Wednesday, December 26, 2007


The semester's done, but I still have to deal with work stuff. It doesn't help when people don't respond with important information, which means you can't do your job, which makes you look bad. I'll send some emails tomorrow morning. I can justify not responding to emails because of the weekend and Christmas, but tomorrow I'll work for a half hour or so.

I had a great Christmas. Last night we went to the "midnight" Mass (9 p.m. for carols, then 10 p.m. for the Mass). This was the first year in a long time that my mom hasn't been involved with the music for this Mass. She's been stressed and trying to find a new job, and she decided to take a year off. When we got there I didn't feel like being there, and I didn't feel like singing (unusual for me). During the pre-Mass music, I loved the songs that were just the choir - fancy motets, things with lots of harmony, often in foreign languages. They were singing something beautiful, and I started thinking about Teresita, one of my housemates in El Salvador, and her mom, who is dying (maybe even dead; I'm not sure if anyone would tell me). I pray for her mom, Blanca, every week at Mass, and as I was listening to this beautiful music, I had one of those wonderful prayer moments where it actually feels like you're getting through to God. But more than talking to God, I was thinking, "This is for you, Blanca. This is for you Teresita. This is for you, sister of Teresita whose husband went to the U.S., abandoned you, and started a new family." This beautiful music is for you, a humble campesino family from El Salvador. You are important - very important to me.

There was a lot of music devoted to Mary (this being a Catholic church and Christmas), which reminded me of praying the rosary at Lupita's house. (Lupita was my other Salvadoran housemate.) Her brother was shot on a bus three and a half years ago, and they prayed a novena in her community for the nine days following the anniversary of his death. I had the honor of visiting her home during this time, and participating in the prayers. I kneeled on the hard, dirt/cement floor of a beautiful but humble home, praying the Hail Mary as fast as I could in Spanish, trying to keep up with the women from the community. Dios te salve Maria. Llena eres de gracia. El Señor es contigo, Bendita tú eres entre todas las mujeres, y bendito es el fruto de tu vientre, Jesús. Santa Maria, madre de Dios, ruega por nosotros ahora y en la hora de nuestra muerte. (Say that 50 times fast.) It was one of the most amazing experiences I had in El Salvador. Despite having so much privilege and the power that comes with it, sometimes I feel like all I can do is pray to make things better. I'm usually a positive person, but I have a hard time finding hope for the world, hope for justice and peace.

While I'm talking about El Salvador, I'll tell a story that involves Teresita's mom, which Fr. Privett told at the USF graduation Mass a couple weeks ago. The coordinators of the study abroad program I did, Kevin and Trena, went to visit Blanca and the rest of Teresita's family, and they brought their young daughters. One of them, Sophia, went straight to Blanca's side, and stayed with her for most of their visit. When Kevin and Trena and the girls got back home in the evening, as Sophia was going to bed, she asked Trena whether what Teresita's mom has is contagious. It's not contagious, but how amazing it is that a young child, thinking she may catch this illness, sat at the sick woman's side, holding her hand. It was such a beautiful, selfless, and powerful act - one we should all learn from.

But back to Christmas. This morning we went to Mass again, and this time I sang in the choir. We didn't rehearse much because it was mostly very familiar Christmas music, but that meant that right before Mass, the choir director asked me to solo on a couple songs. Then she added a couple more solos during the Mass by whispering to me and the choir as she played introductions to songs. It was fun, and I sang pretty well. Every year we sing a verse from Handel's Messiah for the Alleluia. "And the angel said unto them, 'Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a savior, which is Christ the Lord.'" It was a good Mass.

We came home, had a simple lunch, and my brother came over. We opened presents, and I got some really good ones, including an Edward Gorey calendar, AIDS and Accusation by Paul Farmer, a couple social justice-y prayer books, On the Road by Jack Kerouac, and slippers for my cold cold feet. La hermana got Little Miss Sunshine, so we watched that in the afternoon, then had red and green enchiladas for dinner. It was a nice Christmas.

Off to read and sleep. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ has come uninvited. But because he cannot be at home in it - because he is out of place in it, and yet must be in it - his place is with those others who do not belong, who are rejected because they are regarded as weak; and with those who are discredited, who are denied the status of persons, and are tortured, exterminated. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in this world. He is mysteriously present in those for whom there seems to be nothing but the world at its worst.

-From "The Time of No Room" by Thomas Merton

Monday, December 17, 2007

Postmodernism and MySpace

Thousands of people flock to every day, often as a part of their daily routine. It is a social networking website where people can create and update personal profiles, see if their friends have left comments or messages, listen to music, upload photos, or write blog entries. is one of the most-visited websites in the world (“Alexa”). A lot has changed since 1990, when Mark Poster wrote The Mode of Information, especially in the realm of electronic communication and the Internet (which was just starting to see usage beyond the military ARPAnet), but at the same time, much of what he wrote is still accurate to this day. MySpace serves to illustrate some of the concepts of postmodernism in relation to electronic communication, in particular the Superpanopticon, as described by Poster.

In the spirit of postmodernism, it seems appropriate to begin this essay with a disclaimer from an essay I wrote last semester with a classmate:
We have quite a few limitations and boundaries in our research and analysis. Fundamentally, there is no such thing as universal truth, so we cannot proclaim the truth of anything we read nor anything we write. How we interpret what we read and how we present our analysis are products of the situations in which we have been raised, the educations we have received, and our own individual understandings of life and reality. (McChesney-Young and Ericksen)

This concept of the nonexistence of universal truth is one element of the elusive concept of postmodernism. In The Mode of Information, Poster repeatedly criticizes philosophers for falling prey to “totalization”; that is, presenting their concepts as metanarratives, encompassing and explaining reality with the truth, such that it applies to everything and every situation (23). Thus I will take care not to “make claims that are beyond the situated finitude” of myself (Poster 64).

To begin, Poster distinguishes electronic communication from previous forms of communication, saying that it transcends the boundaries of time and space by which we have been limited so far. He says, “The body is no longer an effective limit of the subject’s position” (15). I can be looking at the MySpace profile of someone across the country, while my profile (a representation of myself, a subject) is being viewed on the other side of the world. As Poster says, I am “dispersed across social space” (16). Last year there were well over 100 million user profiles on MySpace, from all around the country and all around the world, from many different walks of life (Cashmere). Unlike books or other physical media, electronic media are not material. A MySpace profile does not sit on a shelf, nor does it need to be put in a mailbox to be sent to another person to see. This is a fundamental difference, according to Poster: “Speech is framed by space/time coordinates of dramatic action. Writing is framed by space/time coordinates of books and sheets of paper…. Electronic language, on the contrary, does not lend itself to being framed. It is everywhere and nowhere, always and never” (Poster 85). In its nature as electronic communication, MySpace (and all of the Internet) is postmodern.

With hundreds of thousands of user profiles, MySpace is a huge collection of information about people. It is a database of people’s interests, favorite things, and demographic information. Poster describes the computer database in relation to the “Superpanopticon” as another facet of postmodern society. The Panopticon was conceived as a tool for efficient surveillance in prisons. One guard would be in a central tower that could see into all the prison cells, but the prisoners would not be able to see which way the guard was looking, so at any given moment, they may be watched. The idea, then, is that they will behave as if they are always being watched without the need to hire a guard for every prisoner. Foucault borrowed this concept from Bentham and expanded it to describe society. “In capitalist society, regulation takes the form of discourses/practices that produce and reproduce the norm. The school, the asylum, the factory, the barracks to greater or lesser degrees and with considerable variation all imitate the Panopticon” (Poster 91).

In contrast with the prison, today’s structure could be called a “Superpanopticon, a system of surveillance without walls, windows, towers, or guards” (Poster 93). Both technical and cultural change have allowed this. People readily participate in this system of surveillance without the overt coercion one would experience in a prison. We freely give away our information to get library cards, credit cards, driver’s licenses, magazine subscriptions, and so on. Our information is stored in many databases, and our records could be examined at any time. Since the Patriot Act, the government is able to demand access to library records, which may make people think twice about checking out books on Islamic fundamentalism and suicide bombing, even if it’s just for a research paper. “The discourse of databases, the Superpanopticon, is a means of controlling masses in the postmodern, postindustrial mode of information” (Poster 97).

The databases that Poster describes are basically one-sided. Someone inputs information, and it stays there, as opposed to a message being sent to a person, who then may respond. MySpace, however, is different. While the user does submit his or her information, which is stored on a server somewhere (which could be anywhere in the world), that information is then available to anyone with an internet connection, unless the user sets their privacy settings otherwise (most don’t). Poster refers to databases in which one’s information is probably not regularly viewed, but still serve as sufficient surveillance for social control. MySpace, however, is designed so users’ information is viewed regularly, by many people. One can search, browse, or navigate from one profile to the next. From personal experience, I’ve searched for and found old friends on MySpace, and I’ve also received messages including, “wassup girl what's poppin enjoying your precious face is a trip to heaven , just wanna get to know , please you and make love to your mind.… I live near downtown oakland by my self so ain't go none to worry” (d-jay). Not only do News Corp. and Rupert Murdoch have access to my information, but Christina, my friend from ten years ago, and d-jay, the lonely man in Oakland, may be looking at my profile at any moment. This is an extra component of surveillance to be added to the Superpanopticon.

I did a study of gender performance on MySpace and found that user profiles are very gendered in their appearances and content (for example, women’s profiles have a lot of pink and hearts and men’s profiles have a lot of violent images and black). This is an example of the normative function of MySpace. We act according to conventions so when someone looks us up, we are presenting our public identities. Foucault says, “It is not that the beautiful totality of the individual is amputated, repressed, altered by our social order, it is rather that the individual is carefully fabricated in it, according to a whole technique of forces and bodies” (qtd. in Poster 93). Online identities, like profiles on MySpace, can construct us as much as we construct them.

Postmodernism is a broad theory that encompasses others rather than replacing or going side by side with them. For example, we can look at MySpace and the Superpanopticon from a Marxist perspective. MySpace is owned by a huge media corporation, News Corporation. To begin with, the database compiled by the site has a wealth of marketing information. What are people’s favorite TV shows? What are their interests? The services are free, but there are advertisements on every page. The text ads appear to be done through Google, which comes up with ads that relate to your searches. If I go onto a forum and search for “textbooks,” before there are any results, there are links to Amazon, Alibris, and other online booksellers. Interestingly, when browsing through some forums I saw the sponsored links on the side included “Edward Gorey T-Shirts” and “Find Singer Jobs – Free.” It seems an unlikely coincidence that I say in my profile that I like to sing and I like Edward Gorey, and these rather obscure ads just happen to show up. It appears that they look at the user profile content to target ads. Poster writes that, “The principle of private property is threatened in the domain of information” (73). Since information is not material, it is not subject to the same market rules of supply and demand as conventional products, which makes it more of a challenge to commodify. Through advertising, however, MySpace maintains the capitalist order.

We can use other theories within postmodernism as well. As we speak of surveillance, we can look at MySpace and the Superpanopticon in terms of psychoanalysis as well. As in viewing films, there may be elements of scopophilia and ego-identification when we look at profiles. Semiotics is a significant field in postmodernism, though it does not play much of a role in the Superpanopticon (in that it is not discussed as such by Poster, though anything that can be conceived of as a sign falls under the realm of semiotics). However, semiotics can be used to show polysemy, which undermines metanarratives, which I discuss in the beginning of this essay. Content analysis is potentially problematic under postmodernism, because it claims to be objective, at least relatively speaking. The problem occurs if the analysis does not recognize that there is no true objectivity and proposes a universal truth, which is not acceptable in postmodernism.

Postmodernism is complex, difficult to understand, and some people say it doesn’t even exist. Some say that it’s great and others that it’s terrible. I say that there are valid points within postmodernism, but I am yet to be convinced that the distinction between modernism and postmodernism is so great that it calls for a newly-named era. Postmodernism can be used well to describe aspects of our culture and social structures, but it should not be seen as the all-encompassing reality—certainly not a universal truth, as that would involve the totalization which it decries. We can see that phenomena like MySpace, which postmodernism can explain, do exist, so there are useful ideas. There are other concepts from postmodernism, like intertextuality, which could explain MySpace well, though they did not fall within the focus of this essay. Ideas from postmodernism can be useful and need not be a cause for pessimism, but the theory is not a complete description of the world as it is today.

Works Cited:

“Alexa Top 500 Sites.” Alexa: The Web Information Company. 10 Dec. 2007

Cashmore, Pete. “MySpace Hits 100 Million Accounts.” Mashable: Social Networking News. 9 Aug. 2006. 15 Dec. 2007

d-jay. “wassup.” MySpace message to the author. 11 Apr. 2006.

McChesney-Young, Amber, and Ryan Ericksen. “CAFTA, ALBA and Public Discourse.” 26 Apr. 2007. Not published (needless to say), but available from amccyoung at gmail dot com upon request.

Poster, Mark. The Mode of Information. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1990.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Two classes down, two to go. My final today went pretty well, especially considering how little I studied. We'll see if my professor can read my horrifying handwriting. I think I at least got all the multiple choice and true/false right. My first essay was pretty good, I think, second was okay, third was very poorly organized, but I think I conveyed the important points.

I'm working on my MySpace paper, but MySpace slows down Firefox so much, it's annoying. It doesn't help that I have ten profiles open right now. Heh.

My goal for next semester: Not have to pull a single all-nighter.

My goal for today: finish this paper by 3 a.m.

What I think is more likely: finish most of this paper by 9 a.m.

Then I have to finish my other paper. How does this happen? It's not entirely poor time management, but I should have spent way less time in front of the TV. Media has such a grasp on our lives! Good thing it's my major.

Also, I'm going to Peru next May and I'm excited. :-) I'm just sad that I'll probably be missing graduation parties, but whatever. It's Peru.

Saturday, December 8, 2007


I'm in an anti-people mood right now. I opened up MySpace to work on my paper, and it's so depressing to me. And then I feel bad for being so judgmental, but these people disturb me. Way too many 30-year-old moms who didn't go to college and have lots of sparkles on their profiles.

I try to be nice and open-minded and loving, but I'm a pretty judgmental person, and sometimes people get too ridiculous or depressing.

Also, I'm in love with Sully from Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman:

My three roommates and I all love Sully, and normally we have different taste in men. He's kind of the ultimate representation of masculinity. Except for the girly hair, which we love.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007


I suck at school. Turns out I'm not too great at researching and writing a 10-page paper in one afternoon and night. I have about 1 page written, and it's 2:40 a.m. I have lots of resources, but I haven't read through all of them and I didn't do a good job (or any job) of keeping track of what information is in what article, so it's very disorganized. My class starts in 7 hours. Ain't gonna happen. Fortunately, the professor mentioned the possibility of extensions till Friday. It wasn't clear whether we had to clear it with him individually, but I don't think so. Also, I think he's not going to be in class tomorrow because Monday night he left to fly to Australia to talk at some conference or meeting or something. Flying to and from Australia takes a really really long time, and it seems unlikely and maybe impossible that he be back Wednesday morning.

I wanted to do this paper on time so I could be done with it and focus on the other two papers I have to finish in the next week, but I'll do as much as I can tonight, sleep for a few hours, and finish it tomorrow night and Thursday.

The future

I thought of something I would like to do as a job: helping undocumented women who have been/are victims of violence or abuse and are afraid to report it because of the fear of deportation.

I don't have any of the knowledge I'd need to do that, but it's nice to think of concrete things I could do.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Songs for the People

I love this poem.

Songs for the People
by Frances Watkins Harper

Let me make the songs for the people,
Songs for the old and young;
Songs to stir like a battle-cry
Wherever they are sung.

Not for the clashing of sabres,
For carnage nor for strife;
But songs to thrill the hearts of men
With more abundant life.

Let me make the songs for the weary,
Amid life's fever and fret,
Till hearts shall relax their tension,
And careworn brows forget.

Let me sing for little children,
Before their footsteps stray,
Sweet anthems of love and duty,
To float o'er life's highway.

I would sing for the poor and aged,
When shadows dim their sight;
Of the bright and restful mansions,
Where there shall be no night.

Our world, so warn and weary,
Needs music, pure and strong,
To hush the jangle and discords
Of sorrow, pain, and wrong.

Music to soothe all its sorrow,
Till war and crime shall cease;
And the hearts of men grown tender
Girdle the world with peace.

Cold Fingers

I have a paper due Wednesday on NAFTA, immigration, and women. Fascinating, I know, because I chose the topic. I also chose the topic thinking there would be tons written about it, and research would be easy. For whatever reason, it's not being easy. I don't know if it's because the information is not readily available, if I'm looking in the wrong places, or if I just gave up way too soon (quite likely). All I want to do is curl up with a blanket and watch Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. Also, my fingers are cold which makes it hard to type.

Roommate drama is happening. It seems to me that drinking in excess always leads to bad things happening. Why do people keep doing it?

There's an open house going on right now. Our landlords are selling the house, so there are have 1-2 open houses almost every week for a couple months now. It's kind of weird and awkward, but at least it pushes us to clean our house more often. They think it'll take a while to sell (hasn't sold yet!), but when it does, if the new owners don't want to keep us as tenants, they could kick us out. Fortunately, they'll have to give us 90 days, and I think they can't kick us out until we've found "comparable housing." If we did have to leave, though, it would be very hard to find a place that wouldn't make us sign a year-long lease, and we would never find a place this cheap and convenient. Hopefully they'll let us stay through May. Or the house won't sell. The open houses are kind of annoying though.

I have this NAFTA/immigration/women paper due Wednesday (approx. 10 pages, have just started to research). I have a final exam for Global Economic Justice on the 11th (I'm very behind in the reading, but I did skim it all). I have a postmodernist critique of some new media thing (I'll probably do blogging of Facebook or something -- I'm not sure, though, since I haven't done that reading either) due by the 13th. And finally, my MySpace and gender project is due the 13th. That's about 30 pages, plus a test, in the next week and a half. Which is why I should be researching my paper right now.

My dad sent me an article on procrastination. My response: "I'll read it later."