Monday, March 30, 2015

A Raisin in the Sun (1961)

A Raisin in the Sun, released in 1961, was based on Lorraine Hansberry’s play of the same name which debuted in 1959.  Many of the actors featured in the play reprised their roles for the movie, most notably Sidney Poitier who played to role of Walter.  The film focuses on a working class black family from the South Side of Chicago, and their struggles regarding a $10,000 life insurance check received by Momma following the passing of her husband.   A Raisin in the Sun had a budget of about $1.5 million and was regarded as both a groundbreaking and a controversial film.  Considering the time of the films release, an African American centric film could have potentially been a risk, but the movie proved to be quite influential.  Selected to the National film registry, A Raisin in the Sun, was considered to be culturally significant for the same reasons that made it potentially controversial.  A socially conscious film about an African American family and their struggles set an artistic precedent for films, television shows and stage productions to follow. 
The film’s main themes included the universality of family life regardless of race, the inaccessibility of the American Dream, assimilation into cultural norms, the ability to overcome stereotypes, and the existence of latent racism. First, one can recognize that the film was geared attempted to highlight the similarities of all American families; this was implemented by the movie in order to present a white audience with the realization that white and black families faced many similar problems and generational differences. The next major theme was the inaccessibility to the American dream, which occurred for many who were trying to obtain the expected middle class lifestyle of the era. This dream led many U.S. citizens, such as the fictional Walter, to a materialistic obsession, which the movie used to criticize the norms of American consumerism (Lecture Notes). Next, the theme of assimilation was explored through Beneatha, who chose between an assimilated boyfriend and one who was focused on cultural heritage. She chose Joseph, a man who embraced his African roots, indicating her rejection of assimilation. As she acted against the societal pressures of the McCarthy era, Beneatha’s actions sent the message that anyone can go against societal norms (Many are the Crimes). Beneatha also deviates from the stereotypes of wanting to get married and wanting to become a housewife, which showed the viewer that anyone can rise above stereotypical expectations of the time. Lastly, Mr. Lindner’s attempts to maintain neighborhood segregation without appearing outwardly prejudice demonstrated that even though racism was becoming frowned upon, especially in the Northern United States, it still had an influential latent presence (Cold War Civil Rights).
Both the themes and plot of Raisin reinforce many of the ideas raised in class. First, the conflict in the second half of the story results from the practice of housing segregation. As we discussed in class, many suburbs became segregated (by choice or due to housing codes), even in liberal northern cities like Chicago. The exclusion of the Youngers from the suburbs in Raisin is justified by Lindner as an attempt to avoid interracial tensions. He argues that their exclusion is more of an effort to keep peace than to restrict the Youngers in any way. This tactic is similar to those used by the federal government with respect to the civil rights movement during the Cold War. When confronted with foreign pressure to abolish segregation, the government invested much energy into reframing the issue, rather than addressing the racism at the root of the practice. Like Lindner, the government appeared generally uncomfortable with the practices of segregation, but to avoid potential disruptions to the peace, it avoided change for as long as possible. While some of the film’s messages are generally progressive, it also exhibits many stereotypical aspects of 1950s culture. For one, the family has aspirations of establishing comfortable middle-class lives. Momma chooses to use only part of her insurance money to purchase a home, opting for a modest one in a predominantly white suburb. Like many families of the time, she desires practicality rather than opulence. Similarly, Momma sees the home as the primary source of fulfillment, remarking to Walter Lee that, “It’s dangerous when a man goes outside of his house to look for peace.” Walter Lee hopes to establish a traditional family model as well. He frequently expresses embarrassment over the fact that his wife must work to help support the family, and if he were to become financially successful, he insists that she would no longer work. In addition, unlike the prototypical families of the decade, the Youngers live in a multigenerational household consisting of more than a core nuclear family, but this is not by choice. Instead, their frequent complaints about sharing household facilities implies that they would choose alternate living arrangements if they had the financial means.
            The class discussion regarding the video clip from Raisin focused on the similar tactics used by both the US government and Mr. Lindner when addressing the racial divide. As one student pointed out, both the government and this character appeared extremely “uncomfortable” with the issue and as Dr. Guarneri noted, both invested much energy in putting a positive spin on a very negative message.

By: Michael Kostalis, Matthew Burger, and Alex Carter


Schrecker, Ellen. Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America. Boston: Little, Brown, 1998. Print.

Dudziak, Mary L. Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2011. Print.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Question #1

During the Cold War era, the United State's public policy was especially vital.  Creating and maintaining a positive reputation internationally was used to combat the communist expansion.  Americans were scrutinized for their lack of artistic originality and influence, as the United States was criticized for copying many Paris works of art.  Abstract art was an attempt at bringing something new to the art world that had never been seen before.  The United States government wanted to leave its footprint on the world stage.  Instead of attacking the canvas with a predetermined image, abstract art was meant to focus more on the process than the final result.  However, this form of artistic expression had ulterior motives, and would thus be looked upon differently by most art loving individuals.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Question 3

Those who were subject to American culture exports may not have seen these in a completely peaceful way.  Some nations may have felt these cultural exports were being used as propaganda to promote the United States as a cultural peace driven nation, even though the U.S. was involved with many military efforts. These countries may have also realized the United States was trying to come off as non-imperialistic, but at the same time the U.S. was attempting to force their ways of culture, through art and entertainment. As a result, these countries could view the actions of the U.S. as aggressive and dominating nature, which is characteristic of a forceful imperial power. For example, although the abstract art created in the U.S. presented individuality and openness for interpretation,  the U.S. was pushing their own culture’s ideals onto other counties. This may have came off as chauvinistic and dictating, which means they were pushing peaceful culture in a not so peaceful way.
Matthew Burger 

Question 3

I don't think that the american cultural exports would have been effective in the way Eisenhower wanted. I think that foreigners would have felt that the US was forcing cultural upon them. Seeing american art wouldn't have necessarily made foreigners think that we weren't a war obsessed country. Also, the selectivity of the art forms, most notably the abstract art, didn't even allow foreigners to see a true representation of american culture.

Question One

If the viewers, of the  Abstract Expressionism art work, knew the origins of this style it would not have been very effective for the U.S. foreign policy.  The idea behind Abstract Expressionism is that it is apolitical and free and the real meaning is in the process to make the piece not the final product.  Those points are the complete opposite of the way the U.S. government used it.  The relationship between the style and the use of it by the government are completely contradictory.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Question 2

I do not think President Eisenhower's Emergency Fund for International Affairs demonstrated the products and cultural values of a free enterprise system that he hoped they would. Even though the United States' invested money in to cultural export programs such as Radio Liberty and American talk shows, individuals may have been skeptical to accept these programs. To countless individuals, this tactic may have been viewed as a way to abandon their own products and cultural values to become indoctrinated with the American way of life. While the fund was highly successful, the idea of conformity to an unfamiliar way of life may been hard for a number of individuals to accept.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Question 3

I don't think America's cultural exports, particularly the abstract art, provided the counterargument to Communist propaganda charges that Eisenhower hoped they would. The US Government refused to send non-abstract American paintings abroad, and in doing so, they cut away part of the culture they were trying to showcase. The wild, perplexing style of abstract art seems to run contrary to the American values of conformity that were so dominant at the time.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Origins and uses of abstract expressionism

·         What is the relationship between the creation of Abstract Expressionism and the political use of Abstract Expressionism?  If viewers knew the origins of this style of painting, would exhibits of these paintings still make for effective U.S. foreign policy?

Culture and free enterprise

·         President Eisenhower wanted his Emergency Fund for International Affairs to “demonstrate the superiority of the products and cultural values of our system of free enterprise.”   Did the United States’ cultural exports—from ballet troupes to modern art to Radio Liberty—actually demonstrate what he hoped they would? 

No culture?

·         Eisenhower also hoped that his Emergency Fund would “offset worldwide Communist propaganda charges that the United States has no culture and that its industrial production is oriented toward war.”  Do you think those who viewed American cultural exports would necessarily come to the conclusion Eisenhower wanted them to?  Why or why not?