Worth it for the
James Marshall shoe story alone.
Read it and weep, folks.
Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature by Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson, and Peter Sieruta. Candlewick, 2014, 288 pages.
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Worth it for the
Have you been participating in the Halloween Book Challenge? Every week, we read a different book. Today is Halloween so we have a BONUS challenge for you! It’s a Halloween Party Spell-It-Out Challenge.
Here’s how the bonus challenge works. Think of all the books you read this month for the Halloween Book Challenge. Then think of the perfect Halloween party item (drinks, candy, decorations, etc.) and spell it out using the first letter of words in your book titles.
G - The Graveyard Book
U - Captain Underpants
M - Midnight Howl
Leave yours in the Comments. Have a super-fun and safe Halloween!
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Dear STACKS readers,
We want to know . . .
What are you going to be for Halloween???
Leave a Comment and tell us your Halloween costume this year!Add a Comment
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“Physics Must Be Rebuilt”
from Serving the Reich: The Struggle for the Soul of Physics under Hitler by Philip Ball
Quantum theory, with its paradoxes and uncertainties, its mysteries and challenges to intuition, is something of a refuge for scoundrels and charlatans, as well as a fount of more serious but nonetheless fantastic speculation. Could it explain Consciousness? Does it undermine causality? Everything from homeopathy to mind control and manifestations of the paranormal has been laid at its seemingly tolerant door.
Mostly that represents a blend of wishful thinking, misconception and pseudoscience. Because quantum theory defies common sense and ‘rational’ expectation, it can easily be hijacked to justify almost any wild idea. The extracurricular uses to which quantum theory has been put tend inevitably to reflect the preoccupations of the times: in the 1970s parallels were drawn with Zen Buddhism, today alternative medicine and theories of mind are in vogue.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that fundamental aspects of quantum physics are still not fully understood, and it has genuinely profound philosophical implications. Many of these aspects were evident to the early pioneers of the field – indeed, in the transformation of scientific thought that quantum theory compelled, they were impossible to ignore. Yet while several of the theory’s persistent conundrums were identified in its early days, one can’t say that the physicists greatly distinguished themselves in their response. This is hardly surprising: neither scientists nor philosophers in the early twentieth century had any preparation for thinking in the way quantum physics demands, and if the physicists tended to retreat into vagueness, near-tautology and mysticism, the philosophers and other intellectuals often just misunderstood the science.
This penchant for pondering the deeper meanings of quantum theory was particularily evident in Germany, proud of its long tradition of philosophical enquiry into nature and reality. The British, American and Italian physicists, in contrast, tended to conform to their stereotypical national pragmatism in dealing with quantum matters. But even if they were rather more content to apply the mathematics and not wonder too hard about the ontology, these other scientists relied strongly on the Germanic nations for those theoretical formulations in the first place. Germany, more than any other country, showed how to turn the microscopic fragmentation of nature into a useful, predictive, quantitative and explanatory science. If you were a theoretical physicist in Germany, it was hard to resist the gravitational pull of quantum theory: where Planck and Einstein led, Arnold Sommerfeld, Peter Debye, Werner Heisenberg, Max Born, Erwin Schrödinger, Wolfgang Pauli and others followed.
This being so, it was inevitable that the philosophical aspects of quantum physics should have been coloured by the political and social preoccupations of Germany. As we shall see, it was not the only part of physics to become politicized. These tendencies rocked the ivory tower: the kind of science you pursued became a statement about the sort of person you were, and the sympathies you harboured.
Unpeeling the atom
The realization that light and energy were granular had profound implications for the emerging understanding of how atoms are constituted. In 1907 New Zealander Ernest Rutherford, work ing at Manchester University in England, found that most of the mass of an atom is concentrated in a small, dense nucleus with a positive electrical charge. He concluded that this kernel was surrounded by a cloud of electrons, the particles found in 1897 to be the constituents of cathode rays by J. J. Thomson at Cambridge. Electrons possess a negative electrical charge that collectively balances the positive charge of the nucleus. In 1911 Rutherford proposed that the atom is like a solar system in miniature, a nuclear sun orbited by planetary electrons, held there not by gravity but by electrical attraction.
But there was a problem with that picture. According to classical physics, the orbiting electrons should radiate energy as electromagnetic rays, and so would gradually relinquish their orbits and spiral into the nucleus: the atom should rapidly decay. In 1913 the 28-year-old Danish physicist Niels Bohr showed that the notion of quantization – discreteness of energy – could solve this problem of atomic stability, and at the same time account for the way atoms absorb and emit radiation. The quantum hypothesis gave Bohr permission to prohibit instability by fiat: if the electron energ ies can only take discrete, quantized values, he said, then this gradual leakage of energ y is prevented: the particles remain orbiting indefinitely. Electrons can lose energy, but only by making a hop (‘quantum jump’) to an orbit of lower energy, shedding the difference in the form of a photon of a specific wavelength. By the same token, an electron can gain energy and jump to a higher orbit by absorbing a photon of the right wavelength. Bohr went on to postulate that each orbit can accommodate only a fixed number of electrons, so that downward jumps are impossible unless a vacancy arises.
It was well established experimentally that atoms do absorb and emit radiation at particular, well-defined wavelengths. Light passing through a gas has ‘missing wavelengths’ – a series of dark, narrow bands in the spectrum. The emission spectrum of the same vapour is made up of corresponding bright bands, accounting for example for the characteristic red glow of neon and the yellow glare of sodium vapour when they are stimulated by an electrical discharge. These photons absorbed or emitted, said Bohr, have energies precisely equal to the energy difference between two electron orbits.
By assuming that the orbits are each characterized by an integer ‘quantum number’ related to their energy, Bohr could rationalize the wavelengths of the emission lines of hydrogen. This idea was developed by Arnold Sommerfeld, professor of theoretical physics at the University of Munich. He and his student Peter Debye worked out why the spectral emission lines are split by a magnetic field – an effect discovered by the Dutch physicist Pieter Zeeman in work that won him the 1902 Nobel Prize. (This Zeeman effect is the magnetic equivalent of the line-splitting by an electric field discovered by the German physicist Johannes Stark – see page 88.)
But this was still a rather ad hoc picture, justified only because it seemed to work. What are the rules that govern the energy levels of electrons in atoms, and the jumps between them? In the early 1920s Max Born at the University of Göttingen set out to address those questions, assisted by his brilliant students Wolfgang Pauli, Pascual Jordan and Werner Heisenberg.
Heisenberg, another of Sommerfeld’s protégés, arrived from Munich in October 1922 to become Born’s private assistant, looking as Born put it ‘like a simple farm boy, with short fair hair, clear bright eyes, and a charming expression’. He and Born sought to apply Bohr’s empirical description of atoms in terms of quantum numbers to the case of helium, the second element in the periodic table after hydrogen. Given Bohr’s prescription for how quantum numbers dictate electron energies, one could in principle work out what the energies of the various electron orbits are, assuming that the electrons are held in place by their electrostatic attraction to the nucleus. But that works only for hydrogen, which has a single electron. With more than one electron in the frame, the mathematical elegance is destroyed by the repulsive electrostatic influence that electrons exert on each other. This is not a minor correction: the force between electrons is about as strong as that between electron and nucleus. So for any element aside from hydrogen, Bohr’s appealing modelbecomes too complicated to work out exactly.
In trying to go beyond these limitations, however, Born was not content to fit experimental observations to improvised quantum hypotheses as Bohr had done. Rather, he wanted to calculate the disposition of the electrons using principles akin to those that Isaac Newton used to explain the gravitationally bound solar system. In other words, he sought the rules that governed the quantum states that Bohr had adduced.
It became clear to Born that what he began to call a ‘quantum mechanics’ could not be constructed by a minor amendment of classical, Newtonian mechanics. ‘One must probably introduce entirely new hypotheses’, Heisenberg wrote to Pauli – another former pupil of Sommerfeld in Munich, where the two had become friends – in early 1923. Born agreed, writing that summer that ‘not only new assumptions in the usual sense of physical hypotheses will be necessary, but the entire system of concepts of physics must be rebuilt from the ground up’.
That was a call for revolution, and the ‘new concepts’ that emerged over the next four years amounted to nothing less. Heisenberg began formulating quantum mechanics by writing the energ ies of the quantum states of an atom as a matrix, a kind of mathematical grid. One could specify, for example, a matrix for the positions of the electrons, and another for their momenta (mass times velocity). Heisenberg’s version of quantum theory, devised with Born and Jordan in 1925, became known as matrix mechanics.
It wasn’t the only way to set out the problem. From early 1926 the Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger, working at the University of Zurich, began to explicate a different form of quantum mechanics based not on matrices but on waves. Schrödinger postulated that all the fundamental properties of a quantum particle such as an electron, or a collection of such particles, can be expressed as an equation describing a wave, called a wavefunction. The obvious question was: a wave of what? The wave itself is a purely mathematical entity, incorporating ‘imaginary numbers’ derived from the square root of -1 (denoted i), which, as the name implies, cannot correspond to any observable quantity. But if one calculates the square of a wavefunction – that is, if one multiplies this mathematical entity by itself – (More strictly, one calculates the so-called complex conjugate, the product of two wave functions identical except that the imaginary parts have opposite signs: +i and -i.) – then the imaginary numbers go away and only real ones remain, which means that the result may correspond to something concrete that can be measured in the real world. At first Schrödinger thought that the square of the wavefunction produces a mathematical expression describing how the density of the corresponding particle varies from one place to another, rather as the density of air varies through space in a sound wave. That was already weird enough: it meant that quantum particles could be regarded as smeared-out waves, filling space like a gas. But Born – who, to Heisenberg’s dismay, was enthusiastic about Schrödinger’s rival ‘wave mechanics’ – argued that the squared wavefunction denoted something even odder: the probability of finding the particle at each location in space.
Think about that for a moment. Schrödinger was asserting that the wavefunction says all that can be said about a quantum system. And apparently, all that can be said is not where the particle is, but what the chance is of finding it here or there. This is not a question of incomplete knowledge – of knowing that a friend might be at the cinema or the restaurant, but not knowing which. In that case she is one place or another, and you are forced to talk of probabilities just because you lack sufficient information. Schrödinger’s wave-based quantum mechanics is different: it insists that there is no answer to the question beyond the probabilities. To ask where the particle really is has no physical meaning. At least, it doesn’t until you look – but that act of looking doesn’t then disclose what was previously hidden, it determines what was previously undecided.
Whereas Heisenberg’s matrix mechanics was a way of formalizing the quantum jumps that Bohr had introduced, Schrödinger’s wave mechanics seemed to do away with them entirely. The wavefunction made everything smooth and continuous again. At least, it seemed to. But wasn’t that just a piece of legerdemain? When an electron jumps from one atomic orbit to another, the initial and the final states are both described by wavefunctions. But how did one wavefunction change into the other? The theory didn’t specify that – you had to put it in by hand. And you still do: there remains no consensus about how to build quantum jumps into quantum theory. All the same, Schrödinger’s description has prevailed over Heisenberg’s – not because it is more correct, but because it is more convenient and useful. What’s more, Heisenberg’s quantum matrices were abstract, giving scant purchase to an intuitive understanding, while Schrödinger’s wave mechanics offered more sustenance to the imagination.
The probabilistic view of quantum mechanics is famously what disconcerted Einstein. His scepticism eventually isolated him from the evolution of quantum theory and left him unable to contribute further to it. He remained convinced that there was some deeper reality below the probabilities that would rescue the precise certainties of classical physics, restoring a time and a place for everything. This is how it has always been for quantum theory: those who make great, audacious advances prove unable to reconcile them to the still more audacious notions of the next generation. It seems that one’s ability to ‘suppose’ – ‘understanding’ quantum theory is largely a matter of reconciling ourselves to its counter-intuitive claims – is all too easily exhausted by the demands that the theory makes.
Schrödinger wasn’t alone in accepting and even advocating indeterminacy in the quantum realm. Heisenberg’s matrix mechanics seemed to insist on a very strange thing. If you multiply together the matrices describing the position and the momentum of a particle, you get a different result depending on which matrix you put first in the arithmetic. In the classical world the order of multiplication of two quantities is irrelevant: two times three is the same as three times two, and an object’s momentum is the same expressed as mass times velocity or velocity times mass. For some pairs of quantum properties, such as position and momentum, that was evidently no longer the case.
This might seem an inconsequential quirk. But Heisenberg discovered that it had the most bizarre corollary, as foreshadowed in the portentous title of the paper he published in March 1927: ‘On the perceptual content of quantum-theoretical kinematics and mechanics’. Here he showed that the theory insisted on the impossibility of knowing at any instant the precise position and momentum of a quantum particle. As he put it, ‘The more precisely we determine the position, the more imprecise is the determination of momentum in this instant, and vice versa.’
This is Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. He sought to offer an intuitive rationalization of it, explaining that one cannot make a measurement on a tiny particle such as an electron without disturbing it in some way. If it were possible to see the particle in a microscope (in fact it is far too small), that would involve bouncing light off it. The more accurately you wish to locate its position, the shorter the wavelength of light you need (crudely speak ing, the finer the divisions of the ‘ruler’ need to be). But as the wavelength of photons gets shorter, their energy increases – that’s what Planck had said. And as the energy goes up, the more the particle recoils from the impact of a photon, and so the more you disturb its momentum.
This thought experiment is of some value for grasping the spirit of the uncertainty principle. But it has fostered the misconception that the uncertainty is a result of the limitations of experimentation: you can’t look without disturbing. The uncertainty is, however, more fundamental than that: again, it’s not that we can’t get at the information, but that this information does not exist. Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle has also become popularly interpreted as imputing fuzziness and imprecision to quantum mechanics. But that’s not quite right either. Rather, it places very precise limits on what we can know. Those limits, it transpires, are determined by Planck’s constant, which is so small that the uncertainty becomes significant only at the tiny scale of subatomic particles.
Both Schrödinger’s wavefunction and Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle seemed to be insisting on aspects of quantum theory that verged on the metaphysical. For one thing, they placed bounds on what is knowable. This appeared to throw causality itself – the bedrock of science – into question. Within the blurred margins of quantum phenomena, how can we know what is cause and what is effect? An electron could turn up here, or it could instead be there, with no apparent causal principle motivating those alternatives.
Moreover, the observer now intrudes ineluctably into the previously objective, mechanistic realm of physics. Science purports to pronounce on how the world works. But if the very act of observing it changes the outcome – for example, because it transforms the wavefunction from a probability distribution of situations into one particular situation, commonly called ‘collapsing’ the wavefunction – then how can one claim to speak about an objective world that exists before we look?
Today it is generally thought that quantum theory offers no obvious reason to doubt causality, at least at the level at which we can study the world, although the precise role of the observer is still being debated. But for the pioneers of quantum theory these questions were profoundly disturbing. Quantum theory worked as a mathematical description, but without any consensus about its interpretation, which seemed to be merely a matter of taste. Many physicists were content with the prescription devised between 1925 and 1927 by Bohr and Heisenberg, who visited the Dane in Copenhagen. Known now as the Copenhagen interpretation, this view of quantum physics demanded that centuries of classical preconceptions be abandoned in favour of a capitulation to the maths. At its most fundamental level, the physical world was unknowable and in some sense indeterminate. The only reality worthy of the description is what we can access experimentally – and that is all that quantum theory prescribes. To look for any deeper description of the world is meaningless. To Einstein and some others, this seemed to be surrendering to ignorance. Beneath the formal and united appearance of the Solvay group in 1927 lies a morass of contradictory and seemingly irreconcilable views.
These debates were not limited to the physicists. If even they did not fully understand quantum theory, how much scope there was then for confusion, distortion and misappropriation as they disseminated these ideas to the wider world. Much of the blame for this must be laid at the door of the scientists themselves, including Bohr and Heisenberg, who threw caution to the wind when generalizing the narrow meaning of the Copenhagen interpretation in their public pronouncements. For Bohr, a crucial part of this picture was the notion of complementarity, which holds that two apparently contradictory descriptions of a quantum system can both be valid under different observational circumstances. Thus a quantum entity, be it an insubstantial photon or an electron graced with mass, can behave at one time as a particle, at another as a wave. Bohr’s notion of complementarity is scarcely a scientific theory at all, but rather, another characteristic expression of the Copenhagen affirmation that ‘this is just how things are’: it is not that there is some deeper behaviour that sometimes looks ‘wave-like’ and sometimes ‘particle-like’, but rather, this duality is an intrinsic aspect of nature. However one feels about Bohr’s postulate, there was little justification for his enthusiastic extension of the complementarity principle to biology, law, ethics and religion. Such claims made quantum physics a political matter.
The same is true for Heisenberg’s insistence that, via the uncertainty principle, ‘the meaninglessness of the causal law is definitely proved’. He tried to persuade philosophers to come to terms with this abolition of determinism and causality, as though this had moreover been established not as an (apparent) corollary of quantum theory but as a general law of nature.
This quasi-mystical perspective on quantum theory that the physicists appeared to encourage was attuned to a growing rejection, during the Weimar era, of what were viewed as the maladies of materialism: commercialism, avarice and the encroachment of technology. Science in general, and physics in particular, were apt to suffer from association with these supposedly degenerate values, making it inferior in the eyes of many intellectuals to the noble aspirations of art and ‘higher culture’. While it would be too much to say that an emphasis on the metaphysical aspects of quantum mechanics was cultivated in order to rescue physics from such accusations, that desideratum was not overlooked. Historian Paul Forman has argued that the quantum physicists explicitly accommodated their inter pretations to the prevailing social ethos of the age, in which ‘the concept – or the mere word – “causality” symbolized all that was odious in the scientific enterprise’. In his 1918 book Der Untergang des Abendlandes (The Decline of the West), the German philosopher and historian Oswald Spengler more or less equated causality with physics, while making it a concept deserving of scorn and standing in opposition to life itself. Spengler saw in modern physicists’ doubts about causality a symptom of what he regarded as the moribund nature of science itself. Here he was thinking not of quantum theory, which was barely beginning to reach the public consciousness at the end of the First World War, but of the probabilistic microscopic theory of matter developed by the Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell and the Austrian Ludwig Boltzmann, which had already renounced claims to a precise, deterministic picture of atomic motions.
Spengler’s book was read and discussed throughout the German academic world. Einstein and Born knew it, as did many other of the leading physicists, and Forman believes that it fed the impulse to realign modern physics with the spirit of the age, leading theoretical physicists and applied mathematicians to ‘denigrat[e] the capacity of their discipline to attain true, or even valuable, knowledge’. They began to speak of science as an essentially spiritual enterprise, unconnected to the demands and depradations of technology but, as Wilhelm Wien put it, arising ‘solely from an inner need of the human spirit’. Even Einstein, who deplored the rejection of causality that he saw in many of his colleagues, emphasized the roles of feeling and intuition in science.
In this way the physicists were attempting to reclaim some of the prestige that science had lost to the neo-Romantic spirit of the times. Causality was a casualty. Only once we have ‘liberation from the rooted prejudice of absolute causality’, said Schrödinger in 1922, would the puzzles of atomic physics be conquered. Bohr even spoke of quantum theory having an ‘inherent irrationality’. And as Forman points out, many physicists seemed to accept these notions not with reluctance or pain but with relief and with the expectation that they would be welcomed by the public. He does not see in all this simply an attempt to ingratiate physics to a potentially hostile audience, but rather, an unconscious adaptation to the prevailing culture, made in good faith. When Einstein expressed his reservations about the trend in a 1932 interview with the Irish writer James Gardner Murphy, Murphy responded that even scientists surely ‘cannot escape the influence of the milieu in which they live’. And that milieu was anti-causal.
Equally, the fact that both quantum theory and relativity were seen to be provoking crises in physics was consistent with the widespread sense that crises pervaded Weimar culture – economically, politically, intellectually and spiritually. ‘The idea of such a crisis of culture’, said the French politician Pierre Viénot in 1931, ‘belongs today to the solid stock of the common habit of thought in Germany. It is a part of the German mentality.’ The applied mathematician Richard von Mises spoke of ‘the present crisis in mechanics’ in 1921; another mathematician, Hermann Weyl (one of the first scientists openly to question causality) claimed there was a ‘crisis in the foundations of mathematics’, and even Einstein wrote for a popular audience on ‘the present crisis in theoretical physics’ in 1922. (Experimental physicist Johannes Stark’s 1921 book The Present Crisis in German Physics used the same trope but spoke to a very different perception: that his kind of physics was being eclipsed by an abstract, degenerate form of theoretical physics – see page 91.) One has the impression that these crises were not causing much dismay, but rather, reassured physicists that they were in the same tumultuous flow as the rest of society.
This was, however, a dangerous game. Some outsiders drew the conclusion that quantum mechanics pronounced on free will, and it was only a matter of time before the new physics was being enlisted for political ends. Some even managed to claim that it vindicated the policies of the National Socialists.
Moreover, if physics was being in some sense shaped to propitiate Spenglerism, it risked seeming to endorse also Spengler’s central thesis of relativism: that not only art and literature but also science and mathematics are shaped by the culture in which they arise and are invalid and indeed all but incomprehensible outside that culture. It is tempting to find here a presentiment of the ‘Aryan physics’ propagated by Nazi sympathizers in the 1930s (see Chapter 6), which contrasted healthy Germanic science with decadent, self-serving Jewish science. And given Spengler’s nationalism, rejection of Weimar liberalism, support for authoritarianism and belief in historical destiny, it is no surprise that he was initially lauded by the Nazis, especially Joseph Goebbels, nor that he voted for Hitler in 1932. (Spengler was too much of an intellectual for his advocacy to survive close contact. After meeting Hitler in 1933, he distanced himself from the Nazis’ vulgar posturing and anti-Semitism, and was no favourite of the Reich by the time he died in Munich in 1936.)
One way or another, then, by the 1920s physics was becoming freighted with political implications. Without intending it, the physicists themselves had encouraged this. But they hadn’t grasped – were perhaps unable to grasp – what it would soon imply.
To read more about Serving the Reich, click here.Add a Comment
I get to work with many authors and illustrators who have school-visit schedules that would make your head spin. John Coy, Nancy Carlson, and Greg Neri to name only three rack up more miles and passport stamps than I care to contemplate. I consider myself a good traveler and something of a road warrior where car trips are concerned, but I’ve seen school visit schedules that would make me cut up my driver’s license and let my passport expire. And as taxing as this work is, I think this travel is also one of the most important things authors and illustrators do today.
Don’t take my word for it though. John Coy has written with characteristic eloquence on the matter.
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“Like any school visit, once I’ve agreed to come, teachers and librarians start preparing students. Because of those efforts, I never cancel and am reluctant to postpone. That’s true with winter driving in Minnesota, and it’s true with unforeseen situations at international schools.”
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about mean girls, nice girls, and
doing the right thing.
Always Abigail by Nancy J. Cavanaugh. Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2014, 320 pages.
With Halloween nigh, it’s only fitting to serve up a treat . . . a Q & A with the terrifyingly spooktacular R. L. Stine, author of the Goosebumps series! Read to find out which Goosebumps character R. L. Stine is most like, his inspiration for Slappy, and more!
Q: How did you come up with Slappy’s character and the rhyme that brings him to life?
R.L Stine: I’ve always been fascinated by puppets and dummies. When I was really young, maybe about three, my mother read the original Pinocchio to me, and it scared me to death. I think that’s where the idea of Slappy came from. When I write him, I want him to be so rude, he’s funny.
Q: Why did you decide on Goosebumps as the title of your book series?
R.L Stine: I liked the title Goosebumps because it is funny and scary at the same time, exactly what I try to do in the books. I’ve never been able to think of another title as perfect as that one.
Q: What would you do if you found yourself inside one of your books? Would you try to change the story or would you let it unfold?
R.L Stine: I think I would scream my head off—and run—like most of my characters. I would hate to be trapped in one of my books!
Q: Does anyone still call you “Jovial Bob?”
R.L Stine: No. Now I’m just scary. I haven’t been Jovial in years.
Q: Are any of your stories based on things that gave you nightmares as a kid?
R.L Stine: I was scared of a lot of things when I was a kid. I think that’s why I stayed in my room typing stories all the time. When I write my books now, I don’t remember specific things I was afraid of then. But I remember those feelings of fear and panic and try to bring them to my books.
Q: Do you go on book tours to other countries like Europe or Asia so that fans outside of the U.S. can meet you?
R.L Stine: I’ve been lucky to have done several wonderful book tours in other countries. I’ve done appearances and signings in London, Paris, and cities in Italy. My most memorable book tours were the ones in Australia and, most recently, China. I hope to travel to more countries soon.
Q: If you had to choose any character in any Goosebumps book to get its comeuppance from any Goosebumps monster, which character and which monster would you choose?
R.L Stine: Believe me, I don’t want to be a character in any of my books, and I don’t want to be a monster. I think I would least like to be the monster at Camp Jellyjam who was so smelly he died from his own smell!
Q: Which character from your Goosebumps books would you say is most like you and why?
R.L Stine: I guess I’m like the kid in The Blob that Ate Everything. He likes to sit at an old typewriter and write stories. And then he’s horrified when everything he writes comes true. I’d be horrified, too!
Q: What inspired you to write horror books?
R.L Stine: I’ve always enjoyed horror. When I was a kid, I read wonderful horror comics, like Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Horror. My brother and I used to go to a horror movie every Saturday afternoon. I think I enjoy writing horror for kids because it’s a chance to give them a chill—and a laugh—at the same time.
Q: Have you ever considered taking a fan’s idea and writing a Goosebumps story about it?
R.L Stine: I’ve never used a reader’s ideas. I enjoy thinking them up too much myself!
Photo Credit: Dan NelkenAdd a Comment
The trilogy, completed.
The brilliant Laura Rinne designed each of these jackets, and she rose to the occasion each time John delivered a new manuscript. The Conformity will hit NetGalley soon, if you can’t stand the waiting.Add a Comment
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JacketFlap tags: Activities and Events, and Representation, Book Lists by Topic, Diversity 102, Lee & Low Likes, African/African American Interest, Asian/Asian American, bilingual books, Children's Book Press, Latino/Hispanic/Mexican, LGBT, multicultural books, Add a tag
Today is Mix It Up At Lunch Day, an annual day started by Teaching Tolerance over a decade ago to encourage kindness and reduce prejudice in schools by encouraging students to sit and have lunch with someone new, one day out of the year. Teaching Tolerance offers some great resources to help schools celebrate Mix It Up At Lunch Day, and we thought we’d add our own list of recommended books that encourage kindness, giving, bravery and open-mindedness!
- Lend a Hand: Poems About Giving written by John Frank and illustrated by London Ladd- A collection of poems showing the many ways individuals can make differences.
- Antonio’s Card written by Rigoberto González and illustrated by Cecilia Álvarez – Antonio’s classmates make fun of Leslie, Antonio’s mother’s partner because of her paint-spattered overalls. Antonio decides to make a card for his mother and her partner.
- First Come the Zebra by Lynne Barasch – Abaani, a Maasai boy, sees a Kikuyu boy, Haki, tending a new fruit and vegetable stall alongside the road and they take an immediate dislike to each other. A short while later, a dangerous situation arises near Haki’s stall and Abaani and Haki must overcome their differences and work together.
- King for a Day written by Rukhsana Khan and illustrated by Christiane Krömer – Malik wants to become the king of the kite festival, Basant. Using his kite Falcon, Malik becomes the king of Basant! When he sees a bully take a kite from a girl, Malik uses Falcon to give her a nice surprise.
- Grandfather Counts written by Andrea Cheng and illustrated by Ange Zheng – Gong Gong, Helen’s grandfather who only speaks Chinese, moves in with her family. Helen is worried about not being able to speak to him. She hears him counting train cars in Chinese, and she reciprocates by showing him how to count in English.
- Sam and the Lucky Money written by Karen Chinn and illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu – Sam receives lucky money–red envelopes called leisees (lay-sees), from his grandparents that he can spend any way he wants. When he doesn’t have enough money to buy what he wants, Sam instead decides to give his money to a homeless man.
- Birthday in the Barrio written by Mayra Lazara Dole and illustrated by Tonel – Chavi’s friend Rosario wants to have a quinceñera (sweet 15), but her family can’t afford it. Chavi gathers people in the barrio (neighborhood) and throws Rosario a birthday party in the community center.
- Brothers in Hope written by Mary Williams and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie – When eight-year-old Garang’s village in southern Sudan is destroyed, he walks thousands of miles with many other boys to seek safety. The boys face numerous hardships and dangers along the way, but their faith and mutual support help keep the hope of finding a new home alive in their hearts.
- Destiny’s Gift written by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley and illustrated by Adjoa J. Burrowes – Destiny’s favorite place to be is Mrs. Wade’s bookstore; she helps out every Saturday. When Mrs. Wade tells Destiny she has to close the bookstore, Destiny organizes her community to protest.
- Passage to Freedom written by Ken Mochizuki and illustrated by Dom Lee – Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese diplomat to Lithuania, helped thousands of Jewish people escape the Holocaust by giving them visas to Japan.
- Goldfish and Chrysanthemums written by Andrea Cheng and illustrated by Michelle Chang – Nancy’s grandmother, Ni Ni, finds out that her childhood home in China is being torn down. After winning two goldfish at the fair, Nancy keeps Ni Ni’s memories of her garden alive by recreating it in their backyard.
- Irena’s Jars of Secrets written by Marcia Vaughan and illustrated by Ron Mazellan – Irena Sendler, a Polish social worker, witnesses the injustices committed against Jewish people in Warsaw during WWII. First, she smuggles things they need into the Warsaw ghetto, and then, using false documents, she smuggles Jewish children out of the ghetto. She keeps jars with their information, hoping to reunite them with their families.
- Puffling Patrol by Ted and Betsey Lewin – Every April, the Westman Islands off the coast of Iceland become home to hundreds of thousands of puffins, small black-and-white seabirds with colorful bills. When the young puffins, called pufflings, are ready to make their way into the sea, they’re helped by the Puffling Patrol, children who help guide the pufflings to the ocean.
- Rent Party Jazz by written William Miller and illustrated by Charlotte Riley-Webb – Rent day is coming, and Sonny’s mama has lost her job. Sonny isn’t sure what to do, but a jazz musician named Smilin’ Jack hosts a party to help Sonny and his mama raise money for their rent.
- Aani and the Tree Huggers written by Jeannine Atkins and illustrated by Venantius J. Pinto – While Aani sits under her favorite tree, she hears men coming in to cut down the trees, despite protest from the women in the village. When the men return to cut the trees, Aani hugs a tree to prevent them from cutting it down, and the rest of the people in her village follow suit, saving the forest.
For more information about Mix It Up at Lunch Day and how to participate, click here!
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Taylor Swift ROCKS Would You Rather!
The youngest singer EVER to win a Grammy for Album of the Year. The only female artist to chart at #1 with three consecutive studio albums. An album on Rolling Stone’s 50 Greatest Albums of All Time list. And . . . she writes her own music. And . . . she has a totally awesome fashion style.
Check Ink Splot 26 very soon to watch an exclusive, up-close and personal chat with Taylor. She’ll share books that have inspired her, how writing has opened her world (a.k.a. becoming a rock star songwriter), and an exclusive never-before-seen video clip!
And enter the This Is How I Shake It Off Writing Contest. Taylor uses music to shake off tough moments in her life. You can share your story for a chance to win some amazing prizes. (Read the contest details here.)
So with all the Taylor Swift excitement around the STACKS this week, we want to know . . .
Would You Rather…
- Win a trip to see her concert OR win a guitar signed by Taylor Swift?
- Be in the room when Taylor was writing a new song OR when she is making a music video?
- Have Taylor’s long hair OR short bob haircut?
- Have front row seats in a giant concert stadium OR be one of 10 people hearing her play in a private coffee house?
- Have Taylor as your songwriting coach OR your fashion stylist?
- Have Taylor Swift as your BFF OR Ariana Grande? (too hard to choose?!)
- See Taylor guest star on Austin & Ally OR The Thundermans?
- Sing a duet with Taylor in front of your whole school to “Shake It Off” OR “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”?
We can’t wait to hear what you guys say in the Comments below! Rock on.
Ratha, STACKS WriterAdd a Comment
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effective take on
Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling by Lucy Frank. Schwartz + Wade, 2014, 272 pages.
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Taylor Swift Shake It Off Contest
Taylor Swift uses music to shake off the things people do or say that could have the power to hurt her. We want to hear how you shake off the things that get you down in your life. Enter the Taylor Swift This Is How I Shake It Off Writing Contest for a chance to win these prizes . . .
- Grand Prize: A trip for 2 people to Taylor’s concert including a meet & greet with Taylor Swift!
- 2nd place winner: A signed guitar & 1989 CD
- 5 Runners-up: A signed 1989 CD
Here’s how to enter!
- The contest is open to students attending U.S. schools in grades 3 through 6 who are legal residents of the United States.
- Students must write an essay or poem, no more than one page, which explores the question “How do you shake it off when someone says or does something that has the power to hurt you?”
- Each entry must include student’s name and grade, teacher’s name, school name, address, and phone number.
- Entries must be mailed to: This Is How I Shake It Off! Writing Contest, P.O. Box 714, New York, NY 10013-0714.
- Entries must be received by December 11, 2014. No other means of entry accepted.
Leave a Comment telling us how YOU shake it off, and then send in your contest entry! Good luck!Add a Comment
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What happens if we don’t follow a recipe? Potentially, a disaster. Recipes require careful reading and we can literally taste the consequences of our failure to do so. In this way, a recipe is fantastic for small group instruction, such as guided reading, and for parent-child practice because it is grounded in real world applications and requires multiple re-readings to grasp the information.
For guided reading, there were only a dozen or so book sets that I used with my students because those available to me were dated in content (think: Pluto is still a planet) and image, worn out from being shared across the whole school, and unreliable in student engagement. On one of my monthly trips to a Friends of the Library book sale, where I often scrounged, hunted, and bargained, I discovered a milk crate full of the children’s literary magazine, Cricket. As these were used periodicals, they were available for free. I remember the award-winning magazine as a child myself and quickly discovered that the wide variety of high-quality texts would be perfect for guided reading, including the recipes and craft instructions.
Young readers can use recipes to analyze an author’s choices, such as the order of steps, choice of ingredients, and ingredient amounts. Recipes provide hands-on experience at home while building critical background schema and additional practice with a nonfiction text. Recipes are great for teaching close reading because they:
- naturally engage students with the content (yum!)
- create real-world connections for why we learn to read and the skill of close reading (look—even adults do it!)
- provide a small amount of text which can be read in one sitting but requires several re-readings to understand it fully (perfect for 20-25 min. periods)
- allow students to interpret and solve new words in context
- require students to visualize and analyze how the individual parts create the final product
As you read and carry out each step of a recipe, students can think about the author’s choices along the way. Why would the author want only ¼ tsp of salt? What would happen if we added 2 tsp instead? Why is salt needed in this recipe in the first place? Why do we need to add the salt before we boil? And so on.
Below is an example of questions for close reading using the recipe included at the end of the story, Sweet Potato Pie.
Read and follow along with the full Mama’s Sweet Potato Pie recipe.
First reading: (Literal questions to understand the information)
- What are we making? What is the central idea of this text?
- How much vanilla do we need?
- What are the general steps we need to do to make a sweet potato pie?
- What do we have to do first? (This is tricky because you have to make the pie crust before you can do the filling even though it is ordered in reverse)
- How will we know the pie is finished?
- Why do we use a fork to press down around the rim of the pan?
- What step is for attractiveness and not necessary?
Second reading: (Higher level/open-ended questions to infer significant ideas)
- Why should we cut the potatoes into chunks before boiling? What would happen if we put in the whole potato to boil instead?
- Why does the author say only use ¼ tsp of salt? What would happen if we added 1 tsp of salt instead? What would happen if we didn’t add any salt at all?
- Why does the author tell us to mash the potatoes AFTER boiling the potatoes and draining the water in, not before?
- Why does the author state, “children will need adult help”? Which step should adults do or supervise? Why?
Third reading: (Higher level/open-ended questions to analyze author’s methods, craft, and text structure)
- What is the meaning of the word preheat in Step 1 (Preheat the oven to 350 degrees)? What is the meaning of the prefix pre-?
- What is the meaning of the world except in Step 4 (Add all remaining ingredients except cinnamon and beat sweet potato mixture until smooth)?
- What is the author’s purpose of this text (persuade, explain, entertain, inform)? How do you know?
- How is the text organized? Why would the author organize the information as a list of steps? Why would the author separate the steps for the pie crust and filling within the same recipe?
- What features shows this text is a recipe? How are this text’s format and features different from other nonfiction texts’ format and features? How does this text compare to the story that precedes it?
- What type of sentence is used throughout the recipe (declarative, imperative, interrogative, exclamation)? How do you know? Why would the author choose this type of sentence?
- Why does the author put the “children will need adult help” note at the beginning of the recipe?
Where can you find child-friendly recipes and craft instructions? Many food-centric books, such as Sweet Potato Pie, Cora Cooks Pancit, and Rainbow Stew, will include the recipe at the end of the book. Children’s magazines, like Cricket and Highlights, have user-submitted recipes and craft ideas with easy to follow steps. Finally, children’s cookbooks are widely available.
How does close reading look in your classroom? Any tricks and tips to share?
Jill Eisenberg, our Resident Literacy Expert, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language to second through sixth graders in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in San Jose, CA as a Teach for America corps member. She is certified in Project Glad instruction to promote English language acquisition and academic achievement. In her column she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators.
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Though the weather outside has been dreary, some of this diversity news has been anything but!
This week, the We Need Diverse Books campaign announced that they’re naming an award in honor of the late, great Walter Dean Myers! They are currently raising money through their IndieGoGo campaign and the hashtag #SupportWNDB.
School Library Journal and #WNDB also announced their collaboration. The collaboration will include a diversity-themed event at the 2016 ALA Midwinter conference and support for the diversity-themed festival to be held in the Washington, D.C. area in 2016.
We’re also excited to see all of the diverse movies being released:
Dear White People, the comedy-satire that started as a Youtube concept trailer premieres today. Dear White People was the winner of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival’s Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent. This comedy is a clever satire of race relations in the age of Obama.
Disney’s next heroine will be Moana. The eponymous film will be about a teenaged explorer from Oceania who travels the ocean with a demigod named Maui in search of an island. It’s set to be released in 2016!
Have you seen any great news about diversity this week?
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“Academic Freedom Studies: The Five Schools”
In 2009 Terrence Karran published an essay with the title “Academic Freedom: In Justification of a Universal Ideal.” Although it may not seem so at first glance, the title is tendentious, for it answers in advance the question most often posed in the literature: How does one justify academic freedom? One justifies academic freedom, we are told before Karran’s analysis even begins, by claiming for it the status of a universal ideal.
The advantage of this claim is that it disposes of one of the most frequently voiced objections to academic freedom: Why should members of a particular profession be granted latitudes and exemptions not enjoyed by other citizens? Why, for example, should college and university professors be free to criticize their superiors when employees in other workplaces might face discipline or dismissal? Why should college and university professors be free to determine and design the condition of their workplace (the classroom) while others must adhere to a blueprint laid down by a supervisor? Why should college and university professors be free to choose the direction of their research while researchers who work for industry and government must go down the paths mandated by their employers? We must ask, says Frederick Schauer (2006), “whether academics should, by virtue of their academic employment and/or profession, have rights (or privileges, to be more accurate) not possessed by others” (913).
The architects of the doctrine of academic freedom were not unaware of these questions, and, in anticipation of others raising them, raised them themselves. Academic freedom, wrote Arthur O. Lovejoy (1930), might seem “peculiar chiefly in that the teacher is . . . a salaried employee and that the freedom claimed for him implies a denial of the right of those who provide or administer the funds from which he is paid to control the content of his teaching” ( 384). But this denial of the employer’s control of the employee’s behavior is peculiar only if one assumes, first, that college and university teaching is a job like any other and, second, that the college or university teacher works for a dean or a provost or a board of trustees. Those assumptions are directly challenged and rejected by the American Association of University Professors’ 1915 Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure, a founding document (of which Lovejoy was a principal author) and one that is, in many respects, still authoritative. Here is a key sentence:
The responsibility of the university teacher is primarily to the public itself, and to the judgment of his own profession; and while, with respect to certain external conditions of his vocation, he accepts a responsibility to the authorities of the institution in which he serves, in the essentials of his professional activity his duty is to the wider public to which the institution itself is morally amenable.
There are four actors and four centers of interest in this sentence: the public, the institution of the academy, the individual faculty member, and the individual college or university. The faculty member’s allegiance is first to the public, an abstract entity that is not limited to a particular location. The faculty member’s secondary allegiance is to the judgment of his own profession, but since, as the text observes, the profession’s responsibility is to the public, it amounts to the same thing. Last in line is the actual college or university to which the faculty member is tied by the slightest of ligatures. He must honor the “external conditions of his vocation”—conditions like showing up in class and assigning grades, and holding office hours and teaching to the syllabus and course catalog (although, as we shall see, those conditions are not always considered binding)— but since it is a “vocation” to which the faculty member is responsible, he will always have his eye on what is really essential, the “universal ideal” that underwrites and justifies his labors.
Here in 1915 are the seeds of everything that will flower in the twenty- first century. The key is the distinction between a job and a vocation. A job is defined by an agreement (often contractual) between a worker and a boss: you will do X and I will pay you Y; and if you fail to perform as stipulated, I will discipline or even dismiss you. Those called to a vocation are not merely workers; they are professionals; that is, they profess something larger than the task immediately at hand— a religious faith, a commitment to the rule of law, a dedication to healing, a zeal for truth— and in order to become credentialed professors, as opposed to being amateurs, they must undergo a rigorous and lengthy period of training. Being a professional is less a matter of specific performance (although specific performances are required) than of a continual, indeed lifelong, responsiveness to an ideal or a spirit. And given that a spirit, by definition, cannot be circumscribed, it will always be possible (and even thought mandatory and laudable) to expand the area over which it is said to preside.
The history of academic freedom is in part the history of that expansion as academic freedom is declared to be indistinguishable from, and necessary for, the flourishing of every positive value known to humankind. Here are just a few quotations from Karran’s essay:
Academic freedom is important to everyone’s well-being, as well as being particularly pertinent to academics andtheir students. (The Robbins Committee on Higher Education in the UK, 1963)
Academic freedom is but a facet of freedom in the larger society. (R. M. O. Pritchard, “Academic Freedom and Autonomy in the United Kingdom and Germany,” 1998)
A democratic society is hardly conceivable . . . without academic freedom. (S. Bergan, “Institutional Autonomy: Between Myth and Responsibility,” 2002)
In a society that has a high regard for knowledge and universal values, the scope of academic freedom is wide. (Wan Manan, “Academic Freedom: Ethical Implications and Civic Responsibilities,” 2000)
The sacred trust of the universities is to carry the torch of freedom. (J. W. Boyer, “Academic Freedom and the Modern University: The Experience of the University of Chicago,” 2002)
Notice that in this last statement, freedom is not qualified by the adjective academic. Indeed, you can take it as a rule that the larger the claims for academic freedom, the less the limiting force of the adjective academic will be felt. In the taxonomy I offer in this book, the movement from the most conservative to the most radical view of academic freedom will be marked by the transfer of emphasis from academic, which names a local and specific habitation of the asserted freedom, to freedom, which does not limit the scope or location of what is being asserted at all.
Of course, freedom is itself a contested concept and has many possible meanings. Graeme C. Moodie sorts some of them out and defines the freedom academics might reasonably enjoy in terms more modest than those suggested by the authors cited in Karran’s essay. Moodie (1996) notes that freedom is often understood as the “absence of constraint,” but that, he argues, would be too broad an understanding if it were applied to the activities of academics. Instead he would limit academic freedom to faculty members who are “exercising academic functions in a truly academic matter” (134). Academic freedom, in his account, follows from the nature of academic work; it is not a personal right of those who choose to do that work. That freedom— he calls it an “activity freedom” because it flows from the nature of the job and not from some moral abstraction— “can of course only be exercised by persons, but its justification, and thus its extent, must clearly and explicitly be rooted in its relationship to academic activities rather than (or only consequentially) to the persons who perform them” (133). In short, he concludes, “the special freedom(s) of academics is/are conditional on the fulfillment of their academic obligations” (134).
Unlike those who speak of a universal ideal and of the torch of freedom being carried everywhere, Moodie is focused on the adjective academic. He begins with it and reasons from it to the boundaries of the freedom academics can legitimately be granted. To be sure, the matter is not so cut and dried, for academic must itself be defined so that those boundaries can come clearly into view and that is no easy matter. No one doubts that classroom teaching and research and scholarly publishing are activities where the freedom in question is to be accorded, at least to some extent. But what about the freedom to criticize one’s superiors; or the freedom to configure a course in ways not standard in the department; or the freedom to have a voice in the building of parking garages, or in the funding of athletic programs, or in the decision to erect a student center, or in the selection of a president, or in the awarding of honorary degrees, or in the inviting of outside speakers? Is academic freedom violated when faculty members have minimal input into, or are shut out entirely from, the consideration of these and other matters?
To that question, Mark Yudof, who has been a law school dean and a university president, answers a firm “no.” Yudof (1988) acknowledges that “there are many elements necessary to sustain the university,” including “salaries,” library collections,” a “comfortable workplace,” and even “a parking space” (1356), but do academics have a right to these things or a right to participate in discussions about them (a question apart from the question of whether it is wise for an administration to bring them in)? Only, says Yudof, if you believe “that any restrictions, however indirectly linked to teaching and scholarship, will destroy the quest for knowledge” (1355). And that, he observes, would amount to “a kind of unbridled libertarianism for academicians,” who could say anything they liked in a university setting without fear of reprisal or discipline (1356).
Better, Yudof concludes, to define academic freedom narrowly, if only so those who are called upon to defend it can offer a targeted, and not wholly diffuse, rationale. Academic freedom, he declares, “is what it is” (of course that’s the question; what is it?), and it is “not general liberty, pleasant working conditions, equality, self- realization, or happiness,” for “if academic freedom is thought to include all that is desirable for academicians, it may come to mean quite little to policy makers and courts” (1356). Moodie (1996) gives an even more pointed warning: “Scholars only invite ridicule, or being ignored, when they seem to suggest that every issue that directly affects them is a proper sphere for academic rule” (146). (We shall revisit this issue when we consider the relationship between academic freedom, shared governance, and public employee law.)
So we now have as a working hypothesis an opposition between two views of academic freedom. In one, freedom is a general, overriding, and ever-expanding value, and the academy is just one of the places that house it. In the other, the freedom in question is peculiar to the academic profession and limited to the performance of its core duties. When performing those duties, the instructor is, at least relatively, free. When engaged in other activities, even those that take place within university precincts, no such freedom or special latitude obtains. This modest notion of academic freedom is strongly articulated by J. Peter Byrne (1989): “The term ‘academic freedom’ should be reserved for those rights necessary for the preservation of the unique functions of the university ” (262).
These opposed accounts of academic freedom do not exhaust the possibilities; there are extremes to either side of them, and in the pages that follow I shall present the full range of the positions currently available. In effect I am announcing the inauguration of a new field— Academic Freedom Studies. The field is still in a fluid state; new variants and new theories continue to appear. But for the time being we can identify five schools of academic freedom, plotted on a continuum that goes from right to left. The continuum is obviously a political one, but the politics are the politics of the academy. Any correlation of the points on the continuum with real world politics is imperfect, but, as we shall see, there is some. I should acknowledge at the outset that I shall present these schools as more distinct than they are in practice; individual academics can be members of more than one of them. The taxonomy I shall offer is intended as a device of clarification. The inevitable blurring of the lines comes later.
As an aid to the project of sorting out the five schools, here is a list of questions that would receive different answers depending on which version of academic freedom is in place:
Is academic freedom a constitutional right?
What is the relationship between academic freedom and the First Amendment?
What is the relationship between academic freedom and democracy?
Does academic freedom, whatever its scope, attach to the individual faculty member or to the institution?
Do students have academic freedom rights?
What is the relationship between academic freedom and the form of governance at a college or university?
In what sense, if any, are academics special?
Does academic freedom include the right of a professor to criticize his or her organizational superiors with impunity?
Does academic freedom allow a professor to rehearse his or her political views in the classroom?
What is the relationship between academic freedom and political freedom?
What views of education underlie the various positions on academic freedom?
As a further aid, it would be good to have in mind some examples of incidents or controversies in which academic freedom has been thought to be at stake.
In 2011, the faculty of John Jay College nominated playwright Tony Kushner to be the recipient of an honorary degree from the City University of New York. Normally approval of the nomination would have been pro forma, but this time the CUNY Board of Trustees tabled, and thus effectively killed, the motion supporting Kushner’s candidacy because a single trustee objected to his views on Israel. After a few days of outrage and bad publicity the board met again and changed its mind. Was the board’s initial action a violation of academic freedom, and if so, whose freedom was being violated? Or was the incident just one more instance of garden- variety political jockeying, a tempest in a teapot devoid of larger implications?
In the same year Professor John Michael Bailey of Northwestern University permitted a couple to perform a live sex act at an optional session of his course on human sexuality. The male of the couple brought his naked female partner to orgasm with the help of a device known as a “fucksaw.” Should Bailey have been reprimanded and perhaps disciplined for allowing lewd behavior in his classroom or should the display be regarded as a legitimate pedagogical choice and therefore protected by the doctrine of academic freedom?
In 2009 sociology professor William Robinson of the University of California at Santa Barbara, after listening to a tape of a Martin Luther King speech protesting the Vietnam War, sent an e-mail to the students in his sociology of globalization course that began:
If Martin Luther King were alive on this day of January 19th, there is no doubt that he would be condemning the Israeli aggression against Gaza along with U.S. military and political support for Israeli war crimes, or that he would be standing shoulder to shoulder with the Palestinians.
The e-mail went on to compare the Israeli actions against Gaza to the Nazi actions against the Warsaw ghetto, and to characterize Israel as “a state founded on the negation of a people.” Was Robinson’s e-mail an intrusion of his political views into the classroom or was it a contribution to the subject matter of his course and therefore protected under the doctrine of academic freedom?
As the 2008 election approached, an official communication from the administration of the University of Illinois listed as prohibited political activities the wearing of T-shirts or buttons supporting candidates or parties. Were faculty members being denied their First Amendment and academic freedom rights?
BB&T, a bank holding company, funds instruction in ethics on the condition that the courses it supports include as a required reading Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged (certainly a book concerned with issues of ethics). If a university accepts this arrangement (as Florida State University did), has it traded its academic freedom for cash or is it (as the dean at Florida State insisted) merely accepting help in a time of financial exigency?
In 1996, the state of Virginia passed a law forbidding state employees from accessing pornographic materials on state- owned computers. The statute included a waiver for those who could convince a supervisor that the viewing of pornographic material was part of a bona fide research project. Was the academic freedom of faculty members in the state university system violated because they were prevented from determining for themselves and without government monitoring the course of their research?
Just as my questions would be answered differently by proponents of different accounts of academic freedom, so would these cases be assessed differently depending on which school of academic freedom a commentator belongs to.
Of course I have yet to name the schools, and I will do that now.
(1)— The “It’s just a job” school. This school (which may have only one member and you’re reading him now) rests on a deflationary view of higher education. Rather than being a vocation or holy calling, higher education is a service that offers knowledge and skills to students who wish to receive them. Those who work in higher education are trained to impart that knowledge, demonstrate those skills and engage in research that adds to the body of what is known. They are not exercising First Amendment rights or forming citizens or inculcating moral values or training soldiers to fight for social justice. Their obligations and aspirations are defined by the distinctive task— the advancement of knowledge— they are trained and paid to perform, defined, that is, by contract and by the course catalog rather than by a vision of democracy or world peace. College and university teachers are professionals, and as such the activities they legitimately perform are professional activities, activities in which they have a professional competence. When engaged in those activities, they should be accorded the latitude— call it freedom if you like— necessary to their proper performance. That latitude does not include the performance of other tasks, no matter how worthy they might be. According to this school, academics are not free in any special sense to do anything but their jobs.
(2)— The “For the common good” school. This school has its origin in the AAUP Declaration of Principles (1915), and it shares some arguments with the “It’s just a job” school, especially the argument that the academic task is distinctive. Other tasks may be responsible to market or political forces or to public opinion, but the task of advancing knowledge involves following the evidence wherever it leads, and therefore “the first condition of progress is complete and unlimited freedom to pursue inquiry and publish its results.” The standards an academic must honor are the standards of the academic profession; the freedom he enjoys depends on adherence to those standards: “The liberty of the scholar . . . to set forth his conclusions . . . is conditioned by their being conclusions being gained by a scholar’s method and held in a scholar’s spirit.” That liberty cannot be “used as a shelter . . . for uncritical and intemperate partisanship,” and a teacher should not inundate students with his “own opinions.”
With respect to pronouncements like these, the “For the common good” school and the “It’s just a job” school seem perfectly aligned. Both paint a picture of a self-enclosed professional activity, a transaction between teachers, students, and a set of intellectual questions with no reference to larger moral, political, or societal considerations. But the opening to larger considerations is provided, at least potentially, by a claimed connection between academic freedom and democracy. Democracy, say the authors of the 1915 Declaration, requires “experts . . . to advise both legislators and administrators,” and it is the universities that will supply them and thus render a “service to the right solution of . . . social problems.” Democracy ’s virtues, the authors of the Declaration explain, are also the source of its dangers, for by repudiating despotism and political tyranny, democracy risks legitimizing “the tyranny of public opinion.” The academy rides to the rescue by working “to help make public opinion more self-critical and more circumspect, to check the more hasty and unconsidered impulses of popular feeling, to train the democracy.” By thus offering an external justification for an independent academy— it protects us from our worst instincts and furthers the realization of democratic principles— the “For the common good” school moves away from the severe professionalism of the “It’s just a job” school and toward an argument in which professional values are subordinated to the higher values of democracy or justice or freedom; that is, to the common good.
( 3)— The “Academic exceptionalism or uncommon beings” school. This school is a logical extension of the “For the common good” school. If academics are charged not merely with the task of adding to our knowledge of natural and cultural phenomena, but with the task of providing a counterweight to the force of common popular opinion, they must themselves be uncommon, not only intellectually but morally; they must be, in the words of the 1915 Declaration, “men of high gift and character.” Such men (and now women) not only correct the errors of popular opinion, they escape popular judgment and are not to be held accountable to the same laws and restrictions that constrain ordinary citizens.
The essence of this position is displayed by the plaintiff ’s argument in Urofsky v. Gilmore (2000), a Fourth Circuit case revolving around Virginia’s law forbidding state employees from accessing explicitly sexual material on state-owned computers without the permission of a supervisor. The phrase that drives the legal reasoning in the case is “matter of public concern.” In a series of decisions the Supreme Court had ruled that if public employees speak out on a matter of public concern, their First Amendment rights come into play and might outweigh the government’s interest in efficiency and organizational discipline. (A balancing test is triggered.) If, however, the speech is internal to the operations of the administrative unit, no such protection is available. The Urofsky court determined that the ability of employees to access pornography was not a matter of public concern. The plaintiffs, professors in the state university system, then detached themselves from the umbrella category of “public employees” and claimed a special status. They argued that “even if the Act is valid as to the majority of state employees, it violates the . . . academic freedom rights of professors . . . and thus is invalid as to them.” In short, we’re exceptional.
(4)— The “Academic freedom as critique” school. If academics have the special capacity to see through the conventional public wisdom and expose its contradictions, exercising that capacity is, when it comes down to it, the academic’s real job; critique— of everything— is the continuing obligation. While the “It’s just a job” school and the “For the common good” school insist that the freedom academics enjoy is exercised within the norms of the profession, those who identify academic freedom with critique (because they identify education with critique) object that this view reifies and naturalizes professional norms which are themselves the products of history, and as such are, or should be, challengeable and revisable. One should not rest complacently in the norms and standards presupposed by the current academy ’s practices; one should instead interrogate those norms and make them the objects of critical scrutiny rather than the baseline parameters within which critical scrutiny is performed.
Academic freedom is understood by this school as a protection for dissent and the scope of dissent must extend to the very distinctions and boundaries the academy presently enforces. As Judith Butler (2006a) puts it, “as long as voices of dissent are only admissible if they conform to accepted professional norms, then dissent itself is limited so that it cannot take aim at those norms that are already accepted” (114). One of those norms enforces a separation between academic and political urgencies, but, Butler contends, they are not so easily distinguishable and the boundaries between them blur and change. Fixing boundaries that are permeable, she complains, has the effect of freezing the status quo and of allowing distinctions originally rooted in politics to present themselves as apolitical and natural. The result can be “a form of political lib eralism that is coupled with a profoundly conservative intellectual resistance to . . . innovation” (127). From the perspective of critique, established norms are always conservative and suspect and academic freedom exists so that they can be exposed for what they are. Academic freedom, in short, is an engine of social progress and is thought to be the particular property of the left on the reasoning (which I do not affirm but report) that conservative thought is anti- progressive and protective of the status quo. It’s only a small step, really no step at all, from academic freedom as critique to the fifth school of thought.
(5)— The “Academic freedom as revolution” school. With the emergence of this school the shift from academic as a limiting adjective to freedom as an overriding concern is complete and the political agenda implicit in the “For the common good” school and the “Academic freedom as critique” schools is made explicit. If Butler wants us to ask where the norms governing academic practices come from, the members of this school know: they come from the corrupt motives of agents who are embedded in the corrupt institutions that serve and reflect the corrupt values of a corrupt neoliberal society. (Got that?) The view of education that lies behind and informs this most expansive version of academic freedom is articulated by Henry Giroux (2008). The “responsibilities that come along with teaching,” he says, include fighting for
an inclusive and radical democracy by recognizing that education in the broadest sense is not just about understanding, . . . but also about providing the conditions for assuming the responsibilities we have as citizens to expose human misery and to eliminate the conditions that produce it. (128)
In this statement the line between the teacher as a professional and the teacher as a citizen disappears. Education “in the broadest sense” demands positive political action on the part of those engaged in it. Adhering to a narrow view of one’s responsibilities in the classroom amounts to a betrayal both of one’s political being and one‘s pedagogical being. Academic freedom, declares Grant Farred (2008–2009), “has to be conceived as a form of political solidarity ”; and he doesn’t mean solidarity with banks, corporations, pharmaceutical firms, oil companies or, for that matter, universities ( 355). When university obligations clash with the imperative of doing social justice, social justice always trumps. The standard views of academic freedom, members of this school complain, sequester academics in an intellectual ghetto where, like trained monkeys, they perform obedient and sterile routines. It follows, then, that one can only be true to the academy by breaking free of its constraints.
The poster boy for the “Academic freedom as revolution” school is Denis Rancourt, a physics professor at the University of Ottawa (now removed from his position) who practices what he calls “academic squatting”— turning a course with an advertised subject matter and syllabus into a workshop for revolutionary activity. Rancourt (2007) explains that one cannot adhere to the customary practices of the academy without becoming complicit with the ideology that informs them: “Academic squatting is needed because universities are dictatorships, devoid of real democracy, run by self- appointed executives who serve private capital interests.”
To read more about Versions of Academic Freedom, click here.
Blog: Ink Splot 26 (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
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My Neighbor Totoro (rated G): An Extremely Awesome Movie
A movie I would definitely recommend is My Neighbor Totoro by Studio Ghibli. I have dressed up as Totoro for Halloween, and introduced the movie to anyone who would watch it. In this animated film directed by Hiyao Miyazaki, two sisters adjusting to their move from the city meet a forest spirit called Totoro. He helps the girls and they become friends. The movie is super-cute, and the expansive forest backdrops are stunning. My Neighbor Totoro is definitely my all-time favorite movie and is great for everyone.
Tell us YOUR opinion in the Comments.
Maggie, Scholastic Kids CouncilAdd a Comment
Blog: The Open Book (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
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Illustrator Frané Lessac shares a recent school visit that she and her husband, author Mark Greenwood, did in Washington, D.C. with An Open Book Children’s Literacy Foundation.
One of the highlights of our recent US tour was our visit to Washington, D.C. and our Open Book Foundation day, working with three second grade classes at Savoy Elementary.
The foundation’s mission is to promote literacy among disadvantaged children and teens in the greater Washington, D.C. area by giving books to students and providing access to authors and illustrators – and what a unanimously positive experience it is for all involved!
We conducted a ‘Meet the Author and Illustrator’ presentation followed by an art activity. At the conclusion of each presentation, the Open Book Foundation gave each student a copy of our book, Drummer Boy of John John, to take home, signed and personalized by the people who actually wrote and illustrated it.
Here are a few of the student reactions we received:
“You mean we get to keep the book? We don’t have to bring it back?”
“I can keep this book for my entire life. Even when I grow up?”
Wow! While the students might still be talking about the experience, so are we! The Open Book program is as uplifting and rewarding for authors and illustrators as it is for students. We will never forget the look of joy on the faces of the students, who couldn’t wait to take their new books home and share the experience with their families.
The fabulous Open Book experience breathes life into writing and art and the process of bookmaking, and opens up the world of reading to students. The Savoy Elementary students were so excited to leave each of our sessions clutching their very own book.
We cannot express our gratitude enough to the Open Book Foundation for the joy and excitement they bring to disadvantaged children. The Foundation’s program of bringing authors and illustrators to their schools, and providing books for their students, classrooms and libraries, is a wonderfully positive step to introduce a lifelong love of books and reading.
To learn more about An Open Book Children’s Literacy Foundation, visit their website.
Frané Lessac has illustrated more than thirty-five books for young readers, several of which she has also written. Her husband, Mark Greenwood, is the author of numerous children’s books published in both the United States and his native Australia. They live in Fremantle, West Australia.
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MU HA HA HA! Let the fun begin!
- What’s your favorite thing about Halloween?
- What’s your favorite type of candy?
- What are you being for Halloween this year?
- What’s your favorite Halloween costume you’ve ever had?
- What do you usually do for Halloween (trick-or-treat, party, stay home)?
- What’s the most IDEAL Halloween costume?
- Do you have any Halloween traditions?
- On a scale of 1-10, how much do you like Halloween?
- Do you know the history of Halloween? Do you care?
There are lots more questions to answer in the Halloween Quiz post. Go check them out and tell Moderator Katie I said, “Hi!” Happy Halloween!!Add a Comment
Blog: The Open Book (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
JacketFlap tags: Guest Blogger Post, Lee & Low Likes, Musings & Ponderings, bangladesh, banking, banks, Economics, grameen bank, loan shark, loans, microcredit, money, Muhammad Yunus, nobel peace prize, Paula Yoo, poverty, Add a tag
Paula Yoo is a children’s book writer, television writer, and freelance violinist living in Los Angeles. Her latest book, Twenty-two Cents: Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank, was released last month. Twenty-two Cents is about Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of Grameen Bank. He founded Grameen Bank so people could borrow small amounts of money to start a job, and then pay back the bank without exorbitant interest charges. Over the next few years, Muhammad’s compassion and determination changed the lives of millions of people by loaning the equivalent of more than ten billion US dollars in micro-credit. This has also served to advocate and empower the poor, especially women, who often have limited options. In this post, we asked her to share advice on what’s she’s learned about banking, loans, and managing finances while writing Twenty-two Cents.
What are some reasons why someone might want to take out a loan? Why wouldn’t banks loan money to poor people in Bangladesh?
PAULA: People will take out a loan when they do not have enough money in their bank account to pay for a major purchase, like a car or a house. Sometimes, they will take out a loan because they need the money to help set up a business they are starting. Other times, loans are also used to help pay for major expenses, like unexpected hospital bills for a family member who is sick or big repairs on a house or car. But asking for a loan is a very complicated process because a person has to prove they can pay the loan back in a reasonable amount of time. A person’s financial history can affect whether or not they are approved for a loan. For many people who live below the poverty line, they are at a disadvantage because their financial history is very spotty. Banks may not trust them to pay the loan back on time.
In addition, most loans are given to people who are requesting a lot of money for a very expensive purchase like a house or a car. But sometimes a person only needs a small amount of money – for example, a few hundred dollars. This type of loan does not really exist because most people can afford to pay a few hundred dollars. But if you live below the poverty line, a hundred dollars can seem like a million dollars. Professor Yunus realized this when he met Sufiya Begum, a poor woman who only needed 22 cents to keep her business of making stools and mats profitable in her rural village. No bank would loan a few hundred dollars, or even 22 cents, to a woman living in a mud hut. This is what inspired Professor Yunus to come up with the concept of “microcredit” (also known as microfinancing and micro banking).
In TWENTY-TWO CENTS, microcredit is described as a loan with a low interest rate. What is a low interest rate compared to a high interest rate?
PAULA: When you borrow money from a bank, you have to pay the loan back with an interest rate. The interest rate is an additional amount of money that you now owe the bank on top of the original amount of money you borrowed. There are many complex math formulas involved with calculating what a fair and appropriate interest rate could be for a loan. The interest rate is also affected by outside factors such as inflation and unemployment. Although it would seem that a lower interest rate would be preferable to the borrower, it can be risky to the general economy. A low interest rate can create a potential “economic bubble” which could burst in the future and cause an economic “depression.” Interest rates are adjusted to make sure these problems do not happen. Which means that sometimes there are times when the interest rates are higher for borrowers than other times.
What is a loan shark?
PAULA: A loan shark is someone who offers loans to poor people at extremely high interest rates. This is also known as “predatory lending.” It can be illegal in several cases, especially when the loan shark uses blackmail or threats of violence to make sure a person pays back the loan by a certain deadline. Often people in desperate financial situations will go to a loan shark to help them out of a financial problem, only to realize later that the loan shark has made the problem worse, not better.
Did your parents explain how a bank works to you when you were a child? Or did you learn about it in school?
PAULA: I remember learning about how a bank works from elementary school and through those “Schoolhouse Rocks!” educational cartoons they would show on Saturday mornings. But overall, I would say I learned about banking as a high school student when I got my first minimum wage job at age 16 as a cashier at the Marshall’s department store. I learned how banking worked through a job and real life experience.
TWENTY-TWO CENTS is a story about economic innovation. Could you explain why Muhammad Yunus’s Grameen Bank was so innovative or revolutionary?
PAULA ANSWER: Muhammad Yunus’ theories on microcredit and microfinancing are revolutionary and innovative because they provided a practical solution on how banks can offer loans to poor people who do not have any financial security. By having women work together as a group to understand how the math behind the loan would work (along with other important concepts) and borrowing the loan as a group, Yunus’ unique idea gave banks the confidence to put their trust into these groups of women. The banks were able to loan the money with the full confidence in knowing that these women would be able to pay them back in a timely manner. The humanitarian aspect of Yunus’ economic theories were also quite revolutionary because it gave these poverty-stricken women a newfound sense of self-confidence. His theories worked to help break the cycle of poverty for these women as they were able to save money and finally become self-sufficient. The Nobel Committee praised Yunus’ microcredit theories for being one of the first steps towards eradicating poverty, stating, “Lasting peace cannot be achieved unless large population groups find ways in which to break out of poverty.”
Twenty-two Cents: Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank is a biography of 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, who founded Grameen Bank and revolutionized global antipoverty efforts by developing the innovative economic concept of micro-lending.
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Filed under: Guest Blogger Post, Lee & Low Likes, Musings & Ponderings Tagged: bangladesh, banking, banks, Economics, grameen bank, loan shark, loans, microcredit, money, Muhammad Yunus, nobel peace prize, Paula Yoo, poverty
Whatever After Book #6: Cold as Ice
The next book in the Whatever After series is almost here! Abby and Jonah are visiting another fairy tale . . . and this one’s freezing! When author Sarah Mlynowski meets her fans, they often suggest to her which fairy tale they want her to write about next. The #1 request she had been getting from readers was to put main characters Abby and Jonah in the story of “The Snow Queen.” Next month, the Snow Queen-themed Whatever After book will be available and here’s a sneak peek at the cover!
What do you think? Pretty awesome, right!?!
If you’re not familiar with Whatever After, check out the website to play the dress-up game, watch the trailer, and read a few excerpts.
For all you Whatever After fans, Cold as Ice will be available on November 25th.
And look out for Whatever After #7: Beauty Queen, coming in May!
Happy reading!Add a Comment
Blog: The Open Book (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
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On October 11, 2014, I attended a colloquium called Mind the Gaps, hosted by The Horn Book at Simmons College in Boston. There was an all-star line up consisting of Peter Brown (Mr. Tiger Goes Wild), Gene Luen Yang (Boxers and Saints), Andrew Smith (Grasshopper Jungle), and Steve Sheinkin (The Port Chicago 50), to name a few. Roger Sutton, Editor in Chief of The Horn Book, played a big part in pulling all these folks together for a day.
One of the highlights was the keynote by author/librarian Vaunda Micheaux Nelson (No Crystal Stair). Here’s a snippet from her speech:
“We are here at Simmons trying to solve this problem while one of the biggest stories in the news is that Apple released a new iPhone. Yet ALA struggles to get a one-minute spot on one network to announce the nation’s most prestigious children’s book awards. Is this our world now? To quote one of my favorite library patrons, ‘Have we dumbed down society so much that what is truly significant is not considered important?’ This conversation is significant. So how do we make it important?”
I participated in was called Publishing for the Gaps. The other panelists were Arthur Levine, publisher of Arthur A. Levine Books at Scholastic but more famously known for bringing Harry Potter to the United States, and Ginee Seo, children’s book director of Chronicle Books. The moderator was Roger Sutton. We covered a lot of ground, from the acquisition process to responding to Roger’s charge that publishers often put out “derivative crap” (Roger’s words, not mine) when it comes to blatantly duplicating what works. This statement was met with Arthur’s vehement defense that he sorely doubted that publishing executives would order their editors to make “more derivative crap!”
While I have been on many panels over the years, what was nice about this one was that the audience of 150 was predominately white. Non-diverse audiences like this usually benefit from hearing about the diversity problem, since some may be hearing about it for the first time. Publishing for the Gaps for me is about publishing the stories about people who are left out, which are most often people of color. I discussed LEE & LOW’s efforts to offer clarity and perspective, to help define the scope of why diversity is met with obstacles across most media channels, and how this remains a society-wide problem.
From the editorial side, the lack of representation can be greatly improved by decision makers who feel a personal stake in publishing diverse books. Ginee, as one of the few Asian American women at an executive level, can and does make a difference. Arthur Levine remarked that it was a part of who he is (as an openly gay and Jewish man) to publish inclusively.
The panel was recorded and is an hour. Note: Since the video is stored on Simmons College’s Google drive you’ll have to log in to view it. I also apologize in advance for the sound quality.
When the colloquium was over, I asked one of the moderators, Nina Lindsay, how she thought the day went. She said, “I was pleased with the colloquium, but feel like we just got the conversation started, then everyone went home. I’m hoping the momentum continues to build on this, and that we don’t all suddenly assume we’re enlightened and part ways.”
Recap of Publishers Weekly Diversity Panel, October 16, 2014
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“The Carrot and the Candy Bar”
Our topic is a revolution—as significant as anything that has tossed the world over the past two hundred years. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, a host of often ignored technologies transformed human sensual experience, changing how we eat, drink, see, hear, and feel in ways we still benefit (and suffer) from today. Modern people learned how to capture and intensify sensuality, to preserve it, and to make it portable, durable, and accessible across great reaches of social class and physical space. Our vulnerability to such a transformation traces back hundreds of thousands of years, but the revolution itself did not take place until the end of the nineteenth century, following a series of technological changes altering our ability to compress, distribute, and commercialize a vast range of pleasures.
Strangely, historians have neglected this transformation. Indeed, behind this astonishing lapse lies a common myth—that there was an age of production that somehow gave rise to an age of consumption, with historians of the former exploring industrial technology, while historians of the latter stress the social and symbolic meaning of goods. This artificial division obscures how technologies of production have transformed what and how we actually consume. Technology does far more than just increase productivity or transform work, as historians of the Industrial Revolution so often emphasize. Industrial technology has also shaped how and how much we eat, what we wear and why, and how and what (and how much!) we hear and see. And myriad other aspects of how we experience daily life—or even how we long for escape from it.
Bound to such transformations is a profound disruption in modern life, a breakdown of the age-old tension between our bodily desires and the scarcity of opportunities for fulfillment. New technologies— from the rolling of cigarettes to the recording of sound—have intensified the gratification of desires but also rendered them far more easily satisfied, often to the point of grotesque excess. An obvious example is the mechanized packaging of highly sugared foods, which began over a century ago and has led to a health and moral crisis today. Lots of media attention has focused on the irresponsibility of the food industry and the rise of recreational and workplace sedentism—but there are other ways to look at this.
It should be obvious that technology has transformed how people eat, especially with regard to the ease and speed with which it is now possible to ingest calories. Roots of such transformations go very deep: the Neolithic revolution ten-plus thousand years ago brought with it new methods of regularizing the growing of food and the world’s first possibility of elite obesity. The packaged pleasure revolution in the nineteenth century, however, made such excess possible for much larger numbers of “consumers”—a word only rarely used prior to that time. Industrial food processors learned how to pack fat, sugar, and salt into concentrated and attractive portions, and to manufacture these cheaply and in packages that could be widely distributed. Foods that were once luxuries thus became seductively commonplace. This is the first thing we need to understand.
We also need to appreciate that responsibility for the excesses of today’s consumers cannot be laid entirely at the doors of modern technology and the corporations that benefit from it. We cannot blame the food industry alone. No one is forced to eat at McDonald’s; people choose Big Macs with fries because they satisfy with convenience and affordability, just as people decide to turn on their iPods rather than listen to nature or go to a concert. But why would we make such a choice—and is it entirely a “free choice”? This brings us to a second crucial point: humans have evolved to seek high-energy foods because in prehistoric conditions of scarcity, eating such foods greatly improved their ancestors’ chances of survival. This has limited, but not entirely eliminated, our capacity to resist these foods when they no longer are scarce. And if we today crave sugar and fat and salt, that is partly because these longings must have once promoted survival, deep in the pre-Paleolithic and Paleolithic. Our taste buds respond gleefully to sugars because we are descended from herbivores and especially frugivores for whom sweet-tasting plants and fruits were neuro-marked as edible and nutritious. Poisonous plants were more often bitter-tasting. Pleasure at least in this sensory sense was often a clue to what might help one survive.
But here again is the rub. Thanks to modern industrialism, high-calorie foods once rare are now cheap and plentiful. Industrial technology has overwhelmed and undercut whatever balance may have existed between the biological needs of humans and natural scarcity. We tend to crave those foods that before modern times were rare; cravings for fat and sugar were no threat to health; indeed, they improved our chances of survival. Now, however, sugar, especially in its refined forms, is plentiful, and as a result makes us fat and otherwise unhealthy. And what is true for sugar is also true for animal fat. In our prehistoric past fat was scarce and valuable, accounting for only 2 to 4 percent of the flesh of deer, rabbits, and birds, and early humans correctly gorged whenever it was available. Today, though, factory-farmed beef can consist of 36 percent fat, and most of us expend practically no energy obtaining it. And still we gorge.
And so the candy bar, a perfect example of the engineered pleasure, wins out over the carrot and even the apple. More sugar and seemingly more varied flavors are packed into the confection than the unprocessed fruit or vegetable. In this sense our craving for a Snickers bar is partly an expression of the chimp in us, insofar as we desire energy-packed foods with maximal sugars and fat. The concentration, the packaging, and the ease of access (including affordability) all make it possible—indeed enticingly easy—to ingest far more than we know is good for us. Our biological desires have become imperfect guides for good behavior: drives born in a world of scarcity do not necessarily lead to health and happiness in a world of plenty.
But food is not the only domain where such tensions operate. Indeed, a broader historical optic reveals tensions in our response to the packaged provisioning of other sensations, and this broader perspective invites us to go beyond our current focus on food, as important as that may be.
As biological creatures we are naturally attracted to certain sights and sounds, even smells and motion, insofar as we have evolved in environments where such sensitivities helped our ancestors prevail over myriad threats to human existence. The body’s perceptual organs are, in a sense, some of our oldest tools, and much of the pleasure we take in bright colors, combinations of particular shapes, and certain kinds of movement must be rooted in prehistoric needs to identify food, threats, or mates from a distance. Today we embrace the recreational counterparts, filling our domestic spaces with visual ornaments, fixed or in motion, reminding ourselves of landscapes, colors, or shapes that provoke recall or simulate absent or even impossible worlds.
What has changed, in other words, is our access to once-rare sensations, including sounds but especially imagery. The decorated caves of southern France, once rare and ritualized space, are now tourist attractions, accessible to all through electronic media. Changes in visual technology have made possible a virtual orgy of visual culture; a 2012 count estimated over 348,000,000,000 images on the Internet, with a growth rate of about 10,000 per second. The mix and matrix of information transfer has changed accordingly: orality (and aurality) has been demoted to a certain extent, first with the rise of typography (printing) and then the published picture, and now the ubiquitous electronic image on screens of different sorts. “Seeing is believing” is an expression dating only from about 1800, signaling the surging primacy of the visual. Civilization itself celebrates the light, the visual sense, as the darkness of the night and the narrow street gradually give way to illuminated interiors, light after dark, and ever broader visual surveillance.
Humans also have preferences for certain smells, of course, even if we are (far) less discriminating than most other mammals. Technologies of odor have never been developed as intensively as those of other senses, though we should not forget that for tens of thousands of years hunters have employed dogs—one of the oldest human “tools”—to do their smelling. Smell has also sometimes marked differences between tribes and classes, rationalizing the isolation of slaves or some other subject group. The wealthy are known to have defined themselves by their scents (the ancient Greeks used mint and thyme oils for this purpose), and fragrances have been used to ward off contagions. Some philosophers believed that the scent of incense could reach and please the gods; and of course the devil smelled foul—as did sin.
Still, the olfactory sense lost much of its acuity in upright primates, and it is the rare philosopher who would base an epistemology on odor. Philosophers have always privileged sight over all other senses—which makes sense given how much of our brain is devoted to processing visual images (canine epistemology and agnotology would surely be quite different). Optico-centricity was further accentuated with the rise of novel ways of extending vision in the seventeenth century (microscopes, telescopes) and still more with the rise of photography and moving pictures. Industrial societies have continued to devalue scent, with some even trying to make the world smell-free. Pasteur’s discovery of germs meant that foul air (think miasma) lost its role in carrying disease, but efforts to remove the germs that caused such odors (especially the sewage systems installed in cities in the nineteenth century) ended up mollifying much of the stink of large urban centers. Bodily perfuming has probably been around for as long as humans have been human, but much of recent history has involved a process of deodorizing, further reducing the value of the sensitive nose.
Modern people may well gorge on sight, but we certainly remain sound-sensitive and long for music, “the perfume of hearing” in the apt metaphor of Diane Ackerman. Music has always aroused a certain spiritual consciousness and may even have facilitated social bonding among early humans. Stringed and drum instruments date back only to about 5,500 years ago (in Mesopotamia), but unambiguous flutes date back to at least 40,000 years ago; the oldest known so far is made from vulture and swan bones found in southern Germany. Singing, though, must be far older than whatever physical evidence we have for prehistoric music.
There is arguably a certain industrial utility to music, insofar as “moving and singing together made collective tasks far more efficient” (so claims historian William McNeill). As a mnemonic aid, a song “hooks onto your subconscious and won’t let go.” Music carries emotion and preserves and transports feelings when passed from one person or generation to another—think of the “Star Spangled Banner” or “La Marseillaise.” And music also marks social differences in stratified societies. In Europe by the eighteenth century, for example, people of rank had abandoned participation in the sounds and music of traditional communal festivals and spectacles. To distinguish themselves from the masses, the rich and powerful came to favor the orderly stylized sounds of chamber music—and even demanded that audiences keep silent during performances. One of the signal trends of this particular modernity is the withdrawal of elites from public festivals, creating space instead for their own exclusive music and dance to eliminate the unruly/unmanaged sounds of the street and work. Music helps forge social bonds, but it can also work to separate and to isolate, facilitating escape from community (think earbuds).
We humans also of course crave motion and bodily contact, flexing our muscles in the manner of our ancestors exhilarating in the chase. And even if we no longer chase mammoth herds with spears, we recreate elements of this excitement in our many sports, testing strength against strength or speed against speed, forcing projectiles of one sort or another into some kind of target. Dance is an equally ancient expression of this thrill of movement, with records of ritual motion appearing already on cave and rock walls of early humans. The emotion-charged dance may be diminished in elite civilized life, but it clearly reappears in the physicality of amusement park throngs at the end of the nineteenth century, and more recently in the rhythmic motions of crowds at sporting events and rock concert moshing where strangers slam and grind into each other.
Sensual pleasure is thus central to the “thick tapestry of rewards” of human evolutionary adaptation, rewards wired into the complex circuitry of the brain’s pleasure centers. Pursuit of pleasure (and avoidance of pain) was certainly not an evil in our distant past; indeed, it must have had obvious advantages in promoting evolutionary fitness. Along with other adaptive emotions (fear, surprise, and disgust, for example), pleasure and its pursuit must also have helped create capacities to bond socially—and perhaps even to use and to understand language. The joy that motivates babies to delight in rhythmic and consonant sounds, bright colors, friendly faces, and bouncing motion helps build brain connections essential for motor and cognitive maturity.
Of course the biological propensity to gorge cannot be new; that much we know from the relative constancy of the human genetic constitution over many millennia. We also know that efforts to augment or intensify sensual pleasure long predate industrial civilization. This should come as no surprise, given that, as already noted, our longings for rare delights of taste, sight, smell, sound, and motion are rooted in our prehistoric past. Humans—like wolves—have been bred to binge. But in the past, at least, nature’s parsimony meant that gorging was generally rare and its impact on our bodies, psyches, and sociability limited.
This leads us again to a critical point: pleasure is born in its paucity and scarcity sustains it. And scarcity has been a fact of life for most of human history; in fact, it is very often a precondition for pleasure. Too much of any good can lead to boredom—that is as true for music or arcade games as for ice cream or opera. Most pleasures seem to require a context of relative scarcity. Amongst our prehistoric ancestors this was naturally enforced through the rarity of honey and the all-tooinfrequent opportunity for the chase. Humans eventually developed the ability, however, to create and store surpluses of pleasure-giving goods, first by cooking and preserving foods and drinks and eventually by transforming even fleeting sensory experiences into reproducible and transmissible packets of pleasure. Think about candy bars, soda pop, and cigarettes, but also photography, phonography, and motion pictures—all of which emerged during the packaged pleasure revolution.
Of course, in certain respects the defeat of scarcity has a much older history, having to do with techniques of containerization. Prior to the Neolithic, circa ten thousand years ago, humans had little in the way of either technical means or social organization to store any kind of sensual surplus (though meats may have been stashed the way some nonhuman predators do). Farming and its associated technics changed this. After hundreds of thousands of years of scavenging and predation, people in this new era began to grow their own food—and then to save and preserve it in containers, especially in pots made from clay but also in bags made from skins or fibers from plants. Agriculture seems to have led to the world’s first conspicuous inequalities in wealth, but also the first routine encounters with obesity and other sins of the flesh (drunkenness, for example). Of course the rich—the rulers and priests of ancient city-states and empires or the lords and abbots of religious centers in the Middle Ages—were able to satisfy sensual longings more often, and in some cases continually.
While Christianity was in part a reaction to this sensual indulgence, being originally a religion of the excluded slave and the appalled rich, medieval aristocrats returned to the ancient love of sweet and sour dishes, favoring roasted game (a throwback to the preagricultural era) and the absurd notion that torturing animals before killing them made for the tastiest meats. Medieval European nobility mixed sex, smell, and taste in their large midday meals and frequent evening banquets. Christian church fathers banned perfumes and roses as Roman decadence, but treatments of this sort—along with passions for pungent flavors and scents—were revived with the Crusades and intimate contact with the Orient.
Until recently, pursuit of pleasure on such an opulent scale was confined to those tiny minorities with regular access to the resources to contain and intensify nature. Since antiquity, in fact, the powerful have often been snobbish killjoys, trying to restrict what the poor were allowed to eat, wear, and enjoy. Sometimes this made economic (if invidious) sense—as when England’s Edward III rationed the diet of servants during shortages that followed the Black Death. In the sixteenth century, French law prohibited the eating of fish and meat at the same meal in hopes of preserving scarce supplies. And given the low output of agriculture, there was a certain logic underlying the rationing of access to “luxuries.” But the powerful sometimes seem to have relished denying pleasure to others. How else do we explain sumptuary laws that prohibited the commoner from wearing colorful and costly clothing reserved for aristocrats?
Access to pleasure has long been an expression of privilege and power, but much can be made with little, and rarely has pleasurable display been totally suppressed in any culture. Think of the ceremonies surrounding seasonal festivals, especially the gathering of harvest surplus, when humans drenched themselves in the senses that seemed almost to ache for expression. Think of the Bacchanalia of the Greeks, the Saturnalia of the Romans, the Mardi Gras of medieval Europeans, or the orgies of feasting, dancing, music, and colorful costumes of any society whose everyday world of scarcity is forgotten in bingeing after harvest. Agriculture produced cycles of carnival and Lent, “a self-adjusting gastric equilibrium,” in the words of one historian.
Of course there are many examples of ancient philosophers and sages seeking to limit the hedonism of the privileged (and the festival culture of the poor). Certainly there are ancients who embraced the virtues of moderation, as in Aristotle’s “golden mean” or Confucian ideals of restrained desire. Hebrew prophets, Puritans, Jesuits, and countless Asian ascetics likewise attempted to rein in the fêtes of the senses. Medieval authorities in Europe forbade the eating of meat on Wednesdays, Fridays, and numerous fast days that added up to more than 150 days a year. The classical ideal of moderation was revived, and the moral superiority of grain-based foods was defended. Gluttony was condemned along with lust. Pleasure was to be regulated even in the afterlife, insofar as the Christian heaven was not for pleasure but for self-improvement. These and other ascetic moralities arguably helped people cope with uncertain supplies, putting a brake also on the rapacious greed of the rich and powerful. Curbing of excess extended to all manner of “pleasures of the flesh,” including those that, like sex, were not necessarily even scarce.
Dance came under suspicion in this regard, especially in its ecstatic form. European explorers frowned on the gesticulations of “possessed natives” whom they encountered in Africa and the Americas in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. At the same time, European elites smothered social dancing in the towns and villages of their own societies. The reasons were many. Clergy demanded that their holy days and rituals be protected from defilement by the boisterous and even sacrilegious customs of the frolicking crowd; the rich also chose to withdraw from—and then suppressed—the emotional intensity of common people’s celebrations, retiring instead to the confines of their private gatherings and sedate dances. The military also needed a new type of soldier and new ways of preparing men for war: the demand was no longer to fire up the emotions of soldiers to prepare them for handto-hand combat; the new need was to drill and discipline troops to march unflinching into musket and cannon fire, with individual fighters acting as precision components in a machine. The regular rhythms of the military march served this purpose better than the ecstatic dance.
Even when people found ways of intensifying sensation (as in the distillation of alcoholic spirits), state and church authorities were often able to enforce limits, sometimes by harsh means. In London in the 1720s, authorities repressed the widespread and addictive use of gin (a juniper-flavored liquor). At the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, just as unleashing desire was becoming respectable, philosophers such as Adam Smith and David Hume still mused about the need for personal restraint and moral sympathies.
By this time, and increasingly over the course of the nineteenth century, especially between about 1880 and 1910, these traditional calls for moderation and self-control were starting to face a new kind of challenge, thanks to new techniques of containerization and intensification that would culminate in the packaged pleasure revolution. New kinds of machines brought new sensations to ordinary people, producing goods that for the first time could be made quite cheap and easily storable and portable. Canned food defeated the seasons, extending the availability of fruits and vegetables to the entirety of the year. Candy bars purchased at any newsstand or convenience store replaced the rare encounter with the honeycomb or wild strawberry. And while our more immediate predecessors may have enjoyed a pipe of tobacco or a draft of warm beer, the deadly convenience of the cigarette and the refreshing coolness of the chilled beverage came within the grasp of the masses only toward the end of the nineteenth century. And this revolution in the range and intensity of sensation radically upset the traditional relationship between desire and scarcity.
A similar process occurred with other sensory delights. While earlynineteenth-century Americans and Europeans thrilled at the sight of painted dioramas and magic lantern shows, nothing compared to the spectacle of fast-paced police chases in the one-reel movies viewable after 1900. Opera was a privileged treat of the few in lavish public places, but imagine the revolution wrought by the 1904 hard wax cylinder phonograph, when Caruso could be called upon to sing in the family parlor whenever (and however often) one wanted. Daredevils in Vanuatu dove from high places holding vines long before bungee jumping became a fad; even so, there was nothing like the mass-market calibrated delivery of physical thrills before the roller coaster, popularized in the 1890s. We find something similar even with binge partying: while peoples had long celebrated surpluses in festivals, they typically did so only on those rare days designated by the authorities. By the end of the nineteenth century, however, festive pleasures of a more programmed sort had become widely available on demand in the modern commercial amusement park.
Especially important is how the packaged pleasure intensified (certain aspects of ) human sensory experience. An extreme example is when opium, formerly chewed, smoked, or drunk as tea, was transformed through distillation into morphine and eventually heroin—and then injected directly into the bloodstream with the newly invented syringe in the 1850s. The creation of a wide variety of “tubes” like the syringe for delivering chemically purified, intense sensation was characteristic of much of this new technology—which we shall describe in terms of “tubularization.” The cigarette is another fateful example: tobacco smoking was made cheap, convenient, and “mild” (i.e., deadly) with the advent of James Bonsack’s automated cigarette rolling machine (in the 1880s) and new methods of curing tobacco. Bonsack’s machine lowered the cost of manufacturing by an order of magnitude, and new methods of chemical processing (such as flue curing) allowed a milder, less alkaline smoke to be drawn deep into the lungs. A new mass-market consumer “good” was born, accompanied by mass addiction and mass death from maladies of the heart and lungs.
The “tubing” of tobacco into cigarettes was closely related to techniques used in packing and packaging many other commercial products. Think of mechanized canning—culminating in the double-seamed cylinder of the “sanitary” can-making machinery of 1904—and mechanized bottle and cap making from the late 1890s. New forms of sugar consumption appeared with the invention of soda fountain drinks. Coca-Cola was first served in drug stores in 1886 and in bottles by the end of the century, and in the 1890s the mixing of sugar with bitter chocolate led to candy bars, such as Hershey’s in 1900. Packaged pleasures of this sort—offered in conveniently portable portions with carefully calibrated constituents—allowed manufacturers to claim to have surpassed the sensuous joys of paradise. Chemists also began to be hired to see what new kinds of foods and drugs could be synthesized to surpass the taste, smell, and look of anything nature had created. A new discipline of “marketing” came of age about this time—the word was coined in 1884—with the task of creating demand for this riot of new products, decked out increasingly in colorful and striking labels with eye- and ear-catching slogans.
New technologies also sped up our consumption of visual, auditory, and motion sensoria. In 1839 the Daguerreotype revolutionized the familiar curiosity of the camera obscura—a dark room featuring a pinhole that would project an image of the outside world onto an interior wall—by chemically capturing that image on a metal plate in a miniaturized “camera” (meaning literally “room”). While these early photographs required long periods of exposure to fix an image, that time dramatically declined over the course of the century, allowing by 1888 the amateur snapshot camera and only three years later the motion picture camera. The effect, as we shall see, was a sea change in how we view and recollect the world. Sound was also captured (and preserved and sold) about this same time. The phonograph, invented in 1877 by Thomas Edison, became a new way of experiencing sound when improved and domesticated. And Emile Berliner’s “record” of 1887 made possible the mass production of sound on stamped-out discs, capturing a concert or a speech in a two- or three-minute record available to anyone, anywhere, with the appropriate gear.
Access and speed took another sensual twist when a Midwesterner by the name of La Marcus Thompson introduced the first mechanized roller coaster, in 1884. Bodily sensations that might have signaled danger or even death on a real train were packed into a two- or three-minute adventure trip on a rail “gravity ride.” Adding another dimension to the thrill was Thompson’s scenic railroad (in 1886) with its artificial tunnels and painted images of exotic natural or fantasy scenes. This was a new form of concentrated pleasure, distilling sights and sounds that formerly would have required days of “regular travel.” Rides, in combination with an array of novel multisensory spectacles, were concentrated into dedicated “amusement parks,” offering a kind of packaged recreational experience, accessible (very often) via the new trolley cars of the 1890s. Some of the earliest and most famous were those built at Coney Island on the southernmost tip of Brooklyn, New York.
Innovations of this sort led us into new worlds of sensory access, speed, and intensity. Distance and season were no longer restraints, as canned and bottled goods moved by rail, ship, and eventually truck across vast stretches of space and climate—with mixed outcomes for human health and well-being.
Some of these new technologies nourished and improved our bodies with cheaper, more hygienic, and varied food and drink; others offered more convenient and effective medicines and toiletries. Still others provided unprecedented opportunities to enjoy the beauty of nature (or at least its image), along with music and new kinds of “visual arts.” Amusement rides gave us (relatively) harm-free ways of experiencing the ecstatic and the exhilaration of danger—plus a kind of simulated or virtual travel; photography froze the evanescent sight, preserving images on a scale never previously possible, and with near-perfect fidelity. Yet packaged pleasures also led to new health and moral threats.
In the most extreme form, concentrating intoxicants led to addictions—physical dependencies that often required ever-increasing dosages to maintain a constant effect, and substantial physical discomfort accompanying withdrawal. Here of course the syringe injection of distilled opiates is the paradigmatic example, and addiction to tobacco and alcoholic drinks must also be included. But the impact of concentrated high-energy foods is not entirely different. Fat- or sugar-rich foods produce not just energy but very often endorphins, morphine-like painkillers that offer comfort and calm. That is one reason they are called “comfort” foods. These rich foods cause neurotransmitters in the brain to go out of balance, resulting in cravings. By contrast, the natural physical pleasures of exercise are much less addicting because we get tired; and some “excess”—here pain is gain—can actually make us healthier.
Not all packaged pleasure dependencies were so obviously chemical. Engineered pleasures often create astonishment and delight when first introduced, for example, but can also raise expectations and dull sensibilities for “unpackaged” stimuli, be they nature’s wonders or unaided convivial and social delights. The pleasures of recorded sound, the captured image, and even the amusement park ride and electronic game often satisfy with a kind of ratcheting effect, rendering the visual, auditory, and motion pleasures in uncommodified nature and society boring. In this sense, the packaging of pleasure can turn the once rare into an everyday, even numbing, occurrence. The world beyond the package becomes less thrilling, less desirable. In the wake of the telephoto lens and artful editing of film—with all the “boring bits” taken out—nature itself can appear dull or impoverished. Why go to the waterfall or forest if you can experience these in compressed form at your local zoo or theme park? Or on IMAX or your widescreen, high-def TV? Packaged pleasures of this sort may not induce physical dependencies, but they can create inflated expectations or even degrade other, less distilled or concentrated, kinds of experiences.
Another point we shall be making is that packaged pleasures have often de-socializedpleasure taking. Many create neurological responses similar to those of religious ecstasies, physical exercise, and social or even sexual intercourse, and can end up substituting for, or displacing, such enjoyments. Weak wine and mild natural hallucinogens have long enhanced spiritual and social experience, but the modern packaged pleasure often has the effect of privatizing satisfaction, isolating it from the crowd. Think of the privatization of public space through portable mp3 players, or the isolating effect of television.
The key point to appreciate is that we today live in a vastly different world from that of peoples living prior to the packaged pleasure revolution, when a broad range of sensual pleasures came to be bottled, canned, condensed, distilled, and otherwise intensified. The impact of this revolution has not been uniform, and we acknowledge and stress these differences, but it does seem to have transformed our sensory universe in ways we are only beginning to understand.
The packaged pleasures we shall be considering in this book include cigarettes, candy and soda pop, phonograph records, photographs, movies, amusements park spectacles, and a few other odds and ends.
But of course not all commodities that are tubed, packed, portable, or preserved can be considered packaged pleasures. For our purposes, we can identify several key and interrelated elements:
- The packaged pleasure is an engineered commodity that contains, concentrates, preserves, and very often intensifies some form of sensual satisfaction.
- It is generally speaking inexpensive, easy to access (readily at hand), and very often portable and storable, often in a domestic setting.
- It is typically wrapped and labeled and thus often marketed by branding. Although often portable, in the case of the amusement park, it can also be enclosed and branded in a contained and fixed space.
- The packaged pleasure is often produced by companies with broad regional if not national or even global reach, creating a recognizable bond between the individual consumer and the corporate producer.
Of course we are well aware that many other consumer products exhibit one or more of these attributes—clothes, cars, books, packaged cereals, cocaine, pornography, and department stores just to name a few. Our focus will be on those packaged pleasures that signal key features of the early part of this transformation, and notably those that involve the elements of containment, compression, intensification, mobilization, and commodification. And we recognize that we will not offer an encyclopedic survey of pleasures that have been intensified and packaged—we won’t be treating the history of pornography or perfume, for example, and will consider narcotics and alcoholic beverages only briefly.
We should also be clear that the packaged pleasure revolution is on-going and in many ways has strengthened over time, as pleasure engineers find ever-more sophisticated ways of intensifying desire. And we’ll consider this history at least briefly. Since funneled fun has a tendency to bore us over time, pleasure engineers have repeatedly raised the bar on sensory intensity. Nuts and nougat were added to the simple chocolate bar, and cigarette makers added flavorants and chemicals to enhance or optimize nicotine delivery. The visual panel in motion pictures has been made more alluring with increasingly rapid cuts, and recorded sound has seen a dramatic expansion in both fidelity and acoustical range. Roller coasters went ever higher and faster while also becoming ever safer. Pornography is delivered with ever-greater convenience and is now basically free to anyone with an Internet connection. Even opera fans can now hear (and see) their favorite arias with a simple click on YouTube—at no cost and without leaving home (or sitting through those “boring bits”). Entertainment without the “fiber,” one could say.
Another outcome of the packaged pleasure revolution, then, is the progressive refinement—really reengineering—of sensory experience in the century or so since its beginnings. Optimization of satisfactions has become a big part in this, as one might expect from the fact that packaged pleasures are very often commodities produced by corporations with research and marketing departments. Menthol was added to cigarettes in the 1930s, with the idea of turning tobacco back into a kind of medicine. Ammonia and levulinic acid and candied flavors of various sorts were later added to augment the nicotine “kick,” but also to appeal to younger tastes. Flavor chemists meanwhile learned to manipulate the jolt of “soft drinks” by refining dosings of caffeine and sugar, while candy makers developed nuanced “flavor profiles”— surpassing traditional hard candy, for example, with the sensory complex of a Snickers.
Optimization and calibration we also find in other parts of this revolution. The intense thrill of a loop-de-loop ride, debuted first at Coney Island in the 1890s, gave way to the more varied sensuality of “themed” rides. Roller coasters have been designed to go to the edge of exhilaration, stopping just short of the point of nausea or injury. The same principle works with gambling, where even losers keep playing because of the carefully calibrated conditioning that comes with the periodic (and precisely calculated) win built into the game. Pleasure engineers have learned how to create video games that are easy enough to engage newcomers, but complex enough to sustain the interest of experienced players. Gaming engineers even seek to encourage (or require) physical movement and social interactions—think Wii games—to counter critics cautioning against the bodily and social negatives of overly virtualized lives.
Our focus is on the origins of the technologies involved in such transformations, though we also are aware that such novelties have always encountered critics, those who worry that an oversated consuming public would lose control and abandon work and family responsibilities. But the reality in terms of social impact often has been quite different. Few of these optimized pleasures have ever undermined the willingness of consumers to work and obey—and have done little to undermine nerves and sensibilities (as some have feared). Indeed they have often contributed to a new work ethic driven by new needs and imperatives to earn and toil evermore in order to be able to afford the delights of movies, candy, soda, cigarettes, and the rest of the show. Over time, and often a surprisingly short time, these commodified delights have become a kind of second sensory nature—customary and accepted ways of eating, inhaling, seeing and hearing, and feeling.
Scholars have long debated the impact of “modern consumer culture,” albeit too often in negative terms without considering the historical origins of the phenomena in question. In the 1890s, the French sociologist Émile Durkheim feared that the “masses” would be enervated, even immobilized, by technical modernity’s overwhelming assault on the senses. And Aldous Huxley in his Brave New World (1932) warned of a coming culture of commoditized hedonism oblivious to tyranny. Jeremiahs of this sort have singled out different culprits, with blame most often placed on the “weaknesses” of the masses or the manipulation of merchandisers, with the hope expressed that the virtuous few in their celebration of nature and simplicity would constitute a bulwark against immediate gratification and degrading consumerism. These critics have been opposed by apologists for “democratic access” to the choice and comforts of modern consumer society—who champion the idea that only killjoy elitists could find fault in the delights of pleasure engineering. This perspective dominates a broad swath of social science—especially from neoclassical economists (think of George Stigler and Gary Becker’s famous dictum on the nondisputability of taste).
We argue instead that we need to abandon the overgeneralization common to both jeremiahs and free-market populists. Of course it is true that the very notion of a “packaged pleasure revolution” suggests certain links between the cigarette, bottled soda, phonograph records, cameras, movies, and even amusement parks. But the impact of these various inventions over the decades has been very different, and cannot be subsumed under some procrustean notion of “modern consumer culture.” Rather, as we shall see, their distinct histories suggest very different effects on our bodies and our cultures that would seem to require very different personal and policy responses. Our view is that the sale of cigarettes (as presently designed) should be heavily regulated and ultimately banned, for example, while soda should probably only be shamed and (heavily) taxed. And we make no policy recommendations for film or sound “packages.” But we certainly need to better understand how these technologies have shaped and refined (distorted?) our sensibilities.
We should also keep in mind that there are global consequences to the packaged pleasure revolution—and that most of these lie in the future. This is unfinished business. Overconsumption is part of the problem, as is the undermining of world health (notably from processed sugar and cigarettes). The revolution is ongoing, as the engineered world of compressed sensibility spreads to ever-different parts of the globe, and ever-different parts of human anatomy and sociability. It may be hard to opt out of or to escape from this brave new world, but the conditions under which it arose are certainly worth understanding and confronting.
This book takes on a lot. Our hope is to move us beyond the classic debate between the jeremiahs against consumerism and the defenders of a democratic access to commercial delights. We root mass consumption in a sensory revolution facilitated by techniques that upset the ancient balance between desire and scarcity. We take a fresh look at how technology has transformed our nature.
To read more about Packaged Pleasures, click here.
Believe it or not, after years of ups and downs, Tallfellow Press is again publishing books (what a concept!). There have been happy times and sad times. The saddest were the losses of our founders, Larry Sloan and Leonard Stern. Suffice it to say, life has not been the same without them.
But we hope that the offerings we will have for you in the next several years will be interesting, fun, inspirational and worthy of the Tallfellow name.
So, please visit our website and read our blog to see what's coming up.
The first book we're publishing is Really?!!?! by Beulah Sanchez (look to the left!). It's One Woman's Adventures of Dating in the Digital Age and not only is it very funny, it's all true. You can hear the author on radio shows all over the country. Stay tuned.
Thanks for reading and let us know if you have questions or comments.
We're glad to be back!!!
Attention all fantasy readers! You’ll want to get in on this week’s book war, because I will be comparing two of the most popular fantasy series there are: Harry Potter vs. Percy Jackson & The Olympians.
People have been saying for years that the two series are similar in character and plot, but I’m about to take a deeper look to find out. So, are you a Potterhead or are you a Demigod? Can you be both?
To begin the comparison, let’s start with the two main protagonists. Harry and Percy are both unlikely heroes with difficult backgrounds. Harry’s parents were killed when he was just a baby, and he was forced to live with his horrible Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon and his vile cousin, Dudley. Percy was raised by his mother and his awful step-father, Gabe Ugliano. Both children were bullied because they were weak and scrawny and no one really cared about them.
Harry and Percy also share some similar traits. Harry and Percy both have a “saving people thing” because they always want to help someone in danger. They are also known to be witty and sarcastic, but incredibly loyal to their friends.
Finally, Harry and Percy are the “Chosen One” and the “Child of the Prophecy” meaning that they are the only people who can save the world because of a prophecy written about them.
Now let’s compare some of the other characters.
The main female protagonists, Hermione Granger and Annabeth Chase, are both the most intelligent characters in each series. They always know the answer for everything and always have a plan, but Annabeth is more of a warrior than Hermione.
And let’s not forget about the lovable best friends. Ron Weasley and Grover Underwood are the two main characters’ best friends. They are similar in that they are both easily scared, funny, and have a love of food. The only difference would be the fact that Grover has goat legs . . .
And, of course, we have the villains. There are the main bad guys, Lord Voldemort and Kronos, and also the conflicted henchmen, Draco Malfoy and Luke Castellan.
Another similarity in the series would be the plot. Both books are about two children who become heroes and have to save the world. They both involve a prophecy, magic, and myth.
So what do you think? How similar are these two series? And are you a fan of HP or PJO? Leave your opinion in the Comments.
Izzy, Scholastic Kids Council
PS. Emma Rose weighs in on the debate in her video. Ari is also a PJO fan. He says, “The books are exciting. It is fun to see Greek Mythology come alive in the present day. Percy, the son of Poseidon, must learn to survive and protect both the mortal and the immortal worlds.”Add a Comment
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