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    15th October 2011

    More theory: a little Marxist, a little deconstruction

    “The apartment where much of the show takes place is enormous by New York City standards, leading the viewer to wonder how dwellers pay the rent, given their itinerant jobs. Also, we know that New York City is among the most racially diverse cities in the United States. So why is it that we rarely see any one other than people of European descent populating the settings? We must conclude that the writers of the show are privileging a particular ideological viewpoint, one that features only attractive characters who have few financial concerns, plenty of free time, and who are racially segregated in a setting that is anything but homogenous.”
    – Raymond Philippot and Michael Graves, Fostering Comprehension in English Classes, p. 82

    Can you guess what popular 90s sitcom this paragraph is talking about? It is very likely that you can, but if you cannot, I would not be that surprised for this reason: if you replace “New York City” with any other city name, and “apartment” with “dwelling”, you could be talking about a great number of popular television shows that air in the United States. A Marxist critique of popular culture would be very revealing – and hopefully interesting – for students or adults alike. We don’t like to think about what we watch for entertainment – it’s entertainment, not school, not our job, not our political stand! Let’s just enjoy it. This refusal to think critically about media should worry us – have you read any dystopian literature? Pretty much all fictional dystopian governments use entertainment to keep the masses happy. There’s 1984, A Brave New World, We… Why wouldn’t an actual, non-fictional government or capitalist conglomerate do the same?… Oh no, that couldn’t happen in our society…

    “The essential paradigm of cyberspace is creating partially situated identities out of actual or potential social reality in terms of canonical forms of human contact, thus renormalizing the phenomenology of narrative space and requiring the naturalization of the intersubjective cognitive strategy, and thereby resolving the dialectics of metaphorical thoughts, each problematic to the other, collectively redefining and reifying the paradigm of the parable of the model of the metaphor.”
    -Chip Morningstar, “How to Deconstruct Almost Anything”

    Did you understand that paragraph? If not try reading it again.

    Still no? Hopefully at this point you realize that the author created as a joke – a way of poking fun at other presenters at a conference. At the Second International Conference on Cyberspace, held in Santa Cruz, California in April, 1991, Morningstar and his co-presenter Randy Farmer read the statement, paused for laughter and then revealed that the statement was “constructed entirely out of things people had actually said the day before, except for the last ten words or so.”

    Deconstruction is not really like the footage in this video:

    That is demolition. There is not real use for the pieces of the building after demolition has taken place. Deconstruction similarly breaks down the original structure, but it doesn’t jettison the pieces. Instead it attempts to use the original language/form to show how the same work can be demonstrated to have multiple – and mutually-exclusive – meanings.

    I think that a lot of high school students employ deconstruction already, they just don’t realize it. Ask them about what their parents say about curfew, drinking, sex, drug use, or any other house rule – and then ask them what those rules actually mean for them. Or watch them try to make a teacher’s stated assignment seem like they didn’t have to do as much work. Or if they have a Christian or other conservative background, ask them what the Bible – or their scripture – says about drinking, drug use, or sex. Ever heard about how God wouldn’t have put any plants on the planet if they weren’t good and we weren’t supposed to use them? Well… I guess maybe that one does have a point.

    (Click here to watch a video of where Derrida himself starts to define deconstruction).

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    Copyright 2005 by Daryl Holmlund - All rights reserved.