The Normative Value of the Actual
Updated: Jul 28, 2021
Here is the prompt
This discussion begins with the concept of the normative value of the actual. This refers to the idea that what is out there, around us every day, seems normal. That what is always around us seems right.
So let us think a moment about the word "normal." We say this all the time. But what do we really mean when we call things 'normal?'
Artists, scientists, writers, parents, teachers constantly question the notion of what makes something 'normal.' Now it is your turn!
You task for the initial post is to describe a particular "normal" cultural phenomenon that you encounter often. It can be anything- school, movies, ads, a show, a trend... anything.
Explain why and how you came across this phenomenon, and try to account for its categorization as 'normal.' Does everyone do / think / say this thing? Does no one question it? Do people seem to accept it? For how long? Is it traditional? New?
Here is my response
I’ve never heard of the concept of the normative value of the actual. However, there is the quasi-parable that you don’t put a live frog into a pot boiling water to cook it because the frog isn’t used to water that hot, so it’ll instinctually jump out. Instead, you set the frog in cool water in the pot before you turn on the stove burner. Doing this allows the frog to acclimatize to the slowly increasing temperature of the water while never noticing that it is being boiled alive. A saying from one of my favorite fictional characters Morticia Addams from the Addams Family, “Normal is an illusion. What is normal for the spider is chaos for the fly,” comes to mind when thinking about this concept. I will be speaking about culture in America in my writing because that is my lived experience.
One phenomenon that I have come across is that it is considered normal is when men objectify women. As I have mentioned, I am a sex worker. As a result, I experience this phenomenon daily. In fact, I put a lot of effort into being intentionally objectified and thinking about monetizing this objectification to my maximum benefit. I think what has made this phenomenon normal is that America has always existed within the crushing fist and gaze of the patriarchy. Men were in control of women from the start, and that control included determining what women could and could not wear and what was proper/perfect behavior for a woman.
When marketing and advertising exploded as a business venture, men were the ones in charge as well. So all marketing campaigns that involved women’s beauty and fashion standards were created from the view of a man. Likewise, photography and videography have always been male-dominated industries, which means a literal propagation of the male gaze since the invention of the camera over 100 years ago. However, since the rise of Feminism in the 60’s we have begun to see more non-men creating art, music, videos, etc., from their view.
Women’s objectification seems normal because it is all anyone of us has known. However, there appears to be a lot more pushback on this issue since I’ve been growing up (I’m 31) than ever before, especially in the last ten years. For example, today, more popular female artists proudly turn the tables by objectifying men and discussing men as disposable sex objects. Historically, we primarily saw male artists objectifying women.
Do you participate in perpetuating the expectations created by the male gaze? For example, do you ever intentionally seek out art or media created by someone who isn’t a man?
Another crushing fist that all Americans live under is the crushing fist of Capitalism. In this case, I am talking about the recent normalization that you should constantly be hustling hard, like working 80 hour weeks or having multiple jobs and side gigs/hustles, and that if you don’t, you’re to blame if you’re poor. No time for rest and enjoyment of your hard work. There are two sides to this as well. Those who work 80 hour weeks because jobs pay so little that this is the only way they can scrape by and support themselves and their loved ones. Then there are the people in charge, who are also often working 80+ hours but make the rules and profit heavily off the back-breaking work of people previously mentioned.
I think this normalization comes from a few myths: that the harder you work, the more successful you’ll automatically become, that all entrepreneurs started from nothing and that all people have an equal chance at success – you only need to work hard.
My familiarity with this comes from my participation in it. I’m in school full time, which most will agree is like having a full-time job and working as many hours as possible when not in school, which averages about 20 hours a week. Sex work causes me to hustle constantly. As it is the ‘world’s oldest profession,’ it is an ever-evolving beast, and you have to keep up or get left behind. It’s never been easy money, contrary to the incredibly annoying myth, but those of us who have been around more than a few years have all reminisced about the days where it was at least more straightforward than it is now. It takes more work to make less money, which is not a sentiment unique to the sex industry.
The cost of living is higher than ever. However, the inflation rate of wages did not grow at the same inflation rates of the cost of groceries or rent. So the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer. People are mad about it, but very few are fighting it. Many don’t fight because they’re too busy surviving to have time to attend town halls, etc. Another reason people don’t fight is that they don’t have the education necessary to resist. This loss of representation and education is entirely intentional. School budgets are partially determined by the housing taxes of the neighborhood and zip codes where they are located. Poor neighborhood schools do not have the same budget as schools from wealthy neighborhoods, directly impacting the quality of education that the children get at that school. Corporations have lobbyists; people have nothing. Most of America being a captive of the Capitalism machine is nothing new. Slapping a shiny new name on it like ‘hustling’ is just a marketing scheme to make it seem like a new idea.
It is abnormal and proven by science to be unhealthy for your mind and body to be working 80 hours a week. There are other countries where people only work 35 hours a week, every single week, and still have extensive benefits such as paid time off (PTO), maternity/paternity leave, and comprehensive healthcare. So why are we satisfied killing ourselves for so little in America? Can we do anything about it, or is it too late?