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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Pragmatic Branding


Were bulls and cows able to speak English, they would be likely to say "We do not like to be branded."  Unlike their enslaved ancestors who resented being branded, a few members of a certain African American Greek-letter organization in the 20th century thought branding a letter on their skin was an ultra-masculine act of love for fraternity.  We have no proof that this gesture is esteemed in our current century, but we have ample evidence that verbal branding is pervasive in American life.  It hurts.

Having a recognizable brand-name has long been a marketing strategy in American culture, whether one is talking about canned foods, condoms, or colleges.  Thus, it is not strange that Kelli Marshall, a teacher of film and television at DePaul University, should seek to persuade her colleagues that "Branding Yourself as an Academic" (Chronicle of Higher Education, 31 Jan 2017) is a smart move.   She has a point, one that calls attention to the  progressive  cheapening of intellectual standards  in the Age of Trump.  After noting that "branding and marketing seem to conflict with one of the jobs of academics: to teach students about the tricks of persuasion and to give them the language to discover what is real," Marshall hastens to trick readers who are willing to be tricked and who are anxious to discover what is the real road to profit in the academic market.  Her blog as an instance of pragmatic branding  would not be out of place in the Wall Street Journal.

Those who voted for DJT got precisely what they voted for: the disestablishment of democracy as usual.  Many of us who are willing  to believe that the advent of American fascism is a temporary affair are taking vacations from reality by reading or re-reading two novels by George Orwell ----1984 and Animal Farm --and pondering which of Umberto Eco's fourteen features of Eternal Fascism/Ur-Fascism aptly describe our moment of discontent. For some African Americans  who can't or do not want to forget where the branding of human beings fits in the unfolding of the American experiment with democracy, the effort to be "woke" is painful.  We suffer the wound of knowing what is still real and true in Michael A. Gomez's discourse on transformation of identities in Exchanging Our Country Marks (1998) and what is iron hot in The Racial Contract (1997) by Charles W. Mills, a book "dedicated to the blacks, reds, browns, and yellow who have resisted the Racial Contract and the white renegades and race traitors who have refused it."  The final sentence of Animal Farm is salt and turpentine for our wound: "The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.                            January 31, 2017

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