6 thoughts on “New Homer in Silicon column

  1. Good column. I especially like the analysis of the ideological content of the game–I just read Barthes’ Mythologies, so I’m currently ultra-sensitive to that kind of thing.

    One detail:

    These books tend to be less socially conservative than the average romance category novel: they don’t always end with a wedding, and the heroine is usually concerned with her career as well as, or instead of, obsessing about future children.

    How is reinforcing the ideology of capitalism less socially conservative than reinforcing the ideology of the family? Given that socially progressive revolt, in this day and age, is much more likely to be a revolt against consumerism and capitalism than a revolt against the family, I would suggest that the kind of novel you describe is more socially conservative than the romance novel. It is certainly more dangerous: while most readers of romance will be able to see the love / wedding / children stuff as a literary convention, the need for a career presents itself as something much more “natural”, “unavoidable” and “true to life”.

  2. Well, hm. There are several adjacent strands here, which possibly I didn’t pry apart enough. The inevitability of capitalism is certainly a standard bit of conservative rhetoric (see also Adam Cadre’s comments on “Back to the Future” and “Alter Ego” as envisioning the Reagan era as essentially eternal).

    I’m not sure that the “need for a career” is necessarily part of the same ideological parcel, though. It depends on whether you understand this to mean “every adult, male and female, should be contributing to our GNP/earning money in order to belong to the consumer culture!” or “every adult is happiest when working on some productive vocation”. Ciao Bella mostly does treat the jobs as a means to get money and preserve family harmony, but there are some variations of this trope in which the heroine has more investment in the substance of her work.

    Finally, re. ideology of the family: you’re right that most socially progressive movements of the moment aren’t anti-family, but many would prefer to widen the definition of family a bit to allow for the possibility of non-traditional structures. The average mainstream romance novel doesn’t address those possibilities. I also don’t care much for the message that having children is/ought to be the primary goal of all women. There is certainly a convention at work there, but I’m not at all sure it’s a rhetorically powerless one, even if one recognizes it going by.

  3. You are right that family rhetoric is not powerless; but it seems to me that people are adapt at identifying it. If someone says “The cornerstone of society is the family, and a family consists of a father, a mother and children.”, then most people will instinctively classify that person as a (probably religious) conservative. That classification by itself renders the rhetoric less powerful, for it makes apparent that there is another position you could take.

    On the other hand, most pro-capitalist rhetoric is hard to recognise; it merely seems to be a description of facts. (Just take theoretical economics, or copyright law: how much of the purely contingent, historical and changeable situation in which we find ourselves is there presented as the basic facts given to us by an external reality?) It belongs to no party and to all. It is hard to guard ourselves against. That is why it is so dangerous.

    I do need to add to that, though, that I might be underestimating the power of family rhetoric because it isn’t that prominent where I live. (I think that the political parties that want to turn back the gay marriage laws in the Netherlands have perhaps, oh, 10 out of 150 seats in the “House of Representatives”.)

    One final thought: I love the term “productive vocation”, but it’s not a synonym for “job”. :)

  4. You are right that family rhetoric is not powerless; but it seems to me that people are adapt at identifying it. If someone says “The cornerstone of society is the family, and a family consists of a father, a mother and children.”, then most people will instinctively classify that person as a (probably religious) conservative. That classification by itself renders the rhetoric less powerful, for it makes apparent that there is another position you could take.

    But it’s often not said that way. Admittedly, I spend the majority of my year in the US, so there are cultural differences from Europe at work; but an evening’s worth of advertising (or whatever) will turn up a huge collection of hetero-normative, nuclear-family-assuming tropes. Partly that’s because there are contingents who will actively protest portrayals of alternative lifestyles and so some advertisers prefer not to provoke the controversy. There are also, of course, advertisers who go the other way to pointedly support diversity. But there is definitely, in advertising and the more unadventurous kind of television, a quiet current of assumption about what sorts of families “most” people live in, even as more serious drama questions those assumptions. In the US, I’d say, we’ve reached a point where (in many places) the majority of people are uncomfortable condemning nontraditional families and partnerships (so a character with strong negative views on this would likely be considered a bigot), but also uncomfortable identifying with the nontraditional. I suspect that’s why advertising steers a bit clearer of such material, because it tends to invite the viewer to identify directly with what’s being shown.

    Obviously, this is not my field of study, and there are also tons of regional variations, differences based on what sort of television/radio/etc. channel is involved, etc., so that’s merely a very general take on what’s on American TV these days.

    Re. jobs: of course “productive vocation” != “job”; I’m just pointing out that, since both of these things are tied up with what we do during the working day, sometimes a character can be shown to have career priorities without that necessarily meaning the character is motivated purely by greed/consumerism/capitalist ideals.

  5. Good point, about advertising. I’d still say the difference between the two kinds of rhetoric exists, but you have convinced me that it is much weaker than I originally thought.

    Re. jobs: Absolutely, I just wanted to make explicit something I knew we both understood.

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