The Tactics of a Vacation

Vacations are a lot of fun. They are guaranteed to us in both school and work. Most students and workers also get some portion of the week off, in the United States this is known as the weekend. We look forward to these periods as an escape from the daily routine of our lives. Instead of working, we do stuff that we want to do (I use working to mean both the daily routine of workers and students). Applying Certeau, it can be said that working is a strategy employed by capitalism, while weekends and vacations are tactics used to subvert the capitalist need for work. However, these vacations are a false tactic given to us in order to further cement the foundation of capitalism within society.

Capitalism is no longer how Marx described it. Marx based his theories of capitalism on the notion of labor time of a worker in a factory. For example, someone in a factory would work for eight hours per day, five days per week. This is not applicable to the labor time of middle/upper class white-collar workers. Professions that fit into this categorization include professors, programmers, architects, and lawyers.  Franco Berardi, an Italian philosopher, called this new form of capitalism “semiocapitalism.” Labor time is no longer bound by when one punches in and out. Instead, people within these jobs are always working. They are given long-term projects where it is expected that they bring their work home. It is impossible to divorce the work in these professions during periods of rest as their labor is cognitive in nature.

Since work can no longer be delineated within hours per day, vacations are no longer vacations. How we treat vacations has now changed. People bring their work with them when they take a vacation as they are forced to. Additionally, there is a decline in the amount of paid vacation time used (Langfield). There is a mentality that it is shameful to take a vacation. Yet, people still look at vacations as an escape, even if they are not really used. They are now a false promise. This shows that vacations cannot be considered a viable tactic as it is not used as it was once intended. Vacations are thus a calculated concession on the part of capitalist institutions.

Even if one takes a “typical vacation,” this act feeds into the mass production of cultural goods. People go on vacations and support capitalist systems. This is evident if one goes to Disneyworld, or as Jamaica Kincaid pointed out, visits a foreign place. People go to these places to escape their lives, yet as depressing as it sounds, there is no escape in semiocapitalism. Horkheimer and Adorno offer a much more compelling explanation of culture that can be applied to vacations. The culture industry is consumed during these vacations. This culture industry is then used to make the capitalist means of production stronger. For example, Disney produced movies that became ingrained within American culture, and then people go and visit Disneyworld during their vacation. These movies fit into the mold of cultural goods produced for the masses. Other features of the culture industry, such as televised sports events, are targeted for consumption over the weekend and are used as a vehicle to promote commercialization. Not only do people not take their vacation time, but also when they do, they only make capitalism stronger by participating in the culture industry.

Capitalism has evolved to form a positive feedback loop by using vacations as a false means of escape from its system. Vacations are not tactics as a true tactic would require subversion of a system. However, typical vacations are still trapped within capitalism, ultimately showing that it is very hard to escape from this system.  I do believe that the points outlined above can very well explain why there are people in their mid-twenties to late thirties that quit their jobs and decide to vacation for an extended period of time. It can also be used to show why so many more people want to work in Silicon Valley as opposed to Wall Street. Some questions to consider would be where do traditional workers fit within this analysis? Is there an example of a vacation that can be used as a tactic against the system of capitalism?

Works Cited

Langfield, Amy. “Unused Vacation Days at 40-year High.” CNBC. 23 Oct. 2014. Web. 8 Dec. 2015. <http://www.cnbc.com/2014/10/23/unused-vacation-days-at-40-year-high.html&gt;.

You, Me, and the University

10-30-06 - Fall on Campus - The new Student Life Building and the Studio Arts Building with downtown Nashville Skyline in the background. (Vanderbilt Photo/Neil Brake) Fall Trees Color Leaves Nashville

The university is both an ideological state apparatus and an institution of power. Its subjects are the students that attend the university. It imbues to students the ideology of education. The main way that both of these aspects are realized is through the use of grades.

In particular, grading systems are panoptical. Students are within the university to learn and work. The university wishes to produce the best students that it can. It does this through multiple methods, but one that is particularly interesting is the use of curves. These curves are able to change the grade that one receives in a class so that the distribution of grades are better aligned to the goals of the university. Another aspect of curves is that they are put into effect at the end of a semester. This means that students do not know how much their grades will be curved or even what their actual grade in a class is. For example, in my introductory biology class, I known that there will be a curve of the final grade. However, I have no idea what the magnitude of the curve will be or if the average in the class will stay same or become less/more. The simultaneous visible and unverifiable nature of curves is an example of discipline within the university. It makes its subjects much more efficient and “cut-throat.” I would much rather get a ninety-five on a test and the class average be a fifty than get a ninety-five and the class average be a ninety. Education becomes a subtle form of capitalist thought where the end goal is to use competition to increase efficiency. In an ideal world, everyone receives A’s in their classes. However, not everyone can receive 4..0’s. The value of a 4.0 is directly related to the GPA of the other students in a class. This is panopticism par excellence. Students are assigned numbers that define their ability to adopt the ideology of the university. The GPA is then used as a primary qualifier for students applying to other universities, thus extending the power that these grades have over one’s life.

The relationship of grades to an individual also relates back to how the university interpellates subjects. It can be imagined that the classes within a university are smaller arenas of power where the teacher is the sovereign. Our desire to receive good grades all comes from a basis of being recognized by these sovereigns. An example of this is seen in my biology class, where I was overjoyed when the professor wrote on my last test “Good job Camron!” In a lecture class of about 150 students, this hailing from the sovereign was something of great significance. It is not a regular hailing between two equal subjects, but rather two people in different states of power within a larger institution of power. Not only is this phenomenon isolated to just a single class, but also to a student’s entire career within a university. Graduating at the top of one’s class is the ultimate form of recognition that the university can give a student. It is one of the best ways that universities are able to maintain their power. They create the desire to be recognized in order to create the need to attend a university.

It is not really possible to change the ideological state apparatus aspect of a university. I also don’t think that this is a bad characteristic either, but that is definitely something to be contested. A more interesting discussion would focus on the aspect that grades have as a form of discipline within the university. This is seen in the average GPA of a university. I have heard that there is grade deflation at Vanderbilt. This is especially important as many other institutions of the same caliber as Vanderbilt have grade inflation. Critics of grade deflation say that this practice makes it more difficult for students to get into prestigious medical/law/business schools. Is grade deflation only enhancing the power that grades have over students? Are grades even a good metric to evaluate how much a student learns? Is competition a beneficial aspect of the educational process? All of these are important questions to consider as we are all within the university and are affected by its power.

Ferguson and Anti-Blackness

ferguson pic

Fanon’s works have been especially useful in analyzing socio-political events in postcolonial countries. However, his work can be applied to explain events that happen in other countries, such as the United States. In particular, I would like to look at a specific quote from the reading that I believe has a significant relationship to American society: “In every society, in every collectivity, exists – must exist – a channel, an outlet through which the forces accumulated in the form of aggression can be released” (Fanon 464)

This quote from Fanon is especially useful when trying to analyze the events in Ferguson, but there are first a few assumptions that must be talked about before a truthful analysis can be done-

  1. Civil society is founded on the slavery of black bodies- This argument is true both literally and figuratively. Slaves were used to construct America and made it the global superpower it now is. Additionally, it is also only through the subjugation of blacks that helped to satisfy the libidinal economy of white civil society that allows for its continued existence.
  2. Slavery never ended- the Thirteenth Amendment did not end slavery, but merely masked it. Instead of it existing on the plantation, slavery is now present in the prison-industrial complex.
  3. Blackness is always already criminalized- this assumption explains the events of Ferguson, numerous other killings of unarmed black people across America, and many more racist laws. This means that blackness is criminalized in the collectivized unconscious.

What these arguments mean is that the history of anti-blackness is not something that can be easily resolved. Anti-blackness is what civil society bases its foundations on.

The events that precipitated the protests in Ferguson and the police reactions to the protests are all examples of how anti-blackness is present to this day. Ferguson can be through of as another example of radical black revolt in American history. Other examples include Nat Turner or the Black Liberation Army. But what is even more interesting is the reaction that proceeded them. The reactions were even more acute examples of anti-black violence. This was done to crush any other revolts and to ultimately protect the underpinnings of civil society.

But let’s go back to Fanon‘s quote. Relating the concepts previously discussed, it seems that anti-black violence is the way in which society releases its aggression. Racism and slavery came to be through the libidinal economy of civil society. The libidinal economy can be thought of as the field of desires present in the collectivized unconscious. These desires are expressed as a form of ultra-aggression that assuages the collectivized unconscious. This was seen pre 1860s in the deliberate enslavement of blacks to the present day mass incarceration of black bodies. Policing can be thought of as an example of how society releases aggression. Acts of policing assume that black bodies are always guilty due to their criminalization in the collective unconscious. Larger actions carried out by the government are also ways society releases aggression towards blacks. Examples of this include the COINTELPRO operations during the sixties and seventies and the relief response to Hurricane Katrina. What lies in all of this is the fact that violence toward black bodies is a form of catharsis for civil society. The events in Ferguson are thus a coming together of the concepts listed above.

So, this ultimately all leads to the question of what must be done, a question that has been brought up often post-Ferguson. Is there a way for institutional reform to better account for black lives? Or is reform even possible? If anti-blackness is the foundation of western civil society, wouldn’t the only way to eradicate anti-blackness would be to eradicate western civil society? If one uses some of the reasoning above, it is clear that if we truly want a difference sense of black political ontology, the only option would be radically deconstruct civil society.

Works Cited

Fanon, Frantz. “The Negro and Psychopathology.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Rivkin, Julie and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004.

#meta-hashtags

MichelleObamaBringBackOurGirls

Twitter has gained prominence as a social media platform for several key features that differentiate it from other social media. One of these features is the hashtag (#). Tweeters use a hashtag before a word or phrase that is typically related to the text of the tweet. Doing so lets users categorize their tweets with respect to the hashtag they have assigned to it. Other users could then search the hashtag and see all of the tweets that have used that hashtag.

Through structuralism, the hashtag phrase can be thought of as a signifier. The concept that it produces in a reader’s mind is what is signified. It would seem that hashtags operate through the same structuralist mechanisms that traditional language does. For example, “#summer” should signify the same concept as “summer.” However, structuralism is not able to account for the entirety of hashtags.

One of the more noticeable uses of Twitter is its ability to spread prominent hashtags. This is done through hashtags that are trending on Twitter. A hashtag is considered trending when there are enough tweets that are associated with the hashtags. These hashtags then get displayed on Twitter under the title of “Trends.” Not all hashtags that are trends are similar, however. Some of the more well-known hashtags are able to effect real life action in a forum other than Twitter. They are much bigger and more important than common hashtags that involve jokes or celebrities. I will call these hashtags meta-hashtags.

Meta-hashtags can be thought of as hashtags (signifiers) that transcend the Twitter media. Examples of meta-hashtags include #occupywallstreet, #bringbackourgirls, and #blacklivesmatter. All three of these hashtags sparked or were related to national/global movements that occurred in the “real world.” The movement and the hashtag it is associated with are intimately connected. One cannot be thought of without the other.

It has been established that a hashtag phrase can be thought of as a signifier. However, meta-hasthtags are quite different than regular hashtags when they are examined through structuralism. Meta-hashtags have both spatiality and temporality. This dual nature allows meta-hashtags to not fit within Saussure’s concept of the synchronicity or diachronicity of signifiers. For Saussure, a visual signifier is synchronic while an auditory signifier is diachronic. These meta-hashtags exemplify both traits. They are synchronic as they can be viewed on a screen or even a picket sign. They are diachronic as they are associated with the movements they sparked. These movements occur across space and time and so do their meta-hashtags. The meanings of these meta-hashtags have evolved over time, another component of diachronicity. All three of the examples previously mentioned keep on recurring not only in Twitter but also in political discussions. Meta-hashtags are able to give voice to movements on Twitter and the political arena. They are signifiers that transcend a traditional signifier’s temporality or spatiality.

Meta-hashtags are unable to exist on the graph on page sixty-three of the Saussure reading. They do not conform to a simplistic two dimensional graph due to their spatiality and temporality. Instead, I propose a reimaging of the axes that define signifiers. A possibility would be a new axis, such as EF, that would make up with axis AB and CD a three dimensional graph. It is on axis EF that these meta-hashtags would belong.

Giving names to these movements through hashtags complies with a fundamental tenet of structuralism. The protests must first be named in order to be conceptualized. It is through conceptualization that they were able to grow and become national and global issues. It was only through the conceptualization that these hashtags provided were the movements able to open up access to those who wished to show solidarity with the movement. Yet, there are still some questions to consider with respect to hashtags and structuralism.  Not all hashtags can be thought of as signifiers for grand movements. Can regular hashtags still be considered through a structuralist lens as a simple signifier-signified relationship? How do these hashtags differ from the word(s) within the hashtag? For example, what is the difference between “awesome” and “#awesome”? And finally, is the description of meta-hashtags described above accurate? Is it possible for them to be encompassed in structuralism as is?