culture critique

v1  no1 (May 2008)

Imagining Diaspora in Take Care of My Cat
Yaeri Kim

A young office girl in uniform arrives at an empty office. No one else has shown up for work yet. The window shows skyscrapers of the center of Seoul, suggesting that the office belongs to a first-class company that can afford to have an office in the most expensive area in South Korea. The office girl draws up the blinds, opens the windows, and looks toward the tall, clean buildings of Seoul. She dreams of success. However, the windows open but little, letting but her fingers sneak out through the gap. The successful career and wealth she dreams are out of her reach. She is allowed to glimpse them but not to have them. Behind her appears a futuristic mosaic of the world map printed on the glass wall of the office. This scene, shown just before the opening title, presents a powerful metaphor for the two themes of Take Care of My Cat, a Korean film directed by Jeong Jae-eun: the state of confinement and the imagined escape through transnational connection.

Bodies of Civilization and Bodies of Desire: The Construction of Masculinities Between Day Laboring Men and the Men Who Hire Them
Daniel E. Solís y Martínez

Pernicious global changes in arrangements of capital, labor, production, and consumption of goods have triggered massive migrations of people from the impoverished global South to the affluent global North. Situating the relations Southern Californian day laboring Latino men form with male employers of different races and classes in those transformative waves of migration, this paper focuses on the symbolic and material exchanges of masculinities that underlie the asymmetrical relationships of labor for money between Latino day laborers and the men who employ them. Utilizing queer theories of gender performance and coupled subjectivities as well as Chicana borderlands theory, this paper foregrounds the buried desires that are overlooked by economic analyses alone. It highlights how the construction of manliness that is mediated for both sets of men through day laboring acts not only as a vital lubricant for the economic aspects of these interactions; it is in fact the sublimated purpose of the laborer-employer relationship. The unbalanced relations that connect day laborers with their employers is identified as a possible source for not only shifting power between the two sets of men, but also pointing towards a new conceptual framework for U.S. immigration policies that rest on symbiotic interdependence.

Human Rights and Cultural Studies: A Case for Centrality
Glenn Mitoma

This essay outlines the way in which three central preoccupations of Cultural Studies can enrich the scholarship of human rights. First, the Gramscian concept of hegemony, among the most productive theories in the Cultural Studies toolkit, can be effectively utilized to examine the complex and contradictory relationship between the United States and human rights. The historic association of this particular nation-state and the rhetoric of rights coupled with the expansive and unmatched global influence of the U.S. presents an excellent opportunity to explore the contours of ethical leadership, negotiation, and consent that are at the core of both Gramsci’s theory and the history of human rights. Second, the definitive influence of non-governmental organizations in both the development and enforcement of human rights standard can best be understood through the important work done on civil society and public spheres, as the construction and maintenance of a global discourse of human rights is predicated on more than the diplomatics of the inter-state system. And, third, in the persistent debates about the meaning of cultural difference and exchange for “universal” human rights, the concept of hybridity is particularly useful and can serve to illuminate the construction and maintenance of the post-war human rights principles.

Debilitating Awe: The 9/11 Disaster and its Political Aftermath
Michael M. Moeller

The trauma, confusion, and euphoria that resulted from September 11, 2001 culminated in a moral panic, which was guided by the polarized rhetoric administered by pundits and politicians in the days that followed. The framing of the socio-political situation in the simplistic terms of good vs. evil occluded the necessity for a critical response, a necessity that was replaced with an intangible adversarial narrative and a politics of fear used as a justification for the expansion of executive power in American government.

An inquiry into this predicament must begin with an examination of this mediated event and the political narrative that was installed as a means of promoting a specific chain of reactions. An analysis of the use of empty signifiers in political discourse, a discussion of the tradition of the American jeremiad, and a consideration of the resultant state of emergency, will be particularly useful in this endeavor, which is an attempt to better understand how we arrived at this juncture.

Dreaming Feminisms
Janell Morrow

I have feminist dreams. These ambitious thoughts do not consist of unattainable imaginings but rather evoke fantastical phenomena. They are nothing short of queer poetic paragons, which integrate theory and politics while simultaneously destabilizing repressions. Dreams of this species involve risks because they are irregular, purposefully imprecise, and never fixed. Yet, anomalous attributes of this sort envisage and envision, meaning they contemplate and visualize, how to materialize risky theoretical politics. In keeping with those unpredictable dreams, this essay explores identificatory theories of Judith Butler and futurity theories of José Esteban Muñoz in conjunction with the intentional politics of the feminist art movement as an avenue to contend: 1) feminist theories and politics do indeed depend on one another and do not operate in a vacuum one from the other; 2) feminist politics, like those illustrated in the feminist art movement, are deeply connected to activist strategies that promote surprising futures, often marked with wonder, like my aforementioned dreams; and 3) feminist political movements, and feminist theories, tread on risky ground when asserting a path of uncertainty in the future, but the risks are necessary.

Los Angeles Riots: Sa-I-Gu – From a Korean Women’s Perspective
Nancy Park

This paper will complicate traditional understandings of the LA Riots by analyzing several aspects of the film, Sa-I-Gu: From a Korean Women’s Perspective. While presenting the L.A. Riots through a transnational lens, Sa-I-Gu also works to shed some light on transnational ideas of racial formations/relations, nation and the American Dream. This is achieved through interviews, photo vignettes, live-action news footage and everyday images of Koreatown, Los Angeles. The L.A. Riots are largely conceived of as being a local event, something that was particular to Los Angeles and the race relations of this area. However, Sa-I-Gu introduces a transnational perspective through which a public audience can come to understand the socio-economic politics behind the riots, rather than the usual domestic perspective that was offered in a majority of other mainstream media outlets at that time. It also raises questions regarding the politics of media representation and who has power over such representation. Where do these alternative perspectives (regarding transnationalism and representation) have the opportunity to be voiced or screened, and under what circumstances?

The Raw and the Produced: (Re)Creating Hardcore Authenticity in the Studio
Ian Reyes

Through in-studio observation and interviews with band members and their studio engineer, this study documents the recording of a Hardcore group’s first full-length album, discovering some of the ways recordists read the musical soundscape in order to (re)produce sonic signifiers of identity and difference. The study is unique insofar as it presents a case in which a “youth” subculture is found not to be the sole property of youth but also a scene in which adults who grew up participating in the subculture continue to be involved. The subjects of this study are adults who were trying to revive the sounds of the subculture from their youth in the 1980s.

This work illustrates a principle regarding the historical material horizon of music recording as constituted by the archive of pre-existing texts informing the production of new texts. In the following, the role of the archive can be observed through this band’s intense focus on their genre’s history of recorded music as such.


Camp as Paradigm: Bio-Politics and State Racism in Foucault and Agamben
Nathan Wright

Perhaps the one failure of Foucault’s that, unresolved, rings as most ominous is his failure to further examine the problem of bio-political state racism that he first raises in his lecture series, Society Must Be Defended. At the end of the last lecture, Foucault suggests that bio-power is here to stay as a fixture of modernity. Perhaps given its focus on the preservation of the population of the nation it which it is practiced, bio-power itself is something that Foucault accepts as here to stay. Yet his analysis of bio-politics and bio-power leads inevitably to state-sanctioned racism, be the government democratic, socialist, or fascist. However, in the space opened by Foucault’s failure to solve the problem of state racism and to “elaborate a unitary theory of power” (Agamben 1998, 5) steps Agamben in an attempt to complete an analysis of Foucauldian bio-politics and to, while not solve the problem of state racism, at least give direction for further inquiry and hope of a politics that escapes the problem of this racism.

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