- Pick one of the prompts below and write a response between 500-750 words in length.
- The essay should include at least two citations to materials assigned in this course. Outside sources are not required. This assignment is not a research essay. Please put your citations in footnote format. Citations should include author, title, page number.
- Essays should look like an essay: intro, body paragraphs, conclusion. Your thesis should be clear and easy to follow (and, presumably, reflect the language used in the prompt). Suggestion: Underline your thesis so the TA doesn’t have to wonder which sentence! Second Suggestion: in a test essay, its advisable to keep intro and conclusion paragraphs brief and to the point. But don’t omit them entirely.
- Open the file “Essay Answer Sheet” and type your answer below the prompts. If you don’t use Word, you may cut and paste the prompt into the answer you do use.
- Save “Essay Answer Sheet” with your name added to the filename then upload the file into Turnitin.
ART 9B DIVIDED CULTURE
ANSWER SHEET DIRECTIONS
Follow all instructions in Canvas regarding this assignment. Formatting! Citations! Etc.!
b) Save this file immediately by adding your name to the existing filename.
c) Type your answer below the prompt you choose to answer. Just do one of the two choices.
d) When finished, save the file again.
e) Upload it to Turnitin.
1. The theme of this course has been divided culture. David Trend argued that culture helps to determine the boundaries by which a culture decides who belongs and who does not. Agree or disagree with Trend’s idea, by referencing at least three distinct assigned readings during the quarter. Where such reference will make your argument stronger, you may also include relevant historical details or references to artwork.
Your Answer Begins here! Replace this text with your text, keeping the altered font. The space will expand as you type more.
2. Culture helps a people to transmit its values from one generation to the next. Art is an important means of conveying those values. In a period of divided culture we might expect the art to reflect division about values. In your essay, consider the role of art as described by Lippman in A Preface to Morality (Week 8 assigned reading). Then highlight three pieces of art that you think manifest some disagreement regarding moral values. The works you select should not all be on the same issue! Be sure to explain the underlying context of each piece as well as the moral values you believe to be at stake.
Your Answer Begins here! Replace this text with your text, keeping the altered font. The space will expand as you type more.
‘This Is Reparations:’ S.F. School Board Votes to
Paint Over Controversial High School Mural
By Sam Lefebvre Jun 25, 2019
A WPA-era mural by Victor Arnautoff depicting slave ownership and Native American genocide is part of a new
controversy at George Washington High School in San Francisco. (George Washington High School Alumni
The San Francisco Board of Education voted Tuesday to paint over a mural series
showing George Washington as a slave owner and promoter of the United States’
genocidal westward expansion, acknowledging decades of complaints about the
depiction of a dead Native American and enslaved African Americans inside
George Washington High School.
The unanimous vote instructed district staff to develop a plan to paint over all 13
panels of Victor Arnautoff’s “Life of Washington” mural, which is expected to cost
some $600,000 and take more than a year to implement. In the event of “undue
delay,” according to the amended motion by commissioner Mark Sanchez, the
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school board retains the option of covering the mural temporarily with paneling.
“This is reparations,” Sanchez said, dismissing concerns about estimated costs.
It was a decisive moment in a protracted debate, one propelled by the nationwide
referendum on public monuments to racism, that found the school board going
above and beyond district staff’s recommendation to obscure the mural with fabric
or paneling, and instead heeding community members’ demands to “paint it
Paloma Flores, program coordinator for the school district’s Indian Education
Program, joined with local high school students, recent George Washington
graduates and Native American parents to oppose the mural during public
comment Tuesday. “It’s not a matter of offense, it’s a matter of the right to learn
without a hostile environment,” Flores said. “Intent does not negate lived
A Mural That Doesn’t Age Well: The Debate Over the George
Washington Murals in S.F.
Mural Critiquing Slavery, Manifest Destiny Draws Controversy in
The plan is still contingent on an environmental impact report, and appeals or
legal challenges are expected: Lope Yap Jr., vice president of the high school’s
alumni association and an outspoken mural supporter, said the group will sue to
halt the mural destruction.
“We’ll use every tactic available,” Yap Jr. said, adding that there are “several
grounds” for litigation.
A WPA-era mural by Victor Arnautoff depicting slave ownership is part of a new controversy at George Washington High School
in San Francisco. (Courtesy George Washington High School Alumni Association)
Arnautoff, a Russian-born social realist, painted the 1,600 square-foot “Life of
Washington” mural in 1936, showing the nation’s first president in various periods
of his life. Two of the 13 panels are primarily at issue: One shows Washington
among his slaves at Mount Vernon, while in another he directs white men with
guns westward, over the body of an apparently slain Native American.
Asked if the board’s decision would apply to all or only parts of the mural, district
spokesperson Laura Dudnick on Tuesday said “the options to cover the mural are
for the entire mural.”
According to Arnautoff’s biographer Robert Cherny, the artist intended the mural
as a “counter narrative,” or a corrective rebuke to the nation’s founding mythology.
Supporters of the Works Progress Administration-funded frescoes cite the
communist artist’s progressive motivations, decrying efforts to remove the
artworks as censorship and a betrayal of history stemming from a lack of
understanding and interpretative context.
“Political artworks like Arnautoff’s must not be confused with historic monuments
such as Confederate statues, which are intended to send a clear racist message,”
reads a recent statement from the National Coalition Against Censorship, echoing
sentiments from New Deal scholars and Russian American organizations as well as
local arts figures polled by the San Francisco Chronicle.
However, critics of the artwork, a camp including many students and Native
American parents, have recently, as well as in decades past, argued that the
depictions of slain and enslaved people of color have no place in a school lobby.
They believe the artist’s intentions are irrelevant in light of the harm to young
people of color daily confronted by images of their ancestors debased.
“Kids don’t see these images as helpful or powerful, they see them as insulting and
demeaning,” George Washington High School student Kai Anderson-Lawson, who
is Native American, said at a June 18 school board meeting. The notion that young
indigenous people are at risk of forgetting their own history, Anderson-Lawson
added, is offensive: “Generational trauma follows us.”
Barbara Mumby-Huerta, a San Francisco Arts Commission staffer who is Native
American, pointed out at the same meeting that, for all the talk of historical
accuracy, the mural actually shows ignorance of indigenous cultures. “To portray a
Native person face down, dead, you are trapping their soul so that they can not
move on,” she said.
(The San Francisco Arts Commission has not officially taken a position on the
The demographics of the opposing camps seemed to influence the board’s decision
to paint over the mural. School board member Gabriela López noted at the June 18
meeting that the mural supporters offering public comment skewed older and
white, saying they generally weren’t “representative of the people affected.”
Although the controversy dates back to the 1960s, it escalated beginning in 2017
amid a nationwide referendum on public monuments, in particular Confederate
statues, to racism and exploitation. That year a preservationist nonprofit
recommended George Washington High School for landmark status, a process the
school board scuttled out of reluctance to enshrine the mural.
For guidance, the district convened a Reflection and Action Group, which held four
public meetings before approving, by a vote of 10-1, a recommendation this past
February to paint over all thirteen panels of “Life of Washington.” The committee
referenced Cherny’s interpretation of Arnautoff’s work when it wrote that the
“impact of this mural is greater than what its intent ever was; it’s not counter
narrative if it traumatizes students and community members.”
Yap Jr., the lone dissenting Reflection and Action Group member, said he’s
disappointed the school board declined to further consider the alumni
association’s proposal to provide more context for the mural, and accused his
critics of incivility. “Anything less than whitewashing for the opposition would be a
compromise,” he said.
It is a long-simmering issue: In 1968, according to the landmark application,
George Washington High School students voted 61 percent in favor of
supplementing the mural with positive depictions of black people. Daryl Thomas,
then president of the Washington Afro-American club, called for “recognition of
the great contributions of black people to the sciences and history.”
The Afro-American Club proposed that Dewey Crumpler, a young black artist,
paint what has come to be known as the “response” mural. Crumpler’s “Multi-
Ethnic Heritage: Black, Asian, Native/Latin American” works, completed in 1974,
show empowered people of color rendered in a fiery, sunburst palette near the
But Crumpler, now a painting professor at the San Francisco Art Institute, has
emerged a seemingly unlikely champion of the mural that prompted his own. He
recently appeared in a video analyzing controversial imagery. “Without Arnautoff’s
murals, my murals are irrelevant. And without my murals, Arnautoff’s murals are
irrelevant,” he said. “They are one thing.”
Some of the same community members successfully campaigned for the removal
last year of Civic Center Plaza statue “Early Days,” which critics also called
historically inaccurate and degrading to Native Americans.
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UC Santa Barbara
Journal of Transnational American Studies
Emerging from the Shadows: The Visual Arts and Asian American History
Journal of Transnational American Studies, 1(1)
Chang, Gordon H
eScholarship.org Powered by the California Digital Library
University of California
Portrait of T’eng K’uei with dedication
to Mark Tobey, 1926. Courtesy
University of Washington Libraries,
Special Collections, UW 23723z. ©
Mark Tobey Estate/Seattle Art Museum.
Courtesy Mei Yun Tang Collection.
Below: Chang Shu-chi, Messengers of Peace, 1940. Mineral
pigments and ink on silk, 64 x 140 in. Courtesy Franklin D.
Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, Hyde Park, NY.
Right: Chiura Obata, Setting Sun: Sacramento Valley, ca.
1925. Hanging scroll: mineral pigments and gold on silk,
107 1/2 x 69 in. Courtesy Gyo Obata.
America’s Struggle for Unity
Boulder • London
btiltural conformity. Indeed, to some theorists such an obsession with
an articulated “common culture” has become synonymous with the
integrity of national identity itself In this context then, the form of
democracy we now face becomes “radical” in at least two senses of
the term. Not only does it imply a fundamental rejection of mono
lithic party politics in favor of broader models based on identity
groupings, but it also suggests the rejection of a set of national
accords seen by many to constitute the very glue that holds. the
nation together. These two factors make possible the type of new
spaces for engagement and new definitions of citizenship that radical
In other writings I have sought to delineate the problems pro
duced by the binary epistemology of Enlightenment humanism
across a range of disciplinary fields: photography, film, television,
education, music, and new media.18
The roots of this enlightenment model are perhaps nowhere more
dearly articulated than in philosopher George W. F. Hegel’s phe
nomenology, which mapped out a basic theory subject/object rela
tions. Hegel postulated an abstract dyad of the self and other,
constructed in the consciousness of individuals. Within this idealized
rendering, the subject envisions an external object that it comes to
recognize as different from itsel£ This difference produces a dissatis
faction that prompts the subject to absorb the attributes of the exter
nal other. He termed this process “sublation.”19 According to Hegel,
sublation was the motor force of human learning, as the subject is
changed through the appropriatipn of new ideas and objects. What is
important to remember is that this dialectic was a pure function of
metaphysics. Although Hegel’s fundamental subject/object dualism
was replicated for many decades in western philosophies and institu
tions, it was not a model of the world–as contemporary feminist,
poststructuralist, and postcolonial theories have made dear. Indeed,
it is now increasingly evident that it is less productive to view social
relations in binary “either/or” terms than in multiple “ands.”
Faith in What?
N THE 2000s the topic of values reemerged in public discourse as
a point of contention between liberals and conservatives, as well as
a rallying call for moral absolutists. The values debate has emerged
most strongly in debates over “good” and “evil” in people’s lives and
on the international stage. In the 2000 presidential race, George W.
Bush ran on a platform of moral platitudes, echoed in his victory
speech by imploring Americans to vanquish “evil” from the world
and “teach our children values.” 1 While President Barack Obama has
expressed his values in more nuanced terms, Obama’ s appeals for
dialogue, tolerance, and responsibility convey a distinct moral pro
gram. All political agendas implicitly convey definitions of “right”
and “wrong,” imploring citizens to accept one set of such definitions
over others. Framing issues of right and wrong in terms of good and
evil intensifies the rhetoric of the discussion, evoking a heightened
emotionalism and sometimes the specter of impending threat.
Throughout American history the nation’s enemies frequently
have been portrayed as evil-and such characterizations often have
underpinned rationales for military action and war. Franklin Roose
velt led the United States into World War II for the purpose of
fighting a great “evil.” Ronald Reagan called America’s Cold War
enemies “the focus of evil in the world.” 2 This rhetoric again went
into high gear following the attacks of September 11, 2001, when
President Bush labeled Iran, Iraq, and North Korea an “axis of
evil.” It would be easy to dismiss these remarks as simple political
56 A CULTURE DIVIDED
posturing, lest we forget that George Bush won the presidency
twice and Republicans gained the support of many in other elec
tions. The language of good and evil resonates powerfully in the
minds of voters because such concepts are deeply ingrained in pub
Concepts of good and evil are fundamental to Western philoso
phy, dating to pre-Socratic times. In both Eastern and Western phi
losophy, these ideas are found at least as early as 500 BCE. The
philosophies of Buddhism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, and the subse
quent doctrines of Christianity all hinged on a fundamental dualism
between the good or “the way” and evil or “falseness.” Indeed, orga
nized religion has functioned as an important institution of moral
education throughout history. It has guided civilizations in their pur
suits of peace as well as war. In some systems, goodness is seen as the
natural state of humankind, with evil entering as an aberration. In
the biblical account of the creation of humanity, Adam and Eve are
initially innocent, existing in a sort of blissful ignorance. A serpent
appears who convinces the pair to disobey God and consume fruit
from the tree of knowledge, saying, “Eat thereof, then your eyes shall
be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.”3 Thus
Adam and Eve begin their encounters with sin. In some systems,
good and evil are transposed with notions of truth and falseness.
Socrates is remembered for his belief that certain great truths exist
and humanity’s task is to understand them. Plato, regarded by many
as the most influential figure in Western philosophy, asserted that
values such as absolute beauty and goodness exist in “ideal forms”
that people can never truly lmow, but they can experience through
copies manifest in things seen in the world. Unlike Socrates, who
believed in many truths, Plato argued that there exists one basic
tr uth-“the good” -to which people should aspire. Because the
world we experience is but a realm of copies of “goodness,” these
copies render understandings that are always imperfect and can
sometimes be evil.
Some psychologists argue that concepts of good and evil are hard
wired into our brains. George Lakoff writes that such values are part
of the basic architecture of thinking manifest in early childhood. In
Lakoff’s view, much of the way we think is organized by “deep
frames” or fundamental concepts in the unconscious, which we
develop through repeated exposure to ideas. Deep frames “structure
how you view the world,” Lakoff explains.4 They characterize the
moral and political principles that are so deep they are part of our
very identities. “Deep framing is the conceptual infrastructure of the
mind: the foundation, walls, and beams of that edifice.”5 The surface
thinking that goes with everyday experience, conversation, and
media are effective to the extent they fit only within deep frames.
Owing to their centrality in human belief systems, concepts of
good and evil have functioned as central elements in storytelling
throughout history. Ancient myths, prehistoric renderings, early lit
erature, and religious writings all depend on the simple opposition of
good and evil in creating dramatic tension and conveying meaning
ful narratives. Most fairy tales and children’s stories hinge on a
simple opposition of good and evil values. Characters encounter evil
witches, giants, or monsters. Peter Pan fought Captain Hook, Harry
Potter battled Voldemort, and Superman faced dozens of bad guys. It
doesn’t take much insight to recognize the transparent moralizing in
myths and children’s stories. Most of these narratives function both
to entertain and to instruct. This is because the stories always come
from adults who see them as a vehicle for instilling values in children.
As Jack Zipes writes, “There never has been a literature conceived by
children for children, a literature that belongs to children.”6 Zipes
points that children, when left to their own devices, often do not cre
ate stories of menacing bad guys who are overcome by virtuous fig
ures. Instead they recreate other forms of play in their narratives.
Keep in mind that children not only don’t write most children’s sto
ries, but they also don’t frequently select and purchase the books,
CDs, or videos. The choices come from the well-intentioned adults
who make the decisions for children and hence create the cultural
realm their children inhabit.
The moralizing in children’s culture helps create a good versus
bad worldview that sets the stage for a binary understanding of the
world. But it would be a mistake to attribute this black-and-white
worldview to fairy tales alone. Underlying this binary worldview are
deeper philosophical structures that undergird human consciousness
itself Before the Western enlightenment that emerged at the end of
the Middle Ages, the opposition of life and death was manifest in the
dualism between God and humankind, between heaven and earth,
58 A CULTURE DIVIDED
expressed in human experience in the division of man and woman.
Plato wrote of the opposition of the corporeal and the spiritual. In
the 1500s Nicolas Copernicus and Francis Bacon drew distinctions
between science (fact) and religion (belief ). Two centuries later Rene
Descartes formulated his famous mind/body dualism, writing that
“the mind is completely distinct from the body: to wit, that matter,
whose essence is extension in space, is always divisible, whereas the
mind is utterly indivisible.”7 Later philosophers parsed the various
kinds of realities and images that the mind could formulate, as dis
tinctions were drawn between perception and imagination, reason
and emotion. Dualism could not have grown to such a large concept
if it did have a use and importance. From early childhood through
adulthood, the concept of opposing ideas, concepts, and values
forms the basis of people’s ability to see difference, draw distinctions,
and engage in critical thought. It underlies legality and illegality,
knowledge and ignorance, progress and the lack thereof Many see
dualism as the essence of humanity and human thought.
But dualism has in fact been the rascal of human consciousness.
Its apparent ubiquity and universal applicability have led people and
civilizations to believe it is the only way of viewing the world. To
many people, knowing the difference between good and bad is the
very essence of traditionalism that passes ethical values from genera�
tion to generation. Inabilities to make clear, black-and-white distinc
tions in decision making and assigning value often have been seen as
failures in judgment, insight, conviction, even courage. Knowing the
difference between right and wrong is viewed by many as an essential
element of adult consciousness and civilized society. What this tradi
tionalist perspective fails to realize is that duality is in fact but one
way of viewing the world. It is in many ways an abstraction or even a
fiction conceived about existence. T here are many degrees of value
that lie between truth and untruth. T here are many shades of moral
ity and immorality between good and evil, just as there are many
kinds of people. Admitting the shades of light and dark that exist
between black-and-white distinctions obviously requires a more
complex thought process, one that recognizes ambiguity and partial
answers to questions. President Bill Clinton was criticized by politi
cal conservatives for his resistance to dogmatic beliefs, and his presi
dency even was termed a “gray era” for this reason.
But in the post-Bush years, shades of gray seem to be making a
comeback. Recent elections have shown both Democrats and Repub
licans stepping over each other in efforts to stake out centrist posi
tions, keeping voters nearly evenly divided in many races. Media
critics have noted the decline of traditional “good” and “bad” charac
ters in TV and movies, and the rising popularity of “antiheroes.”
Most frequently cited is the family man and mafia kingpin at the
center of the long-running cable series, The Sopranos. Viewers never
could decide whether to love or hate Tony, who strangled another
mobster while touring colleges with his daughter. Jack Bauer of 24,
Don Draper of Mad Men, Patty Hewes of Damages, and Dexter
Morgan of Dexter all manifest similar blends of heroism and selfish
ness, virtue and dishonesty. Joshua Alston wrote that the Bush presi
dency “primed audiences for antihero worship, that in the midst of a
war started with faulty intelligence, suspected terrorists sent to black
sites and a domestic eavesdropping program, it’s no wonder we
would be interested in delving deeply into the true motives underly
ing the actions of powerful people. “8 Is this emerging pattern in
media preferences evidence of changing public attitudes-perhaps a
new moment in American consciousness–or simply another pendu
lum swing in popular taste?
Absolutism and Relativism
“Absolutism” is the belief that there are concrete standards against
which moral questions can be judged, and that certain actions are
right or wrong, regardless of the context in which they occur. Abso
lutism is often contrasted with moral “relativism,” which asserts that
moral truths are contingent upon social or historical circumstances.
Absolutists believe that morals are inherent in the laws of the uni
verse, the nature of humanity, or the will of God. From this perspec
tive, all actions can be evaluated as either inherently moral or
immoral. For example, an unprovoked war might be deemed a moral
act by an absolutist.
Relativists eschew absolute black-and-white answers to questions.
Rather than applying a fixed set of good or bad definitions that
always apply in judgments, relativists often argue that new answers to
questions must be created for every situation. What is true in one
60 A CULTURE DIVIDED
situation might not be true in another. For example, an absolutist
view of the family might say that only conventional nuclear families,
gender roles, and childrearing practices are universally valid, and that
single-parent families, working mothers, or extended family models
aren’t good. A relativist approach would say that different kinds of
families work in different situations. Some people criticize relativist
views, especially when it comes to families, as too tolerant. Oppo
nents to relativism say that such thinking allows important standards
to be abandoned and leads people into undisciplined lifestyles. By
some accounts, the origination of relativism can be dated to Protago
ras (481-420 BC), who took issue with popular beliefs of the time
that human beings should aspire to godlike ethical perfection. Argu
ing for a more flexible approach to morality, Protagoras wrote that
“man is the measure of all things.”9
Nearly eighty years ago, C. S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud famously
debated moral absolutism versus relativism. Much of the discussion
involved a disagreement over the existence of God and the impor
tance of science. Lewis, born an Irish Christian and the author of the
seven-book Chronicles of Narnia (1949-1954) series, asserted that
science could not adequat<;:ly explain the mysteries of the creation and workings of the universe. 10 Lewis wrote, "We want to know whether the universe simply happens to be what it is for no reason or whether there is a power behind what makes it what it is." 11 To Lewis, the only answer is that there must be a God who made the world and gave people the principles of moral law. Lewis believed that certain truths are hardwired into human consciousness, evi denced in the way codes of behavior-including abilities to discern right from wrong-replicate themselves from culture to culture and throughout human history. Freud, whose parents were Moravian Jews, contended that God was a mental fabrication that obscured the fact that moral conventions emerge from human experience. To Freud, morality is made up by people for practical reasons. Human ity discovers moral laws the way it came upon mathematics, through observation and reasoning. People are born as blank slates. Moral precepts are passed from adults to children through educational processes. Both Lewis and Freud argued about German Nazism. Lewis argued that the Nazis had mistakenly adopted an alternate reality in which they strayed from God, deceived into forgetting a
morality they had originally recognized. For Freud, the Nazis proved
that people could learn evil rather than goodness. Freud argued that
the solution to Nazism was not religious virtue, but a superior system
Idealism, Realism, and Pluralism
Further insights into the debate over absolutism and relativism are
found in the philosophies of idealism and realism. Idealists resemble
absolutists in embracing tradition as a central value-a kind of
anchor. Idealism argues that we perceive the world from an enduring
perspective that transcends all other points of view. Idealism holds
that reality is mind-correlative or mind-coordinated. To idealists,
tangible objects are not independent of the conscious mind but exist
only through processes of intellectual operations. The everyday world
of things and people is not the “real” world but a representation as it
appears to be. Late eighteenth-century idealist Hegel argued that an
internal spirit guides all perceptions, including human reason. Hegel
described a “world-soul,” existing through all history, which emerges
from a process now known as the Hegelian dialectic. A contempo
rary of Hegel’s, Immanuel Kant, wrote that the mind shapes our per
ceptions of the world to take form in both time and space. Kant
believed that all we can know are mental impressions of an outside
world. Such mental impressions may or may not exist independently
from the “real” because we can never access that outside world
Idealists view people as governed by universal truths to which
they should always aspire but can never achieve. T hese transcenden
tal values exist for all time and apply to all people, regardless of their
historical circumstance or cultural heritage. In social terms, idealists
tend to put their emphasis on behavior, attributing human success
or failure to attitudes people bring to their exercise of free will. T hus
values like paternal authority and marriage are held up as goals to
which everyone should subscribe. Idealists see a fundamental cor
rectness in existing arrangements but fear its enabling values are
eroding. T his is the logic that argues that job discrimination, sexual
harassment, and unfair housing practices really aren’t that much of a
problem, and the government programs to rectify them provide
62 A CULTURE DIVIDED
inegalitarian preferences upon which “minority” groups become
dependent. Great importance is afforded to cultural issues, as mani
fest in controversies over literary canons, artistic censorship, and the
labeling of records and video games. Culture is seen as the embodi
ment of these timeless values, not the reflection of everyday life or
work. Idealist culture manifests itself in chosen lists of” great books”
and masterpiece artworks housed in special preserves of aesthetic
contemplation. Separated from the exigencies of daily life, art is
seen as devoid of political content or implication. Ironically, rarely is
any consideration given to the corrupting influence of a market that
emphasizes competition, greed, and wealth as measures of human
Realism assumes that reality inheres in everyday experience and
that its functions can be accessed and known. Attending to immedi
ate circumstances in this way, realists often embrace relativism.
Because what we know derives from the here and now, realism relies
on descriptions of objects and environments. Realism recognizes the
importance of ordinary observations and events. It tends to reject
idealistic views of the heroic and transcendental. In the early 1600s,
realist philosopher Descartes asserted that knowledge derives from
the senses, and that we understand abstractions by relating them to
our actual experiences of the world. Writing in the latter half of the
seventeenth century, John Locke likewise asserted that a perceivable
world exists “out there,” which has certain qualities that underlie our
broader understandings and knowledge.
Realists see truth emerging from the lived experiences of human
beings. As such, realists recognize that values develop differently
from culture to culture and from era to era. Rules about gender rela
tionships or family structures are not permanently fixed but need to
be evaluated in the context of changing social needs. Realists are
often critical of a society they believe is emphasizing greed and com
petition rather than social justice. As a consequence, realists promote
government programs to correct the inequities produced by market
forces. Rather than attempting to manipulate people into adopting
social norms, realists seek ways of broadening society to be more
indusive–more tolerant of diversity and difference. Instead of blam
ing people in need for their circumstances, realists are more likely to
favor a fundamental redistribution of wealth through such measures
as assistance programs, government subsidies, and progressive tax
legislation. Arguments that some people might lack motivation or
require forms of moral education are rejected as biased. This funda
mentally redistributive program has made realists (who generally
ascribe to liberal social politics) vulnerable to the charge that they
simply want to throw resources at problems. As realist Molly Ivins
jokingly stated, “This may sound simple, but the real problem with
poor people is that they don’t have enough money. ” 12 To realists, cul
ture is found in many places from the gallery to the classroom to the
street. Because culture is found in the daily encounters people have
with one another, it can be used to educate citizens and improve
their living conditions. Because it is tied to daily life, culture always
bears political implications.
In their postures of mutual exclusion, both idealist and realist
camps hold part, but not all, of the means to understand social prob
lems. The inadequacy of such polarized thinking became apparent in
the 1990s with the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and
the evaporation of the Soviet threat. The George W. Bush years sig
naled a return to black-and-white reasoning. Yet as the 2008 elec
tions demonstrated, Bush’s failure to acknowledge a more nuanced
vision didn’t dick with the voting public. Approaches to politics that
would separate issues into neat categories-like the separation of
economic structure from cultural behavior-no longer seemed
One way to reconcile idealism and realism is through the doctrine
of pluralism. W illiam E. Connolly writes at length about this distinc
tion, argµing that although realists reject the idea of a single doctrine
that applies to all people, they eventually must make dear choices in
specific situations. 1 3 Hence, a realist who opposes the general princi
ple of capital punishment might accept the death penalty for an espe
cially heinous crime such as terrorism. In contrast, pluralists always
keep multiple options in play and would not necessarily practice an
idealist “eye for an eye” approach to evil. Pluralism is difficult to
practice because it requires the energy and restraint to maintain mul
tiple perspectives in one’s mind. Moreover, pluralism cannot eter
nally vacillate between options. To do so would render it unable to
take any action. Instead pluralism strives to maintain an awareness of
options before, during, and afi:er an action takes place. As Connolly
64 A CULTURE DIVIDED
writes, pluralism “encourages us to embrace certain things in this
particular place, to be indifferent to some, to be wary of others, and
to fight militantly against the continuation of yet others.”14
But not all versions of pluralism are created equal. The impetus
for pluralism has historical roots in the liberal discontent with large
government bureaucracies. Historically, this difficulty was exacer
bated by the social diversification and class stratification brought
on by industrialization. In the post-World War II era, theorists in
Europe and the United States began to argue that forms of plural
ism that pitted individuals against the state oversimplified the idea
of citizenship. Specifically, this thinking failed to consider differ
ences among people based on issues of gender, race, national origin,
age, or sexual orientation. Perhaps more importantly, postwar plu
ralism failed to recognize the permeability of the categories public
Poststructuralist theorists of the 1990s saw this dumping of ideas
into either public or private domains as a return to one-dimensional
modernist thinking. Not only did postwar U.S. pluralists reinforce
conventional public/private categories, but they also were incapable
of recognizing the subjects of politics as anything besides members of
discrete groups; Postwar pluralism marked a significant advance over
unreconstructed liberalism in carving out a larger role and a more
complex arena for citizens to act politically, but it did so only within
existing understandings of civic roles. Ernesto Ladau and Chantal
Mouffe proposed what they termed a “radical democratic” reconcep
tualization of the citizen unencumbered by old categories of the
modernist self Rather than a unified and autonomous member of a
particular group, within this formulation each person belongs to
numerous overlapping groups and multiple intersecting identities. As
Mouffe explains, “It is not a matter of establishing a mere alliance
between given interests, but of actually modifying their identity to
bring about a new political identity.”15 In this “poststructuralist plu
ralism” individuality is maintained because of the relatively unique
mix of associations within each person.
Although it remains to be implemented in contemporary politics,
the poststructuralist approach to pluralism has become manifest in
the growing influence of advocacy groups in politics-enabled in the
2000s by decentralized technologies such as the Internet. By opening
new realms of public discourse, this networked pluralism gives fresh
vitality to the impetus for democratic principles. The politicization
of social spaces formerly considered neutral makes apparent the often
unacknowledged power relations in everyday activities. In this way,
such “off-limits” territories as popular culture, education, and the
family become sites of critical investigation and emancipatory con
test. Rather than diminishing political involvement, radical demo
cracy helps people see political opportunities everywhere.
Obviously the task ahead is far from easy. The polarizing effects of
conventional “liberal” versus “conservative” views of politics make
life difficult for alternative thinking. This dualistic view is encour
aged by an electoral process that produces a rhetoric of mandates and
landslides from narrow margins of the vote similar to those put forth
in recent presidential elections. Our current winner-take-all process
yields little understanding of the important relationship between
minority and majority stockholders in participatory government.
This encourages a strange denial of oppositional possibility. Perhaps
the time has come to recognize that the majoritarian visions of both
major political parties ends up devaluing human diversity. In their
desperate efforts to claim majorities, differences with parties are
viewed as obstacles to be suppressed in favor of a broader consensus.
This is how vague appeals to populism can really represent an elit
ism of their own. To achieve their own visions of national identity,
both liberals and conservatives have assaulted-in admittedly differ
ent ways-multiculturalism or identity politics as divisive. Ignoring
historically entrenched power asymmetries, the big political parties
have argued that “special interests” subvert the potential of a national
accord. Promoted instead is a monolithic definition of citizenship,
which dismisses the specificity of human variety as either irrelevant
The antidemocratic implications of this pseudo populism become
apparent in the way extreme political attitudes become naturalized in
partisan discourses. Take education, for example. Republicans and
Democrats seem incapable of reconciling their political appeal to a
mainstream identity and an educational appeal to uniform “stan
dards” of achievement. Implicit in recent school reform plans from
both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush-with their programs of uni
versal testing, their vague suggestions of a uniform curriculum, and
66 A CULTURE DIVIDED
their invitation to business interests to manage public education
is the belief that the nation has spent too much time pursuing edu
cational equity and too little time in advancing rarefied standards
of excellence. These attitudes have made many young people feel
powerless, alienated, and even angry.
Enacted by the Bush administration in 2002, federal No Child
Left Behind (NCLB) legislation reauthorized several programs aim
ing to improve the performance of U.S. primary and secondary
schools by increasing standards of accountability and providing par
ents more flexibility in choosing schools. NCLB legislation pro
moted standards-based education reform, formerly known as
“outcome-based” education, predicated on the belief that measurable
goals improve student success in school. NCLB required new tests in
basic skills as a requirement for federal funding. NCLB was contro
versial for a number of reasons. As historically has been the case with
many national school reform efforts, NCLB was criticized because
the federal government provides such a small proportion of school
funding (which mostly comes from local property taxes). While in
some states more students appeared to pass standardized tests, this
was often proven to have resulted from lower testing standards. Also,
parents were angered by NCLB’s requirement that schools provide
student names and contact information to military recruiters. In
2009, President Barack Obama received criticism for his appoint
ment of former Chicago Public School Director Arne Duncan as
Secretary of Education. Duncan built a reputation in Chicago for his
aggressive pursuit of standardized testing, surveillance, and police
presence in schools-manifest in the city’s “Renaissance 2010”
school reform plan. Although popular in Chicago business circles for
it’s accountability and businesslike approach to management, Ren
aissance 2010 was condemned by some educators as old-fashioned
and, ultimately, ineffective in improving student learning and suc
cess, especially in minority communities.16
All in the Family
Of course, controversies over schooling grow from the public con
cerns about children. Generally speaking, discussions about children
emerge from the broader discourse on families-a conversation
fraught with cultural baggage. Officials running for office recognize
that topics such as childhood, children’s welfare, and the death of
childhood work effectively in emotionalizing political arguments.
The meanings of such terms can be quite variable, ranging from ref
erences to innocent children that need adult protection, to menacing
children who take weapons to school, to the inner child, the childlike
adult, and the adultlike child. In other words, childhood is not a nat
ural or fixed category. It is the screen upon which adults project their
social anxieties and desires. The figure of the child has been used his
torically to promote issues ranging from environmentalism (“chil
dren inherit the earth”) to tax reform (“mortgaging our children’s
future”). This is why the image of the child often comes attached to
idealized notions of the nuclear family, happy endings, and neatly
resolved stories where handsome princes always win and bad people
look like ugly monsters. At its core, the image of the child is an ideo
logical construction that gets pitted symbolically against all that
white bourgeois society fears. David Buckingham writes about the
“politics of substitution” that childhood enables. In a climate of
social uncertainty, invoking fears about children provides a powerful
means of commanding public attention and support: campaigns
against homosexuality are redefined as campaigns against pedophiles;
campaigns against pornography become campaigns against child
predators; campaigns against atheism become campaigns against rit
ualistic child abuse. Those who dare to question the epidemic pro
portions of such phenomena are themselves labeled-via a politics of
substitution-as hostile to children. 17
When all else fails in many public policy debates, proponents of
just about anything haul out the image of the helpless and vulnerable
child. While it is true that children don’t have the same capabilities
as adults, it also can be said that these projections at times discredit
the intelligence of young people and contribute to a distorted infan
tilization. Close examination of children’s responses to violent car
toons, for example, reveals that they more often respond to the
excitement or excess of imagery than to the purposeful brutality of
“retaliatory violence.” When children write their own fairy tales, they
tend to avoid this latter type of violence and write happy endings for
all of the characters.18 Like adults, children do revel in the arousal
and excitement of aggressive representation in what Michael Zucker-
68 A CULTURE DIVIDED
man termed the “sensation seeking” motive. 19 Parents often worry
about children overidentifying with perpetuators of television or
movie violence. Surprisingly, there is very little data on this. What
the research has shown is that most children don’t imagine them
selves committing violence, although roughly half empathize with
victims of violence.20 Even less plausible is the “forbidden fruit” the
ory that children’s desires are increased if attempts are made to
restrict access to a program. A variety of studies in the 1970s dis
proved this widely accepted belief. 21
In many ways, the current discourse on children stands in for the
more politicized discussions of the family, gender roles, and adult
sexuality. The National Organization for Women (NOW) for a time
circulated a bumper sticker that read, “One Nuclear Family Can
Ruin Your Whole Life.” The slogan sums up the view that traditional
family structures-so often equated with a healthy society-have
sometimes worked to limit women’s freedom. Throughout many
parts of the world, societies have or continue to be organized in
patriarchal structures in which men hold primary responsibility and
authority over family and community life. While such traditions
seem long forgotten in the contemporary Western world, it bears his
torical note that a privilege as fundamental as the right to vote wasn’t
afforded to women until 1920 in the United States, 1944 in France,
1949 in China, and 2006 in the United Arab Emirates.
One needs to examine only current women’s magazines to dis
cover that entrenched stereotypes of women as the “weaker” or
“fairer” sex” perpetuate themselves in the pages of Cosmopolitan,
Glamour, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire, and Wlgue-where
even more disturbingly women are frequently represented as child
like and girls are often made up to exude adult female sexuality.
Although women legally possess the same rights and theoretical
career options as men, roles of women as homemakers and caregivers
abound in the pages of such publications as Family Circle, Good
Housekeeping, Ladies Home Journal, Martha Stewart Living, Redbook,
and \%mens Day. That these are the magazines most read by women
holds significance as a reminder of latent sexism in American culture.
One notable exception is 0, The Oprah Magazine, the single high
circulation women’s periodical with a pro feminist, diversity empha
sis. Television has treated women in more progressive terms, led by
The \%mens Television Network, Lifetime, and popular programs like
Brothers and Sisters, Damages, Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, and
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles that feature women in
careers or other roles of autonomy. The one notable throwback is Des
perate Housewives, representing what has been termed a “postfeminist”
sensibility in which purportedly liberated women voluntarily choose
subordinate and objectified roles.
Simple statistics reflect continuing inequities toward women. Fair
compensation for women in the workplace was written into law in
the 1963 Equal Pay Restoration Act. Yet today women are still paid
23 cents per dollar less than men with equal skills and education.
While women make up 51 percent of the population, only 13 per
cent of the U.S. Senate and 14 percent of the U.S. House of Repre
sentatives are women. Approximately 25 percent of doctors and
lawyers are women, although a much smaller percentage of corporate
executive positions are held by women. 22 In global terms, The
United Nations has stated that “progress in bringing women into
leadership and decision-making positions around the world remains
far too slow. “23 The Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gen
der Issues, Rachel Mayanja, said, “The past ten years have seen the
fastest growth in the number of women in parliaments, yet even at ‘
this rate, parity between women and men in parliaments will not be
reached until 2040.”24 The term “glass ceiling” is used to describe
barriers based on discrimination. In the United States, the Glass
Ceiling Commission, a government-funded group, stated, “Over half
of all master’s degrees are now awarded to women, yet 95 percent of
senior-level managers of the top Fortune 1000 industrial and 500
service companies are men. Of them, 97 percent are white.”25
With such glaring evidence of a cultural divide along gender lines,
one might expect uniformity in public opinion about the need to
pursue equity. Yet opinion persists in some quarters that women have
strayed too far from their traditional roles. Conservatives argue that
America is threatened by a breakdown of the traditional tamily struc
ture that, in their view, provides the only satisfactory way of raising
children. Conservatives assert that same-sex or single parent families
produce children more prone to failure. Then there is the Federal
“Defense of Marriage” Act, signed into law by President Bill Clinton
in 1996. The act says that the federal government does not recognize
70 A CULTURE DIVIDED
same-sex marriages, but that states can do as they please. In recent
elections, measures to either legitimize or delegitimize same-sex mar
riage have been put on many state ballots.
Unfounded worries persist about single-parent families. Conser
vative commentator Ann Coulter writes, “The strongest predictor of
whether a person will end up in prison is that he was raised by a sin
gle parent.”26 Coulter is fond of quoting Charles Murray, who wrote
that “Illegitimacy is the single most important social problem of our
time-more important than crime, drugs, poverty, illiteracy, wel
fare, or homelessness because it drives everything else.”27 These are
serious words, considering that today nearly one-third of children
are born to unmarried women. But is growing up in a nontradi
tional family really harmful? Most social scientists do indeed believe
that family environments strongly influence children’s subsequent
behavior in adult life. But what matters most in the family environ
ment is the quality of attachment and care-giving. Children subject
to neglect or abuse may be more likely to find themselves in the
criminal justice system as young adults. 28 But even this is not to say
that a “cycle of violence” necessarily results from family life, as was
once theorized. Bad outcomes in adult behavior-including crimi
nality-are a mix of upbringing, peer relationships, socioeconomic
conditions, education, and circumstance. Any effort to blame a sin
gle cause must always be examined with scrutiny. Most people
spend more time with their families than in work or school. Hence,
the family historically has remained one of the most potent objects
of political debate–and one of the central issues that can be used to
divide people–even though it is the most widely shared of human
Fundamentalism and Secularism
Much had been made in during the past decade of the divide
between fundamentalism and secularism. Christian fundamentalist
camps largely avoided politics through the 1970s, believing that mat
ters of the spirit were personal concerns. For the most part, funda
mentalists also liked the separation of church and state that kept
government regulations out of church affairs. The fundamentalist
label is sometimes applied to Christian evangelical practices, which
are more accurately described as a branch of fundamentalism.
Fundamentalists-be they Christian, Jewish, Islamic, or any other
religion-try to adhere to the original tenants of a faith, generally
represented in classic texts such as the Bible, Torah, or Koran. Funda
mentalists often interpret scriptural writings in a literal sense, rather
than viewing them in more modern interpretations as metaphors or
idealistic stories. For example, some Christian fundamentalists teach
that magical events, like instances of faith healing, really do take
place in the present day. In the United States the term “fundamental
ist” came into use in the early twentieth century after publication of
pamphlets called The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth (1910-
1915). In part, the fundamentalist movement gained momentum in
response to the growing rise of science and societal changes brought
about through technology. Turn of the century fundamentalists were
especially troubled by the wide acceptance of Charles Darwin’s, Ori
gin of the Species, which offered an evolutionary account of the devel
opment of human life.29 Christian fundamentalists still protest the
teaching of Darwin’s ideas in schools, often asserting that children
need exposure to creationist counterarguments.
Fundamentalists often use the term secularism to describe those
perceived as antireligious. The term “secular” originated in England
in the mid-1800s as a means of making a distinction between philo
sophical and religious ideas. Theorized by agnostic George Holyoake,
secularism promoted a social order separate from religion, without
actively dismissing or criticizing religious belie£ To Holyoake, “Secu
larism is not an argument against Christianity; it is one independent
of it. It does not question the pretensions of Christianity; it advances
others.”30 As this phrasing suggests, from its earliest appearance, sec
ularism was seen by many as an assault on religion. More generally,
the term refers to the world of ideas outside religion. For this reason,
secularism often is used in political discussions that address the sepa
ration of church and state.
More than in most developed nations, religion figures promi
nently in American life. In the industrial world, the United States has
one of the lowest percentages of people who define themselves as
having no religion: 15 percent.31 More than 75 percent of Ameri
can’s identify as Christian, two-thirds of whom are Protestants, with
the remaining group primarily identified as Catholic. 32
72 A CULTURE DIVIDED
Half of the Protestant population is known as Evangelical, which
well-known for the belief that people can be “born again.” Protestant
Evangelicals are somewhat more moderate in their beliefs than fun
damentalists, who subscribe to literal interpretations of Biblical doc
trine. Christian Fundamentalists appeared in the American political
realm following the 1976 presidencial election of Democrat Jimmy
Carter. Forming what they called a Moral Majority, Christian funda
mentalists helped sweep Ronald Reagan into office a few years later.
Republicans held the W hite House for twelve years and perceived the
election of Bill Clinton in 1992 as a tragic loss to the forces of secu
larism. To regain influence over the nation’s politics, religious conser
vatives decided to focus on state and local politics, organizing a mass
movement known as the Christian Coalition. Conservatives took
control of both houses of Congress in the mid-1990s. Building on
the momentum of those efforts and the scandals of Clinton’s final
years in office, George W. Bush took the White House in 2000 and
held it for eight years, capitalizing in part on public fears that
resulted from the bombing of the World Trade Center and subse
quent terrorist attacks around the world.
The 9/11 attacks were perpetuated by a small group of Arabic
criminals who espoused beliefs in Islamic fundamentalism. To many
in the United States, the actions of the al-Qaeda terrorists were seen
as emblems of a global Islamic assault on the United States rather
than the actions of an isolated group. But since no national govern
ment had supported the terrorists, it was difficult for the United
States to target a counterassault-or even a way to track down the
attackers. In an effort to give form to this enemy, George Bush for
mulated his Axis of Evil and began to search for a reason to attack
one of its member nations. This required a substantial public rela
tions campaign, which the Bush administration mounted with the
advice of marketing consultants. On the grounds that a new attack
against the United States would soon be launched from Iraq, Amer
ica invaded that country, to find only that Iraq didn’t have the
weapons of mass destruction it was thought to possess. The political
fullout from this mistake gave Democrats the arguments they needed
to retake Congress and later the presidency.
Regrettably, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and several other inci
dents have given rise to perceptions of a growing “war” between
Islam and the Western world. Though it is widely acknowledged that
9/ I 1 was executed by a very small minority oflslamic extremists, sus
picions of wider Islamic aggression persist. In recent years, books
have been appearing that support such fears, including Steven Emer
son’s American Jihad: The Terrorists Living Among Us and Brigitte
Gabriel’s They Must Be Stopped: Why � Must Defeat Radical Mam. 33
Building on the emotionalism following 9/11, such works obscure
the reality that terrorist attacks in United States have been perpetu
ated by non-Islamics in places like Oklahoma City and Columbine
Many Americans don’t know that Islam is the second largest faith
in the world after Christianity. Now a religion of 1.8 billion people,
Islam is practiced by people known as Muslims, a word that means
“One who submits to God.” Muslims believe that God-also called
Allah-was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, the same God that
Christians and Jews believe spoke to Abraham. Most of the world’s
Muslims live in the Middle East, Northern Africa, and Southeast
Asia. There are several branches oflslam, the two largest of which are
Sun.ni and Shi’a, who differ in their interpretation of Muhammad’s
teac hings. Contrary to some perceptions in the United States and
elsewhere, Islam does not promote aggression or intolerance. In fact,
the Muslim scripture known as the Koran (or Quran) states that
“Those who believe (in the Quran), and those who follow the Jewish
(scriptures), and the Christians … and (all) who believe in God and
the last day and work righteousness, shall have their reward with
their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.”34
The growing awareness of the Islamic world among people in the
United States also has brought attention to the American Jewish
population. At between 5 and 6 million people, America’s Jewish
population is roughly equivalent to that of Israel. Together the two
nations are home to 80 percent of world’s Jews. Sephardic Jews from
Spain and Portugal began immigrating to the United States in the
early 1800s, with a dramatic increase in the latter part of the cen
tury of Ashkenazi Jews from Germany and the Eastern European
nations of Russia, Poland, and Lithuania. Initially settling primarily
in the eastern United States, Jewish communities quickly developed
their own support networks, which were reinvigorated following the
Nazi Holocaust of World War II. The influence ofJews in American
74 A CULTURE DIVIDED
business and academia has far exceeded their 2.5 percent share of the
U.S. population, as has their influence on politics. Jewish Americans
account for 37 percent of U.S. recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, 8
percent of the board seats of U.S. corporations, and 13 percent of the
U.S. Senate. The role of Jews in U.S. leadership positions partially
explains America’s longstanding commitment to Israel, along with
Israel’s position as a bulwark of U.S. interests in the Middle East. As
the United States has improved its diplomatic relationships with the
region’s oil-producing nations, most notably Saudi Arabia, Arab
Israeli tensions within the U.S. population have become another
aspect of America’s divided culture.
Authoritarianism and Consumerism
As America grapples with its real and imagined enemies, the nation
also struggles with the erosion of the very principles it seeks to pro
tect. Part of what is dividing U.S. culture is a weakening of demo
cracy. As America strives to regain its role as an example for the world
to follow, its own people are succumbing to apathy and indiffer
ence-even as they search for renewed purpose and “change.” The
most damaging impediments to American democracy can be sum
marized in two categories: authoritarianism and consumerism.
Authoritarianism is the process often associated with modernism,
structuralism, and functionalism, which imposes bureaucratic regula
tion, surveillance, and control upon human activity. In this scheme,
people submit to larger structures in the presumed interest of the
social good. During the Bush years, authoritarianism got an historic
boost with 9/11, which was used to spread fear and compliance
throughout the nation. Suppressed in the process was any sense of
autonomy or permission to challenge the prevailing order. Beyond
being told that they cannot question the interest of national security,
citizens are implicitly told that they should not rock the boat, cause
trouble, or upset the system. This thinking suggests that disagree
ment is a function of individual anomaly, maladjustment, inade
quacy, or lack of will. Authoritarianism can be described as the
process through which people come to be seen as passive and easily
manipulated objects, rather than active and autonomous subjects.
Authoritarianism perpetuates a fatalism that tells people they can do
BELi EF 75
little to alter the course of history or their own lives. This passive ide
ology infuses mass media. Movies, television, magazines, and news
papers suggest that the production of ideas and images is something
that is always done by someone else. This message also is reinforced
in the socializing processes of education that teaches children-later
to become citizens-about hierarchies of knowledge, expertise, and
Consumerism tells people that acquisition and consumption are
the road to personal satisfaction, while it simultaneously promotes
hierarchies of wealth and power. Clearly, consumerism frustrates
community by encouraging competitive acquisition. Debilitating fic
tions of “making it” and “the good life” are defined in terms of soli
tary consumption rather than civic concern. In the late 1990s,
former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher put it this way:
‘There is no such thing as society, only individual men and women
and their families.”35 The first strategy for getting out of the con
sumerist trap lies in pointing out the things that people actually
value most-friends, family, and home-cannot be bought with
money. Next, on a broader social level, one can raise the question of
how well off the average citizen is and examine the circumstances of
those who have suffered the consequences of economic failure. Given
the glaring lack of equality in the United States, one can’t help asking
why more people aren’t clamoring for radical change. Maybe it has
to do with the perception that the task is so overwhelming. Or per
haps it results from the lack of a meaningful program from either
political party. At the very least, critical intellectuals can encourage
the growing rage of all citizens silenced by the ideals of consumerist
paradise. W ith each passing year, the distance between the dream
and the reality widens. The reckoning that is coming holds both pos
sibilities and potential difficulties for real social change.
Is any real progress on the horizon? The grip of authoritarianism
and consumerism on the American people seems to be weakening.
As the government in Washington has been handed back and forth
in recent decades between the Republicans and the Democrats,
there appears to be a growing desire for meaningful social transfor
mation. For this reason, it is more important than ever for people
committed to change to seize the initiative rather than wait for oth
ers to act. This is the challenge of the Obama era. Well before the
76 A CULTURE DIVIDED
Obama administration, Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe pre
sciently argued, “If the demands of a subordinated group are pre
sented purely as negative demands subversive of a certain order,
without being linked to any viable project for the reconstruction of
specific areas of society, their capacity to act hegemonically will be
excluded from the outset.”36 Framed in this manner, the solipsistic
nihilism that had so dominated progressive politics in the early
2000s was both defensive and counterproductive. We need a posi
This new initiative must combine a politics and an ethics of a sort
not typically drawn upon by activists. These entail types of practice
that both eschew easy answers and ambivalent relativism. The seem
ingly paradoxical recipe needed will respect differences, oppose
oppressions, and permit the contingencies of provisional spaces of
experiment with new social forms. Given such a challenge, it is
incumbent upon future change agents to reassert their roles in civic
life. This calls for activists to assume new social roles and to pursue
new forums for civic dialogue. 37 As politics in the 2000s has shown,
new public spaces like the Internet have remarkable potential for
invigorating political life, especially among the young and previously
disenfranchised. This kind of change entails promoting notions of
shared responsibility for community life along with the belief that
change is indeed possible. This is a profoundly cultural endeavor in
that it is an act of political education. Such a cultural program con
vinces people that individual acts of citizenship (such as voting) can
make a difference-that people themselves can command the
authority to make community decisions.
At the heart of the struggle must stand a set of competencies
through which cultural activists can dismantle structures that exclude
people from political life and that tell people their voices are unim
portant. At the same time, it is necessary to connect a pair of con
cepts that authoritarian consciousness always has found itself unable
to reconcile: difference and egalitarianism. In the bankrupt authori
tarian view, differing needs or interests are to be overcome or sup
pressed in the interests of equality. Implicit in this view is a hierarchy
of opinion supporting an idealized “national” identity. While this
idealized appeal to the common good can encourage citizens to look
beyond their narrow self-interests, it also asks them to give up some-
thing of themselves. A genuine democracy does not make these kinds
of demands but strikes a balance between differing interests and egal
Consumerism and authoritarianism work against this delicate bal
ancing. For this reason, critically minded citizens need to keep
democratic values at the forefront of American public debate-not
the authoritarian democracy of unproblematic civic verisimilitude
and flag-waving patriotism, not the consumerist democracy in which
people are free to spend themselves into a happy life-a democracy
defined by continual struggle, change, and critical revision. This is
not to suggest a return to nostalgic origins but to propose a demo
cratic imaginary perhaps yet unachieved in American history. The
task has political and ethical dimensions. In political terms, the com
mon shortcoming of all prevailing governments (including utopian
ones) is their applications of a single set of standards for everyone.
This problem becomes particularly evident within conventional lib
eralism. Although frequently presented as a pathway to emancipa
tion, mainstream liberalism nevertheless perpetuates d istinctions
between historical subjects and objects: those who act and those who
are acted upon. It seeks to make surface corrections to a structurally
flawed system without interrogating its underlying inequities.
Regrettably, this is the pitfull of much high-minded intellectualism
and academic theory, which commits the additional sin of claiming
vanguard wisdom only for its own members. Such condescending
logic has also been attributed to the prescriptive exhortations of
“empowerment” associated with social concern.
In contrast, a genuine democracy-what Laclau and Mouffe term
a “radical democracy”–defines itself on all levels in pluralistic terms.
There is no single set of attitudes or social group to which all others
must conform because an acknowledgment is made of the impossi
bility of any one perspective that satisfies diverse needs. Instead, the
unifying ethos is one of decentered authority. Owing to this latter
principle, such a political program resists the vacuous amoralities of
relativism and unexamined pluralism. For obvious reasons, such a
scheme seems dangerously unstable to many conservatives who warn
of the “threat” of uncontained difference. This is where the ethical
dimension of radical democracy comes in. What is necessary is a way
to integrate public and private realms without succumbing to a
the Crossroads in the Information Age (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Lit
tlefield, 2001); David Trend, Reading Digital Culture (Malden, MA:
Blackwell, 2001); David Trend, The Myth of Media Violence (Malden,
MA: Blackwell, 2007); David Trend, Everyday Culture: Finding and
M aking Meaning in a Changing World (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2007).
19. Georg W ilhelm Frederich Hegel, P henomenology of the Spirit,
trans. A. V. Miller (Oxford: Clarendon, 1977).
1. George W. Bush, “V ictory Speech,” delivered at Yale Universiry,
December 20, 2000, http://everything2.com (accessed February 24,
2. Ronald Reagan, “Evil Empire Speech,” March 8, 1983, http://www
May 15, 2008).
3. Holy Bible, King James Version, “Book of Genesis,” vol. 5, ch. 3
(Philadelphia, PA: National, 1978).
4. George Lakoff, Whose Freedom? The Battle over Americas Most
Important Idea (New York: Picador, 2006), 12.
6. Jack Zipes, Sticks and Stones: The Troublesome Success of Children s
Literature from Slovenly Peter to Harry Potter (New York: Routledge,
7. Rene Descartes, as quoted in David E. Cooper, World Philosophies:
An Historicallntroduction (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996), 253.
8. Joshua Alston, “Too Much of a Bad T hing,” Newsweek (January
12, 2009), http://www.newsweek.com (accessed February 2, 2009).
9. Protagoras, “Moral Relativism,” http://www.wikipedia.org
(accessed May 10, 2008).
10. C. S. Lewis, The Chronicles ofNarnia (New York: HarperCollins,
11. C. S. Lewis, quoted in Armond M. Nicholi and T heodore Dal
rymple, “C. S. Lewis vs. Sigmund Freud on Good and Evil,” American
Enterprise, http://www.taemag.com (accessed May 11, 2008).
12. Molly Ivins, untitled address, National Public Radio, June 22,
13. W illiam E. Connolly, Pluralism (Durham, NC: Duke Universiry
14. Ibid., 42.
15. Chantal Mouffe, “Democratic Politics Today,” in Dimensions of
Radical Democracy, ed. Chantal Mouffe (London: Verso, 1991).
16. Henry A. Giroux and Kenneth Saltzman, “Obama’s Betrayal of
Public Education? Arne Duncan and the Corporate Model of School
ing,” http://www.truthout.org (accessed January 30, 2009).
17. David Buckingham, After the Death of Childhood: Growing Up in
the Age of Electronic Media (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2000), 11.
18. Ibid., 72.
19. Michael Zuckerman, Sensation Seeking: Beyond the Optimal Level
of Arousal (New York: W iley, 1979).
20. Ibid., 99.
21. “Women’s Gains in Politics Not Seen in Board Rooms, CEO
Offices,” November 17, 2008, http://www.news.ucdavis.edu (accessed
February 8, 2009).
22. U N Division for the Advancement of Women, “Women Still
Struggle to Break through Glass Ceiling in Government, Business, and
Academia,” March 8, 2006, http://.www.un.org (accessed February 2,
25. Ann Coulter, Guilty: Liberal Victims and Their Assault on America
(New York: Crown Forum, 2008), 37.
26. Charles Murray, cited in Coulter, Guilty, 37.
27. S. E. Holmes Jr. and J. Kashani Slaughter, “Risk Factors in Child
hood That Lead to the Development of Conduct Disorder and Antiso
cial Personaliry Disorder,” Child Psychiatry and Human Development 31
28. Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural
Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle far Life
(New York: BiblioBazaar, 2007 ).
29. “Secularism,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secularism (accessed
May 15, 2008).
30. “American Religious Identification Survey,” Ciry Universiry of
New York, 2001, http://www.gc.cuny.edu (accessed February 10, 2009).
31. Ibid. Other religious denominations in the United States are
Mormon (1.6 percent), Muslim (0.6 percent), Buddhist (0.5 percent),
and Hindu (0.4 percent).
32. Steven Emerson, American jihad: The Ter rorists Living among Us
(New York: Free Press, 2002); Brigitte Gabriel, They Must Be Stopped·
Why m Must Defeat Radical Islam (New York: St Martin’s, 2008).
33. “The Cow,” in Qur’an, 2:62.
34. Margaret T hatcher, “AIDS Education and the Year 2000,” speech
delivered October 31, 1987, http://www.margarettharcher.org (accessed
February 27, 2009).
35. Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist
Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics, trans. Winston Moore
and Paul Cammack (London: Verso, 1985), 189.
36. See Jilrgen Habermas, The Theory of Communicative Action, vol.
1, Reason and the Rationalization of Society, trans. Thomas McCarthy
(Boston: Beacon, 1984).
37. See John Dewey, Democracy and Education (New York: Macmil
lan, 1910), 321-360.
1. U.S. Census Bureau, The American and Alaska Native Population:
2000 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 2001).
2. Emme Lazarus, “T he New Colossus,” http://www.libertys
tatepark.com/emma.htm (accessed February 24, 2009).
3. Roy Beck and Steven A. Camarots, “Elite vs. Public Opinion: An
Examination of Divergent Views on Immigration,” Center for Immigra
tion Studies, 2002, http://www.cis.org/articles/2002/backl 402.html
(accessed June 19, 2008).
4. “Public Opinion Polls on Immigration,” Time (January 2006),
http://www.fairus.org (accessed June 19, 2008).
5. Deborah White, “Pros and Cons of the Immigration Reform Act
of 2007,” http:1/about.com (accessed June 18, 2008).
6. Sam Roberts, “Government Offers Look at Nation’s Immigrants,”
New York Times, February 21, 2009.
7. Congressional Budget Office, Immigration in the United States
(Washington, DC: Government Printing Offcie, 2006).
8. “Myths and Facts about Youth Crime,” Center on Juvenile Crimi
nal Justice, 2000, http:l/www.cjcj.org/jjic/myths_facts.php (accessed
June 25, 2008).
9. Slavoj Zizek, mlcome to the Desert of the Real (London: Verso,
10. H. Aaron Cohl, Are™- Scaring Ourselves to Death? (New York: St
Martins, 1997), 9.
11. Claudine Chamberlain, “Fear of Fear Itself,” June 22, 2003,
http://abcnews.com (accessed January 3, 2009), 2.
12. Ibid., 1.
13. Barry Glassner, The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of
the Wrong Things (New York: Basic Books, 1999).
14. Chamberlain, “Fear of Fear Itself,” 2.
16. Mike Males, F raming Youth: IO Myths about the Next Generation
(Monroe, ME: Common Courage, 1998), 29.
17. David L. Altheide, Creating Fear: News and the Construction of
Crisis (New York: de Gruyter, 2002), 19.
19. Frederick John Desroches, Force and Fear: Robbery in Canada
(Toronto: Canadian Scholars, 2002).
20. Glassner, The Culture of Fear.
21. Mike Davis, The Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination
of Disaster (New York: Metropolis, 1998).
22. Soren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling (London: Wild er,
23. David Gardi ner, The Science of Fear (New York: Dutton,
24. Dave Grossman and Gloria DeGaetano, Stop Teaching Our Kids
to Kill: A Call to Action against Tv, Movie, and Video Game Violence
(New York: Crown, 1999), 1.
25. Glassner, The Culture of Fear, xxi.
27. Lewis Beale, “Picturing the Worst Happening,” New York Times,
July 7, 2002, sec. 2, 1, 9.
28. C. S. Green and D. Bavelier, “Action Video Game Modifies
Visual Selective Attention,” Nature 423 (2003): 534-537.
29. Eric Chudler, “Video Games May Improve Visual Skills,”
http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/videog.html. (accessed June 19,
30. Julian Dibbell, “A Rape in Cyberspace; or How an Evil Clown, a
Haitian Trixter Spirit, Two W izards, and a Cast of Dozens Turned a
Database into a Society,” Village Voice (December 21, 1993): 36.
Under My Skin Artists Explore
Race In The 21st Century
Mary Coss in collaboration with teenagers who wear hijabs. The wire sculptures are
images of the girls, the work included their art work and their conversation about
What a difference a decade makes. In 2004 the Wing Luke Museum
held a pioneering exhibition about racism called “Beyond Talk:
Redrawing Race.” It was catalyzed by the racism,particularly against
Arabs, that burst into the open following the World Trade Center
attacks,. It included 12 artists showing twenty artworks, with
educational and interactive components for every work in the
exhibition; each work also asked for our responses in a journal
nearby. It also was an early example of an art exhibition with an
internet component that teachers and the general public could access
easily. It encouraged book clubs, discussion groups, library
gatherings on race, and many other specific actions. Southern Poverty
Law Center was a partner and the website included their program ”
I analyze this exhibition in Chapter 5 “Exposing Racism” in my book
Art and Politics Now, and compare it to the exhibition organized by
Coco Fusco and Brian Wallis “Only Skin Deep: Changing Visions of
the American Self.” I suggest there that the Wing Luke with its
community based model was far more effective in penetrating the
deep ignorance (among white people) about racism and how it
operates. They moved beyond simply representing racist images, and
into engaging the audience in their own perspectives.
Now the Wing Luke Museum returns tothe topic of racism with
“Under My Skin, Artists Explore Race in the 21st Century.” The
catalyst today seems to be exploding (or exploring) the myth of the
“post racial” society, And of course, post race does not mean post
prejudice. This exhibition is less interactive than the 2004 exhibition,
but in some ways it is even more affecting, because of the intensity of
the art works.
But it is not at all a reprise of the previous exhibition.
First of all there are twice as many artists, and consequently a larger
range of topics and media. There is also less emphasis on the national
and global political and cultural environment and more on personal
Another striking difference is the fact that two artists refer to loss of
identity as a person of color, First there are the paintings by Laura
Kina whose white-appearing daughter is the signature work of the
exhibition. She represents the fifth generation in the artist’s family in
which successive marriages altered skin colors.
A ceramic work by Native artist Erin Genia charts the dilution of
racial color as though on a clock face with faces losing their color as
you progress around the clock. Genia is refering to the blood
quantum rule for racial membership in native tribes. The federal
government declared that a native person must prove 25 per cent
native blood with documentation. Obviously over time, fewer and
fewer people will qualify.
A second and related theme, is cross cultural adoption or interracial
families, as explored in the stunning prints by Darius Morrison, a
young man adopted as a baby from Korea. He re imagines the flight
of the babies from Korea even giving them a party in Hawaii a
wonderfully creative approach.
The poignant photographs by Canh Nguyen suggest the emotional
distance that occurs when someone is far from their cultural roots.
His black and white photograhs include this work of his father’s
hands, holding the only photograph of himself as a boy that survived
his trip to the US after the Vietnam war. He raised three children a a
single parent. Another artist Minh Carrico suggests the distortions
that occurred in his childhood, raised by a Vietnamese mother and a
white (Vietnam Vet) father in Arkansas: he digitally adds frightening
masks on top of his childhood photographs.
Two artists appeared in both exhibitions: the wonderful painter
Ronald Hall who frequently bases his work on intense moments in
African American history. His painting has become more complex
and layered in the ten years since the previous exhibition. The topics
addressed confront us immediately, but then the horror of them sinks
in. They really need no explanation.
Polly Purvis, a white artist who has been living with and
documenting the Swinomish Tribal Community for ten years. Here
she includes both photographs of a Powwow and its opposite, racist
kitsch that stereotypes Indians.
There are other historical works, referring to the Japanese Internment,
in the sculpture woven or rose branches by Fumi Matsumoto, and
Kathy Budway’s video which combines historical footage from the
Civil Rights movement and students in her ESL class who explode
the popular media stereotypes of African Americans by studying
outstanding African American historical figures.
Speaking of students, two other works were the result of working
with children or young adults. Mary Coss encouraged Somali girls
wearing hijabs to talk about their experiences ( see her wire sculpture
portraits of the girls at the top of the blog) .
Kathleen McHugh invited children to identify themselves beyond
skin color in a large collaborative drawing with a single tan color
So what else did we find in the exhibition? Real estate: red lining in
confrontational paintings by Stefani Thronton.
urban violence in the icons by Jasmine Iona Brown.
Naima Lowe turns the tables on white people with her 39 questions
for white people that consist of all the dumb questions people of
color are asked.
Violence against women is the big topic in the work of
Tatiana Garmendia, whom I have written about before here. Her
installation also includes works from another series called
Lamentation. These surprising images of a woman covered in black
cradling the body of an American soldier suggest that mourning is a
universal process that has nothing to do with race or culture.
Everyone has the same feelings when someone dies.
Garmendia has a global perspective, although her opposition to
violence against women is based in a personal experience: she
witnessed it as a child in a Cuban prison shortly after the Communist
revolution. She has carried a terrible memory of that with her and
only now is able to refer to it in her work.
In looking at a show like this, the tendency is to stay outside of the
issues represented, but actually, all of these works touch everyone.
We are all part of a society that practices racism in so many ways, we
are all perpetrators, whether consciously or unconsciously, we are all
prejudiced. So the exhibition includes a discussion area that allows
people to talk about racism and prejudice.
Near that comfortable place are large photographs that were
displayed in the Central District in an empty lot by Inye Wokoma
working in collaboration with Jenny Asarnow and NKO. The images
present a few of the people who live nearby. They are large
photographs, each person is dignified and self sufficient.
Accompanying this work is a series of interviews with people talking
about the neighborhood.
There is also an online facebook, youtube and audio as part of this
Conversation and familiarity is one key to ending prejudice and
This exhibition was very personal, there was no reference to larger
reasons for prejudice, like the “war on terror,” or our immigration
policies, that are locking up thousands of people in detention and
deporting them across our country. There was no reference to
capitalism as a means of dividing people, creating terrible economic
disparities and unequal access to education and a leading cause of
urban and domestic violence; there was no reference to our enormous
privatized prisons that are operated for profit by private companies (
as are the detention centers).
But personal as it was, the exhibition does offer a way forward:
understanding experiences that are based on cultural difference,
learning of the difficulties that people face because of their racial
identity, helps to develop at least awareness. One on one dialogue is
where we can start. It is those big generalities about terrorism and
war and “the other” that create unconscious fear. Fear leads to a
desire to protect ourselves, and that is the basis of prejudice and
I feel fortunate that I grew up in New York City, where I was
immersed in a great mix of people not only of different racial
backgrounds, but also different economic backgrounds, religious
backgrounds. It gave me a good preparation for understanding that
we are all simply human beings.
Don’t miss this important exhibition, and plan to go more than once.
Here is another review on the website of the Seattle Globalist. I
haven’t seen any other press coverage.
Arts & Culture Remain Less
Important To Younger
Generations (DATA) – Colleen
Data suggest that audiences do not “age into” greater concern about
arts and culture. If organizations want people to care, they need to
work to change people’s cause priorities.
Data continue to suggest that the idea of millennials and younger
members of Generation X “aging into caring” about certain causes –
simply as a function of aging – is false. At IMPACTS, we call this
phenomenon cause durability. I’ve shared data about cause
durability before, and boy is this finding still inconvenient for those
of us working with cultural organizations!
I was reminded of the topic of cause durability while conducting a
recent lecture for Harvard University. A thoughtful student asked a
popular question regarding engagement within cultural
organizations: “Is there data indicating whether or not millennials
show more interest in cultural organizations as they age?”
Yes, indeed there is data on this very topic – and it’s time for an
update to see how things may have (or have not) evolved since my
original sharing of these data in 2015. There is (still) not much reason
to believe that folks in our digitally-connected world are likely to
stop caring about certain causes and start caring about others as a
byproduct of aging.
In a less connected world, it may have been more difficult to
empathize with causes that did not directly relate to an individual.
Stories related to the circumstances of others were less accessible, and
if they weren’t on the front page of the daily newspaper, a person had
to actively look for them. Individuals were connected (digitally, at
least) to far fewer people. There weren’t viral videos about causes,
and people did not have ready access to the same amount of
information at their fingertips as they do nowadays.
Today, we live in a different, more connected world. And this may be
exactly what cultural executives are forgetting about when they say,
“People will grow into caring about arts and culture. Just wait until
they get older.”
You don’t have to have your own child in a local school to share
concern about the local education system, and one may not default to
supporting a local cultural organization instead of one across the
country that they believe is more impactful. As more organizations
respond to globalization trends, locality increasingly matters less
than effectiveness. How we communicate is different than in the past,
and the changes in how we connect and communicate may have
changed a whole heck of a lot about how we discover and prioritize
causes – as well as the durability of these causes.
Let’s look at the data update for three causes over the twelve-year
duration from April 2006 to April 2017: marriage equality, the
environment, and arts and culture. Then, we’ll dive into what is
happening in these charts in terms of cause durability and
prioritization. These data come from a study of 5,896 English-
speaking adults who are demographically representative of the US
population. The different colored lines alone do not indicate different
generational cohorts (i.e. millennials)! They represent the level of care for the
cause for people in each age bracket over time. (As a friendly (or
unfriendly) reminder, we human beings age year over year and, if
we’re lucky, we experience all of the age brackets in our
lifetime.) When I talk about generational cohorts in this article, I’m
not necessarily talking about one line. I’m looking deeper at what is
For us cultural center folks, the cause prioritization of arts and
culture is the main event, but I think that observing what is
happening in regard to other cause priorities provides helpful context
for what is occurring – and how we can potentially work together to
bump things up.
Remember: Uninterpreted data is frequently misinterpreted data.
The analysis following these charts may be more important than the
charts alone. Without analysis, these data are particularly ripe for
misinterpretation. (“Oh no! We are losing Generation X!” Not so. I’ll
explain.) I mention this because the lack of arts and culture cause
prioritization is alarming, and you may notice that immediately.
I’ll be frank: These findings aren’t good for those who work tirelessly
for causes related to arts and culture – but understanding what is
going on is important. As usual, I think that knowledge is power and
we can keep working to make meaningful strides in arts and culture
With that in mind, let’s charge forward…
Cause durability in action
(What is happening with the 35 – 54 crowd?)
Cause durability is the greatest take-away from these data – and
cause durability is what you’re seeing in the major shifts taking place
in this age bracket. Millennials and members of Generation X are
not changing their cause priorities… they are taking them with
them as they mature into new age cohorts. Remember that those
between the ages of 25 and 34 in 2006 weren’t all millennials! In fact,
the oldest of the millennial cohort were only 26 years old in 2006.
Today, the entirety of those between the ages of 18 and 34 are
millennials. Interestingly, cause durability does not perfectly align
with millennials alone and cause prioritization may align more with
those who grew up in the computer-connected information age
rather than full, digital natives. In other words, folks: While
millennials are super-connected, they certainly do not “own” web-
based connectivity, nor are they solely responsible for the entirety of
the market trends that have evolved alongside the development of
our connected world.
The year 2014 represents an overall turn in cause prioritization for
those between the ages of 35 and 54. It was in 2014 that the cause
prioritization scales tipped and enough folks with differing cause
prioritization had aged into the 35–54 age cohort. The sharp increases
(in marriage equality and the environment) and the decrease (in arts
and culture) in 2014 weren’t due to some major event that year. As
enough folks with cause durability aged in to a new bracket, they
took their cause priorities along with them and it tipped the cause
prioritization measurement of the entire age bracket!
While cause durability is seen in full force among millennials
throughout these charts, it actually developed its stronghold among
members of Generation X. The oldest of the millennials were only 34
when cause prioritization shifted among the 35-54 age cohort in 2014.
(This seems a good time to remind everyone that while we may not
give them their fair share of generational conversation, Generation X
is not chopped liver.)
2014. This, readers, is where an old world meets a new world in data
form. It is a shift in how we think and prioritize causes captured in a
chart. It may not be until there is another major shift in the
information age that we see a dip/spike like the ones depicted here.
How flipping cool is that?!
Newer connectivity meets past perspectives
(What is happening with the 55+ crowd?)
You’ll notice in each of these charts that the 55+ crowd’s cause
durability is moving in the direction of younger generations. In fact, a
Pew Research Center update on public attitudes about gay marriage
by generations noted that year 2017 is the first year in which the
majority of Baby Boomers (56%) support gay marriage.
The reasons for this may be threefold: First, like other generations,
those 55+ have access to more information, stories, and causes than
ever before, and this may be allowing for introduction to new cause
priorities. Second, new age cause durability may be moving into this
age bracket as younger boomers – and recently, older members of
Gen X – age into this cohort. Third, the 55+ crowd may be more
influenced by younger generations than previous generations aged
55+ were in the past.
There is compelling evidence that the attitudes and beliefs of younger
generations inform and influence the attitudes and beliefs of older
generations. A 2013 study published by researchers at the Centre for
Environmental Policy and the Department of Life Sciences at the
London Imperial College assessed the influence of childhood
environmental education on the knowledge of their parents and
household behaviors. The study demonstrated that households
exhibiting improved home water management behaviors had
children who had received related environmental education.
In introducing their study, the researchers cite:
“The commonly held view is that parents teach
their children, inculcating their knowledge,
values and beliefs. However, a growing body of
literature provides evidence for bi-directional
influence between parents and children.”
A decade earlier, a landmark study published in 2003 by researchers
at the University of Wisconsin examined the hypothesis that children
transfer learnings and principles to their parents. Interestingly, the
study suggested that children’s knowledge and principles influence
not only their parents, but also the macro community. The study’s
authors theorize that “parents learned from children and both groups
transmitted course information to neighbors (control group) resulting
in an increase in control group learning.”
But is this a new phenomenon? In many ways, yes. Millennials are
thought to be the first generation to “influence up.”
Why millennials aren’t aging into arts and
(What is happening with the 18 – 34 crowd?)
With scalar variables under 45 for millennial cause prioritization of
arts and cultural causes, we’re looking more at disagreement than
agreement. These numbers are under 50, so millennials are not even
at ambivalent levels of cause prioritization for arts and culture.
While this is not great news, it’s not altogether surprising. Cultural
organizations have what I’ll optimistically call a “millennial
opportunity.” Simply, data suggest that millennials are the most
frequent visitors to cultural organizations and also – in part because
this generation is so large – the generational cohort that is not visiting
at representative levels. Millennials are the ones to attract and the
ones to keep happy. Millennials also have the most unrealized
visitation potential. If ever there were a situation to resent the need to
provide millennials with special treatment – this may be it. As a
millennial, even I cannot hold it against you.
That said, the need to reach millennials (and with them, folks of
different racial and ethnic backgrounds than historic visitors to
cultural organizations), is particularly urgent.
The low levels of cause prioritization may be the result of several
different things: Nontraditional audiences feeling unwelcome at
cultural organizations; arts and culture potentially not being as
empathy-inspiring and connective as other human or animal issues
in the way that they’ve heretofore been communicated; not
collectively considering the changing needs of connected audiences
until late in the game; or even simply saying ignorantly for many
years, “Just wait until they grow up…”
Well, they’ve grown up. It’s (past) go time.
But all isn’t lost! Cultural organizations can – and are – working
diligently to turn things around. The uptick in engagement in the 25-
34 demographic may seem small, but it’s a step in the right direction
– and it’s likely the outcome of many organizations working hard to
improve their reputations and operations. It’s an uptick that may be
worth a note of small celebration, and an indicator of budding
promise. It’s certainly an uptick to watch.
These data may further underscore that millennial talk is increasingly
“everyone talk.” Millennial behaviors and preferences often serve as
a canary in the coal mine for broader market trends. Those trends
that are often associated with millennials – digital connectivity, social
media, transparency, real-time responsiveness, and social
responsibility – aren’t the exclusive province of millennials. Instead,
these trends often serve as indicators of the direction in which the
world is more broadly moving.
Engaging millennials – and, increasingly, other audiences – involves
mindset shifts within organizations. It involves integrating new
strategies rather than simply adding additional programs. It’s an
opportunity that the industry is tackling piece-by-piece and bit-by-
bit…and perhaps that’s our best pathway out of general millennial
The good news? We can see the opportunity and we can watch our
impact over time. It isn’t until we understand that something is
broken that we can fix it.
We may risk long-term irrelevance if we keep on repeating, “Just wait
until those kids grow up. Then they’ll visit!” They have grown up –
with or without care for the cause of arts and cultural organizations.
Let’s keep moving forward creating connections, driving meaning,
and remembering that people matter to our organizations. Without
visitors and supporters, we do not exist. And if we don’t exist, well…
that’s not a world that I’d like to imagine.
(What about you?)
Let’s keep moving.
Published on: 07/12/17