Thoughts on genre, language, grammar, and other
rhetorical and linguistic norms
rhetorical and linguistic norms
(Edited September 4, 2020, for image links)
Look at Labor Day through its genres
When I see the world through genre-colored glasses, I see how genres help to create the meaningful events in our world. So I look at Labor Day and I see its origins in union charters, picket signs, and protest songs—as well as in proclamations and Senate bills.
And I see how genres help to shape how we experience those events today. So I look at Labor Day today and I see parades, speeches, and cookouts—as well as store sale ads.
(Yes, I’m getting loose with genre in applying it to parades and cookouts, but they are types of actions we take together in similar ways. I don’t want to limit genres to things with text. But that’s probably a debate for my academic readers to take up with me, probably not of interest to everyone.)
So let me use Labor Day to show you how one event, one day, can appear through the lens of its genres.
(Thank you for your patience if this media-heavy post has been slow to load.)
The making of Labor Day is grounded in the workers' labor movement, tied forever to union charters, strikes, and picket signs. In 1882, the first Labor Day was called in New York City by the Central Labor Union (Jay Zagorsky offers a great history of Labor Day's union connections). The organizers had to declare a strike to get workers the day off.
In the US, President Grover Cleveland signed the Senate bill making Labor Day a national holiday for federal workers in 1894, in part trying to make up for the disastrous handling of the Pullman strike. For a bit more of the history behind Labor Day, check out the Department of Labor's brief history, or watch History's youtube video.
Presidents are still involved with Labor Day, usually offering a Labor Day address. FDR, in 1941, emphasized the role of the American worker in winning the war. President Obama, in 2016, addressed what his administration has done to improve conditions for workers.
While other politicians and city officials often give speeches on Labor Day, too, street parades and picnics and festivals for workers were the original ways of celebrating Labor Day. Today, public parades of union members and marching bands, picnics and festivals still honor workers. But more private celebrations may be more common--family cookouts and barbecues, types of events with little public recognition of workers.
Even worse for the worker and the original meaning of the holiday, another genre teaches us how to "celebrate" Labor Day in the US-- ads for Labor Day sales. What would a holiday be without an opportunity to shop?
Of course, the irony is that store sales ads require open stores that require store workers having to work on Labor Day. So while I'd like to see more of the genre of store hours signs like the closed sign from Caribou Coffee, I'm afraid it's more common these days to see circular ads and TV commercials for Labor Day sales.
Making the point for me is the great parody Labor Day Sale commercial from the funny sitcom Superstore, below. Allow this nod to the retail workers of the world, and all workers who could still use the strength of unions.
No collection of Labor Day genres would be complete without the folk songs that honor workers and their plights. The Nation gathered a good collection of their Top Ten Labor Day songs, with Pete Seeger's "Solidarity Forever" at number one, and including The Clash, Phil Ochs, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Dolly Parton, and other greats. For the strong union emphasis, I've got a few favorites.
Here's Hazel Dickens, Fire in the Hole, honoring miners
Then there's Sweet Honey In the Rocks' "More than a Paycheck." Listen carefully to the lyrics
What better way to end my Labor Day celebration than with the classic from 1941, Pete Seeger's "Solidarity Forever," with a nice collection of video clips of union actions.
Unions still matter.
Long Island University
Fast food workers
What Labor Day genres did I leave out? I'm sure there are more that create and help us celebrate the holiday and teach us what the holiday is about--whether shopping for bargains or giving the worker time off and public respect.