Shopping, Winning, Owning
- Leslie Heywood (Author) and Shari L. Dworkin (Author)
Built to Win: The Female Athlete as Cultural Icon. University of Minnesota Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Kewbrew McLeod (Author)
Owning Culture: Authorship, Ownership & Intellectual Property Law. Peter Lang Publishing Group (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Pamela Klaffke (Author)
Spree: A Cultural History of Shopping. Arsenal Pulp Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Latham Hunter
Empowerment and democracy are noble ideals which are crucial to the effectiveness and importance of Cultural Studies; students and even professors should embrace the dynamic, popular, and entertaining aspects of this field—these characteristics are part of what makes Cultural Studies significant in both the academic and public spheres, and help to break down the barriers between the two. However, to lean too far in the direction of the dynamic, fun, or popular—to imitate the texts and practices often under study—renders a Cultural Studies publication largely ineffective. Of the three texts under review, only one completely avoids this hazard, and as a result, is the most successful.
In reading Spree: A Cultural History of Shopping, I was reminded of the new “hip” high school textbooks with pages packed with trivia in the margins and thumbnail pictures scattered amongst the paragraphs. This is far from a substantial text—the 12 slight chapters are further divided into, on average, four-page blurbs on subjects such as infomercials and celebrity branding. Certainly these are important subjects to consider when taking into account the breadth and depth of consumer culture, but Spree is really without any political weight. For example, it recommends without a trace of irony “must-see shopping scenes” like the one in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which will “make viewers swoon.” Ultimately, none of the topics offered here—from the advent of credit to the explosion in online shopping—is treated as much more than a tidbit. Particularly bewildering is the section on “what your astrological sign says about your shopping style.” Particularly galling is the recurrent image of female legs in miniskirts and high heels kicking about amongst bulging shopping bags. Spree is much like an extended version of an only slightly progressive fashion magazine.
Built to Win: The Female Athlete as Cultural Icon is a much more satisfying effort, largely because, unlike Spree, it engages with complex issues. The book takes into account representations of female athleticism in broadcasting, advertisements, magazines, and film; it also includes personal testimonies and sociological studies. It demonstrates a solid and yet fairly lively dialogue with both established and emerging critical voices; Judith Butler and Susan Bordo are particularly evident. And, like any good study of gender issues, Built to Win includes a look at the increasingly blurred line that attempts to divide male and female, as well as corresponding representations of masculinity. That being said, however, I did find that Leslie Heywood and Shari Dworkin have a distinct bias in favour of a particularly competitive brand of athleticism, often citing winning, championships, competition, and aggression as healthy indications of the value of sport. They speak of heroism with a Darwinian bent, not really stopping to consider how a hard body and vigorous gym regime can be just as binding and unforgiving as the pressure to be soft and “feminine.” The authors make much of studies that show that sport is good for women’s health and self-esteem, but they completely ignore other, non-competitive forms of athleticism, like the increasingly popular yoga, which can be just as beneficial. To describe the gym in terms of “comfort,” “safety,” “pride” and “assurance” is to reveal that only a very tiny slice of “female athleticism” is being discussed here, and yet Heywood and Dworkin write as though they represent a universal feminine.
Multiple points in the book gave me serious pause: for example, to state that Lara Croft of Tomb Raider is not a sex object, any more than the Terminator, seems rather sightless, as do the essentialist generalizations made about her. The book states that Croft is powerful because “she walks shoulders back like the typical guy,” whereas her brother is not typical because he is “easily incapacitated by the bad guys.” It is dangerous to suggest that there are essential masculine and feminine characteristics.
I was also concerned with the authors’ use of an advertisement to indicate how the increasing depiction of “female masculinity” indicates a cultural shift towards acceptance and even celebration. They include, as proof, an advertisement for Nike which features a woman lying down, facing the camera, with her body stretched out behind her. Heywood and Dworkin omit the fact that this ad appeared in a two-page format: the female model paired with a male model on the second page. When comparing both halves of the ad, it becomes apparent that the woman—lying down, her buttocks and crotch quite plainly emphasized—is depicted as significantly less powerful than her corresponding and oppositional male, who stands centrally in the frame, all muscled torso and defiance. This is classic gender construction, and should not be ignored.
McLeod’s Owning Culture is the most accomplished of these three books. It is common enough for Cultural Studies to deal with commercialization, but it is relatively unheard of that the field incorporates a legal approach. “Copywright” should indeed play a larger role in our understanding of the commodified world, and McLeod highlights its relevance and importance with conviction, humour, and a fine eye for both startling details and the bigger picture. His research is commendable, his connection with popular texts is convincing, and his theoretical context is sound. It is risky to bring in so many seemingly disparate texts and practices—McLeod makes handy use of, for example, Disney, The Waste Land, U2, Star Trek, genetic research, Third World patents, and Dadaism—but they are skillfully woven together. What emerges is an appreciation for an often overlooked, and yet crucial, component of power and communication today.
- Public Radio by Robert M. Seiler
Books reviewed: CKUA: Radio Worth Fighting For by Marylu Walters
- Ornamentalism by Maria Noëlle Ng
Books reviewed: Ornamentalism: How the British Saw Their Empire by David Cannadine and Collecting Colonialism: Material Culture and Colonial Change by Chris Gosden and Chantal Knowles
- BC Lit in Extra Innings by Travis V. Mason
Books reviewed: The Fed Anthology by Susan Musgrave and Baseball: A Poem in the Magic Number 9 by Claude Boisvert
- Rethinking Literary Historiography by Chelva Kanaganayakam
Books reviewed: Literary Cultures in History: Reconstructions from South Asia by Sheldon Pollack
- Words and the World by Stephen Ney
Books reviewed: In Bed With the Word: Reading, Spirituality, and Cultural Politics by Daniel Coleman
MLA: Hunter, Latham. Shopping, Winning, Owning. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 18 June 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #185 (Summer 2005), (Stratton, Compton, Morra, Wylie, Gordon). (pg. 154 - 156)
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