Popular Culture Cultural Practices and Historical Struggles Term Paper

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Sociology of American Eugenics and Nativism in Advertising

The study of eugenics as a valid science during the early 20th century American society are based upon two prevalent beliefs, which is the belief in " the perfectibility of the human species and a growing faith in science as the most dependable and useful form of knowledge (Microsoft Encarta 2002). Eugenics as popular science during the 20th century emerged due to the social 'landscape' of American society during that time. In an article by Garland E. Allen in the Image Archive on American Eugenics Movement entitled, "Social Origins of Eugenics," the possible social roots of eugenics is discussed in order to analyze and determine the factors that helped popularize this new kind of science, which resounds dominantly of Social Darwinism. Eugenics basically subsists to the belief that 'good' or desirable genes must prevail over 'bad' or undesirable ones in order to keep the superiority of the American race and society. This belief is primarily subsisted to by the higher class of the society, of which Allen refers to as a "prospect of a planned, gradual, and smooth transition to a more harmonious future," that is, a future where only the best desirable traits in humans are available (Allen 2003). To better understand Allen's meaning regarding the social origins of eugenics, it is imperative to look at the history of America during the 20th century in order to draw inferences and implications regarding the spread of eugenics.

Eugenics is influenced by significant movements and changes in the American society during the 20th century, a period wherein America had just won the First World War and immigration and industrialization is at its highest rate. America under Calvin Coolidge's leadership as President of the United States experienced an immense state of economic growth, spurred by industrialization and consumerism (Prosperity and Thrift 2003). Because of the Industrial Revolution, goods and services are produced at a faster rate and greater quantity, which brought about surplus, which, of course, the producers must all be able to sell in order to get greater profits. Thus, in the world of industrialization, consumerism, and capitalism, advertising became a prevalent form of communication between producers and consumers for the consumption of these 'surplus' goods and services. Advertising also became a significant medium for the discussion of eugenics because it helped popularize it by subsisting to the concept of 'self-preservation,' which is the real motivation behind the birth of eugenics. American consumerism and advertising was further promoted by the government with the establishment of important governing bodies that will control the flow of trade and commerce of the nation, enumerated as follows: Department of Commerce and Labor (1903), Federal Trade Commission (1914), and Association of Advertising Agencies (1917). Aside from these governing bodies, advertising also played a vital role in spreading propaganda messages by the government during the war such as encouraging recruitment of soldiers and selling of war bonds, thereby resulting to the powerful effect of advertising to convince/persuade people to do what the ad message wants the people to do (Duke University 2000).

After WWI, America also experienced a sudden influx of immigrants from European and Asian countries as a result of its victory in the just-concluded war. The rapid increase in population accompanied by urbanization of America's communities resulted to an increased standard of living to everyone, giving rise to the dominant middle class. This shows how America's social hierarchy has radically changed: the higher, elite class of the society fears that they will be replaced by the gradually increasing middle class. This class struggle between the middle and lower class and the elite class of the American society is expressed by Allen in the following passage from his article: "A declining birthrate among the wealthy and the powerful indicated that the captains of industry were... losing the struggle for existence. The working class was not only organizing against them, but they were also outreproducing them." Thus, the economic, political, and historical accounts of America during the 20th century illustrates how the elite society fought for the implementation of eugenics as their means to combat the 'annihilation' of their class.

Eugenics' scientific origins are also related to the social context discussed earlier. Science and technology developed during the post-war period through the invention of telecommunications devices such as the radio and telephone. The birth of genetics also served as the main influence in the study of genetics, marking the scientific advancement that came along with urbanism and consumerism of the 20th century society. The term 'eugenics' was coined by Francis Galton in 1883, defining it as "a moral philosophy to improve humanity by encouraging the ablest and healthiest people to have more children" (Carlson 2003). As a scientific study, eugenics was inspired by the principles of Gregor Mendel's genetics and Charles Darwin's concept of "survival of the fittest' (social Darwinism). Eugenics' scientific origins were linked to the social landscape during that time because the proponents of this popular science is also aim to not only eradicate the 'undesirable' traits of the lower and middle class people, but also to eradicate the gradual increase of foreign immigrants that proliferated after WWI: "... eugenicists believed that recent immigrants from southern and eastern Europe had less desirable traits... Such comparisons led to the inescapable conclusion that unrestricted immigration would lead to the degeneration of the American germ plasm" (Witkowski 2003).

The social and scientific origins of eugenics as a science show how this study emerged out of the American's need for self-preservation. The dominance of the working class and increasing population of immigrants in the society led to the birth of eugenics and nativism. Nativism during the early 20th century arose because of the sudden increase in foreign immigrants in the country, and the fear that the American society would later become a minority in its own land led to the creation and implementation of the Emergency Quota Act of 1921 which "discriminates against immigrants from southern and eastern Europe," and the "National Origins Act of 1924," which prohibits Asians from immigrating in America (Prosperity and Thrift 2003). The American society's response to these crises illustrates Thompson's notion of "moral panic," which is society's response to a breakdown in the social order or poses as a threat to the values and interests of the society. In the case of eugenics (eugenics will be applied in relation to nativism for it to be applicable not only between Americans and foreign immigrants, but also between the elite and lower and middle class in the American society), it is the result or 'moral panic' of the: (a) American society against foreign immigrants and (b) the elite class (possessing the desirable traits/genes) against the working class (possessing undesirable or 'bad' traits/genes).

Carrying eugenics' concept of 'self-preservation' into the modern commercialized and capitalist society of America is illustrated through the advertisements that prevailed in America even during the early 19th-20th centuries. An article by Nancy Tomes entitled, "Epidemic Entertainments: Disease and Popular Culture in Early-Twentieth-Century America," explores the 'self-preservation' measures the American society has come up with through advertising, specifically health and disease advertisements. Tomes discuss in her article the different implications of media-communicated messages to people (thru broadcast (radio or TV), print, or advertisements) within the realm of health and disease awareness of the society. The author analyzes "how deeply the dynamics of consumer culture shape perceptions of what is -- and is not -- a "real problem" (Tomes 629). Tomes claims that advertisements geared towards sending a health and disease awareness message accompanied by the market of the company's product "helped to disseminate public health cautions" about issues relating to community and individual health. This claim shows how advertisements play a functional role in the society as the medium in which producers and organizations can provide public service for the people while conducting business with them (by selling and marketing their product).

Tomes also illustrate to the readers how health and disease advertisements become popular, prevalent, and effective: society's motivation and primary reason why advertisements related to health and disease appeal to them is not because of the society's "desire for health," rather, "fear of ill health" is what makes a "powerful appeal in advertising (Tomes 639). Moreover, health messages used in advertising commercial health products also serve as "goodwill advertising," wherein advisories and health information dissemination are furthered along with the convenience of marketing the product of the company. However, despite the functional role of health and disease advertisements in the society, Tomes' article also shows how these health advertisements can illustrate and reflect 'strains' eugenics and nativism's concept of self-preservation. To better illustrate this point, an analyses of four print advertisements during the early 20th century will be used in order to fully understand how the concept of self-preservation in eugenics and nativism are reflected in these health ads.

Ad #1 is an Ivory soap ad where the subject of the ad is described through the ad's text as "Giovanni Rossano, American." The…

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