Posts Tagged With: cultural renewal

“When You’re Here, You’re . . . . Here”

Apparently I am about ten years behind the times, and Olive Garden seems to have recently made the same realization that I did.  In my last post I commented on the growing trend in America of fast-food chains, corporate restaurants, and the frozen food section replacing the age-old tradition of families enjoying home-cooked meals together.  However, it would seem that encouraging families to cook and eat together is passé.  The nuclear family is already dead, and Olive Garden is capitalizing on this knowledge to launch a new ad campaign.  Instead of their 14-year old slogan, “When You’re Here, You’re Family,” which sounds oppressively family-centric, Olive Garden is choosing a more inclusive and no-nonsense slogan: “Go Olive Garden.”

If it sounds more like a football rallying cry, that’s probably no accident.  Olive Garden, or rather its ad agency, seems to believe, and perhaps rightfully so, that we have moved beyond even the nostalgic longing for family gatherings around the dinner table. Harkening back to that time in our history will no longer have the emotional effect that once caused us to pull out our wallets.  Olive Garden, like me, may have been slow on the uptake, but it is trying to revamp its image, starting with a new television ad voiced by Modern Family’s Julie Bowen—an appropriate spokeswoman for the dysfunctional family.

Unfortunately, while some news outlets have criticized the new slogan as “something awful,”[1] they have missed the deeper point and  interpret the change simply as Olive Garden “freshening up” its image and catering to the average American’s “hectic” life.  Unlike Michelle Obama, we ought not be so hasty in our praise of the corporation.[2]

Now in order to appeal to the “modern family,” the family element must be removed.  As the new Olive Garden ad illustrates, the scenes that strike a chord in the hearts of Americans are women striking yoga poses, an ethnically diverse group of friends taking pictures of themselves with a smartphone, and Vespas.  This postmodern montage of the happy, socially atomistic, and “hectic” American life is lacking, interestingly, images of these people actually eating together—what we presumably would go to Olive Garden to do.  This is not insignificant.  Olive Garden recognizes that it can’t have it both ways—the picture of mealtime in the “hectic” American life is not a pretty one.  The only people who regularly gather around a dinner table together are, let’s face it, families.  Since this image no longer resonates with Americans, the ad simply puts together piecemeal images of hip yoga poses and ice-skating and then flashes us dishes of food in the hope that we’ll emotionally link the two and decide to eat at Olive Garden.

This truly has the potential to be an effective ad campaign.  We are made to feel that the “modern” American life is a happy one, in all of its disjointed social atomism.  At the same time, we are made to forget that mealtime has become a solitary and hurried affair, lacking in any purpose beyond getting it done as quickly and cheaply as possible. And indeed, who needs to gather and share life’s joys in happy moments around the dinner table when we have gladly replaced this age-old experience with a the ability to perfectly perform the downward facing dog.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

“When You’re Here, You’re Family”

There once was a time in America when the frozen food section didn’t supply the average shopper with all three meals—and everything in between.  There was a time before fast food “restaurants” and corporate chains bombarded us at every turn with catchy, sensory, and sentimental advertisements convincing us that their food is a taste of home.  I can’t help but think that the rise in convenience foods, fast food, and restaurant chains must be linked to greater social and cultural phenomena.  It is nothing short of eerie to see the latest ad campaigns with slogans like “see you tomorrow” (Applebee’s) and “come on home” (Hardee’s), displaying pictures of happy people—often groups of family and friends with huge plates of food and alcohol in front of them, laughing it up!

Most ads seem to try to appeal to what is hidden within us all: a yearning for good food and family or friends to share it with.  They harken back to the time when this was the norm.  If we look back just 60 years, we can find a time when families gathered around a table of home-cooked food, every day.  Granted, this was a time before gender roles started to change, and most women stayed at home, making it easier to spend hours in the kitchen—the time necessary to make quality meals from scratch.

As women started to work outside of the house full-time, enjoying homemade meals became less of the norm.  Cooking for a family of four every night of the week—or even most nights is not easy. It’s time-consuming and, after a long day of work in the office, physically demanding.  It also requires a great deal of planning ahead in order to avoid daily grocery-runs.  Perhaps that explains why only about 40% of Americans eat home cooked meals at least 6 nights a week.[1]

There is no question that pre-packaged and pre-made food saves hours of time spent in the kitchen, but for some, it still isn’t worth it.  The trade-off for saving time is meals that are often high in fat and sodium, a trademark of frozen and fast food, and contain a whole host of preservatives and additives, while lacking fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.  The health benefits of cooking at home are just one reason to do so.  The effects of a fast-food nation, in every sense of the word, are far-reaching and complex.  Farmers, families, the land, our relationship with and understanding of the food we eat, and our heritage and traditions are all affected.

Dinner used to be more than a meal.  The preparation of it was not drudgery but an art that involved mother and children (and sometimes father too) and heirloom recipes.  Kids learned to cook meals that were traditional to the family heritage by watching and oftentimes helping mom do it.  They learned the repertoire and the staple ingredients and eventually could cook the meals themselves and pass on the family heritage.  Children learned what different foods were—in their whole form—and how to prepare them.  They developed palates that could appreciate home-cooked meals over mass-produced, flash frozen and reheated dishes at chain restaurants.  Preparation and meal-time was an opportunity for parents and children to gather and recount their day, especially all the mundane aspects.  Studies have actually shown that families who eat dinner together have stronger bonds, eat more nutritiously, are less likely to be overweight, and children are better adjusted and less likely to abuse alcohol or drugs.[2]  Now less than 50% of American families eat together just 4 nights a week. Less than 30% eat dinner together 7 nights a week.[3]

There used to be a time too when restaurants served home-cooked meals.  The Olive Garden and other such corporate restaurants would like you to believe that an Italian grandmother is back in the kitchen cooking up the vittles, but their meals are mass-produced and shipped frozen.  The only thing familial about Olive Garden is their advertising slogan: “When you’re here, you’re family.”  I doubt that the wait staff at Olive Garden feels like a part of my family as they grab my table’s plates from irritable, overworked and probably underpaid line-cooks.  At one time, restaurants represented regional and local cuisine and/or the owner’s particular culture and heritage.  One of the best ways to get to know a new city was by eating at the restaurants and experiencing the cuisine.  Now, one has to actively research and seek out the local places where family recipes are still used and still represent a distinct culture.

We must ask ourselves what is to become of a nation losing its cultural cuisine and identity?  Socially atomistic individuals eating a frozen dinner alone is not just a dreary thought, it is representative of much larger cultural decay.  When dinner (and many other once communal activities) becomes “every man for himself,” we must wonder if our political and legal institutions too will reflect that mantra.  Can these institutions, which arose during a time when family and community bonds were strong, survive the withering social ties?

Fortunately, people around the world are sensing the profound consequences of the loss of local cuisine. Slowfood is an international undertaking to revive the culture of food that once existed and is now suffering around the globe. “Locavore” recently became a popular word used to describe those who sought to grow and eat food locally, and the bumper sticker slogan “go local” also illustrates people trying to buck the corporate fast food trend. People attracted to the Slowfood movement and localism seem to understand the vast implications of what we are losing as a culture by turning over the art of cooking to corporate America.

Why does hardly anyone in America cook anymore?  We have made, it seems, the unconscious decision that the easy way is the better way, without realizing all we are losing by not cooking.  It is certainly possible to carve out the time to cook most meals at home and have the family gather around the table for just an hour or two a night. How do I know? Because despite her full-time job and busy schedule, my mother made it happen every night, and it is something for which I am forever grateful.

Categories: Atomism, Cultural renewal, Localism, Traditionalism, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Murder She Tweeted (Twote?)

Now that the presidential campaign is over, we can finally start to look back on the race with some degree of objectivity. This is the moment that we political scientists live for: our chance to be clinically detached while attempting to engage a public that is still half-interested in politics.

This story is a few weeks old, but it gives a perfect snapshot of the 2012 election. We’ve already posted articles here and here, about out how childish and uninformed American political discourse has become. However, when we start to talk about assassination threats on Twitter, everything else starts to look pretty good in comparison.

Yes, assassination threats on Twitter. I wish I was joking.

It turns out that after the foreign policy debate a few weeks ago, an astounding number of Obama supporters took to Twitter to vent against Mitt Romney. And to issue death threats. To take one of many, many examples, look at the words of I_B_New_York: “i jus used close to $200 worth of food stamps today…Romney dont take that away..70% of America will assassinate u.” More examples are listed at the bottom of the article.

The threats kept coming through at least Monday, according to examiner.com. Once again, to take a particularly colorful example: Jamarea Gage writes: “I’ll personally f*****g kill Romney if he try’s some dumb nazi s**t f**k that.” Or this tweet by Lifted Boy: “I crash that f**king airplane that that f**got n**ga Romney, stab Mrs. Romney in her G** D**N esophagus. & won’t stop until the cops come in.”

In a way, I’m not that surprised. In fact, I’ve come to fully expect this kind of rhetorical violence, given our current political climate. What is interesting to note, however, is that there seems to be a double standard in the media’s coverage of Twitter death threats. Very few media outlets have touched the Romney threats, while two relatively isolated cases of assassination threats against Obama have received a staggering amount of media attention.

The first came back in September,  when there was a national furor over 16-year-old Alyssa Douglas tweeting the following:

Her Twitter and Facebook accounts were promptly deleted and she became a national symbol for racism and bigotry. A Daily Kos article (written, incidentally, under the hilarious nom de plume therehastobeaway) opined, “when a 16 year-old white girl takes to Twitter to openly call for the assassination of our President, you have got to wonder where we, as a society, have gone wrong;” [emphasis in the original]. The author went on to encourage viewers to contact the FBI, the Secret Service, and Ms. Douglas’ high school Principal. Ms. Douglas herself was quickly inundated with hate mail. Worst of all, she doubtless found life for her entire family turned completely upside down due to a single thoughtless, childish action.

The second example also took place back in September when Secret Service officers arrested Donte Jamar Sims in Charlotte, NC. Sims had tweeted, among other things, “Ima hit president Obama with that Lee Harvey Oswald swag” and “Well IMA Assassinate president Obama this evening.” I suppose on one level we can draw a distinction between the immediacy and specificity of Mr. Sims’ threats against the relative improbability of JCBaltodano’s “If Romney wins the elections I will start a national riot to kill his a**!” but that’s really missing the bigger point at hand.

All of this paints a very disturbing picture. Many leading Democrats placed the blame for Gabrielle Giffords’ shooting on Republican rhetoric. They were right, in at least one sense- not in suggesting that Jared Lee Loughner drew his inspiration from Sarah Palin, but in recognizing that there were larger cultural reasons for this violence. And while death threats against the President have been the subject of much media attention- much of it warranted, some of it perhaps not (as in the case of Alyssa Douglas)- there has been just as much, if not more hatred coming from Obama supporters in recent weeks.

The political climate is in shambles, and all of this goes to illustrate a point I made in my very first post on this blog: that a rotten culture leads to rotten politics. You can’t expect to fix the vitriol and violence in the political sphere without first addressing the deep-seated cultural problems that underlie this kind of rhetoric. If we continue down this path, it seems likely that violent rhetoric will soon lead to more and more acts of political violence.

Beneath the surface of every assassination threat lies a deep and unyielding spiritual need. And no amount of hand-wringing or public shaming by therehastobeaway is going to fix that need.

————————

Here are a couple examples from the MSN article mentioned at the beginning of the article:

Categories: 2012, Cultural renewal | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The case for cultural renewal

At the outset of this blog, I would like to exploit a political theorist’s prerogative and direct the reader’s attention away from the immediate political concerns of the day by asking a more fundamental question: what is the relationship between politics and culture? In particular, to what degree are changes in one dependent upon hospitable conditions in the other?

All too often, I fear, conservatives tend to focus upon political issues and demonstrate a lack of interest in cultural change. At the risk of superimposing a theoretical coherence over the seemingly haphazard and self-contradictory nature of so-called “mainstream conservatism,” I would suggest that while conservatives today rightly emphasize the stultifying effects government programs can have on American society, they fail to understand that the obverse is also true: that spiritual and intellectual weakness in a society can set a ceiling for what is possible in the political realm.

Continue reading

Categories: Cultural renewal | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com. The Adventure Journal Theme.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 36 other followers