Monday, April 14, 2014

Finding Tools: Changing the Perception of Class

The most important step towards changing a classist society is to understand the exact ways classism exists and shapes the perceptions which we have. Thus far, I've been attempting to find tools with which to discuss this important issue which guides the understanding of what Classism looks like in America. 

There was a large focus on media, and how mass media portrays people of different class positions and why these ideas are persistent and difficult to see through. Both Class Dismissed and Mantsios' article "Media Matters" offer answers to the reason of depictions of certain folks. While Mantsios claims in a more general voice that mass media guides us about what to (and what not to) think about in terms of class, Class Dismissed's analysis of the working class depiction on television reaches for a bit more specificity as to why the working class, when it is depicted or discussed, is done so in demeaning, stereotypical ways. Barbara Jensen offers a more "real-life" based view of the interactions of classism in her book Reading Classes: On Culture and Classism in America. She approaches the topic from a personalized point of view, citing life experiences as her interest in the issue while delving into a sort of language which helps the reader understand the oppressions felt by the upper classes and society as a whole. In this entry, I will discuss how each of the texts so far has aided in the development of an understanding of class as a structural oppressor.

Media Matters is a brief but critical argument that breaks down very generally the reasons why class in America is largely invisible. It cites issues with proper representations as well as willful exclusions of the working class and poor as due mainly by mass media, which is run by the capitalist class whose goal is to maintain the current hierarchy. 

Similarly, Class Dismissed offers its audiences a more specific view of classist oppressions, what they look like, how pervasive they are, and why these stereotypes continue to influence us. More specifically, this documentary tries to answer why it is working class/poor folk are pictured this way and what effect it has upon our own understanding of our socioeconomic positions. What these producers have found is that film, just as Mantsios claims, helps all of us understand what working class is. Television shapes our beliefs in how working class folk should be viewed, and how they should be. Television depicting working class folks, with few exceptions, often views working class life in a negative context as a way to maintain the status quo. Through this light, we learn how to hate ourselves as working class and others as working poor who are lazy, indulgent, stupid, or just getting in their own ways. Depictions of working class/poor folk keeps the lower classes separated and despising each other, making it nearly impossible to form a collective, as one talking head argues in Class Dismissed

Jensen, in the second chapter of her book, lays down a similar explanation of class and calls it the "Invisible Ism" (28). Very much like the previous sources, Jensen discusses what classism has come to mean in life experiences that people go through. She compares a working class celebration to a middle class celebration in her book to try to separate out the differences. And while she understands that there isn't a black or a white to this entire class consciousness thing, she does make it clear that there are certain types of classisms that offer unique experiences of the world. These types - cultural, moral, socioeconomic - are echoed in similar words to every piece that I have read so far. From Bordieu to Mantsios, to Jensen, to Class Dismissed, these categories of analysis play an interesting and intersectional part of understanding class.

These texts are important to the understanding of how classism becomes incorporated into a capitalist culture, sure, but these concepts are also important to understanding how the system can be dismantled, or at the very least, explained. These readings offer us a plan and a language with which to approach a topic that is often not examined for fear of dismantlement of the social structure altogether. This language, supplied thus far in these blog entries, is a tool which may help to destroy the Master's House, in the words of Audre Lorde. Without this critical development of language, the identification of classism become difficult, thus the problem becomes harder. However, with words that allow us to understand exact functions of media and beliefs, words like "individualism", "solopsism", and "capital" become important in our examination of the systems in place. 

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