The things people see about other individuals, like their clothing, personal belongings, lifestyle, and personal choices, could tell a lot about the individual. If these things could be used to identify and differentiate the individual from other people, they could be considered a part of his identity. The identity also includes religious views, race, and heritage, personal beliefs, and activities. To further explore the expressions of identity, this essay will analyze some of the examples of identity expression in Braziller & Kleinfeld’s Bedford Book of Genres.
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Braziller & Kleinfeld describe the examples they chose as examples of identity expression in different genres as “a range of voices commenting on personal and cultural identity” (451). The first two examples represent the identity expression in media, as one of them is a poster for an ad campaign and the other is a car ad. The humorous poster features incorrect facts mixed up with real facts and gives the viewer a chance to guess which one of the facts is incorrect. The poster promotes the tolerance of Muslims and implies that the Muslims are relatable in the sense of humor, making the reader smile and unbracing the tension the reader might feel in the subway.
On the other hand, the ad for the car featured in a magazine centers around promoting a lifestyle more than it does promote the car. The ad campaign targets a younger audience that is frequently attracted to the companies and products they can relate to, compared to the older people, or “old luxury” (Braziller & Kleinfeld, 454). The ad uses dark tones of the background of a night city and flashy details of the car to connect the image of the car to the flash-lit image of people in a club. The ad implies that the car owner is a young and energetic individual who lives a luxury lifestyle.
The aspect of identity expression is frequently used in the media and marketing. As millennials and gen Z express their identity with their personal belongings, companies nowadays try to sell the customer a lifestyle more than a product (Braziller & Kleinfeld, 454). While this strategy is effective in terms of the fast connection of products to their target audience, society is now overfed with ads for luxury goods. The widespread luxury lifestyle ads have created a negative stigmatism in society by connecting the people’s possession of cheaper goods to their identity and income level.
To further illustrate the expressions of identity, Braziller & Kleinfeld use an article by Ted Merwin, a telling how a dish perceived as essential for the Jewish community turned out to be a Jewish-American creation. The article notes how Jewish food has emigrated to Tel Aviv with people from cultures all over the world. In the process of creation, whether the creation is a painting, a poem, or a dish, the creator’s identity is a valuable addition to the mission of the creation and its’ message (Braziller & Kleinfeld 451). In the article, Merwin emphasizes that the creation of a kosher deli bridged together American and Jewish identities.
An essay from W. Ralph Eubanks provides a racial perspective to Braziller & Kleinfeld’s discussion of identity expression (457). The essay explores the theme of racial identity in conditions where race defined the further life of the people. Eubanks points out that black people were not allowed to identify themselves as mixed because society perceived the mixed people as ‘trying to be white’ or ‘trying to pass for white’ (Braziller & Kleinfeld 458). Although nowadays people understand that even white and black identifying people might have a mix of Hispanic and Asian races added to their DNA, the article emphasizes the role of race in identity expression. Eubanks notes that it is important to identify as a member of the human family first as the racial identity and its expression could be fluid, mixed, non-existent, or manipulated (Braziller & Kleinfeld 464). The article proves that the overall visual components of identity could be misleading, not only in terms of race but also in culture, heritage, lifestyle, etc.
Marisa Kabas tells the story of a Somali immigrant and how she kept her Muslim identity secret for 15 years and vividly illustrates the case of non-existent racial identity. The woman in the story hid her Muslim identity and her name, Elhan, and changed it to Amy instead to fit the societal requirements after 9/11. The woman’s decision to assimilate and become invisible for 15 years was shocking to her friends, which have further decided to accept and support her identity as Muslim. The article implies that society nowadays is more inclusive and welcoming to diversity than 20 years ago (Braziller & Kleinfeld 466). However, the article also points out that if a person decides to hide his heritage, it is impossible to identify the person as a part of a cultural group, despite the remaining connection. This example proves that identity and its’ expression are flexible, almost fluid, as opposed to straight facts of where the person comes from.
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In conclusion, the essay analyzed some of the examples made by Braziller & Kleinfeld in The Bedford Book of Genres to illustrate the topic of expression of identity. The analysis has defined that identity is a part of human nature on par with appearance, social status, etc. Moreover, personal identity and cultural identity are the most flexible part of human nature as they are shaped by personal beliefs or societal pressure. An individual’s identity is free to interpret by other people, but the individual decides what to consider as part of his identity. Identity could be expressed in multiple visual attributes like personal clothing, style, and personal belongings, but they could be misleading.
Braziller, Amy, and Kleinfeld, Elizabeth. The Bedford Book of Genres: A Guide and Reader. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2017.