The Norton Slideshow Maker with Visual Sociology Exercises


What Do We Celebrate Today?

John Grady, Wheaton College (MA)


Middletown Families (1982), by Theodore Caplow, Howard M. Bahr, and Bruce A. Chadwick, is the third is a series of three in-depth studies of Muncie, Indiana, ("Middletown") conducted during the twentieth century. These sociologists tell us that modern Americans cherish a cycle of festivals similar to those found in societies studied by anthropologists:

In 1890 Middletown displayed a great deal of patriotic and civic pride, while the "family festivals" as we know them today were relatively undeveloped. In 1924 patriotism was still felt, but its public celebration was much diminished . . . .

Today, national holidays such as Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day pass almost unnoticed by Middletowners . . . replacing city and country as a focus of festive attention in Middletown is the family. Every widely observed festival in Middletown now celebrates the family and the related ideas of home, mother and child, and feminine roles. . . .

What we call Middletown’s festival cycle is a series of holidays and festive occasions observed throughout the population on specific dates… The festival cycle is quasi-public in character—everyone knows when it is Christmas, but the celebrations of it in homes, offices and classrooms are relatively private.

The festival cycle begins with Halloween, followed by Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Washington’s Birthday, Easter, Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, Father’s Day and the Fourth of July.

. . . . It is important that the festivals be celebrated when they should be, as they should be, and in the appropriate company (Caplow, 1982: 225–227).

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After you view the slideshow, answer the following questions:

Would you include the Super Bowl as a relatively new American festival? Why or why not?
Caplow tells us that “it is important that the festivals be celebrated when they should be, as they should be, and in the appropriate company (Caplow, 1982: 225–227). How would you characterize the norms that regulate a Super Bowl party?

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Create your own slideshow:

After you view the slideshow and reflect on it, create your own, related slideshow. To focus your approach, read the paragraph below. Your instructor may ask you to e-mail a link to your slideshow, or you can print it out and hand it in.

Option 1:  How do you and your family celebrate any of these festivals discussed by Caplow? Create a slideshow documentary study that identifies the most important aspects of one of the festivals in your life.

Option 2: Can you think of any other emerging festivals like the Super Bowl party?  How about Oscar Night parties, celebrating the announcement of the Academy Awards in Hollywood? Is that the female version of the Super Bowl party, or are these occasions celebrated by both genders? What role do children play in these new festivals? How about older generations? Are grandparents part of the fun too? Create a slideshow that documents the proper etiquette at a specific kind of “new festival.”