Oh bother! Target and the devaluing of domestic labor

Last night, while watching football and then the Golden Globes (hooray for the awesome Amy Poehler and Tina Fey!), I encountered several Target “Everyday Collection” commercials. Perhaps the one that I remember most (maybe because I tweeted about it), was the diaper rodeo:

After seeing this commercial, and the lightbulb, oatmeal and cake mix commercials, I became troubled and bothered and a little speechless.

There are many different things about this campaign that bother me, but I thought I’d focus on how these commercials reinforce household chores as women’s responsibility (so far, I haven’t seen any men making oatmeal or doing laundry) and then, by turning these everyday practices into excessively glamorous events, ignore, devalue or erase the fact that they are difficult and often unpleasant labor.

I suppose you could argue that the ridiculously stylized depiction of domestic work is intended as a parody of representations of women doing household work (or of this work as fun and glamorous…and adventurous?). I’m not feeling that.

I want to put this commercial and my thoughts about how domestic labor is ignored, devalued and erased beside Carol Channing’s song, Housework, for Free to be…You and MeHere are the lyrics:

You know, there are times when we happen to be
Just sitting there, quietly watching TV,
When the program we’re watching will stop for a while
And suddenly someone appears with a smile,
And starts to show us how terribly urgent
It is to buy some brand of detergent,
Or soap or cleanser or cleaner or powder or paste or wax or bleach,
To help with the housework.

Now, most of the time it’s a lady we see,
Who’s doing the housework on TV.
She’s cheerfully scouring a skillet or two,
Or she’s polishing pots till they gleam like new,
Or she’s scrubbing the tub or she’s mopping the floors,
Or she’s wiping the stains from the walls and the doors,
Or she’s washing the windows, the dishes, the clothes,
Or waxing the furniture till it just glows,
Or cleaning the fridge or the stove or the sink,
With a light-hearted smile, and a friendly wink,
And she’s doing her best to make us think
The her soap, or detergent or cleanser or cleaner or powder or paste or wax or bleach,
Is the best kind of soap, or detergent or cleanser or cleaner or powder or paste or wax or bleach,
That there is in the whole wide world.
And, maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t,
And maybe it does what they say it will do,
But I’ll tell you one thing I know is true.
The lady we see when we’re watching TV,
The lady who smiles as she scours or scrubs or rubs or washes or wipes or mops or dusts or cleans,
Or whatever she does on our TV screens,
That lady is smiling because she’s an actress,
And she’s earning money for learning those speeches
That mention those wonderful soaps and detergents and cleansers and cleaners and powders and pastes and waxes and bleaches.

So, the very next time you happen to be
Just sitting there quietly watching TV,
And you see some nice lady who smiles
As she scours or scrubs or rubs or washes or wipes or mops or dusts or cleans,
Remember, nobody smiles doing housework but those ladies you see on TV.
Your mommy hates housework,
Your daddy hates housework,
I hate housework too.
And when you grow up, so will you.
Because even if the soap or cleanser or cleaner or powder or paste or wax or bleach
That you use is the very best one,
Housework is just no fun.

Children, when you have a house of your own,
Make sure, when there’s house work to do,
That you don’t have to do it alone.
Little boys, little girls, when you’re big husbands and wives,
If you want all the days of your lives
To seem sunny as summer weather,
Make sure, when there’s housework to do,
That you do it together!

Disciplinary Expertise?

According to Harold Gardner in The Disciplined Mind, written in 1999:

In contrast to the naive student or the information-crammed but still ignorant adult, an expert is a person who really does think differently about his or her speciality. The expert has successfully achieved the desire set of engravings. Expertise generally arises as a result of several years of sustained work within a domain, discipline or craft, often courtesy of a traditional apprenticeship. Part of that training involves the elimination of habits and concepts that, however attractive to the native person, are actually inimical to the skilled practice of a discipline or craft. And the remaining part of that training involves the construction of habits and concepts that reflect the best contemporary thinking and practices of the domain (123).

In an updated version of his theories on discipline, truth, beauty and goodness, Truth, Beauty and Goodness Reframed, published in 2012, he writes:

In the search for truth, our greatest allies are the scholarly disciplines and the professional crafts—in short, areas of expertise that have developed and deepened over the centuries. Each discipline each craft explores a different sphere of reality and each attempts to establish truths—the truths of knowledge, the truths of practice (23).

I haven’t been able to read through Gardner’s work that carefully yet, but in starting to ponder the value of disciplines and being disciplined, I’m troubled. While I appreciate the need for sustained attention to a topic and for cultivating a certain set of skills, I’m less convinced that this sort of education is best achieved by mastering an academic discipline or by working solely within academic disciplinary frameworks. Additionally, I’m skeptical of the appeal to a set of “experts” as the masters of a particular set of truths, especially when who can claim or be counted as an expert is so limited (and is so frequently biased against certain forms of knowledge).


Aaron Swartz
As I reflect on these ideas about disciplines and being disciplined today, on January 13, 2013, Gardner’s books aren’t the only things I’m thinking about. This morning, I also read Aaron Swartz’s speech, How to Get a Job Like Mine. Tweets about his tragic suicide on Friday have taken over my twitter feed. In the midst of tweets honoring his contributions and tweets raging against what (and who) caused his death, I found a link to a 2007 talk that he gave at a computer conference. I want to put this talk and his advice, as a mentor, but not an expert, on how to have a energizing, yet stressful job like his, beside Gardner’s theories. Here’s his pithy advice:

  1. Be curious. Read widely. Try new things. I think a lot of what people call intelligence just boils down to curiosity.
  2. Say yes to everything. I have a lot of trouble saying no, to an pathological degree — whether to projects or to interviews or to friends. As a result, I attempt a lot and even if most of it fails, I’ve still done something.
  3. Assume nobody else has any idea what they’re doing either. A lot of people refuse to try something because they feel they don’t know enough about it or they assume other people must have already tried everything they could have thought of. Well, few people really have any idea how to do things right and even fewer are to try new things, so usually if you give your best shot at something you’ll do pretty well.

I want to think some more about Swartz’s advice, and his activist efforts to challenge JSTOR so as to ensure that more people had access to information and ideas produced within the academy. When Gardner argues for the need to master a discipline and learn from experts, who has access to that knowledge (and who doesn’t)?

Digital Media Learning: Everyone
Also today, I watched a Digital Media Learning Connected Learning Video:

opening / ‘the march of the formal educational curriculum is at a very different pace from how kids interests develop.’
closing / ‘a sense of fulfillment, belonging and purpose are possibly more important than the knowledge being cultivated.‘

Chrome: Expanding Access and Who Counts as an Expert
And, while I was watching the very exciting Atlanta Falcons vs. Seattle Seahawks football game, I saw this commercial for Chrome:

Where do experts come from?
What sort of knowledge do they offer?
How does the internet complicate how and where we learn and/or gain expertise?

As I work through my own troubled reactions to the need for discipline (which include my questioning of my continued embracing of being undisciplined and whether or not you need to first be disciplined in order to be undisciplined), I want to put all of these ideas beside each other.

oh bother: shop like a man

While watching the NFC divisional playoff game today, I saw the following commercial for Mills Fleet Farm:

After doing a quick look on YouTube, I found the commercial from last year too:


  • What does it mean to “shop like a man”?
  • What version of masculinity is being promoted here? What other forms of masculinity are being discouraged/ignored?
  • What differences/similarities do you see between the 2012 and 2013 commercials?

“Hackers are unruly”

Last August, I briefly posted on hacking as troublemaking. This morning, in a tweet commenting on the loss of a great American activist and genius, Aaron Swartz, I found a link to a 2004 article, The Word “Hacker.”:

I still don’t time (yet) to really think through the various ways that hacking can be understand as a virtuous form of troublemaking, but I thought I archive this hacking article for future reference. After quickly skimming it, I have some problems with the author’s ideas about American exceptionalism and hacking as valuable because it makes the U.S. rich and powerful (“it is the people who break rules that are the source of America’s wealth and power”), but I appreciate the connections he draws between intellectual curiosity, breaking rules and hacking.

Here are a few key passages that I might want to return to:

On ugly vs. imaginative rule breaking:

the noun “hack” also has two senses. It can be either a compliment or an insult. It’s called a hack when you do something in an ugly way. But when you do something so clever that you somehow beat the system, that’s also called a hack. The word is used more often in the former than the latter sense, probably because ugly solutions are more common than brilliant ones.

Believe it or not, the two senses of “hack” are also connected. Ugly and imaginative solutions have something in common: they both break the rules. And there is a gradual continuum between rule breaking that’s merely ugly (using duct tape to attach something to your bike) and rule breaking that is brilliantly imaginative (discarding Euclidean space).

Hacking is motivated by intellectual curiosity:

It is sometimes hard to explain to authorities why one would want to do such things. Another friend of mine once got in trouble with the government for breaking into computers. This had only recently been declared a crime, and the FBI found that their usual investigative technique didn’t work. Police investigation apparently begins with a motive. The usual motives are few: drugs, money, sex, revenge. Intellectual curiosity was not one of the motives on the FBI’s list. Indeed, the whole concept seemed foreign to them.

Disobedience leads to new (often better) ways of doing and being:

Those in authority tend to be annoyed by hackers’ general attitude of disobedience. But that disobedience is a byproduct of the qualities that make them good programmers. They may laugh at the CEO when he talks in generic corporate newspeech, but they also laugh at someone who tells them a certain problem can’t be solved. Suppress one, and you suppress the other.

It is by poking about inside current technology that hackers get ideas for the next generation.

Hackers are unruly:

Hackers are unruly. That is the essence of hacking. And it is also the essence of Americanness.

Hackers’ sense of humor is key:

It is greatly to America’s advantage that it is a congenial atmosphere for the right sort of unruliness—that it is a home not just for the smart, but for smart-alecks.

Trouble Songs

Back in August of 2011, I wrote about the song, “Trouble is a friend” by Lenka. I’m surprised that I haven’t devoted more posts to troublemaking songs. Oh well. Better late than never. Today I’m briefly writing about two songs that I recently heard on the radio (one on The Current; one on KDWB…I bet you’ll be able to guess which song was on which radio station): Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble” and Elvis Presley’s “Trouble.” It’s interesting to put them beside each other and to study the contrasts and parallels in how they perform gender, sexuality, class and race. 

Taylor Swift

I must confess, I like this song. I imagine it as a great running song, when I’m about halfway done with my workout. But, I don’t like Taylor Swift and her strange mixture of good girl purity and scorned woman vengefulness. I can’t quite figure how she manages to maintain her virginal innocence image even as she has apparently dated and sang about a huge swath of male singers and actors. Why does the media let her off the hook, yet slut-shame so many other twenty-something female singers/actors? Is it possibly because she continues to dress modestly and wax romantically about the virtue of being in love and finding the right boy? Here’s what Camilia Paglia writes about Swift in an article for The Hollywood Reporter:

Despite the passage of time since second-wave feminism erupted in the late 1960s, we’ve somehow been thrown back to the demure girly-girl days of the white-bread 1950s. It feels positively nightmarish to survivors like me of that rigidly conformist and man-pleasing era, when girls had to be simple, peppy, cheerful and modest. Doris Day, Debbie Reynolds and Sandra Dee formed the national template — that trinity of blond oppressors!

As if flashed forward by some terrifying time machine, there’s Taylor Swift, America’s latest sweetheart, beaming beatifically in all her winsome 1950s glory from the cover of Parade magazine in the Thanksgiving weekend newspapers.

I am not a fan of Paglia’s, but I did have to chuckle a little at her over-the-top commentary on Swift here. The title of Paglia’s article is Taylor Swift, Katy Perry and Hollywood are Ruining America.

I want to think (and read) some more about Swift’s song before writing more. I wonder, can we read her vision of trouble in this song, as the boy who “flew her to places she’d never been” but left her “lying on the cold, hard ground,” as a metaphor for something else? With her constant emphasis on boys and dating and falling in love, it’s hard to find room for other interpretations.

Here are a few things I want to read about Swift:

Note: I didn’t even try to analyze the Swift video. I’ll have to save that for another time. One thing: anyone else think that Swift looks like a slightly (more) unhinged Avril Lavigne here?

Elvis Presley

Is Elvis Presley the “trouble” that Taylor Swift sings about? It’s interesting to watch this extended movie clip (even if the image is annoyingly squashed) and see the context of Presley’s performance. He’s the busboy who is forced on stage by the fancy club owner (or VIP…I haven’t seen the whole movie yet). The trouble he represents is classed.

I like this line at the beginning of the song:

If you’re looking for trouble
You came to the right place
If you’re looking for trouble
Just look right in my face
I was born standing up
And talking back.

Sidenote: This morning, I heard NWA’s “Fight the Power” on the radio. I’ve heard it before, but never really listened to the lyrics. Here are some that pertain to Elvis:

Elvis was a hero to most
But he never meant —- to me you see
Straight up racist that sucker was
Simple and plain
Mother—- him and John Wayne
Cause I’m Black and I’m proud
I’m ready and hyped plus I’m amped
Most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamps

Wow. Powerful stuff.