217 I can do it…you can too!!!

Gabriella Zaki

It has been 177 years since Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” was published. Today, white men are still publishing texts where they discuss topics in which they disregard the adversity women, blacks and minority groups have to go through. American literature has thoroughly included many works by white men, probably because white males have historically been the ones in charge of almost everything. Thankfully inclusion is becoming more and more relevant within society as time goes on… but this does not mean the white male behaviorist scope does not still exist.

“Self Reliance” discusses the importance of solitude and connections with nature. Emerson pushes readers to ignore the outside sources of relationships and social institutions in order to have a fulfilled life. Emerson can easily make these claims of because of his gender and race.

Modern day Emerson is Steven Crowder. He is a youtuber with 3 million subscribers. He is well known for his “Change My Mind Videos” where he sets up his table and microphones with a usually very conservative claim in an area where he is bound to get attention and reactions from people walking by. These claims vary from “There are Only 2 Genders” to “Hate Speech isn’t Real” all topics getting a rather angry reaction from people passing by. But there are many people who agree with Crowder’s beliefs and they use a very conservative scope to look at very specific topics that would only affect certain groups that face a specific type of adversity. Again, we see a white male who does not have to face gender, racial, or sexual orientation discrimination talking about societal living and topics that are significantly relevant in a lot of people lives.

In Crowder’s video of “Rape Culture is a Myth,” we see that he greatly upsets some people passing by with his claim. This is probably because the claim is highly offensive, especially coming from a male who does not have to experience the effects of rape culture. He approaches the conversations always with law and statistics and never with personal anecdotes. This is something he always tries to stray away from; he doesn’t believe personal accounts can entirely support arguments that are larger than single events. The issue with this is very similar to what we see in Emerson’s text and this is that both authors have not been through certain events that can be life altering such as being enslaved (Emerson’s time period) or being raped (Steven Crowder).

It is important to note that, just because these individuals are white men does not mean their words are not valuable, but what is not valuable is their discussion of topics that disregard other groups of people. Their potential to be influential is also very troublesome. Both of these individuals have/had encouraged self-reliance in a certain sense. They both have prospered through life living the way that they wanted and found success and they both definitely encourage others to live like them through nature for Emerson and through the law for Crowder. This “live life like me’ theme is very relevant in both texts. For instance, in Crowder’s video, he consistently is asked if he has ever been raped, in which he replies that he has not. He has gone through life without that awful event but is making claims that “rape culture” does not exist. Another claim that supports his argument is that the true definition of “rape culture” would be that society encourages rape. This claim is solely based on what Crowder has experienced and what he believes goes on. His evaluation is also done through the statistics from the law. He makes the argument that rape is illegal and people are criminalized for it. This claim is the whole basis for his entire argument and disregards the experiences of others who are different than him.

Similarly, in Emerson’s “Self-Reliance,” we read that “I hope in these days we have heard the last of conformity and consistency. Let the words be gazetted and ridiculous henceforward. Instead of the going for dinner, let us hear a whistle from the Spartan fife. Let us never bow and apologize more.” This quote illuminate’s white male privilege (Which Steven Crowder does not believe exists in his video “Male Privilege is a Myth”). The quote highlights the fact that Emerson has been able to “go to dinner” and conform, but instead he thinks we should live life on our own with nature and follow our natural instincts. Again, many during this time would not have the privilege to spend time with who they want and do what they want but Emerson disregards enslaved people, women and people with less rights.

Technology allows for people to jump on ideas through a few convincing videos. We can find that watching a 15-minute video is easier than reading a 40-page essay. I strongly believe that YouTube videos represent “American Literature Now.” This is because their availably is quick and free if internet is available. The million subscribers to tons of YouTube channels show how high the stakes are when it comes to these videos. Steven Crowder’s videos are so wildly known because of his radical claims followed by his scarily convincing arguments. His language and rhetorical strategies make these videos so addicting to watch and easily can become part of our consciousness the more we watch, almost rewiring our own views. This experience due to technology has the potential for so much because, although you are not interacting with Crowder himself, you are watching people who could be very similar to you, using the same arguments you would have–which can be very compelling and convincing. This is done in rather quick videos that can be binge watched. Similarly, Emerson’s descriptive and romantic language has worked to recruit his readers. His flowery sentences that romanticize his ideal life convince readers to follow his beliefs. The similarities between both texts are so strong that there is a lot to question about how the texts we consume affect our views. What does this mean? It means that although American literature is changing, it is still saying the same; it’s just quicker, visible and audible…oh, and free.


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The Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature: A PSU-Based Project Copyright © 2016 by Gabriella Zaki is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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