Julian Lee Written for Introduction to American Studies 10AC: Culture Wars University of California at Berkeley April 26, 2012
Lauren Reeley Guzman Written for Introduction to American Studies 10AC: Culture Wars University of California at Berkeley April 26, 2012
I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream For...Happiness?
Whether from an old-fashioned family owned store or McDonalds’s, ice cream is often related to traditions, celebrations, and times of happiness. Still, most adults do not consider a trip to buy ice cream a trip to buy happiness. A billboard from Halo Farms, located in Trenton New Jersey, declares otherwise. The contrast between this billboard and the surrounding landscape in the photograph demonstrates the incredible complexity of the recession and the impacts it has had on impoverished cities like Trenton. Taken by Matthew Jacobson, the photo is shot from roadside at a straight-on angle and the billboard is located in the top left corner of the photo. The billboard itself is rather plain; it features a huge pint of ice cream slightly off center with text reading “AFFORDABLE HAPPINESS” to the right. Thus, the billboard declares that happiness is not only something one can purchase, but also something that one can do so for an affordable price. Beneath the billboard, there are three depressing buildings with covered windows. To the far right there appears to be the roof of a house or barn. All of the buildings look abandoned. There is a telephone wire that disappears behind the billboard. The bottom half of the photograph displays dying plants and thistles on the roadside and these plants, like the people and buildings of Trenton, have been abandoned. The monotone gray sky looks as lifeless as the dry thistles and leafless trees in the distance. Altogether, the photograph represents a city in crisis, in search of an emotion that has been beaten out of them by the recession and its effects—happiness. Trenton, like many other cities in the United States was hit hard by the 2008 recession. Demographically, Trenton is 48.4% African American, 33.0% Hispanic, 16.6% White, and 2% other. In 2009, Trenton suffered the largest poverty rate in New Jersey: nearly 25 percent of the city’s residents were at or below the poverty line. This is more than double the state average of 9.4%. Trenton had negative growth in nonfarm employment in 2009, at -2.2 percent; over 5,300 jobs were lost. Industrial based jobs were some of the largest that declined, primarily in construction and manufacturing. Like other areas, Trenton suffered problems at major banks, real estate, mortgage, and financial services firms that led to excessive housing foreclosures. The billboard is a notable component of the photograph as it portrays happiness as a commodity. First consider the text on the billboard: “affordable happiness.” The concept of purchasing happiness is not something new in the United States. In fact, the common belief among so many Americans that happiness is something that can be bought is one of the driving forces of capitalism. Americans work, work and work some more, all so we can make more money and buy material items in hopes of achieving ultimate happiness. People at all economic and social levels do this their whole lives, including those in Trenton. Why then, is this billboard such a startling contrast to the rest of the photograph? Firstly, all the other components of the photograph are the stark opposite of happiness. The plants are lifeless, the trees leafless, the buildings abandoned, and the sky melancholy. Happiness is certainly not in any of these things. In opposition, the billboard offers happiness to passerby’s in Halo Farms ice cream and declares that happiness can be bought at an affordable price. The pint of Halo Farms Seventh Heaven ice cream featured on the billboard is significant not because of its appearance, but because of what is represents. For many adults, ice cream stands for the simpler times of childhood. It stands for carefree days. The economic recession has made life anything but carefree for most Americans, particularly many of those in Trenton. With this, the effect of the interaction between the text on the billboard and the giant ice cream pint is largely a part of what the photograph represents as a whole. Ultimately, the billboard pronounces that a trip to buy ice cream from Halo Farms is a trip to buy happiness. Combined with the other aspects of the photograph, this message is very impactful. The buildings in Trenton may be abandoned, the plants and trees may barely be holding on, and the sun may be missing from the sky. But, there is innocent hope in a carton of ice cream at Halo Farms. Adults are not the only Americans affected by the recession though, especially in Trenton. In Trenton, 7,419, or 35.5 percent, of children were impoverished in 2009. Statewide, nearly one-third of the 2 million children were living in low-income households and 310,000 children used food stamps. This photograph tells a different story for children then it does for adults. For children in Trenton and other impoverished cities, a trip to the ice cream shop is a trip that brings happiness and most of the time, cost is not factored in. A trip to get ice cream, especially for a child of an impoverished home, represents an escape from their desolate world. Altogether, there is a lot at stake in the contrasting subjects of this photograph. The landscape and buildings are isolated and vacant, aptly displayed by the grim shades of gray and blacks. At the same time, these shades cannot encompass the complicated effects of the recession. In contrast, the billboard represents a sliver of hope, an escape from reality. This escape however is only one that can be purchased. Whereas happiness used to result from human interaction and internal gratification, for many Americans happiness is now only found in material objects. Ironically, these same materialistic tendencies, a driving force of capitalism, are partly at fault for the Great Recession. Finally, the telephone line that connects the right of the photograph to the billboard symbolizes the intersection of these contrasting components—of everything else and the economic crisis. The recession, its impacts, and any escape from it are deeply interconnected and this photograph of Trenton, New Jersey is representative of this. < Back to previous page
Kaela Connors Written for Introduction to American Studies 10AC: Culture Wars University of California at Berkeley April 26, 2012
History by Those Who Live it
The March on Wall Street photo proves the lasting effects of the economic crisis caused by the housing market crash as the image was taken two years after the market collapse and still captures the emotional and disastrous intensity of the event occurring years prior. While the focus of the shot rests on the young man bellowing his frustration and anguish with exerted force, the photograph requires a closer look at the details and scene depicted in order to extract its full meaning. It is only after thoroughly observing the image that the racialized and unequally distributed effects of the recession may be read in the photo. The compilation of the text painted on the picket signs, the glowing faces of the crowd, and the narrow focus of the shot honing on one particular young man all work to show the particular devastation of the recession on certain groups of people and to highlight the emotional and social reactionary consequences within a setting removed from the structural workings of the economic market system. The signs held in the photo give the image a recognizable context and are the only objects clearly linking the scene to its purpose. The text of the signs makes the protest a familiar scene, with messages proclaiming ‘hold banks accountable’ and ‘reclaim our democracy’ in which it is easy to identify the photos as one of the many snap shots of the protests that occurred in downtown financial districts following the 2008 financial collapse. The signs float above the crowd symbolizing the overarching themes of the protest. While they are not the main focus of the shot, their message is clear. The concise, easy-to-read slogans can be clearly seen by passing audiences and are quickly understood by using the language associated with the larger Occupy Movements. The brevity and simple design of the signs contradict the complexity of the situation at hand; however, serve to imitate the modest demands of the people—who wish to transform an unjust system that deviates from the original principles of democracy and fails to meet the needs of the population it is there to serve. Looking away from the homemade picket signs towards the sign officially representing the group at the center of the photograph brings another layer of purpose of the photo to the from which one is able to gather assumptions about the crowd being represented. The sign is professionally made, insinuating the legitimacy and collaborative efforts produced by the group. It contains words such as, ‘youth lead,’ ‘brothas,’ and ‘West Bronx,’ which all carry heavy associations now being tied to the protest and the victims of the economic recession. The prominent words of the sign allows one to assume that the protest is led by young people of a minority background in the poorer regions of large metropolitan cities, of which were the most affected by the economic crisis. While not the focus of the shot, the signs serve to identify the context of the photo as well as represent the hardest hit groups of the recession. The individual faces, expressing a spectrum of emotion, embody the many representations of the photograph. By observing each face, one may realize the multi-ethnic and diverse composition of the protesting group. There is a large representation of young, minority women suggesting that they are most affected by the bare economic conditions in facing gender discrimination while looking for a job and having to combat the recent surge of anti-feminism brought by hard times. The array of strong facial expressions contributes to the protests’ cause, each opening their mouth backed by stern emotion as a mechanism in voicing their indignation. An important observation is that each person seems to be involved and fully invested in the protest chant, emphasizing how much is at stake without a unified effort and noting the widespread depth of those affected by the recession in that they all take part in enforcing justice and seeking accountability through their own actions. Each face is unique in representing individual ethnic minorities and background, yet they all come together in common purpose due to widespread injustice and tragedy. As one of the defining features of the shot, the faces of the protesters illuminate the emotional expression captured in action as well provide a demographical context of the group most affected by the economic crisis. Probably the most important aspect of the shot is the focus on the isolated man, walking against the gradient of people charging in the opposite direction and beating a fist to his chest in aggressive declaration. This single individual makes the shot distinct from any other frames that could have been taken at the same event. He is not only the subject of the photo but also a product of the economic crisis, which made young, minority youth like him react and take action against the uncertain future and criminal injustices imposed upon them. His expression is of frustration, anger, and anguish; mirroring that of the general population. He represents the unconventional leadership that arose out of protests such as the Occupy Movement or March on Wall Street. He illustrates the transformation of ordinary citizens into sociopolitical leaders, demonstrated by his center stage position in the shot along with his unbroken stance braced to call attention to the cause at hand. While the photo features many elements, it is the spectacle of the man bringing life into the photo that serves as its most important subject. The economic recession was an event that rippled through the middle class and eventually crashed upon the lowest and most vulnerable of the population. The 2008 economic crisis was caused by the criminal behavior of high-ranking businessman and bankers who experienced little consequence due to their irresponsible and deceptive actions. The photo serves to represent those most affected by the decline and also illustrates the methods by which people used to react and criticize the founders of the broken system so as to hold them accountable against their exploitative actions. The three prominent elements of the photo--characterized by the signs, faces, and subject—all contribute to the context and underlying purpose of the photo in revealing the demographic, procedural, and social platform from which the protestors took a stance and stepped forward in achieving their goal of promoting awareness, transparency, and accountability. < Back to previous page
Grace Beaudoin Written for Introduction to American Studies 10AC: Culture Wars University of California at Berkeley April 26, 2012
A city sidewalk, illuminated by the light of broad day, is completely empty. Wide slabs of concrete convey no pedestrians; darkened store-front windows mirror no images of road traffic. Only the unseen photographer and the distorted reflection of one passing vehicle suggest that life may exist in this metropolis. If there are inhabitants somewhere in the barren scape, they have left only traces of their presence on this particular city block. The structures still stand, the pavement and sidewalks keep on sprawling, it seems even the streets continue to be swept, but the lights are off inside the buildings. The businesses here have ceased operating, their purpose is gone from within and their names are gone from without. The long line of shadowy windows is the most prominent form in the photograph. Splitting the image like a lustrous black wedge, it guides the viewer, up and back over the frictionless surface of the glass. Scrutinizing the image, one becomes aware of a secondary scene, another world depicted and contained by the darkly lit reflections of the vacant display windows. Framed by a dull façade and set under decommissioned awnings, this reflection is of another abandoned sidewalk. Atop the pavement of that parallel cityscape stands another empty building with more blackened windows, so each defeated business can watch itself die in the gleaming panes of its counterpart. There is no activity on either side of the street, as if this section of the city has been cordoned off, amputated from the areas that still support life. This photograph, of a place that is devoid of people and stripped of value, is an omen. It captures the expansiveness and power of economic adversity and it warns that an accepted way of life, if neglected, can vanish as surely as the light in a window can go dark. This isn’t some staged ghost town. Nor is it a post-apocalyptic city that humans have abandoned. This is San Antonio, Texas, two years ago. The city has a population of more than a million people, and yet, on this pleasant, moderately upscale street, there is not a soul on the ground. There are no shops, or restaurants, or businesses of any kind, and it isn’t as if they’re all closed for the day, or just recently went out of business. The street is completely untouched by any consumer products, services, or advertisements. The establishments that once did business through these doors and windows have long since closed and moved on, and evidently not even the spaces left behind have the ability to sell. There are no ‘for lease’ or ‘for rent’ signs, just an untitled portico and too many watchful windows. In 2010, San Antonio, like the rest of the United States was strained by economic recession. The recession officially began in December 2007 and ended in the summer of 2009, but its effects are still being felt on a large scale. The economic downturn, while not proving to be especially harmful to large corporations and the very wealthy, has resulted in prolonged hardship for most middle and lower income families and individuals. With the slump came inflation, rising national debt, a decrease in home equity that led to more foreclosures and declarations of bankruptcy, and high levels of unemployment. This photo is a considerably tame account of economic analysis compared to the types of statements people are directing at the financial sector for causing the recession. After all, this isn’t a picket sign demanding that banks pay for their errors, nor is it a rally calling for economic reform; it is a realistic and strikingly familiar image of the effects of economic crisis on everyday life. An entire city block has been rendered invalid, and how many people along with it? The current recession is a caustic system of interconnectedness. In the case of this block, unemployment may have led to fewer customers, forcing the stores and services to shut down, thereby increasing the number of unemployed, perpetuating the cycle of hardship in one area then reflecting and magnifying it onto another. There is nothing to distinguish the street in the photograph from the next one, or from one 1000 miles away. Without some historical background, the photograph could represent almost any place at any time; that is what makes it so significant. Something is clearly wrong in the image, there are no people, no cars, no businesses, and no explanation for their absence; that wrongness spreads, it can exist anywhere. Without some historical background, the photograph says nothing; but with only brief reference to its history, a time of extensive financial distress, the image speaks volumes. The economic crisis originated on Wall Street in 2007; this photo was taken in San Antonio in 2010. The geographical and temporal boundaries of something like the financial crisis are too broad to analyze because their effects are so far-reaching and can so thoroughly transcend their spatial and physical boundaries. An area of San Antonio experiences economic instability and collapse, just as countless other places have experienced the same thing before, simultaneously, and are guaranteed to experience after. The message in the photo, the message being relayed between the two shadowed buildings through the exchange of reflections is that everything is connected. It isn’t a recession in New York that hurt Texas; it’s a nationwide and worldwide crisis that demands acknowledgement, attention, and sensitivity to its sweeping consequences. Like the buildings in the photograph, if society intends to continue using this economic system, and intends for it to recover, then people must return with confidence to that system. Society has to reenter the space that it vacated, that dark, demoralized, equally unemployed building. A light must come back on, so that when passers-by look in the window, they don’t see a desolate reflection, but an illuminated and inviting future. < Back to previous page
These photos, presented in the order in which they were taken, follow the activities of Occupy Congress, held on January 17, 2012 in Washington, D.C. The gallery spans roughly 12 hours of rallies and marches from Capitol Hill to congressional office buildings to the Supreme Court to the White House.
Posted in the order in which they were taken, these photos follow the New York University contingent of Occupy supporters and their path during the November 17, 2011 day of action. Beginning with a rally in front of NYU's Stern School of Business, the photos track the students at they march to and subsequently rally at Union Square, before following one of many paths down to a larger convergence at Foley Square.
At 12:59 a.m. on November 15, 2011, just moments after turning out my light to go to sleep, my phone vibrated with a text reading: "OccupyNYC: URGENT: Hundreds of police mobilizing around Zuccotti. Eviction in progress!" I threw on clothes, grabbed my camera and hailed a cab. These photos were taken roughly between the hours of 1:30 a.m. and 6 a.m. They begin moments after I exited a cab on Broadway, a handful of blocks north of Zuccotti Park. Posted in the order in which they were taken, they track my path and those of hundreds of others as we attempted to get near the park and were pushed back by police. They capture the point at which those gathered formed into a march through the streets of lower Manhattan, and the subsequent cat and mouse between Occupy supporters and the police. Looking back, many of my photos of that night are blurred — in part due to poor lighting, in part due to my own shaky hands. I have included some blurry and poorly framed shots in this gallery because they convey how I remember that night.