The Bay View station is a sculpture on WWU’s campus. By using writer Paul Heilker’s idea of genres along with James Paul Gee’s idea of discourse, which are similar terms, the truth behind this otherwise meaningless sculpture arises. After defining the genre of the spot, questions begin to arise. What makes this place feel like this? Does the genre of this place change? What was it? Who changed it? All questions that bring about great speculation. After further inquiry, I discover that these genres are dynamic and are a reflection of society’s views, and that those views lead us to subconsciously comply with said views.
Tags: Space, Genres, Change, Heilker, Effect, Discourse, Smoking
Space In A New Way
Everyday we pass through infinite space and, most likely, don’t even think twice about it. And no, I’m not talking about how the earth constantly hurls trough space at light years or whatever the physics of it is. No, I’m talking about the space in your room, or the space on your commute to work. I’m talking about something as big as your city as a space, or as small as a certain shelf on the refrigerator. Everyday we mindlessly pass through, as I said before, an infinite number of spaces, and we rarely, if ever, really think about what that space does and how it affects our life or our actions.
At the beginning of this year, when I was still a young freshman curiously exploring the streets of Bellingham, I came across a peculiar-looking structure on the North Side of WWU’s campus on a late Fall night. It looked sort of like a fishing dock stuck on the side of the hill. Naturally, I went and checked it out. Upon reaching the structure, I found my self in awe over the breathtaking view of Bellingham Bay. With a whole city right in front of me, it struck me. I’d made it. I was here in college and had a world of opportunity right in front of me. But was it the dock itself that put me in this state of epiphany, or was it what the dock showed me?
I found out the dock was actually an art piece here after doing a little research. It said on the Website for Western’s Outdoor Art Gallery (and the plaque) that it was created by George Trakas in 1987. It’s formal name, The Bay View Station, was a “pedestrians passageway” between the west side of campus and the industrial part of Bellingham. Back in that time, Bellingham was a very industrial city and the port was crucial to the cities economy. Trakas wanted to create a “viewing station for reflection on these communal connections” of the port city and the university. What a great concept, right? While that may have been the case at first, it seems that the purpose of The Bay View Station has shifted since its creation.
Different aspects of any particular art form, for example adding some sort of media to a traditional essay, can greatly change it’s overall message. This is applicable to spaces as well. All of the different aspects of a space work together in creating an effect, and this effect could be labeled as a genre. In his essay titled On Genres As Ways of Being, Paul Heilker defines genre as a man-made “technology” that dictates “what we should want, how we should be” (Heilker 97). So if the Bay View Station (I’ll use the term dock from now on) has it’s on genre, or effect on those who inhabit it, then what is it? Unfortunately, that question is more easily asked then answered. It is not simply asking, what is the genre? It is much deeper than that. Heilker says that genres influence the way we think and behave, whether or not we are aware of it. So we must look past the obvious by not only observing how we personally feel in this genre, but deciphering any and all effects it can have on us, and others while we are occupying the space. Because, like other art forms, one such aspect can change how we perceive everything else about the space.
We begin with some dry observations of the space, starting with aesthetics. It is surrounded by grass which seems to be not very well kept. There is garbage in some places, the steel supports are rusted and decrepit. Next to the dock is the PAC, currently under construction. Overall, the place looks kind of beat up. If I consider what I know of Westerns Outdoor Art Gallery, I am confused. Western is very proud of their art sculptures. There is one just about everywhere you could go on campus, and they are generally well-maintained. So what is the deal with this one? It seems neglected, why? Well if we go back to Heilker, he uses a anecdote of his high-school commencement speech as an example for genres. He was surprised that a “putz” such as himself would be selected for a prestigious position such as class speaker. What surprised him even more was that he came up with a completely honest, appropriate speech, the opposite of what he thought he was capable of. He explained that that genre “required of [him] a new way of being in the world” (Heilker 96). That just being in a situation like that enabled him to be something he wasn’t. It brought about a sincere Heilker that he hadn’t previously known. So lets go back to the dock. This is a place for reflection of nature, with a great view for just that purpose. A relaxing place to sit and think. At least, that’s what it was designed to be. Oddly enough, it just doesn’t give me that vibe. I believe at its erection in 1987, it’s creator was hoping to create a peaceful environment for students to come relax. But I also believe that this is not the case. I believe the genre of The Bay View Station has shifted. The question now is what has it changed to? Why, and by what forces?
While making these observations, one thing stuck out to me. Most people that enter the space are there for a quick smoke break. I see workers from the V.U. as well as students in between class, or coming down after a meal to have a quick puff. This isn’t very surprising, seeings as its one of the few places with a sign like the one in the picture. In society today, the harmful effects of tobacco are more well known then they were back in the day, making them more frowned upon then ever. There are many movements on social media alone of people and companies trying to eradicate smoking completely. This leads to a general thought of cigarettes as bad, or gross. A lot of people I know wont even talk to people if they are smoking cigarettes because of how disgusting they think it is. I imagine no one wants to be victimized like that, which makes sense of why people would come to a spot like the dock to have some privacy and smoke.
There are spaces that work almost the exact same way as this everywhere. One, for example, is a space in Tacoma (my home town) known as the Wall. It is a barrier to keep cars from flying off a cliff as a street turns into another street. You can go back and sit on the other side of the wall and there is an amazing view of the Puget Sound, making it, also, a popular spot to smoke marijuana. Weed in Tacoma is not a big deal. Even before it’s recent legalization, I’d see people walking down the street smoking like it was nothing; no ones going to run over and stop you. But people still go and do it in private, just like smokers at The Bay View Station. Why is this? What about the genres of these places makes the feel like a place where you go and hide?
Another term that can be used with genre is the word discourse, as defined by James Paul Gee in What is Literacy? He describes discourse as an “identity kit…[with] instructions on how to talk and act” in a way that one can understand your association(Gee 73). One of his most important arguments about discourses is that “control over discourses leads to acquisition of social goods”(Gee 74). Using this idea, I begin to speculate about my original spaces genre and how this new idea of discourses applies. Then it hits me. Could Western, a school known for being healthy and environmentally friendly, intentionally neglect a spot like the bay view station? Is it their low-key attempt at ostracizing smokers? Maybe if they have to go hide they will realize it isn’t worth it. Sure it sounds a bit ridiculous, but with so much campus to maintain, and so many art pieces to maintain, why focus on a beat down one where all the smokers hang out? I mean it’s been proven that smoking is bad, and if any school was gonna launch an anti-smoking movement, it would probably be Western. Western, by controlling the discourse(or genre) of a place, seeks to control the social good that is the need to go smoke. They are attempting to control, and maybe then reduce the population of smokers at Western.
Personally, I do not think at one point someone sat down and said “Hey, lets trash The Bay View Station, maybe those rotten smokers will learn a thing or two and stop!” That seems a little too radical for a public university. I mean smokers are people too, they have the right to do what they want, who are we to try and dictate what people can or can’t do? Well ever since Washington passed a smoking ban, it’s been illegal to smoke in most places. Illegal means bad. Bad means people frown upon it. I always hear people complaining about those kids on campus who just walk through crowds of people smoking, not even thinking about the harmful effects of secondhand smoke that have been proven; not to mention it smells pretty bad. It tends to leave people sour towards smokers.
If one person doesn’t decide to neglect the dock, then who, or what, does?Does the janitor subconsciously not do it because he feels as though the spot isn’t worth the work? Probably not. But with that idea of subconscious action comes a great speculation. It’s possible that an overall reflection of societies views are really what defines the genre of this space, and all other spaces. That everyday we are subconsciously guided by these social norms. Now, this NOT saying that the well-being of The Bay View Station is not influenced by one or a few persons; I believe that is viable. But I believe this person was subconsciously influenced by the normal views of society, in this case that smoking is bad.
Whether or not someone actually wants to rid campus of smokers, people just like the view and happen to smoke, or are just slobs in the area, only one thing is certain. That the genre is always changing. It is dynamic. The forces that drive these changes are also always changing, and I believe that I’ve provided enough insight to argue that it is possible that the genre of a space is directly influenced by societies values. Either way, The Bay View Station is a good place to make a quick smoke break, to eat lunch, to view the city and reflect, or to fantasize about life to a college kid stumbling home at 2 A.M.