Spring Break is often portrayed in the media as a time for young people to unwind and express themselves, free from the burdens and metaphorical chains of societal obligations such as school work. People often partake in behavior opposite to their normal mundane scholarly existence. Every portrayal of Spring Break in the media is of this sense of extreme freedom. Spring Break is often characterized by images of the beach and of parties, young people in swimsuits free to be uninhibited and party for an entire week. The reasons for this may be seasonal, having to do with the break coinciding with a change in the weather, causing people to seek an opposite extreme. For most people, living in non-tropical climates, Spring Break signifies an end to the confinement of snow and rain in the winter months and the beginning of a season of lighter clothes and more activity outdoors in the springtime. For me, however, the Break is fairly mundane, with only the addition of two days completely free of any obligations. This is because I work full time in addition to going to school. For me, Spring Break does not represent a time of complete freedom for the regular college student. It merely represents a chance to live like a normal out-of-college individual with a regular forty-hour-a-week schedule. Because of this, I choose to enjoy simpler pleasures with my Break. I feel that this relates strongly to Althusser’s position that “ideology represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their condition of existence.” If I were an average college student with no experience in the working world, feeling trapped by the halls of academia with no alternative existence but the bleak winter weather outside, I could see possibly taking the Break as a reason to party and get naked on national television. Because I imagine my existence to be more mundane, a slightly post-college view, I look at my Spring Break as an opportunity for normalcy; an opportunity to be another working person in a working world, rather than a working person also working in school.
Over my two-day break, I did a lot of yard work in order to set the foundations for my aquaponics system. Aquaponics is a combination of hydroponic plant-growing and aquacultural fish-raising. The idea is to use waste products of the fish living in the tank to provide nutrients for the plants growing in the hydroponics system. At the same time, the plants clean the water for the fish, allowing more fish to be raised in captivity than would normally be allowed in such a small space. For me, aquaponics combines the best aspects of permaculture: creating symbiotic relationships in farming and gardening with nature, and “square foot gardening”: to grow the most possible plants or crops in the least amount of space. I see this as an adaptation of the unnatural aspects of square-foot gardening to the symbiotic relationship it can have with the unnatural concept of living in urban and suburban neighborhoods. I believe that I chose to work over my Spring Break, rather than to party, because I do not feel like academia or winter unduly restricts my freedom during the year. In Althusser’s terms, my imaginary relationship with my condition of existence is that school is a vital part of my livelihood and I do not feel a need to escape it by condensing an extreme degree of freedom into one week. Rather, I imagine my experience in the semester to be more free than the mundane existence I could be enjoying keeping my job as a mechanic slaving over skilled, yet unfulfilling tasks for the rest of my working life. I believe that this difference in the imaginary relationship that I have with college and the imaginary relationship that pop-culture portrays is partly due to my life experiences beyond college.
If we consider Althusser’s ideas about the Ideological State Apparatus, the characteristic media portrayal of Spring Break becomes obvious in a Marxist class-struggle connotation. It is portrayed as a method to unwind from the repressive nature of academia. By highlighting its emancipatory nature, we also subtly highlight the oppressive nature of its opposite: school. In this sense, we could postulate that the media, as an Ideological State Apparatus, seeks to weed out the weak-minded and provide an aversion to higher education. This represents a need to fulfill positions in society held by its working class members. This is class struggle at its most basic. Only, as Althusser points out, the Ideological State Apparatus molds minds through a false sense of free will, rather than through an oppressive method which would fuel class struggle and have less effective results.
In this context, working over Spring Break has caused me to feel more free than if I were to be so compelled to “let loose” by a subconsciously repressive ideology imparted by the Break’s portrayal in popular culture. For tending to my garden and knowing that I could possibly produce enough food for myself to live off, I feel liberated. Liberation through hard work and dedication is not often portrayed in the media because it seems as though the idea of work does not instill the same kind of sense of freedom as it does in me, but this may simply be another symptom of an invisible class struggle and a ruling class holding down a working class in the most clever way possible.
Written for Dr. David Odhiambo’s ENG 200: Composition II