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RBA Research Topic + Brainstorming

For the RBA assignment, my research topic centers around the aspects of containment culture at play in the expansion of government eavesdropping abilities and determining whether surveillance of individual’s records is a civil liberties violation the public should pressure government into ceasing (and the extent to which this is possible) or whether surveillance by the government has become a necessary evil in a world where the threat of terrorism remains alive and hazardous. By analyzing the scope (what exactly the government can spy on) of current surveillance abilities, why and how these powers were achieved through legislation, and the relationship between government authority, civil liberties, and the growth of both terrorist threats and fear of counter-terrorism in American culture, I hope to help make sense of the blurred boundary between the state and individual as it relates to privacy and national security.

Brainstorming mind map:


Civil Liberties and Government Surveillance

Given the expansion how much of the public’s information can be collected and analyzed by government entities due to powers afforded by the controversial USA PATRIOT Act, my research will focus on the government’s expansion of surveillance and the various instances of civil liberties infringements by the government. I will specifically focus on the world of privacy, but also in other areas like pure freedom of religion or speech. The need to understand how the government manages information collected through these programs and the implications this possesses for future government powers becomes increasingly imperative in the modern world.

In light of the recent revelations of NSA operations by Edward Snowden, much of the scholarship surrounding government surveillance has reemerged and captured a greater share of American attention that the original PATRIOT did. Scholars particularly argue the government’s covert manner of passing the PATRIOT act, as they capitalized upon the chaos surrounding 9-11, as the entire nation desperately searched for any measures to prevent any similar attacks in the future. Alongside this, scholars argue that the vague nature of language in describing both the 9-11 attacks and subsequent terrorist threats, as well as within the law itself, provided a dangerous precedent for the expansion of government surveillance as without direct mention of a threat, the argument could be created that data collection would always be necessary. Unsurprisingly, the NSA has used this very argument in court to gain an expansion of their data amassing abilities and receive backing from the powerful courts. While any sort of surveillance brings to question the infringement of privacy, a civil liberty implicitly derived from the constitution, the more contentious and ambivalent question is whether this is a necessary component to ensure national security.

Through my research, I hope to expand on this topic by opening discussion on often neglected aspect of established government powers, the precedent set by such powers being granted. More specifically, I wish to posit that the continued compliance with government surveillance creates a precedent and portal for other civil liberties to be violated. Examples of this include cases like racial and ethnic profiling and treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Could it be the case that our subordination to spying provides a form of acquittal for future civil rights transgressions by government agencies?

Hyper-patriotism and Foreign Intervention in “The Omega Glory” Star Trek Episode

On the surface the entertainment industry may appear to only exist to do just as it name calls for and “entertain” the public, its mass popularity and significant presence in the media provides members of the community the opportunity to express beliefs and representations of real world issues through a creative voice. While such messages and values are hidden within the content of movies, television, video games and more, a close analysis of almost any entertainment piece will reveal a deeper meaning often relating to a pivotal event in the world.

Image result for star trek



The popular television series Star Trek, as analyzed by Nicholas Evan Sarantakes, reveals a variety of allegories relating to events in the actual world, particularly with regards to representation of major political issues of the times in which episodes premiered. Here, a focus will be placed on Sarantakes’s close viewing of the Star Trek episode “The Omega Glory”. This episode, first aired in the waning days of the Tet Offensive (an attempted offensive strike against communist forces in Vietnam), highlights various aspects of American culture during the Cold War. The fighter groups in the episode, the conflicting groups  dubbed”Kohm and Yang” which, as written by Sarantake, “are distorted pronunciations of Communist and Yankee,” alluding to the global Cold War conflict engulfing the nation. The Cold War was more than a standoff of global super powers, as even in entertainment, specifically in this episode, it became the topic of discussion, like a mental virus infecting whatever body it could come in contact with.

Along with the War itself came the revived American aspects of nationalism and patriotism, heavily apparent in “The Omega Glory”. Sarantake writes a moment where the national anthem was played and it served the purpose of “emphasizing the patriotic sentiment of the captain’s position.” Along with various mentions of “liberty and freedom”and founding documents like the Constitution and its preamble, an undeniable sense of extreme patriotism is rampant throughout the episode, demonstrating the vast influence of the Cold War even in a sci-fi series.

The Cold War and subsequent containment culture dealt with a variety of critical issues from the threat of nuclear destruction to racial tensions. Purely by the seriousness with which each is taken, a science fiction entertainment series seems an unlikely candidate to further discussion on such issues. However, this sense of unlikeliness paradoxically makes entertainment like science-fiction a perfect realm to delve into political topics without fear of serious repercussion. Many video games, like the Borderlands and Deus Ex series, use this fact to market there games. They are often unforeseen views on important issues and events, making them supremely interesting to consumers.

Image result for deus ex (Deus Ex series.)

Alongside the fact that these political messages are deeply hidden in the episodes, the science-fiction world adds a perfect “what-if” element to explore several angles of politics that may not be considered on a daily basis. In a world of political correctness and conflation, the science-fiction world represents a universe where the often ignored, yet entirely possible and thought provoking, possibilities lie.




Strength in “Centralized” Numbers? Not Quite.

Image result for populated urban city(Image of New York City skyline, home to the most populated and among the most densely packed group of individuals in the United States.)

A belief engraved in several facets on American culture, from sports to sojourning through town with a group of friends, is the notion that remaining in populated, dense groups provides the most effective form of security and comfort. This practice may evoke a semblance of lowered vulnerability, given that a large quantity of surrounding individuals can serve as added protection should a problem arise. However, denser groups of individuals, buildings, or any physical object also cause a significant issue. The more compact objects are, the easier and more viable of a target they become.

“As a result, older, dense and ‘geographically bound’ cities, potentially impossible to disperse, were considered particularly vulnerable. For this reason and others, American scientists, strategists and other speculators turned New York and Washington into far more popular targets for projected nuclear attacks than less dense cities like Los Angeles and Houston.” (Farish 13)

In this quote, Farish explores two significant aspects behind the movement into the suburbs. Firstly, there existed an innate fear of attack by belligerent forces on large, densely populated cities. Such cities were easily target-able due to size alone, but also because weakening them would cause severe damage to key operations in infrastructure and supplies. Secondly, urban cities approached an almost outdated style of living, as without strategic planning for business and growing occupancy, cities would merely be dangerous centers for wartime threats, lacking the efficiency or economic appeal to outweigh the costs of living in a marked city.

America seemed to attempt to adjust according to Farish’s concerns, as the most populated city in the country, New York, served as the whom to the World Trade Centers, a beacon of global business. However, this did not prevent the attacks of 9-11 from targeting New York, exploiting the large population and density to inflict the greatest damage on the nation in moral and substantial, albeit temporary, damage to the economy.

Images of the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9-11 awaken such powerful fear in the minds of America for a variety of reasons. However, the arguably most poignant of these was that due to its great population and overall significance sociopolitical and economical realms of the country, New York exhibited an aura of being a true stronghold, a fortress. To witness the fall of a prized and powerful city likely evoked beliefs that the entire nation could be susceptible to far worse damage. The attacks may have been limited to a small radius, but striking a dense core of enormous significance brought forth harrowing thoughts of vulnerability for the country as a whole and individual people.


Containment Language Surrounding Colin Kaepernick’s National Anthem Protest

In recent weeks, the San Francisco 49ers have garnered a massive amount of national media attention, but not from the result of phenomenal football play. The entire nation has set its eyes on 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, whose method of protesting social injustices towards minorities has ignited a nationwide conflagration of both intense criticism and immense support.

Attempting to raise awareness for various acts of police violence and other inequities against minorities, Kaepernick took the action of initially sitting (now kneeling in recent games), during renditions of the national anthem, as opposed to standing, which is customary at sporting events and other instances where the anthem is performed.

Image result for colin kaepernick kneelingColin Kaepernick (7) and teammate Eric Reid (35) kneeling during singing of national anthem.

While seemingly every individual in America possesses an opinion on Kaepernick’s actions and the controversy surrounding it, the influences of containment culture have permeated into conversations over Kaepernick, most notably in the criticisms of non-supporters.

Montel Williams, writer for Sports Illustrated, recently published an article discussing his stance of Kaepernick’s protest, but also, as will be focused on here, the nature of the language critics have utilized to scrutinize Kaepernick’s actions and the strong hint of containment culture behind many of their statements (link to article:

Williams introduces the containment language surrounding Kaepernick by describing how we should fear residing in a country where the public’s “sense of patriotism” leads them to “coerce or force these athletes to stand”. Dissecting this statement reveals several key elements of containment culture. Inherent in the protest critiques is a sector of the public lambasting Kaepernick for a lack of patriotism. Such displeasure over not displaying unity behind the flag and national anthem demonstrates a continuation of the binary sentiments that define containment. Separating from a common symbol of togetherness has stirred tremendous consternation among members of the nation, leading to either/or language from those like former Chicago Bears coach Mike Dikta, who claimed Kaepernick could “Get the hell out” if he did not like America. Williams also addresses that a serious dilemma exists when the public directs statements like Kaepernick “should look for another country to live in,”as such language feeds into the potential for infringement of civil liberties and rights.

Peaceful protest is an act protected by the first amendment, something generally encouraged in a nation where citizens take pride in advocating for social justice. Those against Kaepernick’s protesting appear to be content with a sacrificing of rights for the sake of unity against an a perceived “enemy”, another key aspect of containment. The various reasons behind Kaepernick’s protests are being ignored, as the significant piece of his acts, to critics, is the disbandment it has set forth throughout the NFL and even other levels of sports.

Protest and containment language in sports may appear to be an unlikely combination, but given the divisive nature of our modern culture, coupled with the presence of containment culture, similar situations may perhaps grow more commonplace in the future.