Kac Reading

December 17th, 2009

After going through all my posts, I realized I never posted this so sorry for messing up the order of the blog!


In the articles of the Eduardo Kac reading, he talks about biotechnology. One of the ideas he mentions is “the possibility that a private company can legally own the international right to genetic sequences with the reader was born.” This confused me because, from my point of view, it sounds like they would be able to actually own people. Right after this human cloning was brought up. So, if possible, a company could own one person, then in theory they could clone that person, and thus own all of their workers. That means not having to pay them anything and in the long run saving a large amount of money because of not having to pay salaries. Another way this could be taken is that a company could build their own army, if they were powerful enough to do so. I know that this is far fetched, but that is what I thought of.


When La Mettrie was mentioned Kac brought up that La Mettrie was the first person to suggest that primates could acquire a human language and proposed how to achieve it. The example that Kac showed was Koko, the gorilla that talks to others through Sign Language. This was significant because Koko expressed a whole range of emotions, human emotions. Kac also stated that this was a novel event because gorillas do not communicate to each other like this in the wild. We get new insight on what gorillas think and get more information about gorillas as a result of this endeavor. However, will this grow into a pet market, a new pet available that communicates with you? I mean there are markets out there for doggy furniture, clothes, and transportation. It would just be a new market in which you can talk to your pets. This could also be brought up with Alba, the GFP bunny, the bunny that glows underneath a black light. At first it was very new and very controversial. However, now there actually is a market for animals that glow underneath a black light. Along with the GFP bunny, there are now fish, pigs, dogs, and mice. The GFP fish even sold in Wal-Marts around the country. The fish are called Glofish and the pigs are called Noels. The fact that this originally started out as an art project; just as Koko started out as a science project, and is now a worldwide market is puzzling because it is so controversial. Even though talking pets do not have a market, largely I believe on the fact that only apes have been able to communicate back and for the most part parents don’t want apes in the house, with time it can become a booming market just like the pets that glow under a black light.


With Eduardo Kac’s project titled Move 36, I was very moved. I thought that it was interesting to mark the event in which the machine beat the man, in the way that he did. The chessboard was made of sand and of dark dirt. The piece that made the final move is a plant. All of the materials used are completely natural and they are describing an event when machine conquered a natural object, man. The plant’s genome was incorporated with a new gene that translates into “I think therefore I am.” I think that this implies that because the machine beat the man, that the machine has proven its worth to everyone. In addition, because the plant was mutated for the installation, it represents the machine’s ability to overcome nature in a different way. This way is changing the plant’s core foundations, like how the machine beat the human’s core foundation, his intellect.



1. Will having pets that communicate you people become a market?

2. In the beginning of the second article Kac mentions that art changes the way you look at things, does it?

3. Does making a bunny glow under a black light count as art?


Princess Mononoke Final Blog Entry

December 17th, 2009

After viewing part of this film in class, I decided to complete this class by watching the rest of the movie and writing my final blog entry on it.

Princess Mononoke is extremely different from most of the topics we studied in class this semester. Namely, it has its origins from Japan. As such, the movie has much more gore and violence that one would typically expect from an animated film. But for anyone who has actually watched the movie, it is clear that the story and content is by no means strictly aimed at children.

The movie starts in a peaceful town with the main character Prince Ashitaka. The action starts immediately when a boar monster attacks and Ashitaka saves the village, but becomes cursed in the process. The rest of the film is spent describing his adventures through the forest and world in order to find the source of his curse and hopefully disarm it before he dies.

It turns out that the reason the boar became a monster was because it was shot by an iron bullet. Ashitaka soon finds the village of iron town, where the leader, Lady Eboshi, is mass producing iron guns used to fight both humans and animals alike. These iron guns were the cause of the boar monster. After some investigation, Ashitaka reasons that the spirit of the forest, along with the animals of the forest, are being threatened by the guns of iron town. Soon, it become apparent that Lady Eboshi and a group of other bandits want to kill the spirit of the forest and take its head. Surprisingly, they were successful in chopping off the spirit’s head and this results in a fast spreading “black death” that kills anyone that it touches. The forest, along with iron town, is completely destroyed and the villagers all fled for their lives. Ashitaka comes to the rescue by returning the spirit’s head, but the day light has already started to shine and the spirit cannot live in its “normal” form in the light. As soon as it gets its head back, it dies to the sunlight. However, upon its death, the forest starts to grow again, the grass turns green and everyone who just witnessed the disaster makes amends to start a new life and a peaceful relationship with nature.

It should be brutally clear to most adult audiences that Miyazaki wanted to stress the importance of man’s connection and dependence upon nature. Furthermore, man cannot hope to live peacefully by fighting, overcoming, or destroying nature. All of these ideas are obviously present in Princess Mononoke through the boar monster, the forest spirit, Ashitaki’s curse, and Princess Mononoke herself. The other main idea of Miyazaki’s film is the embrace of technology (in this case by iron town) and how it affects the mentality of humans. Although Lady Eboshi wanted to destroy the forest animals and spirit, she actually did not have evil intentions. She merely wanted iron town to be a safer, richer, and better place to live. However, she and her followers were blinded by the advancement of technology, thinking that iron and guns could replace the natural things in this world. After she successfully shoots off the forest spirit’s head, she realizes that nature is something much more powerful than she had thought or imagined.

Some viewers may describe Lady Eboshi and iron town to be stupid or self absorbed people that deserve what they got. But really, the people in the movie are not much different than us. Everyday, I come home and take technology for granted. Thinking that a faster computer or a thinner laptop will make my life easier, better, and more efficient. Some of this is true, but much of it ignores the exact things that iron town ignored in Princess Mononoke.

I won’t leave any questions to think about this time as there are no more class discussion left, but I will say that this movie has certainly made me think about a lot of the things I do in my daily life. But then again, so as many of the things in this class. Lastly, I’d like to say that I enjoyed this semester in Gardens and hopefully will see you guys around sometime on campus.

Princess Mononoke Response-Extra Blog

December 17th, 2009

I recently concluded watching Princess Mononoke, which we began watching in class.  The basic idea is that there is a warrior, Ashitaka, facing a horrible, life threatening curse, must travel to lands far away to try and save himself.  On his journey, he meets Lady Eboshi, who is slowly killing a forest to harvest the iron from the ground underneath.  The forest is inhabited by fantastic gods and creatures who are fighting back, including Moro, the wolf god, and San, a girl raised by Moro.  The story revolves around the struggles they face fighting one another, and the struggles Ashitaka must face trying to stop them.

*NOTE: after this point, plot points might be discussed that we didn’t view in class.  Take this into account, and watch the movie before reading!  Really, it’s good!*

Interestingly, there is no actual villain in this story.  At first, one expects it will be Lady Eboshi, whose city of iron and destruction of the forest seem to be evil (which would seem to send a clear message of technology is evil, return to nature, etc.).  But as the plot progresses, it becomes clear that Lady Eboshi isn’t really a villain, as she has many good qualities.  For instance, she rescued a number of girls from working in brothels and brought them to her town to work, clearly improving their lives greatly.  She also deeply cares about everybody in Iron Town, and they all are very fond of her as well.

Nor are the forest creatures seen as evil, even though they plan to attack Iron Town.  They are simply trying to reclaim what was once theirs, and could probably in fact live with the humans in Iron Town if they stopped killing the forest.

The only character who acts purely for personal gain is the monk, Jigo, who ambushes Iron Town with his samauri warriors and doesn’t wish to stop the killing forest spirit because he needs what he took from it (I’m intentionally trying to be vague on this point, because I don’t want to give it all away, despite the warning above.).  But even he does not appear to be a villain, because he is working on the orders of the emperor, and he is friendly to Ashitaka at the beginning of the movie.

Despite this lack of a villain, or perhaps because of it, there is much that can be learned about the interactions between nature and technology.  Ashitaka represents a balance between the two that must be achieved; neither technology nor nature alone are preferred and one cannot be allowed to kill the other.  Therefore, they must live in harmony with one another.  This is revealed at the end of the movie when San (who has now fallen in love with Ashitaka, SURPRISE!) refuses to come back to Iron Town with him.  He agrees that she should stay and live in the forest, and he will help rebuild the town, returning to the forest to visit whenever he can.  Therefore, nature and technology, San and Ashitaka, can exist together.

But perhaps the lesson held in this movie is that people should live without hate and prejudice.  Ashitaka is told at the beginning to look at everything “with eyes unclouded by hate.”  Despite the fact that he’s cursed due to Lady Eboshi’s iron and shot of the boar god, he does not hate her, and forcibly stops himself from killing her because “it won’t do anything.”  If everyone could take this attitude, then the world would clearly be a better place, is the message that is sent.

However, Ashitaka’s lack of a stance is frustrating at times for the viewer, and particularly for the characters in the movie.  It seems he’s on the side of San, but then he doesn’t allow her to kill Lady Eboshi.  He seems to be very static, merely observing the battle that goes on.  And that would be fine for any character that’s not supposed to be the courageous hero.  Additionally, the relationship between San and Ashitaka seems to be very contrived and very convenient for the plot, which would possibly be improved through its absence.

Overall, though, the movie was very entertaining, gripping, and moving.  It did a very good job of conveying the ideas that nature and technology can live together, and it accomplished the goal of entertainment more.

The American Lawn

December 17th, 2009

Tessot’s “The American Lawn:  Surface of Everyday Life” is basically a discussion about surburbia, as told through the quintissential history of the lawn.  The article discusses the beginnings of the lawn, how it came about, and the cultivation techniques that have been employed to produce what we now recognize as a lawn.

This article really opened my mind to my views of surburban sprawl and the mindset that I thought I had.  While I fully admit I’m a product of pure surburbia, I have always thought that it was something I hated, wanted to get away from, and couldn’t really relate to.  After reading Tessot’s descriptions of where the lawn was described as “a carpet” that would have floral “embrorderies,” though, I was struck at exactly how I think about my front lawn.  I don’t really consider it “alive” in the sense that woods or fields are, even though technically it’s just as alive as everything else.  I realized that I don’t really think about my lawn at all when I walk across it to get in my car, or look outside to check the weather, it’s more just there.  However, I do know that when I drive past an ill-kept lawn, I will think to myself, “wow, that really needs some work,” instead of “wow, that’s a really nice freedom lawn.”  To be honest, I really think the lawn is more of an extension of the home than actually a part of nature.

This could be, though, because I don’t especially like my lawn.  For instance, I loved the lawn at my first house so much more than the one where my family currently lives, and it had almost no grass at all.  The front yard was taken over by a massive magnolia tree that would lose all its flowers in the summeres, leaving the lawn covered with pink flowers.  My absolute favorite lawns are like this, they have really big, shady trees you can sit under, and are full of pretty flowers.  These lawns arguably are more in touch with “nature” (in the sense that there are more plants) than the traditional surburban plot of grass, but are equally cultivated (if not more so) and removed from nature in that sense.  However, it often takes years of work and natural growth to achieve this effect (for instance, my current house is over ten years old and still doesn’t have any big trees or “old lawn” kind of feel at all,) and so there’re not really what’s associated with the surburban “pop up” town.

The next point that really struck me was the point about the lawn being a woven texture.  I’m reminded of the summers where my dad was teaching me how to mow the grass, and for a long time would only let me mow the backyard because I couldn’t make the lines perfectly straight, and they weren’t all always 100% visible.  This quest for the perfect lawn, woven back and forth like cloth, is definitely something I can relate to.

Overall, I found the article very interesting, and it provided many insights into my own relationship with my lawn.


1. Is there some sort of “ideal ratio” between the amount of “wild” elements and “tame” elements in a lawn?

2. To what extent is one’s lawn a reflection of themself?

3. Is lawn care an art or an obligation?  Why do you think this?

Take Your Time, Olafur Eliasson

December 15th, 2009

As the title may suggest, I took my time, and after much procrastination, I have finally decided to do my final post on the exhibit by Olafur Eliasson that we went to a few months ago. I can honestly say that Eliasson’s work was like nothing I have ever seen before. My experience with formal, or even amateur, art exhibits is next to nothing. I have only been to the art museum in Chicago a few times–more than one of them being with my elementary school. So this experience was certainly novel.

Having long ago misplaced the brochure, I will have to rely on the Internet to supply me with the names of specific pieces, and as we all know that may result in mistakes. The first piece I want to take about is a long hallway that is lit only with mono-frequency lights that drown the hallway in yellow light but remove all other color from your vision. This is apparently called “Room for One Colour” and, like a few of Olafur’s works in the exhibit, was quite disorienting when you first enter. Perhaps the most spectacular effect, as I have already said, is that all the color is removed from your surroundings, which includes the people in the hallway with you. Everyone is a rather dull grey that brings to mind watching a black and white movie.

On the other end of the spectrum, both literally and figuratively, is ” 360 (degree) room for all colours.” As you might guess, this is a circular room made of stretched canvas about eight to nine feet tall. Behind the canvas are lights that slowly pulsate in a variety of colors. The immediate effect of this room is the loss of your sense of depth perception. While this might sound unpleasant, I found myself wanting to stay in this suspendedstate for as long as I could. It lends you the vague sense of floating, as if the world you have come to occupy is shifting under your feet.

The piece “Mosswall” is fairly self explanatory. Inexplicably, the only reaction that it drew from me was laughter–and it was not laughter in a mocking sense. I think just the mild shock of seeing a eighteento twenty foot wall covered in moss while being in a modern building was enough to provoke a knee-jerk response, and that response was laughter. In a completely different sense, the smell of the moss set a distinct mood for the room, even though it was subtle at best. And while we were not able to see this, we were told that the color of he wall changes as the exhibit ages, which brings a totally new side to the piece.

The last piece I will talk about is “Beauty.” This was a nearly pitch black room with a soft light being shone through a light mist coming from the ceiling, causing a small rainbow to dance in the middle of the room. While this was not altogether life-changing, the ability to view the rainbow as almost an isolated object created a unique experience. Also interesting was the extent to which the audience could interact with the rainbow, from playing with the shadow of your hand to walking right threw the mist.

Three Questions:

1. How has the relationship to space, the primary medium of Eliasson, been changed by technology?

2. Does my reaction to the mosswall say anything about what we (or maybe just I) accept as reality in our technology dominated world?

3. Does the loss of color have a meaningful effect on the human psyche, and if so why?

Gattaca – extra response

December 10th, 2009

Gattaca, directed by Andrew Niccol, follows the dream of “God child” Vincent Freeman as he tries to live a meaningful life in a world where genes determine one’s class. The storyline is set in the “not so distant future,” but does not appear to occur in as futuristic a setting as one might think. As I watched this movie, I saw shadows of the conversations we have had in class; and I was able to notice the unique, intertwining conversation of nature, art, and technology within the narrative.

At his birth, the parents of Vincent Freeman are speedily informed of his likelihood of depression, heart condition, and age of death. The technology available in their world has left them no doubt as to what each individual’s cababilities are. The narrative voice of Freeman introduces his own conception as being done “the old fashioned way,” aka: taking a random chance at the outlook of gene selection in a baby. For you see, most of the babies in Vincent’s world had begun to be created artificially. That is, a scientist/doctor creates a fetus from mother/father supplies and preselects for all the “right” genes – in addition to any requested ones from the parents. By the time Vincent’s parents have a second child, they choose this latter route; and although they are extremely hesitant to allow for more genetic preselection than disease prevention, their doctor convinces them to allow their new child to represent nothing but the “best” of their genes.

The story then evolves with the Vincent’s childhood alongside “little” brother Anton, being older but always second best. His narrative enters into a discussion of the discrimination that has been perfected down to science due to the inherent superiority of those born via the genetic pre-selection method. I found it interesting that the Freemans’ doctor, when selecting genes for Anton, who is African American, takes notice of the request for Anton to be “fair skinned.” I just found this slightly ironic because this scene seems to exist as a commentary on “old age” vs. “new age” discrimination. Ability and place in society had now been determined by the chance of success, otherwise known as genetic predisposition. And instead of trying to create a tangent into civil rights issues, I argue that discrimination has everything to do with art and nature and technology.  The human obsession with perfection places demands on every other piece of this society: further technology needing to be developed to continue perfection, “natural” coming to mean disease-free and disability-free. Why would an insurance plan cover someone if they knew there was a far greater chance of that person getting ill or developing a genetic disease? These questions have everything to do with humankind’s relation to creations of their “naturally” technological world. These questions drive societal motivation under the auspices of innocence. Vincent’s world seem to have everything figured out.

However, Vincent proves his entire society wrong in his impersonation of Jerome Eugene Morrow. Jerome, a former (predisposed) athlete turned paraplegic, allows Vincent to be morphed into his identity in order to fit into the “normal” part of society. After being taught how to fake the necessary urine and blood tests necessary to prove one’s right to existence in the upper echelons of society, not to mention a total alteration of his “God-given” body, Vincent assumes the role of Jerome as an employee of Gattaca, a aerospace corporation and works toward his lifelong goal of traveling into space. Along the way, he meets a police investigation, which almost succeeds in making his “invalid” identity known to the entire company of Gattaca. Vincent falls in love with another woman in his company and must continually destroy all evidence of Vincent “sheddings”/DNA/loose skin and hair in his attempt to be Jerome: the man with the “right” genes – the man whose identity will get him into space.

Concerning art, this film successfully displays the attempt at “perfecting” humankind. In a way, we could call this art. The background subject of Gattica – genetics – actually make me think of Mitch’s presentation today: the discussion of the Japanese wanting to perfect nature because humans see it to be their role in nature to create “art” from it – to make nature beautiful. Well, in Gattaca, human babies are created with the greatest likelihood for perfection – the greatest likelihood for aesthetic pleasantness and physical performance. At the same time, this unique art would not be possible were it not for the power of technology. The doctors and geneticists in the movie are definitely “creators” in the same sense an artist can be deemed one, and they work with technology in order to form their natural perception of the world. In the first sense, they manipulate genes in order to serve society’s (and their clients’) wishes on the type of baby wished to be created. Secondly, they create the basis for acceptance of the “correct” human identity by making genetic predisposition so widespread that the humans who were not created in this way – “God children” – are significantly disadvantaged to their more intelligent, healthy, successful, “perfect” peers. And finally, they shape a discourse by which a society relates to the world : a society based on DNA testing at every entrance to a building/room (at least in Gattaca), and a perfected way of doing things that frowns upon abnormalities and uniqueness that are aberrant to the accepted form of perfection.

Furthermore, those humans not created the “right” way (in the lab) are considered “invalid,” and those created correctly (or in the accepted form) are “valid.” This definitional divide demonstrates the discrepancy that exists in the understanding of what is “natural.” Based on the way the terms are used in the movie, it seems that the invalids are definitely weeded out of every position or social role considered prestigious or successful, suggesting that only the “valids” are the “natural” members of humankind. However, today we would most likely consider “natural” humans to be more along the lines of the “God children,” as invalids are described in the storyline. With the advancement of technology and the media’s suggestions of genetic predisposition in animals and human babies, this movie is a hot-topic for debate and political commentary.

The movie has an extremely foreboding tone to it when everything is said and done – similar to the message from Frankenstein in Jessica’s presentation.  Hubris is a dangerous thing when it is created at the intersection of humankind and technology. Interestingly, the dangers of technology never seem to exist absent the allure of artistic “perfection” or artistic appeal, and a more “healthy” version of what should be considered “natural.”

Questions for consideration:

1. Many of the words I used in this commentary are italicized…what significance exists in the double meaning of words like “natural” and “right” and “perfection” within the storyline of Gattaca?

2. Why is it so hard for Vincent’s brother Anton to believe that Vincent is able to accomplish his dream of traveling to space – despite his “condition”?

3. In what ways can “invalids” be said to be humankind’s tie to the “natural” world?


December 6th, 2009

This weekend I watched the movie “Gattaca.” For
those of you who may not be familiar, “Gattaca” is a movie depicting a future
in which everyone’s genetic past, present, and future is open for scrutiny. The
vast majority of people exist as a result of artificial selection and
manipulation of genes at or before conception.  I had watched the movie in
the past, but in light of everything we have discussed in class this semester I
came away with a few new insights. 

The first response I have regarding this movie is
the social implications of an exposure and manipulation of genes. In the world
of Gattaca, genes determine your stake in life the moment you are born—unless
you are the main character, Vincent Freeman, who discovers a way around the
system. Vincent is prevented from pursuing his dream of going into space
because of a congenital heart condition that he retained because he is one of
the last people to have been born naturally without any genetic intervention.
In watching this movie, I was a little disturbed to realize how easily this
kind of discrimination could occur in our current society. Just since I first
watched this movie 5 years ago, the scene of genetics and its place in society
has dramatically changed. 

When I first saw the film, I was only vaguely
aware of how genetics could be used and of the genetic tests available. Now, I
hear of new genetic discoveries every day. My own family has discovered we
carry a gene for breast cancer. Every other television series includes a
character struggling with a genetic disease, from Huntington’s on “House” to
Achondroplasia on “Little People Big World.” The problem is, as of today, we
have the ability to screen for thousands of disease-causing genes but have very
little ability to treat them once they are diagnosed. Fortunately, laws have
been developed in the recent past to prevent insurance companies from
discriminating against individuals who have tested positive for genetic
diseases, however there are always loopholes and discrimination is still possible.
What the movie points out is the danger of exponentially increasing our ability
to diagnose genetic traits without increasing our ability to help people with
these conditions. While we can identify individuals who carry genes that
predispose for cancers, from the BRCA genes that cause breast cancer to
mutations in P53 that cause just about every cancer imaginable, we can do
little more than carefully watch individuals and attempt to treat their cancers
at very early stages. We can test fetuses for genetic syndromes from down’s
syndrome to cystic fibrosis to, but by the time we diagnose them they are
already present in the child and offer no positive treatment options—leaving
parents to decide between aborting or having a child who will live with limited
capability to care for himself (down’s) or who will struggle for all of his 30
years of life to not suffocate from a buildup of fluid in his lungs (cystic
fibrosis). The dangerous precipice we are hinging on is that of accepting that
we cannot treat or change these conditions and attempting to react to it as
society has in the movie—by discounting the imperfect individuals and giving
their liberties to those who are deemed more genetically valuable. 

Fortunately, our society is still fighting to
retain its ethical duty to people, regardless of their genetic make-up.
However, the movie—in which society has forgotten this duty—works to make an
argument for the limitations of genetic testing. Through a parallel between
Vincent and his brother, Anton, the movie demonstrates genetics’ inability to
account for some of the most valuable and unmatchable human characteristics of
passion, determination, and faith. Whereas Vincent is a “God Child,” whose
genetics were determined by chance, his brother’s genes were modified and
perfected. However, in a scene revisiting their childhood, the movie shows the
brothers compete to see who can swim the farthest out into the ocean. Vincent
wins, and ultimately saves Anton from drowning. When Anton discovers that
Vincent has been cheating the system to achieve his dream, the two fall back
into the same competition and once again Vincent wins, saving Anton. In
response to Anton’s question as to how in the world Vincent, with his genetic
heart condition, is able to swim faster and stronger than Anton, who is
supposed to be genetically superior, Vincent responds: “I never saved anything
for the swim back.” Ultimately Vincent’s passion and determination to overcome
his shortcomings make him more powerful than his brother, who always relied on
his genetic perfection to get him by and never learned to struggle for

With relation to this class, the movie
demonstrates the danger of using technology to replace the natural side of
humanity. The society’s preoccupation with breaking down every component of
human beings’ existence makes them forget the non-technical, innate part of
what it means to be human. As Vincent demonstrates, to be human means to bend
circumstances to your advantage—not to create circumstances within which to operate.
We use technology to enhance our natural existence, but must struggle to avoid
using technology to replace our natural lives. 

I am left with just a couple of questions:

1. Do you fear that society will lose its grip on
the developments being made in science each day? Or do you believe we will be
able to adapt to control the changes being made?

2. Do you think there is a line to be drawn
between which diseases should be screened for versus which should be left to
chance? For example, should there be a difference between screening for a
disease you can treat and screening for one that almost certainly means death
for the individual in question?

Georges Teyssot

November 18th, 2009

Teyssot focuses on lawns and fences and the implications both have in American society. The idea of boundary is perhaps the most important topic in this chapter. The boundary between the home and the lawn, between your space and your neighbor’s space, between lawn and nature, between what is private and what is public, and so on.

I agreed with several things about these boundaries. One important point is that the lawn is just an extension of the home—a sort of out door room. I equate it with having clean room but a non-made bed. Without the bed, it does not matter how organized the rest of the room is. (Personally, I adopt the “don’t organize anything” approach.) Recently, specifically last summer, I began to undertake the rejuvenation of my father’s house and lawn. Both of these projects progressed in tandem, because—as Teyssot suggests—the lawn is just another part of my home in my mind. However, in terms of how Teyssot says that a lawn is a way to integrate into society, I must disagree. The most telling evidence for my feelings comes from our discussion yesterday. One of the reasons that many of us were hesitant to live in a suburb in the future was what Allie described. Suburbs are often regulated by strict rules, but these would not be a problem if the only desired effect of having a lawn were integration into the norm. Of course, most do not plan to have an extravagant and crazy yard, but I think most people strongly want to have the option to do to their yard what they wish to.

As I said above, I consider the yard almost as a part of the house. While it certainly has a nature feeling to it, I would not consider it Nature. It is sort of a middle ground—like orange is to red and yellow.

The division of public and private space is something that is always interesting to me. One demonstration of how firmly ingrained these rules are in just me is found in a game my friends and I would play in our hometown and surrounding roads. (This game may be widespread, forgive me if I refer to it as specific to my region.) It takes place at night is called Fugitive, and basically, one team is cops and the other is fugitives. The goal of the fugitive is to get to a predesignated point in the town without being caught by the cop team, and they can only use the roads and the outsides of people’s yards. While playing this, you often end up hiding behind a bush or tree, or even car, in someone’s yard, and every time there is an uncomfortable feeling of violating a strangers space. Even if I am only two or three feet into a yard, that feeling persists. I think the lawn has evolved into a space where you need to be invited in order to feel comfortable.


Three Questions


  1. Are lawns, contrary to popular portrayal, hostile instead of welcoming?
  2. How well do you think people would accept lawn alternatives to grass, such as clover or moss?
  3. Are parks and public spaces in urban areas enough to replace what is lost by the removal of the lawn, if there is anything lost?

Lawn Reading

November 17th, 2009

In “The American Lawn: Surface of Everyday Life,” Georges Teyssot begins by providing an overview of the evolution of the domestic lawn and cultural perceptions of the enigma. Tracing grass’s “roots,” pun shamelessly intended, back to pastoral time in England and Western Europe, Teyssot explains that the short, green lawn’s appealed to American colonists both for its practicality and its roots in the pastoral ideal. Ultimately, grass became the “canvas” to which all other adornments to an American home were added. As lawns became a cultural staple in the United States, they developed societal and psychological significance.

According to Teyssot, research indicates that Americans associate the maintenance of a lawn with the hygiene of its owner. Furthermore, a respectable lawn has become a staple of what defines an “ordinary man,” who, as defined by Robert Fishman, simulates the job of a pastoral farmer by tending to his own plot of land for the sake of the community. Psychologically, the lawn is another outward indicator humans use to assess those around them.

In relation to this class, I feel that this reading was very relevant in that it illustrates the most prevalent example of the trend toward controlled nature in our society. Despite its less-than-natural origins, I feel most Americans embrace a green lawn because in many cases it is the closest we get to nature amidst the development of cities and suburbs. I feel the lawn, more than anything, represents our desire to be close to nature but at the same time in control of it. As far as the essay’s analysis itself, however, I have mixed feelings. While I feel that much of Teyssot’s assessments of the American lawn’s significance are accurate, I do not feel that a lawn is any more impactful or oppressive than any of the other societal norms that pervade our world. Our clothing, hairstyle, expression of our femininity or masculinity, even the food we eat and the way we talk, all have as much of an impact on our psyches as a lawn. Teyssot does allude to this same idea by comparing the ideal of a perfect lawn to the ideal of a perfect body, both of which represent the American sense of competition and goal of perfection. Ultimately, we are products of our environment, and we are judged according to the standards of our society. So, while I will admit this reading provided some interesting perspectives on our societal expectations, I think that it would be unfair to argue that the lawn industry is “abusive” because it is no more powerful than—if not less powerful than—other components of our society.

While I felt the analysis of the psychological impacts of the lawn may have been overemphasized, I did find Teyssot’s analysis of Americans’ views of private versus communal property intriguing. In the latter part of his work, Teyssot describes historical opinions on fences, their functionality, their aesthetic purpose, and their underlying meaning in society. Ultimately, Teyssot’s testimony adds up to the idea that a fence, or lack thereof, represents a community’s opinion of shared property. In historical times when fences were preferred not to be used, Teyssot argues that Americans favored actual private property with the illusion of communal property. In contrast, opaque fences represented a desire for both economic division of property and a visual cue as to who owns what. Finally, Teyssot argues that the trend toward transparent fences produces an effect somewhere in the middle between that of a community with no fences and a community with opaque fences. Transparent fences, while providing distinct indications of where private property begins and ends, still allows for members in a community to view into one another’s lives. This careful sense of openness represents a desire to filter between those who are “family,” and those who are not. I feel that symbolic meanings to different types of barriers between properties are both accurate and relevant in today’s society. In this, I am reminded of our discussion of suburban neighborhoods with home-owners associations that forbid certain things, including fences. I find this both ironic and intriguing, because the enforcement of a policy about fences speaks to not just the aesthetic preoccupations of our society, but of our desire to create a sense of community—even if forcibly. Whereas in the past a lack of fences may have indicated a true sense of trust between neighbors, now it merely represents a neighborhood’s preoccupation with resale value and a superficial sense of kinship.

So having read this piece, I have a few questions:

1) Having grown up in suburbs, as we discovered many of us did, do you associate grass with nature?

2) Do you feel oppressed by the landscape of suburbs? If so, which parts of the landscape bother you the most and why?

3) What assumptions do you make when you see a lawn that is unkempt? What other violations of societal norms lead us to make assumptions about people and which do you feel are the most profound?

The American Lawn

November 17th, 2009

The American Lawn is an attempt by Georges Teyssot to describe the suburbanization of America through the development of the American lawn. In this article, Teyssot goes in depth about the history, origins, and evolution of lawns. In doing this, he mentions several important ideas. First is the aspect of the lawn as a public or private entity. If a lawn is public, then it should be in a state that is acceptable by society. Some believe that this requires the lawn to be kept under reasonable human supervision through mowing, trimming, and etc; others however, support the idea of leaving nature as it is, stating that nature should not be tailored to satisfy humans. The second big idea that Teyssot brings up is the aspect of human beauty and lawn beauty. The correlation between keeping a lawn “perfect” and keeping a perfect body is “an ideal difficult to attain.” It is indeed true that keeping a nice lawn requires much of the same effort needed to keep a good body. Good nutrition, exercise, and diet are all necessary to achieve the perfect body. Similarly, the lawn requires good fertilizing, weeding, mowing, and trimming; but then again, how many people have a perfect body or a perfect lawn?

The next main idea that Teyssot develops are the terms industrial complex and environmental harmony. Essentially, industrial complex means following the mainstream (aka. upkeeping your lawn) and environmental harmony means letting things go back to the way they use to be (aka. leaving your lawn alone). Following the thought of well kept lawns, Teyssot moves to reason why people do it. Some do it due to social expectations (industrial complex) and peer pressure. Others do it because they feel the lawn is an extension of their home’s interior. In fact, I would not be surprised to find a high correlation between well kept houses and well kept lawns. The final important point in Teyssot’s article dealt with the use and/or necessity of fences in American lawns. The fence currently serves as a divider between properties as well as a barrier for privacy. In some cases, it might even be used as an aesthetic decoration for our lawns. Regardless of the reason, Teyssot presents many views and arguments on use of fences and whether they should/shouldn’t be used and whether they are/aren’t needed.

The American Lawn was certainly an interesting article that takes a look at American suburbanization in a new way. I found that I was able to relate personally to many of the aspects described by Teyssot and can also understand the other viewpoints that he presents. Part of me completely agrees that well kept lawns are part of the social culture, helped by peer pressure. There is also undeniable evidence that those with clean and decorative interiors tend to have “better” lawns. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that those who do have nice lawns are out of touch with nature. In fact, the accepted definition of a lawn does not state that it is part of nature… In many people’s minds, it is simply an extension of our homes.


1. Should lawns be considered as part of our homes or part of nature?

2. How many people actually keep their lawns in tip top shape?

3. Why do we have lawns in the first place?