Tag Archives: Wray and Newitz

Normman

Introduction:

In thinking about the previous post More Trash Talk I am reminded about a particular work by Izhar Patkin titled Norman; the Average American Male (1981). The work was part of an exhibition by Maurice Berger in 1987 called Race and Representation (excerpt), which showed at Hunter College Art Gallery, New York.

What I am thinking of are the quotes by Rothenberg, Terry, Wray and Newitz (Castle 4):

  • “It is always whiteness that is centered and assumed. Difference is understood in relation to it.”
  • “To be white in America is not to have to think about it.”
  • [Whites] “stand as unmarked, normative bodies and selves.”

Patkin

Patkin’s piece is based on the published work of gynecologist Robert Latou Dickinson and sculptor Abram Belskie who modeled statues to represent the average American male and female (emphasis mine).

Firstly, “Normman” (the Dickinson/Belskie models) emphasizes the naturalness, the normalcy of the European body/face. Because the models were initially shown in Manhattan’s American Museum of Natural History (1945), the models behave as an institutionally sanctioned statement about what normal is. The statement essentially says that if your physique does not look like these models then you are not normal. In addition, they assert that as normal bodies they are centered (not marginal) and unmarked.

Also, I think it is important to note the language initially used by the news magazine Time in describing the introduction of the models to the public at the AMNH as sexualized and objectifying. Time described “Norma” (the female version) as a “taller, lustier type.” The article also compares Norma to the Greek ideal.

Patkin created idealized re-presentations from the statues of the American physique in a series called Norman, the Average American Male (1981). Berger in writing for the catalogue (excerpt) describes Patkin’s treatment as shattering the myth of what normal is. Norman has been displaced from his pedestal.

And still….as I wrote this post I thought of Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth and an image I had seen with a statue on it. After a quick google I find Mark Wallinger’s Ecce Homo (1999). Fifty-four years after the original Normman and Norma. What does Wallinger say of his work? While there is discussion of the way Christ may have looked, Wallinger apparently says, “I wanted to show him as an ordinary human being” (emphasis mine).

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Work Cited

Castle, Charles S. “’White Trash’ Identities, Media, and Popular Culture: Redefining White Hegemony in Contemporary American Culture.” Cultural Landscapes 1.1 2007 3-33. Columbia College Chicago. Web. 2009.

More on White Trash

Introduction:

Exploring the idea of “white trash” further I found the article by Charles Castle titled “White Trash” Identities, Media, and Popular Culture: Redefining White Hegemony in Contemporary American Culture (published in Cultural Landscapes by Columbia College Chicago in 2007).

Invisibility

Castle introduces the reader, with several quotes from other authors, to the idea that “whiteness” is generally invisible. “It is always whiteness that is centered and assumed. Difference is understood in relation to it” (Rothenberg 2 qtd. in Castle 4). “To be white in America is not to have to think about it” (Terry 120 qtd. in Castle 4). [Whites] “stand as unmarked, normative bodies and selves” (Wray and Newitz 3 qtd. in Castle 4).

Castle’s position is similar to that of Wray and Newitz in their assertion that the way to contribute to the dismantling of whiteness (racialization) is to expose the dialogue, the institutionalization, the material, as well as the cultural practices that hide whiteness and essentially make it invisible. The goal is to “make whiteness visible to whites” (Wray and Newitz qtd. in Castle 5). Castle also uses a quote from Frankenberg (in discussing the identity of white trash): “The naming of whiteness displaces it from the unmarked, unnamed status that is itself an effect of its dominance” (29). It is here again that there is an acknowledgement that whiteness needs to be named. This whole process in turn seems to continue to entrench the idea that there are different races.

It becomes a kind of paradox. To talk about and expose the present construct of whiteness (what it means and what it is) in order to again make it invisible. Although in attempting to articulate what needs to happen here, I am tempted to suggest that this should not be the goal (and these authors may also be saying that). What seems necessary to me is to recognize difference (with a sense of the awesome diversity of this planet), but to not use that difference to oppress or dominate.

Pulling a few other relevant ideas from this article it becomes apparent that the whole notion of whiteness is very complex. For example Castle states:

Being white is not something I choose, and the related manifestations of privilege are not something that I consciously take and, therefore, do not have the option of not taking. Privilege is something that society bestows. Unless I speak and challenge the conventions which continue to give me privilege, I will continue to have it no matter how much I try to live my life outside it (6).

Another idea that deserves to be mined is the notion that the elite use etiquette to ostracize and create a lower social Other (white trash) in order to dominate and control (10-11). What comes to mind is the the use of the the term “lady”, as well as the definitions of “Mrs.” and “Miss.” For instance a portion of the definition (Oxford) of lady is “woman belonging to the upper class or fitted for it by manners, habits, and sentiments” (emphasis mine).

Castle also discusses the commodification of white trash where whiteness buys select portions of the white trash identity, which in turn constructs whiteness. It is not a question of being born into whiteness (although I think this still does happen too, which Castle acknowledges when he earlier says that he does not have the option of not taking the bestowed privilege), but being able to buy into it (14,15).

Castle concludes his article by asserting that the appropriation of a white trash identity in popular culture serves to continue to make whiteness invisible. He explains that positive white trash images (rather than stereotypical dirty imagery) serve to embed a positive construct of whiteness essentially acting as a distraction (by becoming a spectacle) to keep societies (white?) eyes away from the the notions of institutional whiteness.

The main question here as I understand it (and this has come to mind many times now) is how to discuss and dismantle the construct of whiteness (as lived and experienced), without continuing to uphold and affirm the same construct.

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Work Cited

Castle, Charles S. “’White Trash’ Identities, Media, and Popular Culture: Redefining White Hegemony in Contemporary American Culture.” Cultural Landscapes 1.1 2007 3-33. Columbia College Chicago. Web. 2009.