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Assignment Three: Zeitoun By: Dave Eggers

Zetioun is a novel retelling the story of one mans journey through the storm that swept over New Orleans in 2005. Abdulrahman Zetioun and his family lived in the city during the time Hurricane Katrina attacked and the book captures their life as Syrian-Americans living in the “Big Easy.” Abdulrahman or Zetioun, as they called him in the book, has, what one would consider today to be, a “normal average family”. With his wife, Kathy, and four children, Zachary, Kathy’s fifteen-year-old son from her first marriage, Nademah (ten), Safiya (seven), and Aisha (five) he lived a peaceful yet work centered, muslim based life trying to do all he could to give his family the best they deserved.

In the United States it is difficult to say what an “American Family” is because each one of us, individually, is not from one specific background.  Being that we are a nation of immigrants, we are made up of  multiple different cultures, and that fact alone is the basis of our entire nations being.  Yes, America did try to create an “average family” in the 1950’s, showing that the” ideal” and/or “normal” family was made up of a male and female, and two children. There were even television shows such as “Leave It To Beaver” or “Father Knows Best” that reinforced the image the government was trying to force upon the US and cause us to conform.  However, that changed in the 60’s and 70’s when the public’s ideals of sex, drugs, and rock’n roll over took the governments’ ideals and a new carefree era began, loosely ending the governments role in telling us how to live our lives.

As time went on and social movements took over, families changed, and what was once considered an “average family” changed as well. Still being called “average” the number of members is now allowed to fluctuate and the relationship of child to parent or sibling to sibling is allowed to be blurred, but still kept within the classification of a “family”.  Step-parents and half-siblings are a part of every family today and in fact what was once thought as the only way is now flipped and the idea that one couple could stay together long enough to raise the 1950 nuclear family is almost absurd. Today it is normal for children to grow up having two homes and to have to rotate every holiday between parents.  It is a “normal” question to ask in conversations with friends or classmates or even co-workers  whether or not their parents are “still together”.

This relates then back to the Zeitoun family, bringing up the question of whether or not they make up an unusual family.  In the standards of todays families they make up a perfectly normal one.  As one reads it is clear that they have a sense of respect for one another, a love for one another and they understand one another.  It sounds almost too perfect, being so desensitized by the number of divorces makes those families that are still together seem the unordinary ones.  Kathy and Zeitoun manage to stay within the “average” classification because of Zachary, Kathy’s son from a previous marriage, he is the step-son to Zeitoun and the half-brother to the three girls.

Religion however, makes their family stick out like a sore thumb.  Being muslim in the United States is like being an orange growing on an apple tree; and the media and government, due to the “war on terror,”  have blown that entire religion out of the realm of ever being accepted again. The book stated that before every errand Kathy would run, no matter the extant of the errand, she would check her head wrap or hajib and brush her teeth.  Saying that

“any trip to the grocery store or the mall presented the possibility that she would encounter some kind of ugliness”

-Zeitoun (pg.45)

Obviously others in the community don’t see the Zeitoun family as “normal,” but through prejudice eyes no one could ever be! It is this strength and perseverance that Zeitoun and his family have to have everyday that, dare it be said, makes this family above “average.” Even Zeitoun, a Painter and Contractor, and a good one at that, would get turned away once he arrived at a job, because over the phone the customer could not tell he was anything other then just what he was, a man. Still as soon as they see him they shut their doors and turn him away never giving him a chance to prove he is more then capable to get the job done and right the first time.

So, yes, Zeitoun, Kathy, Zachary, Nademah, Safiya, and Aisha make up a “normal family” because they love each other, they respect each other, they teach each other, and they grow with each other just like every other family.  Their religion and their cultural background have nothing to do with what makes them normal or not because there isn’t a single family in the whole US that is the same as another and therefore being different makes each family just as “average” as the next.

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Assignment Two: The True Meaning of Pictures, Shelby Lee Adams Appalachia

It is interesting to see how many ways one photograph can be taken.  Art is subjective, that is true, but how does one push a certain emotion in a photo without spelling it all out for you? And how can someone change the way a person already feels about a certain subject with just an image? Shelby Lee Adams faces these challenges as he photographs those who live in the appalachian region of the United States, a place he grew up near and is familiar with.  People have told him to leave those poor kentucky citizens alone but he feels he is only photographing what he sees not what he stages.

His choice to shoot with a black and white Polaroid camera adds to the gritty nature of the already dirt covered, poverty stricken appalachian people, but how can you separate the painter from his paint brush? if that is his camera of choice then he should be free to use it.  Shelby just has to be prepared for a few harsh words from viewers as the black and white nature of the photos adds an extra sense of sadness to, what most people would consider, an already sad life.  This factor then causes people to believe that adding this extra sadness was Shelby’s intention. People will and do think that he wanted to point out the dirt, the sadness, the poverty in their lives.  When in actuality he only wanted to take a photo of the people living their lives the way they wish in a place we remembered and new well.

However it does make me caution my actions towards my choice for the documentary in New Orleans.  I have chosen to document the lives of the spasm band players who live in the “Big Easy.” They are people who strum on top of trash cans and hum into kazoos along the streets of the city, I’m sure they except donations but what i really hope to learn from them is what they really feel when they play, what brings them out day after day, what makes it apart of their lives.  New Orleans is known for its music and it has been known (as i have posted earlier) as the birth place of Jazz and what i want to know is why does music have such a huge prevalence there.

What worries me about this topic is the anger i will get from those who feel i am using these people to evoke a sadness in others. Yes, the fact is that most of these spasm band musicians are of low to no income and find themselves living on the streets. However, what i want to show is the joy they feel when they are playing and what makes them continue to play everyday.  The Challenge is to push through the initial stereotypes that people have for these lower income groups and to show off they joy they feel and the fun they have just living everyday.

Shelby Lee Adams faced challenges I and many other will and have faced, but in the end I feel the key to a great piece of art is the way it makes people sit and think. I hope that people will and do take the time to look at one image or one scene from every angle causing them to see past their initial thoughts and find something deeper.

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Assignment One: American Experience New Orleans

Before taking off on our trip to Louisiana the group and I are required to finish a number of assignments to allow us to learn more about the area we are dropping ourselves into. The first such assignment is that we are to watch the documentary “American Experience: New Orleans” then pick a section from the film that we found particularly interesting to us and write about it.

consider assignment  checked off my list! :0)

The Film “The American Experience: New Orleans” gave the viewer a better appreciation and understanding of what has been coined “The Big Easy.” It chronologically recalls the history of the city in its entirety, beginning from its creation during the Louisiana Purchase and moving all the way up to the present day.  The film, to those who know little about the city and its growth, such as myself, was definitely an eye opener, as it told of harsh racism, backwards politics, and poverty that knew few limits. However as the film progressed it was clear that throughout its followed timeline it also broke itself up into sub-categories, one of which I will speak of here.

From food to parties to disasters the film had its twists and turns as it separated the vast and detailed history that makes up New Orleans Louisiana.  One separation specifically, though, stuck out to me as I viewed the film.  Music.  I have always known that Louisiana and more specifically NOLA (New Orleans Louisiana) had a distinct sound but it wasn’t until the night I saw “American Experience: New Orleans” that I learned just what that distinction was.  It is obvious that there is a French influence to its sound because of its pre ownership by France, but that was a sound very early on. As New Orleans grew the noise it made grew with it.

Due to NOLA’s location on the gulf, slave traders and simply traders of goods brought many boats through its harbors and unloading so many people from Africa and Europe definitely had its effects on the culture but known heard as loud as the music. The Classical styles from England mixed with the drumbeats from Africa already started to create a unique style. However, as America progressed, pop culture gave the music in New Orleans a whole new sound.

Taking the then popular ragtime, upbeat tempo, combining that with the already integrated styles, and then adding a freeform, no boundaries feel gave the city and the world Jazz music.  New Orleans is known and has been named the birth place of Jazz and as it should, people from all over the world living side by side, squished into one city are bound to create something.  From this new musical sound came a number of sensational stars but none as big as Louis Armstrong and playing song after song on his brass trumpet gave him a sound that people could not live without.  He brought this New Orleans jazz with him as he traveled the globe, touring Europe twice!! People couldn’t get enough.

But that is not even the half of it.  Before, during, and after Louis was around “The Big Easy” was always moving to the music, whether it be a marching brass band or Mardi Gras, there was and still is never a dull moment in the city.  During any parade in this southern town the streets become jam packed with thousands of people dancing their own way and doing their thing but still all of them doing it to the same beat! That’s the New Orleans sound.


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