I love that the art of people watching has become a research method for cultural studies. As I looked deeper into the ideas of culture and ideology through Chris Barker’s book, Cultural Studies, and personal experiences, I realized that watching the way people live around me defines the culture in which we live. When I thought about where I wanted to do my research so that it would exemplify “radical romance”, I figured that I would observe in a setting that I was familiar with, at a restaurant. My fiancé and I have been going on weekly dates ever since we first started dating. It was just a way to spend personal time together without interruption from friends and family. We happened to have free meal certificates to Souplantation so I decided to observe there. Since I had never been there before, I didn’t know what to expect for my observation. After analyzing what I saw, I was surprised to see that “radical romance” was portrayed in a different way.
We (my fiancé and I) arrived at Souplantation at around 7:00pm on Friday. Walking through the double doors we were greeted with a huge salad bar that had every topping imaginable for a salad. At the end of the salad bar was the register to pay for your meal. There were lines on each side that took up the entire length of bar. While I was waiting in line and creating my salad, I saw several families and not that many couples. Since the dining area was pretty full a hostess woman took our group number to find us a table. After we got seated, I began looking at the tables surrounding me.
A table next to me had two teenage girls sitting on one side of the booth and two older women sitting on the other side. The girls were looking at their cell phones while the women were facing each other talking. After about ten minutes, they left and a new couple took their table. It looked as if it was a mother and a daughter. I noticed that the older women was wearing a black T-shirt, gaucho pants and was not wearing makeup. Throughout their meal the older woman kept looking at her phone and periodically picked it up like she was texting. The daughter was just sitting there eating.
Around a half an hour after we sat down, a family of four was seated behind me. The mother was a larger woman wearing a teal v-neck shirt, jeans and had a sweatshirt wrapped around her waist. Her hair was in a messy bun and she was not wearing any makeup. The dad was also on the bigger side was wearing a black polo and had long wavy dirty blonde hair that was pulled back in a low ponytail. The younger son was wearing a sports jersey and was also a bigger for his young age. The older son was tall and was wearing a skater hat and had headphones sticking out of the collar of his black T-shirt. Periodically one or two of the family members would get up and leave to get food. Across the way from me was another family that looked like grandparents taking their grandson out to eat. By this time, the rush of families had passed and the dining area was less than half the amount earlier. Finally the last family I observed was an Asian looking family. The dad was wearing a gray T-shirt and a black hat that read “Titleist”. The mom looked pregnant and was wearing a pink tank top with a gray shawl vest and had her hair pulled back in a messy bun. And their son was young, could be around 5 or 6 years old.
When I think of a date, I imagine going to a nice restaurant to share in a special meal. That was the extent of my expectations going to Souplantation. I quickly realized that this restaurant was just a glorified buffet. Although the restaurant itself was very well put together with artwork and flowers lining the walls and an extremely clean dining area, the individuals that came to the restaurant was hardly on the typical “date”. Barker explains my belief system through ideology that my understandings of the culture and norms that I live in are based off of my own perceptions and what was taught to me (pp. 61-64). This restaurant does not follow in the same patterns of other restaurants. It creates an atmosphere of “its just a place to eat.”
The families I watched all had a similarity about them. Typically, when I go out to a restaurant, I am there about an hour. Within the hour of my observation, there were several families to come and go from the same table. They just came to each with little socialization and then leave. Also the families all seemed like they wanted to opt out of making a home made meal and came to Souplantation in the comfy clothes they were in.
My experience at the restaurant does have “radical romance” in the sense that there was a lack of romance. None of the families came to the restaurant with social intentions. They were not dressed to impress. The families were also radical in that they were not fitting into the traditional family mold where families have meals together in the home. But then again, our culture has turned going out to eat into a regular part of society. Barker explains that culture is not created by individuals alone, but by the society in which they live (p. 43). Our society makes restaurants the new “home made meal”. It lets people believe that taking your family out to each regularly is normal part of society.
Barker, Chris. Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice. Los Angeles: Sage, 2008.