Source Analysis:The Status Seekers (1959)

Source Analysis:The Status Seekers (1959)

For this assignment, you must write a short essay on the issue of social conformity using at least two

primary sources: Vance Packard’s The Status Seekers (1959) and at least one television program (see

list below).

No outside research is needed for this assignment.

Your paper should be double spaced and three to four pages in length. All papers should be word

processed with your name, the name of the class, the assignment name, and the date at the top left hand

corner.

All papers must also be submitted to Turnitin.com.

  1. The Status Seekers (1959)

Vance Packard (1914-1996) was a successful American journalist and writer. Between 1957

and 1989 he published no less than ten books on American society and culture. Packard was born on

May 22, 1914 in Granville Summit, Pennsylvania, a small rural community located in the north-central

portion of the state. In 1924, his family moved to State College when his father took a job at

Pennsylvania State University. Packard later enrolled at Penn State and later moved to New York City

when he enrolled at Columbia University, where he earned a master’s degree in journalism in 1937.

For the next twenty years Packard worked as a journalist for a number of different newspapers and

magazines. From 1942 to 1956, he worked for American Magazine, a middle-class publication that

celebrated American life and promoted the anti-Communist politics of the early postwar era. A married

father of three children, Packard enjoyed a solid middle-class while working for American Magazine.

After moving to the suburbs, he and his family later moved to the wealthy town of New Canaan,

Connecticut; he also later bought a vacation home on Chappaquiddick, a small island located off

Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. When American Magazine went out of business in 1956 (magazine

advertising went into a sharp decline due after the rise of television), Packard went to work for a short

time for Collier’s, another mainstream middle-class publication, but was soon out of a job when

Collier’s also ceased publishing. While collecting unemployment checks in 1957—a social welfare

program put into place during the New Deal—Packard wrote The Hidden Persuaders, the book that

launched his subsequent career as a freelance writer.

Most of Packard’s books criticized various aspects of American culture. The trilogy of books

he published between 1957 and 1960 were especially critical of American consumer culture: The

Hidden Persuaders (1957) took aim at how the advertising industry preyed on ordinary Americans to

get them to buy consumer products; The Waste Makers (1960) criticized planned obsolescence, the

marketing strategy devised by American businesses in the 1920s to increase sales; and The Status

Seekers (1959) examined the gradations of status among the middle class and inner-lives of those who

strove to demonstrate that they were just like—or better than—their neighbors and co-workers.

As we discussed in class, the issue of social conformity was one a number of writers and

scholars took issue with during the 1950s and 1960s. Along with Betty Friedan, who criticized the

costs of being a middle-class, suburban housewife in The Feminine Mystique (1963), Vance Packard

was one of the most high-profile and successful critics of the various pressures to march in step with

American social and economic norms after World War II. All three of Packard’s books on the

American middle class and consumerism—The Hidden Persuaders, The Status Seekers, The Waste

Makers—were best-sellers and garnered significant attention from the press and ordinary Americans

alike. A number of Americans, it would seem, were unsettled and not completely satisfied with life

amidst one of the greatest periods of economic growth in American history.

III. Assignment

To complete this assignment, you must analyze the issues of social conformity, consumerism, and/or

gender in postwar culture through two primary sources: First, Vance Packard’s The Status Seekers

(chapters 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 10, 18) and one of the television programs below.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents, “The Contest for Aaron Gold” (aired 8 Oct. 1960)

No video currently available online

The Twilight Zone, “Number Twelve Looks Like You” (Season 5, Episode 17, aired 24 Jan. 1964)

The Twilight Zone, “Eye of the Beholder” (Season 2, Episode 6, aired 11 Nov. 1960)

The Twilight Zone, “Living Doll” (Season 5, Episode 6, aired 1 Nov. 1963)

Bewitched, “I, Darren, Take this Witch, Samantha” (Pilot episode, aired 17 Sept. 1964)

I Love Lucy, “Pioneer Women” (Season 1, Episode 25, aired 31 March 1952)

http://www.shush.se/index.php?id=24&show=ilovelucy

The purpose of this assignment is to develop a parallel analysis of your primary sources. This means

analyzing more than one primary source and identifying the various elements both sources have in

common. Your essay should do two things: it should describe both your sources, and then tie them

together and explain not only how they are similar, but how one helps explain the other and vice versa.

In this case, I have already identified the theme all the primary sources above have in common—social

conformity. Tell me how your sources call attention to the issue of social conformity and why there

was such pressure to be like everyone else during the postwar period.

IMPORTANT: You must analyze both sources. If you analyze just one, you will only receive partial

credit.

For this essay you’ll need to consult the PowerPoints on postwar society and culture: the one on the

Baby Boom, Economic Boom, etc.; the one on women, social conformity, and television; and the

PowerPoint on the politics (mostly foreign policy) of the Cold War.

The focus of this paper is on textual analysis, so be sure to include each of the following in your

essay:

  1. Description (exposition): This is the basic, most elementary form of writing. Before you can say

anything about anything, you must first say what it is that you intend to discuss. Describe the source

you are analyzing. Mention the title, author, and date of the source. Also describe the content of the

book or story. What is the book’s main argument? What is the plot of the story?

  1. Context (explication): You MUST provide some historical context for your sources. Who was the

author? Does their biography explain anything about the source? Just as important, what was going on

in the U.S. before or during the year the source was produced? Does the source lend support to a

particular political issue or social condition, or is it criticizing a particular political issue or social

condition? Is it calling for change, or just griping about a particular problem? Also, to what end or

purpose do you think the source was intended? Who was its intended audience? Does the source

directly comment on current events? Does it have an obvious, or not so obvious, political or social

bias?

  1. Analysis (argument): What conclusions based on your description and the historical context you’ve

outline can you can you arrive at regarding the source? Is the source representative of the context

you’ve outlined—that is, does it support or confirm the basic terms of the context you have provided—

or does it differ from, or critique, its historical context? More importantly, how does your source

support or criticize the era in which it was produced? Be as specific as possible. Use direct quotations

to illustrate and support your claims regarding the source’s treatment of the topic at hand.

Questions to consider (these are meant to give you ideas; you don’t have to answer every one of these

questions):

What is Packard’s main argument? Why do you think he is so concerned with how middle-class

Americans conduct their lives? What aspects of middle-class life does Packard discuss and analyze?

What are some of the key features of middle-class status? For instance, how does one know they are

middle class? What kind of jobs does Packard identify as being above or below the middle class? What

kind of objects did middle-class Americans seek to possess or consume to demonstrate their social

status?

How does the television program you have chosen deal with the issue of social conformity? Who in the

story is being made to conform to social norms or standards? Do they conform to those norms, or do

they resist conforming in some way? If they resist, are there social costs for resisting? More

importantly, what is the message of the show? Does it support social conformity, or dies it critiquing

social conformity in some way?

 

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