Why We Need the Liberal Arts

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57 Responses

  1. Saul DeGraw says:

    Billy Reid is a Southern fashion designed who can market the Southern nature of his clothing without bringing up the Antebellum South and various problematic things:


  2. Kim says:

    I prefer to understand that some people in marketing are trolls, and occupy their time coming up with Really Bad Ideas, some of which are put forth with a straight face, and others with a rather sarcastic bent.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Kim says:


      You are probably right that at some “faux-edgy” companies that would intentionally troll. But I think the are still serious flaw in your “all the world’s a troll” theory of everything.Report

      • Kim in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Oh, hardly all the world’s a troll. But you let one manic troll take over a PR company — and suddenly it’s all laughter. Of course, sometimes laughter bites:

        Remember: it takes a certain level of stupidity to actually approve trollish ideas.Report

      • dhex in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        where’s the downside here? does komen lose their stranglehold on the breast cancer fundraising industry? does the drilling company somehow lose out on whatever benefits they get from this instance of charitable partnership?

        anti-fracking folk have about the same public footprint as black metal fans. they have an outsized media footprint, but little actual influence. antagonizing them is going to make not one whit of difference in donation flow for komen or revenue for baker hughes.

        this isn’t like picking a fight with planned parenthood, as that ship has sailed. and most of this pickup is coming from their planned parenthood battles.Report

  3. Jaybird says:

    “Ante” means “prior”. “Bellum” means “war”. The South’s tendency to refer to “The War” as if the Civil War was the last time that shots were fired in anger is a tendency that we shouldn’t really be rewarding, here.

    Maybe it’s a reference to Bush’s war. Remember how awesome stuff was before 2002? Tension with the Chinese, steel tariffs, Chandra Levy…

    That makes me want to throw a striped shirt on right now!Report

  4. LeeEsq says:

    We should look on the bright side. Ms. Lively has just provided a way to save all the struggling humanities majors. Companies and advertisement agencies should higher history and sociology majors to work as advisors. These employees, we can call them Historical Research Analysists, could provide an advise on when a particular product or advertising campaign is a bad idea because its going to piss a lot of people off on the internet and set off a line of firely protests. Such people will allow companies to avoid controversy in the first place.Report

  5. greginak says:

    It’s impossible to answer your questions without referring to various derogatory, and completely true, stereotypes about the intelligence of people in marketing.Report

  6. j r says:

    Ryan Reynolds is famous for somehow constantly getting cast in movies despite having an acting range that starts at A and ends somewhere before B.

    May not be what you meant, but Ryan Reynolds likely gets cast precisely because of those two letters: https://www.google.com/search?q=ryan+reynolds+abs&es_sm=93&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=IMY-VIGXEpO6ggS-lYHIBA&ved=0CB8QsAQ&biw=1280&bih=899

    Plus, he was pretty good in Van Wilder.

    More to the point of the article: you are right about Lively and you are right about people making a muddle out of history, but I’m not sure that the two link up the way that you want them to. Lots of people are educated in history and still defend the mythology of The Lost Cause.

    Take Woodrow Wilson for example. He had a degree from a well-regarded liberal arts college as well as a JD from UVA and a PhD from Johns Hopkins and was the president of Princeton. And yet, he still thought it was appropriate to screen The Birth of a Nation at the White House.

    And yes, that was a hundred years ago, but there are no shortage of people in the present day who want to pretend that the Civil War was really about sweet tea, parasols and chivalry.Report

  7. Kolohe says:

    Both Waiting and the third Blade movie are underrated. Neither are per se great, but are better than their reputations.

    There’s got to be way of using some portion of the early 19th century American South culturally without inevitably invoking slavery (and without minimizing slavery) We don’t look at the Interstate system and say ‘but that’s what Hitler did’.Report

    • Chris in reply to Kolohe says:

      Allure of Antebellum specifically is asking for it, I think. I mean, if it had just been “Antebellum,” no one would have cared, the way they don’t care that there’s a country group called Lady Antebellum (at least mostly don’t care). But Allure? Like that period is calling to you? Yeah, asking for it. Not saying I think people should be offended, just saying that someone should have foreseen that people would be, because it was pretty damn foreseeable.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Chris says:


        You are right about how Allure probably does most of the lifting.


        I gave an example of Alabama fashion designer Billy Reid. He manages to take pride in his Southern heritage and background without going to phrases like Allure of the Antebellum.Report

  8. dhex says:

    consider the following hypothesis:

    you are dealing with two main groups.

    – the people yelling about the use of the term antebellum in the context of clothing

    – the people who would blow beaucoup bucks on this stuff because they know her from somewhere and/or just like it

    which one of these groups is larger, and which one is your target audience?

    now, it’s not the play i would have argued for, but in pure numbers it’s nonsense to pretend that even gawker has enough audience to make this a shame play that might damage sales rather than streisand them into greater success than they might have had. it’s not like some obviously racist urban outfitters shirt or what have you. to a third party that doesn’t care much on the onset, it’s just going to be clothes and yelling about a term with zero modern significance.

    related, but also consider you don’t need millions of people to know what antebellum means – they just need to following gawker on twitter, or be social media connected with someone who follows gawker on twitter, or be social media connected with someone who is social media connected with someone who follows gawker on twitter, etc.

    also consider that you have a significant population that takes antebellum to mean “pro-slavery” in this context, but only really in the larger context of the writhing, lackadaisical wrath that is yelling on the internet about the moral vacuity of people you don’t know.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to dhex says:


      We need the Liberal Arts to put more people in the first category than the second!

      More seriously you are probably right and this is depressing. That being said I don’t know if Blake Lively has quite the following to pull off a Gwenyth Paltrow-esque lifestyle guru thing. Maybe she does. I would like to see sales data from Preserve. The site seems to be universally mocked but it is mocked by the culturally elite sources that I like.

      What exactly is streissand to success? I’ve tried googling to no avail.Report

  9. I don’t blame Ms. Lively’s lawyer for sending the letter. Lawyers are controlled by their clients as they should. I can easily imagine Mr. Korologos explaining to Ms. Lively that Gawker is almost certainly defended by the First Amendment, Sullivan vs. New York Times, and subsequent decisions. I can also imagine that he explained Gawker would probably taunt her a second time because it is Gawker. Ms. Lively could easily not have cared and the lawyer was then required to send the letter. This is how it should be in terms of lawyer-client relationships.

    I could not disagree with this much more. The client can dictate the scope and goals of the relationship. The client does not get to dictate the means chosen, and lawyers are fully permitted to decline or withdraw from representation of a client where “the client insists upon taking action that the lawyer considers repugnant or with which the lawyer has a fundamental disagreement.”

    Moreover, “a lawyer shall not use means that have no substantial purpose other than to embarrass, delay, or burden a third person.”

    Now, I don’t think this letter reaches the level of unethical conduct referred to in the latter standard, but the point in referencing that is to emphasize that lawyers, and lawyers alone, are responsible for the means they use to accomplish their clients’ objectives.

    I’ve seen more frivolous attempts to scare websites into surrendering their free speech rights than this – but this letter is incredibly weak sauce, and even if there’s juuuuuuuuust enough wiggle room to avoid outright frivolity here such that there was no ethical obligation to decline to do as asked, the lawyer had every right to decline to send it on the basis that it’s fundamentally wrong and repugnant (and it is).

    Regardless, even if this particular lawyer was completely justified in sending this particular letter, your statement that “lawyers are controlled by their clients as they should [be]” is simply incorrect, and a lawyer who operated by that mantra would be jeopardizing his law license.Report

  10. j r says:

    My hope that it causes more people to think and pause for a moment for doing something like Allure for Antebellum.

    OK, but what exactly do you think that causal mechanism would be? Lots of people trained and versed in history still have ridiculous beliefs about the Civil War and The Lost Cause.

    Also, what makes you think that the people behind this don’t have a liberal arts education. I know that you have a dislike of Marketing as a major, but there are certain nuances of marketing as a field.

    Generally, there are two broad kinds of activities that fall under the rubric of marketing. There is the marketing that brand/product managers do, which is very quantitative. Brand managers tend to own the profit and loss statement of their product. The develop budgets and decide where to place the product, how much to put out, and how to promote it.

    And then there is marketing that is more about branding and advertising. These are the people who come up with specific marketing campaigns and work with advertising, creative and public relations people. And this type of marketing is full of people with liberal arts degrees. I was a Philospohy and English major and my first full time job was in marketing/promotions/PR. So, the people who came up with this campaign may very well be people with English, History or Fine Arts degrees.Report

  11. Mike Dwyer says:

    While I 100% agree that the use of Antebellum was a poor choice, let’s just play devil’s advocate for a minute here…

    For Southerners it is hard sometimes because a large chunk of our history is considered offensive because of what was going on at the time. As Jaybird points out above, while antebellum is generally used to refer to the slavery period, that wasn’t the only thing that changed after the Civil War. I don’t know anything about fashion but I do know that culturally there were a lot of traditions that begin to die out that weren’t specifically tied to slavery.

    What if they had used ‘Old South’ in the advertising instead? Would that have been less offensive? Is any reference to the pre-1865 South okay?Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

      We should have a line of clothing based on Haymarket. They could aim the marketing at the Occupy crowd.Report

    • j r in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

      As Jaybird points out above, while antebellum is generally used to refer to the slavery period, that wasn’t the only thing that changed after the Civil War. I don’t know anything about fashion but I do know that culturally there were a lot of traditions that begin to die out that weren’t specifically tied to slavery.

      I am curious to hear examples.Report

      • Mike Dwyer in reply to j r says:

        Plantation culture in general began to disappear and that didn’t completely revolve around slavery. The way that plantations socialized with one another, the role that white women had on the plantation pre and post slavery. Religious practices. I have no facts to back this up but I would even assume that clothing styles changed as whites began to do more work themselves.Report

      • Kim in reply to j r says:

        white women talking like black folks, too… (it was very common to leave raising girls to a black woman, and often the girls picked up the accent along with a LOT of cultural stuff).Report

      • Mike Dwyer in reply to j r says:

        That’s a good point Kim, although I think a lot of white girls were still raised by black women in the postbellum South i.e. The Help.Report

      • Kim in reply to j r says:

        my problem with saying that any aspect of “plantation culture” could be glorified is… it’s basically Cavalier culture, with a strong, heavy seasoning of African Culture thrown in.

        And that specifically calling out it (as opposed to “American” culture — or noble culture) is going to piss off people who are still upset about our Peculiar Institution.

        About the only way you don’t piss them off, is by having your “Allure of Antebellum” line modeled by purely black women. In which case you’re either trying to be contrary, satirical or controversial. But at least you’re doing it right.Report

      • Rufus F. in reply to j r says:

        The Gullah culture and language might be an interesting example to sort of flip the discussion. It obviously developed during the slave era and is today a threatened traditional culture. However, I don’t think many of us would oppose the Gullah people’s ongoing efforts to preserve their cultural heritage.Report

  12. Doctor Jay says:

    I tend to think there’s no force on earth that will prevent shallow but good-looking people from putting their shallowness on display along with their good looks.

    (Mind you, I think there are some good looking people who are smart and well-informed. I’m kind of jealous of them, but they exist.)Report

  13. Pinky says:

    There is a band named Lady Antebellum. As far as I know, they’ve never been protested for their name. They’re from Nashville, where the word means “old-fashioned”, not “slavey”.Report

  14. Rufus F. says:

    Well, if Che Guevara tee-shirts have taught us anything, it’s that people who do not read a lot of history are the target market for hip clothing.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Rufus F. says:

      +1. An interesting factoid is that the iconic picture of Che was a happy accident. The photographer was doing group shots of the Cuban leadership, noticed Che’s pose and quickly took a photo.Report

  15. Brandon Berg says:

    This is only an issue because some people know more history than others. If nobody got the reference, it wouldn’t have caused any actual problems. Maybe we need less Liberal Arts!Report

    • Brandon Berg in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      Also, this is the kind of basic history that gets taught in primary and/or secondary school. If this were something obscure enough that you’d need the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree in history to get it, it probably wouldn’t be seen as problematic.Report

  16. What do you think causes the muddle of history and thinking?

    I’m late to this discussion, but I think I agree with @j-r above when he says that even people well-versed in history often take positions on it, and when he suggests later on that some marketing people might very well have been trained in the liberal arts.

    I think a partial answer to your question is that there are no clear-cut, easy to extract “lessons” from history. Yes, Chamberlain should’ve stood firm at Munich, but that fact doesn’t help us decide whether LBJ was right to go into Vietnam or Obama right to go after ISIS. Or if it does help us, it helps us in an oblique way that’s hard to tease out. And who knows, maybe it was a good thing Chamberlain didn’t stand firm. If he had, and if [GODWIN ALERT!] Hitler had backed down, maybe he would have bide his time until he could amass a great enough arsenal and be truly unstoppable and succeed in killing even more people.

    As for the more trivial matter of marketing by using the word “antebellum,” I don’t know. It’s probably a bad idea to use it. But liberal arts education supposedly teaches you to think for yourself. Its proponents (usually) don’t purport that such an education offers an index of prohibited beliefs and/or marketing tactics. I suppose you could say at least a study of history would cause people to be aware that antebellum means something different than what these marketers apparently thought it means. But that’s the kind of history historians want their students to move beyond: learning the basic facts and memorizing lists of terms. I say this as someone who believes memorizing facts and terms is essential to a history education (you’d be surprised at how many “advanced graduate students” in US History I’ve known who haven’t even heard of Jackson’s bank war). But even I think there’s so much more to history than learning, perhaps in high school, that “antebellum means before the war, and in US History, it means before the Civil War. And many people don’t like the associations it brings about.”Report