Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Levels of Depth and Layers of Complexity

To some, it is the third Monday in January, while others see it is a treasured day off.  To some it is an established day of service, while others purposefully set aside the daily routine to pay tribute to a leader who gave so much to his moral cause – ultimately, his life.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is an element of America’s popular culture.  Dr. King is a name that the masses can identify, albeit with differing degrees of liking and levels of knowledge.  In a quick search online, it is proven that MLK has been woven into the fabric of our nation’s culture.  As shown here, his name can be found in 13.995 newspapers, 5,611 books, and 3,552 magazines. What is intriguing about MLK however, is that he has also been cited in 909 academic journals. 
In his article, Pop Culture Studies Turns 25, Jacobson reported that the fundamental belief of pop culture “is that academia should pay the same kind of serious attention to the ‘common, everyday culture’ of the masses” (pg. 12).  Examining the behaviors of a variety of Americans on the day the nation celebrates Dr. King’s birthday, is the study of popular culture.  Consider the many options available on Monday, January 16th this year in the Phoenix, AZ metro area:

For those who want to interact with influential leaders who have ties to the King family, they can attend a devotional and then join with community members to complete service projects that include food sorting, painting, landscaping, trash collection and more!

A one-mile walk has been scheduled to demonstrate unity in the community, and to promote respect and understanding - for those who want to recognize MLK’s contributions.

For those who are grateful for MLK because it qualifies as a holiday away from regular obligations, there is free admission to National Parks where visitors can enjoy freedom and beauty.

Good deals and promotional sales offer some a unique way to spend the day off.

For those interested in the social sciences, the activities mentioned above provide a rich lab for studying individuals and the groups they form, which creates a unique culture built on signs and artifacts.  How does the belief system of those who volunteer differ from those who go hiking or shopping on MLK Day?
In Rhetoric and Popular Culture, Brummett (2014) demonstrates how racism is linked to popular culture.  “People must decide what to do and how to behave in relation to people of other races.  We must also decide what cultural differences mean” (pg. 71).  Some may decide that Martin Luther King Day is primarily a day of celebration for African-Americans, marking their earned civil rights. 
Blacks may decide that MLK’s martyrdom served little purpose because black lives are still not seen as equal in worth, so festivals are just a continuance of power and privilege.   Others still may decide that there is an intersectionality with what is happening to Palestinians at the hands of Israelis, so the two movements for human rights should unite.
Brummett’s discussion of racism continues by stating that beautiful pieces of rhetoric, such as King’s “I Have a Dream” speech do not have as much influence as popular culture.  “The problem of racism is being managed in the plots of television sitcoms and dramas…racism is managed in fashion…in athletics” (pg. 72).  The stories that people tell and the images that they see create narratives that establish “the important business of society” (pg. 76).  What activities or conversations will be seen as important on January 16th?
Brummett (2014) asks the reader “to begin seeing everyday experience as alive with persuasive feelings” (p. 42).  As many of our nation’s communities prepare to celebrate MLK Day this coming weekend, will some members of our diverse cultures be persuaded by the feelings Dr, King shared half a century ago?  Perhaps we can reflect on how his life illustrates the levels of depth, and the layers of complexity, that our culture displays.

Questions: Given Brummett’s argument that signs are the building blocks of culture, and that all signs prompt thought, consider the various meanings that can be extracted from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
      1)      Indexically, what words, ideas, or feelings come to mind when you hear that name? 
      2)      Iconically, can you identify the circumstances of MLK speaking to millions in the heart of our nation’s capitol?  What image does Dr. King conjure through rhetoric in his “I Have a Dream Speech”?
      3)      Symbolically, do you think that Dr. King can represent something that all Americans can agree upon and understand?

1 comment:

  1. Educational and important post. What words, ideas and feelings come to mind when I hear the name Martin Luther King Jr.? Independence, strength, everyday hero, persistent. I think of bravery and the ability to move a nation. I feel proud to live in American where one individual can represent a movement for change, and make a difference. Thanks for the timely post. I'll be thinking about this on Monday!