Category Archives: Culture Conversation

Culture Conversation: The Denim Jacket and Personal Style


I’ve been working in Santa Monica in an office that is essentially an icebox. When the temperature in California cooled down this week, I decided that I’d bust out my denim jacket I purchased over the summer.

When I checked myself over before leaving for work in the morning, and even when I caught glimpses of myself in the bathroom mirror or reflective surfaces I walked by throughout the day, I felt waves of boosted self-esteem pass over me. I feel like this jacket was made for me. More importantly, I feel chic and like I actually have some semblance of my shit together when I wear it.

As I’ve worn the jacket throughout the week, I’ve thought about the genesis of the denim jacket and personal style.

1. Levi Strauss & Co. made the first denim jacket in the early 1900s. The cowboys and workmen who wore denim jeans and jackets weren’t particularly interested in fashion, but more about function and durability. Beginning in the 1950s, movie stars wore denim jackets as a symbol of rebellion and anti-establishment. In the 1960s, the members of the counterculture movement wore them as a symbol of youth, and throughout the 1980s and ’90s punk rockers and hip-hop artists made the denim jacket part of their own images. Many, many men have worn denim jackets on film, helping to establish it as a universal signifier of youth. I couldn’t find anything specific about when women began to wear the jacket, but I suspect it started somewhere in the counterculture era.  The Levi’s blog notes that “Trends come and go, but the jean jacket continues to reinvent itself, time and time again,” and I completely agree.

2. When I was in middle and high school, I was obsessed with fashion. I kept up with Fashion Month and watched all of the slideshows on I pulled out my favorite ads from fashion magazines, in the hopes of using them to wallpaper my closet. I read biographies of all of the power players, and watched as many documentaries as I could. This was my first real foray into the general art world, and I realize now that I was learning about the transformative power of personal style. Changing your clothes was not necessarily just you trying to be trendy, but you expressing yourself in an artistic way that makes you feel good to be a part of the world. Haute couture is a good example of this. The designer has created something dreamy and one of a kind, and the wearer feels that magic while wearing it. It isn’t haute couture, but putting on a denim jacket — or a striped shirt, or a pretty necklace, or my favorite lipstick — makes me feel like my best self.

3. Personal style is still a social construction, and is tied strongly to things like body issues, capitalism and media. We’ve decided as a culture that being naked in a public setting is illegal, which is partially the point of wearing clothes (the other parts of the point being both about hygiene and protection from the environment). We’ve also decided that certain articles of clothing are more appropriate to wear than others in particular situations, and that pieces can be trendy or passé. Money is also strongly attached to personal style, and so is the media’s representation and coverage of fashion. When we walk around the world, the clothing we wear becomes advertisements for the brands. I found a great handout for a class offered by the Utah Educational Network (it’s the first link on the page) about how personal style is a form of nonverbal communication, and how it’s the way that we project our inner selves to the world. The people who create the clothing are trying to do the same thing. But the same time, the people around you use your clothing to make assumptions about you and your place in the world. Like what I mentioned in the first point about the denim jacket being a symbol of youth, we’ve attached meaning to what we wear. Personal style isn’t so personal anymore.

4. The artistic aspect of fashion might be a response to those notions, in that if we have to wear clothes and people will talk about them we should at least make them interesting to look at, let several people come up with variations and create a space for meaningful criticism.Man Repeller is a great publication that is always talking about this in some way, and that the discussion around style isn’t shallow or meaningless. Reinvention and the ability to try many different styles of clothing might also be a different response, in that if we have to live in this world we’ll wear whatever we want. While I’m not even quite sure what I’m trying to tell the world when I wear my denim jacket, I find the psychological and social power of clothing and how it makes me feel fascinating.

How do you feel about personal style, and what article of clothing makes you feel invincible? Let’s talk about it in the comments.




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Culture Conversation: A 1969 Olin Ad

This is A Lot.

This is A Lot.

I have a stack of vintage National Geographics that I bought from my public library’s bookstore for my art journaling. I’m starting a new journal and was going through the magazines to find photos and words to use. In the October 1969 issue, I came across this advertisement for Olin, which is a Missouri-based company that is still around today and still makes ammunition, chemicals and bleach projects. The ad is in the first 10 pages of the issue, which includes stories about South Africa’s black eagles, flooding and mud issues across the United States and the growth of Honolulu.



Because the font is small, I’ll type the copy here for you:

We know a land where the streets are paved with gold. So do the Russians.

At the bottom of the sea lies one of the greatest sources of wealth and trouble in the world today.

Gold, oil, diamonds, food, minerals beyond your wildest dreams.

For the first time, new technology is allowing us to tap these resources. But there’s a greater problem than technology.


How does one go about staking a claim in the middle of the Pacific Ocean?

If two little countries disagree on a copper field under the Arctic Ocean, do the big countries go to war?

Wouldn’t the “finders keeper” principle of ownership give all the ocean to a few nations, to the consternation of the rest?

In no other field are the legal questions so knotty. And the answers so necessary.

Because if we don’t set up some international agreements soon, we’ll be stuck with “to the victors belong the spoils.”

Not only is agreement crucial for governments, but for private corporations as well. Because oceanography is one of the major growth industries of the not-so-distant future.

At Olin we’re developing many products for oceanic research and exploitation.

Urethane foam for undersea recovery operations. Hydrazine chemicals for flotation systems and exploration at the very lowest depths of the ocean.

Ramset power tools for underwater construction. Pow-R-Quik cold weather starters for offshore oil rigs. Olin marine safety flares for vessels in trouble.

Chemicals that can help heat up the water around divers. Others that help make glass hard enough for deep-sea storage and housing at fantastic pressures.

A new fuel cell that will be able to power deep-submergence vessels at depths of 20,000 feet and below.

With all this at stake, we have a more than passing interest in seeing law and order prevail under the high seas.

It could determine what happens on top.

1. In all of my history classes that ever approached the Cold War, we discussed the role of propaganda in shaping the public’s views on the Soviet Union extensively. But I don’t think I’ve seen anything, in person especially, quite like this. This is a real advertisement that was marketed to real people and published in a highly reputable magazine focused on increasing and spreading geographic knowledge. I can’t get over that. History seems so removed until you stumble across an artifact. Even museums can’t really do the experience justice.

2. In a quick Google Image search for Olin advertisements, I didn’t see anything else that was so blatantly anti-Soviet. But there was a lot going on around the time this magazine was published. In September and October 1969, the United States, the USSR and China conducted several nuclear tests. The Concorde broke the sound barrier, the USSR launched three Soyuz spacecraft, and Bolivia was in the middle of a military coup. That context is important, because it helps us understand better what the national mood was at the time.

3. This ad has a lot of different things happening at the same time. The primary aim of this ad seems to be convincing the audience that Olin is a real American company that has a vested interest in Cold War policy and objectives, and a company that believes that America deserves to have and be the most. They do a pretty good job of relaying that just through the rhetoric: “ownership,” “necessary,” “‘to the victors belong the spoils,'” “with all this at stake” and the kicker “It could determine what happens on top.” The headline and their hypotheticals about how to stake a claim in the Pacific Ocean, which at the time could definitely have happened (and even today), also suggest that awareness. They even mention how difficult this discussion over who deserves what is to strengthen their ethos. Gaining the public’s opinion that Olin is doing the Right Thing by drilling in the ocean before the Soviets can seems important to them, and in context I can’t really blame them. They say that they’re in the midst of developing products to help this conquering of an unknown land, which would satisfy the reader in knowing that their government and businesses are working for their nation and keeping their workers safe. Never mind the philosophical and cultural ramifications of plundering the bottom of the sea. The language and logic of this ad forces the reader into a corner — either agree with this viewpoint or be considered anti-American. It’s smart, but very, very scary and very, very insidious.

4. This also may have helped to cloud how environmentally friendly their practices were (read: not at all), which was a movement gaining steam. 1961 was a busy year for establishing offshore drilling. It wasn’t until 1985 that there was an international cooperative effort to use drilling as oceanographic exploration rather than a moneymaker, and this effort has had several reincarnations since.

5. It’s important to realize that we still have not solved some of the same problems we’ve been dealing with for decades.

6. I don’t know if any advertisers could get away with something like this in 2015, but I could be wrong.

What do you think about this ad? Let’s discuss it in the comments.

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Culture Conversation: Heads Up Seven Up

I spend a significant amount of my Internet time researching stuff that is not particularly new or timely but catches my interest, and I inevitably end up thinking about it through some cultural lens. Here is the first post of a new series that chronicles this aspect of my Internet adventures.  I encourage you to share and become a part of the cultural conversation. 

My mom substitute teaches at my old elementary school. She came home for a quick lunch today, because they’ve put the kids on “rainy day schedule” (a shorter lunch indoors) since it’s so hot and the kids shouldn’t be outside. Before leaving, she told me she was going to go play Heads Up Seven Up, a school game I had completely forgotten about. We used to play it in elementary school, regardless of the teacher or grade. If you don’t know what Heads Up Seven Up is, the first description on this page is a solid explanation. At my elementary school, we never did any variation on the basic premise — no one ever had to share something about themselves or their culture, which is also apparently a common variation. I remember now that even as an elementary school student it was basically impossible to figure out who had tagged you, unless you cheated and looked at the person’s shoes or one of your friends happened to be a tagger. But I started thinking about Heads Up Seven Up and its cultural influence, and went down a research rabbit hole.
1. Apparently this is a game that people have been playing for a long time. Googling it gets me nearly 53 million hits on how to play it and what it is, and the first results are from a lot of teaching, sociology and parenting blogs. “Heads up seven up drinking game” is also a suggested search, which I find amusing. But that helps to suggest something about the basis of the child’s game apparently has staying power. It’s probably because it’s easy to teach and kids like the novelty of it — at my school, for example, it seemed like it was exclusively for rainy day schedule. Unfortunately, I can’t find anything about the origin of the game. If you find something, I’d be curious to know who came up with it and its story.
2. Because elementary school in particular (and games and play in general) is about socialization and refining motor skills, it makes sense that this could be a covert educational attempt. This blog post talks about how adding the “tell something about your culture” aspect and making it an icebreaker could help students understand each other better at an earlier age, as well as how to listen. We played it with no variation, so I have no idea what it was supposed to be teaching us beyond what other people’s touches felt like and how people can play mind and guessing games with you. I guess in one way that’s educational, but a very twisted way.
3. Regardless of where you’re from, there’s a large chance you know or have experienced this kind of game. I know it’s been awhile, but I do not ever remember having to stop and explain the game to new students. Everyone just knew how to play it. The gameplay is easy, but I think it’s important to note. There are just things that everyone knows how to do, which I think just has to to do with the power of socialization. Take playground rhymes, for example: do you even remember learning the words to “Ring Around the Rosie” and “Miss Mary Mack” and ever realizing what they meant? Or do you remember learning how to play hide-and-go-seek? And how did kids in California and kids in Maine know the same rhymes and games, pre-technology? And how are they perpetuated? Folklore is creepy. I haven’t been able to find anything for confirmation, but my guess is that children’s publishing was just that prevalent and the minimal pair rhyming of a lot of these songs just stick in kids’ heads. Siblings and family members also have a lot of influence in passing it on.  Heads Up Seven Up isn’t quite equivalent with metafolklore since it seems to be exclusively a classroom thing, but the basic idea that we’re all related in weird ways is fascinating and important. Beyond interests in media or hobbies, there’s this underlying thread that connects most people in the form of childhood games and rhymes, which is touchingly and uniquely human.
4. This t-shirt is a thing and I don’t know why. I remember not being particularly great at the game, but the fact that this is a shirt you can buy as an adult and that people know exactly what it means is overwhelming.
What do you think? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

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