Althusser and The Real World

The Real World Denver was a unique display of Althusser’s points. While Althusser does not tackle sexuality in his actual theory, it was very applicable to the Real World: Denver clip which we choose to analyze. The strongest point that Althusser brings to this piece is his definition of the ISA and the power that it has to control people. In this specific case, it is even more specific in defining Althusser’s idea that the main branches of the ISA are schooling and religion. Both of these apparatuses are at work in the clip of Davis’ announcement of his homosexuality.

Although Althusser does not address sexuality in his piece, he still includes many of the factors at work in the social order of sexuality. He states on page 1485 that a child learns the “job he is ‘destined’ for: rules of morality, civic and professional conscience, which actually means rules of respect for the socio-technical division of labour and ultimately the rules of the order established by class discrimination.” This applies to the section of the clip where we see Davis explain his mother’s initial reaction to his homosexuality. He explains that she sent him to Christian counseling in order to help cure him of his gayness and his sinful sexual preferences. In applying Althusser’s theory, we can see how Davis’ mother was pushing Davis back into the oppressive ISA system and forcing him to sit back into the class discrimination. While in Davis’ case, it is not a matter of actual “class” discrimination, we can assert that Davis’ “class” is his sexual class, based on his sexual preference. When viewed in this way, we are able to see clearly how Davis’ is being taught by a Christian school and his mother, how to act, how to fit his role as a man and to abide by the ISA “rules of morality.”

The family ISA is obvious in this respect as well. Davis’ family contributed greatly to his oppression. He talks about how his mother told him that he was going to “go to hell for this. This is a sin.” She shows here that she is a product of Althusser’s system. She has been conditioned by both religion and schooling to believe that Davis’ homosexuality and in turn will continue the oppressive nature of the system by pressing the beliefs she was taught on her son. By doing this she is perpetuating the oppression and continuing its cycle.

Although the acting ISA’s attempt to repress Davis’ sexual preference, he seems to be a blind spot in Althusser’s theory. Althusser suggests that “there is no practice except by and in an ideology” (1502) but Davis seems to outgrow this. He is suppose to be the product of religion, the subject of religion, but he has not conformed in the way he was intended too even after religious classes. The family ISA has failed to change his sexual preference, and his schooling, including his frat brothers who are conditioned at a school, have accepted him. Althusser does not confront this in his theory, suggesting, perhaps, that the homosexual community has escaped the repressive nature of the ISA.

Other members of the house have not done so. At one point Tyrie explains, ” The majority of the black community is homophobic…Its not something that’s really discussed in our community.” By not discussing homosexuality, Althussser’s ISA is achieving exactly its goal. This is creating a taboo around homosexuality and the black community, according to Tyrie, is continuing the cycle of oppressing homosexual behavior by not talking about it. They are taught by society and family influences that it is acceptable and encouraged to be homophobic and that even conversing about the subject is off limits. The system is then, cyclical. The many ISA’s at work are preaching what was preached to them and subjecting the different generations to the same standards previously set.

The Real World: Denver was a strong example of the repressive nature of Althusser’s ISA. It shows how controlling the system can be and how it can continues to cycle through even though we do not realize that we are perpetuating it. Althusser’s theory, specifically in this work, asks if we will ever break free of the continuous flow of repression. Davis shows that it can be done, that one person can go against the masses and outlive the theory. It also shows how easily influenced and how easily taught the theory can be. We see both Steven and Tyrie oppressing Davis further through the teachings of their faith and their schooling, representing the mere subjects that are tools to the ISA.

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An Althusserian-Rubinized-Butlerd Reading of The Real World: Denver

Our presentation addresses this clip from The Real World: Denver in which Davis, a man who has hidden his homosexuality, faces hostility from the other members of the house when he reveals his sexual orientation.

Kellie’s analysis of the Real World as influenced by Rubin and Fanon can be found over here. She addresses the following main points in her argument:

  • Society reproduces the conventions of sex and gender, and people are shocked when individuals deviate from these conventions
  • Gender implies that there ought to be only heterosexual arrangements, and that desire be focused only on the opposite sex
  • When you are defined by another societal group, especially the dominant one, you cannot escape being labeled regardless of your true identity and being.


Sherri discusses how Althusser would view Davis’ homosexuality as a repressive system in her blog over here where she addresses the following main points:

  • Davis speaks directly about how religion and the teachings of the bible have oppressed him, even in his mother’s eyes. This is exactly Althusser’s view on religion as an ISA.
  • Stephen is adamant about homosexuality and states again that he has been “taught” that it is a sin by the bible. In this instance, not only religion but also schooling are addressed as ISAs, just as stated in Althusser’s theory.
  • Davis’ mother sent him to schooling to try to change his homosexuality. This addresses how his mother, as a family member also functions as an ISA and serves to restrict the free will of other family members at the moment they beleive they can make their own choices.

Joei views The Real World through Butler’s eyes over on her blog where she states her main points about the following:

  • Davis is afraid to reveal who he really is because he doesn’t want anyone to judge him, so he pretends to be someone he’s not, hence he performs his gender.
  • Butler claims that people don’t have souls, but I disagree and I would think that Davis would also disagree because he lets the world in on who he is and eventually isn’t embarrassed to be himself.
  • Davis pretended to be straight for years, so he conformed to society. After coming out, his mother basically disowned him which makes one realize that sometimes people don’t have a choice; they might have to conform in order to survive in this type of society.

Our assessment:

By using three different theories to analyze The Real World: Denver, we were able to see exactly how useful and practical Althusser, Butler and Rubin are to current events, society and people in general. We are able to see connections between the theorists which were not previously apparent. While Rubin and Butler approach theory through gender and sexuality, Althusser approaches it though social means. Even though his theoretical viewpoint is vastly different in this perspective, he is still shares similar ideas and concerns. One of the most prominent connections we made was how all of these approaches analyze the ways in which people are oppressed and conditioned; even though the source of the oppression is different, they are still elements within the society itself. The oppressors force us into roles and positions which we would not naturally be in without the oppressors. According to Althusser, this is the role of the ISA, specifically in this case, religion, schooling and societal expectations. Butler would say that Davis is being oppressed by society and is forced to perform a sexual role which does not really exist. Finally, from Rubin’s standpoint, Davis is oppressed by his forced gender role. He is expected to take on the role of a masculine man, more specifically, one who will have sex with women and who will not be attracted to men. He is being defined and conditioned by societal expectations of his role as a man, and forced to act in a manner other than his own to fit into the sex/gender system. In all three theories, this is the main standpoint that holds them all together. All three also argue that as a part of the system, we think we have a choice, but in reality we are simply pawns. Althusser argues that we have little freedom of choice in capitalism, and as soon as we think we are free, that is the moment in which we feed back into the system. Butler states that we think we choose our sexuality but it is really chosen for us by society and we then perform it in the same way that Rubin argues that we are ultimately defined by our gender regardless of our personal preferences. Fanon ties into this idea as well by stating that our identity is only defined in comparison to the other. By using these theories to analyze this piece, we were able to conclude exactly how dominating and oppressing sexuality is and how all three theorists address this effectively.

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Sexuality and the Sci-Fi

I’m sitting out on my balcony with my laptop enjoying the beautiful weather even at 9:00 in the morning. I love this weather, even though I got a massive sunburn watching a baseball game yesterday. Everyone point and stare at the lobster legs.

SO, I found this piece a little confusing and pretty disappointing. Just when I thought I had a pretty good grasp on the theory lingo, I get this piece stuffed in my face. I guess it wasn’t the language so much as the concepts, and not so much the concepts, but I don’t think I agree. So did I get it and disagree so much that it didn’t make sense, or do I have no idea what I just read? Anyway, here we go…

Lets talk about what I know (not much)… I understand how she shifts between biotechnologies and our bodies. She has a quote on 2284 where she states that “These tools [biotechnologies and technologies] embody and enforce new social relations for women world wide.” Okay, so I this is what I pulled from that even though it may be a stretch. She is saying that biotechnologies such as breast implants and lypo and all that have the ability to change women in any way we would like to be changed sexually.Hell if we really want we can have a sex change and become a man. But I’m confused or I took this the wrong way because first of all, how is it that women can do this and not men? Why does she specify women? What abotu transsexual men? Also, she continues on with the idea that “the boundry is permeable between tool and myth…” (2284) How is this possible? A myth is nonexistant is it not? A mere simulacra if you want to refer back to Baudrillard, it is only a word for in place of actual meaning. S how is it that a concrete object and a myth are intertwined? I’m not so sure if I grasped this at all. Maybe thats why I’m struggling so much.

Now lets touch on “the list.” I don’t know how much I really agree that all these things are are part of domination. How is it that Star Wars is a method of domination, when I have never even seen it?? Doesn’t a system have to be all encompassing in order to be dominating? An biology, how is that dominating? I guess I can understand some, but I think she needed to make her list a little longer and threw some extra ideas in. I can understand sex because often life can revolve around it (David from Disgrace) and Focualt would totally agree. Also, WWII, obviously tons of people and numerous societies were totally destroyed and dominated by the Germans.

So thats what I can pull from this. How bout you?

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A Blog or an imaginary article floating in cyber space?

My worst nightmare...

My Worst Nightmare…

Two hours later and four notebook pages of trying to fight my way through this text and I think I am ready for this blog. Baudrillard seems like a massively arrogant and overconfident individual who feel the need to show of his knowledge of large words and his ability to create his own terms. Plus I think his theory sucks.

I can break the theory down pretty well I think even though parts of it confused me. Jean (his last name is just too long) wants to tell us that there is very little difference between reality and imaginary nowadays. He says that there is way too much faking and lying and deceiving and that this causes a massive danger in terms of the way we are able to look at things that were once concrete like science and medicine. He explains the difference between simulating-the idea that you fake having something you don’t, and dissimulating- faking that you don’t have something that you really do. I understand both concepts but although he says there is a big difference, which in terms of definition I can see, I don’t understand why it matters so much to him. This is one of those instances where he could have dumbed down the language. He didn’t need to say feigning. You would think he wrote in Victorian times…

He wants to relate this theory mostly to medicine and psychosomatic illness, religion and the military. I can explain the first two but the latter is another story. I didn’t at all understand at all what he was trying to say. As far as psychosomatic illness he says that because one can make imaginary illness have real symptoms, hypochondriacs are a great example, medicine is no longer an exact science. We do not know who to believe and whose bluff to call. Once again, I don’t see why this matters so much. In the grand scheme of things, this is not a very large number of the population. Most people who are sick really are sick and most who are faking it get caught. He quotes someone (he never states who) as saying “for each form of the mental alienation there is a particular order in the succession of symptoms, of which the simulator is unaware and in the absence of which the alienist is unlikely to be deceived” (1734). He comes out and basically says, no this isn’t true, professionals cant tell the difference, but he never explains how he disproves this, he just says that its not true. Where is the evidence to back up his disapproving attitude? My brother is a psychologist and he is more than capable of seeing through every single lie I have ever told, whether a small white lie or a whopper of a lie. I’m sure others are just as capable.

He goes on to bash religion saying that its simply worshiping religious icons or simulacra that does not really represent any real being. I think I forgot to talk about this earlier, but this is one of his main points. He states that the symbols or signs we use now are pretty much taking over the world and that they used to be a symbol of something, it had meaning. Now, though, they are signs of nothing, they have no meaning as there is no longer an actual object that they represent. He ties this to religion by saying that religion tells us to worship a person of which we have icons and pictures, but that there really is no meaning to them since that being was never reality. A bit of a stretch. The map that he uses as an example made no sense to me. There is still land, there can’t be a map without a land. There could be a map of a land that no longer exists, but thats worthless and we take it only as a symbol of what once existed. I don’t see how this helps his point.

The tribe in the Philippines was probably the most interesting part of the article just because I had never heard of this and I was interested to see if it was real or a government hoax. What I found more interesting was that Jean talked about them as being kept isolated and in their “virgin” state of life, but I found these pictures.

They don’t look so “virgin” in life to me. That definitely is not the forest and their clothes are not leaves.

Did I miss something? I’ll see everyone. There is soo much more to criticize, but I don’t have all that time.

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Am I a “victim”? I think not…

Nothing like starting right off with a nice bitch session! These guys took no time to beat around the bush, but instead took right to their argument. This threw me off a little bit because there was no background and no explanation of why they think this way.

Horkheimer and Adorno are not so fond of the popular media. In fact, the media is a way to control the public and while we feel that we are getting free choice on what we watch and listen to, we really are unknowingly forced into a choice. They also make a point that those who are a part of a public assistance program think they are getting much needed help, but instead they are simply becoming victims of the system and feeding back into the cycle.

They pretty much bash the film business as a business and not a form of art and the radio as well. I thought they were a little too passionate in their argument. At one point they actually compare “Automobiles, bombs, and movies keep the whole thing together…” (1224). I can’t believe that they went this far. Even if it is the case that our media is incredibly powerful in censoring what we watch and hear, it does little to control us in the way that a physical weapon like a bomb is ridiculous.

Further on they claim that ” …the film forces its victims to equate it directly with reality” (1226). When I go to a movie like Spiderman or Harry Potter, I definitely do not leave the theater thinking that I can cast spells or swing from building to building on a web that shoots out of my hand. Plus, I definitely do not consider myself a victim. I chose to see a movie, I am not forced. A victim is someone who has no choice, or am I just falling into their system? Do I feel like this because I am a part of it. I don’t really think so, I think they are pretty far fetched, but maybe I need clarification. We’ll see how I feel after class I guess, but for now I will still watch movies, I will still listen to the radio, and I won’t if I don’t want to. Hmmm, not much like a victim…

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Harry Potter and the English Symposium

I didn’t know what to expect when I attended the English symposium, but I think I can say overall that I was pleasantly surprised. I listened intently for every little bit that I could relate to the theories we studied so far and I think I did pretty well. I was able to attend the faculty readings and I’m glad I did. It was interesting to hear some of the work that they dedicate their time to. It wasn’t what I expected.

In Professor Liety’s non-fiction work, I was able to directly link it to Rubin. The idea of gift giving and marriage as a type of exchange between men was basically the topic of the paper. While I trailed off a little toward the end, it was interesting to hear a woman place herself outside of her role in the Anglo-Saxon society. Rubin allows us to enhance her research by showing how she was made to fit into her role, when clearly she had a desire and ability to do otherwise. Liety went a little further with this idea in showing Juliana’s virginity as a gift as part of her sole and her body. Reading Rubin allowed me to see Juliana as not just a strong willed female, but a woman as a player of a role. She questioned her society and challenged it by acting as a male warrior should. Does this make her gender non-specific, another Rubin idea? She is shown as a man and a woman, not just in dress but in mind and soul.

I also picked out Jameson’s theory on nostalgia as a prominent aspect of her reading. As I listened, I thought what most students think when they hear a piece of research read aloud, I though “why the hell does this matter to me?” The answer goes back to nostalgia. We care because we are deeply interested in the past. We have strong desire to read about the way people lived and the roles people played. We as a monotheistic society, feel the need to go back a couple thousand years and hear about the way in which our ancestors lived because we need the escape from the present turmoil. We need to look back at the past in order to show ourselves that our world isn’t such in the crapper, its actually got some good parts.

Hollis Seamon’s short story was fascinating. The first theory that came to my mind when I heard it was the idea that you can’t explain a problem without mentioning the problem. In this case, God could not talk about the problem with humans without titling them as humans. While he was able to do this, the theory still was relevant to me. It seemed that in not using the language of the “things” God empowered them. He gave them the power and the fear of the name. I know I’m a nerd for this, but as a huge Harry Potter fan, this part of the text smacked me in the face as a parallel to the problem that the characters in the book have with using Voldemort’s name. They instead refer to him as “You Know Who.” By doing this they increase the amount of fear that the title brings just as God made the humans stronger and more frightening by referring to them as things. Is this really how the theory was suppose to be applied or am I stretching it? This was one of the first times that I felt I wasn’t stretching the a theory to fit a piece and instead used a theory to enhance, but I am still not confident that it was done well.

Derrida helped to enhance the reading as well. He brought his center stuff to the table and showed me how the center can be the center and also not be. In this story, God should be at the center, as the supreme being, the creator. What is really at the center is the human race, who are surrounded by things like war, disease, pollution, famine, etc. Because the humans are at the center, and God has been pushed out of the way, God as a center, no longer holds the control which the center should and chaos occurs in the form of the humans’ destroying the earth.

I was mostly too busy laughing during Nester’s reading, but I was able to see the parallel with his reading and Jameson’s Bonaventure hotel. As readers, or in this case listeners, we are constantly thinking and analyzing with a skewed perspective. One that is flawed by our own personal experience and judgements. In listening to his reading I thought to myself how differently every person in the room must be interpreting this. Maybe one person thinks its funny because it happened to him or her, while another finds it a little embarrassing because they like to lick feet. Point is, just like the distorted view we get of the city when looking at the Bonaventure hotel, we get a distorted view of a reading when we listen with different sets of ears.

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Margret Cho

I knew her comedy before I saw the video so I knew it would be funny, but to have it be required in a theory class-what a refreshing break from reality! All I had to do was watch laugh and let the little bubbles of theory in my head keep floating to the surface. What did surprise me is that she had some pretty serious points in her show. Every other performance by her (or at least the parts that I happened to catch) have been pure comedy, especially about her mother. She seemed to be working toward on integration here of meaning and comedy. It made it even more interesting.

The first point that stands out in my mind of theory is the hilarious point that the network she worked for hired an Asian consultant to help her act more Asian. This had Fanon all over it for me. Who is it that determines what a race should act like? It should be determined by the race itself, and as Cho mentioned many times, she is not an Asian, she is an Asian-American. She was raised here. She speaks English, she wears her shoes in the house. So what defines her as an Asian American is how she personally acts. I think Rubin’s idea of being fixed into a gender role plays a part here as well, but with race. It seems that the television network wanted to transform her into the “fixed” image that most people have about Asians but Cho succeeds in showing us that our stereotypes are inaccurate.

Another part of her performance that screamed out to me was the part where she addressed her weight and how she wanted to be perfect and fit in; she wanted to be everything that they needed her to be. This is Margaret, after her weight loss.

Now we may all look at her and think that she looks great, but her point was, this is not who she is. This is what the network wanted her to be, as a woman. She needed to be skinny, sexy and more appealing, since her face wouldn’t fit on the screen. I think this is also relevant to Rubin as well as the ISA. While it was not the school system reproducing principals, its the public for celebrities who are in their eyes constantly. We decide what people should look like and through discussion and criticism, like Cho mentioned her “thunder thighs” were talked about in a magazine,and those who are in the public eye are in turn forced to conform. She was criticized for not being Asian enough, and then because the Asian thing was getting old. Like she chose it, like it was an act.

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