Blog Post #8: Valuing Things

In your responses to Blog Post #7, many of you considered how objects acquire value and the different metrics according to which we measure the value of things. For example, Ty originated this thread with her post in which she considers George E. Newman's article, "Celebrity Contagion and the Value of Objects":

So celebrities matter and it seems like they do have a fair say on what is in style and what is not. It's an interesting idea to keep in mind that objects that seem like they may not have any practical value or even any sentimental value to you may be a very different scenario for someone else. It is not just you who attributes value to an object but society as a whole.

Like it or not, it looks like Kim Kardashian and Beyonce will be attributing value to common objects for quite a while.

Arguably, the "celebrity contagion" that interests Ty--through which objects become valuable because they are associated with celebrities--is spread via advertising, a phenomenon that Karina explored in her post:

The time immediately before the creation of Swamp Root was the period of the Scientific Revolution. People were fascinated with new technology and inventions. With technological advances came new medicine and new media, and for some cases like Kilmer’s, ways that media advertise these medicines.

The ways in which credibility was added to this artifact relied heavily on advertisements. Some people made jokes that may have had some truth to it—that is, people recognized Kilmer’s face better than the President of the United States. In essence, the Kilmer family had relations to a salesman who used his skills to help Dr. Kilmer. He then became one of the biggest faces for “these self-proclaimed ‘miracle drugs’ known as patent medicines in the 19thcentury” (Ribaudo). He took the opportune time when germ theory was little known by making unaccredited claims for Swamp Root, which then was a quick “cure” for pretty much any kind of discomfort.

Both Ty and Karina emphasize the somewhat arbitrary nature of value, as something that is bestowed on an object, rather than something that is inherent in a thing. Alex looked at the problem of value from a different angle, noting how objects retain their inherent value, even though time and innovation may erode our memory or sense of that value:

While objects hold many personal or societal functions, objects such as the toothbrush can represent breakthroughs and achievements in human development. While toothbrushes may seem ordinary to us now, this sort of innovation has been developed after millennia of inconvenience, pain, and disease. Take, as another example, the Aleve you may keep in your medicine cabinet (or maybe somewhere even more frequented). While we may pop a couple of these pain-relievers following a hangover or a sore back, NSAIDs hold a power people have wrought over for lifetimes. Fevers were often fatal before modern medicine, but now almost every house stocks a simple suppressant for these killers, and at a price almost anyone can afford.

What I think I am getting at is the idea of objects having hidden, or maybe forgotten values. Time seems to quell the appreciation we have for certain objects, but they retain that value regardless.

So Alex considers value of the object as object, and Karina and Ty consider the value of the object for others. Both the value of the object as object, and the value of the object for others influence one's sense of Value (we'll use a capital letter to distinguish it). But what about the value of the object to/for oneself; what does that contribute to the Value (with a capital "V") of the object? This is a question regarding which the posts of You Na, Kacey, and Katherine are all relevant.

You Na, for example, discussed research that suggests we Value things more when we feel a physical or personal connection to them:

A study in 2008 by the Journal of Judgement and Decision Making revealed that people who held onto a mug for 30 seconds before bidding for it in an auction, offered an average of 83 cents more for it than people who held the mug for 10 seconds. This brings us to another idea that our tendency to love objects goes beyond the soft and cuddly. We also form a connection with an object based on its texture. The study also found that people who loved the feel of a squishy gripped pen preferred this particular pen compared to another similar pen without the squishy grip.

And Kacey and Katherine both explored how our individual "value meters" are calibrated by personal experience. Kacey found evidence that suggests too many possessions can become overwhelming, and rather than improving our quality of life can in fact detract from it by overtaxing our mental and financial resources:

In this TED Talk given by writer and designer Graham Hill, he makes the argument that the increased cultural trend towards "more" has actually become detrimental to us. He says that, according to research compared with past decades, Americans have more room, more stuff, more of a carbon footprint, and more stress. So, why is it stressful to have more possessions? Hill's argument is, essentially, debt and energy. He says that an increased desire for material wealth leads to reckless spending (which results in debt) and the wasting of huge amounts of resources and energy. Hill concludes that the only way to truly rectify this issue is to commit to reducing our dependence on material things and to engage in what he calls "ruthless editing" to remove the superfluous - and possibly damaging - items.

Katherine also examined the "less is more" argument, asking "How many toys do children need?"

When children are given every toy they want, they do not have to worry about going without.  Since they know there is always a replacement, they do not worry about caring for objects. Perhaps that habit carries over into adulthood, which could explain why most adults own so much.  I even think the imagination aspect applies to adults.  Most of us will be extremely bored if we do not have some technology to keep us entertained.  Many people reward themselves with shopping, a habit that is considered undesirable in adulthood, yet adults reward their children with toys all the time.

Drawing upon these contributions together, we might hypothesize that Value, with a capital "v," is a composite of the intrinsic value inherent in an object, the value that has been assigned to the object by others, and the value that we ourselves assign to it. This framework for thinking about value mirrors in thought-provoking ways the tripartite composite self Kinneavy describes in our reading from "Expressive Discourse." Value, with a capital "v," might therefore be a potentially productive concept for thinking through what material culture studies discourse, which Taylor discusses in her post here, adds to rhetoric and composition studies

Carefully read or re-read the responses to prompt seven. Take some time to peruse the resources Taylor identifies in her post. Consider the questions presented by your peers, as well as Bethany's observation of how material culture studies may reveal the histories that are suppressed, hidden, or ignored in some narratives:

A big question that came to mind when watching this video is why didn't they feature more porcelain makers? Such as a Chinese producer? In all of the pieces that I have read it seems like the European countries during the 17th and 18th century just stole China's product and have been getting credit for it ever since. This comes to culmination when there is a modern video made of porcelain production and China is only mentioned in one line.

Then, compose a post in which you consider a definition of "value" that might work for how that word is used in these questions: What is the value of a human life? What is the value of an education? What is the value of a thriving planetary ecology?

Posting: Group 1

Commenting: Group 2

Category: Valuing Things

In your Blog #8 post, you should do more than offer a list of answers to these questions. Rather, you should frame your post around defining and justifying a definition of "value" that helps you to answer them. Please carefully read and follow the guidelines and posting information for this blog as they’ve been outlined in the Blog Project Description.

Image Credit: "Giant Value" by Thomas Hawk on Flickr.