It's Monday night at Flying Moose Lodge. Trips leave in the morning after breakfast, and for the most part, the kids are ready. They've spent the weekend relaxing, playing games, learning new skills that they may use on their next trip, and recovering from the previous week's trip. They also practiced the trip skit they'll be performing tonight. We call it "Opera Night" to conjure up all the amazing grandeur of high culture. In reality, it's more like vaudeville.
The Moose River trip is performing a musical love story of a Flying Mooser, a common gravel-shoveler by trade, and his true love -- a simple girl from the country. But to achieve their love, he must overcome the evil scheming of an underworld gravel baron (the dark lord of camp Robin Hood), the temptations of a seductress, and the usual token scenes: the chase, the slow motion gun and kung fu fight, and the conversation with an inattentive voice of God. The hero is introduced, born with a shovel in his hand, shoveling down cherry trees -- unable to tell his father a lie about it, hauling 16 tons and getting another day older and deeper in debt, but happily in love with the girl next door until the evil Robin Hooder and seductress get greedy.
Flying Moose Lodge is a boys' camp. There are no fair maidens here, so we make do with a chest full of women's clothes, our imaginations, and societal stereotypes
Farina, the most-hated of the hot cereals we send out on trips, is also the name of the seductress. She wears a one-piece sweater-dress that Farrah Fawcett might have worn in the 1970s. In case the dress doesn't clue in the audience that this is not young Paul Branchaw from Circus tent, the two basketballs stuffed obscenely into her sweater make the point. They even thought of chess pawn nipples. The crowd roars.
Intent of Paper
Ann Brooks, in Arnot & Dillabough (2000), relates "Feminism, post-colonialism, and postmodernism … share the goal of dismantling or subverting dominant hegemonic discourses, challenging traditional epistemologies, and re-establishing marginal discourses" (p.43). I too share this goal, and hope to bring it into practice in the communities and institutions that I live in, but to make them stronger for it, without first destroying them. Some, like Audrey Lorde believe this is not possible, and that "the tools of the master will never dismantle the master's house," but I need to believe it is possible in order to engage in trying. Consequently, I am focusing my graduate research into a critical look at this very important part of my life.
Within the Cultural Historical school, Lave & Wenger (1991) look at Communities of Practice and assert that our existence is grounded in communities. What we like and dislike, our opinions and deepest heartfelt values, are based to a large extent on the activities and practices of those who came before us, and those who currently live and interact with us. In other papers within my study of the culture of Flying Moose Lodge I look at narrative and film fragments produced by the owners/directors that illustrate the origin and history of the camp and the structures of community that have been built in to it.
For this paper, as Homi Bhabha (1994) says, "what is theoretically innovative, and politically crucial, is the need to think beyond the originary and initial subjectivities and to focus on those moments or processes that are produced in the articulation of cultural differences" (p. 1) In other words, I will look at the actions of campers, counselors, and staff at camp that say this is what a Flying Mooser does, looks like, acts like -- this is me as a Flying Mooser in areas of race, class, and gender, as shown in camp skits and jokes.
This paper will begin to aim a critical eye upon some of the dominant cultural models at work in defining a member of the Flying Moose Lodge (FML) community. In focusing on the issues of gender, class, and race, I will draw from, among others, Arnot & Dillabough's (2000) feminist challenge to male domination in education and citizenry, Barbara Rogoff's (1999) writings on community membership, Homi Bhabha's (1994) work on citizenship, and touch on J.C. Young's (1991) ideas of hybridity.
History of FML
For the past ten years I've helped run a rustic wilderness summer camp for boys called Flying Moose Lodge (FML). It is a place without the distraction of city life and mass media, "where boys can be boys" says Chris Price, the current director (2002). Campers come live with no electricity and no phone for 3 1/2 or 7 weeks each summer. At base camp, Fridays through Mondays, they stay in platform tents; on trips, Tuesdays through Fridays, they canoe, hike, and bike throughout Maine.
Touted as “a woods camp for boys”—FML is unlike any camp I’ve seen. It may be the last camp that fits the values of Fred Gunnery, who planted the seed of summer camp in America. In 1887, Gunnery, a boys school teacher in Connecticut, arranged a primitive two-week outing for his class. They hiked, cooked, and slept under stars, based on the idea that "vigorous outdoor exercise builds muscles and young masculine character" (Eells, 1986: 5). The idea spread, and by 1905 there were over 700 private camps in America—most in New England.
In its 83 year existence, Flying Moose Lodge has had only four sets of directors. It was founded in 1921 by Mr. Domincovich, a Quaker teacher from Germantown Friends school in Pennsylvania. In 1927, ten year old Harrie Price III, a student at Germantown, spent a summer at FML, then returned as a camper, then as a counselor. In 1940, when Harrie III graduated from college and became a Quaker teacher, he bought the camp from his teacher and ran it until 1985 when his son Harrie IV, a 5th grade teacher, took over. Harrie III died in 1992. Two years later Harrie IV died and his younger brother Chris Price, and Chris's wife Shelly, took over FML and have directed it since.
Remarkably, amidst great change in other aspects of society, not much has changed in terms of the camp's physical location and condition, or the philosophies that guide it. In the words of Harrie Price III (1988): "very little changes at Flying Moose Lodge except the length of boys' hair" (p. 4).
I try to make Flying Moose Lodge out to be a utopia of natural education. I love it for the light bulbs I see go on in boys' heads, and for the smiles that sprout when campers have learned something they'd never have imagined they'd know, and then embodied it through practice. But like any utopia, it has its limitations. It is not a panacea of education or citizenship development.
The culture of Flying Moose Lodge is directly tied to the society of its members, and while it can stretch from its tether by staying off the electric and telephone grid, it cannot (and does not desire to) keep its campers and counselors out of their home culture for the rest of the year. Consequently, many of the attitudes and ethics brought into the FML community are formed in larger Western society, and filter in and influence the communities of practice at FML (Lave & Wenger, 1991).
Even with campers and counselors coming from about twelve states and five countries each summer, FML is rather homogenous -- always boys, generally middle to upper-middle class, and most often white. Young, (1991) points out how cultures have historically assigned "meaning and value to sameness and difference" (p. 29), usually embracing sameness and vilifying difference, while noting that cultural progress depends on the sharing and trade of difference. Like other groups of people who live and learn together, at FML, we generally try to build our own sense of community. In doing so, we generally carve out a niche that we can all be part of. We try to appreciate and respect more exotic cultural differences while maximizing and/or vilifying more common and minimal differences. For example, blatantly racist jokes are never told, sexist jokes are generally given public disapproval but not condemned as wholeheartedly as they might be, while jokes about class -- especially the snooty or crude stereotypes -- are pretty much encouraged. I believe this is because, as mostly white males of economic means, we feel allowed to poke fun at and maximize differences closest to us.
FML is a camp based on a history that did not address girls. Iris Young, in Arnot & Dillabough's (2000) Challenging Democracy asserts that "modern political theory and bourgeois culture, 'identifies masculinity with values associated with individualism -- self sufficiency, competition, separation of the formal equality of rights'" (p. 68). These are values also closely associated with wilderness, survival, and camping. New England society in 1887 did not allow "proper" girls to engage in "vigorous outdoor exercise" or to build "muscles and young masculine character" -- and society hasn't really changed that much to counter it (Eells, 1986: 5). Arnot & Dillabough (2000) illustrate and challenge this culture of male domination in education and citizenry, and while FML does not fall under the realm of traditional education or citizenry, it largely mirrors the culture around it where camping is still predominantly the realm of men. Extremely thin female models are beginning to show up in outdoor magazine advertisements, and some magazines like Health are beginning to include more camping and hiking, but they still focus primarily on "women's" fitness -- yoga, aerobics, stretching, and exercises for sexual health.
Beyond tradition (which is a weak excuse), and societal expectations (which are changing), the infrastructure at FML is not set up to accommodate privacy. There are no showers let alone private showers -- the boys bathe in the lake. The one bathroom has four stalls with half-doors. Add to that the mix of budding hormones that FML is ill equipped to deal with. By being a boys-only camp, FML removes some of the distraction of gender difference, but it also means that when the boys see girls and women in public, they may act inappropriately, and in camp sexist jokes sometimes thrive unchecked.
The danger of this is illustrated by Barbara Rogoff (1999) who says, "people develop as members of communities, and their development can be understood only in light of the cultural practices and circumstances of their communities -- which also develop" (p. 1). The hegemonic aspects of the cultural development of our campers, then, are in some ways reinforced, such that the camp's great strength -- as a place where boys can be boys -- is also a great limitation. This is demonstrated in a deeper look at the Opera scene at the beginning of this paper: In this case, the Mooser's true love is a plain-looking but thin girl in a simple dress. Farina, the evil seductress with basketball breasts, is more typical of the portrayal of women in these skits. The fact that much of the maximizing of differences is done by the actor to look cool is an indication of the problem. Basketball-sized breasts are sometimes treated as symbols of sexual power, used to hypnotize, shock and awe male "heroes" and villains alike. They are not, however, portrayed as signs of desirability -- in the end of all good stories, the noble Flying Mooser lives happily ever after with the nice girl. The obvious shortcoming of this is that it presents a simplistic and incorrect view of women to 10-16 year old boys who, for the most part, are still developing their attitudes about the genders. Obviously, while large breasts are not indicative of sexual power or desirability, neither are they signs of evil.
In 1905 there were over 700 private camps in America—most in New England (Eells, 1986). Urban youth not on farms now had summer plans. But, as with evolution, the experience of “roughing it” soon included posh accouterments: candy, servants, and in some instances marble bathtubs. Flying Moose Lodge is one of the cheapest camps of its kind in Maine, costing about $3500 for 7 weeks of camp, roughly $72/day. For a teen boy's food, lodging, and entertainment, some would say it's a bargain. However, it's also out of reach for most parents who aren't in the middle to upper-middle class.
Homi Bhabha (1994) introduces the Other by explaining: "that disturbance of your voyeuristic look enacts the complexity and contradictions of your desire to see, to fix cultural differences in a containable, visible object. The desire for the Other is doubled by the desire in language, which splits the difference between Self and Other so that both positions are partial; neither is sufficient unto itself" (p. 50). Generally the concept of otherness entails a sense of exoticness, where differences are overt and the Other is contrasted in relatively large ways, however, Bhabha (1994) reminds us that the Other one most notices depends on one's perspective (p. 240). At Flying Moose Lodge, the Other, on a smaller scale, may well be Robin Hooders -- campers from Robin Hood, a camp about four times more expensive, located 30 miles from FML. We see them in parking lots, or pass them on trails at Acadia National Park where we sort of peer and stare to see what sorts of people these are. We look to them as a contrast of the image of toughness that we want to identify with. Through it all, however, we recognize that it is a myth -- that they aren't much different than we are, but we seem to need to create a foil in order to understand ourselves.
While Flying Moosers try to minimize their own wealth by contrasting it to the excess of Robin Hood's high culture -- and would be quick to point out the irony in naming a $15,000 summer camp for the rich Robin Hood -- they also attempt to play the middle ground by positioning themselves squarely between the rich and the poor. Young (1991) observes the hostilities between "high" cultures and "low" cultures. He writes: "both were concocted by a Western culture no longer able to contain its own inner dissensions by pointing them outward" (p. 52). In an interesting display of this, Flying Moose campers will poke fun at both high and low culture, and essentially at themselves as well in, for example, our Opera -- a high culture name for a rag-tag vaudeville skit night where we make fun of both "rednecks" and Robin Hooders.
The skits and jokes at Opera are perhaps the most public display of these attitudes. Planned and acted out by trip groups, they often portray the story of the trip the troupe just finished and are filled with characters and events of that trip. Robin Hood campers are typically displayed as Grey Poupon-eating, limo-riding, overly-lazy jerks who are waited on hand-and-foot by counselors who drive them up mountains, jet-boat them to their campsites, and tell them how tough they are. They are always contrasted by Flying Moose characters who typically are nobly suffering, dirty, tired, generous, ecologically-minded, and fair. In other skits, Flying Moosers contrast themselves against the redneck: beer-drinking, tobacco-chewing, rifle-toting clods who rip up trails in All-Terrain-Vehicles, chainsaw down trees to roast the squirrels in them, and engage in activities akin to those from the movie Deliverance.
Although Flying Moosers position themselves between these stereotypes, it is more likely that they recognize themselves and their own laziness, snobbishness, destructiveness, and boorishness in both extremes. In a sense, these skits are moral tales, highlighting what FML culture considers good and bad characteristics through sometimes biting humor. Campers and counselors will joke about these characteristics, and sometimes play the role of a redneck or Robin Hooder, but none want to actually be seen as being one.
Of the three issues I am examining here, Race is the one I feel least
able to address and deal with. Our campers and counselors are mostly
white. We get a few Asians and a few Latinos from time to time, and
have had a handful of African-Americans in our 80+ years, but we're
mostly white. While campers as well as staff quickly shut down blatantly
racist jokes and accent stereotyping, there is undoubtedly a whole
realm of racism that goes unnoticed, is therefore unaddressed, and
silently grows simply in the absence of racial diversity.
I don't know where to begin with this issue. It seems almost unapproachable, following Audrey Lorde's words that the Master's tools will not disassemble the master's house, along with some of the readings of the semester. I feel at times that as a white male I have no business doing much more than listening and stepping aside to make room for grass root changes. On the other hand, there is no one at FML who is pushing for those changes, so I feel that that path will not be explored unless I push for it.
The one African-American camper who has attended for two years in my tenure, grew up in an affluent white family. He works to be part of the FML community, while expanding it with his own take on elements of black culture, which the other boys latch onto for how exotic it is relative to their own. Young (1991) refers to this mix of competing identities as hybridity, and explains it as "insert Young's brilliant quote about hybridity here"
What I Do
Instead of trying to deal head on with the big problems of Race, Class, and Gender, I look for contributing problems that I think I have a better chance of succeeding at. I focus on issues of balance, critical education, and the Deweyian aspects of experience and embodiment. There are some areas where partial success is a step in the right direction, and to focus on those successes brings me much more joy than focusing on failures does.
Is this enough? It never is. This is why I continue to broaden my
focus to include these elephants. By starting with a map of the current
Flying Moose Lodge culture, and analyzing how it has evolved and how
it has stayed the same, I hope to better understand how to approach
and work on these larger cultural issues.
An all-in-one solution is not soon forthcoming, but maybe with discussion small partial solutions will accumulate and evolve more quickly.
Anderson, B. R. O. G. (1991). Imagined communities : reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism. London ; New York, Verso.
Bhabha, Homi. (1994). The Location of Culture. London: Routledge.
Eells, E. (1986). Eleanor Eells' History of organized camping : the first 100 years. Martinsville, Ind., American Camping Association.
Harkness, S. and C. M. Super (1996). Parents' cultural belief systems : their origins, expressions, and consequences. New York, Guilford Press.
Lave, J. and Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Moll, L. C. (1990). Vygotsky and education : instructional implications and applications of sociohistorical psychology. Cambridge ; New York, Cambridge University Press. (Find and use!)
Price, C. (2002). Personal interview.
Price, H. B. III. (1988). A bad case of moosepox. self-published.
Rogoff, B. (2003). The cultural nature of human development. Oxford [UK] ;a New York, Oxford University Press.
Rogoff, B. and J. Lave (1999). Everyday cognition : development in social contex. New York, NY, to Excel.
Young, R. (1995). Colonial desire : hybridity in theory, culture, and race. London ; New York, Routledge.
The final paper for this Fall 2001 class with Mimi Bloch was to present a "study" of a given cultural context or cultural problematic which can use a variety of methodologies drawn from cultural psychology, cultural anthropology, Cultural Sociology, Cultural history, Cultural studies of childhood or adolescence; Popular Cultural Studies; and "education" conceived of broadly. The final project will be presented the final week of class, but due in written or another approved form (oral/theatre/video project) the week after the end of class.