If you ask the old citizens of Camden how do they see the city today comparing to the past, they would definitely reply it was the most prominent city with good working people who always had their piece of bread and a place to live. The present state of Camden is absolutely opposite. Now the city is considered as the most dangerous and the poorest in the USA. How did it happen? This question is interesting and intriguing because there are no strict evidences how the meltdown happened. Maybe the reasons of a downfall was the Great Depression or moving of the biggest manufacturers to the other places or the newest world wide economic crisis. The level of living there is very low so as the poverty rates. At the end the city transformed into so called “hoods” with several groups of gangster mobs and corrupted legal system. The narrative will describe the city’s ancestors, main economic and business sphere, first settlements within its borders, etc.
The additional part of the story will show the different attitudes of people towards the city history and its situation today. The perspective of mass media views will be given as well. We will investigate the interaction between the people’s views from within the city, the points of the public and the opinion of mass media. We will try to see tragic within the story so as comic with the help of frames of acceptance of Kenneth Burke.
The methods of Kenneth Burke will be used concerning the interpretation of the information. Particularly we will define and discuss the frames of tragic and comic interpretation of the history and analysis of Camden’s situation nowadays. The frames will show the different approaches the people use to interpret the events happening in the city. The comparison will be done between these methods with several examples outside the story. In the section of conclusions we will find out what frames people use to interpret the information and what frame is the most commonly used among two.
“New Jersey, it has been suggested, has received little attention from historians because it was an “average” colony lacking in “distinctive characteristics.”1 Pausing only long enough to classify New Jersey as a “middle colony,” many historians have then gone on to study its more interesting neighbours. But New Jersey has had an unusual and important political and legal history.” (Lurie, 2010, 41)
The city of Camden, New Jersey was named the poorest and the most dangerous of the nation. The population of the city in 2011 is 79,622. The economic depression of last years had a tremendous impact on the city. High unemployment rate together with the budget cuts led to the various crimes and dangerous behaviour. One of the additional problems was layoffs of the half of the police department which brought the city to the boiling point. Camden suffers from the highest school dropout rate which is 70%. The average household budget is 24,600$, and still the city is going to cut off 25% of its budgets. These problems are only the tip of the iceberg. To reveal the real situation of Camden now we have to dig into the history of this territory.
Early settlements in the area near the banks of Delaware River were the Dutch and the Swedish. In 1626 FortNassau was built by the Dutch West India Company which was exactly the date when people managed to settle in the territory of contemporary city. The ford was the storehouse and trading centre for the inhabitants until the 1651 when it was unmounted. In the following decade the territory of the region was under the rule of the Duke of York but in a while having financial problems he sold the property to several courtiers. They had to assist the further settlements so the lad was parted into tenths. The Third Irish tenth is now the territory of Camden County. In 1700 the inhabitants began to develop and change the surrounding lands which influenced the Indians living beside them. The Irish settlers brought alcohol and infections to the land. That reduced the Indian population as they had no treatment against new diseases. Europeans were hacking the woods and drying up the streams, were building new roads and widening the territories. In 50 years the Irish settlers forced out the Indians from the area of Third tenth.
Business which created the modern city of Camden was ferry industry. In 1688 the first records of ferry service were found. The industry was developing along the eastern shore of the Delaware River. The first buildings were the result of the intensive growth of the ferry industry. During that time a lot of hotels, pleasure gardens and taverns were located in the area of ferry sites. At the present day almost all buildings related to ferry industry were demolished. Part of this industry was in the possession of the Cooper family for almost 150 years. In 1770 they built several hotels on the banks of the river and later the buildings were also unmounted by the city. Benjamin Cooper House is known from history as the residence of British Lieutenant Colonel Abercrombie in the period of Revolutionary War and British occupation of Philadelphia. Later it has transformed to the saloon and now it serves as a business centre of ship repair company. In 1913 the surrounding territory of the Joseph Cooper House, one more property of the Cooper family, was developed into Pyne Point Park and the building itself was vandalized and remains ruined with only the front wall standing.
Large part of the territory was developed by several families of William Cooper, John Kaighn and Archibald Mickle. William Cooper was the earliest ancestor and settler of the city of Camden. His family owned 300 acres of the territory and built the first ferry in the area. His great grandson has established new streets and lots on the 40 acres of the territory which he inherited from his father. He gave a name after the Earl of Camden to this territory. His brother extended the territory of the city which was known as Cooper village. In 1820 Edward Sharp bought the part of the Cooper’s land and laid them down as streets and lots and called it CamdenVillage. These villages formed the basis territory of the Camden city.
During the 19th century the three parts began the process of consolidation with each other. There were several villages with houses separated with the woods or farmlands. Kaighn family sold the part of their lands to the Camden businessman Richard Fetters and named this share Fettersville. He established the great amount of plots with very low prices on them which attracted a lot of buyers with modest income. The town was growing very fast. Kaighton was the property of Kaighn family and situated on the south of Fettersville. A fire destroyed this part but it was currently renewed. The third settlement was named Centreville and was owned by Camden doctor Isaak Mulford and Mikle family. At the same time CooperHills was laid down to houses and sold with the profitable prices by the end of 1852. Soon enough the town built its first bank and began releasing the first Camden newspaper. In 1840 the population of Camden consisted of 3, 371 citizens. Several years later the territories created CamdenCounty.
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Camden city is situated between two banks of the Cooper and Delaware rivers and lies close to Philadelphia. These conditions made the city attractive for the industrial businessmen. The main areas of business within the city included pork and candle manufacturers, blacksmith and harness makers, coach maker shops and also glass factory. In the next years the city experienced high growth due to the fluent immigration and urbanization and industrialisation processes. The largest enterprises of the city like steel pen factory or Camden iron Works employed a lot of the inhabitants and attracted the immigration to Camden. The railroads between Camden and the nearest cities were built and it started the history of the most powerful monopolies in the history of America. Soon enough the electric trolley system combined the areas of the city and the nearest territories. The American Cigar Company was found at the end of the century.
Industrialisation triggered increase of the population within the city. By the end of 1920 the amount of its citizens was 116, 000. The character of ethnic groups had changed as well. Comparing with the 19th century when the majority of the community included Irish, British and German immigrants, in the beginning of 20th century the ethnicity of the bigger part of the population changed to Italian, Eastern European and Jewish.
At the middle of 20th century most of the industrial owners relocated their business and the population declined. One of the most prominent moments in the industrial history was the situation of RCA Victor in Camden till 1929 which produced phonographs and records. During the period of the Second World War Camden was home for the biggest shipyard in the entire world.
At the time of Great Depression the town’s development declined. It was the time when employers couldn’t pay their workers in time and reduced the salaries. Nonetheless the biggest town’s manufacturers RCA Victor, New York Shipbuilding Corporation and Campbell Group gave new workplaces for the residents and immigrants of the city. In general these corporations employed 36, 000 citizens. After the war years not all of the companies stayed afloat.
In 1950s the amount of population declined. The reason of it was moving the industrial giants to the other locations. It brought a lot of unemployed on the streets and initiated growth of crimes. Now the city represents the ruins of post industrial world. Within last decades three majors of the city were imprison due to corruption. There are no hotels or cinemas, the city’s only one supermarket is situated on its outskirts. Camden fell down to the ruling of gangster mobs and criminals. The city now has several drug markets selling weeds and drugs on the streets. 750 homeless on the streets; the town filled with unemployed, teenagers who joins the criminal structure because of nothing to do or become drug addicts is like Camden looks now. With all of that upsetting statistics now the city has only half of their police forces comparing with the last year. It made the situation in Camden worthier with every month.
Being the best developed industrial communities, the city is known now as the poorest of the nation. In 2005 more then 50% of city’s children lived in poverty. “It is important, when discussing poverty, to recognize different levels or categories of poverty. Severe poverty is the category used by the U.S. Census Bureau to identify persons living with less then 50% of poverty-level income. In 2005 in three-person family, severe poverty was defined as an annual income below 7,868$. In the city of Camden, nearly one out of every five people (20%) was living in severe poverty in 2005.” (Poverty Research Institute, 2007, 7) Two among five adults are living in the poverty as well. Half of all families in Camden live in poverty. The healthcare is of very low quality and insurance programs have a lot of limitations, especially for adults. Housing business suffers from downfall. Depressed citizens can’t buy or even rent proper houses. Most of the buildings for sale or for rent remain empty and useless.
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The crisis of the city is circulated and chewed over by the mass media and citizens. Almost every day one can observe the negative attitude and sad stories of poor and dangerous Camden city. Can we look at the present situation of the town and see something positive or funny in the tragic situation now?
In 1937 literary critic and rhetorical theorist Kenneth Burked developed the idea of acceptance and rejection frames as the attitude towards the information. He proposed to transform them into poetic categories. There are comic, tragic, satirical, grotesque and transitional frames. Comic frame was described as “neither wholly euphemistic, nor wholly debunking — hence, it provides the charitable attitude towards people that is required for purposes of persuasion and co-operation, but at the same time maintains our shrewdness concerning the simplicities of cashing in.” (Burke, 1984, 166). The tragic frame can be described as the relationship emerged between the victim and the oppressor. The oppressor has to sacrifice himself and to bring new perspectives to the society. Burke also appeals that the tragedy has some magical patterns. “Though the same magical patterns of fatality, magnification and humility are present, they are submerged beneath the more “enlightened” scheme of casual relationships.” (Burke, 1984, 37)
The difference between the frames is that the tragic frame has to develop the person who will be the scapegoat and in the comic frame one has to choose a clown. Tragic frame appeals to the more complex patterns and complicates the relationships between people, on the contrary, the comic frame has a tendency to simplify the events surrounding us and its interpretation. We can suggest that the comic frame can be some mind’s escape from the negative situation, at the same time the purpose of the tragic methods of seeing the reality are to exaggerate situation and to describe it with some heroic tones. The prevalence of tragedy around our informational environment can be well seen in popular heroic action movies which can romanticize even the “bad guys”. Good examples of tragic frame can be also the events of the 11th September when even the best comedians failed to use a comic frame towards this tragedy. After the collapse of the Empire State building several comic icons of U.S. TV were trying to use comic frames according to the subject and being vowed by the public failed to use this methods. Vivid example of the comic frame is the President Clinton scandal and his further impeachment. In this case his relationship with Ms. Lewinsky was rinsed in the press for many decades. Nobody used the tragedy frame towards this situation because the ex president has already been made the clown in the story.
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Our attitude towards the information can be different it also can be differently interpreted. We can try to use the frames according to the situation in Camden city. The story of the Camden city can also be interpreted from 2 points of view tragic or comic. On the example of mass media we can obviously see the vivid notion of tragic frame. The intentions for mystification and exaggeration the situation characterize the informational establishment all around the world. In the situation with Camden city newspapers and different internet periodicals show only negative information. Most commonly definitions are decreasing, dangerous, the poorest. Mass media or even people are trying to create scapegoat to blame for everything happening within the borders of the city. It could be the mayor of the town, or some criminal mob or even the government. As Kenneth Burke has mentioned in his works, tragic frames are the most commonly used approaches among the society. "In brief, mysteries are a good grounding for obedience, insofar as the acceptance of a mystery involves a person in abnegation of his own personal judgment. For in Earthy symbolicity, 'reason' will be closely associated with rule." (Burke, 1970, 307) The people outside the city advise to stay away from Camden. Even in the internet one can find a lot of negative response from the people who have never lived in the town but still, knowing the information from the media, are trying to warn each other about the dangerous state there.
One more interesting concern is that the present situation within the city aroused severe racist opposition and attacks. The situation with the ethnicity privilege in Camden had changed. “The racial makeup of Camden city is markedly different from that of the county and state as a whole. While both the state and the Camden County are mostly White, the city is mostly Black or African-American, with the substantially smaller share of White residents.” (Poverty Research Institute, 2007, 4) The search for the scapegoat led to the racial debates. The people, again from outside the city, are blaming the African-American inhabitants for bringing crimes and corruption on the streets. It can be viewed on different internet sites, youtube videos and forums. The nature of inventing the side that has to be blamed is understood from one point. The majority of our society isn’t able to be responsible for their doings and mistakes. The point is that this feature can lead to the very pernicious consequences.
It is very difficult to go outside the box and use the comic frame in this situation. What can be comic in this case? To use the comic frame we can analyze the jokes of the citizens which show that even in the bad situation people find out how to enlighten their lives. The jokes can be the escape from the negative reality. For example, “You know you are from the city if you knew all the troublemakers before they became cops”. This joke is dealing with the various cases of corruption within the police forces and legal cases connected to them. It also applies to the comic thing of transformation of tomorrow’s criminals into the fighters for justice. The clowns in this case are policemen. One more example is “You know you are from the hoods when you’ve eaten a diner, when you were stoned or drunk, at 3 a.m.” This joke is mostly self-ironical and in this case the clowns are the citizens. At the same time the joke resembles that Camden has a great problems with drugs and weeds selling.
The point in interpreting the information from the comic or tragic frame is developing the different attitude towards the world and its events and widens the abilities to see the situation from all sides. The situation with the city of Camden can show only negative attitude towards its citizens and the hoods. One can blame the majors, politics, police forces and gangsters and don’t do anything. The others can mock on the lack of intelligence of the same groups, making fouls of each other and trying to do their best to make the life better. What have we seen in the situation of Camden city? We can judge only subjectively because we also have never been within the city boards. However we can analyze the information we see in the press, or in the internet. Mass media shows negative sides of the story and tries to seed the panic around its citizens and especially around the observers. The inner view of the inhabitants is also rather negative, and despite all self ironical jokes, shows the pessimistic attitudes towards the future of this land. The outside view starts with negative responses and ends with the racial segregations and attacks. The comic frame is very difficult to apply in the situation, we can find only rare jokes and pranks mostly self ironical and sometimes rather abusive and ethically incorrect.
How to try seeing the manipulative nature of information around? I consider it is better to be less emotional and emotionally enclosed with the situation or events happening. The frames of comic and tragic approach towards our history, events and situations can help to see opposite sites of the nature of the problem. I can suggest that the methods can be also used in our every day life and help us to dig in the issues and a better solutions can be found. Using Burke’s approach I have understood the theory and the usage of it within the history, present life and the respective attitude towards them. The frames can help to create the awareness of doings and point of views we are creating and expressing around ourselves. It is very useful especially taking into consideration that we are living in the century of wide spread information technologies.
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