All posts by btravis3

Urban Culture Symbolism

The bottom of the artifact is quite unique, compared to other objects of its kind. The bottom measures to thirteen inches long, and its outline resembles that its owner is relatively large. The bottom is made of a red-see through rubber material, while the red material forms the shape of a foot. The portion of rubber, where one would imagine the heel of the foot contains a separate black portion of rubber, which is shaped like a boomerang. Six inches above the boomerang shaped section is another section of black rubber, which is shaped like the pokemon Ditto. The inside of both black portions of rubber contains ridges that are a lot closer together than the red ridges surrounding them. While the surrounding ridges are separated by approximately half of an inch, the black rubber inside of the red ridges is less than one centimeter apart from one another. While the red ridges are wavy in shape, the black ridges are of a zigzag nature. If one were to run their finger down this particular rubber portion, aside from the occasional pieces of dirt one’s finger would encounter, one will feel a gritty rubber with the jagged touch of what could only be rocks stuck between the ridges.


The object that serves as the subject of my analysis measures to a total of thirteen inches long and six inches high. The sole is divided into two parts, which the designers have said create a more flexible feel for the user of the object. Horizontal ridges begin at the toe of the shoe and transition around the entire artifact. The upper portion of the sole is an inch-and-a-half of white cushioning that when contrasted with the lower red portion and other materials of the artifact, make the artifact much more noticeable.


Looking downward on the object, the light reflects rather brightly above what seems to be a white foundation. The section of the shoe that covers what one can assume would rest a set of toes sits on a double-layered sole, and is made of black patent leather, which resembles the dress shoes of an army command sergeant major. Above the patent leather portion of the sneaker is a material with more texture than the black patent leather and possess six vertical slits on each side in order to hold the laces of the artifact. The black patent leather on top of the double-layered sole creates a red, black, and white combination that coordinates rather nicely with the Chicago Bulls of the National Basketball Association game jerseys.
The crisscross nature of small threads continues upward, only to end in a slightly larger bow. The small threads rest on the tongue of the object and in between one of the threads half way up rest letters that resemble the ancient Greek letters. On the tongue of the artifact, there is writing that if you look at from the perspective of a front view resembles Greek lettering, but if you turn it sideways reads, “Jumpman Jordan.” In between the words “Jumpman” and “Jordan” is the iconic Jordan symbol, which is also on the back of the sneaker.


The Jumpman Jordan symbol, which is also the logo for the entire brand that surrounds that artifact, is a silhouette of the famous basketball player Michael Jordan. The symbol reflects what seems to be Jordan flying through the air palming a basketball over his head with his right hand in what appears to be an attempt to slam-dunk the basketball. His left hand is lowered behind his body with all five of Jordan’s fingers extended near his thigh. His legs are spread as if Jordan is attempting to do a split in the air. His left foot is pointed in forward, which one can only guess is the location of the basketball rim Jordan is attempting to slam the basketball in, and his right foot is pointing outward making Jordan’s posture a position only a well trained athlete could accomplish. The symbol sits perfectly on the back of the Air Jordan Retro 11!


Music and sports have always proven to be areas in which African Americans found themselves able to advance past the societal stereo-types of America. During the 1980’s, hip-hop served as the voice of the African-American community. The lyrical messages of hip-hop along with street fashion combined to form a sound and aesthetic that many African Americans in urban communities came to identify with. The black youth of the 1980’s used hip-hop as a channel to articulate their feelings of isolation from the popular culture of the United States. Thus, the spirit of the hip-hop developed as an expression of the hardships of black urban life.


Sneakers were an intricate part of urban culture in the 80’s. Early hip-hop artist used various sneaker brands to express their affiliations and status. The rap group Run-DMC hit song, “My Addidas,” landed the group a one million dollar deals with Addidas, a conservative German company. The French director Mathieu is quoted as saying that “ Run-DMC really made the world understand that the sneaker is to hip-hop what the crucifix is to Christians.” Other notable rappers adopted their own brands to express their own identities: Fresh Gordan’s “My Filas”; Heavy D and Nike; Busy Bee and Converse; and the Beastie Boys and Suede Addidas. However, with the emergence of a new African American basketball superstar, hip-hop culture would be introduced to a new brand that would give hip-hop a new face for years to come.


Michael Jordan was born February 17, 1963, in Brooklyn, New York. After moving to North Carolina and playing high school basketball, Jordan signed with The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on a basketball scholarship. During his junior season, which would prove to be his last as a collegiate athlete, Jordan led the North Carolina Tar Heels to a N.C.A.A championship. In the same year, Jordan would also help Team U.S.A win a gold-medal in the 1984 Olympic games.
Jordan decided to leave college a year early and enter the N.B.A draft. He was selected third overall by the Chicago Bulls. Jordan’s entrance into the N.B.A would allow him the ability to sign a shoe contract, and unknown to Jordan, change the shoe industry forever.


Today’s Nike Inc. was founded on January 25, 1964, as Blue Ribbon Sports by Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight. Blue Ribbon Sports would officially become Nike Inc. on May 30, 1971. Before Nike signed Jordan in 1984, Nike was mainly a running shoe company, who’s target audience reflected that of their white audience At the time, Nike had set forth to capitalize on the running boom of the 1970’s, yet by the mid 80’s, because of mismanagement and structural problems, Nike was approaching the verge of failure. In 1984, the year they would sign the rookie Michael Jordan, they recorded their first drop in earnings.


At the beginning of negotiations, neither Michael Jordan nor Nike Marketing Director Rob Strasser seemed the least bit excited about the partnership. Strasser felt that “unless it was possible to make one big marketing package—tie the brand, the product, the advertising, and the athlete into one personality—they should forget it.” Nike knew that signing Jordan would be a huge risk, because they realized that the success of their product would be tied exclusively to Jordan’s success as an N.B.A player.
Jordan sneaker of choice when playing basketball had always been Converse, and like many other young African American males of the 80’s, Jordan was also fond of Adidas. Jordan has been quoted as saying that he like many of his other contemporaries thought Adidas made the best product, and had he gotten a decent offer from either Converse or Adidas, he would have signed with them. Nike, which prided itself in taking chances, pledged to use its entire $500,000 dollar advertising budget on Jordan in addition to compensation for him also wearing the Nike shoes.

Jordan ended up signing with Nike for $2.5 million; however, because Nike realized that there success was tied in directly with Jordan’s success as a player, Nike inserted a clause into the contract, which stated that unless Jordan accomplished either Rookie of the Year honors, become an All-Star, or average 20 points per game, Nike had the right to terminate the contract. Needless to say, the contract was never severed. During Jordan’s Rookie season while wearing the Air Jordan 1, Jordan averaged 28.2 points per game, earned a spot on the All Star team, and on May 16, 1985, was named the 1985 N.B.A Rookie of the Year; thus, fulfilling his contractual obligations to Nike.


On October 18, 1984, the N.B.A officially banned the black and red Air Jordan 1’s, because the N.B.A claimed that they violated the uniform dress code policy. At the time, the N.B.A required its players to wear either primarily black or primarily white shoes. For violating this policy, Jordan was fined $5,000 a game, a tab that Nike was happy to pick up. A simple shoe violation wouldn’t be the only controversy Michael Jordan and Nike would be involved in.

Michael Jordan and Nike were redefining not only the shoe industry but also the way business is done in America in general. Never before had a company made an African American male the face of their corporation. A Newsweek article asserted that “The athletic-wear giant is one of a growing number of companies that have begun to use ads made not only with, but by, blacks. The reason isn’t hard to figure out: blacks have become a powerful consumer force. . . To reach them. . . marketers are striving for ads with an ‘authentic’ feel for black music, language, and lifestyles.”


To capture this authentic feel for black music, language, and lifestyles, Nike’s advertising agency, Wieden and Kennedy, hired Spike Lee in 1986 to direct commercials staring Michael Jordan. The agency’s copywriter is noted to have developed an idea to pair Jordan and Lee, because of a character in Lee’s film She’s Gotta Have It (1986). In the film, the character Mars Blackmon refused to take off his Air Jordan’s, even while making love, because they were so important to his sense of identity as a young black man. Spike Lee was one of the most popular African American film directors of his generation. Lee is known for creating films such as Do the Right Thing and Mo Better Blues, which depicted the African American point of view at a time that many in the black communities felt that such a depiction was non-existent in America. The relationship developed into a 16-year relationship, which resulted in the “Mars and Mike” campaign ads that featured Mars Blackmon.Lee’s film’s countered what he himself referred to as the exploitation of African Americans with a “powerful social commentary.” Lee’s 1989 film, Do the Right Thing has been referred to as “the standard bearer for Hollywood on race relations.”

The design of the Air Jordan Retro 11 was a subtle cry for attention from an athlete who was known for being relatively conservative. It stands to reason that the color scheme was designed to match that of the Chicago Bulls team colors. Whether or not the Bulls wore their white home jerseys, black with red striped away jerseys, or red alternate jersey Jordan could wear this sneaker if he felt the need. But the color scheme seems to be the only normal aspect of the shoe, relative to sneakers of its day.The patent leather used on the bottom portion of the sneaker is a clear call for attention. Patent leather was rarely used at the time of this particular Air Jordan’s release, and when it was, it was reserved exclusively for women’s shoes. The use of the shiny material was extremely risky for the shoes success, but clearly neither Nike nor Jordan cared. They seemed to be challenging the way sneakers were designed during that time.


Although, the shoe’s patent leather design made it quite noticeable, make no mistake, the shoe’s designer still had basketball in mind while designing the sneaker. The horizontal ridges in the rubber material at the bottom of the shoe allowed for maximum grip, which allowed Jordan to cut back and forth as he used his cross over dribble and raise off of the floor to implement his famous slam dunk. While the shoe’s sole is also extremely flexible to provide freedom of movement for Jordan’s foot, the sneaker still provided adequate ankle support for a professional basketball player. The sneaker, like most of its day, cam up to the middle of Jordan’s ankle, and was tied rather tightly to prevent, what one can deduce as a sprained ankle.

When this sneaker was released, Jordan was probably hesitant about the design, but gave the benefit of the doubt to Nike, because of previous success. By the time this sneaker released, Jordan was already a champion, all-star, and an overall success; therefore, the failure of such an eccentric shoe, relatively speaking, was far from his mind. If any other player, who had not been as established as Jordan, it stands to reason that this sneaker would not have done as well as it did. However, with that being said, the sneaker’s success is not due solely to Michael Jordan. The success of the Air Jordan Retro 11 is due to a synthesis of things: Michael Jordan’s success, Nike’s brilliant advertising, and hip hop culture.

Blog Post #3: It All Comes Down To Hygiene

It all comes down to HYGIENE. Today’s societal practices would dictate that hair jewelry from the past would be acceptable to collect but not wear, because it is not acceptable to wear something that was in contact with another person’s skin, or in this case scalp. No matter how old something is, the act of it touching someone else’s skin makes wearing such an item unacceptable under contemporary norms. To illustrate my point I will use the case of the thrift store. One would have no problem going to a thrift store and buying a shirt but not underwear. This is because its common practice for people of today’s society to wear under garments, and even with this is mind, whatever article of clothing would have to be dry cleaned, at least for the average person. Collecting an object doesn’t fall under such strict societal guidelines. The collection of hair jewelry would be perfectly fine, because the objects would pose no risk in terms of hygiene.
I find the claim that cultures have developed better hygiene practices over time to be self-evident. I am a huge fan of the HBO series King of Thrones; however, when watching the popular Sunday night series, I frequently say think to myself how nasty the conditions are. While today its common and most would say appropriate for one to take a bath everyday, men and women of that time would be lucky to take a bath once a month. The same mode of reasoning follows as to why we would no longer fill trinkets of dead human bone and flesh. For someone to be in possession of dead human bone and flesh would be considered unsanitary.
Shifting patterns of human behavior with regard to dead things can tell us a lot about the advancements in hygiene of a particular culture. If we look at societies today, cultures that tend to have negative behaviors towards dead things, normally have mores advanced health care systems. In ancient times, societal taboos were based mainly off religious beliefs, but today societal taboos have more to do with health issues. For example, two hundred years ago young adults were discouraged from having sex because the bible told them so. Today, young adults are discouraged from having sex because of the health risk. All in all, different societies dealings with dead people can tell us a lot about their culture, but I feel this is a stronger correlation to that of their health practices.

Timeline Post: The Air Jordan Retro 11

The Air Jordan Retro 11 is one of the most popular sneakers of its generation. The “Retro,” in the title, articulates how the shoe has been re-released to the public since the first time Michael Jordan played his first game in the sneakers. This timeline aims to illustrate the evolution of the Jordan brand on its way to creating the infamous Air Jordan Retro 11. The shoe is the 11th installment of the Jordan brand, which has somehow withstood the test of time. When a customer purchases the Air Jordan Retro 11, they’re purchasing much more than a sneaker. They’re purchasing an artifact reflective of urban culture, championships, and most of all success. This timeline will highlight key moments in the evolution of Michael Jordan’s career, which ultimately lead to the evolution of the Air Jordan Retro 11. The shoe also captures Nike’s reasoning for endorsing Michael Jordan. When Nike decided to endorse Michael Jordan and design his first sneaker, they did so under certain conditions. Jordan had to either win Rookie of the Year, become an All-Star, or average 20 points per game, or Nike would sever the contract. Nike inserted this clause into the contract because they understood the effects of success. The accomplishment’s of Michael Jordan is the reason the Air Jordan Retro11 has withstood the test of time, and this timeline highlights those moments.

Blog Post #8: The Mac Book’s Coffee House

The prompt for this specific blog-post uses the phrase “greater good.” What exactly is the greater good when it comes to our consumption habits? Who or what exactly determines what is right or wrong. In the case of food, the amount of food needed for a singular person is derived from the amount needed to be healthy. In other cases, more often than not, societal norms create what’s right or wrong in terms of one’s consumption habits. Why do the majority of college females’ wear Ugg boots? Is it because they’re fashionable? Are they comfortable or is it that every other female on campus has a pair and she wants to fit in? When I purchased my Mac book, it wasn’t because I felt that Apple produced a superior product. I just wanted to be like all the other guys in Starbucks with the large apple beaming from the back of my computer. This might sound crazy, but people with Mac books in coffee houses look better than those who use other laptops, in my opinion.  Is this a matter of advertising or a cultural perspective? Is my reasoning for wanting a Mac book insufficient for purchasing such an expensive laptop? 5480842927_5b0af5233f_z The purchase of my laptop was by far one of the most important purchases of my life, even though many would argue that my reasoning for purchasing one was insufficient. Much like the baby carrier Lakiesha references, my laptop has allowed me to work more efficiently than had I never purchased it. While my Mac book doesn’t necessarily promote a closeness to a third party like the baby carrier does for a mother and child, it does facilitate communication through emails, and that has to be worth something. To draw a parallel from Sneezy Deezy, was the marketplace or advertising responsible for my desire for a Mac book? In terms of advertising, I would have to say no, because I haven’t seen many Mac book commercials; however, I must concede that the marketplace had everything to do with my purchase. If I never walked into a Starbucks, I probably wouldn’t own a laptop. I’m not too big on assertions towards what is right or wrong for other people to make purchases. People purchase things for different reason: because everyone else has one, wanting to be different, advertising, etc…, and in the end, its all subjective. So consume what makes you happy!

Blog Post #7: The Culture Behind the Shoe

While doing research for my timeline project, I encountered the article Classic Campaigns- “ It’s Gotta Be the Shoes.” This article by Catherine A. Coleman does a wonderful job adding to the importance of our understanding of material culture studies exploring the culture behind Air Jordan brand.

In the article, Coleman begins by giving an overview of an ongoing debate about the Jordan Brand. When Nike’s advertising agency hired Spike Lee, an African-American film director, in the mid 1980’s to direct commercials for the up and coming basketball star Michael Jordan, they had no idea the amount of success and controversy it would cause. While Nike, Spike Lee, and Michael Jordan were successful as businessmen, critics of their business practices resulted in the trio being implicated in what came to be known as the “sneaker killings.”

A columnist for the New York Post, Phil Mushnick, was credited for sparking the debate about the questionable practices of Jordan, Lee, and Nike. Muschnick had paralleled Jordan to that of a drug dealer. Mushnick’s argument rested on the premise that Lee, Jordan, and Nike lacked social responsibility for endorsing sneakers at such a high price, which in turn caused young teens to commit crimes as bad as killing to acquire a pair. Spike Lee responded to Mushnick’s claim by calling his comment “thinly veiled racism.”  Furthermore, Lee asked why Muschnick would single out three of the most important role models for young African-Americans. Lee argued that Mushnick’s logic implied that


“ poor whites won’t kill for a pair of Jordans, but poor blacks will. . . . It is crazy to think that all black kids who can’t afford the sneakers are resorting to selling crack to buy them. Any kid who is selling crack is not doing that just to sport a pair of Jordans.”


For the purposes of material culture, who is right or wrong is not as important as the debate itself. The argument at hand speaks directly to the culture behind the sneaker. The object of my timeline is the Air Jordan Retro 11, and even though Michael Jordan has been retired from the National Basketball Association for a little over a decade, sales from his sneakers are just as high as they were while he was still playing; the reasons for this these sales are some of the same topics of debate highlighted in this article.

Before researching the Air Jordan Retro 11 for my timeline, I was under the misapprehension that Air Jordan sneakers were still popular because of the accomplishments of Michael Jordan, but this has proved to be far from the truth. The popularity of Air Jordan sneakers is where marketing, Jordan’s accomplishments, hip-hop, and urban culture all meet together. An understanding of material culture allows one to study these various components and put them together to create what is—the success of the Air Jordan Retro 11.

Blog Post #9: Air Jordan 11 Description

The Air Jordan Retro 11, which serves as the subject of my analysis measures to twelve inches long and six inches high above the ankles. The sole is divided into two parts, which the designers have said create a more flexible feel for Jordan’s feet while he played basketball games. The bottom portion of the sole is a light shade of red and resembles that of a rubber material. Horizontal ridges begin at the toe of the shoe and transition around the entire sneaker. The upper portion of the sole is an inch and a half of white cushion that when contrasted with the lower red portion and the materials of the actual shoe, make the shoe more noticeable.

The section of the shoe that covers the toes rest on the double-layered sole, and is made of black patent leather, which resembles the dress shoes of an army command sergeant major. The black patent leather on top of the double-layered sole creates a red, black, and white combination that goes perfectly with the Chicago Bulls game jerseys. This patent leather was unpopular when the shoe was first released, because of the fact that before the shoe’s release, the only shoes that made use of patent leather to date were worn by women.

Above the patent leather portion of the sneaker is a material with more texture than the black patent leather and possess six vertical slits on each side in order to hold the shoelaces.  On the tongue of the shoe, there is writing that if you look at forwards resembles Greek lettering, but if you turn it sideways reads, “Jumpman Jordan.” In between the words “Jumpman” and “Jordan” is the iconic Jordan symbol, which is also on the back of the sneaker.The Jumpman Jordan symbol, which is also the logo for the entire Air Jordan brand, is a silhouette of Michael Jordan flying through the air palming a basketball over his head with his right hand in what appears to be an attempt to slam dunk the basketball. His left hand is lowered behind his body with all five of Jordan’s fingers extended near his thigh. His legs are spread as if Jordan is attempting to do a split in the air. His left foot is pointed in forward, which one can only guess is the location of the basketball rim Jordan is attempting to slam the basketball in, and his right foot is pointing outward making Jordan’s posture a position only a well trained athlete could accomplish.

Blog 5: What contemporary objects can be both a tool and a weapon?

With the help of technology, each and every contemporary object can be both a tool and a weapon. Distinguishing between a tool and a weapon, simply put, is a matter of function and intent. In my opinion, this is an interesting topic because of the gray area that exists between the two. John Cline uses the example of the iphone, which seems to be, these days, the symbol of technology in the 21st century as an example of an object that may be used as weapon. While I agree with Cline, I must go a step further: Every contemporary object can be both a tool and a weapon.

In elementary school, my classmates and I were rather fond of rubber band balls. We would collect all the rubber band balls we could find and stretch them around each other until we possessed a bouncing ball. It was the perfect disguise for us. During school hours, we were innocent school children being creative, but after school… it was all out war. When the last bell of the day rang, and we were released to walk home, those rubber bands were unwound, stretched back as far as they could go, and released at the nearest ten-year-old boy we could find. Occasionally, if you thought you could recover your ball, you would just throw the whole thing at your friend’s head.

Did our teacher know that the simple tool she used to group pencils with was being used as weapons after school? If she did, she sure put on a good show after a parent found us out and notified her. Mrs. Hatch yelled at us for what felt like 30 minutes, and needless to say, we never received another rubber band.

What was the difference between the rubber band balls we made in class and the rubber bands we flung at each other? We changed the rubber bands function and intent. Any contemporary object can be used as weapon with the right amount of creativity. For instance, a book is a simple tool for learning, but let Clayton Kershaw throw it at you, and I guarantee the next time you see him with a book in his hand, you will perceive it as a weapon.

In Oculomotor Examination of the Weapon Focus Effect: Does a Gun Automatically Engage Visual Attention?, Heather D. Flowe, Lorraine Hope, and Anne P. Hillstrom explore the notion of a person being less likely remembered if they appear in a visual seen with a gun. They conclude: “An image of a gun did not engage attention to a larger extent than images of other types of objects (i.e., a pocket watch or tomato). The results suggest that context may be an important determinant of WFE. The extent to which an object is threatening may depend on the larger context in which it is presented.”


But, Why is this? In my opinion, when people see a gun, they perceive fear and the only thing they are worried about is safety. This isn’t the case with all contemporary tools. While many contemporary tools have the ability to be used as weapon, the tool actually being a weapon is a matter of one’s perception of its function and intent.




Blog Post #1: Which Came First, The Chicken or The Egg?

In The Secret to Good Writing: It’s About Objects, Not Ideas, John Maguire graces the readers of The Atlantic with a negative generalization about student writers based on a group of college freshmen that Maguire states, “lack certain skills that were common among college freshmen 40 years ago.” While Maguire fails to articulate the exact list of skills, he does, however, present what he deems the sole answer to better writing: writing physically!

While I’m sure that many of my classmates would take issue with such a broad generalization of student writers, I’m not offended. The fact of the matter is: many incoming freshmen can’t write (I was one of them); however, I take great issue with Maguire’s logic as to WHY these students can’t write well.

Maguire’s solution to students writing well is using more concrete nouns, yet how does Maguire expect young writers to rid their writing of abstractness and write physically, when Maguire can’t explain physical writing to his students without being abstract? When asked to define concrete nouns, Maguire responds, “It’s something you can drop on your foot.” Even as a senior philosophy major that has taken many upper level writing courses Maguire’s retort sounded a bit vague, so I did what any college senior would do “40 years later”…I Googled it!

(The following is the result of my Google search)

You experience concrete nouns through your five senses: sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch. If you cannot see, hear, taste, touch, or smell something, it is not a concrete nounConcrete nouns can be: Common nouns.

Now, if I were Maguire’s student, I’m now just as confused as the first moment “ drop on your foot” left Maguire’s mouth. In the sentence: “There is a smell in the living room,” smell is a concrete noun, yet I can’t drop a smell on my foot. The fact of the matter remains that the writing problems students face are far more complex than Maguire would like to acknowledge.

Turning from his pedagogical position, Maguire’s characterization of physical objects seems to align with that of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Csikszentmihalyi’s proclaims that, “ [e]very artifact is the product of human intentionality, but that intentionality itself is conditioned by the existence of previous objects,” which is similar to Maguire position that “all abstract ideas derive from objects.” Although Professor C goes a step further than Maguire by attaching a temporal value to physical objects, one still arrives at the age old philosophical question: which came first: the chicken or the egg?

Given every object is preceded by an abstract idea, the resulting inference is either an infinite regress or, for those of us who believe in a deity, the abstract idea known as God. Thus, Maguire has committed what the philosopher Nietzsche refers to as Confusing Cause with Consequence, abstract ideas don’t derive from physical objects… physical objects derive from abstract ideas. At the foundation of Maguire’s position rest a misrepresentation of not only college writers but also of physical objects. Writing embodies a synthesis of physical objects and abstract ideas. The reason many freshman arrive to Maguire’s class without the ability to write well is the lack of basic writing skills being taught in lower grades. Writing physically isn’t the answer, better teaching is!