Introduction to Portfolio

This is not a blog in the traditional sense of the word, but rather a portfolio of my work for editors, students, colleagues, professors and employers to peruse. Included are articles published in newspapers and magazines, graduate research papers and projects, public relations samples, and a poem that came in 3rd at UCF’s 2013 writing competition, “Why Writing Matters to Me.”  The categories are listed on the right of the screen.

You may contact me with any questions or comments at: Ries@knights.ucf.edu. I request that I not be added to any e-mailing lists. If you wish to re-blog or re-post an article, please request permission first. Thank you.

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Graduate Research Project in Journalism

GUNS ‘n SOTU:

How Obama’s 2013 SOTU Language on Guns was

Framed in Three National Newspapers

Richard A. Ries

The University of Central Florida

17 April 2013

ries@knights.ucf.edu

Abstract

This is a graduate study in mass media analyzing the reporting and framing of a specific contentious topic – gun control – in President Obama’s February 12, 2013 State of the Union Address (SOTU) in three noteworthy national newspapers: The New York Times (NYT), USA Today (USAT), and The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) and on each publication’s Facebook pages over a three day news cycle. The interest was to what degree the newspapers were preoccupied with the dovetailing of SOTU and gun violence: if there was any suggestion of agenda-setting on the newspapers’ parts; what types (if any) of frame language was employed; and what type of features the newspapers created for Facebook, perhaps to court what is often widely perceived to be a younger or more liberal audience and one less likely to read the actual print versions of the newspapers or even access their websites. (I do not proffer research that proves this belief; just that it appears to be a commonly held one, especially on college campuses.)  The RQs of the study will be found after the preliminary material. The study was limited to news articles, op-ed pieces, editorials, and Facebook frames printed or created on February 12, 13, and 14. Articles in the online versions of the newspapers were occasionally accessed, but a full analysis of the plethora of information found in USAToday.com, NYT.com, and WSJ.com would be beyond the scope of this short-term study. The short frames on Facebook allow a glimpse into what national newspapers deemed important to those who may access news on Facebook, if only as a small part of users’ repertoire of news information gathering. The study confirmed, if only briefly, that the NYT indeed was interested in promoting gun control, while it was a non-issue for the WSJ.

Introduction and background

As gay marriage slowly marches down the aisle of reasonably full acceptability, gun violence and gun control laws seem to have taken center stage as possibly the most contentious issue of our times. Gun ownership is deeply rooted in American culture, enshrined in the Second Amendment as quickly as First Amendment fundamental freedoms could be guaranteed.

On December 14, 2012, 20 year old Adam Lanza killed his mother, drove to Sandy Hook Elementary school, and proceeded to kill 20 innocent children and 6 adults before taking his own life. The incident was all too redolent of a tragic trend in American life, including Columbine (1999), Amish schoolchildren (2006), Virginia Tech (2007), Fort Hood (2009), Giffords and others in Tucson (2011), a Milwaukee Sikh temple (2012), and a theater in Aurora, Colorado (2012). Many “job rage” shootings have occurred in this time period as well. Later that day following Sandy Hook, a tearful President Obama spoke publicly, summing up the spate of gun massacres in the U.S., closing with “And we’re going to have to come together and prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics” (Whitehouse.gov).

The debate over gun control dominated the news in the two months between Sandy Hook and the scheduled State of the Union Address. Obama assigned Biden to head a task force on gun safety issues; pundits and bloggers weighed in; there was a surge in national gun sales (Stan, Salon.com, December 19, 2012). An NRA spokesman, Wayne LaPierre, issued a much-anticipated official response: that the solution to school shootings was to have more armed guards on campuses, and for schools to train and arm more teachers. Surviving children of Sandy Hook sang at the Super Bowl. It was to a polarized populace on the topic of gun shootings and safety, and to a nation distracted by an armed California fugitive, that Obama addressed the Union on the birthdate of Abraham Lincoln – the first president to be assassinated by a gun.

The 2013 SOTU        

Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution mandates that the president brief Congress from time to time. On February 12, 2013, President Obama delivered the SOTU to Congress with much of the world watching. Somewhat ironically, most major cable networks were providing live aerial coverage of the California armed fugitive story and only broke when Obama’s motorcade left for Congress: the usual fare of talking heads predicting the speech were not heard. Thus gun violence was part of the framing of SOTU from a separate source. A rhetorical analysis of the 2013 SOTU itself is not the subject of this inquiry; a text of its language about guns may be found in appendix A. However, it is worth recalling a few guests seated in the chambers: Gabby Giffords; Carlos Soto (the brother of a teacher killed in Sandy Hook); Kaitlyn Roig (a surviving teacher); a government official from Newtown and responding detectives to the scene. Sitting next to Michelle Obama were the parents of Hadiya Pendleton, a Chicago teen girl who had just performed in the Inaugural Parade – but was killed by gunfire in Chicago. Also present was former rock star and gun enthusiast Ted Nugent, brought by a Texas representative. Thus the speech was delivered with guns on peoples’ minds, and the television camera often panned the faces of the victims of gun violence. (Miller, Washingtontimes.com, February 13, 2013).

Obama’s speech was just over an hour. It was not, however, until the end of the speech that he addressed gun violence, likely heightening the drama of the issue. Knowing that some anti-gun measures may not even reach the floor of the House due to NRA influence, the president kept repeating “they [victims] deserve a simple vote,” amidst a crescendo of applause. The emotional pitch of the speech grew in these moments, as Obama has often in his speeches borrowed from the pulpit technique of “call and response.” (Washington Post, February 13, 2013). With each “they deserve a simple vote,” the applause morphed into a standing ovation.

SOTUs as agenda-setters in media studies

            Presidential speeches are studied, and certainly receive much media attention, but SOTUs have not generated copious amounts of peer reviewed articles. The database PAIS International reveals a mere 7 such articles; the database Communications and Mass Media Complete reveals 19 studies. (In contrast, the term “Hollywood” generates 1,690 peer reviewed articles.) Thus there is room for further inquiry. Cox (2012) examined Obama’s 2010 SOTU; the article is a metaphorical analysis of Obama’s speech as a reflection of his governing style. The scholar notes that a president is able to “frame issues and advocate for or against specific policy” (p. 3). Cox views Obama as a master speaker who uses many “journey” metaphors, and invites examination into whether the trio of NYT, WSJ, and USAT framed SOTU in any common Obama metaphors.

            A televised presidential speech often falls under the category of agenda-setting in media studies, as agenda-setting is perhaps the most important source of presidential power (Peake & Eshbaugh-Soha, 2008). In their study of major presidential speeches, the researchers found that presidents are major agenda-setters who “influence the salience of issues to Congress, the media, and the American people” (p. 113). Because the media influences which issues the public considers to be important, it is the media that a president must first affect. A SOTU podium provides a bully pulpit that a congressman simply cannot match. The media savvy Obama administration covered its bases with the 2013 SOTU in regards to setting an agenda on gun control: Michelle Obama joining a gun protest the morning thereof; gun victims seated in the audience; the delicate subject of gun control saved for the end of the speech. Rubio’s water sip gaffe was little match for the careful orchestrations of Team Obama; Paul’s rebuttal speech is hardly remembered. Did newspapers go along with the president’s agenda? How did they frame his language and policies about guns?

Framing theory 

A good source of information about media frames is Journalism.org, the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. A number of types of media frames exist, such as “horse race” (who is winning, who is losing); policy exploration; reaction; reality check. One must look for a “trigger” and to see if there is a hidden agenda, innuendo, or deeper meaning to a story.  <http://www.journalism.org/node/447&gt;. Frame analysis involves how a story is couched; its interpretation, context and meaning in history or current events. One must read between the lines and search for factors that may enter reporting, such as political bias or gender bias or some sort of agenda – or a desire to reach or shape a new audience. Frames define problems, diagnose causes, offer and justify treatments for problems, and predict their likely effects (Entman, 1993).

The gun debate framing invokes several narratives: in many ways it is a “Wild West mentality” versus an “educated and evolved elite” who eschew guns; “states’ rights” advocates versus those who see states as rather meaningless in the global age; red state versus blue state (a myth, as many Democrats own guns); rugged individualism (e.g. Ted Nugent) versus federal intervention; public health issue or a child safety issue (Beauchamp, 1976). We have many gun metaphors in our language: it is a loaded debate; framers wish to be on target; it triggers discussions (npr.org, March 19, 2013). Is a shooting a “massacre?” If the word “deranged” is employed enough to describe a gunman, how does that affect the framing? Is “tragedy” the same as “preventable tragedy?” Even “gun control” varies from “gun violence prevention” or “gun safety.” The former implies an overly intrusive government; the latter phrases frame guns in terms of education and health. Advocacy groups and politicians on both sides of the gun debate compete for language frames in the media. Language choices are carefully selected: no one wants to shoot from the hip.

Background check on framing Obama and guns  

At a San Francisco fundraiser in 2008, Obama observed that many small town Americans “cling to guns, religion, or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them” (Smith, Politico.com, April 11, 2008).  The quip became a meme, and started a tradition of framing Obama as anti-gun, anti-NRA, and out of touch with the gun culture elements of American society. A recent picture of him shooting skeet hardly dispelled this notion (Superville, “NRA scoffs at Obama skeet shooting photo,” Huffingtonpost.com, February 2, 2013).

Orbe and Urban (2011) fairly recently examined race and presidential politics for a special issue of Communication Studies. Since 2007, academics have examined Obama through “rhetorical, political, critical, and/or explicitly cultural perspectives” (p. 350). Powerful narratives emerged in America depicting Obama as anti-gun and un-American and that somehow to be “pro-gun” is to be “more” American. Carrington (2009), a sociologist, discussed how in 2008 there were strong links between anti-immigrant forces and pro-gun forces that often showed up at Obama rallies. Some of this was egged-on by Sarah Palin, whose remarks often painted Obama as not only anti-gun, but possibly a Muslim or a terrorist. Carrington was one of the first academics to openly voice fear an assassination.

Cafepress.com shows an array of 2012 fiercely anti-Obama Tea Party bumper sticker messages used last year, that link the myths of Obama as non-American with his stances on guns: “The Experts Agree Gun Control Works” (with images of a Nazi swastika, a Soviet sickle, and a Chinese red star); “Defend Your Constitution;” “Pro Life, Pro Guns, Anti-Obama,” “Don’t Blame Me: I Voted for the American;” “An Armed Society is a Polite Society;” and “Somewhere in Kenya, a Village is Missing its Idiot.” There is a clearly a thread of fierce chatter in America that regards Obama and his gun policies as simply “un-American.”

Background check on framing the NRA and gun rights in newspapers    

The idea that guns are as American as baseball, Chevy, and mom is entrenched deep in our nation’s psyche. See: Cramer, Armed America: The Story of How and Why Guns Became as American as Apple Pie, Nashville: Nelson Current (2006); and Bellesiles, Arming America: the Origins of a National Gun Culture, New York: Knopf, (2000). How are guns rights and the NRA framed in mainstream newspapers?

Downs (2002) specifically looked at the discourse of gun violence in the media. Gun violence is depicted as “a particularly divisive social” (p. 48). Many journalists, overexposed to stories about gun violence, often lack legal knowledge of other uses of guns such as collecting, hunting, practice shooting, and use for personal self-defense. To Downs, print news and editorials fall short of the adoption of a “cosmopolitan frame” and this silences conflicting frames often brought on by the owners of personal firearms (p. 48) A researcher cited (Patrick, (1999/2000) noted “few academic studies on the NRA” (p. 55) and that the NRA in the media often received negative monikers like “powerful gun lobby” and “most feared lobby” (p. 55).

Downs analyzed a corpus of 75,000 words, including articles, essays, editorials and letters to the editor. The rhetorician examined the use of presupposition, connotation, irony, and insinuation that might complicate the framing of gun owners. For example, the phrase “responsible gun owner” might be written, voiced, or perceived as a slur, as some gun stories are about children accidentally shooting themselves with their parents’ guns. This is particularly insightful, because irony or sarcasm is sometimes harder to spot in print than in video. Downs’ study reminds one to read carefully between the lines when it comes to analyzing gun framing.

Callaghan and Schnell (2001) looked specifically at media framing and the gun control debate in the 1990s, calling the gun control debate “an ideal public policy issue to examine the intricate dynamics of the issue framing process” (p. 185). They felt that the news media structured the overall tone of the gun debate and wanted to know to what degree the media played in shaping public opinion policy. In covering gun policy discourse, they see a triangulation between pressure and interest groups, politicians, and the media all jockeying for media consumers’ attention. As far back as 2001, they saw that “due to changes in the news business itself, journalists may now have more narrative license to mix facts and analysis and build story reports around their own interpretative themes” (p. 184). This ties in with Harnack (below) and has significance in the age of social media, blogging, and blatant agenda-setting.

Journalists and editors draw maps or internal story patterns for their readers, and these maps or frames “serve to structure public debates, influence readers’ level of information, and affect policy responsibility” (p. 187). Callaghan and Schnell identified important phrases used to frame the gun debate: the NRA and guns-rights groups use “states’ rights;” “guns don’t kill, people do; “will of the people;” “guns deter crime;” “political contest;” “feel-good laws;” “right to bear arms” and “individual liberty.” Curtailment of unfettered gun rights can be dubbed as coming from a “police state” or a “fascist state” (p. 191). Pro-gun control groups sometimes adopted identical lingo, particularly “will of the people” and “states’ rights.” However, they tend to employ the phrases “sensible legislation,” “culture of violence,” “right to safety,” and to frame guns as a public health problem (p. 199). They are far more likely to reference the CDC or NICP. The Callaghan and Schell report is an indispensable resource for determining key-word searches in analyzing gun framing.

Smidt (2012) closely examined the issue of gun control the year after Columbine. Smidt theorizes that news agenda-setting may be stronger for gun control than most any other American issue. He poses a basic question: does greater coverage mean greater influence? Shooting events at schools are considered to be a “prominent media storyline on guns and gun control” (p. 76) that can result in legislation, such as Clinton’s push for child safety locks on handguns. The study suggests that there may be a strong cultural link between the NRA and the GOP – even though many Democrats own guns, and many elected Democrats are strong advocate of Second Amendment rights (including Gabby Giffords).

The Facebook pages of newspapers

Mass media, in general, must be viewed in terms of agenda-setting (McCombs & Shaw, 1972). The agenda may come from politicians, special interest groups and lobbyists, corporations, or the media itself. Agendas engage media consumers. Harnack (2012) says that Facebook and other media platforms are logical extensions of engagement. An editor writing for editors, Harnack argues that “Facebook and other social media provide the best branding our [the newspaper] industry has had since the invention of the printing press” (p. 14). His main point is that newspapers should regard Facebook as a marketing tool. If this is the case, then the Facebook pages accessed in this study need to be analyzed for their market share value. Is it a liberal value? A young value? An anti-gun value?

The phrase “liberal media” is often heard from pundits, bloggers, Ann Coulter, and others. Is there any truth to the epithet? Kenix (2009), a senior lecturer in the Department of Media and Communication at the University of Canterbury, NZ, noted that there is a “social perception of liberalism” in the media (p. 94) and therefore studied 586 articles in major American newspapers and magazines from 1978 to 2002. The substantial study found that even though media workers tend to be more liberal, they actually treated liberalism more negatively than one would expect. If this is the case today, then content generated for Facebook may not be as liberal as popular lore deems. Newspapers may be hesitate to appear to be “pandering” to the Facebook audience – and beyond assumption and conjecture, it is quite difficult to pinpoint exactly what that audience is.

Baumgarten and Grauel (2009), examined the strengths and weaknesses of websites and newspapers for the analysis of political communication. They examined production bias (agenda-setting) and selection bias (uses and gratification). They found websites to be weak, rather than strong actors for political issues. In other words, a large headline on a physical newspaper – and a paper like the NYT uses very large print sparingly – may have more dramatic impact on users than websites, particularly since the endless amount of websites may collectively rend the medium less impactful and efficacious than some might believe. Broersma and Graham (2012) note that the newspaper industry is in crisis, with fewer employees, and fewer resources available for newsgathering and fact-checking. Their article “Social media as beat” focuses on Twitter, but nonetheless contains an important insight: journalists writing for social media do so as a “beat” (405). This view is helpful in understanding how news is uploaded for Facebook consumption, where users may “like” a posting, forward it, or comment on it.

Stepp (2006) observed two important trends while sizing up the newspaper industry: a merge toward merging print and online news, and a production of news 24 hours a day that did not exist in previous new eras. This influence likely came from cable television and other elements of 24-hour availability, such as fast-food chains and pharmacies (Ritzer, 2004). Stepp maintains that “whether it’s the Web, print, or handheld [devices], the future is giving people news when they want it and how they want it” (p. 52). If this be the case, then we live a U&G universe. The terse phrases of modern advertising – Gotta Have It; Just Do It; Go For It, I’m Lovin’ It – have permeated how news is electronically delivered, particularly for handheld devices.

Marchi (2012), writing on how teens access news, provides cogent insights into Generations Y and Z. Marchi cites two distinct models of citizenship that had been chartered by Bennett in 2008: the Dutiful Citizen and the Actualizing Citizen. The Dutiful Citizen feels an obligation to closely monitor the news and to vote, and may be associated with Baby Boomers and older Americans. In contrast, the Actualizing Citizen has a “diminished sense of government obligation” and a “mistrust of mainstream news media and politicians” (p. 247). The Actualizing Citizen may nonetheless be civically engaged through volunteering, social movement activism, and social networking sites; they are not “uninformed; just differently informed” (p. 248)  In the study, the three main sources of news for teenagers were trusted adults (e.g. teachers); blogs and social media; and late night acerbic comedians posing as anchors. Such findings support the notion that news content produced for Facebook is likely geared for a younger audience.

Greer and Yan (2011) first note that in 2010, the Internet surpassed print newspapers as a more popular source of news in the United States. By the end of 1995, more than 300 U.S. newspapers had some sort of online presence. In the study, 2004 is considered an important year because it was the founding of Facebook, which became available to the general public two years later. Newspapers turned to social media as “a relatively inexpensive way to connect with the lucrative tweens, teens, and young adult market” (p. 85). News for Facebook must certainly be regarded as a “beat” with a targeted and possibly younger audience.

Greer and Yan, it must be stressed, found that Facebook represented only a small percentage of total readership, even of the largest newspapers; newspapers overall were far more active on Twitter than Facebook. This is an important finding, because it strongly suggests that the content of Facebook is written for far fewer people than the actual newspaper, its online version, or its activity on Twitter. Facebook must be considered as a minor marketing technique to get users to click on hyperlinks and access other stories – but if Facebook users are going to only see those small frames, how will the stories nonetheless get framed?

Uses and gratification theory

Weiss (1976), reviewing Blumer and Katz (1974), posits that media users play an active role in choosing and using their media use, and are goal oriented in doing so. A media user seeks out a source that best fulfills his needs. This forms the basis for the “uses and gratification theory” or U&G. In other words, a media consumer may shop for information, and see what he or she wants to see. If that theory had currency prior to the explosions of the Internet and cable television, it surely has greater weight than ever before. Ruggiero’s year 2000 study of U&G provides an incisive understanding of the theory and poses the main question: why do people become involved in one particular type of mediated communication or another, and what gratifications do they receive from it? Ruggiero states that the Internet represents “the ultimate individualism” and is “a medium with the capability to empower the individual in terms of both the information he or she seeks and the information he or she creates” (p. 20).

Thus while this study is interested in three mainstream national newspapers, it cannot be forgotten that many Americans will have read or learned about SOTU through countless other sources, and that a devoted FOX News watcher likely isn’t frequently flipping to MSNBC – and vice-versa. The days of getting news from the Big Three or only a few newspaper choices are gone. Finding your favorite news source is more akin to shopping for the right fabric on Overstock.com or the best date on Match.com.

Content analysis

Content analysis of news involves counting of words employed in articles and making inferences based on the numbers. One classic definition of content analysis comes from Harvard University Professor Weber (1983): “Making inferences from a symbolic medium – usually a text – is the essence of content analysis.” (127) To Weber, “the usage of words in a text often indicates preoccupation with a particular theme or message” (p. 137). “A large portion of culture is represented in texts such as newspapers constitute an essential set of variables for the study of cultural dynamics; for example, changes in ideology or political agenda” (p. 127).

The content words I searched for were: State of the Union Address (or SOTU) and guns; Sandy Hook or Newton; school shooting; gun safety; gun control; gun violence and Obama (to weed out the California manhunt story); pro-gun; anti-gun; gun rights; Second Amendment rights; the National Rifle Association (or NRA); and gun lobby. (See Appendix B). For the terminology that is linked with pro-gun sentiment, I also looked into the online newspapers, believing that they may be more likely to put articles and commentary about the NRA or gun rights on the Web than in print. (I was right.)

Stylistic analysis

Ruffner (1981) created a classic rubric for assessing journalist writing. Factors include: (1) Productivity, the total number of words in an article; (2) average sentence length (calculated by dividing the total number of words by the number of sentences); (3) lexical diversity (the total number of different words used in an article); (4) redundancy (looking at repetition in articles, prepositions, and conjunctions); (5) pausality (looking at internal punctuation, and that its overuse might be indicative of sensationalism); (6) emotiveness, examining the total number of adjectives, adverbs, nouns and verbs in an article, and their relationships with one another; and (7) The Gunning Readability Formula (GRF), an equation which mathematically looks at words, long words of three syllables or more, and sentence length to create a readability quotient. See:  http://www.uri.edu/artsci/com/Logan/teaching/html/wrt533/fog.htm.

To fully analyze all of the articles, op-ed pieces, and editorials applying this formula, particularly the GRF, would take more time, mathematical calculations and computer power than I had at my disposal. Nonetheless, the rubric is helpful even in making anecdotal observations, particularly when looking for emotionally charged language, slurs, idioms, and sensationalism – that would be less likely to be found in a news article, but perhaps could easily appear in commentary.

Purpose and methodology of the study

American interest in gun laws is very high and news consumers tend to follow the issue very closely (pewresearch.org, http://www.people-press.org/2013/01/22/mixed-reactions-to-obamas-gun-proposals/). I was interested in this topic because I am a former teacher, and school shootings is a common and serious topic in teacher lunchrooms. It is a topic that affects all of us – not just schools but mayors, police forces, gun owners, and a large gun industry – which provides many jobs. It spawns advocacy groups on both sides. I strove for detached objectivity in examining the written material of the newspapers and websites much as I had trained to do as an English teacher assessing student essays whether I agreed with their positions or not.

I first closely read each newspaper’s February 12, 13, and 14editions, digesting articles, essays, and editorials that pertained to SOTU’s references to guns. I used ProQuest and LexisNexis Academic to search for key terms. On a case by case basis, I looked at articles stylistically, to see if they covered both sides, and for what language was used to frame guns.

The Facebook part of the study came second, and is written about as a shorter, separate piece.

The research questions:

RQ1: Which newspaper (and their Facebook pages) focused most on SOTU’s references to guns and could this be viewed as agenda-setting?

This is an agenda-setting question, and I did not believe SOTU would receive equal amounts of attention in all three national newspapers. I predicted that the order of coverage, particularly about gun control, would squarely be NYT, USAT, and WSJ.

RQ2: How were the NRA or pro-gun enthusiasts framed in print or on Facebook?

For RQ2, I relied primarily on Downs’ study about gun reporting – that even “pro-gun” references might contain veiled innuendoes, irony, connotation, presupposition or sarcasm. I used both a content analysis (counting how many times the NRA or positive references to guns was mentioned) and a close reading to see whether simply mentioning pro-gun forces was neutral or could be interpreted to have some of these weighted meanings. I hypothesized that the NYT would frame gun rights in the least positive light, the WSJ in the most positive light, and USAT would strive for the most neutrality on the issue.

RQ3: How was Obama framed in his quest to increase gun control legislation?

As noted in the preliminary material, Obama has a history of being painted as “anti-gun.” Things that Obama says about guns have a way of becoming distorted (e.g. “he’s going to take our guns away,” just as the healthcare debate somehow became “death panels for grandma.”). I wanted to check for any of this traditional anti-Obama lingo, certainly not in professionally edited articles, but perhaps in op-ed pieces and editorials.

I. The New York Times

The NYT is popularly painted as “liberal” and often part of that household phrase “the liberal media.” It has in fact endorsed a Democrat for president since 1956, when it went with Eisenhower. Irvine, reporting in aim.org on April 23, 2012, revealed that the NYT’s public editor, Arthur Brisbane, admitted to the newspaper’s “pro-Obama bias.” While news articles in NYT likely get very carefully edited to eliminate bias, the editorials and op-ed writers are a different species that might lend credence to stereotypes about the Times. The bias may permeate the gestalt of how the NYT presents and frames news.

On February 12 in the NYT national section, a long article of 898 words concerns the night’s speech (A18). It is primarily a review of SOTUs in the 20th century, and how the word “strong” gets frequent use. There is no mention of guns, but the length of the article suggests Dutiful Citizen agenda-setting: a desire to cue readers to tune in that evening. Several Times op-ed columnists on February 12 were ready for the speech. David Brooks wrote about voting and only mentions guns once, in stating that “Obama’s support would help on gun control” (p. A30). Joe Nocera used the film “Die Hard” to write about guns. In addressing the Newtown killings, he says that “on one side are those who believe we can cut down on gun violence, by, among other things, banning the assault weapons that always seem to be used in mass shootings.” He calls the other side, however, “Second Amendment absolutists,” (A30) which may be certainly be regarded as a framing slur. Here, gun rights advocates are unreasonable and rigid; out of touch.

The February 13 edition contained 10 news articles, two op-ed columns, and one editorial that concern the speech. The front page includes a large photograph of Obama during SOTU, hand raised in an impassioned moment; nearby is a picture of Carolyn Murray, a grieving Evanston, IL woman whose son was shot to death. Agenda-setting or coincidence? It’s hard to tell. The front page’s lead story is a hefty 1,482 word article, “Obama vows push to life economy for middle class” (A1). The 7th paragraph mentioned gun violence and that Obama delivered “an emotional appeal.” Rhetoric professors often stress to end an essay with dramatic impact. The last two paragraphs of the article were about the role of gun violence and victims in SOTU. The penultimate paragraph begins “Children loomed large Tuesday night,” which creates an emotional appeal that may be viewed to be sympathetic to the gun safety movement, and mention the parents of Hadiya Pendleton by name. The article ends simply by quoting Obama: “She loved Fig Newtons and lip gloss. She was a majorette. She was so good to her friends, they all thought they were her best friend.” By emphasizing the loss of a teen, the article frames gun control not as a “political theory” but in terms of a very palpable and heartfelt human tragedy.

On February 13, the NYT’s “GOP puts on a calmer face, except for one wild-eyed rocker” (A19) is about Ted Nugent’s presence at SOTU and is contains some anti-gun framing rhetoric. Nugent is a “gun-rights brawler.” Brawl is a term we associate with Wild West saloons. On the other hand, other guests are “the victims of gun violence and family members still grieving for lost loved ones.” Back to Nugent: “a saber-toothed tiger invited to a garden party.” The article frames Nugent as part of chaos and lack of civilization. An animal.

On the op-ed page, Maureen Dowd’s “The Rap on Rubio,” concerns the GOP response more than SOTU itself, but does reference guns. Dowd takes a swipe at the GOP’s use of the phrase “guns don’t kill people; it’s a culture glorifying guns and violence that kills people” (A27). She frames the GOP as out to lunch. One expert on gun control, Jon Vernick, the co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, is cited on page A4, but the article is about Mexican gun violence, not American. That he is the authority figure – not an NRA spokesman – links the Times to academia, lending credence to the story. The fact that a 1,228 word article about gun control in Mexico exists, however, reinforces a hypotheses of civilization agenda-setting. It might be “warning” us about slipping into a lawless society. Little is left on February 14 beyond passing references. Gun control was yesterday’s news.

Between February 12 and February 14 exactly two editorials dovetailing guns and Obama exist in the NYT. On February 13, the section of SOTU that references guns is called “the most emotional moment of the night, drawing sustaining cheers” (A26). The National Rifle Association was mentioned in only two articles during this three day period. Whereas a Johns Hopkins professor was cited in an article about Mexico’s gun laws, in an article about retiring Senator Frank Lautenberg, the gun authority the Times turns to is Scott Bach, Executive Director of the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs. Which expert seems more educated, and more trustworthy?

The corpus of the NYT on SOTU, gun control, gun violence, and the NRA – for at least these three days – feels fairly much in favor of stricter gun control. It ridicules Ted Nugent, mourns the losses of gun violence victims, champions gun control, and paints America as a culture of violence on the verge of becoming a lawless Mexico. Gun violence is framed as a national embarrassment; an ugly, uncivilized cancer that must be stopped. Duck and deer hunters, target practice shooters, gun collectors, responsible gun owners, and the lives that guns save do not receive any attention.

An agenda was set.

II. USA Today

            USA Today, “America’s Newspaper,” established in 1982 by Gannett, is the widest circulated newspaper in the United States. The paper’s large headlines, shorter paragraphs, colorful charts and weather maps, and color-coded, easy to read sections of News, Money, Sports, and Life are iconic elements in American society today. Whether it is as “prestigious” or “scholarly” as the NYT, WSJ, Washington Post, Slate, Salon, Politico or Huffington Post is debatable. It is certainly popular though, and a force to be reckoned with – and analyzed.

USA Today began planting seeds in readers’ minds on at least February 12. The first, “Will he hit it out of the park tonight?” mentions gun control only once, at the end of the article (2A). The other article, “Six speeches that made a statement – and still do” is about SOTU “greatest hits” through the centuries (p. 6A). The two articles may be viewed as a desire on the newspaper’s part to encourage readers to tune in – which may be called agenda-setting – though nothing suggest an agenda beyond becoming more of an informed citizen.

On page 8A, however, Dewayne Wickham’s column “Gun violence growing threat to young blacks – Nation can no longer ignore the carnage” can only be described as agenda-setting; the header alone contains a moral imperative. The essay references the Pendletons, who would sit next to Michelle Obama; Trayvon Martin’s death; and refers to the killing of young blacks as “an American pandemic” – fairly powerful language that pits guns as a health issue. Gun violence is referred to as a “slaughter,” and the NRA is referenced thus:

“It [the slaughter] is inextricably tied to the members of Congress who kowtow to the  National Rifle Association even as                the epidemic of school shootings proves that  there is no haven for any of our children from the unchecked gun violence.”

This piece was easily the most passionate polemic penned during the three days by any essayist.

The February 13 front page article on SOTU, “Obama’s goal: Reignite true engine of America – minimum, gun laws top agenda” demonstrates that the USAT editors regarded gun control as a major aspect of the speech whereas WSJ headlines omitted guns. The article’s main sentence about guns and SOTU reads that Obama “called on lawmakers to vote on even the most divisive aspects of his plan to overhaul gun laws” (A1). The framing is about civilizing the debate through law.

A February 13 article on page A6 noted that the last time guns were mentioned in a SOTU was 2000 – after Columbine. Victims’ families plead for ‘safer’ gun legislation” appears on page A7. It provides an in-depth discussion of the gun protest on Capitol Hill that took place the morning of SOTU. There are many quotes from victims of gun violence, and those who lost loved ones. The articles makes references to Virginia Tech twice, and interviews the Pendletons. The article references Mayors Against Illegal Guns – but does not reference the NRA. Thus the article must be viewed as promoting the cause of gun control as a civics or civil rights issue.

Editorials, by their very nature, provide greater windows into a newspaper’s views than articles can. The day after the speech, USAT produced a 562 word reflection on SOTU that references guns only twice, but the phrase “gun violence is a blight on America” (10A) indicates at least some agenda-setting on the editorial staff’s part. “Blight” is part of the “cancer” framing of gun violence. The February 14 issue has only a passing reference to gun control.

The only article in USAT during this three day period that references the NRA is Wickham’s February 12 anti-gun essay. “High drama over ex-cop plays out in gunbattle and flames,” (1A) makes several references to Newtown and Gabrielle Giffords. The article begins “Just as President Obama was preparing to put gun violence squarely in the national political agenda with his address to Congress” – and then proceeds to detail the manhunt in California. Commentary is injected about 10 paragraphs down:

A string of mass murders, including the slaying of 20 elementary school children and six adults at Sandy Hook school in Newton, Conn., helped elevate the issue of placing  controls on guns – long anathema to gun-rights advocates – in the national conversation   and political debate.

Here seems to be an example of emotional agenda-setting. The term “slaying” when applied to the children feels particularly emotionally charged. Overall, while USAT did not generate nearly as many words about SOTU as the NYT did (and cannot be expected to, given the convenient size of the newspaper), the three day news cycle may be viewed as sympathetic to gun control advocacy.

III. The Wall Street Journal

            There are few newspapers in the country that have the history, prestige, name recognition, and gravitas of the WSJ. Its readership is vast. Yet a search for articles that include “State of the Union” and “guns” for the February 12, 2013 WSJ reveals only one. Thus gun issues can’t possibly be viewed to be as important to the WSJ as it was to the NYT or USAT on the date of the scheduled speech. On February 12, the commentary “Economic anxiety shadows speech,” by Gerald Seib, occurs on page A4. “Gun control” is merely a lone passing reference.  The SOTU is framed in other articles for its impending economic discussion.

The February 13, 2013 WSJ featured a picture of Obama on the front cover before his SOTU. The article was headed “Obama Turns Focus to Boosting Economy in SOTU.” Guns are simply not mentioned on page 1. In the iconic bifurcated “What’s News” column (Business and Finance on the left; Word-Wide on the right; a faint, off-yellow background) SOTU is the head summary article on the right – but does not mention guns. While we can’t conclude much from page 1, we might be able to surmise that the WSJ was not setting any agenda on guns.

The print article about SOTU finishes on page 4. Here we find two pictures – of Senator Rand Paul, the Tea Party candidates who would give a rebuttal, and the bottom picture is of Marco Rubio, who delivered the GOP’s response. This seemed relatively balanced – but no mention of the gun debate. In the first column on page 4, in a speech from a twice-elected Democratic president, the word “Republicans” came up 4 times; the term GOP once, and the term Tea Party also once. “Democrats” did not surface. The slant toward the GOP was palpable.

The WSJ’s February 13 Eastern Edition editorial, which concludes “his grand liberal plans will vanish faster than he imagines,” is openly opposed (if not hostile) to the plans outlined in the SOTU. An array of issues are covered – schools, climate change, economic growth – but guns do not appear once in this reaction. If making gun violence in mid-February was an important mission to national newspapers editors – the mission was not shared by WSJ editors.

The February 14 WSJ’s “What’s News” World-Wide column led with a briefing of SOTU, but the paragraph did not mention of guns. The phrase “State of the Union Address” does appear frequently in the February 14 edition, but only two articles address both SOTU and guns – and one of them is penned by none other than Karl Rove (A17). The commentary piece predictably derides the SOTU, with language like “gushing of liberal supporters.” Gun violence receives a stray passing reference. The other articles that day are about Obama’s economic plans.

An article on A21, “To fight guns, groups model gun owners” was submitted from Newtown. A number of experts are cited: Senator Martin Looney, co-chairman of the anti-gun violence legislative task force; Nancy Lefkowitz, co-founder of the gun control advocacy group March for Change; Scott Wilson, president of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League (which opposes new gun laws); and Lawrence Keane, senior vice president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation. Of all the articles I read, this one seemed to be the only way to go out of its way to quote members on both sides of the fence. De Avila’s piece struck me as perhaps the best example of balanced journalism published over the three day period.

The three newspapers’ Facebook pages

            Newspaper Facebook frames must not be viewed as akin to the depth of actual Web newspaper presence. They are “hooks.” The USAT Facebook page of February 12 asks its readers “What do you think the president will say tonight?” It is a rather simple question that almost sounds like “What do you think mom will make for dinner tonight?” It generated a mere 92 “likes.” Anyone “up” on the news – through dailies, talk shows, NPR, the blogosphere, online newspapers – might find the question slightly amusing. The page provides a hyperlink to the ghosts of SOTUs past – suggesting a need to educate the American public. The February 13 page contains a link to a video of the SOTU, and an article. A good seven of the paragraphs in this online article are about guns. They are usually three lines long, for example:

In perhaps the most dramatic moment of the hour-long speech, Obama called on  Congress to vote on gun-control proposals in order to honor “Americans whose lives  have been torn apart” by mass violence. “They deserve a vote,” Obama said.

The language seems well within reach of a 7th or 8th grader, and the paragraphs provide visual ease of digestion. At the end of the article, there was an easy to click on menu with recent results from a Gallup poll. If you clicked on “gun laws,” a large, easy to read pie chart pops up:

Fig. 1: USAT Facebook chart (chart does not replicate itself in WordPress).

The question is whether you would support your congressman in Obama’s stricter gun laws. In this pie chart, a small sliver is neutral or undecided, and 53% would favor stronger gun controls. What I think is interesting about the chart is the use of colors: it does not divide the nation into “red state/blue state” on the issue of guns. It may be subtly setting an agenda in that most of its colors are blue – something we tend to associate with Democrats and liberalism – or it may simply be that a blue circle is something we associate as a logo of USAT.

The WSJ’s February 12 Facebook page led with a color picture of Obama at the podium, and the small box quoted only text from SOTU concerning guns – in contrast to its print edition.  The article received 546 “likes,” but inferences about “likes” are hard to prove. Since the February 13 print edition of the Journal seemed to downplay the SOTU, or emphasize the GOP reaction to it, the highlighting of it on Facebook suggests that the WSJ was potentially courting a new or different audience. Reading too deeply into a day’s worth of news that is probably hastily pieced together by low-level workers strikes me as a mistake of scholarship.

Of the captions on the NYT’s Facebook pages, February 12-14, only two boxes are about SOTU: both on February 12. One is a large, colorful picture of an impassioned Obama speaking at the podium. This caption has 2,045 “likes,” and while a small number in comparison to the number of actual NYT or NYT.com readers, represents a tidal wave of a shift from USAT or WSJ Facebook “likes.” The boxes provide links to a live blog on NYT.com, the complete text of the speech, and the Republican response. I nibbled at the live blog. Doing so led me to troves of comments by a vast army of NYT bloggers and tweeters.  A Facebook hyperlink is bait.

Concluding discussion

            Examining three newspapers (and their Facebook pages) over a three day period does not “prove” anything meaty; it provides an appetizer. The study is anecdotal, not hard social science, but nonetheless revealed important trends. As for RQ1, neither USAT nor WSJ could match the NYT for breadth and depth of coverage of SOTU or addressing its gun control agenda (nor do they likely have the sheer number of reporters.) The WSJ had six editorials during the three day period, and not a single one even mentioned guns. The Times seemed to be openly keeping the issue a national discussion as an agenda-setting goal about gun control and safety – not gun rights. USAT participated in the discussion and seemed to agree with NYT, but not as vehemently. As for RQ2, as Downs predicted, the NRA and other gun rights positions were by and large marginalized, though Ted Nugent’s presence at SOTU was news in all three publications, derided the most by the NYT. As for RQ3, I found no vilification of Obama on guns; mostly just criticism of his economic policies in the WSJ. The Facebook frames of the three newspapers were “interesting” more than “conclusive” in any way; Twitter would have probably led to more findings and a livelier discussion. The inquiry invites further study into gun framing in other news media sources and over a longer period of time – particularly when a major shooting tragedy is not on the minds of media consumers. In general, USAT was the most neutral, and stereotypes about the NYT as “pro Obama” and “pro-gun control” and the WSJ as “anti-Obama” seemed fairly apt.

And I gave all three newspapers a fair shot.

  References

Baumgarten, B. & Grauel, J. (2009). The theoretical potential of websites and newspaper data for  analyzing political communication processes. Historical Social Research. [Abstract]  34(1), 94-121. Accessed from Communication and Mass Media Complete April 4, 2013.

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Botta, R. & O. (1993). Does shorter mean easier to understand? A study of   comprehension  of  USA Today information stories. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the  Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, Kansas, August 11-14, 1993. Retrieved from ERIC April 6, 2013.

Broersma, M., and Graham, T. (2012). Social media as beat. Journalism Practice, 6(3), 403- 409. Retrieved at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17512786.2012.663626

Callagan, K. & Schnell, F. (2001). Assessing the democratic debate: How the news media frame elite policy discourse. Political Communication, 18(2), 183-212.  doi:10.1080/105846001750322970

Carrington, B. (2009). Fear of a black president. Soundings (13626620), (43), 114-124.  Retrieved from Academic Search Premier March 30, 2013.

Cox, J.L. (2012). Politics in motion: Barack Obama’s use of movement metaphors. American Communication Journal, 14(2), 1-13. Retrieved from Communication and Mass Media  Complete March 26, 2013.

Downs, D. (2002). Representing gun owners: Frame identification as social responsibility    in news media discourse. Written Communication, 19(1), 44-76. Article e-mailed as PDF  from the professor March 30, 2013.

Entman, R.M. (1993). Putting the First Amendment in its place: Enhancing American democracy through the press. University of Chicago Legal Forum, 1993, 361-382. Retrieved from Index to Legal Periodicals & Books Full Text April 4, 2013.

Greer, J. B. & Yan, Y. (2011). Newspapers connect with readers through multiple digital  tools. Newspaper Research Journal, 32(4), 83-97. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier, March 24, 2013.

Harnack, R. (2012). Social media will provide a return on investment. Grassroots Editor, 53(1), 14-16. Retrieved from Communications and Mass Media Complete March 27, 2013.

Kenix, L. (2009). A historical framing analysis of liberalism in American print media, 1978-    2002. Southwestern Mass Communication Journal, 25(1), 81-97. Retrieved from Communication & Mass Media Complete, April 3, 2013.

Marchi, R. (2012). With Facebook, blogs, and fake news, teens reject journalistic “objectivity.” Journal of Communication Inquiry. 36(3), 246-262. doi: 10.1177/0196859912458700

McCombs, M. E., & Shaw, D. L. (1972). The agenda-setting function of mass media. Public   Opinion Quarterly, 36(2), 176-187. Retrieved from Mass Media and Communications Complete March 28, 2013.

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Peake, J.S., & Eshbaugh-Soha, M. (2008). The agenda-setting impact of major presidential TV  addresses. Political Communication, 25(2), 113-137. doi:10.1080/10584600701641490

Rebillard, F., & Touboul, A. (2010). Promises unfulfilled? ‘Journalism 2.0’, user participation  and editorial policy on newspaper websites. Media, Culture & Society, 32(2), 323-334.   doi:10.1177/0163443709356142

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Weeks, B., & Southwell, B. (2010). The symbiosis of news coverage and aggregate online    search behavior: Obama, rumors, and presidential politics. Mass Communication &  Society, 13(4), 341-360. doi:10.1080/15205430903470532

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END POSTED ARTICLE; APPENDICES OMITTED

Analysis of Shakespeare Sonnet #87

shakespeare

The Sonnet:

Farewell! thou art too dear for my possessing,
And like enough thou know’st thy estimate:
The charter of thy worth gives thee releasing;
My bonds in thee are all determinate.
For how do I hold thee but by thy granting?
And for that riches where is my deserving?
The cause of this fair gift in me is wanting,
And so my patent back again is swerving.

 Thyself thou gavest, thy own worth then not knowing,
 Or me, to whom thou gavest it, else mistaking;
 So thy great gift, upon misprision growing,
Comes home again, on better judgment making.
Thus have I had thee, as a dream doth flatter,
In sleep a king, but waking no such matter.

My analysis that I used as teaching material – how to closely critique a poem:

engj

Mr. Ries

Shakespeare Elective

Breaking Up is Expensive to Do:

An Exegesis of Shakespeare Sonnet 87

In his plays and poems, the Bard fails not to explore all aspects of love – including rejection. Sonnet 87 is a testimony of breaking up, not because of relationship issues, not due to external forces (such as an affair), but because on some social scale in the poet’s eye, the woman is higher up. Yet the sonnet is deliberately ambiguous. As is characteristic of Shakespeare’s writing, a close reading reveals that we can’t tell if he is talking about a too-expensive call girl, or the love of his life. Perhaps on some level to a genius it is both.  In either case, in the rich language of Shakespeare’s poetry, financial and sexual images mingle once again while a host of other literary tools reinforce the theme of letting go of a lover that is out of your league.

There is no guessing what this sonnet is about based on the first word. “Farewell!” (1) presents a rather stark, seldom-used caesura which immediately engenders a sense of finality. Immediately on its heels, “thou art too dear for my possessing” (ibid.) commences classic Shakespearean wordplay which will be utilized throughout the sonnet, as “dear” can mean “expensive” and “possessing” has connotations of both ownership and sexual triumph. Thus it is unclear to us if he has paid for her affections with his wallet or with his heart. “Possessing” also begins a tone of employing progressive tense “ing” words to end most lines of the body of the sonnet, (ten out of twelve lines, surely not an accident) which reinforces senses of movement and currency.  These “ing” words are “in the present.” They evoke emotion.

The rest of the first quatrain emphasizes these linguistic somersaults.  “Estimate” (2), “charter,” (3), “worth” (ibid.) and “bonds” (4) clearly further the theme of preciousness (for money seems to be the lingua franca of the English speaking peoples, if not all peoples) and “releasing” (3) can mean release from a debt or obligation just as easily as it can mean release from a hug or embrace. “Determinate” (4) ends the first quatrain and two things make sense: that the word itself means “finish,” and it is followed by an end-stop.  While the poem “seems” to ask many questions of self-doubt about one’s worth, there is in fact only one question mark used by the sonneteer, and it is found in the second quatrain. First, line five perpetuates the sexual/financial blurred imagery, as “hold thee” underscores the whole ownership theme, and “granting” connotes a grant – a financial gift. From this “gift,” (7) which he calls “riches” (6), he questions “where is my deserving?” (ibid). To indicate that he, the poet, is simply not worth the woman, he asserts in line 7 that “the cause of this fair gift is wanting” (lacking on his part). The quatrain ends with more imagery of ownership with “patent” (8) and ambiguous language, as “back” (ibid). can mean remembering back or his own back that he must now remove from his lady.

That this unnamed lady gave something is clear: she gives herself (“thyself thou gav’st”) (9). Did she give just her body or her heart or both?  Certainly Shakespeare makes the gift important enough to alliterate it – he refers to it as a “great gift” (L.11) which has simply been “misprisioned” (ibid) in the wrong man. The great gift returns to the woman in both a potentially erotic way (“comes home again”) and a legal way (“upon better judgement making”) (12). Ambiguity strikes yet again in the couplet, as “had thee” (13) ties into the theme of possession, yet we all know that to “have” someone has a secondary meaning.

The simile utilized in the penultimate line is interesting, because the image created lacks clarity: we don’t know if the poet felt like a king in general in a dream, was actually with the woman in a bed, or felt like a king with the woman in life or sleep. Such imagery without definite borders is part of Shakespeare’s genius. Whatever the case may be, the “er” endings of the couplet, juxtaposed against the general trend of “ing” endings – indicates that the relationship, be it imagined, real, illegal, or otherwise – is unambiguously over.

Short Academy Essay on Interdisciplinary Studies

multi gentium fontplagues and people

Richard Ries

Interdisciplinary Studies 6126

Professor Dwight Kiel

23 February 2013

Multidisciplinary vs. Interdisciplinary: A Look at Plagues and People

            Every now and then, topics and terms in academia become hot. Modernism gave way to postmodernism; criticism conceded to New Criticism. Even globalization spawned glocalization. Two current trends in the Academy are multidisciplinary studies and interdisciplinary studies, the latter of which might be considered the logical solution to the “double major.” Once perhaps frowned upon, seen as a subset of sociology or even scoffed, the Age of Information has provided interdisciplinary studies with legitimacy, as new generations of students and scholars have grown to bridge disciplines previously deemed unbridgeable or found parallels or trends that drudging research before computers would not permit. The monikers “multidisciplinary” and “interdisciplinary” are related, but not interchangeable. The best way to understand how they differ is through one metaphor we can all understand: food.

Multidisciplinary studies may be likened to an Easter Sunday brunch. It might commence with a blessing (theology). The buffet will probably be designed for maximum flow (engineering). The menu might be pleasing to the eye (English, art). The hotel ballroom might be beautiful (architecture, interior design). There might be a carving station of lamb and roast beef (philosophy, math), a salad bar (botany, biology, agriculture), a pasta station (European studies), a wok (Asian studies), fajitas to order (Latin American studies), omelets to order (zoology), a coffee bar (commerce and world trade), a dessert bar (French studies) and likely a carefully placed federal warning to avoid eating undercooked meats (public health). Diners are free to make as many connections of the disciplines during the repast as they choose. But they might also be content to just hear Grace or dine on bread alone.

Interdisciplinary studies is the true fusion cuisine. The Cooking Channel’s Chopped provides the best metaphor available for interdisciplinary studies. Master chefs in Chopped are given a handful of seemingly unconnected foods and flavors (usually four) and told to prepare something innovative (usually in 20 or 30 minutes; the clock is lapsed for the show). The competing chefs open a basket, and might find ostrich breast, bok choy, matzo balls, and Raisinettes. Or they might peer into the basket and discover they must work with pancetta, garbanzo beans, Froot Loops, and bock beer. Most of us would spend our 20 minutes scratching our heads, fumbling around for what to do, make excuses, and come up either empty handed or just put the ingredients on a plate in their discrete forms.

The winning master chef, however, rises to the occasion, sees a challenge, and spots interdisciplinary connections where no one else had seen them before. One chef might create a braised ostrich taco, with shredded bok choy and a Raisinette mole sauce – and turn the matzo balls into a side dish of risotto of sorts with added hints of basil and hot peppers for flavor. Another chef might stir fry pancetta in garlic and beer, and serve chunks of it over boiled beans – and a grind down the Froot Loops for a colorful display that also balances the salt of the Old World meat with some sugar of the New. The interdisciplinarian fuses disparate victuals with élan, and heeds T.S. Eliot’s directive to other budding artists: make it new.

A paragon of interdisciplinary work is William H. McNeill’s monumental Plagues and People. While the mid-70’s work is today somewhat dated (we hunger for chapters on AIDS and SARS; global warming; swarms of killer bees; chronic diseases like obesity as epidemics; non-indigenous snakes and species in Florida; bio-terrorism; and more) the text may be viewed as both synthesis and symphony. History, religion, epidemiology, geography, trade, evolution, civilization, genetics, medicine and far more are all intricately woven together to create an innovative and cogent world view.

McNeill allows us to make connections. He merges data before the phrase was vogue. We learn to view “macroparisitism as civilization” (96) and understand that we co-evolved with animals and pests alike. McNeill posits that “If human numbers increase, the rate of infection also increases.” (23) Though we had always heard of ancient Egyptian physicians, Chinese herbalists, and apothecaries in Romeo and Juliet, we learn that modern medicine practice did not begin to make large-scale difference in life until about 1850. (240) Insights like “most probably all of the distinctive infectious diseases of civilization transferred to human populations from animal herds” (51) are ones to consider when hearing reports of Mad Cow Disease or whence Legionnaire’s Disease. The ancient holy rivers of Hinduism that spread disease in antiquity find their equivalence in the gay bath houses of New York and San Francisco in the 1980s that were eventually shut down as public health problems. In McNeill’s world view, Christianity may have spread in no small part because its teaching stressed healing and care for the sick. “The effect of disastrous epidemic…was to strengthen Christian churches at a time when most other institutions were being discredited.”  (71) As McNeill makes us aware that no less than smallpox was used to reduce Australia’s famous burgeoning rabbit problem (57) we pause to wonder what Al Qaeda might do with a dirty bomb – and question how prepared the CDC and the CIA really are.

Plagues and People deserves a facelift and an upgrade, and the best way for that to happen would be for the president to create a commission and appoint the best scholars available to make recommendations on how to do so and what to include. We have seen other presidential academic commissions come to fruition, as in the Reagan administration’s A Nation at Risk (1983) created to address our education ills and woes. There is precedent. (And if not the President of the United States, then the Secretary of the United Nations, to commission international scholars and scientists and officials at WHO). With an updated edition, Plagues and Peoples could be seminal, required reading for students of medical and agricultural schools; anyone whose business involves international trade; trainees of agencies like the FBI, the bureau of ATF or the Border Patrol; response teams to catastrophes like Katrina; Peace Corps volunteers; and all those whose life’s work and research furthers our understanding and improvement of this tiny interconnected world we share. There may be no nobler goal than the eradication of the diseases that plague us, but only a global populace that can connect enough interdisciplinary dots will be educated enough to work in tandem to do so.

It takes an interdisciplinary village.

Policy Recommendations on Smoking Ban

pegasus

Filed with the Committee for a Smoke Free Campus

Recommendations for a Better Smoke Free Policy at UCF

Richard A. Ries, Graduate Studies

24 February 2013

            UCF made a reasoned, noble, important decision last year to make the nation’s second largest campus smoke free and join a list of over 500 campuses nationwide that have gone smoke free. The campaign, “Catch Your Breath UCF,” has been well communicated through signs and e-mail reminders.  Smoke cessation programs are available on campus, though their attendance might be low.

Despite its good intentions, the policy has failed, and may have even created a backlash of “protest” smokers. The ban can only be said to be flouted. The bulk of the UCF citizenry – students, faculty and staff – are nonsmokers. But a sizeable minority of students continues to smoke, and flout the policy on a daily basis, particularly in key areas such as in front of the library and near other buildings that had former “smoke zones.” People continue to light up socially, and while walking across lawns in between classes or on the way to parking garages. This population includes first time smokers, tobacco addicts, students smoking to exercise what they consider to be civil disobedience or simple coolness, and an array of international students who come from nations and cultures where smoking is far more widespread, and bans are not in place. The idealism that goes into the ban – that fellow students will gently ask smokers to refrain from lighting up – does not exist in the real world of social awkwardness, fear of “narcing” on a student, and a general belief that one has a “right” to smoke outdoors, on campus or not. To date, while I have seen a number of smoking infractions, I have never seen anyone kindly ask someone else to extinguish their cigarette.

The policy needs improvement, and it needs to become part of the Honor Code. The smoke free policy first of all needs star power endorsement. The ban is probably associated first with President Hitt (as if he personally imposed the policy by fiat) and second with simply a “faceless bureaucracy” that large campuses like UCF become known for. Both of these ingrained concepts might render smoking – particularly for the rebellious or cool smoker – even more desirable. A good campaign needs some stars to donate their services as they do for the American Library Association’s reading campaign (posters of David Bowie reading) or American Dairy Farmers (a diverse body of celebrities with milk mustaches). We need Shaq involved, and for our media offices to contact other stars like Miss Florida to see if they will lend their name to posters or videos. Celebrity sells. It would be helpful if both U.S. senators taped a message too. Senator Rubio has a good sense of humor and might even be persuaded to spoof his own water sip moment following the last State of the Union Address.

The second step the university must take is to make a lengthy and serious student video about the policy – akin to the sexual harassment videos – and make sure students verify that they have seen the video by taking and passing an online test before their WebCourse accounts can be activated. After passing the test about the policy, UCF should require all students, each semester on MyUCF, to sign an electronic agreement with an electronic signature:

“I understand that the University of Central Florida is a smoke free environment. By signing my name, I agree that I shall personally abide by the campus policy.  At no time shall I smoke any products while on the premises, nor shall I aid or abet others in smoking. I understand that the smoking policy is an integral part of the UCF drug policy, Honor Code and Code of Ethics. I understand that smoking on campus violates the Honor Code, and that violations of the policy may come with consequences, including, but not limited to, financial fines and loss of campus privileges.”

The second step, of course, will be to enforce the policy, and that will require at least a few patrols (perhaps volunteers) to police the campus, particularly in areas where the policy is frequently flaunted, such as right in front of the Hitt Library. While enforcement of the policy may only need to be in play for a limited time – say for a three year trial period (and will be subject to derision) the policy as it stands is equally subject to derision.

The offender’s name needs to be taken on an official ticket, and he or she must be sent a fine or can pay on the spot with a credit card or UCF ID. Unpaid fines after 30 days should result in freezes on library cards and releases of transcripts – and it should be communicated that smoking fine violations will become part of a student’s permanent record that go to perspective employers and other academic institutions. The first infraction should be $25, the second a heftier $50, and a third violation within an academic year should generate 20 hours of community service and an appearance before a joint student and faculty committee.

A student led smoke police squad – perhaps with a catchy name like Knights Against Lights – would be trained to first politely ask the offender to put out their cigarette, and only after a refusal issue the ticket. At no time should an incident result in a serious confrontation; if smokers adamantly refuse to comply, they should at the very least be reminded that they have put their name to an Honor Code. Students who sign up to donate time to Knights Against Lights could receive incentives.

Signing one’s name to an agreement is a powerful psychology and invaluable life lesson about ethics and the sense of self. Most rational people – including young people – take their signature very seriously. The reliance on voluntary adherence to the policy, without consequences or personal involvement via an electronic signature, will not come to implementation in the foreseeable future. Though no policy can be full proof, the electronic signature may greatly improve the chances of success for a smoking ban that has proven to neither work nor be enforced. The other recommendations for the ban will hopefully help the campus make the policy work better next academic year.

Prep Law: Education Tutorial

6296 Tutorial

This link must be clicked and downloaded. This tutorial, on giving teachers some information about law, was created for Technical Writing 6296, Professor Dan Jones, Fall 2012. It demonstrates a multimedia approach to online help systems and was written in basic DITA.

DEA within rights to engage in surveillance sans warrant

CFFdea
By Richard A. Ries
Guest Columnist, Central Florida Future
Published: Sunday, January 27, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, January 30, 2013 10:01

A surveillance case from northern Wisconsin has caused some ripples of interest on the Internet. The Magana family had a farm that was apparently harvesting something a little more lucrative than corn, wheat or soybeans. Deep inside the woods, and surrounded by signs that read, “No Trespassing,” the Maganas grew a sizable amount of marijuana.
Evidence of the activity came about from surveillance cameras installed surreptitiously on the land by the Drug Enforcement Agency. The DEA sought no warrant to install the cameras; they only sought one after reviewing footage of the film. Since the properties were heavily wooded and posted with signs, the owners were entitled to an expectation of privacy, the Magana’s attorneys said.

No one disputes that marijuana was grown. What is at stake is whether evidence procured in such a manner is legal. Visions of federal agents walking over no trespassing signs and installing cameras can seem harrowing and evocative of an Orwellian Thought Police, so let’s try to understand why the courts — including the Supreme Court — will likely side with the DEA.

The case is about expectations of privacy as citizens. We have learned in the 21st century that we shouldn’t reasonably expect too much privacy on the Internet. We know that our digital footprints are easily tracked, that texts are stored in servers and that our cellphone calls are logged.

We have also learned not to expect too much privacy outside. A great deal of our driving is caught on videotape, not only at red lights and toll booths, but increasingly on highways. Some high schools have cameras in hallways and cafeterias. Now there is much talk of implementing them in classrooms as well, with Indiana University beginning to film some final exams to prevent cheating.

What right to privacy did the Maganas genuinely expect when they chose to grow pot in a field? Does merely posting a no trespassing sign free us up to engage in illegal activity? It is easy to think that “my property is mine to do with as I please.” The Internet outrage has more to do with senses of personal liberty many feel about growing or smoking marijuana — and less to do with an understanding of property rights. Land ownership is not absolute. There is no magic shield that protects you from zero surveillance on a large tract of land.

The Fourth Amendment is a check against abuse of power. It guarantees that citizens are protected against unreasonable search and seizure. The Founding Fathers certainly lived in an agrarian nation and knew that individuals often owned large farms and estates, but extended no right to privacy in such open spaces. An important Supreme Court case, U.S. v. Oliver (1984) established an “open fields” doctrine, which established that police entering private property does not create a police state.

In other words, a field being filmed is not the same as getting randomly frisked or a police officer rummaging through your refrigerator without a warrant.

While it is understandable for libertarians or legalization of marijuana proponents to be outraged about the DEA’s actions, we have to again return to a term that guides the philosophy of many of our laws: reasonableness. It would be more than unreasonable if the DEA (or any law enforcement agency) secretly installed a camera inside of a house, particularly a bathroom or a bedroom. The cameras that were installed on the Magana’s property were not done so randomly but occurred because of a reasonable tip from a logger. They were not spied on in an unreasonable manner, particularly when an airplane or satellite photo could easily demonstrate that marijuana was being grown.
While it is too sweeping to embrace Mark Zuckerberg’s maxim that “privacy is dead,” we should expect it to be protected in the four hemispheres the Constitution guarantees it: in our homes, on our bodies, in our papers and in our effects.

Polemic Against Coke Advertising on UCF Campus

CFF

cokedaebetes

By Richard Ries
Guest Columnist
Published: Sunday, November 11, 2012
Updated: Sunday, November 11, 2012 15:11
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Here at UCF, when you exit your Lynx shuttle bus near the Education Complex, you’re not greeted by a statue of John Dewey — you’re welcomed by a pair of Coke machines. Stroll up to the Humanities building, and there’s no bust of Shakespeare — there’s a Coke machine. Walking to the Union through the main corridor? Stop and get a Coke, as there are several machines you must walk by. The Union itself is nothing short of a repository for Coke products and logos. There’s a Coke machine just about everywhere on the UCF campus, including at the student pharmacy. Things go better with Coke. Even Ambien. When you walk into the Recreation and Wellness Center, you have to walk past the all-you-can-drink fountain of Coke products placed there by Subway. A few of the Coke machines near the workout equipment feature only Dasani and sports drinks, but you don’t have to go very far to get your Coke, either.

There’s little theme to the UCF campus beyond its manicured lawns and Coke machines. Instead of statues of the great men and women in history whose genius should inspire us, or homages to the Seminoles or Spanish explorers of early Florida, we have Coke machines. UCF is a branding and logo paradise for Coke marketers. You will see the red and white logo countless times during your stay here, every hour of every day. In fact, you don’t see too many displays of Knights or Pegasus — you see Coke machines. So much so, you might just become a consumer. I think that’s the plan. At UCF, it’s more than marketing — it’s assault. Coke executives — and lots of soft drink consumers, due to heavy marketing — like to use the word “choice.” The libertarian adage is that we are “free to choose” and that such a fine company as Coca-Cola “makes choices available for its consumers.”

Baloney. Everyone who thinks they have a “choice” in the matter, look squarely into the mirror — you’ve been snookered. Sugar is marketed so heavily to most of us that by the time we can vote, we’ve been brainwashed into thinking we are “making choices.” It starts with sugary cereals, candies to mark any holiday, and when the candy season ends with Easter, the Good Humor Man begins making his summer rounds, peddling his wares with the savvy of a drug dealer. Restaurants feature all-you-can-drink sodas so that the satiation never occurs. The “adults make choices” philosophy was the same lie and propaganda tool the tobacco industry spun for half a century.

Lastly, it’s that your health is for sale. The nonpartisan Bush/Clinton initiative took painstaking efforts to get soda out of secondary schools — to make substantial inroads in the fights against teen obesity and diabetes — only so that UCF students can be tempted by copious amounts of Coke. Because intoxicated students or ones smoking cigarettes have immediate ramifications to their surroundings, the slow processes of obesity and diabetes — the most important health issues of our time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — are given a back seat. Coke gets the nod and the wink from university officials, and student welfare gets compromised.

UCF went through a soul-searching process last year and decided to ban cigarettes from campus. It should continue modernizing itself by making a dramatic reduction in the sugared Coke available to students. Most vending machines are filled mostly with sugared products; they should be mostly diet sodas, juices and milk. All-you-can-drink fountains should be abolished. UCF should also teach its tens of thousands of students that there is an open-market economy – and one company shall not dictate advertising on campus. The many logos should be removed as an affront to the goals and values of a serious education. In the meantime, students should boycott Coke. In modern American culture, consumer choices are sometimes the only way to make a daily political statement. You can make one by stating that you are more than a walking sales statistic for Coke and that you are more than a naive target for Coke branding. Just imagine if students graduated healthier — not heavier – and that human health and longevity was of infinitely more paramount concern to UCF than Coke dollars.

Now that would be sweet.

Annotated Bibliography, English 5009, on Starbucks Training Manual

(Below is the full text of a piece of academic writing and research I created in 2012. I received an A+ on this assignment. It was written in MLA format.)

Richard A. Ries

English Methods 5009

Professor Kamrath

28 October 2012

The Social Criticism Brewing from the Starbucks Training Manual:

An Annotated Bibliography

This is a selected annotated bibliography on the Starbucks training manual, The Green Apron (TGA) and its cultural aftermath. The text of the manual itself is propriety, but the Starbucks mission statement is publicized and is closely linked to TGA. While the text of TGA is not analyzed in the hermeneutical method a passage of Talmud might be – Starbucks employment is inextricably woven into its marketing and consumer experiences – the actions and effects of the manual are nonetheless of concern to scholars and critics. It is not, unfortunately, the plays of Ferber, Mamet, and Miller that most Americans encounter daily. Rather, it is the workplace training manuals of corporations like Starbucks and McDonald’s that are read, memorized, rehearsed, and acted out on the consumer dominated stage of postmodern American life. These orchestrated mass dialogues provide clues into our age of simulation and late capitalism.

Multinational brand name companies have succeeded in training legions of non-unionized service workers who are in uniform, trained to interact with the public by script, and under constant video surveillance. These work environments create issues of subjugation, homogenization, conformity, automation, exploitation, and paranoia. While any national or global company now fosters such issues, no corporation in history has succeeded in creating an animated workforce quite like Starbucks has. A Starbucks barista – often young, college educated, and hip – is usually of a much different ilk than a docile cash register worker at an Arby’s or a KFC. McDonald’s relies on heavy television advertising, strong purchasing power (e.g. of potato farmers), and low prices to succeed: Starbucks relies on its baristas who become its enthusiastic votives. Starbucks does not simply sell coffee and pastry: it sells theater and fantasies of connoisseurship, neoliberalism, community, and privilege, mostly through the code it uses to train if not indoctrinate its workers.

Codes of conduct in the workforce are nothing new. Ever since humanity developed divisions of labor – hunter and gatherer, pharaoh and slaves, mason and apprentice, tsar and serfs, CEO and employee, boss and secretary – there have been codes, first oral, then written, of what to do and how to behave. Around the turn of the century, Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Veblen’s The Theory of the Leisure Class, and the disturbing photos of Jacob Riis spawned conversations on the sociology of work. The era of hyper-consumerism is still critiqued in works such as Jameson’s Postmodernism and Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation; as well as by more popular books like Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation and Ritzer’s McDonaldization.

An employed individual today generally has three major codes he or she must adhere to: an employment contract; an employee handbook; and, very likely, a training manual. A contract may be oral and informal (“Could you please rake the leaves for $20?”) or entail millions of dollars with complex clauses; an employee handbook could be anything from a few paragraphs in a two-person office to several thick three-ring binders. Likewise, a training manual may range from a few simple instructions to a tome.

Any complex employment (such as an airline pilot) will entail training that might involve classroom instructions, audio and visual aids, simulation labs, written exams, evaluations, and continuing professional development. Manuals abound. They exist for employees of any household name company such as Microsoft; state and federal governments (from postal workers to Peace Corps volunteers), the military, and most of the salesforce. Yet these manuals are seldom the source of curiosity and perturbation in the academy as those designed for the entry level service workers in the cafes, restaurants, stores, and phone banks with whom we interact in daily, scripted ways.

*          *          *

The American novel of social protest has long focused on the excesses of capitalism on the working class. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Jungle, and The Grapes of Wrath all led to major changes in laws and national understandings of human rights. But there is a fundamental difference between the plantation slaves, meat packers, and fruit pickers of then and the service workers of now in that the former had no interaction with the public – and therefore had no emotional training of how to speak and behave. From the manufactured fun guided by  Disney to an ultra-brief encounter with a FedEx driver, simulated experiences à la The Truman Show are dictated by training manuals drafted by lawyers, MBAs, trainers, and technical writers – all in the service of powerful multinational corporations who are often viewed as the true empires and fiefdoms of the modern world.

The militarized donning of Target red, Wal-Mart blue, or Starbucks green – and the development of the emotionally trained service personality that accompanies such work – is to enter, to some degree, worlds not described by American social protest novelists, but foreseen by arguably the most important trio of British science fiction dystopias. In The Time Machine, H.G. Wells prophesized an ignorant leisure class of Eloi ranched by the dominant Morlocks. In Brave New World, Huxley wrote of swarms of identical Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons. The triumph of capitalism over the homogenized worker is so central to the text that time begins with the birth of Henry Ford (“the Year of Our Ford” replaces “AD”). And in 1984, Orwell’s proles live controlled, miserable lives of strict surveillance (and its accompanying paranoia) and dwindling language choices. Are these harrowing fictions realities embalmed in the corporate training manuals of today?  It is food – and sometimes beverage – for thought.

Franchises all appropriate human culture and repackage it back to the consumer. The corner barbershop of yesteryear – with its attached value as venue of folksy conversation – becomes the nationalized Supercuts of today. Nations, regions, and ethnic groups are all sanitized and permanently redefined: Taco Bell for Mexico; Carrabba’s and The Olive Garden for Italy; Red Lobster for New England; Popeye’s for Louisiana. What Starbucks excels at appropriating is the American yearning to do better than the Joneses. No national manual comes close to galvanizing the worker and consumer alike quite like TGA does.  As TGA is performed millions of times a day, it must be reckoned with as a cultural icon worthy of analysis.

This bibliography is divided into three sections: a quick glance at current training literature (a handful suffices); pro-Starbucks writings; and secondary scholarship, including a few articles which do not mention Starbucks by name – but shed light on the phenomenon. Critical issues in culture studies, such as race and gender, were considered. Research was not conducted in the dark: prominent social scientists, including Robin Leidner from the University of Pennsylvania and Starbucks specialist Bryant Simon were consulted; Kim Fellner, author of Wrestling with Starbucks, was interviewed over the phone; George Ritzer responded by e-mail.

Starbucks is studied. The company is mentioned in nearly 70,000 entries in the mega library database OneSearch (excluding the Melville character from which the company derives its name). It is found in nearly 5,000 articles in The New York Times alone; over 1,000 in JSTOR. (There are only a handful of scholarly books entirely devoted to critiquing Starbucks.) Starbucks is a target of late night comedians like Leno and Letterman. But it is also of keen interest to economists, marketing analysts, sociologists, anthropologists, historians, urban planners, labor lawyers, industrial psychologists, corporate trainers, culture critics, and activists. To comprehensively annotate all of the diverse literature on Starbucks, therefore, is not feasible. To examine TGA’s effects on customers and employees – mostly young people who spend their hours wearing green aprons for America – is to momentarily conjure de Crevecoeur’s spirit and ask ourselves: what then is the American, this new barista?

 

 

 

 

 

List of Acronyms and Initials

API                  Alternative Press Index

ASTD              American Society for Training and Development

CA                   Conversation Analysis

CJO                 Cambridge Journals Online

HFT                 Humanities Full Text

IWW               Industrial Workers of the World

JSTOR             Journal Storage

PQDT              ProQuest Dissertations & Theses

ROI                 Return on Investment

SA                   Sociological Abstracts

TGA                The Green Apron

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I. Representative Training Manual Literature

Buckley, Roger, and Jim Caple. The Theory and Practice of Training. Kogan Page, 6th ed. 2009.      eBook.

This eBook is one of the current standards in the world of training. It acknowledges the need for training in both public and private sectors in the 21st century, and confronts the reality that unlike in previous decades or centuries, many people today switch fields or work more than one job. It does not target any specific industry, such as hotels or cafes, but rather spells out general needs for training: how it ties into a business plan as a ROI; the role of the trainer; objectives and outcomes; the role of technology in training; effectiveness and assessment.

The Theory is written for business analysts, MBA students, and industrial psychology students. It is fairly easy to navigate and is always available on a tablet such as a Kindle. A scholarly piece with hundreds of academic references, many from the UK, it provides an understanding of how much research has gone into training – and what current training lingo consists of.

Dolasinski, Mary Jo. Training the Trainer: Performance-Based Training for Today’s Workplace.                Upper Saddles River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2004. Print.

This guidebook directed at managers covers the ropes of modern training: writing a training proposal; the ROI; scripting; roleplaying; quizzing; and creating competencies. It examines issues of recruiting, training, problem solving and employee recognition, including company incentive programs. It contains checklists, performance charts, a glossary of ASTD lingo, a list of websites and periodicals, and a section on e-learning and modules. It also provides tips on subjects such as behavioral interviewing, consistency, and storyboarding. A training room is referred to as “a stage” and the motif of a theater and acting is utilized throughout many of the chapters.

The guidebook is geared toward the service industry, and is presented in a user friendly fashion, with humor. It has a helpful bibliography of some 40 ASTD books. That a well-trained staff is presented as “theater” ties into much scholarship on Starbucks baristas.

LaGreca, Gen. Training Foodservice Employees: A Guide to Profitable Training                                         Techniques. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1988. Print.  

One of the classic general texts on foodservice training walks managers through the usual suspects: interviewing, hiring, orientation, knowledge of subject matter, equipment, safety, sanitation, attendance, appearance, punctuality. The writer stresses using audio visual, roleplay, and positive reinforcement to train servers. She also suggests using third-party, undisclosed mystery guests or secret diners to evaluate servers.

LaGreca was president of the Industry Training Company and taught seminars at the National Restaurant Association. She writes for managers; not academics. The concept of the mystery guest or shopper, though perhaps not originally hers, is an important one as it adds to the landscape of lack of trust for Starbucks baristas and other servers.

II. Pro-Starbucks Literature

Michelli, Joseph A. The Starbucks Experience: 5 Principles for Turning the Ordinary                      into the Extraordinary. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2007. Print.

This hardcover was assembled by an industrial psychologist with the assistance of Starbucks. Early on it cites a 2007 study indicating that Starbucks baristas have a high job satisfaction rate, and made Hewitt’s list for Best Places to Work. Much time is devoted to training the new barista: not just in how to concoct the 4,000 plus possible drink combinations, but in learning how to speak with customers, and trying to master their names. Baristas receive a 104-page work booklet on world coffee regions which they must complete in their early months of employment, and further receive verified tastings throughout the year. Vignettes about Starbucks are highlighted throughout the book. For example, some deaf students in California began frequenting a store, so those baristas took it upon themselves to learn sign language. These types of feel-good stories become lore in the training experience. Much of the book serves as a pep talk directed at baristas and supervisors (some are known as“coffeemasters”). Michelli puts forth TGA’s “Five Ways of Being” which take on a somewhat Buddhist flavor: be welcoming; be genuine; be knowledgeable; be considerate; be involved. Managers and employees are constantly studying consumer behavior and have access to an internal database called “Conversations and Connections,” a wiki of stories and tips about the Five Ways of Being and how to improve in those areas.

The book is a polemic and avoids any criticism of Starbucks. Its bibliography consists primarily of newspaper clippings, TV stories, and Starbucks media reports – not scholarly articles. It does, however, provide access into TGA that the other books lack. That there is a “Five Ways of Being” reveals a very religious nature to Starbucks employment.

Moore, John. Tribal Knowledge: Business Wisdom Brewed from the Grounds of Starbucks            Corporate Culture. Chicago: Kaplan Publishing, 2006. Print.

This brief book is ostensibly geared toward anyone wanting to start a business. It contains chapters with  titles such as “Be the Best, not the Biggest,” “Keep Your Marketing Authentic,” “Be Nice, Be Clean,” “Foster Customer         Devotion,” “Encourage Healthy Dialogue,” “Foster Local Warming,” and “A Goliath Can Become a David Again.” Each chapter ends with bullet point questions that startups or new managers are to ask themselves. Much of the material is about marketing, branding, and product placement. As for employees, the writer explains that baristas are taught to meet customer needs and look for signals of customer unhappiness or dissatisfaction. Employees engage in a “Make Your Mark” program in which they volunteer in local charities. The company philosophy is to view customers as “explorers” and not “tourists,” and to be overzealously loyal to them. It is explained to all who don TGA that “a Starbucks coffee moment offers a semblance of hope in their [consumers] cluttered lives.”

While seemingly directed at entrepreneurs, the book serves primarily as a public relations mouthpiece for Starbucks. It does demonstrate that Starbucks does many good things for communities, but circumvents the criticism that it may be taking advantage of liberals and liberal values in doing so. There is no bibliography.

Schultz, Howard, and Dori Jones Yang. Pour Your Heart into It. New York: Hyperion, 1997.                       Print.

Schultz’s narrative, which might be called “a corporate apology,” (using “apology” in the classical, rhetorical sense) is first a brief autobiography emphasizing that he did not come from a family of means. It then provides a detailed history of the company from his vantage point. He clarifies how Starbucks evolved in Seattle; where its name and logo originated; how it began cloning itself; who its original investors were; how it views itself as “not a cookie cutter chain;” why the stores have the colors they do (to evoke the coffee growing process); how it decides whether to market a related product (e.g. Starbucks ice cream); its ventures with Pepsi; and its marketing challenges and various corporate philosophies. Chapter 9 of the book, “People are not a Line Item,” is about the employees. Schultz tells of how his father died without healthcare, and how offering healthcare for employees who work at least 20 hours has been good business – despite advisors who have told him not to provide it. Employees are called “partners” and get some stock options, known as Bean Stock.  One becomes a partner after six months of service.

Schultz likely views himself as one of the benevolent CEOs of modern times. His exuberance for his product and business practices shows, but he eschews any of the vocal criticism of Starbucks. He is convinced it does not need a union.

III. Starbucks Scholarship (and Select Related Articles)

Erickson, Karla, and Jennifer Pierce. “Farewell to the Organization Man: The Feminization of                 Loyalty in High-End and Low-End Service Jobs.” Ethnography 6.3 (2005): 283-313.                 SA. Web. 6 Oct. 2012.

In culture studies, gender must always be considered. This openly feminist critique of the workforce by two sociologists examines the terms “organization man” and “company man” as dominant cultural motifs of the 1950s. The writers describe company loyalty as a traditionally masculine trait that involved fidelity to a boss or corporation. Loyalty is still viewed in business schools as an important issue. Yet much current service work, unlike corporate or factory work, includes a third element: the customer. A triangulation of power raises an issue of loyalty: to whom is the server faithful?  Service workers are viewed as highly feminized by the writers due to their uniforms, low status, docile roles, and high turnover in staff. The writers provide a brief summary of one of Weber’s main points: that the slow disintegration of family loyalties has been replaced by bureaucratic loyalties in a rationalized society. The article concludes by emphasizing that the lack of personal space in chain restaurants leads to an atmosphere of detachment and minimal human engagement. Part of the article analyzes paralegals and is not germane to the discussion.

While the article does not concern Starbucks, it provides a vital, creative, feminist outlook on the whole issue of subjugation of service workers: that it constitutes mass emasculinization. Since baristas wear aprons, they may be viewed as feminized if not fetishized due to the siren logo.

Fellner, Kim. Wrestling with Starbucks: Conscience, Capital, Cappuccino. New Brunswick:                        Rutgers UP, 2008. Print.

This is one of a handful of books completely devoted to the coverage of Starbucks. It proffers a plethora of information: an introduction to Schultz; the history of coffee; world trade; the chain of production from farmer to sipper; similarities and differences between Starbucks, McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, Wal-Mart and other multinational businesses. Starbucks’ aggressive business tactics and its insistence on non-unionization (“we’re not anti-union; we’re pro-partners”) are stressed. Fellner chronicles Starbucks’s history with the IWW and its court cases (“latte litigation”), and elucidates how there is an endlessly complex world dance involving corporate stewardship, perceived political correctness, charity, and the low wages many coffee pickers and baristas make. Starbucks simultaneously adds to the exploitation of foreign and domestic workers while giving much to CARE; baristas must learn to talk the talk to the public and always act as apologists for the company.

Fellner is an AFL-CIO organizer; not an academic. Her book is nonetheless fairly scholarly and is essential for understanding Starbucks’ history and culture as well as its relationship with its many employees. She is more concerned with unionizing Wal-Mart.

Gaudio, Rudolf P. “Coffeetalk: Starbucks and the Commercialization of Casual Conversation.”              Language in Society 32.5 (2003): 659-691. SA. Web. 10 Oct. 2012.

This anthropologist trained in linguistics studied CA and modes of conversation at Starbucks. He was concerned with analyzing the merging of coffeetalk with the commercialized consumption of coffee and space. He used a variety of methodologies, including a critical analysis of Starbucks marketing rhetoric (both written and acted out through its baristas) and interviews with employees. Gaudio notes how the phrase “let’s do coffee” has become a popular code for an informal, nonthreatening conversation between equals, whereas “I need to have a talk with you” connotes something serious, and “let’s have a drink” implies sexuality. This conversational commodity has contributed to Starbucks’s success. The article charts the rise of the English coffee house in the 18th century of Samuel Johnson as a social oasis void of hierarchy. There are differences between ordinary conversations and institutional ones, and recent sociolinguistic literature emphasizes geographic-place formulations (which Starbucks usurps through its glocalization). Starbucks’s marketing strategy represents “a confluence between the public and the private, the intimate and the commercial” (661).

The article is written for social scientists, and much of it is devoted to the power relationships inherent in CA theory. It provides a novel view of Starbucks, though it does not focus enough on barista conversations with consumers. It invites further research.

Klein, Naomi. No Logo: Brands, Globalization, Resistance. Canada: The Media Education                Foundation, 2003. DVD.

A Canadian journalist, scholar, and culture critic, Klein is one of the iconic figures in the anti-corporate “resistance” movement. She lectures throughout North America and has a bit of a cult following. Her video is shown in many undergraduate culture studies and sociology courses and her books are well known scathing critiques of what she dubs “disaster capitalism.” She first explains the history of the logo: originally Americans either grew their own food or bought it from someone they knew. When a system of trains and refrigeration came to bring mass foods to market, logos needed to be developed to foster a sense of trust and human familiarity with these distant, anonymous companies. Thus many early logos are wholesome people – Uncle Ben, the Quaker Oats man, Aunt Jemima, Colonial Sanders – to simulate the lost vendors and family members. The era of those types of logos is gone; today we are trained to associate simple images (Target, Nike, Pepsi) with highly complex multinational organizations. Klein speaks out against dwindling choices in American life, “McJobs,” and the sweat shops abroad that American consumers unwittingly contribute to. She concludes by demonstrating how the city of Celebration, wholly owned by Disney, constitutes “brand nirvana.”

The video version of No Logo contains several scenes of Starbucks. It maintains that Starbucks sells caché more than coffee. The discussion of logos is important for understanding the ubiquitous siren – on signs, on stores, on cups, and on baristas.

Luedicke, Marius K., Craig J. Thompson, and Markus Giesler. “Consumer Identity Work as                 Moral Protagonism: How Myth and Ideology Animate a Brand‐Mediated Moral                                  Conflict.” Journal of Consumer Research 36.6 (2010): 1016-1032. JSTOR. Web. 8 Oct.               2012.

This article posits that national life is a consumer driven morality play in which each citizen consumer views himself or herself as a protagonist for or against certain brands. There is a growing body of 21st century scholarship which condemns global brands as threats to the integrity of democracy, society, and the ecosystem; this condemnation is referred to as “the jeremiad against consumerism” (1017). The article presents a brief modern history of the moralism against consumption. The writers believe that a mythic structure exists which enables consumers to confer identity value onto goods, brands, and stores. Many consumers disparage Starbucks drinkers as “mesmerized dupes of the corporate system” (1019). Much of the article details views against the Hummer.

While the article does not concern TGA, knowledge of the jeremiad against consumerism is valuable to understand much of the academy’s open bias against Starbucks. The notion of protagonists in a morality play makes sense when one encounters some of the vehemence against Wal-Mart versus Target or Starbucks versus Dunkin’ Donuts.  The article invites research on consumer attitudes towards baristas based on this paradigm.

Mathieu, Paula. “Economic Citizenship and the Rhetoric of Gourmet Coffee.” Rhetoric Review             18.1 (1999): 112-127. JSTOR. Web. 19 Oct. 2012.

A professor of English at Boston College first defines the concept of “economic citizenship” (112) as a consumer identity, and proceeds to demonstrate how Starbucks capitalizes on it. She focuses on the term “scotosis:” selective thinking and behavior in certain environments; willful moral blindness. When we patronize Starbucks, we consume a “justifying narrative” (115). Mathieu refers to Starbucks as a “connoisseur fantasy” (116). The barista acts as a uniformed guide to lead one into a guiltless pleasure, and ignore any Starbucks’ exploitation abroad or destruction of local cafes at home. Consumers are “encouraged not think of the people who plant, transport, and harvest coffee but instead to see only the baristas who take center stage” (117). Scotosis is induced when one sees the baristas wearing the green aprons – it is a postmodern theater. An illusion of individuality is created by the dizzying array of choices (tall, grande, vente, whip, no whip, extra shot, soy, which milk, which syrups). “My drink” (as opposed to mass produced products like McDonald’s) is what Starbucks really sells. As part of the scotosis, third world countries exist merely as plantations and warehouses for our coffee consumption. Thus a barista may speak about Indonesia’s beans – but not discuss its human rights policies.

The article presents a convincing and Jungian or Freudian view of Starbucks as collective denial. The green-aproned barista might be viewed as the Disney character of choice for the liberal latté set.

Raffel, Stanley. “Baudrillard on Simulations: An Exegesis and a Critique.” Sociological Research Online 9.2 (2004). Article e-mailed 22 Oct. 2012 as Microsoft Word file.

Authenticity is always at issue with global corporations. This article from a professor of sociology in Edinburgh is perhaps the only one to make a direct link between Baudrillard’s theory of simulation and Starbucks. Baudrillard maintained that each era has distinct modes of production, and that ours is the era of simulation. According to Baudrillard, to simulate is “to feign to have what one hasn’t” (3). Raffel first offers examples of simulated objects: dentures, wigs, Astroturf.  He then proposes, however, that it is difficult to define what exactly constitutes a simulated experience. He looks first at McDonald’s (which, to be true to the text, he spells MacDonald’s) and concludes that it is not fake: it does not pretend to be fine dining; it openly states that it is engaged in mass production (“billions and billions served”); and it does not pretend to be fast and cheap – it is fast and cheap. In looking at Starbucks, Raffel suggests that it seems not mass produced because of its emphasis on the individualized drink order (but is mass produced) and seems like a typical Milanese café (but is not one). Starbucks tries to convince us we are in the presence of something that is not really there.

The article provides cause to pause: with millions of people worldwide interfacing with hundreds of thousands of baristas every second of the day, to what degree are these interactions “real,” and what might be a basis of comparison: coffee at an independent café, at a Dunkin’ Donuts, in an espresso bar in Italy, or at home?

Ritzer, George. The McDonaldization of Society5. 5th ed. Thousand Oaks: Pine Forge Press,              2008. Print.

Ritzer’s latest volume of his now famous book closes with a chapter the 4th edition lacks: “The Starbuckization of Society.” Ritzer argues that the triumph of Starbucks is in the realm of theatrics perpetuated by its employees: perceived bohemianism and countercultural hipness repackaged as hyper-consumerism. Non-human technologies for creating the beverages have replaced barista creativity; the consumer is exploited as much as the worker (through high prices); franchising and unionization are not permitted so that TGA remains propriety; employee control is wielded from Seattle. Ritzer embraces Max Weber’s term rationalization, which designates the evolution of humanity from jungles, tribes, or the Wild West to a 20th century system of logic, data, offices, bureaucracies, industrialization, and organization. According to Ritzer, it is only in a rationalized society that the Holocaust could have taken place: humans trained to follow bureaucratic orders are less likely to challenge authority. McDonald’s and all other chains peddle “predictability, efficiency, and calculability” (13). Food and work is infantilized (Ronald McDonald; Happy Meals). Whereas the Ford assembly line worker simply interacted with a machine or a manager, today’s service worker is trained to interact with the public. Individuality is suppressed in favor of the ideal employee. Conversation scripting exists throughout fast food franchises, and literally exists in telemarketing “factories,” and call centers (e.g. the insurance industry) where low level workers read from scripts. Ritzer demonstrates how McDonald’s world of efficiency has influenced realms such as education (data driven curriculums, overly statistical evaluations of professors); leisure (calculated travel such as a cruise over true adventure); and sexuality (Internet porn and sexting). Ritzer closes with a clarion call for more spontaneity and “enchantment” in American life.

McDonaldization has become a household word onto itself; the work has been translated into several languages and at times has inspired boycotts. It is a monumental read for anyone interested in sociology, and contains some 300 citations in its bibliography.

Ruzich, Constance M. “For the Love of Joe: The Language of Starbucks.” Journal of Popular             Culture 41.3 (2008): 428-442. HFT. Web. 12 Oct. 2012.

This article is a culture critique of the Starbucks lingo that baristas are trained to master and daily perpetuate. The use of Italian and pseudo-Italian sounding words throughout its menu all contributes to giving ordinary Americans who work at or consume Starbucks a sense of sophistication and European panache. Whereas coffees advertised on television rely on slogans (“Good to the last drop” or “The best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup”), Starbucks eschews any written slogan or jingle (in contrast to Dunkin’ Donuts’ “America runs on Dunkin’” or McDonald’s “We love to see you smile”). The logo and army of well-trained workers are the message. The siren’s long hair, sinuous curves, and open mouth are erotic; the color green evokes “go;” eroticism and exoticism is played out with baristas through a sense that coffee is tantamount to wine tasting. Lingo from wine tasting notes is appropriated; faraway, enchanted soils like Kenya, Ethiopia, or Indonesia as equivalents to Bordeaux or Napa are studied by baristas to reinforce the mystique. One enters a ritualized union through mastering the Starbucks lingo, which is uttered no less than thrice: “I’ll have a double mocha espresso no whip” is stated by the consumer, who has built an identifying moniker with a personal beverage (if not an addiction); it is chanted by the cash register barista; then confirmed aloud by the espresso barista. The process borrows from the “call and response” of gospel churches and adds to the sense of ritual and religion. The writer observes that the language of Starbucks centers on nouns, reinforcing the objectification process between parties.

Ruzich’s work is extremely insightful. It beckons more study of the linguistic hegemony Starbucks wields (a small is a tall) and the senses of entitlement and communion one experiences by mastering the lingo and feeling “in” with the baristas.

Simon, Bryant. “Consuming Lattes and Labor, or Working at Starbucks.” International Labor             and Working Class History 74 (2008):193-211. API. Web. 7 Oct. 2012.

Starbucks employs over 150,000 workers worldwide, and exercises enormous influence on the growers, harvesters, importers, exporters, and transporters of coffee around the globe. Despite these numbers, Starbucks has consistently prevented unionization of its shops, even though there have been movements with slogans such as “Baristas of the world, unite!” According to CEO Howard Shultz, the cost of unionization would prevent the many workers who do receive health benefits from gaining them. Starbucks uses its employees to create an internal branding of family-friendly, upscale mores. Those trained on TGA must come across to the consumer as more than happy to serve you and work at Starbucks, so that you, the customer, need not worry about his or her welfare. Simon calls this a New Age version of welfare capitalism.

Simon has an innovative view of how baristas must present themselves and how they are perceived by the public.

—. Everything but the Coffee: Learning about American from Starbucks. Berkeley: U of                           California P, 2009. Print.

Simon visited over 400 Starbucks outlets in twenty states, and traveled to farms in Guatemala, Rwanda, and elsewhere to understand the global juggernaut better. He used a variety of methodologies, including direct observation of baristas and consumers, interviews, and statistical analysis of barista and customer behaviors. Training baristas involves more time watching Howard Schultz videos about corporate stewardship than learning about coffee beans. Several employees referred to it as “brainwashing.” Simon refers to the experience of getting coffee at Starbucks as a “staged authenticity,” and notes that those who work under TGA all trade turns scrubbing public toilets as part of their subjugation, shared humiliation, and indoctrination. Despite much corporate emphasis on diversity, most baristas are young, white, clean cut, and feature a preppy look. They may not wear nose rings or diamond studs. Since espresso is no longer ground in the stores, there are fewer difficult chores for baristas to do. The high walls that hide the machinery are designed to not let customers see how simple the operation really is; the music is also a distraction. Starbucks uses its employees as branding to create a myth of sophistication.

One cannot conduct Starbucks barista research without reading Simon’s book; it is the lynchpin of the scholarship and contains a comprehensive bibliography. Simon is to Starbucks what Ritzer is to McDonald’s.

—. “Race Doesn’t Matter, Race Matters: Starbucks, Consumption, and the Appeal of the                                Performance of Colorblindness.” Du Bois Review 7.2 (2010): 271-292. CJO. Web. 24                       Oct. 2012.

Here Simon considers Starbucks’ diversity policy and its relationship with Magic Johnson to explore postracial sentiments in mainstream American life. He also ponders the role Starbucks may have played in Obama’s victory in 2008. Research from Urban Spoon demonstrated that Obama ran strongest in areas with high densities of Starbucks stores. Starbucks frequently plays black music in its stores, and produced a movie about an inner-city African American spelling bee champ, Akeelah and the Bee. The diversity of Starbucks employees reflects the growing diversity of the population of the nation. Women and minorities now make up 60% of Starbucks’ workforce, and have representation on the board of directors. Starting in 1998, Starbucks entered into a deal with Magic Johnson to position more stores in inner-cities and ethnically diverse neighborhoods. In Simon’s view, this began a process of commodification for Schultz to “perform” colorblindness. He sees a trace of Kipling’s “White Man’s Burden” in the planting of Starbucks stores in the inner city. Starbucks is viewed as integrated, both in its clientele and baristas, but not too integrated: 50-Cent lyrics won’t be played anytime soon. The article reports that during the summer of 2008, when overzealous marketing failed and led to the closing of 600 Starbucks stores, 15% were Magic Johnson stores, suggesting that in the end, dollars trump diversity.

The article ties in with others that view Starbucks as theater. It does agree that Starbucks has diversity, but that such diversity may be about a marketing strategy toward whites who want to see themselves as tolerant. Baristas do get much diversity and sensitivity training.

Tatsak, Jenny. “The ‘Great Good Place’ for Some People: A Rhetorical Criticism of Starbucks              as an Informal Public Gathering Place.” Diss. Wayne State U, 2006. PQDT.  Web. 20                       Oct. 2012.

This thesis adopts the theory of commodity culture. It first analyzes ordered physical space as a product of late capitalism that promotes functionalism and efficiency. It then proceeds to provide a detailed analysis of Starbucks’ architecture, seating arrangement, and physical appearance (clean bathrooms; brown napkins to connote eco-friendliness) as part of a grander scheme of status, public performance, and commodified existence. Illusions at Starbucks are shared by producer and consumer alike; the desire for an attractive and improved self-image prevails. Baristas are recruited with a poster and copy that reads “Consider this your window of opportunity. Apply indoors.” Baristas are therefore brought on board to this world of status, privilege, and public performance. Starbucks becomes what Foucault referred to as the panopticon. The Starbucks panopticon is one of reciprocal public performance: the barista learns how to dress and behave; the consumer learns how to either read alone or surf the web properly; parties of two or more learn how to engage in acceptable conversation and clean up after themselves. Foucault emphasized surveillance as power over a citizen, and wrote of “docile bodies in a fortress.” The homogenizing effect of the videotaped panopticon – the fetishized uniforms, the patronage and sense of purpose many feel in ordering their individualized drink – all serves the interest of those on top of the hierarchy and reaping the profit margin.

Tatsak’s doctoral thesis is illuminating, especially when one considers the English teacher’s maxim “setting shapes characterization.” The dissertation has particular salience because most of the recent Starbucks submissions tend to focus on what constitutes “fair trade,” incursions into China, and other global issues. It provides an incisive look into the daily spectacle of national life inside Starbucks.

Index

ASTD, 7

Baudrillard, 2, 12

Bean Stock, 9

branding, 8, 14

capitalism, 1, 2, 3, 4, 11, 14, 15

CEO, 2, 9, 14

coffee, 2, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15

Disney, 3, 11, 12

diversity, 15

Dunkin’ Donuts, 10, 11, 12, 13

feminist, 9

Fellner 4, 10

Five Ways, 8

Foucault, 15

Ford, Henry, 4, 13

Huxley, 4

industrial psychology 5, 7, 8, 13

Johnson, Magic, 14, 15

Johnson, Samuel, 10

liberal/ism, 2, 8, 12

linguistics, 13

manuals, 1, 2, 3, 4, 7

MBA, 3, 4, 7

McDonald’s, 1, 2, 10, 12, 13

Microsoft, 3

Obama, 14

Orwell, 4

panopticon, 15

paranoia, 1, 4

Pepsi, 9, 11

race, 4, 12, 14

rationalization, 9, 13

Riis, 2

Ritzer 2, 12, 13, 14

ROI, 7

roleplay, 7

Schultz, 9, 10, 14, 15

Simon, 4, 14, 15

simulation 1, 2, 3, 12

siren logo, 9, 11, 13

subjugation 1, 9, 14

surveillance, 1, 4, 15

Target, 3, 5, 7, 11

TGA 1, 4, 5, 8, 11, 12, 14

theater, 2, 7, 12, 15

unions, 1, 9, 10, 12, 13, 14

Urban Spoon, 14

Veblen, 2

Wal-Mart, 3, 10, 11

Weber, 2, 9, 13

Wells, H.G., 4

Reflections on a Jewish Merchant

56

Article appeared in the Heritage Florida Jewish News, March 2013

I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about my great-grandfather, Moses Strouse.  Not because I am interested that deeply in family trees or have ever visited the “Ancestry” website (which I caution readers against; it is likely mostly a marketing scheme to glean as much information from you as you are willing to part – and sell it to eager buyers) but because I am drawn to sociology and am deeply disturbed about the 21st century transitions to large, faceless franchises and stores.

Moses Strouse was a Jew from Germany, and he and his sons wound up – of all places – in Columbia City, Indiana, not far from Fort Wayne. In all likelihood, they were wondering where to live in between trains from Ellis Island to Chicago, and one stop in a tiny hamlet seemed as good as the next.  What did these Jews know about farming?  Not too much, so they built a shop, and became clothiers and tailors to gentiles, redolent of how a more famous Strauss – Levi Strauss – invented blue jeans and sold them to gentile gold miners in California earlier in the century.

Moses probably didn’t know it, but he was both a sociological statistic – and an emissary of tolerance. Jews left Germany in the 19th century both for economic reasons and anti-Semitic ones, but they weren’t systematically persecuted as they were soon to be in the 20th century. They were simply looking for a better life in the New World, much as many from the Old World were. Strouses’ Men’s Wear, the store he, my grandfather and grand uncles ran for nearly a century, was emblematic of the bucolic melting pot of national life. We tend to think of the “melting pot” as tenement housing in urban areas; ethnicities piled upon one another. The bustling, buzzing, swarming streets of L.A. and Brooklyn; the Puerto Ricans and the Chinese; the Italians and the Irish all come to mind – not farmers. But in sleepy Columbia City, Indiana – and in hundreds of similar villages all over the Midwest, the South, and the Frontier – Jewish merchants set up shops, lived among farmers, created stakes for themselves in the lives of others, and became something they were not in their former lands: respected.

The Strouses were “town Jews.” When my mother became a bayonet twirler in Columbia City High School, I don’t think another Jewish girl graduated from it until her sister did a decade later. These town Jews – all over the United States – became part of the fabric of Norman Rockwell’s America. The Strouses sold Osh Kosh B’Gosh overalls to gentiles and fitted them in their “Sunday best.” There were no cameras monitoring the store as there are at malls and superstores today. There was trust. Credit might be a handshake, and my ancestors likely helped many gentile neighbors get through the Great Depression and other rough spots with store credits that were really gifts. As Jewish emissaries, the Strouses slowly taught their town that Jews didn’t have horns, that Jews had family values just like they did, and that Judaism was a faith to be respected – not converted.

These Jewish stores that dotted the American landscape – primarily general stores, grocers, and clothes shops – were centers of warmth, friendship, and gossip. They were natural interaction points between gentiles and Jews; points that exist online or in other venues today. While a few such stores might still exist, they have been largely replaced by the Orwellian worlds of Target and Wal-Mart, CVS and Walgreens.  Folksy Jewish mercantilism has been supplanted by “late capitalism” – that is what social critics call our era of anti-septic franchise stores and 24-hour availability. Strolling into my grandfather’s store was an exercise in humanism; walking into Costco or Sam’s Club is usually about as personal as some IBM data.

One of the great and tragic ironies of modern times is that we fought Hitler and fascism only to create our own form of “consumer fascism.” Starbucks baristas are militarized by their green aprons, and you must know the insider lingo of which vente latte to order to be accepted. Store clerks all over the United States wear the same uniforms, read from the same scripts, and answer customers with the same monotones. Their individuality is quashed in the name of corporate standards and training manuals; the American sales clerk, monitored by videotape and mystery shoppers (who are really supervisors in disguise observing behaviors) are what French intellectual Michael Foucault calls “docile bodies in a fortress.” Ethnicity is cleansed and recapitulated as Einstein Bagels, Tijuana Flats, or Panda Express. None of this, of course, is true ethnicity. They are examples of what another French intellectual, Jean Baudrillard, called our era: the Age of Simulation.

The next time you wander into a superstore or a fast food chain, and are automatically asked to supersize it or if you have your customer points card with you, try to remember the Jewish merchants who existed before this dehumanizing era, and ask yourself what you can do to bring a little more warmth into the transaction, as the Strouses did.

They were real.

Richard Ries is a graduate student at UCF and a staff writer at the Heritage Florida Jewish News.