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Archive for January, 2013

Mark Cuban = America

Mark Cuban = America

The image that most encapsulates America to me is Mark Cuban. For those unfamiliar with Cuban, he is the owner of the Dallas Mavericks of the NBA, Landmark Theaters and Magnolia Pictures. Cuban embodies the blue collar working class I think of when I hear America. According to the bio from the show Shark Tank in which Cuban makes business proposals to upstart entrepreneurs, he started working at the age of twelve. Mark Cuban sold trash bags door to door, ran a lemonade, stand sold stamps and basically did whatever job could make money. Eventually, Cuban started MicroSolutions which is a systems integrator for computers. Cuban sold the company a few years later pocketing a cool two million dollars in the process. Since Cuban started MicroSoultions, he owned, operated and sold numerous websites and companies. Now Cuban is worth an estimated 2.3 billion dollars.

Mark Cuban truly symbolizes the hardworking aspect of America. Starting to work from such a young age and becoming so successful through perseverance and the drive to succeed is the American Dream. Cuban is completely self made which Americans pride themselves upon. The specific picture of Cuban I chose shows Cuban holding thousands of dollars. This picture embodies success, blue collar mentality, perseverance and being self made. All of these ideas represent America. Cuban is not only successful but to many he is an idol. Men want to be Cuban; he owns a professional sports team, is worth a ton of money and has the love of a beautiful woman. The means by which he ascended to his success reflects my perception of America and is why this image is what I think of when I think of America.

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Last week we talked a little about why icons are so infrequently negative, which got me thinking about a man who tried for years to write a book about the death of the American Dream – Hunter S. Thompson. This same man explored the iconicity of the motorcycle club Hell’s Angels and traveled with Richard Nixon along the campaign trail in 1972. He began considering the topic as an idea for a book in the midst of the Vietnam war and his experience of the riots at the Chicago Democratic Convention in 1968, and continued to struggle with it even throughout Watergate.

Despite his best efforts, he could not find a “seize-able image,” so to speak, on which to center his work. Thompson himself declared that he felt it lacked “narrative structure to hold it together.” He wanted to present a sort of indictment against those whom he deemed responsible for the death of the American Dream, with each person representing a larger issue, but he just couldn’t do it. For whatever reason, that book evaded him for the rest of his life.

And that got me thinking about the whole idea of America and how ever as I could rattle off a whole list of negative associations, I still felt hesitant to do so. If I am to believe HST – and I do – the American dream died off ages ago (he describes his project as “writing an epitaph for three generations. Or maybe five. I don’t know yet,” in a letter to Nation editor Carey McWilliams dated January 20, 1968). Why am I still trying to keep it alive?

I think it’s that optimism in spite of all available evidence, that hesitance to identify so many crippling flaws out in the open for all to see that makes America a lot of what it is today. Blind patriotism is problematic in its own right, but I can appreciate an underlying faith that maybe if we can’t pinpoint exactly how and when the American Dream died, it’s still alive somewhere sleeping off a particularly bad hangover. Maybe we still have a shot at redemption.

Although I will note that if Thompson were still alive today, I’d tell him to write that damn book about Detroit.

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This picture was taken last Spring, when my First Person America class took a trip to Washington DC. I feel like it visually represents the country. The White House is there, but it’s just out of reach. The road and the trees are still there, slightly obscuring our path and view. This perfect symbol of American power and leadership is right there, but it’s obscured, it’s far away. And this isn’t a crowded street or sidewalk. No, instead only a few people at a time even come close to reaching that powerful symbol.

And when I look  at The White House itself, I think about how much security there is. This long, complicated process of weeding out any possible problems. On the one hand, I understand it, since you want to keep the place safe, but at the same time, it screams of paranoia and distrust, though that raises the question of whether or not the White House and the country as a whole care if they’re seen to be so full of said paranoia and distrust.

America is about power and wealth that appears to be just out of reach, but is even farther away than you would think.

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AmericaMeaning

Okay, so this might be an unorthodox way of viewing the question.  This picture represents a lot of how I view America nowadays, and also gives an idea into some of its history and building blocks.  First off, (Nerf) guns are present in the picture.  So there is the idea, and something I believe, that America is an incredibly violent place.  Then consider the fact that the guns are actually children’s toys.  So children are raised with some sort of violence or symbols of violence in their lives.  Just looking at so many new movies and the most popular video games, it’s no wonder guns are also a popular toy.  This is also within an a university building.  It just further captures violence plaguing America nowadays.

Now I want to focus on the people and their origins.  The picture is of myself and my friend Dave at an RA training session in 1940 Residence Hall.  This can capture the idea of America being a melting pot of people, if you want to get creative.  Dave is of Nigerian lineage, with a Nigerian father and American mother.  It could be seen that Dave has taken advantage of the American Dream, if only because his father emigrated to the U.S. and Dave is now pursuing a college degree.  One of his good friends, which is me, is a Jewish boy from the suburbs.  This is the melting pot that defines America.

If we continue to look at the fact that this picture takes place at Temple University, we realize that education and the opportunity to learn is a founding principle of America, and something that does still exist.  The value is there (although this can be easily debated).  But as commented on before, Temple presents the perfect definition of what America means to me and probably many other people.  Education, opportunity, melting pot of cultures, violence, guns, children raised around violence.  These words give me what America means.

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From the Crossbeam

Construction Workers on a Cross-Bar

Before I chose this image, I was having a difficult time thinking about a singular image that matched my thoughts on how I see America. For a little inspiration, I looked out of my window and saw a building under construction nearby where I live. Inside, I saw a construction worker shoveling away the fallen concrete and mortar and throwing up a cloud of dust with each movement. At that point, I knew that this man was exactly the image of America that I hoped to find. Seeing the construction worker brought me to the famous photograph seen above, “Lunch atop a Skyscraper (New York Construction Workers Lunching on a Crossbeam).”

There are two concepts from this photograph that I believe convey how I see America. The first is that these men are construction workers. Now, I know that is a rather obvious and silly observation, but it does mean a lot to me. These men are the backbone of America. They are the part of the labor force that literally builds their way from the ground up to give us our cities. Cities are essential building blocks in establishing a civilization. They are the culmination and proof of a society that has achieved prosperity. Without the construction workers, we would find it more difficult to display our strength as a nation.

The second concept is that these men are free. By free, I mean that they are sitting on a crossbeam several hundred feet above New York City. This photo was taken in 1932, during the Great Depression. In the midst of a broken economy, these men are enjoying their lunches at a dangerously high altitude without any safety measures to protect them. As such, they are free to choose to go back down among the people struggling to make a living and search for new work, take a much darker turn by simply sliding off the crossbeam, or continue a dream of reaching toward the sky as they build higher and higher. They can choose what they wish to do with their lives, and that is what America really means to me: freedom to choose our paths. With all the successes and failures that come with our choices, the ability to make decisions of our own free will is what really solidifies this picture as how I see America. I see it from the crossbeam.

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The family is my family, or one half of it. Someone was an auto worker, someone is a public official, several people are or were in the armed forces, one person is a teacher, someone is a corporate business man. There’s a certain kind of diversity represented there, but a lot that isn’t. I think that’s also representative of America: there’s diversity, yes, but that doesn’t mean there’s visibility for it. Writing in class, America is so much more inclusive than other countries, but still exclusive in a lot of ways. When I think of America, I think more of our habitual talking about diversity, rather than actually recognizing the different experiences of what America is.

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What America Means To Me

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To me, this image was a very accurate representation about the dichotomies of American society. Many aspects of this image depict the contradictions ever-present in the good ole US of A. It shows a homeless man sleeping close to the nation’s center of power. Additionally, as this man sleeps on a bench there are a variety of people enjoying an afternoon at the park. A couple cuddles up, businessmen eat a meal, a man strums a guitar. It shows how suffering exists both metaphorically and physically beside leisure. Wealth besides poverty. Power besides oppression. Love besides pain. The American experience is filled with these paradoxes—and this image shows how the very best of America coexists with its worst aspects.  Maybe it’s a pessimistic take on the nation, but I think that to understand what America means to Americans is to understand to vast range of experiences.

Additionally, I think this image reveals how pervasive individualism has become in everyday life. People focus on their individual activities and interests. American have developed a great capacity to ignore suffering of others because it is inconvenient and not their problem. There isn’t a sense that the success of all of those in society makes America a stronger nation, but that focus on self first will somehow lead to a better future for America. It is this very individualistic nature that allows a homeless man to sleep next to the White House.

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