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Dickson’s “I’m Nobody! Who Are You?” & Pop Culture


The question of self-identity and personhood is one of the most important social issues shaped by cultural traditions and values. Self-identity defines the unique qualities of a person and his/her personal traits, life goals, and worldview. Emily Dickson vividly portrays that modern society is influenced by mass culture and customization which leads to a selfless and nameless society.

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The situation depicted in the poem “I’m nobody! Who are you?” is a reflection of modern social roles and attitudes towards people around us.

Main body

The issues of conformity and mass culture lead to the loss of self-identity and personal uniqueness. Press and media have a profound impact on a person and his/her worldviews. To the extent that America is non-ideological, journalists are robbed of any opportunity to have separate identities, and to the extent that our two-party system dominates American politics, journalists are forced into a choice between and not a choice among (Gilmore 128). We are always forced to oversimplify since our political tradition which says that there are always two sides to any issue implies that there are only two sides. It is no accident that Americans have been so intoxicated with the theory of history. This would indicate that our press is a reflection, and a good one, of the pressure that public opinion puts and has always put on people to conform. Once “the people” make up their collective mind, dissent is seen as something anti-American, anti-patriotic, and dangerous. Dissenters are ridiculed as “kooks,” and harassed. In such an atmosphere it is unreasonable to expect to have a press of ideas and opinion (Poll and Smith 129). “To the extent that the press services are national, they tend to crush regional differences and neglect local issues except for scandals and human “interest” stories, which are entertainment features” (Mosley 76). The latest trend minimizes what little opportunity there is for the dispute in the newspaper press, for in the last couple of decades one newspaper city and chains of pers have developed. It would not be inconceivable, then, to find a city with one newspaper that takes one press service. This situation would not be ideal for “independence of mind and real freedom of discussion.” Even if the newspaper press does move in the direction of interpretation, the opinion will be quite partisan. Europe has a “press of opinion,” as it is called, but there are numerous opinions available in every city. This would not be the case in America where a one-paper city would be at the mercy of the views of the owner of that paper (Hauge 44).

In addition to problems of conformity, the economics of the one newspaper city, and the press services, there is one other problem the papers face: staffing. The traditional training now for journalists involves a university education, usually with a concentration on writing and journalistic techniques (Gilmore 128). Le Monde, on the other hand, has experts in their respective fields of writing, rather than experts in “writing.” Consequently, Le Monde (and Le Figaro, which has Raymond Aron, for instance) and other continental newspapers are able to provide an opinion of consequence. What this means is that professional and what in America would be insultingly called “academic” writing is functioning at the level of the popular press, though Le Monde isn’t “popular,” as we would use the term. Influenced by mass media and the press we cannot say hwho we are and identify our life goals and aims (Huyssen 32).

Pop culture and mass culture change our traditions and levels of differences. It is the culture of the people — their behavior, values, and, in particular, their entertainments, and not just certain art forms which appeal to large numbers of people (Hauge 44). Perhaps the best thing to do is to indicate what popular culture generally is not. It is not the classic works of literature and philosophy, though “curiously enough much popular culture is related directly to the same myths as Greek tragedy” (Mosley 78). We learn from all of our experiences, and since popular culture is so large a part of our experience, it is only logical to recognize that it must have a considerable impact upon us (Huyssen 29). Popular culture shapes all of us to varying degrees. We sing songs about love or war, we watch programs or read books in which various kinds of heroes, reflecting a number of different cultural values, act in certain ways — and from all of this we learn. We pick up notions almost by osmosis, so it seems, about how to act with members of the opposite sex, about what “life” is about, about what to wear and eat and do (Poll and Smith 129). Much of what we do and think and eat and wear is affected by popular culture. Therefore, studying popular culture is fascinating and gratifying, because in analyzing popular culture we can learn a great deal about ourselves. Perhaps some of the roles, fantasies, notions, ideas, and values we get from popular culture are harmful and destructive to our happiness and well-being. Where once we were judged by our birth, then by our deeds, now we were being judged by our appearance (Mosley 76). This transformation produced synergies of look, language, music, and self-concept that created a consciousness of total prop. Some people talk about mass culture, which suggests they are interested in the culture of the ordinary man (as contrasted with the “high culture” of the elite).

As beneficiaries of dramatic economic growth, invention, and the mastery of new skills, the technological class has exploited every modality of communication. Quantitatively, more have addresses on the Internet than on Fifth Avenue in New York, and qualitatively, by virtue of education, knowledge, and skills, they are disposed to new pop culture (Mosley 81). As bystanders, however, they may be more disposed to be witnesses than participants in the conflicts that have emerged in the popular culture (Hauge 44). The technological class works flexibly and individually and feels less loyalty to corporations (although there are many exceptions), and finds its work to be highly satisfying. Because of the command of technology, they can imagine the extended community that was visualized by software guru Bill Gates, president of Microsoft. The technological class has invested itself in inventing languages of universal and global communication that have become their own form of propaganda (Huyssen 76). The “moral war on poverty,” a new pop culture that was designed to uplift a class, had become transformed into a class war of old pop culture on those who were suffering from poverty. The generations are different enough to be talked about and to talk about themselves, but they are giving way in part to the fragmentation that evolves in popular culture, in this case, the taking on by generations of additional identities as members of emerging classes. Each produces and consumes both the old culture and the new; the Boomers, as an example, are more tilted toward old culture than the young, yet they also are responsive to a new culture as situations define themselves (Mosley 83). The moral class predominantly leans toward old culture, whereas the technological class distances itself as much as possible from the old and the new; yet, captive to their knowledge and experience they are more committed to new selfless culture. Dickenson writes: Then there’s a pair of us! Don’t tell! they’d advertise — you know!”

Mainstream journalists continue to seek nirvana in their adoptions of techniques of objectivity, new journalism, and public and civic journalism. Journalists who once were anointed as insiders now are once removed, and as such, they are caught up in their private searches for nirvana (Mosley 76). They have become alienated from many of their sources and wide sectors of their audiences. Network television news has also lost much of its mass appeal, devolving into infotainment, simulated reality, and paid news (Poll and Smith 129). Certainly, there is potential for a nameless society where new media forms reach out to new audiences, but one must question whether this brings more members into the popular culture or simply creates a theater of the bizarre. The programs sounded more like a few leaders dominating a mass culture than a diversity of opinions expressed in popular culture (Hauge 44). Self-selected and screened audiences echoed their hosts, which produced more affirmation than interaction. On most of these shows, the screening of callers assured monologues that only pretended to be dialogues. Dickenson writes: “Public — like a Frog — To tell one’s name”. Not everyone actively seeks identification with a generation but because of their heightened consciousness of diversity and their roles within it, they may acknowledge the perceptions that others hold of them (Huyssen 32).

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In sum, modern society consists of nameless and selfless people influenced by mass culture and mass media but deprived of a chance to express and find their true selves. We repeat the mass message and believe in information popularized by media and remain selfless recipients of mass culture.

Works Cited

Gilmore, L. Limit-Cases: Trauma, Self-Representation, and the Jurisdictions of Identity. Biography, 24 (2001), 128.

Hauge, A. L. Identity and Place: A Critical Comparison of Three Identity Theories. Architectural Science Review, 50 (2007), 44.

Huyssen, A. After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism (Theories of Representation and Difference). Indiana University Press, 1996.

Mosley, I. Dumbing Down: Culture, Politics, and the Mass Media. Imprint Academic, 2000.

Poll, J. B. Smith, T. B. The Spiritual Self: Toward a Conceptualization of Spiritual Identity Development. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 31 (2003), 129.

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