overcome by Western influence. He states, “The feminine and weak Orient awaits the dominance of the West; it is a defenseless and unintelligent whole that exists for, and in terms of, its Western counterpart” (Sered 1). Ironically enough, the “Western influence” seen in the film as Doug, Phil, Stu, and Alan, eventually defeat Mr. Chow by winning back all of the money he had lost. They give Mr. Chow his $80,000 in return for their friend Doug. (Unfortunately, the Doug they believed they were fighting for was actually not the friend). Regardless, symbolically the West was able to defeat the East, dismissing Mr. Chow's character throughout the rest of the film.

Granted, this analysis may be pretty far-fetched. The main purpose of this film is not to portray ideas of the Orient. However, Said's theory is present in a nation-wide acceptance of this ridiculous character. Mr. Chow plays the ultimate Asian stereotype, spouting off quirky one-liners that thousands of movie-goers can quote off-hand. Americans are simply immune to this persona in films. The producers of this film capitalized upon their viewers' Orientalist perspectives.

Either way, this film is a relatively light-hearted comedy with the main goal of making its viewers laugh. “The Hangover” would not be the same if Mr. Chow was not in it. His presence definitely contributed to the hilarity of the movie.

Works Cited
Sered, Danielle. "Orientalism." Emory University---English Department "Where Courageous Inquiry Leads" Fall 1996. Web. 06 May 2010. .

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Forever Stuck in the Attic?

In Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar's “The Madwoman in the Attic” there is a constant dichotomy of women found in Victorian literature. Gilbert and Gubar explain that in the past, women have been classified as either the “monster” or the “angel” of a text. Women characters are never to be placed somewhere in the middle of this “Monster/Angel” conflict. Gilbert and Gubar claim that the way to “transcend the images of 'angel' and 'monster'” is to recognize and destroy previous labels male authors have given to their female characters. They advise, “Women must kill the aesthetic idea through which they themselves have been 'killed' into art,”(Gubar 812).

Although many women authors took this advice, there is still this “Angel-Monster” dichotomy throughout various artistic forms today. In numerous male-directed films, the female characters are often labeled as either “good” or “evil”; not usually seen as character deserving of multiple motives. Take for example the movie “The Good Girl”. The director tried to depict Jennifer Aniston's character as entirely confused and lost, perhaps providing some explanations for her ways of betrayal. However, males that watch this film often seen Aniston's character as “selfish and evil”, the ultimate antithesis of ideal female behavior.

Gilbert and Gubar explain that women are supposed to angelic and pleasing to men (Gubar 816). In 1865 John Ruskin commented about the role of women in a patriarchal society. He stated, “Power is not for rule, not for battle, and her intellect is not for invention or creation, but for sweet orderings,” (Gubar 816). Here a male demonstrates that a woman should be nothing more than a “domestic goddess”, ruling over only the kitchen and the children, yielding to the command and power of a man.

An angelic life of submissive behavior symbolizes “both heaven and the grave,” (Gubar 817). According to Gilbert and Gubar, this “selfless” lifestyle of ideal Victorian women leads to a life of death. However, there is not really much a woman can do if she wishes to carry on in this type of society. Women have been rebelling against this tradition since Biblical times. Lilith, Adam's first wife, refuses to live this life of submission and is ultimately sentenced to live with the demons. Although this example is harsh, it is not unlike consequences of today. Women still have to accept the fact our patriarchal society believes that men and women are not equal; there are roles that each gender must fulfill in order to maintain the status quo. Lilith's story emphasizes that “a life of feminine submission [….] is a life of silence[...] while a life of female rebellion, of 'significant action' is a life that must be silenced,”(Gubar 824).

As a young women, I do not want to live a life of silence. I would rather fight for this idea of independence and risk being silenced, rather than sentence myself to a life of submission. However, despite my desire to be revolutionary, I will eventually have to fulfill my female role in society. Does this mean we all have to compromise if we all want to have a family and relationships?

Males throughout literature and the arts are always given various options. They can be good, evil, or even both. They can be independent while simultaneously involved in a relationship.

When, if ever on my time on this planet, will women be given those options with multi-dimensional characteristics? Or will a woman's desire for her independence sentence her to forever be the “madwoman in the attic”?

Works Cited

Gilbert, Sandra, and Susan Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic. Literary Theory an
Anthology. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2004. 813-25. Print.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Thin Line Betwen Discipline and Invasion

After reading Foucalt's explanation of panopticism as a means for discipline, I could not help but thinking of the film "The Truman Show". Even though the main character was adopted by a network when he was a new-born, he is monitored every minute of every day. He lives in a controlled environment, where every occurrence is contrived by one of the producers of the show. Through these events, Truman has created a typical behavior and routine that is the subject of entertainment for thousands of viewers.

Similar to "The Truman Show", Foucalt's discussion of panopticism is based upon the idea that a controlled observation of human beings, specifically prisoners, will encourage good behavior. Foucalt states, "A real subjection is born mechanically from a fictious relation. So it is not necessary to use force to contrain the convict to good behavior,"(Foucalt 555). This theory was derived from Bentham's architectural design of Panopticon, a type of prison building that allows authority figures to observe prisoners without their knowledge He rationalizes that this design of simplicity would be considered a "house of certainty" rather than a "house of security", where prisoners are tempted to rebel against blatant rule (Foucalt 555). This design gives each individual their own space, yet it traps them if they disobey authority.

Truman, of "The Truman Show", does not possess the same attributes of the prisoners of the Panoptic yet he is still imprisoned by this "invisible observation." The producers of his television show mirror the same power of the magistrates Foucalt refers to with his example of a plauge-stricken town, where everyone must reveal themselves. These figures of authority are sent to observe an individual from a distance, conditioning him towards good behavior. Although these intentions may sound productive and fitting for criminals who give up all rights once they have been convicted of a crime, the line between productive and invasive are soon to be blurred.

Foucalt continues to refer to the idea that panopticism would be a more economic form of discipline than standard regulations of "bars and "chains". We are beginning to see more and more glimpses of this disciplinary theory on our streets today. Traffic lights are only one example of a panoptic movement in our world; we get a ticket for going through a yellow light even if a cop is not there to witness it. Now, authority figures get to observe our traffic violations at any time, reminding us of that omnipresent authority that conditions us to "follow the rules"-as Foucalt suggests, this mere reminder is enough to force us to good behavior (Foucalt 554).

Eventually, this idea of conditioning through unknown observation is going to be present everywhere, giving just about anyone access to any individual's behavior. Although this observation is justified to enforce the law, it is now also a means of entertainment--Think reality TV, a camera crew following human beings 24/7 for profit in their pocket. This type of filming is more economic as well-no scripts, screenwriters, or acting coaches required for success.

Who is to say that we are not all going to be "conditioned to good behavior" through this mechanism? Foucalt himself explains that this presence of an overshadowing authority will force us all act correctly. We may all want to observe each other, completely dismissing ideas of privacy and individualism.

Aren't we allowed to act in whatever manner we choose? Yes, there are certain rules and behaviors we must follow to avoid severe consequences but think back to how you learned to behave in your life. No one watched you every minute-you learned from your mistakes and experiences.

Jim Carrey (aka Truman) never gets the opportunity to live a real life. Although he may believe he is a good-natured human being, he is merely a result of a contrived and pretend reality. He was imprisoned from the very beginning....are we going to let ourselves follow down that path?

Works Cited

Foucault, Michel. "Discipline and Punish." Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michaell Ryan. Literary Theory: an Anthology. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2004. 549-66. Print.

Reflections on Marx Presentation

Last week, my group shared a presentation about Marxism with the class. Although many of us were not too familiar with Marx's theories, we decided to come up with a lesson that would help not only the class but also help us understand his ideas better. Even though we all pitched in and helped each other, my specific assignment was the end of Marx's work entitled "Capital". I found the ending to be rather open-ended. Instead of projecting my opinions to the class, I wanted to see what their thoughts were about the situations of both Robinson Crusoe and the Middle Ages. The discussion didn't quite go as I planned, and I rarely referred to my sections of the powerpoint because I let my nerves get the best of me. However, I do believe our unique presentation got everything reflecting on Marx's ideas. I think as a group we worked great together and hopefully we all took something away from the project!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Giving Up Labor Power Leads to More Real Housewives

A rich, extravagant, jewel-adorned housewife. Groups of constructor workers slaving away at this beautiful 6 bedroom 7 bath home in Coto De Caza, a suburb of Orange County, CA. What exactly brings these too contrasts together? Karl Marx would suggest that it is the finished product that brings these two opposites together; the constructors workers who built this house have created a nice paycheck for Jeana Keogh, a character on the popular reality show "Real Housewives of Orange County". This "partnership" (for lack of a better word) consists of the laborers (i.e the constructor workers) producing a home for Jeana Keogh to sell. In exchange for the workers' labor they are able to take home a reasonable salary enough for the necessities of life. Meanwhile, Jeana will attempt to sell this home to some upper crust family of the O.C., most likely taking home a commission of around five or six figures. How ironic, right? These workers put their time, energy, and sweat into creating a home that is sold for millions of dollars, only receiving the bare minimum of wages while the lucky real estate agent can spend her funds on not only her beautiful home in Coto De Caza but also her jewelery collection (see video above).
According to Marx, this situation is common in our economic world. When explaining the relationship between a worker and his employer, Marx claims, "The worker receives means of subsistence in exchange for his labor power, but the capitalist receives in exchange for his means of subsistence labor, the productive activity of the worker, the creative power whereby the worker not only replaces what he consumes but gives to the accumulated labor a greater value than it previously possessed," (Marx, 663). Marx suggests that the worker has more power than he realizes. In a capitalist society, the worker gives up this labor power to the employer. In Marx's "Wage, Labor, and Capital", he explains this relationship through a situation of workers on a farm. The farm workers receive a mere five silver groschen for their worker, just enough to buy the basic necessities of life. However, these workers fail to recognize (or chose to overlook)that their labor produces double the amount of their wages. Marx claims that these groschen are consumed "reproductively for capital" and "unproductively for the workers". What the worker needs to realize is that it is their labor that produces value and capital. They are the key behind the tenant farmer's success, and in the success of "Real Housewife" Jeana Keogh. One concept Marx acknowledges is inspired by the story of Robinson Crusoe. Marx emphasizes, "Everything produced by him was exclusively the result of his own personal labor, and therefore simply an object of use for himself,"(Marx 670). Marx is suggesting that we each are responsible for producing our own materials. We all require the same basic necessities to survive; therefore we are all responsible for creating those items. There would be no social stigma regarding your line of work; rather we all produce the same materials. What do you think? Who really holds the power in the construction worker-Jeana Keogh Real Housewife relationship? Marx is If the workers decide to quit.....well, let's just say there would be no more "Real Housewives of Orange County".

Works Cited
Marx, Karl. "Capital". Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michaell Ryan. Literary Theory: an Anthology. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2004. 665-672. Print.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

"A-B-C Always Be Closing"

Last night was my first formal introduction to the world of Marxism. In order to better understand necessary key terms we were told to appy them to a movie clip. In the clip, Alec Baldwin is sent to a group of real estate salesmen to increase their productivity. For the length of the clip, Baldwin not only completely degrades these salesman but also emphasizes his place in what Marx would call the bourgeois with his $80K BMW and his $40K watch. Our group was instructed to find terms such as "capital" and "division of labor" in the clip.

Although we were able to apply all of Marx's terms in this clip, a couple concepts struck out at me. Marx's critique of "labor power" is a realization all workers should eventually have. The idea that this power is basically signed away when hired is completely demeaning. It's as though these employers assume that these workers have no idea as to the extent of their labor power. The worker boosts the productivity of the employer yet still only gets the minimum to survive while the employers gets in increase in supply value. In the clip, the labor power of those construction workers who actually built the house is given up immediately. Here they create a beautiful home, making manipulating salesmen thousands of dollars, while they go home to a small home or apartment.

Where is the justice in this idea? Why are these construction workers doing manual labor while these manipulative salesmen in the office get to sit back and enjoy coffee as they try to get potential buyers to "sign on the dotted line". Shouldn't a worker's effort be the determining factor into his wage? What would Marx have to say?