Category Archives: Blog Project Prompts

Working in an Atlanta Culture-Mausoleum

I agree with the sentiment that Lawasky and Mather assert, that objects do indeed live a life beyond their own, and their afterlife is tied up in the ongoing human narrative.

According to the New York Times article about “extinct” objects of the aughts, I have the pleasure of keeping company with several dodos– the deposit slip, the foldable roadmap, the incandescent bulb, the fax machine, the cassette tape, and “smoking in bars.”

Until recently, the bar I where I work allowed smoking; I send faxes there from time to time, and I fill out a deposit slip after every shift I manage.  Atlanta Magazine has plenty to say about Manuel’s Tavern.

At our bar, these inanimate objects often take on a life of their own; people ask me to tell them the stories behind all kinds weird stuff hanging on the walls and even stuck to the ceiling.  Most of these items have little to no monetary value, but the history within them is beyond the dollar and subject to be lost, as the people within the stories slowly die-off and the people who know the stories slowly forget details, bit by bit.  There’s a lot of oral history floating around about people, about stories, about playing cards that hold dollars up onto the ceiling, and urns filled with the ashes of people you’ve never met.


We banned smoking back in January, but the walls and ceiling are still stained with nicotine.



There’s a weird sculpture that hangs above one of the booths that many of my friends mistook for an authentic Calder, but as it turns out, my research indicated, by means of gathering informal oral histories, that an art teacher from a local institution made that sculpture while he was in prison for some serious charges.  The sculpture was rumored to have been a gift to an employee of the Tavern.

I bring this up to illustrate that discovering hard facts about  the history of objects, and getting down to the business of documenting their “life” and “death” can be down right confusing and difficult, as so much depends upon the availability of source information.

I think we’re left with more questions than answers.

Also, much depends on the rhetorical situation of the object in question– to what or for what end was the object brought into the situation being studied, and what significance does the object hold in the context of its current “incarnation,” and for whom does this object have value?  For whom does it have meaning?  For how long of a timeline does an object remain relevant?  How can all of these categorical situations be subject to change due to cultural or technological evolution?

Works Cited

Burns, Rebecca.  “The Museum of Manuel’s”. Atlanta Magazine. 05 August 2014.  Web. 21 September 2014.

Photographs by Patrick Healy, Atlanta Magazine

McClanahan, Thayer. “Rust in Peace”. New York Times.  06 December 2009.  Web. 21 September 2014.


Analog Rebellion: How Vacuum Tubes Helped to Redefine the Concept of “Old”


Yes, it’s true, the Cathode Ray Tube is a dead … Kind of.

Despite how much we may want to tag human characteristics on to our objects, the lifecycle of technologies are a rather fickle thing. In modern consumer culture, a “dead” technology is merely one that’s intrinsic values are considered obsolete when compared to new models. In this case of the CRT, its older, bulky model has been replaced by new sets that boast slimmer, wall-mounted screens filled with liquid crystals and advanced features. So yes, technically the life of the tube TV is over. However, its afterlife has brought us not only a newfound sense of its irreplaceable characteristics, but sets an example for why the lifetime of objects will extend much further out than we may typically expect.

Toward the latter half of his article Lepawsky makes a brief introduction of the afterlife of CRT televisions. He paints a picture of the CRT being a valuable but deadly resource: parts being stripped for new technologies, toxic materials affecting humans, foreign countries buying them in droves because of their cheap prices, etc. In the author’s mind, the afterlife of the CRT is literally a technological poltergeist, as he discusses the millions of discarded televisions that harbor the evolution of deadly bacteria with their hazardous components. While Lepawsky certainly may have a point, I find his article to be rather one-sided, as he has clearly overlooked a major aspect of the CRT’s lifecycle: it’s reincarnation.

While it’s easy to write off the Cathode Ray Tube as “dead” because of obsolete technological specs and lowered economic value, the truth is that those who are aware of the CRT’s natural advantages hold it in high regard. In fact, vacuum tube technology as a whole has recently come back into popularity as many find a connection to its warmer, analogue qualities. In my mind, this coincides directly with the resurgence of vinyl records, film cameras, and countless other devices that are technically inferior. While “birth”, “life”, and “death” are relatively self-explanatory, the afterlife of an object stems from individuals having the hindsight to distinguish the unique qualities of each product, as opposed to the “ old=bad, new=good” mindset that is pushed in consumer culture. For example, CRTs are highly valued in gaming culture: tube televisions are much more responsive, have “deeper, more vibrant color”, and can easily adjust to a variety of resolutions. The introduction of the LCD television may have “killed” CRTs in terms of mass market value, but it cannot undermine its legacy, nor compete with the components that make it unique.

It’s very easy to merely state facts about the hidden value and advantages to older objects, so I would like to close by speaking from my own personal experience:
A few weeks ago, when shopping for a new guitar amp, I made a conscious decision to purchase an older model with vacuum tubes over one with digital technology. Looking at it from an economic standpoint, this is a completely illogical purchase: the digital amp is larger, less expensive, has higher wattage, and is significantly easier to repair/replace. But despite these facts, I (among millions of other guitar players) still chose the older technology, as there is something much more radiant and life like about it.  We’ve spoken ad-nauseam about how we identify objects as extensions of ourselves, perhaps the value we see in old objects stems from the fact that they are “flawed”, and in that sense, more human.

* “14 Gaming Myths Exposed” at

Blog Post #4: Old Things

What is the difference between studying objects to learn human stories and studying them to learn their own stories? Is there one? In “Recalling Things Forgotten” and “Parting Ways,” Deetz presents us with human histories that have been recovered through careful analyses of objects and building sites. To an extent, Prown, Czikszentmihalyi, and Belk, although they draw upon knowledge and methodologies from a wide variety of disciplines, nonetheless seem to approach their studies of material culture with a goal similar to Deetz’s.

As it begins, however, the essay, “A Terminal Condition: The Cathode Ray Tube’s Strange Afterlife,” by Josh Lepawsky and Charles Mather, seems to offer a different sort of teleology, or aim, for its analysis:

“Rust in peace,” ministered the New York Times in its 2009 catalogue of obsolescence for the aughts. The obvious play on words conjoins an industrial mythos with a Christian burial rite in a requiem for an object that had, not long before, been the primary screen on which many of us experienced television, video, and computing. What does it mean that we think of the CRT as something with a life—something that was born, lived, died?

In its title and with its three opening paragraphs, the essay promises to give us a history of the object itself. It provokes us with a question, about what it means to think of inanimate things as having a birth, a life, and afterlife. Yet, from that question, the essay seems to turn in the fourth paragraph quickly back to a relatively conventional history, not of the object, but of the people who created and used it, beginning with two 17th century intellectuals, Thomas Hobbes and Robert Boyle. After that turn, it’s not until the eleventh paragraph in the essay that we get a chunk of text organized almost entirely around exposition of non-human agency, alternating between copper and the CRT itself as the subject or actor of nearly every sentence. Continue reading Blog Post #4: Old Things


After reading Russell Belk article “Possession and Extended self”. There are several points I take away from it. However, if I understand correctly, Belk is making the connection with the relationship between humans, and their connection to possessions. Also, Belk states “Extended self is not limited to external object, but also includes Person, place, body parts and vital organs.” I can clearly relate to his point about the extension of possessions. Humans consider their children, spouse, and family and close friends their own property. The article makes a great connection from birth. This is seen as a mastery of possessions and human development. For example, according to Freudian and other psycho-analytic theories, infants begin life being unable to distinguish self from environment, including mothers. As infant develop their motor skills objects that can be controlled are seen as self. However, the objects that can’t be controlled are seen as environment. This explains the origin of this development. Possession helps people manage their identity. Also, helping old people have a sense of continuity. Contamination is a particular process of self -extension. It can be good or bad, as discussed in class we can be contaminated in different way. For example, we can become contaminated through association with an individual.
In the articles “The Culture of Death and the Afterlife” I notice different cultures have unique ways of approaching death. It appears like death is welcoming, the term “Memento Mori” translates to remember that you are mortal, death is anticipated. For Christian this term serves a moralizing purpose. For Christians, it reminds them of emptiness, personally for me death makes me feel lost. This approach of death is unusual, which brings me to Luke A. Filder essay “impression from face of corpse”. In this essay he discusses the way students and other artist created craft and images from dead people. In the essay different artist felt different, and went back and forth on weather, mask made from dead people or sculpted images give a better description of the person their portraying. The idea is that, Death mask made from dead people gives a sense of realness. However, others artist and historian’s feel the complete opposite. The argument made is that “you can see the traces of death and material facts of plaster in each faces. The idea is when people die rigor mortis has set in. Other might see death mask to be used as a memorial and surviving relative might choose to hold on to these lasting memories.
I found this interesting article and attached it for you to read, one of many reasons why one might want to hold on to death mask.

Blog Post 3: Different interpretations of death in different parts of the world


According to the definition in the online Britannica Encyclopedia, a “death mask” is “wax or plaster cast of a mold taken from the face of a dead individual.” But the interesting part is that, according to this source, “death masks are true portraits, although changes are occasionally made in the eyes of the mask to make it appear as though the subject were alive.” This detail is interesting as it reminds me of Fidler’s article, especially when the author states that a death mask will always be dead, as that this sense of vacuity or passivity is a fundamental feature of such creations. As Fidler claims, “there’s an inertness that accretes to a body, a slowing of the blood and then a swelling as that same blood pools.” Therefore, these benevolent corrections may be made with the intent of reviving the traits of the deceased one last time, and persuading the viewers to think that the separation between life and death is not so sharp, and that the mask they are looking at is not an aberrant creation that evokes death and annihilation.

This concept implies the fact that death masks have a negative connotation, and that talking about death in general is harbinger of doom. In Japan, indeed, “open and public discussion of death remains one of the greatest societal taboos,” and although some believe that death is a way to remember the preciousness of life, most people believe that death should not be a discussion topic, especially in presence of children (Sagara-Rosemary and Davies, 223). More specifically, “the negative view of death is so deeply embedded in Japanese society that even professionally trained personnel tend to think that the mention of death could hurt and shock children” (Sagara-Rosemary and Davies, 224).

However, death may be a source of attraction as well as repulsion. When public enemy number one John Dillinger was shot by the police in 1934, a crowd of onlookers gathered around the body to take a look at the famous fugitive, regardless of the fact that they were actually staring at a corpse on the street. In this case, death represents something fascinating, intriguing, and almost seductive, to the point that two groups of medical students made a death mask of the famous criminal from a plaster mold. “The mask captured every detail of Dillinger’s face — the bullet wound, the scrapes from where he had hit the pavement, the bloating and swelling from the heat and pooling blood, and even the tell-tale signs of underground plastic surgery.” John Dillinger’s death was such a source of wonder that the two masks were taken without appropriate authorization. His story makes us understand how controversial is the idea of death, and how this dynamic process is addressed and sometimes even celebrated differently in various parts of the world.

For instance, there is a tradition called “Sky Burials” in which the recently deceased are used to feed wild animals. According to the Tibetan Buddhists, this practice reflects the fact that the human body is simply “an empty vessel,” so there is no need to commemorate it. The Buddhists also see this ritual as a final glorious act: in fact, the remains will sustain the life of other creatures. Another interesting way to see death, and in particular the death of a powerful person, is to be found in the body of cultural traditions of Nigeria. In the play “Death and the King’s Horseman,” death becomes a sacred duty, which the protagonist cannot escape. Indeed, according to the Yoruba tradition, “the death of a chief must be followed by the ritual suicide of the chief’s horseman, because the horseman’s spirit is essential to helping the chief’s spirit ascend to the afterlife.” If the horseman does not complete the ritual, the king’s spirit will wander on earth and hunt the living.

In conclusion, death masks can signify so many things, and can be interpreted in many ways, because death itself has numerous interpretations, and that makes impossible to give death a clear connotation.


Blog Post #3: Death, Captivating and Frightening

Before reading Luke Fiddler’s Impressions From the Face of a Corpse, I remained ignorant to the existence of ‘death masks.’ Never had this concept of capturing the face of a deceased one last time before the final good-bye ever occurred to me. Yet immediately I understood why people continue (for centuries!) to capture these unique faces of the deceased. In the second paragraph, I believe Fiddler touches on the reason why these faces are so captivating and enthralling

“ To ask why or how a death mask works is to probe a maelstrom that makes mock of sure footing. But what if the thing that makes a death mask tick is not the resemblance to someone long-dead, but rather the visual noise, static, and imperfections that halt that resemblance in its tracks?”

I understand that unexplainable, intriguing, almost-absorbing feeling one feels when looking into the face of the deceased. My entire childhood, both of my parents worked as Executive Directors for Assisted Living Homes. Though they love their occupations, both claim the one of the most unfortunate aspect remains the passing of residents, especially when they were close with them, (essentially the whole building). So naturally we attended many funerals.With many of the funerals holding open caskets, from a young age, these deceased faces enthralled me. TO this day they remain slightly frightening ,yet I can’t stop studying their final facial features.

Despite the fact an Open Casket viewing differs from a death mask, one cannot deny the comparison of the phenomena Fiddler discusses of how we cannot stop from staring at all the little imperfections. He mentions a popular notion that “in death, our bodies become honest.” I found this interesting because as I recall staring the person never looked the same as in life (I understand now a body is manipulated for an open casket). How bodies remained so perfect and still, makes me associate death with a feeling of ease, peace and comfort. Yet as a child interacting with residents, the imperfections on the elderly are clearly noticed, which made me nervous and slighly frightened when around them; worn, leathery hands, blue veins clearly visible, faces covered in wrinkles and scars from life.

I believe this manipulation of death in our society and how others capture death through ‘death masks represent how different cultures and societies deal with the unknown of death. Though the stillness of the bodies and the awareness the deceased is no longer living, I could never stop from staring at that serene person laying in that casket. As we grow and become more open-minded throughout history, people realize death may not turn out to what its described as in their religion or personal ideology. Though all cultures and societies possess different practices for their dead, their process reflect their attitudes and beliefs about the afterlife. This fear and acknowledgement of the unknown forces us to do the only thing possible to ease that feelings of fear, anxiety from uncertainty; comfort each other. As Aristotle teaches us through his artistic proof of ethos one must build credibility with their audience. I believe that is the purpose of these death masks or even open caskets. Viewing the face of the deceased with their face remaining the same integrity, or even being moulded and casted different to particular taste, or having an open casket displaying the deceased almost happy, builds the best credibility through personal first-hand accounts of the people one admired, respected and loved.

Blog Post #3: Dead Things

What can we learn from the way a culture deals with death, particularly how they handle dead human remains? As Belk explains in “Posessions and the Extended Self,” in modern Western cultures, bodies–and their associated smells and effusions–are associated with negative forms of contamination. This aversion to contact with someone else’s body, Belk argues, is expressed in the way crematoria sift through human “cremains” to remove any traces that retain too much of their original form as bones, teeth, etc. Yet, again as Belk explains, the aversion to bodies, especially dead bodies, has numerous cultural and historical exceptions. These exceptions include actual and symbolic cannibalism, the collection and reverence of saintly relics, and as Luke A. Fidler describes in his essay, “Impressions From the Face of a Corpse,” the practice of creating memento mori of the dead:

Death masks also record the work of human hands. They figure the body as something subject to post-mortem manipulation, as a kind of storehouse waiting to be raided by curious scientists, churchmen, or souvenir-seekers. Autopsies, for instance, left their marks. Beethoven’s death mask, taken two days after he died, shows the saw marks where the composer’s ear bones were removed. His left ear later wound up in a curiosity cabinet. Continue reading Blog Post #3: Dead Things


Beatrice Marovich, a writer and academic ( presents the topic of cuteness in relation to animals in her essay in The Atlantic (Moravich) to propose a perspective on how humans have given “cuteness” to an animal and how the cute animal in return serves the human. In her essay, Maravich, provides the example of the cuteness of cats. Cats have been deemed cute by humans and also by humans through created figures such as Hello Kitty. The essay also provides an insight of how these cats have gained their “cuteness” by history. Because of cats becoming saviors to silk economics in the 17th century in Japan (by eliminating the cats that ate the silk worms that made silk), cats became a good luck charm. In the case of Hello Kitty, Marovich suggests that it’s vacant look gives humans the opportunity to fill that vacancy with themselves through the cuteness of the expressionless Kitty. A very interesting point that Marovich ties in toward the end of her essay is how cats, who have been deemed cute, have become something that people pay for, just to spend time with them. Unfortunately, Marovich doesn’t delve into the psychological questions about this but the skeptical observant question that lingers is: What does this endowment of cuteness do or affect?

Something that pop’s out in Marovich’s essay is the word vacancy. The eyes of the cute cat seem vacant and almost beckoning for someone to live through it. When something is “cute” it is: appealing, mentally keen, attractive ( The opposite of “cute” is”: ugly, unhappy, unpleasant ( This suggests that something “cute” is something that makes one feel better or seems to beckon one in a strange but delightful manner. For example, carrying around a small dog that matches one’s outfit is cute, because it makes the human feel that the cute little animal needs them and they empower the animal with the “pop” that their outfit or person needs. The most interesting part of cuteness is the way in which it works or the cycle which it forms.

When a human seems something “cute”, the human perceives that “thing” as an object that needs something, it contains a void that can potentially be filled — attention and care from the human. Giving this “cute little thing” that attention makes the human feel wanted or needed and/or giving, generous, compassionate, human, loving, etc. In return, the “cute little thing” provides the human credit for what they’ve done, and provides the human satisfactions in one or a variety of areas. These areas might encompass a human’s character, fashion style, compassion, “religiousness” or anything in relation to the expression of that human. As this occurs the “cute little thing” is given power, a power to enhance (or un-enhance) a human’s identity in one way or another. Although this “cute little thing” is bestowed power, the “cute little thing” becomes objectified (even if it is a living thing). When something becomes objectified it can be made, it is not one of a kind, it can be replaced; thus, a cute little accessory Chihuahua dog can be replaced by a cute little Affenpinscher at any given moment. Through these examples, Marovich clearly explains a perspective on cuteness and how it tends to objectify which is only scratches the surface of that definition.


Works Cited

“About – Beatrice Marovich.” Beatrice Marovich. Web. 5 Sept. 2014. <>.

Marovich, Beatrice. “The Powerful Authority of Cute Animals.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 14 May 2014. Web. 5 Sept. 2014.

“cuteness.” The Dictionary of American Slang. 05 Sep. 2014. <>.

“cute.” Roget’s 21st Century Thesaurus, Third Edition. Philip Lief Group 2009. 05 Sep. 2014. <>.



The science of cuteness

When first analyzing Marovich’s article, I found her introduction to the idea of “cuteness” to be interesting, but oddly vague. But there was one aspect of it that stuck out rather clearly: the beckoning cat, and its “magical” properties to draw people in and create good fortune. But what was this magic? How do I find its origin? To help in my comprehension of the topic, I began by doing a Google image search of just the word “cute” to see if I could find any patterns. Lo-and-behold, there was in fact a pattern, things that I have observed my entire life, yet never managed to connect the dots to: puppies at play, kittens in tea cups, babies looking perfectly innocent with wide eyed stares, but it obviously has to go deeper than that; There’s got to be more to this that I’m missing.

Because I found Marovich’s article to be rather surface level, I instead chose to take a look into her sources, which revealed a great deal of factual information that explains our powerful relationships with all things categorized as “cute”. Hiroshi Nittono’s article “The Power of Kawaii” summed up the phenomenon as so: “Cute objects are assumed to be characterized by baby schema. This is a set of features that are commonly seen in young animals: a large head relative to the body size, a high and protruding forehead, large eyes, and so forth.” He goes on to indicate that this baby schema creates a stimulus, which triggers many of our brain’s receptors, particularly those associated with attentiveness, motivation and care giving. The high level of rewarding stimuli we receive just from the observation of these objects is a compelling explanation of our “obsession” with them.

To drive this point home further,  Cara Santa Maria of the Huffington post breaks down the origins of this “power”. Evolutionary developments, pertaining to both human beings and other living creatures, are arguably the sole reason why “cute” properties are so valued our minds. As stated previously, we find certain animals (particularly young ones) to be cute because their physical characteristics stimulate our brains in the same way that human babies do. But why do we find these particular features so attractive? One likely answer may be that over time, a mutation in the genes of mothers predisposed them to be more protective and nurturing of the offspring that possessed what we now refer to as “cute” features. As a result, these children (who also were likely to possess the same genetic bias themselves) were much more likely to survive and reproduce, which over millions of years, slowly adapted our inherent reaction towards animals and objects with the same aesthetics. For example, a young, docile appearance can explain why we bred and domesticated certain types of animals, as opposed to others. Additionally, these patterns explain why we describe these qualities magnetic and “magical”. In all actuality, the talismanic properties of the beckoning cat are merely a façade: they lure us in because we are genetically predisposed to see them as such, and the “good fortune” they bring stems from the fact that their appearance naturally causes us to feel more motivated and rewarded.

So we have an understanding of the science of cuteness, but this still leaves the question of why exactly do humans often treat these living, breathing creatures with the same level of possession and personal association that they would any other object? To find the answer, I returned to Belk’s essay “Possessions & the extended self”. Perhaps, most obviously, there is the notion that we see these creatures as objects because a person may see himself or herself as the amalgamation of everything they have or possess. Spouses, Children, Slaves are all examples of ways in which man has found a sense of possession towards those in his own species, so it seems only natural that similar attitudes be held over other living creatures. This becomes more elaborate as Belk suggests that we see our pets at extensions of ourselves, both in terms of personality and viewing treatment of a pet as a reflection of the opinion of the self. As the creation of “cute” objects became more and more apparent, it would seem only natural that they would be crafted to allow us to input ourselves into them as well. This can explain why some of the most famous faces in popular culture (Hello Kitty,  Pikachu, Snoopy, etc.) are all examples of characters in that possess cute qualities, but yet are seemingly voiceless. This internal vacancy allows us to project ourselves into the character, adding in yet another layer to the complex science of cuteness.


Blog Post Two: Conscription

Marovich brings up a point with Chihuahuas and how they are conscripted despite their personalities contradicting the willingness to subscribe to wearing accessories comfortably. I agree with Marovich in that people do regard pets as talismans; and that helped me come to a different conclusion. There’s something about people that causes them to need something to become more than what it is originally. Items, or things regarded as such, possess Appeal. Of course, every individual has different preferences and different reason supporting those preferences, but most people conscript their things after a while. Marovich introduced the word “conscription” to me, which reminded me of the tongue. The average person’s taste-buds alter gradually over the course of seven years. Similar to taste-buds, people’s preferences evolve also. Though, unlike taste-buds, objects cost. Therefore, when peoples’ preferences alter, which aren’t altering by much, the item is either modified, used in a way it wasn’t originally designed to be used, or put up, even if they serve a useful purpose. People need change.