Friday, December 14, 2018

Symbolism and Literary Devices in The Miseducation of Cameron Post

Here is a rundown of all of the symbolism and other literary devices I've found in the first half of The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth. I'm referring exclusively to the book, not the movie. It's mostly just the first half because I find the second half upsetting and I don't read it as much.

The End of Childhood: Stolen Bubble Gum, Dead Parents, and Quake Lake: As the book begins, the weather is hot and "has been cooking" for days. The plot is also already cooking, since Cameron's parents left for the trip that would kill them and the two girls kissed and Cameron got the first hint she's a lesbian the day before. The first paragraphs of the book paint the scene of Cameron's world as a child's world she made sense of and co-created with her friend Irene - their rituals to stay cool in hot weather without air conditioning or sit in the back of grandma's car pretending to be in the Grey Poupon commercial, their special drink of Ginger Ale and orange juice they call "cocktail hour," the meanings of the different places along Main St to them as kids (the market sells ice cream cones of Wilcoxson's ice cream, the banks give out dum-dum pops), how they turned Miss Scarlet from Clue into an inside joke, and so on. The mention of the funeral parlors could be foreshadowing here, although the reader already knows that Cameron's parents die that day. This early description also grounds the story in its place, eastern Montana, with references that people from there will know and outsiders won't (such as Wilcoxson's ice cream). It shows the closeness of Cameron and Irene, and how thoroughly intertwined their childhoods are with one another's. Irene is symbolic of childhood.

Before Cameron finds out her parents are dead, there are a few bits of foreshadowing. First, she notes how easy it was to promise Coach Ted she'd come to swim practice and focus on swimming the next day and it seemed like an easy promise to make. What's unstated is that the next day she couldn't go to swim practice because she'd just found out her parents died. The second is the man in a suit who buys the girls root beer and comments on how good the girls have it. This shows how easy and carefree her life is at this point, and it's all about to change, both because her parents die but also because she has to confront her sexuality.

There are three significant pieces of symbolism that are established in the first chapters: bubblegum, the death of Cameron's parents, and Quake Lake. The girls kiss and realize they are both queer and the next day they shoplift gum and kiss some more. You'll notice that gum comes up again every other time Cameron kisses a girl, showing that she feels her attraction to women is deviant, just like shoplifting gum is deviant. A passage that shows how the gum represents the deviance of her kissing girls, and how her realizing she likes girls is the end of her childhood is on p. 24: "I still think about him on the other side of that door all the time, even now. How I still had parents before that knock, and how I didn't that. Mr. Klauson knew that too; how he had to lift his calloused hand and take them away from me at eleven p.m. one hot night at the end of June - summer vacation, root beer and stolen bubble gum, stolen kisses - the very good life for a twelve-year-old..." [emphasis added]

When Cameron is taken home to find out that her parents are dead, she is afraid she's been found out as a lesbian and she is in trouble for it. She feels guilty when she finds out her parents are dead, perhaps because she feels responsible because God killed them off because she kissed a girl, or perhaps because she felt relieved when she found out they were dead and didn't find out she kissed a girl. The death of her parents comes up later, representing her guilty feelings about being a lesbian.

The passage that really spells out the symbolism of her parents' death and her feelings of guilt it represents is on p. 30: "I didn't know it then, but the sickness, the prickly flush of heat, and the feeling of swimming in a kind of blackness I couldn't have imagined, all the things I had done since I'd last seen my parents bobbing around me, lit up against the dark - the kisses, the gum, Irene, Irene, Irene - all of that was guilt: real, crushing guilt."

The third is Quake Lake. Cameron's mom was there with her friend Margot, a lesbian, the day of the 1959 earthquake. Margot's mom left before the quake, but Margot was hit by the quake and her brother was killed. The day after Cameron kisses a girl for the first time, her parents die there. It feels like there is something symbolic here but I am having a hard time putting my finger on it. When we first hear the Quake Lake story, we find out that Cameron's mom was 12, "just like us" as Cameron tells Irene (p. 18). At 12, Cameron's mom, who is straight, escaped a real earthquake at Quake Lake. When Cameron was 12 her mom died at Quake Lake the same time Cameron realized she's a lesbian, and its impact on her life was like an earthquake, ending her childhood and innocence. That's not unlike what happened to Margot at 12. Realizing you are gay is like an earthquake.

We also start to see characters' inner thoughts and feelings shown through what might appear to be insignificant details. When the two girls are trying to figure out how to talk about kissing (or kiss some more) and neither of them can, this is shown as an ant keeps trying to walk but gets blocked by the girls and their flip flops several times and has to go around and try again (p. 15).

Aunt Ruth: Aunt Ruth's entry is also significant. She calls Cameron "Cammie," which Cameron hates, and she tries to comfort her for her loss by talking about God, which is not at all comforting to Cameron. In both cases, she feels like she is not being seen or heard by Ruth, and we can see the early makings of the mismatch between the two of them and Ruth's lack of attunement to Cameron. We can also see that a bit when Ruth buys Cameron dresses for the funeral that don't look like anything Cameron would wear. Cameron says she feels like she guessed it was right for Aunt Ruth to be there, since they are family, but she hardly knows Ruth, and they don't have much of a relationship. She also doesn't have any opinions on Ruth's born again Christianity yet, even though she knows it's not the type of Christian her parents were. Mostly she's just accepting Ruth as she is and taking Ruth's totally tone deaf response to her grief in silence - not embracing it or pushing back against it, but just trying to do her own thing and stay out of Ruth's way as she does hers. This is how their relationship develops for a while, especially as Ruth finds a new career and a boyfriend to take up her time and keep her out of Cameron's hair.

Ruth is described as usually looking perfect, but when we meet her she looks like sad clown Ruth. The use of the word clown calls up the image of someone with a false emotion painted on their face - in this case a sad face. But if she usually doesn't look like a sad clown, perhaps her usual perfect appearance is a happy clown? That is, whatever is going on underneath for Ruth, perhaps usually she has a happy expression painted on her face as a clown would, but the happiness is fake and not reflective of what she feels inside. In any case, we find out soon that Ruth usually looks perfect, and her personality is described as being a cheerleader or Annette Funicello - a member of the Mickey Mouse Club. This gives the image of Ruth as perpetually perky and happy and wholesome, but possibly inauthentically so. To add to that, we soon find out about her NF, the condition in which she grows tumors all over her body all the time. The introduction of Ruth shows her as badly mismatched with Cameron, not at all responsive to Cameron's needs, and constantly (perhaps falsely) cheerful, but filled with tumors. Something is not right about Ruth, despite the appearance of perfection and cheerfulness on the outside.

The Burial at the Trash Can: Given Cameron's crushing guilt her feelings for Irene, she avoids her for days until Irene sends a card. The house is described as smelling of all of the flowers people sent, and it sounds almost suffocating, which is a metaphor for how Cameron feels there. When Irene sends her flowers and a card, she takes the card up to her room, shuts the door and "felt as criminal as [she] would have had it been Irene herself there with [her]" (p. 32). The card represents Irene. Cameron memorizes Irene's words and then instead of just throwing the card away, she takes it outside and buries it deep into a trash can filled with hot, stinking, rotting trash. This is referred to as a "burial." Cameron is trying to bury her feelings for Irene as if they are dead, or at least she wishes they were dead. But of course they aren't. After all, even with the card gone - so thoroughly gone as it is under that stinking, rotting trash - she's memorized all of Irene's words.

Cameron's Funeral Arrangements and New Religion: Left alone in the house, Cameron takes money from her dead father, the VCR and TV, and a photo of her mom at Quake Lake. Then she goes to rent Beaches. She is totally alone as she does this. Grandma and Aunt Ruth are out making funeral arrangements, and she refers to what she does as making funeral arrangements of her own. This shows how she is dealing with her grief in isolation and in parallel to her guardians. There are two important elements here: the photo and the movies.

Cameron takes a photo of her mom at age 12 - her age - at Quake Lake, less than 24 hours before the earthquake that did not kill her, and years before she actually died there. Cameron had a loving family and a time of innocence in her childhood, right up to this moment at age 12. Keeping the photo of her mom right at that age, a few hours before the earthquake, is keeping a tie to that time in Cameron's life when she was innocent and had parents and had no idea she was a few hours away from a metaphorical earthquake that ended her childhood and innocence. This is reinforced when we learn later that Cameron's mom looked like her in that photo (three years after their death, the day Cameron and Coley go with Grandma to the cemetery, when the girls go back to Cameron's room afterward). It's also a reminder that figuring out she is gay hit Cameron like an earthquake, just like it did to Margot, whereas Cameron's straight mom escaped.

Cameron puts the TV and VCR in her room and then goes to the video store to rent Beaches. She says she is looking for guidance in how to navigate the situation of losing her parents and even though it's fictional, Beaches is something. In light of what comes later, Cameron's never ending search for the few and far between movies with the slightest representation of lesbianism in them, I think a note about representation is important here. In that moment, Cameron was looking for representation of herself as a recent orphan. Later, she is looking for representation of herself as a lesbian. It's hard to even understand this if you haven't experienced it, the real toll it takes on you when you don't see yourself represented in pop culture and mainstream society - or as with lesbians in film, when you do see yourself represented its often as a stereotype, or a fantasy for straight people, or the butt of a joke, or through themes of oppression or sexuality as if the entire experience of being gay is having sex and facing homophobia and nothing else. When lesbians are represented in film, it's often clear the characters were written by straight people who never even bothered to consult a lesbian to make sure if their depiction is believable. A quick way to tell if any actual lesbians were involved in the making of the film is by looking at the character's fingernails. Any lesbian with an active sex life should not have long fingernails, but in movies they often do.

Cameron Post starts out in 1989, two years before the "lesbian classic" Fried Green Tomatoes came out. At the time, homosexuality was so taboo that the lesbian relationship in that film is only consummated symbolically through a food fight and their relationship is otherwise never acknowledged once. The Color Purple came out in 1985, and the lesbian relationship that is very clearly described in the book is portrayed as a platonic friendship in which the two women kiss on the mouth a few times in one scene. According to film at the time, lesbians almost did not even exist. And yet, with the half second kiss between Jodie Foster and someone else, or the more overt lesbian themes of Personal Best, Desert Hearts, and The Hunger, Cameron can see herself reflected at least a little bit in these films whereas she can't see herself reflected at all in Miles City. She's guilty and tried to bury the gay part of herself, but she's also seeking a connection to it, however small, through the movies she watches. Just like she was looking for something "official" to show her how to act and what to feel as she grieved her parents with Beaches, she is seeking the same about being gay with many of the other movies she watches.

When Cameron rents Beaches we also get a glimpse into how she didn't fit in as a queer girl in rural Montana, but how her parents had been accepting and loving and on her side. The woman at the video store was Cameron's teacher and she didn't like Cameron for failing to live up to hetero norms. When the teacher wrote a strange comment on Cameron's report card, Cameron's parents thought it was strange and funny. Even if the rest of Miles City didn't get Cameron, her parents did. Later, the person at the video store is a straight guy who is creepy in a sexually suggestive way to Cameron. It seems symbolic that as Cameron is seeking her connection to lesbians through the movies she rents at that store and mostly coming up short, to rent them she has to go through these two video store employees who are symbols of heteronormativity. Cameron is in a heteronormative environment seeking anything that will give her a glimpse of herself as a lesbian.

The period of time after Cameron's parents die is one in which she feels extreme alienation. Mostly it appears that her alienation is due to her status as an orphan - especially as everyone tries to extend kindness to her (the "orphan discount") and it makes her feel worse instead of better. It's possible that this feeling of alienation is simply the result of being an orphan but given the symbolism of her parents deaths and her discovery she's a lesbian, it's also possible that her alienation represents her alienation as a young lesbian in a town that has no place for one.

The Fair and the End of Childhood: It took me a long time to work out the symbolism of the fair. But if you consider it a metaphor for the end of her friendship with Irene, it makes sense. They "haunted the midway like ghosts... watching like we'd already seen everything there was to see but couldn't pull ourselves away." It's already over, but she can't let go. And then, as the girls go on the ferris wheel, she does. She and Irene keep touching knees, and for one full rotation they hold hands and pretend things are the same as before. Up on the ferris wheel they can see the entire layout of the area clearly from above, separate from it. And then as the friendship truly ends, Irene cries and cries and cries, and Cameron feels sick. With that, although the girls pretend everything is normal afterward, their friendship is truly done, for good.

I think the end of the friendship could represent two things. The first is the end of Cameron's innocence and childhood; the second is her attempt to end her feelings for girls. In this scene, it's the latter that seems more plausible. Cameron feels like kissing Irene resulted in the death of her parents, and she still has the feelings, and she doesn't want to. At this point, she's entirely separating herself from her lesbian feelings in real life, even though she's still watching movies with lesbians when she can find them. However, given the description of how the girls had "done up" the fair in the past, and how thoroughly their childhoods are intertwined, the fair might be the last gasp of childhood.

Margot: Margot's gay. She's a tennis player, which is not the gayest sport, but it reminds the reader of Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova, both famous lesbian tennis players. She wears a watch that looks like a man's watch, and she takes Cameron out and does thing that violate hetero gender norms, like opening car doors for her and ordering her refills of her drink. She didn't want to wear a dress at Cameron's parents' wedding. She has an asymmetrical haircut. And she says she loved Cameron's mother. Her visit to Cameron shows how poorly she (and lesbians) fit in in Miles City as she makes reservations at a restaurant, which is not something anyone from there does, and her haircut is cited as "non-Miles City." Cameron doesn't realize Margot is gay, so it's never overtly stated in the book, but Cameron feels she could come out to Margot, and she doesn't want to. Cameron has an opportunity here to accept her sexuality, and she still chooses to reject it. Still, we can see that Margot is more attuned to Cameron than any other adult Cameron has met so far and makes Cameron feel comfortable. It's a shame for Cameron that Margot can't stay around, because Cameron's life might have unfolded differently if she had. Margot's closeness to Cameron's parents is also another sign that Cameron's parents, had they survived, would have accepted her sexuality - or at least accepted it more than Aunt Ruth does. I'm not sure, but Cameron secretly taking the photo of Margot at her parents' wedding might be a sign of Cameron kind of secretly holding on to her identity as a lesbian who doesn't fit straight gender norms. That photo was taken when Margot did not want to keep wearing a dress and Cameron's mom bribed her with champagne to do so. Cameron secretly stealing it might be showing the continued link between lesbians and deviance for Cameron.

The Dollhouse: Cameron's dad made her dollhouse for her 5th birthday. It's an "amazing" dollhouse, a scale model of a fancy house in San Francisco, and the outside is perfectly completed but the inside is unfinished. This represents Cameron. Her parents gave her an incredible start to life and a foundation of herself as a person, but they died before the job was complete. Now, as Cameron begins decorating the inside of the dollhouse herself, she's also forming herself into an adult, continuing the job her parents started, but on her own. What she puts into the house is creative and off-beat but also often involves deviance, as she steals some of the items she puts in there. The self Cameron is making doesn't fit societal norms and Cameron feels it's deviant. This is most clearly shown when she makes a gum wrapper rug because she's thinking of Irene. She's incorporating her feelings for girls into her self, but she still feels it is deviant like shoplifting gum.

It's also interesting that Aunt Ruth suggested giving away the dollhouse to charity and getting rid of it, and Cameron insists that it's hers: "My dad made it for me and I'm not giving it to some stranger," she says. Aunt Ruth wants Cameron to get rid of the self that her parents helped her create during the first 12 years of her life, and Cameron refuses to do so.

The Christmas Tree: Ruth lets Cameron keep some of her traditions until their first Christmas together. These traditions, like having a live Christmas tree and attending Cameron's family's church, are links Cameron has to her past with her parents, and also to the self that she was with them. Ruth is trying to change Cameron from how her parents raised her - first by wanting to get rid of the dollhouse, and now getting a fake tree, and switching to an evangelical church. It seems fitting that fake perfect Ruth wants a fake perfect tree, whereas Cameron's genuine but wonderfully imperfect mother loved having a real one.

Cameron doesn't like the fake tree, but her rejection of evangelical Christianity is less immediate and complete. She seems openminded to an extent, even though she knows it's not what her parents believed. This new version of Christianity comes with the first overt rejection of homosexuality Cameron confronts. She's always implicitly known that being gay wasn't accepted, but once she gets her new teen Bible from the evangelical youth group, she finds hard proof for the first time that - at least based on Ruth's version of Christianity - being gay is not OK. Throughout the book, Cameron doesn't fully buy into this point of view, but she doesn't fully reject it until the very end either.

Ruth's Sally Q Tools: This is an interesting view of gender roles and femininity. On one hand, using tools is stereotypically masculine. Selling tools for women is already violating traditional gender roles, but the tools Ruth is selling are needlessly gendered, reinforcing the strict gender binary that Ruth believes in. Perhaps it also shows something about Ruth's ideas about how she does her gender as a woman. She thinks she's doing gender so correctly that she can sell tools for women and help other women do their genders properly. She certainly wants to change how Cameron does her gender, because she thinks she's right and anyone who differs from her is wrong.

The Hospital: I wasn't sure what the hospital represented until I found a few passages that reveal it. Breaking in there is deviant, so that's important. The first time Cameron goes there with the boys, they are wandering around in the dark, in the basement, with a bad excuse of a flashlight that stops working about four minutes in. In light of what happens later, it feels like this is a glimpse into Cameron's subconscious and her feelings about her homosexuality. She's blundering through a basement without a light. Later, after she meets Lindsey, they go together to the key room and have their first kiss. At that point, Cameron has found the key and the fireworks the boys are setting off as she finds it are "the stuff of mushy movies when the main characters first kiss... rockets and starbursts." She's a lesbian. For real. But it's still deviant.

Lindsey: Irene was Cameron's childhood and innocent past. Lindsey represents Cameron's guide into the world of being a lesbian, her "personal lesbian guru." She likes to act superior and stay in the role of teacher or mentor, and Cameron doesn't have the same feelings for Lindsey that she had for Irene or will have for Coley, but Lindsey still helps Cameron understand that she's not alone and gives her hope that there's another part of the country (Seattle) where being gay is OK. She introduces Cameron to music, books, and music in lesbian culture. It's through Lindsey that Cameron fully commits to her identity as a lesbian instead of trying to bury her feelings. Gum comes up again when Lindsey initially asks Cameron if she would go to Pride with her and Cameron knows that a "yes" means coming out to Lindsey. Cameron says yes, but Lindsey's gum reminds us of Cameron's feelings that being gay is deviant.

At the end of the summer, just before Cameron begins high school and meets Coley Taylor, during her last scene with Lindsey, there's a storm coming. This is foreshadowing. In addition to the actual storm that happens one afternoon, there's a storm coming in the story.

Ray: Ray sells frozen food. The symbolism here is not something that would be easy to spot except Cameron explains that she's sentimental about frozen foods because she re-watched the Care Bears movie. I'm too lazy to spell out the entire complicated metaphor, particularly because I haven't seen the Care Bears movie since I was a small child, but it seems the Ray's frozen food job represents thawing Ruth's frozen heart. It's kind of an odd humanizing element to the book for Ruth, who mostly comes across as fake and perfect-looking and well-meaning but basically in Cameron's way since she can't love Cameron for who she really is. For Cameron, Ray mostly serves as a nice guy she has little to do with who (along with Ruth's Sally Q job) keeps Ruth out of her hair.

Coley Taylor: After Cameron has spent most of a semester staring at Coley in biology, she finally really meets her at church. The two girls, from the start, have great chemistry. Coley is sweet, and funny, and touches Cameron a lot, and puts her face close to her at times, and responds well to Cameron's sense of humor. She feels totally genuine, like she truly likes Cameron and isn't playing games or holding anything back, at least in the context of a friendship between two totally straight girls. Also, their friendship has a classic plotline from novels about teenage lesbians: Cameron's a tomboy who hangs out with the guys, and Aunt Ruth wants her to be more feminine, so she encourages Cameron's friendship with Coley. FYI to homophobic parents: Pushing your tomboy lesbian to hang out with her gay crush won't help in the way you intend it.

The sexual tension starts to heat up when Coley asks Cameron to go to prom with her on a straight double date with her boyfriend and a date Cameron needs to find. In that moment, there's gum again, and Coley keeps touching Cameron in ways that gets Cameron's attention but Coley doesn't notice. Lindsey gives the first foreshadowing about the trouble at is coming aside from the oncoming storm at the end of the summer. She warns Cameron that nothing good will come from pursuing a straight girl like Coley. Lindsey's instincts are reliable as Cameron falls for and pursues Coley.

Prom is the first time when a straight person (Jamie) tells Cameron he knows she's gay. As it happens, some drama kids are walking by and Cameron says they are like the chorus in her unfolding tragedy. That's yet another clue that things are not going well for her in the near future.

Bucking Horse Sale: We get some foreshadowing about Coley's relatives. First, Ty, her brother, makes Cameron uneasy for some reason. Second, although Mrs. Taylor keeps telling Cameron to call her by her first name, Cameron does not feel comfortable doing that. Something is not right between Cameron and either of them. The important parts all come after Cameron and Jamie have officially broken off whatever they were doing by making out occasionally and Jamie went off to find a straight girl. A storm is coming, both a literal one and a metaphorical one, and Cameron and Coley go to Coley's ranch. Cameron and Coley are in sync with one another, but when Coley tells her mother that Cameron said Bucking Horse was a "bitter mistress," Coley's mom doesn't like it, perhaps because it's too gay for a girl to refer to having a "mistress."

Their first kiss happens when Cameron is wearing Ty's boots and the girls are out feeding the cattle after the rain. They are listening to a very straight Tom Petty mix (that belongs to Ty) that Lindsey does not approve of because Tom Petty is a "chauvinist" with a "prurient" interest in teenage girls. This is a sign that Cameron and Coley's kiss is ill-fated. They listen to "The Waiting" several times and then "Free Fallin'." As they kiss, Ty's boots (on Cameron's feet) sink into the mud and Cameron is stuck. Once she's kissed Coley, she is stuck. The badness that is to come is coming. The fact that they were Ty's boots that got stuck and led to her fall (she literally falls over in the mud) and it's Ty's copy of "Free Fallin'" they are listening to foreshadow Ty's role in Cameron's downfall. So does Coley's role in Cameron's fall into the mud: Coley got scared when Cameron touches her and as she reacts to it, she knocks Cameron down. Afterwards, Coley retreats into straightness even though she liked the kiss, at least for a little while, and even the girls' friendship gets weird for a bit. After Cameron gets home, when she sees her grandma in her purple housecoat, she is reminded of the night her parents died. That reminds us of her guilt about kissing girls.

There's a bit of foreshadowing when Lindsey asks Cameron to come to Alaska with her and Cameron doesn't. Cameron says she wonders what would have happened if she had. She's letting us know that something big happens because she stayed in Miles City that summer. We get more foreshadowing that something big is coming when Cameron traces the four big things that happened that summer: Ruth and Ray got engaged; Mona Harris came out to her; their youth group at church gets a talk about gay conversion therapy; and Coley gets her own apartment. Those are the four ingredients leading us up to Cameron's downfall, although as was shown by the reference to a Greek tragedy and Cameron's boots getting stuck when she first kissed Coley, Cameron's fall was inevitable. She was already stuck, and it was going to happen.

Cameron and Coley: Their next kiss takes place after they visit the cemetery on the three-year anniversary of Cameron's parents' deaths. Gum appears before they kiss, as does the photo of Cameron's mom at age 12 at Quake Lake before the quake. All of this is heavily symbolic to remind us that Cameron still feels deviant and guilty. Adventures in Babysitting is playing on the TV in the background. I don't know the movie well enough to make anything of it, but I wouldn't be surprised if the movie choice is meaningful.

The night Cameron and Coley lose their virginity to each other, it's "magma hot" in Coley's apartment. The plot is very, very hot right now, and there's a lot of pressure that is about to blow. We get an immediate sign that it's not meant to be. When Cameron arrives at Coley's apartment, a Trisha Yearwood song "about being in love with a boy" is playing. This is not the place or time for lesbian love. Cameron tries to change that by putting on The Hunger, a movie she got from Lindsey. There's no gum this time and no reference to Cameron's dead parents, and instead of thinking about guilt and deviance, Cameron is trying to follow a seduction suggestion by her personal lesbian guru. While that movie does show a sex scene between two women, one of the women (Catherine Deneuve) is a vampire, and she bites and infects the other woman (Susan Sarandon) while the two have sex, turning Susan Sarandon into a vampire too. That could be symbolic, in a few ways, although I'm not sure if that's how it was intended. As Coley sees it, Lindsey infected Cameron with gayness, and Cameron infected her (Coley). But the way I see it, Cameron is the Susan Sarandon who has long term devastating consequences as a result of her sex scene with Coley.

As was hinted at before, Ty is the instrument of Cameron's downfall. Coley tells Ty what happened, and Ty goes to Mrs. Taylor (who Cameron never felt comfortable around), and they go to the evangelical church. Pastor Crawford goes to Aunt Ruth, who is full of tumors under her beautiful fake exterior and doesn't get Cameron at all, and Aunt Ruth puts Cameron in conversion therapy.

Ruth and Ray's Wedding: This is a symbol of heterosexuality. At first Ruth plans it and set the date, feeling certain that heterosexuality was safe. When she finds out Cameron is gay, she postpones the wedding. Heterosexuality is still the long term plan - it's just delayed a bit. After Cameron spends a semester at God's Promise, Ruth reschedules the wedding and wants Cameron to be maid of honor. She's hoping that heterosexuality is safe again, and Cameron is on board with it after a semester of attempting to pray away the gay. Cameron, significantly, refuses to play along. She'll go to the wedding, but she won't be maid of honor, and she'll wear her God's Promise uniform, showing that she's still present in the hetero world but she's living her truth: she's there as a gay person being forced into a doomed attempt at straightness.

God's Promise: It's hilarious that Cameron's introduction to God's Promise is seeing the serenity prayer. Is being gay something that you need to change or accept? The prayer asks for the wisdom to know the difference. That sets the tone for what Cameron will be doing there. Cameron soon realizes that the value of being here is learning the stories of other people like her and not being alone anymore. Through meeting other kids like her, Cameron can make sense of herself.

Jane Fonda's first name is after two women - one grandmother who committed suicide and another who survived breast cancer. It seems like her character can go either way. The book hints at similarities between Jane and Jesus, like both of them being born in a barn, or having Jesus and the celebrity Jane Fonda on the cover of the same magazine. I can't quite work out what this is supposed to mean. I also don't know why Jane takes polaroid pictures and won't show them to anybody.

Reverent Rick has no sense of smell. Maybe that's why he can't smell bullshit and he believes in conversion therapy.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Tarrow. 2005. The New Transnational Activism.

Tarrow, Sidney. 2005. The New Transnational Activism. New York: Cambridge University Press.

"My book argues that individuals who move into transnational activism are both constrained and supported by domestic networks; that in making this move they activate transitional processes between states and international politics; and that when they return home, they bring with them new forms of action, new ways of framing domestic issues, and perhaps new identities that they may some day fuse domestic with international contention" (pp. 2-3).

The book raises three questions (p. 3):
  1. "To what extent and how does the expansion of transnational activism change the actors, the connections among them, the forms of claims making, and the prevailing strategies in contentious politics?"
  2. "Does the expansion of transnational activism and the links it establishes between nonstate actors, their states, and international politics create a new political arena that fuses domestic and international contention?"
  3. "IF so, how does this affect our inherited understanding of the autonomy of national politics from international politics?"

Internationalism: "a dense, triangular structure of relations among states, nonstate actors, and international institutions, and the opportunities this produces for actors to engage in collective action at different levels of this system" (p. 25).

Rooted Cosmopolitan: "Individuals and groups who mobilize domestic and international resources and opportunities to advance claims on behalf of external actors, against external opponents, or in favor of goals they hold in common with transnational allies" (p. 29).

Transnational activists: A subgroup of rooted cosmopolitans. Definition on p. 29.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Sassen. 2007. The Sociology of Globalization.

Sassen begins by explaining that much of sociology takes the nation state as the basic unit of analysis, and this is inadequate for studying global processes and globalization. She calls into question two assumptions: "The first is the explicit or implicit assumption about the nation-state as the container of social process. The second is the implied correspondence of national territory with the national - the assumption that if a process of condition is located in a national institution or in national territory, it must be national" (p. 1). In other words, any social process takes place in an entire country and not outside of that country.

To study social processes that exceed national boundaries, or to study social processes that are subnational but are manifestations of globalization in a local area, Sassen argues we need new methodologies.

She identifies four dynamics one must understand to study globalization. First, that globalization destabilizes the nation state through "what is sometimes seen as a return to older imperial spatialities for the economic operations of of the most powerful actor: the formation of a global market for capital, a global trade regime, and the internationalization of manufacturing production" (p. 14). But she argues that this is not identical to old imperial formations because "today's transboundary spatialities have to be produced in a context in which most territory is encased in a thick and highly formalized national framework marked by the exclusive authority of the nation state" (p. 14).

She paints a picture of nation-states that "can be read as the work of rendering national just about all crucial features of society: authority, identity, territory, security, law, and market" (p. 15). Now added to that are subnational scales like global cities and supranational scales like global markets. This is not actorless. It is the "global project of powerful firms... and the growth of supranational components in state work" (p. 15).

Another wrinkle is the "multiscalar character of various global processes" (p. 17). She writes, "These instances cannot easily be accommdated by older nested hierarchies of scale, which position everything that is supranational above the state in the scalar hierarchy and everything that is subnational beneath the state" (p. 17). She gives an example of a financial center in a global city that is at once a local entity but also active in a global market.

Second, because "this variety of multiscalar dynamics point to conditions that cannot be organized as a hierarchy, let alone as a nested hierarchy...Studying the global, then, entails a focus not only on that which is explicitly global in scale but also on locally scaled practices and conditions that are articulated with global dynamics" (p. 18). For example, "globally scaled dynamics, such as the global capital market, are actually partially embedded in subnational sites (financial centers)" (p. 18). Studying this requires new methodologies and theorizations.

Third, Sassen writes about global cities. The choice of term was intended to point out "the specificity of the global as it gets structured in the contemporary city" (p. 24). She offers 5 hypotheses "to help explain the importance of cities in the institutionalization of global economic processes" (p. 25).
  1. "The greater the geographic dispersal of economic activities [of a corporation] along with their simultaneous integration through telecommunications, the greater the growth and importance of central corporate functions" (p. 25). Basically, if you've got an enormous global company, it takes more to manage it.
  2. "The more complex these central functions become, the more likely the headquarters of large global firms "outsource" them" (p. 25). So a large, global firm is likely going to outsource things like accounting, legal, PR, advertising, marketing, telecommunications, even manufacturing.
  3. "The more complex and globalized a specialized service firm's markets are, the more its central functions are subject to agglomeration economies" (p. 26). I think this means that the companies providing the outsourced services for multinational corporations need to be in cities because of all of the things they need that cities offer. Like if you're an advertising firm in New York you have better access to a pool of talent to hire than if you are an advertising firm in rural Iowa, your clients are more likely to have headquarters or offices in town, you're near an international airport, and so on, so it makes it easier to operate in NYC than rural Iowa.
  4. "The more headquarters outsource their most complex, nonstandardized functions, particularly those subject to uncertain and changing markets and speed, the freer they are to opt for any location because less of the work that is done in the headquarters is subject to agglomeration economies" (p. 26).
  5. "Insofar that these specialized service firms need to provide a global service... there is a strengthening of cross-border city-to-city transactions and networks" (p. 26) The result is "a series of transnational networks of cities. A corollory is that major business centers in the world today draw their importance from these transnational networks. There is no such entity as a single global city" (p. 27).

Putting all of this together, Sassen concludes that "this economy contains both the capabilities for enormous geographic dispersal and mobility and pronounced territorial concentration of resources necessary for the management and servicing of that dispersal. The management and the servicing of much of the global economic system take place in this growing network of global cities and cities or regions that are better described as having a limited number of global-city functions" (p. 27). She adds "To a large extent, the major business centers in the world today draw their importance from these transnational networks which, in turn, signals a division of functions" (p. 28).

Global cities weaken the national as the spatial unit and subnational scales (cities and regions) are growing in importance at the same time (p. 30). The cross-border dynamics cut across a number of domains - political, cultural, economic, social, and criminal (p. 29). Regulating these cross-border networks cannot necessarily be done by "existing national frameworks" (p. 30). For scholars, new theoretical and empirical frameworks are needed to understand them (p. 31).

Fourth, she writes about "denationalized state agendas and privatized norm making" (p. 32). Because processes and dynamics flow between "localities and local actors" without needing to "move through the hierarchies of national states," "although none of these circumstances alters the geographic boundaries of the national state's territory, they do change the meaning of the state's exclusive authority over that territory" (p. 33).

Sassen points out that the change in the role of the state is often explained through policies associated with economic globalization, such as privatization, deregulation, and financial and trade liberalization. This points to a weakening role of the state. She believes we should also capture how states participate in the creation of "the new frameworks through which globalization is furthered" and the "transformations inside the state" (p. 34).

A section I find particularly powerful reads as follows: "The emergent, often imposed consensus in the community of states on furthering globalization is not merely a political decision: it entails specific types of work by a number of distinct institutions in each country... Furthermore, this work has an ironic outcome insofar as it destabilizes some aspects of state power: the state can be seen as incorporating the global project of its own shrinking role in regulating economic transactions. The state here can be conceived of as representing a technical administrative capacity that cannot be replicated at this time by any other institutional arrangement; furthermore, this capacity is backed by military power, which for some states is a global power. Seen from the perspective of firms operating transnationally, the objective is to ensure the functions traditionally exercised by the state in the national realm of the economy, notably guaranteeing property rights and contracts, only now extended to foreign firms as well" (pp 37-38).

Sassen calls attention to three features in this "new private institutional order" (p. 39). First, "the distinctive features of this new, mostly but not exclusively private institutional order in formation are its capacity to privatize what was heretofore public and to denationalize what were once national authorities and policy agendas" (p. 39). Second, the new institutional order has a new normativity which "comes from the world of private power yet installs itself in the public realm and in so doing helps denationalize national state agendas" (p. 40). And third, "particular institutional components of the national state begin to function as the institutional home for the operation of powerful dynamics constitutive of what we could describe as global capital and global capital markets. In so doing, these state institutions reorient their particular policy work or broad state agendas toward the requirements of the global economy" (p. 40).

Sassen identifies areas of denationalizing of the national state as the increase in rights of foreign firms, the deregulation of cross-border transactions, and the power of supranational organizations (p. 53).

This is just a summary of the first chapter, with a tiny bit from the second.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Seidman. 2007. Beyond the Boycott.

Keck and Sikkink. 1998. Activists Beyond Borders.

* Keck, M. E., & Sikkink, K. (1998). Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics. Ithaca & London: Cornell University Press.

Keck and Sikkink focus their work on TANs - transnational advocacy networks, defined as including "those relevant actors working internationally on an issue, who are bound together by shared values, a common discourse, and dense exchanges of information and services" (p. 2). They write:

"Such networks are most prevalent in issue areas characterized by high value content and informational uncertainty. At the core of the relationship is information exchange. What is novel in these networks is the ability of nontraditional international actors to mobilize information strategically to help create new issues and categories and to persuade, pressure, and gain leverage over much more powerful organizations and governments. Activist networks try not only to influence policy outcomes, but to transform the terms and nature of the debate... their goal is to change the behavior of states and of international organizations" (p. 2).

Then they write that TANs frame issues "to make the comprehensible to target audiences, to attract attention and encourage action, and to "fit" with favorable institutional venues" (p. 2-3). Interestingly, they refer to these networks as embodying "elements of agent and structure simultaneously" (p. 5). They are structures insofar as they are "patterns of interactions among organizations and individuals" but as actors the networks have agency (p. 5). Keck and Sikkink choose the term networks "to evoke the structured and structuring dimension in the actions of these complex agents, who not only participate in new areas of politics but also shape them" (p. 4).

Networks are "forms of organizations characterized by voluntary, reciprocal, and horizontal patterns of communication and exchange" (p. 8). The found that "Transnational advocacy networks appear most likely to emerge around those issues where (1) channels between domestic groups and their governments are blocked or hampered or where such channels are ineffective for resolving a conflict, setting into motion the "boomerang" pattern of influence characteristic of these networks... (2) activists or "political entrepreneurs" believe that networking will further their missions and campaigns, and actively promote networks; and (3) conferences and other forms of international contact create arenas for forming and strengthening networks" (p. 12).

The boomerang strategy (p. 12-13) is one in which an NGO in state A that cannot achieve its goals through domestic advocacy alone works with an NGO in state B. The foreign NGO then applies pressure to state B, which directly or through an intergovernmental organization applies pressure to state A. For example, this could occur in the case of human rights, when local activists cannot get their own government to end its repression, so they work with foreign activists. The foreign activists pressure their own government, which in turn puts pressure on the repressive government to improve its human rights record. In fact, Keck and Sikkink say this pattern is often used in human rights advocacy.

When using the boomerang strategy: "For the less powerful third world actors, networks provide access, leverage, and information (and often money) they could not expect to have on their own; for northern groups, they make credible the assertion that they are struggling with, and not only for, their southern partners. Not surprisingly, such relationships can produce considerable tensions" (p. 12-13).

Transnational advocacy networks work by using "the power of their information, ideas, and strategies to alter the information and value contexts within which states make policies" (p. 16). Keck and Sikkink divide their tactics into four categories: "(1) information politics, or the ability to quickly and credibly generate politically usable information and move it to where it will have the most impact; (2) symbolic politics, or the ability to call upon symbols, actions, or stories that make sense of a situation for an audience that is frequently far away; (3) leverage politics, or the ability to call upon powerful actors to affect a situation where weaker members of a network are unlikely to have influence; and (4) accountability politics, or the effort to hold powerful actors to their previously stated policies or principles" (p. 16).

The information in the first category, information politics, must be reliable, well-documented, timely, and dramatic (p. 19). They often rely on testimony "stories told by people whose lives have been affected" and then they often "interpret facts and testimony, usually framing issues simply, in terms of right and wrong" (p. 19). An example given of how activists dramatize the information is that they reframed what was called female circumcision as female genital mutilation, which "resituated the practice as a human rights violation" (p. 20). Activists find it important to link both testimony and technical and statistical information, because the testimony puts a human face on the statistics that motivates people to seek changed policies (p. 21).

Leverage politics find a way to link cooperation with them to money, trade, or prestige. Often they use shame, because "governments value the good opinion of others" (p. 23). In accountability politics, they try to get a government to publicly change their position on an issue and they pressure them to live up to their promises (p. 24).

Keck and Sikkink outline stages of network influence: "(1) issue creation and agenda setting; (2) influence on discursive positions of states and international organizations; (3) influence on institutional procedures; (4) influence on policy change in "target actors" which may be states, international organizations like the World Bank, or private actors like the Nestle Corporation; and (5) influence on state behavior" (p. 25).

They found that TANs are most effective when two characteristics are present: "(1) issues involving bodily harm to vulnerable individuals, especially when there is a short and clear causal chain (or story) assigning responsibility; and (2) issues involving legal equality of opportunity" (p. 27).

This is just a synopsis of the book's introduction. What follows are three case studies of human rights, environmental, and anti violence against women networks.

Smith. 2005. “Globalization and Transnational Social Movement Organizations.”

Smith, Jackie. 2005. “Globalization and Transnational Social Movement Organizations.” in Social Movements and Organizational Theory, edited by Gerad Daus, Doug McAdam, W. Richard Scott, and Mayer Zald. New York: Cambridge University Press. Pages 226-248.

"As national markets dissolve into a growing global marketplace, national governments have turned increasingly to international organizations to negotiate new rules about the boundaries of state authority. These interdependent and parallel processes of "globalization" (global market integration) and "internationalization" (the increasing importance of relations between nations) substantially transform the character of the organizational fields in which social movements seek to pursue their interests" (p. 226).

"The expansion of the global economy reduces the capacities of states (some more than others) to define and enact their own internal economic policies. It thereby prevents the state from carrying out its traditional functions of regulating the national economy and ensuring the welfare of its citizens. Moreover, the global legal and political environments increasingly constrain the range of policy choices available to national decision makers" (p. 226).

"The logic that drives interstate politics requires that activists develop organizations that can facilitate broad, cross-cultural communications while managing diversity and coordinating joint action around a shared agenda. These demands differ sharply from those required of most national-level movement organizations" (p. 229)

Kay. 2005. Labor Transnationalism and Global Governance

Kay, Tamara. 2005. Labor Transnationalism and Global Governance: The Impact of NAFTA on Transnational Labor Relationships in North America. American Journal of Sociology Vol. 111 No 3 pp. 715–56

Kay applies political process theory to transnational activism, specifically to a case of labor activism and NAFTA. Political process theory was developed for national social movements. It relies on the concept of political opportunity structures. Kay makes the point that political process theory's ideas about political opportunity structures are specific to national activism. Transnational activism also has political opportunity structures, but they are different from national social movements.

Kay writes:

"Synthesizing key scholars’ conceptualization of the term, McAdam (1996, p. 27) highlights four primary dimensions of political opportunity at the national level: (1) the relative openness or closure of the institutionalized political system, (2) the stability or instability of elite political alignments, (3) the presence or absence of elite allies, and (4) the state’s capacity and propensity for repression" (p. 721-722).

These factors require a state: repression by the state, the political parties within a state, and electoral politics within the state. In the case of transnational activism, Kay says, the political opportunity structure is not determined by a state. Additionally, the four dimensions named above assume one nation state, and in the case of NAFTA there are three.

This seems specific to the types of activism Kay is referring to in which there is an global governance institution that creates the arena for activism. In cases where transnational activism uses a boomerang strategy (Keck and Sikkink) to target one state government using activism from abroad, there are multiple states involved, or at least activists in multiple states who are perhaps targeting just one state, but there may not be a global governance institution involved.

In the case of NAFTA and other political opportunity structures created by global governance institutions, Kay's work applies. NAFTA has no elected representatives or political parties nor does it have a capacity for repression. Kay identifies three dimensions of political opportunity structures at the transnational level:

"Here I offer three primary dimensions of political opportunity structure at the transnational level that explain how power is established at the transnational level: (1) the constitution of transnational actors and interests, (2) the definition and recognition of transnational rights, and (3) adjudication of rights at the transnational level" (p. 722). She adds that "At the transnational level, political opportunity structures are embedded in rules and bureaucratic processes rather than electoral processes" (p. 723).

In the case of NAFTA and its labor agreement NAALC, their creation created transnational actors and interests. Previously, labor activists in each nation saw their interests as purely national. Activists in each nation wanted to keep the jobs in their own country, and saw labor in other nations as competition. Each nation has its own labor laws, institutions, and adjudication processes. Essentially, the arena for activism was purely national. When NAFTA was under negotiation, this changed. Suddenly labor activists in all three nations had a common interest - opposing NAFTA - and they began working together as transnational actors to oppose it. Following its passage and implementation, they continued to have shared interests in protecting and expanding labor rights in all three NAFTA countries. Or, as Kay describes the shifting of interests from national to transnational: "The goal of the campaign was not to keep jobs in the United States; rather, it was to maintain decent labor rights and standards in North America" (p. 730).

Part of the reason for the continued activism after the passage of NAFTA was newly established adjudication process through which activists could file complaints against labor violations in the three NAFTA nations. The complaints must be filed outside one's own country. In order to file complaints, activists in the country in which the labor violation occurred worked with activists in the nation where they were filing the complaint.

Thus, the creation of NAFTA established both a definition of transnational rights - the labor standards that the three NAFTA nations were to uphold, giving rights to labor in all three nations - and an adjudication process at the transnational level when violations occurred.

Kay writes, in summary:

"In this article I show how global governance institutions facilitate a process that constitutes transnational actors and interests. NAFTA forced labor unions in all three countries to recognize the common threat to North American workers if the free trade agreement stimulated a reduc- tion in jobs and wages and in health, safety, and environmental standards. Although it is commonly thought that NAFTA only created a common market, my data suggest that it also created a transnational political opportunity structure through which national unions in North America could identify their common interests as North American unions and advocate for them by developing a transnational political action field.

"The second dimension of transnational political opportunity structures expands upon the first by emphasizing the importance of defining and recognizing transnational actors’ and social movements’ rights in the transnational arena. This dimension is similar to Tilly’s (1984) assertion that national social movements target nation-states because they have the power to grant or deny legitimacy. In the transnational arena, global governance institutions have the same power" (p. 723).

Kay also introduces two other terms, political mobilization effect and institutional effect.

The political mobilization effect occurred when the threat of NAFTA created a common interest (preventing its passage) among labor activists in all three nations. The institutional effect occurred when NAFTA created institutions that "define and recognize transnational rights, and adjudicate violations of these rights at the transnational level" (p. 724).

Kay provides five stages in a process of creating a cooperative transnational relationship and institution building: "(1) contact, (2) interaction and the coalescing of interests, (3) growth of confidence and trust, (4) action (e.g., joint activities and actions to address mutual needs and interests), and (5) identification (e.g., recognizing mutual interests)." (p. 725).

In her case study of three unions that work together, one from each of the three NAFTA nations, she provides examples of how the three unions work together. They initially worked to oppose NAFTA. After its passage, they worked to organize workers in Mexican factories; they set up a fund for striking workers in Mexico; they worked together to organize Mexican workers in the U.S.; and they worked together to file complaints when labor violations occurred in any of the three nations.