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UC Berkeley Historian's Eye Photos by Photographer

Nicci AlexCarli BakerMichael CohenJan Flatley-FeldmanShirin GhaffaryEugene W. LauDanielle Lee Robert LeeGracie MalleyJohn OrvisAlaska QuiliciDerek RemsburgRandy Adam Romero Jennifer RubielloSamantha SilverRashad SisemoreGiana TansmanAnna VignetChris Yee

Nicci Alex

Carli Baker,

Michael Cohen

Jan Flatley-Feldman,

Shirin Ghaffary,

Eugene W. Lau,

Danielle Lee,

Robert Lee, Flickr gallery

Gracie Malley,

John Orvis, Flickr gallery

Alaska Quilici

Derek Remsburg,

Randy Adam Romero,

Jennifer Rubiello

Samantha Silver

Rashad Sisemore,

Giana Tansman,

Anna Vignet,

Chris Yee,

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Essay by Bryan Wilson

Bryan Wilson Essay written for Introduction to American Studies 10AC: Culture Wars University of California at Berkeley April 26, 2012

Tepees, Solar Panels and Vineyards: Constructing a Discourse of Consumer Environmentalism in an Economic Crisis

If you are driving along U.S. route 101 — north of San Francisco, in a place called Hopland, California — you will see large solar arrays at the edge of town absorbing the abundant valley sun amid the rolling vineyards. This is the Solar Living center, run by the 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization, the Solar Living Institute. Their mission, as stated on their website ( is to "... promote sustainable living through inspirational environmental education." Put another way, one might suggest that the goal of the Solar Living Institute —especially considering that it was founded by John Schaeffer (founder of Real Goods Trading Company (a solar technology company)) — is to facilitate the creation of ecologically minded consumers. If this is a fair assessment, then we may also situate this goal in the context of postmodern theory. Professor of American Studies at UC Berkeley, Michael Cohen relates in his lecture, "Postmodernism and the Culture Wars," that one of the characteristics of postmodernity is the "centrality of commodity production" (Cohen, American Studies 10AC, 4/11/12). In other words, in postmodern experience, everything is subject to being bought and/or sold, including things that may have previously transcended commodification such as education, sex appeal, or in this case, an environmental ethic. In this way, the odd collage of objects in the photo (which I took at the Solar Living Center), consisting of a Native-American-style tepee, a decorative windmill, a vineyard, and the large solar arrays of the Solar Living Institute's "Solar 2000" project, work together to sell a sort of environmental ethic. They achieve this by blending discourses of Native American stewardship, sustainable agriculture, and 'clean energy' technology. Solar technology, situated amid these objects, adopts the discourses of environmental ethics, and is sold as such. I chose to read this photo as a cultural text because U.S. 101 has become a home away from home for me as I travel between college and home. This image speaks to the profoundly regional (and therefore personal) character of modern environmentalism as it is perpetuated amid the current moment in American cultural and economic experience. According to the work of cultural theoretician, Stuart Hall, entitled, "The West and the Rest: Discourse and Power," a discourse is "... a group of statements which provide a language for talking about -i.e.- a way of representing - a particular kind of knowledge about a topic" (Hall, 66). In the context of a photograph, the content (who or what is being photographed, and how they are being photographed) are discursive statements constructing that representation. In this photograph, the solar array, seen as the focus of the image, is decorated with colorful flags, suggesting that it is the focus of what is being represented. But it is also decorated with symbols such as the tepee, the windmill, and even the vineyard. These things, statements, suggest the way in which the photographer, and the person or people who placed them there, are attempting to construct a narrative of consumer environmentalism. The tepee in this image seems polarized against the image of the solar array. It's modern technology meets pre-modern. Another odd thing about the tepee is that Native American's in this region did not live in tepees; according to Lynn Huntsinger and Sarah McCaffrey, as they reveal in their article, "A Forest for the Trees: Forest Management and the Yurok Environment, 1850 to 1994," Native Americans in this region built homes from redwood planks (Huntsinger & McCaffrey, 162). So what does the tepee mean? In my experience, people often conceptualize Native Americans as having lived as passive inhabitants of land, in harmony with Nature. Huntsinger and McCaffrey prove that this cultural perception is not entirely accurate; California Native Americans used fire as a tool for widely managing forest resources, and as a result, had a profound shaping affect on the landscape (Huntsinger & McCaffrey, 163). Despite this contradiction, Native Americans are culturally depicted as a symbol of environmental stewardship. The tepee represents a simple technology that works with the materials of Nature. It brings to mind the slogans of popular bumper-sticker environmentalism like, "live simply," and "... [fill in the blank] local..." These ideas work to suggest that solar technology is philosophically analogous to Native American environmental stewardship. Similarly, the windmill brings its own popular discourse to the image. It suggests a use of local, sustainable materials (wind). It recalls current debates over globalization and the fear of dependence on Middle Eastern countries for atmosphere-polluting hydrocarbon energy. The windmill and the solar panels alike represent a cultural anxiety about climate change, and a cultural belief that technology will the vehicle for an environmentally sustainable future. Behind the windmill and the solar array the wine grapes grow. Wine in California is saturated with cultural meaning. As University of California Berkeley geographer, Richard Walker writes in his environmental history, The Country in the City: The Greening of San Francisco Bay Area," "Californians quaff twice as much wine per person as Americans generally, and Bay Area drinkers twice that" (Walker, 185). Walker goes on to write that since the 1990's, wine as an industry has expanded enormously in Sonoma and up into Mendocino Counties (where Hopland is) (Walker, 185). Between 1990 and the early 2000's, wine in Sonoma County grew from a $100 million industry to a more than $400 million industry (Walker, 185). In contrast to the wineries and vineyards in the Central Valley, North Bay vineyards are smaller and grow more specialty varieties such as Cabernet and pinot noir (Walker, 188). I visited one of these wineries recently. It is called Parducci, and they sell their products at the Solar Living Center. They sold me a bottle of "sustainable red" wine, telling me about their commitment to sustainable production. On their homepage,, the words "green," "sustainable," "environment," "community," "local," "earth-friendly," "carbon-neutral," and "responsibility," become motifs. Smaller farms, attention to craft and sustainability all suggest a contrast to the visions of industrial corporate agriculture. These images fit together in this strange collage of images (with a tepee, a windmill, a solar array, and a vineyard) to form a narrative, situated at the crossroads of consumer economics and the culture of environmentalism. At the same time, these discourses, as Professor Cohen often says, provide "imaginary resolutions to real contradictions" (Cohen, 2012). The harmonious Native American steward is a good example. Also, as written above, northern California wines are currently putting great emphasis on "community" and "local" sustainability. However, as Walker relates, "what better illustration of the cultivation of class distinction than wine... marvel at the arcane language of taste... regard the artful labeling" (Walker, 188). Implicit in this, to me, is a division of community. This class distinction along the vines is enforced economically. Walker writes, "today, just 10 percent of people in the United States consume 67 percent of all wine" (Walker, 185). "... Recently," writes Walker, "the gourmet restaurants of the Bay Area food revolution have brought the pleasures of wine to the attention of the consuming classes, as wineries, merchants, and publicists made the sophisticated wine list a natural accompaniment to California cuisine" (Walker, 188). Lastly, Walker states the fact that today, "the North Bay has the most valuable farm-land in North America;" Francis Ford Coppolla spent $350,000 per acre for his Cohn Vineyard in 2004 (Walker, 186). In order to consume this gourmet wine (much less own a vineyard in the North Bay) requires some wealth. And — as has been well documented in Charles Ferguson's 2010 documentary on the global economic crisis, The Inside Job, and elsewhere — as a characteristic of the economic crisis, the chasm between the wealthy and the poor in America has steadily grown (Ferguson, 2010). So, as businesses increasingly establish their products as environmentally progressive, the access to this kind of consumer environmentalism falls into the hands of the relative few. The way this photo was captured emphasizes color. The gradient of blues on the deliberately large view of the sky emphasizes the natural abundance of California sun as a resource. The objects of the photo weave some of the various discourses of environmentalism to attract people driving along U.S. 101 who are culturally invested in sustainable, community-based, local environmental action. The arrangement of content in the photo fosters the formation of community consumer environmentalism. At the same time, they act in an economy that is subject to growing inequality, which fractures community. The question becomes: in the environmental and economic crises of our time, who can access the tools for environmental action? Bibliography 1.) Cohen, Michael. "Postmodernism and the Culture Wars." American Studies 10AC: The Culture Wars. University of California Berkeley, Berkeley. 11 Apr. 2012. Lecture. 2.) Hall, Stuart. "The West and the Rest: Discourse and Power." Race and Racialization: Essential Readings. Ed. Tania Das Gupta, Carl E. James, Grace Galabuzi, and Chris Anderson. Toronto: Canadian Scholars', 2007. 56-60. Print. 3.) Huntsinger, Lynn, and Sarah McCaffrey. "A Forest for the Trees: Forest Management and the Yurok Environment, 1850 to 1994." American Indian Culture and Research Journal 19.4 (1995): 155-92. Print. 4.) The Inside Job. Dir. Charles Ferguson. Perf. Matt Damon. Sony Pictures Classics, 2010. DVD. 5.) Parducci Wine Cellars. Mendocino Wine Co., 2012. Web. Apr. 2012. . 6.) Solar Living Institute. 2010. Web. Apr. 2012. . 7.) Walker, Richard A. "Ch. 8: Sour Grapes: The Fight for Wine Country." Country in the City: The Greening of the San Francisco Bay Area. Seattle: University of Washington, 2009. 182-204. Print. < Back to previous page

Essay by Jackson Hille

Jackson Hille Essay written for Introduction to American Studies 10AC: Culture Wars University of California at Berkeley April 26, 2012

Lost Hope

The photograph captures a protest scene from “Occupy Wall Street” in New York City on October 5th, 2011. The image exhibits the economic critique of societal hierarchy – the proverbial ’99 percent’ versus the ‘1 percent’ - professed by the Occupy Movement. The photograph’s feature display is the political placard equating Obama with Bush. The seemingly outlandish comparison reflects how the Occupy Movement is separate from the ‘Beltway’ battles of the political mainstream. American presidential politics, operating within the cable news bubble of Washington D.C., is mostly concerned with media personalities and surface images, rather than actual political philosophy and economic ideology. The Occupy protest sign rejects the mass-mediated narrative of Obama as figure of change, situating the economic advisors and policies of the Obama Administration as part of the same ‘neoliberal’ political structure that existed under George Bush, and every president dating back to Ronald Reagan. The aforementioned leftist analysis of the Obama administration is not foreign to the popular culture landscape of America. The film, Inside Job, which earned the Oscar for Best Documentary, advanced a similar reading of Obama’s economic policy team. Supporting the claim of the Occupy protestor, the documentary revealed Obama’s secretarial staff, including Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and former Director of the National Economic Council Larry Summers, to be the same Wall Street-Washington D.C. insiders who de-regulated the financial industry in the 1980s and 1990s. Conversely, the photograph accentuates its populist historical analysis of the United State’s recent political economic history through the geographic dynamic between the protest signage and its adjacent scenery. The location of the cardboard placard above the colonnades of the New York Federal Reserve building portrays the underlying dynamics of the ‘1 percent’ in America. The Grecian columns of the building appear to be propping up the names of ‘Obama’ and ‘Bush,’ visually relating to the critique that the financial lobby is the true political party of the United States. In addition, the relatively hidden aspect of the Federal Reserve building within the maze of protestors and signs details the rather secretive nature of the central bank’s economic authority. Thus, the visual relationship between the sign and the Federal Reserve building portrays the ‘1 percent’ as buttressed by a bipartisan neoliberal political structure, whose legislative agenda emanates from the economic interests of global financial capital. The protestors that occupy the photograph further showcase the populist economic ideology and non-partisan philosophy of the Occupy Movement. The two most prominent protestors in the photo are the man lifting up the aforementioned ‘Obama = Bush’ placard and the woman standing behind him. Both of these protestors are white and middle-aged. While some would claim their ‘whiteness’ as representative of the often-reported demographic homogeneity of the Occupy Movement, their whiteness also displays the equal opportunity economic destruction wrought by the Great Recession. In addition, the age of the protestors featured in the photograph also denotes how the economic inequality in American society is destroying the meritocratic ideal of social mobility, leaving younger generations with a worse economic stature than their parents and grandparents. The placement of the protestors within the visual text of the photograph additionally associates the Occupy Movement as a populist counterweight to the perceived plutocratic establishment of Wall Street and Washington D.C. Moreover, the two central protestors are located beneath both the political protest sign and the Federal Reserve building, visually positioning the Occupy Movement’s ’99 percent’ to rise up against a generation of economic degradation orchestrated by board members of the Federal Reserve and sanctioned by both Democrat and Republican presidents. The other two visible signs in the photograph, one declaring “We are the 99%” and the other proclaiming “Jobs Now,” synthesize the common sense and populism of the Occupy Movement. The ‘We are the 99%’ banner typifies the popular progressivism of the Occupy Wall Street, while the ‘Jobs Now’ slogan depicts how economic recovery is the central aim of the protest movement. In addition, these two posters are ‘finished products,’ in contrast to the ‘Obama = Bush’ sign, which is made out of a ripped piece of cardboard. The inter-textual difference in signage appearance conveys the debate within the Occupy Wall Street movement between Obama sympathizers and Obama critics. Moreover, the polished ‘Jobs Now’ and ‘We Are the 99%’ signs, while they are both declarations of the need for economic recovery and the reversal of income inequality, neatly escape overt references to the political system, and thus are more palatable and presentable to the American Left. The torn-up cardboard, on the other hand, communicates a working-class critique of Obama’s role in the economic crisis. By equating Obama and Bush, the protestor dismisses the liberal fear of seeming opposed to a Democrat president.  His sign connects the reality of economic inequality to both the Democratic and Republican parties’ policy regime of neoliberalism. The consistent economic critique explored through the dynamics of the photograph bears to eye the initial rush of popular enthusiasm engendered by the Occupy Movement. Additionally, the photo demarcates the Obama Administration as partially responsible for the economic crisis, associating the well-documented failures of George W. Bush with Barack Obama’s failed attempts to stimulate the economy and to re-regulate and prosecute the financial industry. In conclusion, the photograph documents how America has lost its hope in Obama’s ability to change the politics and economic structure of the country due to his administration’s complicity with the TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) bailout scheme and the macroeconomic philosophy of neoliberalism. < Back to previous page