Saturday, May 15, 2004

Second Analysis Critique

Politics, Politics, Politics
Life has become one big political campaign or uproar. The ever-present race for offices or positions, as well as the never-ending criticism this race receives, is apparent in every aspect of life, from diplomatic politics involving government, to social politics involving the personal competitions faced in everyday life. Humans, caught up in the struggle for power and recognition, vent their political frustrations and views through art and prose. The essays and photographs present in the “Reading Icons” chapter of the Seeing and Writing 2 textbook do discuss icons and their role in society, but they also explore how politics, social and diplomatic, affect our choices, opinions, and freedoms. Gordon Parks’s American Gothic, David Foster Wallace’s “Wednesday,” William Rehnquist’s “Dissenting Opinion in Texas V. Johnson (1989),” and Matt Groening’s “Life in Hell” all have the varied political perspectives that we have come to expect and discern from American literature and photography--the ones that serve as comments on society.
A somewhat sobering photograph, American Gothic by Gordon Parks is a modern-day rendition of the famous Grant Wood painting (475). Depicting a middle-aged African American woman holding a mop and broom, while standing in front of the American flag, the picture is an attempt to show real working-class Americans in the present age. Wood’s painting portrayed the typical image of an American in the early 20th century: an old farmer in cover-alls and a plainly dressed woman, both of whom have dull expressions that are probably the result of their hard and simple lives. Parks’s work is also created in the medium of photography, which is a more modern way of capturing an image. The fact that there is no man present also alludes to the increasing sense of female independence and number of single, middle-aged women in society. Perhaps the picture is saying that, rather than having a spouse, many of us center our lives on our jobs and alienate many of those around us. Nevertheless, times have not changed much because the dull expression remains, as does the sense of hard work.
As far as capturing the ideal image of the working-class, Parks does a pretty good job. What is more American than a housekeeper and an American flag? The picture could have featured a burger-flipper at McDonald’s or a garbage man, but the use of the maid really ads the flare of sadness or depression that was presents in Wood’s painting. By using an African American woman, the picture is made all the more genuine. A minority working a dead-end job just to make ends meet is what America is all about. The flag in the background, although blurred because of the woman’s disheartening image, stands as a symbol of freedom and promise. Socially political and capturing the essence of the core of America, Parks does an excellent job with American Gothic. I absolutely love this picture.
“Wednesday” is a short account by David Foster Wallace that also comments on the politics of social life. The author describes the American flags that seemed to appear magically and mysteriously on everyone’s home or doorstep on a particular Wednesday (Wallace 526). The discussion of the flags of all shapes and sizes can probably best be traced back to the day following Tuesday, September 11, 2001. A symbol of patriotism and support, the flags “some-how sprouted overnight” as a statement or mutual movement that subconsciously harnessed every American (526). Disregarding the nationalism felt by the U.S. citizens after such a devastating tragedy, the author questions the motives behind the placement of the stars and stripes, saying “you’re making more of a statement if you don’t have one out” (526). The point of the piece is to interrogate the meaning of movements supposedly due to patriotism. Did we place the flags on our lawns in response to societal pressure, to show our neighbors that we are on the bandwagon? Or were we legitimately sincere in our actions? What better way can an author question American actions than by using 9/11? Wallace’s argument is valid because so much in United States revolves around fitting in, being “cool,” or being viewed as a faithful countryman. Yet, I personally have a problem with the author’s statement. September 11th was a disaster of colossal proportions: one that rocked every single person, nationality, or culture present in the U.S. Never in this generation has America been struck at home, killing so many people. I believe, from my own experience, that this flag-placing was purely heartfelt. However, the author and I are forgetting a giant problem with the nature of man: it is impossible to predict and discern a man’s actions. I cannot truthfully say all flag-placing was sincere and the author cannot claim that it was all a movement of propaganda because man, as a whole, cannot be critiqued. We both lack varied perspectives and real evidence.
Another essay dealing with the American flag, while also lacking varied perspectives and real evidence, is Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist’s “Dissenting Opinion in Texas V. Johnson (1989)”. This work was written in response to a conviction a man received after publicly burning the American flag and includes aspects of both social and diplomatic politics. The point of the author’s piece was to convince a court that flag-burning did not fall under the First Amendment and was punishable by law. He argues that desecration of an intense and major symbol such as the flag would “tarnish its value” and destroy the precious meaning that it holds (Rehnquist 531). Claiming that it was not a matter of the freedom of speech, he explains: “The creation of a Federal right to post bulletin boards and graffiti on the Washington Monument might enlarge the market for free expression, but at a cost I would not pay” (531). Rehnquist’s line of reasoning contains a few serious logical fallacies, including appealing to fear and emotion. By implying that not punishing flag-burning would cause such heinous activities as “tagging” the Washington Monument or the loss of the value and patriotism symbolic of the flag, the author is enticing the court to vote, out of emotion and fear, for his particular stance. At no time in this essay is there a shred of evidence supporting his point. His argument is not logical because demonstrations are a type of expression, a type of speech. He does not take into consideration multiple perspectives and uses sentiment to prove flag-burning is an exception to the First Amendment. However, I somewhat agree with Rehnquist. The flag is an emblem of something that signifies justice, freedom, and overcoming obstacles, the destruction of which challenges those ideals. But the fact that freedom exists is reason alone not to condemn a man for his beliefs. If he bought his own flag from a grocery store, he has the right to do whatever he wants with it. Involved in a landmark case and a controversial battle, Rehnquist does well in fallaciously appealing to emotions and fear.
Again involving the American flag, the satirical “Life in Hell” by Matt Groening observes the politics that are present in every aspect of life. Portraying a school-aged character reciting a personal rendition of the Flag Salute and being chastised, the comic’s purpose is to show that, although there is the technical freedom of speech, stepping outside of the accepted American realm is harshly punished. The character is lastly shown in his chair, roped and gagged, after claiming “[i]t’s a free country” (Groening 1985). An acceptable political cartoon, the artist does a great job mocking the supposed freedoms imposed by law. Using a young character who doesn’t take the Pledge of Allegiance seriously, he illustrates the hypocritical nature of Americans. A school-aged child does not take the morning salute seriously, doesn’t care about freedom, and performs immature pranks that can be justified with serious, in-depth laws. Yet, they are forced to recite the short salute everyday, not understanding its meaning and wondering why they must do so if there is actual freedom of speech. The comic shows that people take things too critically and impose harsh penalties on people who cannot comprehend their errors. Groening does a fantastic job of critiquing the now controversial Pledge. His argument is indeed valid because school children are chastised for not conforming to the recital and freedoms are sometimes undermined. I agree with the artist’s point because, not too long ago, I was forced to salute the flag (although I had no problem with it). He covers the perspectives of both the conformist and the radical, but lacks evidence. Yet a comic really needs no evidence; it is meant to evoke emotion and make fun, which “Life in Hell” definitely does.
Politics are present everywhere and in everything- especially in America. These previous works all contain some sort of political point, whether dealing with domestic issues faced in everyday-life or concerns involving leaders, laws, and the government. Some pieces are funny and loosely poke fun, while others have a somber, serious tone. America is a nation built on controversy and politics and the freedom to say what we want and feel. Because of this, all forms of expression and all icons are backed by some sort of argument or emotion--we express ourselves to voice our opinions. You can take the art out of politics, but you can’t take the politics out of the art.

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