Visual history: Photographic essays on 1970s America from Documerica at The Atlantic
I recently discovered a fantastic series of photographic essays covering the 1970s in America over at Alan Taylor’s photography blog In Focus on the website of The Atlantic.
The material is originally from Documerica, a photojournalistic documentary project conducted by the EPA between 1971 and 1977 that sought to “capture environmental problems, EPA activities, and everyday life in the 1970s.”
Yoga: Christian Conservatives Fearful Of ‘Satanic Possession’
Are you one of those stressed city-dwelling young professionals who need to relax once in a while? If you attempt to relieve your tension by doing yoga, you might be OF THE DEVIL, according to Christian conservatives.
In the last few years, yoga has become extremely popular in the United States. According to a 2008 study by Yoga Journal, 15.8 million Americans practiced it in 2008.
For many, yoga is a trendy recreational activity. But because of its origins in Hinduism, Christian conservatives in the US are afraid that yoga may lead its practitioners away from the one true faithtm (theirs).
As the Atlantic reports, E.W. Jackson, a Virginia lieutenant gubernatorial contender in 2008, argued that as the aim of yoga “is to empty oneself [spiritually] . . . . [Satan] is happy to invade the empty vacuum of your soul and possess it.”
A number of conservative Christian clerics share this point of view. For example, Mark Driscoll, pastor of a megachurch called Mars Hill, which is based in Washington State and could be described as a neo-fundamentalist church for hipsters, called yoga “demonic” and warned his flock of attending such “demon classes.”
But it is not exclusively American evangelicals who seek to expose the evils of yoga. In 2011, the Vatican’s former chief exorcist (!) called yoga (and Harry Potter books, too) “satanic.” And in 1989, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, later to become Pope Benedict XVI, said in 1989 that meditation, if used as a ‘spiritual’ practice, might lead to “moral deviations” among Catholics.1
Within the framework of belief in a demon-haunted world, all of this makes perfect sense.
A fun statistic: According to a 2012 survey by Public Policy Polling, 57% of all registered voters in the US, both Democrats and Republicans, believe in demonic possession. Among Republicans, the number is even higher at 68%.
[Update, 2013/06/13] E.W. Jackson, the former contender for Virginia lieutenant governor now claims about the opposite of what he implied in his 2008 book:
“I do not believe that yoga leads to Satanism. One of my ministers is a yoga instructor. Christian meditation [as opposed to Hindu yoga?] does not involve emptying oneself but filling oneself…with the spirit of God. That is classic biblical Christianity [emphasis mine].”
In my opinion, the primary moral deviation among Catholics that the Vatican should invest more energy into correcting is its very own systematic and decades-long cover-up of child abuse. Once these child-molesting priests are convicted in courts rather than being shuffled to another parish, where they are free to continue the abuse, we may talk again about morality. ↩
As anyone peeking into the current debate on gun control in the US, I have noticed that the NRA even opposes seemingly uncontroversial, mild, dare I say sane limitations on gun ownership, such as background checks for people with mental health issues or criminal records.
As I understand it, the NRA in its current iteration holds that in order to make America safer, all avenues should be explored except for one: stricter regulation of firearms.
Violent Hollywood filth is corrupting America…
So if lax gun regulation is not the culprit, who is to blame? Hollywood, of course!
As Talking Points Memo reports, LaPierre blasted Hollywood as “a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows, violence against its own people.” He specifically railed against violent movies as “the filthiest form of pornography.”
…except when we love that Hollywood filth!
One might be tempted to take the NRA seriously, were it not for the following blatant hypocrisy on their part:
The NRA’s publication The American Rifleman recently—after LaPierre’s rant speech against violent movies— published a list of “the coolest gun movies” on their website.
The list includes gems such as the 1980s action flicks The Terminatorstarring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Die Hard starring Bruce Willis, or Delta Force starring Chuck Norris and Lee Marvin, all products of Hollywood’s “corrupting shadow industry.”
Having seen most of those movies myself at one point, I dare to state the obvious: It would be an understatement to say that they all share are a certain aesthetization of violence.
I am not arguing the case that watching violent movies or playing violent video games necessarily makes violent people. In fact I hope that my personal consumption of such entertainment in the past has not had too much of a detrimental effect on my frame of mind.
But if you do, like the NRA, you cannot all of a sudden turn around and tell the world with a straight face how great all of these violent action movies are.
Conveniently applying that double standard makes you unprincipled and hypocritical. Maybe given the twenty-four hour news cycle, people can be forgiven for a short attention span.
But if the NRA calls Hollywood a cesspool and five minutes later jumps in it, I call bullshit.
Kathryn Bigelow’s 2012 movie Zero Dark Thirty, which depicts the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, is in some ways a CIA propaganda piece, according to a report from Gawker.
Based on declassified memos from the CIA’s Office of Public Affairs, which is the agency’s propaganda operation, the major revelation is that the CIA directly pressured director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal to take out scenes that would portray the CIA in a bad light.
And so Bigelow and Boal did.
What are the contents/scenes taken out that the CIA objected to?
Participation of CIA operatives in the torture (I am not buying the euphemism ‘enhanced interrogation’) of detainees in the opening scene
Intimidation of detainees with dogs
A drunk CIA officer firing an AK-47 rifle into the air at a drunken rooftop party in Islamabad
The CIA analyzing videotaped interrogations of tortured detainees
Apart from the CIA’s influence revealed through the memo, the movie falsely suggests in its opening scene that it was torture that ultimately led to the revelation of Bin Laden’s location. This powerful image created by a product of popular culture retroactively works to legitimize the practice of torture in the public mind.
[Video] “Zero Dark Irresponsible – Killing Bin Laden With Blinders On.” (TheLipTV, 2013/11/26) – FIlm critic Peter Rainer criticizes Zero Dark Thirty for not contextualizing the torture scenes of the movie in the ‘Global War on Terrorism.’ In particular, he notes the absence of any mention of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney as responsible for America’s torture policies.
NY Times Links Germany’s Success In Football To Economic Success
As those interested in football (as we Europeans like to call it) might already know, the 2013 Champions League final will be between two German clubs.
Maybe it is a bit of a stretch to view professional sports as “Rorschach test for the health and confidence of nations,” as the New York Times just did.
But their piece on how Germany is currently doing economically in comparison to other European countries is worth reading.
According to the common stereotype, sexual morality in the US is still influenced by Puritan prudishness, while Europe prides itself on a more open attitude. One indicator of this seems to be the spread of abstinence-only sex education in the US.
But now a new sex education textbook aimed at five-year-olds has been published in Germany. Is this too young an age to educate children about how they came about?
TheLip.tv asked Americans on the street about their views:
As unnecessary gun deaths continue to take their toll on American society, one might have hoped that the National Rifle Association would nominate a reasonable person for their president. In the face of the latest series of school shootings and other horrible gun violence, it is quite apparent that there is a demand for somebody who might negotiate a balance between the interests of gun owners and the public’s longing for safety. But moderation of any sort is definitely not where the NRA is going these days.
Jim Porter, a former Alabama lawyer, is the new president of the National Rifle Association. And as you might have suspected, he is as extreme as they come. Judging by his statements, Porter is quite the dog-whistling, Neo-Confederate, conspiracy-mongering nutjob. Hyperbole, you say. Well, read on and see for yourself.
Where to begin? As the New York Times reports, he says that Obama is a “fake president.” His view of American history compels him to call the American Civil War the ‘War of Northern Aggression.’ He peddles conspiracy theories alleging that the Obama administration is conspiring with the UN to take all guns away from Americans. He also says that it is the NRA’s job to train Americans to fight against tyranny from their own government (the video of Porter speaking is linked in the New York Times article).
This strain of the political far-right in America surfaced in parts of the Tea Party Movement throughout the past years. But now the figurehead of America’s powerful gun manufacturers’ lobby is a race-baiter who is apparently driven by paranoid fantasies. Not a wise choice.
Students have to fight for integrated prom In rural Georgia in 2013
Here is another optimistic but also rather sad story that casts doubt on the notion of the ‘post-racial’ society, which for a short moment around Barack Obama’s first election as president in 2008 was omnipresent in political magazines.
As the New York Times reports, high school students In rural Georgia are fighting to have a racially integrated prom. Yes, this story is indeed from 2013 and I did not miss the mark by several decades. Racial segregation in social spaces around school is apparently still an issue, at least in Wilcox County in the rural South.
American talk radio is a phenomenon of its own with no comparison in the German media landscape. This is likely due to less strict broadcasting regulations on the US side of the Atlantic, especially since the fall of the FCC’s Fairness Doctrine in 1987, a much broader definition of freedom of speech in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution in general, and the comparatively longer distances traveled in cars in the US. All of the above factors into the popularity of AM talk radio, especially political talk formats.
For the past decades, American talk radio has predominantly been the domain of angry white male conservative populist agitators, among them figures like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, who have made a fortune feeding their audiences’ fears of American decline, multiculturalism, and the whole palette of issues subsumed under the term culture wars. A key trope of most far-right talk radio hosts has always been the claim of defending ‘freedom,’ a term so vague in the arsenal of political rhetoric that it can easily be loaded up with the most illiberal ideas, not in the meaning of liberal as in political ideology, but as in the theoretical political concept.
Case in point: Recently, conservative talk radio host Michael Savagehas called for a new “nationalist party” with a “charismatic leader.” Talking about the decline in popularity of the Tea Party Movement, the conservative populist movement that had emerged along with the 2008 election of Barack Obama as president, Savage said that “the rudiment” of that new party might be found among their ranks. Savage, who was born to Russian-Jewish parents, used the analogy of a “King David” that was needed to unite the American Right. Savage, who calls President Obama a “quasi-pseudo-crypto Marxist” thinks that the Tea Party Movement was not right-wing enough and that a new party should challenge the Republican party from the right on a platform of “borders, language, and culture.”
If that sounds eerily authoritarian, it’s because it is!
A severe economic crisis. Extreme nationalism. Calls for a charismatic leader. Writing from Berlin, I hear the jackboots stomping in my head.
While glancing over the Open Culture blog, a resource that I highly recommend, by the way, I once again found a little gem for everyone interested in American popular culture of the twentieth century. The Library of Congressnow hosts the digitized audio tapes of Joe Smith, a former record industry executive and DJ who in the late 1980s interviewed many of the then most famous stars of Rock’n’Roll and other genres in American popular music. His collection of interview tapes encompasses “238 hours of interviews over two years.” At the time, excerpts of these were made into his book Off the Record (Warner Books, 1988).
That is the conclusion you could draw from reading two recent polls, one from Gallup asking Americans,1 and a second one from GfK asking Germans 2 about their trust in various professional groups.
The five most trusted professions
Medical doctors (89%)
Medical doctors (70%)
Post office workers (86%)
High school teachers (62%)
Police officers (85%)
Police officers (54%)
The five least trusted professions:
The five least trusted professions
Members of Congress (64% ‘Very Low’ or ‘Low’)
Politicians (91% ‘Distrust)
Corporate Managers (80%)
Advertising executives (67%)
Car salespeople (47%)
Marketing executives (62%)
Labor union leaders (41%)
If you were a shameless impostor who wants to gain the the local population’s trust quickly (which I am certain you are not), you might go for the nurse outfit (in the US) or the firefighter look (in Germany). As an alternative, you could also consider wearing a white lab coat and/or a stethoscope (works in both countries). A police uniform might also help, although I do not recommend this—it is likely to be illegal. If you, American traveler, would like to enchant Germans, why not try post office chic? In both countries, If you carry around a few textbooks, you could pass for a teacher. People may like you for it.
Whether you walk the streets of Berlin or Washington, avoid looking like a person who just walked out of Congress or the Bundestag. And to you, German tourist, do not even think of starting the casual conversation by trying to sell a car!
Jones, Jeffrey M. “Record 64% Rate Honesty, Ethics of Members of Congress Low.” Gallup. 12 Dec. 2011. Web. 3 June 2012. ↩
GfK. “Vertrauen in Verschiedene Berufsgruppen.” Statista. June 2011. Web. 24 May 2012. ↩
Professor Adelt’s research interests include pop music, transnationalism, and racial politics.
In the 1960s, blues music underwent a shift from black artists and audiences to white artists and audiences. With the appropriation of the blues by white artists and audiences, the genre shifted away from its former black working class base. The white middle-class embrace of certain notions of blackness stood in contrast to black audiences’ increasing attraction to new music genres emphasizing civil rights and black power, such as Soul and Funk. For white audiences, black masculinity was perceived as a marker of authenticity. Nevertheless, African American performers often resisted such forced constructions of blackness.
Adelt used the American Folk Blues Festival, a music festival organized by German promoters starting in the early 1960s to illustrate the complex relationships between transnational popular culture and race during the Cold War.
The Transatlantic Dimension of the Blues
In the 1960s, blues music became a transatlantic phenomenon in its own way. Black American blues musicians, some of whom became expatriates, brought their music to eager European audiences. After a while, blues in an updated form was re-imported to the US, mostly through British rock bands.
As an example of an expatriate blues musician, Adelt mentioned Memphis Slim (1915 – 1988), who was portrayed in the June 1966 issue of Ebony magazine while living in Paris (You can read the issue in the Ebony archives). But this was not the norm. Most African American blues performers did not become expatriates.
Germany Gets the Blues (Sort of)
In Germany, promoters Horst Lippmann and Fritz Rau organized the American Folk Blues Festival, beginning in 1962. Their construction of the blues was highly romantic. It used the genre’s blackness to highlight blues as the primitive root of Rock’n’Roll. Lippmann and Rau saw the blues as a vehicle of Denazificiation and Anti-racism. In retrospect, however, they continued to deploy racial constructions that are uncomfortably close to that of the Third Reich.
Adelt argued that pop culture is not always a liberating force, but can also work to uphold racial hierarchies and oppression.
During the Third Reich, this former positive racism was replaced by negative racism, exemplified by terms such as Entartete Musik (‘Degenerate music’) (see also here) for jazz, and a fear of Vernegerung (‘Negroidization’) or Verjudung (‘Jewification’) of German culture through ‘foreign’ popular culture.
After World War II, certain Nazi imagery survived in popular children’s television series such as Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver(Jim Knopf und Lukas der Lokomotivführer) (1960). [There is a debate in Germany about whether Jim Button has to be read as racist or anti-racist.]
Racism was also present among parts of the white German left. Here, a “fascination with the real” drove the interest in the black embodiment of suffering.
Race in Germany Before and After World War Two
Transplanting the blues to Germany brought with it certain traveling problematic racial conceptions. While the US certainly had its own historic issues with race, the blues was entering a German culture that was no stranger to racist ideas, even before National Socialism. Among these were the ‘Black Horror on the Rhine’ (“Die Schwarze Schmach“)—fear of the presence of black French troops during the Occupation of the Rhineland following World War I, the vilification of interracial fraternization in the phenomenon of ‘Occupation Babies’ (“Besatzungskinder”) after World War II, caused by sexual relationships between black American GIs and white German women.
Such negative racial constructs were later challenged by Afro-German activists, for instance in the book Farbe Bekennen (‘Showing our Colors’) in 1986.
After the reunification of Germany, a wave of Neo-Nazi attacks on immigrants and non-white persons conveyed an urgency among ethnic minorities and sympathetic parts of the mainstream German population to organize against racial stereotypes. Within German popular culture, Hip Hop artists, especially multi-ethnic or Afro-German Hip Hop artists, such as Advanced Chemistry (early 1990s), Samy Deluxe (starting in the late 1990s), or Brothers Keepers (early 2000s) were involved in anti-racist activism.
Blues as Cold War Propaganda in East and West
The blues was used as a propaganda tool on both sides of the Cold War divide. The capitalist West promoted blues and Jazz as symbols of openness in contrast to the Soviet system. Nonetheless, during the early Cold War, the Jim Crow system was still very much intact in the US, and the Civil Rights Movement had not yet gained that strong a foothold.
The communist East was eager to point out these contradictions, presenting blues and jazz as a signs of resistance against the inherent racism of the capitalist system. In the German Democratic Republic, blues was promoted as music of the oppressed masses, embedded into a critique of US capitalism. On the other hand, there were crackdowns on long-haired blues fans nonetheless, and racial stereotypes were not absent.
Lippmann and Rau Bring American Popular Music to Germany
The organizers of the American Folk Blues Festival were coming from very different backgrounds. Lippmann was Jewish and his family had been persecuted by the Nazis. He saw similarities between black suffering in the US and the plight of Jews in Nazi Germany. Rau, on the other hand, came from a family that had profited from the Nazis’ war buildup. He discovered Jazz in the 1950s and imagined the possibility of Dennazification and “rebirth through Jazz.”
When Lippmann and Rau began to organize jazz concerts featuring African American artists, for instance the Modern Jazz Quartet, they sought to give Jazz an aura of “respectability” by having artists wear tuxedos, advertising events with abstract art, and setting up concerts in symphony halls instead of small, smoke-filled clubs. As Adelt argued, this idea of having to make jazz and its performers respectable can be traced back to racial ideas of the Nazi era.
While organizing blues concerts, Lippmann and Rau gave up on the concept of creating respectability and appealed to primitivist ideas instead. The American Folk Blues Festival, staged between 1962 and 1972, and 1980 to 1985, usually went for three to four hours and featured eight to ten headliners.
What was presented in these concerts can be described as nostalgic blues for white audiences. Both folk music from the 1930s and 1950s blues were at this point somewhat outdated. Older blues artists, such as Willie Dixon (1915 – 1992), were rediscovered during the 1960s. In this context, there was also a conflict between older black and younger white blues performers.
Lippmann and Rau’s posters advertising their events made extensive use of romantic primitivist imagery. The artwork often featured guitars and earthy colors, reminiscent of nameless black bodies. Overall, their design conveyed a “non-threatening” nostalgia.
The events themselves even surpassed the posters in their stagecraft. To enhance the atmosphere of the spectacle, concerts sometimes featured recreated juke joints and other scenery, and African American GIs were bused in as studio audience in Germany.
Here, here, and here are some videos of typical performances (you can find much more material on youtube).
In 1967, Lippmann and Rau started booking Soul and Funk artists such as James Brown. With a turn towards these more contemporary forms of black popular music, the audience also shifted notably from white Germans to black American GIs.
Blues, Civil Rights, and Well-Meaning Racism
In 1965, Lippmann and Rau linked their American Folk Blues Festival to the US Civil Rights Movement. While well-meaning, in retrospect they upheld problematic racial constructions. In concert booklets, for example, blacks were presented as victims without an agency of their own. In a sense, Lippmann and Rau catered to their audience’s expectations of blues as a primitive, raw, emotional, but certainly not intellectual form of art.
Some African American blues artists developed what Adelt sees as strategies to counter such forced constructions of identity. At times, they spontaneously changed playlists at their shows. Some defied stereotyping by showing off their extraordinary skills and gimmicks in musicianship, for instance on the guitar. Stage antics, appearance in decidedly flashy clothes, or the performance of novelty songs were forms of resistance against expectations. White audiences did not always take this too well. In 1965, Buddy Guy (born in 1936) was booed for playing a medley of James Brown songs. To some degree, the blues resisted against expectations of white middle class respectability.
In conclusion, Adelt remarked that the appropriation of the blues by white German audiences was characterized by ambiguity. While there was great optimism about the prospects of Denazification through American popular culture, the project of transplanting the blues to Europe had a blind spot in its continuation of racial stereotypes.
Here is American Studies Leipzig’s video interview with Ulrich Adelt:
Adelt, Ulrich. Blues Music in the Sixties: A Story in Black and White. First Paperback ed. Rutgers UP, 2011.
Balitzki, Jürgen et al. Bye Bye, Lübben City. Bluesfreaks, Tramps Und Hippies in Der DDR. 1st ed. Schwarzkopf + Schwarzkopf, 2004.
Carby, Hazel V. Race Men. Harvard UP, 2000.
Filene, Benjamin. Romancing the Folk: Public Memory and American Roots Music. U of North Carolina P, 2000.
Hamilton, Marybeth. In Search of the Blues. Reprint. Basic Books, 2009.
Hohn, Maria. GIs and Fräuleins: The German-American Encounter in 1950s West Germany. U of North Carolina P, 2002.
Oguntoye, Katharina, May Ayim, and Dagmar Schultz. Farbe Bekennen: Afro-deutsche Frauen Auf Den Spuren Ihrer Geschichte. 3., veränd. Aufl. (REV). Orlanda Frauenverlag, 2007.
Von Eschen, Penny M. Satchmo Blows Up the World: Jazz Ambassadors Play the Cold War. Harvard UP, 2006.
Today, historian Charles Postel of San Francisco State University and a visiting scholar at Heidelberg University, visited American Studies Leipzig as part of the Fulbright lecture series to talk about the rise of the Tea Party Movement in the US.
Postel, who specializes in populist movements in America, sees the Tea Party Movement as driven by a convergence of two different forces: ideology and economic self-interest.
The Founding Myth: The Boston Tea Party
He mentioned the myth of the original Boston Tea Party of the eighteenth century in American folklore, which is widely seen as a tax revolt, but was, according to historians, much more complex, involving political ideas about freedom and economic self-interest of Boston merchants and smugglers.
In order to illustrate the anatomy of today’s Tea Party Movement, Postel noted that federal taxes are at the lowest level since sixty years and that tax levels for the highest income groups have declined even sharper than for the average taxpayer.
Ideological Roots: Cold War Hard Right Paranoia
Postel held that much of the ideology of the Tea Party Movement derives from anti-New Deal conservative movements of the Cold War Era, in particular the John Birch Society, who saw social programs such as Social Security, trade unions, and the Civil Rights Movement as communist subversion of America. The enemies of those anti-New Deal conservative Republicans were for the most part moderate Republicans of the time.
The John Birch Society, which was the first grassroots conservative movement in the US, achieved a victory in mobilizing for Barry Goldwater as Republican candidate in 1964.
Robert Welch, the founder of the JBS, even went so far as accusing Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy as communist agents. In fact, anyone in favor of the New Deal and Civil Rights was seen as a communist.
In this video clip on YouTube, you can see Welch’s presentation (ca. 1965) of the JBS.
Other leading conservative intellectuals, such as William F. Buckley, distanced themselves from Welch and the JBS.
Welch and his allies, among them writer Leon Scousen, whose books have had a revival among Tea Partiers, built their own conservative movement on an anti-New Deal agenda.
For them, America’s fall from grace began in the early 1900s with the Progressive Movement’s social reforms.
The Birchers demanded the repeal of early twentieth century reforms, the Sixteenth Amendment, which allows for the federal government to raise an income tax, and the abolition of the Federal Reserve. They also demanded that the Seventeenth Amendment be repealed, which allows for the direct election of Senators. This was subsumed under the idea that America was a republic, not a democracy.
The Tea Party Movement picks up many of those ideas. It aims at repealing the remaining elements of the New Deal. It wants to abolish the Fed and for the reintroduction of the Gold Standard. It wants to repeal the 16th and 17th Amerndments. It argues that President Obama is a socialist and points to the Affordable Healthcare Act or ‘Obamacare.’
According to Postel, Obama is actually a centrist Democrat. A health care legislation similar to Obama’s was first proposed by President Nixon in 1974. For a long time, Republicans endorsed this idea.
The Tea Party Movement sees any regulation of the health care sector as socialism.
The Comeback of Bircher Rhetoric
If the rhetoric reminds of Joseph McCarthy and Barry Goldwater, that is, Postel says, because the John Birch Society has a revival.
Leon Scousen’s books are advertised regularly on Fox News by opinion hosts such as Glenn Beck.
Right-wing corporate lobbyists, including groups like FreedomWorks or Americans for Prosperity, but also think tanks, such as the conservative Heritage Foundation or the libertarian Cato Institute promote ideas similar to those of the Birchers.
Overall, the Cold War Hard Right has made a comeback, and it has gained the upper hand within the Republican Party.
Moderate Republicans have become a pariah within their party.
[Update]: I just stumbled upon a recent example of Bircherite Tea Party rhetoric. Congressman Allen West (R-FL) suggesting that 80 House Democrats are members of the Communist Party (article from The Raw Story).
The Politics of Self-Interest: Medicare Is Fine, But Only For Me
Besides ideology, politics of interest play an important role in the Tea Party Movement.
Postel sees this embodied in the Tea Party Movement’s opposition to health care reform as fight against ‘big government.’
The size of the federal government has remained relatively stable over the last decades. Most federal spending has been shrinking in the last thirty years. The two big exceptions to this are military spending and Medicare.
Most Tea Party supporters are on favor of higher military spending.
Regarding Medicare, typical Tea Party supporters—older, better educated, white males—have in the past most profited from government programs.
In other words, the Tea Party Movement mobilizes in the name of defending Medicare for themselves.
Tea Party figures such as Michelle Bachman have argued to the effect that Obama would take funds out of Medicare to give it to younger people.
Postel mentioned that the Paul Ryan Budget, favored by Republicans, illustrated this interest: those over fify-five would keep Medicare, while everyone else will have to shop in the insurance market with private vouchers.
The Politics of Inequality
The Ryan Budget also includes tax cuts for top earners and budget cuts for social programs.
This plan is proposed within the context of rising inequality within the US. While problematic for many, Postel noted that tens of millions of Americans have also benefited from rising inequality.
So far, Tea Party-influenced legislation at the state and local level has fostered inequality, with a clear anti-immigrant, anti-union, anti-reproductive health, and anti-voting rights agenda.
Currently, about twenty percent of Americans sympathize with the Tea Party Movement.
The Tea Party Movement has links to corporate lobbyists. Postel highlighted the Koch Brothers, the fourth wealthiest individuals in the US with an industry conglomerate in petrochemicals. The Kochs bankroll the Tea Party Movement through lobby groups such as Americans for Prosperity. They founded libertarian think tank the Cato Institute, and ALEC, a legal think tank. Fred C. Koch, father of Charles and David Koch, was a founding member of the John Birch Society.
Despite the involvement of the Kochs and others, Postel said that the Tea Party Movement cannot be called purely an ‘astroturf’ or fake grassroots movement.
Postel also held that while the mass media often emphasize the Tea Party Movement’s anti-elite rhetoric, there is not very much of it on closer look. Rather, all political movements in the US since the nineteenth century have used some form of anti-elite rhetoric, out of necessity.
Blowing Up The Social Contract
For Postel, the core agenda of the Tea Party Movement is “blowing up the social contract.” While in Europe there is general agreement about the validity of some form of social contract, even among right-wing populist parties, who want to limit the beneficiaries of that social contract, Tea Partiers want to end it. To American Tea Partiers, European right-wing populist parties might look statist, which is opposite to Tea Party ideology.
Many Tea Partiers call themselves ‘tenthers,’ in reference to the Tenth Amendment, which gives established the federal system giving states all rights not granted to the federal government. Postel noted that in the US, political movements have always swung for or against states’ rights and federal rights, depending on whether the legislation in question aligned with their particular agenda.
Postel ended his talk noting that, ironically, the Tea Party Movement has nationalized politics more than anything else in the recent past.
Charles Postel is currently working on a book chapter for an anthology on the Tea Party Movement.
Here is a video from American Studies Leipzig featuring an interview with Charles Postel after his talk:
Last weekend, I attended American Studies Leipzig’s third graduate conference, “Global Games, Global Goals: Locating America in the Cultural, Social, and Political Realms of Sports,” organized by the second year MA students. I have to say that the two days of conference were very pleasurable as a guest. Great organization, nice hosts, interesting speakers, and an impressive location: the Deutsches Literaturinstitut Leipzig. Not to mention quite a bit of tasty food and beverages, which bring me back to the overall conference topic and what I should do afterwards—sports.
On the first day, the keynote speech was held by Prof. Dr. Dorothee Alfermann of the Institute for Sport Psychology and Pedagogy at the University of Leipzig on “American and German Sports from a Socio-Cultural Perspective.”
In her talk, Alfermann traced the development of sports in the US and Germany, and highlighted the very different trajectories in both countries.
While in the US, sports tends to be more about performance, competition, and record orientation, in Germany, sports as a mass phenomenon emphasizes exercise and recreational activity.
These general differences have a historical roots.
In Germany, for instance, the Turner Movement of the early nineteenth century around Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, underpinned by German nationalism, aimed at training young men for military service, while rejecting the competitive aspect of sports.
Nationalism in sports was not limited to Europe. In the late nineteenth century, Americans tried to forge their national identity in contrast to Europe, which also expressed itself in the development of own national sports, in particular baseball since the 1860s, American football, and basketball.
The organization of sports differs greatly between the US and European countries such as the UK or Germany. While schools and colleges play a central role in the US, European countries have historically organized sports around sports clubs.
One particularity of sports in the US is the combination of physical and intellectual education, embodied in college stipends for student-athletes. Sports becomes a means of getting a higher education, even though many aim for professional athletic careers.
Some similarities do exist about sports in the US and Germany today, Alfermann concluded. Sports contributes to (national) identity and produces heroes. It attracts huge crowds, is a big business, and men’s sports tend to be held in higher regard in the public eye.
This year’s topic is “Global Games, Global Goals: Locating America in the Cultural, Social, and Political Realms of Sports.”
As the website describes it, the conference
will explore different notions of sports in a forum integrating students and professionals. Since sports touches upon many aspects of life such as politics, media, popular culture, history, and health, it offers a myriad of possible research foci. In fact, American sports and sport lifestyle(s) influence cultures around the world while simultaneously being subject to influences from other cultures as well. The study of sports within an American context is thus not limited to the national level: Sports organizations, sports gear enterprises, and athletes of all possible types operate internationally, making the topic of sports highly relevant on a global scale.
As a ‘veteran’ conference organizer (I was part of the organizing team in 2010), I am of course very excited to see how this year’s MA class manages to pull it all off. I am confident in this year’s organizing team, as the previous conferences went quite well.
I am also curious about the presentations and certain to learn about many aspects of sports that I had not thought about earlier. If I find the time, I will put up some more posts after the weekend.
On Sunday, I attended the reading by Iranian American writer Parochista Khakpour, supported by the US Consulate Leipzig.
Khakpour was born in Tehran in 1978 and raised in the Greater Los Angeles Area.
At the Leipzig Book Fair, Parochista Khakpour read excerpts from her debut novel Sons and Other Flammable Objects (Grove, 2007), which is set in suburban California of the late 1980s and deals with questions of identity among Iranian immigrants to the US and their children. The negotiation and struggles of identity, both Iranian and American, is a key theme of the novel, and Khakpour noted that the figure of her father is central to treating this issue in her work.
Khakpour also presented some excerpts from an autobiographical essay titled “Camel Ride, Los Angeles, 1986,” originally published in Guernica, an online “magazine of art and politics.” In the essay, she describes the traumatic experience of being taken to a camel ride in the Los Angeles Zoo by her father.
Parochista Khakpour also spent a semester in Germany in the Winter Term 2011/2012 as Picador professor at American Studies Leipzig and worked on various writing projects. Khakpour remarked that writing about identity in a foreign country gives an author a different perspective, that she liked Leipzig as a city very much, and made friends while there.
Currently she is working on her second novel and a number of essays.