Heineken Beer Dismantles the Traditional Family

A dozen people are smiling and holding Heineken beers. Text at the bottom of the image say, "Tradition doesn't always have to be traditional."

Caity Bell, a student in Prof. Ramey REL501 course, ponders the invention of tradition. This post originally appeared on the REL 501 Religious Studies & Social Theory: Foundations course blog.

 

The holiday season is fast upon us and with it a substantial rise in commercials meant to tug upon consumers’ heartstrings, to invoke that special sense of holiday cheer that drives us, no doubt, to purchase more products than we have year-round. If you don’t run from the room the second the commercials start rolling then perhaps you’ve seen Heineken’s most recent holiday-themed ad, wherein those traditional notions of the American nuclear family are torn away.

As you can see in the video above, while the camera pans around the room—with Dean Martin’s classic You’re Nobody ‘Til Somebody Loves You playing in the background—we’re exposed to what at first appears to be a holiday gathering composed of that classic family schema we’ve come to expect in American media. The father (as designated by small white text which briefly lights the screen) sits in a corner of the room, bottle of beer nearby (this is after all an advert for Heineken), while across from him sits the mother and sister, both pleasantly smiling at the camera as it glides across the large living room. Then, however, the camera shifts to a man cheerily painting, who’s designated to be the mom’s new boyfriend and from here we continue on our tour of the busy household with introductions to the boyfriend’s stepdaughter as well as various members of the dad’s “new” family (and a quirky moment when an apparent stranger is present, introduced as simply “and whoever that guy is”). The commercial ends with the image of this diverse family standing poised together before the fireplace while the words “tradition doesn’t always have to be traditional” flash across the screen.

Yet has tradition ever been traditional? In short, no. Tradition, rather than being some ancient, set in stone way of doing things, is more often than not a more recent invention, a way of authorizing one group’s set of ideals over another’s. A tool for providing a sense of social cohesion within a group, tradition serves as a means of binding present ideals and beliefs to some distant past as a way of validating their continued persistence. The word itself becomes invoked when something is at stake, a way of bringing value or necessity to some practice or ideal as being time-honored and revered when in fact it may not actually be so.

Take, for example, a 2014 Supreme Court case wherein the language of tradition was used by the defendants to win their trial. In the Town of Greece v. Galloway hearing, the town, brought to court on charges of violating First Amendment rights by beginning their council meetings with Christian prayer, was allowed to continue this practice on the grounds that, rather than being religious, the practice was a part of the town’s “tradition”. Thus, by rooting the practice in the town’s history, it was granted a semblance of authority and presented as a seemingly unbiased argument rather than a practice with some utility or underlying motive for an interested party. Have the town’s meetings always, in fact, began in this fashion? Perhaps, perhaps not, yet what is interesting to note, rather than debating the authenticity of this claim, is how the label of tradition comes into play as soon as the practice is contested.

The idea of the American nuclear family as well, with its image of one mother and one father together raising 2.5 kids, is not as traditional as we believe it to be, the idea largely popularized after the emergence and success of capitalism during the Industrial Revolution and only further cemented as the American ideal through popular television shows aired in the 1950s. Throughout our history families have held to many molds which don’t fit this traditional image—as long reaching and ever-present as it may seem. Even our beloved holiday traditions bear roots to a less distant past, as Christmas itself, with its festive trees and jolly ol’ Saint Nic, was banned for a time in the U.S. by Puritans who saw those traditions as having no place in a Christian nation. In fact many of the traditions now prominent in Christmas celebrations were not in practice until the late 19th century when they were merged into popular culture by the immigrants who brought them over.

So then, tradition doesn’t always have to be traditional? Well, it seems that tradition itself has never actually been “traditional.”  Thus the Heineken ad’s final line is absolutely right. Using the language of tradition to describe a family or a practice does not have to reflect some longstanding form; tradition has never been traditional.

 

Image credit: Still from video by HeinekenUSA (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5G15pfHZfNg

The 6th Annual Day Lecture

The Department of Religious Studies hosted its 6th annual Day Lecture. The series (established, by his family, in the memory of REL grad Zachary Day) focuses on religion and popular culture, attracting students from across campus.
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Is this “Rising” or even Equal?

Ana Schuber is a graduate student in our Religion in Culture MA program. This post was originally published on our Religious Studies & Social Theory: Foundations course blog.

So, here in the middle, actually right up on the final run toward the mid-term 2018 elections, it was amazing to see a political advertisement that turned the standard dialogue about women running for office on its head. Paid for by the Serve America PAC, a democratic effort, this ad features eight first time congressional female candidates running across the United States for elected office. You should watch it here:

I have a long and varied path from my early identification as a feminist in the 1960s to the present Pussy Hat wearing throng of women with political ambition or political desire. This ad was new.

Seeing the ad for the first time on Facebook, my old feminist heart leapt at the visual of these women, all having served America either through military service (Marines, Navy or Air Force) or governmental service (CIA). They spoke of their service in combat, as leaders, in high-powered jobs and their desire to continue to serve their country through political service.

First impressions being what they are and quite frankly after forty years of the old dialogue about the “little ladies” running for office, I was blown away and amazed at this political advertisement. I smiled and re-posted it to several feminist friends and colleagues and planned to show the ad to my undergraduate students in triumph of a new wave of possible women candidates who could win with such a message.

But then, the scholar in me woke up and shoved aside the feminist and I started wondering what I would say to my students. The language of this ad was different than any other “woman’s” political ad that I had ever seen. They were using the language that is usually associated with male power. They were talking about flying combat planes, leading men and women into battle, leading men and women on a huge ship, working in a male-dominated investigation unit. The linguistic images were those of men. Hold on a minute.  Feminists have been fighting the image of nature versus nurture for hundreds of years and endless reams of scholarship attempting to level the playing field for both men and women.  Scholars like Sherry B Ortner (see her article “Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture”) associate women’s lack of social or cultural power to the fact that women are considered closer to nature due to their ability to give birth and nurture children. Men are typically identified with the power associated with the protection of weaker women and children through aggression and battle. This political ad was using what many would consider male language. Rather than considering women equal to men, was this not a usurpation of “male” language just to get females elected?

As women have been afforded secondary status historically, this ad leaves us with an incredible predicament because women are not unilaterally one thing across the globe and when it comes to the concept of power there are even more complexities. It seems that we have finally begun to un-separate the “duties” of men and women in culture and un-tangle the gendered language used to understand what power is acceptable within culture. More importantly, what does it say if these women win in the mid-term election of 2018? Do women have to usurp the heretofore language of male “power” in order to win? What does this say about a woman who occupies a “traditional” woman’s job in culture such as school teacher, non-profit worker or librarian? Is female “power” now only afforded to those women who have “made it” in traditional male jobs such as combat or the CIA? That seems to be the message of this political ad.

When all these ideas came rushing into my head, I was suddenly mad. Minutes before, I was ready to run out and vote and champion this moment and minutes later I was grumpy and back to my typical “HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE?” mood. In the long run, what happens if women win using what is considered male language, and what are the consequences?

Keyword

Book cover the the Keywords volume

A new book appeared in the Department the other day (it’s the second edition). Well, not new — the first edition came out in 2007 and this edition came out in 2014. So, having not seen it before, maybe I should just say that it’s new to me. Continue reading

What Gets Labeled as Religion

Still not quite sure what scholars study when they say that they study the classification or the category religion itself…? Think that all scholars of religion need a definition of religion to get started with their work?

If so, why not give a listen to episode 21, that was just posted the other day. It’s a short podcast by Malory Nye, author of a widely used intro book in our field, and he elaborates on the simple fact that he’s

“a student of religion who doesn’t study religion…”

“The Craziest Thing I’ve Ever Seen”

Over on social media the other day, I came across the following tweet, posted at NPR’s site.

My comment, used above as this post’s opening pic, wasn’t completely sarcastic. Continue reading

Words and Things: One or Two Things That I Know About Religion

Anders Klostergaard Petersen is a Professor in the School of Culture and Society in the Department for the Study of Religion at Aarhus University, Denmark. He works in the areas of second Temple Judaism and early Christianity as well as studying cultural evolution. This post leads off a series of invited posts on the topic of words and things in the study of religion (introduced here).

During the last three years two important books have been published highlighting the absence of a concept of religion in the ancient world, namely Brent Nongbri’s Before Religion: A History of a Modern Concept (Yale, 2013) and Carlin Barton’s and Daniel Boyarin’s Imagine no Religion. How Modern Abstractions Hide Ancient Realities (Fordham, 2016). Strictly speaking these studies are more narrow than their titles imply, since they focus on the ancient Graeco-Roman and Jewish worlds only. Yet, I think their argument pertains to any other pre-modern world as well, but needless to say that will have to be explored further in future studies. Continue reading

It May Be Simpler Than You Think

I saw the above tweet yesterday, which prompted me to mull over why we generally think that the role of religion is such a complicated thing to study. It occurred to me that it is complicated (i) if you fail to recognize that there’s been trained scholars of religion out there for well over 100 years who have lots to say on these matters but also (ii) if we buy local accounts of it being some ethereal thing that mysteriously informs the practical aspects of people’s lives.

But if we instead assume it’s no less practical than any other sphere — and, what’s more, if we assume that privileging some features of life by calling them religious is also mundane and highly practical — well, we’d likely approach these topics rather differently.

So a series of tweets resulted. Continue reading

When Considering a Career in the Humanities, Think Globally

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Tenzan Eaghll received his Ph.D. from the Department for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto, in 2016. He is currently an English Instructor at King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi, Bangkok. For his publication and contact information see https://utoronto.academia.edu/TenzanEaghll

Ecclesiastes 11 states, “Cast out your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will get it back.” Like all biblical passages, this sentence can obviously be interpreted in many ways, but for me it contains a special insight about how to succeed in our contemporary global market: it suggests that it is best to scatter your talents and skills as far as possible, and to allow the winds of opportunity to take you where they may. Now, as a bit of a nihilist, I am not usually one to quote bible passages, but given the current economic situation of academia in the West this one seems helpful because it encourages you not to put all your proverbial eggs in one basket. In an odd way, it provides a glimmer of hope to the dire situation that Humanities graduates like myself find themselves in after completing their B.A.s, M.A.s, and Ph.D.s, and offers a simple piece of advice: when considering a career in the humanities, think globally.

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The 4th Annual Day Lecture, Episode 1

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Dr. Ted Trost introduced the fourth annual Day Lecturer. Dr. Trost  teaches courses in American Religious History, Religion and Popular Culture, Bible, and Religious Rhetoric in Literature and Film. This semester Prof. Trost is the Interim Director of New College.  

The Day Lecture was generously established by friends and family of the late Zach Day, a graduate of our Department, to honor his memory, and is now an annual event thanks to the memorial fund named in his honor. The topics of these lectures are based around Zach’s interest in religion and its relation to popular culture through music, art, videos, gaming, and literature.

This year’s Day Lecture was given by Dr. Jason Bivins in a lecture entitled “Smoke, Sweat, and Panic: Language and Improvisation in Jazz and Religion.” We will be releasing his lecture in five different episodes over the coming weeks. This first episode introduces the “smoky associations” between religion and jazz and Dr. Bivins’ scholarly quest to “get into the smoke.” Continue reading