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The Modern Brady Bunch

Bill Radke

Desiree Cooper

Millie Jefferson

Marc Sanchez

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Six kids in a bed.
(Keri Fisher)
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Desiree Cooper: Professor, welcome to Weekend America

Professor Vaisey: Thank you for having me.

Desiree Cooper:Professor, times are hard, really hard for a lot of people. We are typically an individualistic society, but the economy is starting to force more interdependence. Do you think we are on the verge of a cultural shift?

Professor Vaisey: My impression is that it would take a lot for a cultural shift to happen. You know things are getting bad, and certainly in the course of the past 10, 20 or even 30 years this is some of the worst we've seen, but you know we're no where close to the Great Depression yet. I still think we have a long way to go before we see these things re thought fundamentally. I mean a lot of these ideas: cowboy out on the range, or the independent farmer, the entrepreneur…I mean these are extremely powerful for the American consciousness. So, I think we will have to see some changes that affect a broader portion of the population and that's obviously starting, but I think its going to take some more before people start to reevaluate what their cherished ideal of what the good life looks like.

Bill Radke: Some people as we said are making real decisions to live differently these days.

Desiree Cooper: Now, professor you heard Dee Williams describe her downsized life in our last segment. This interdependence that she feels, it seems somehow counter cultural. It's not really an American ideal is it?

Professor Vaisey: Independence is definitely a big factor in America. We tend to very individualistic. I mean if you think of two aphorisms, one that's popular in America and one that's popular in Japan, they say it best. Here in America we say, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. So, if you stand out you're going to get benefits. If you make yourself known things are going to work out for you. In Japan, the saying is "the nail that stands up gets pounded down." So, obviously signifying fit in with the crowd and conform to the prescriptions of your family and community. So, I mean there are definitely some cultural differences here and it is countercultural in America to want to live communally.

Bill Radke: In the last segment, we heard Dee Williams say that she feels at home for the first time. For a lot of folks that home is a natural place to look. Besides shrinking the size of their house, they also look to their family for help. Such is the case with our next guest.

Keri Fisher: My husband and I and our families lived in Boston for a long time and we decided to move to the Philadelphia area to be closer to my sister and her kids.

Bill Radke: That's Keri Fisher. Keri and her family moved in with her sister, brother-in-law and their family for what was supposed to be a three-month trial period. They wanted to get the lay of the land before buying their own house. That was two and a half years ago.

Keri Fisher: It's working so well from every standpoint. From a financial standpoint, from a social standpoint.

Bill Radke: The family is big, but so is the house. Some kids share rooms, but they say they really don't mind that much. Keri and her husband have three kids and her sister and brother in law have five. So, they beat the Brady Bunch by two!

Keri Fisher: You know we never hear any of the kids complain that they're bored because there is always something to do and there is always something to play with. And of course they fight sometimes, but if they are fighting with one sibling or cousin then there is always someone else for them to play with.

Bill Radke: Now the utility bill might be cut in half, but the chores become super-sized. But they've worked that out too with a little strategizing.

Keri Fisher: My husband and I have both worked professionally as chefs. And when we moved in we made an agreement that my sister and her husband would pay for the groceries and my husband and I would do all the cooking. And it means that they get great meals and don't have to worry about cooking dinner every night and we get to save a lot of money on food costs. That set up for the whole house means we are running one household instead of two. It's a big household, but it's still less expensive than it would be to run two full households.

Bill Radke: Wow, Professor Vaisey moving in with your in-laws sounds so easy!

Professor Vaisey: Well when I was a kid, about 10 years old, my family moved in with my grandparents who lived just across town. We lived with them for about a year and even at 10 years old I could feel that some sort of expectation was being violated.

It was great to be with my grandparents all the time and this gets back to the kind of trade offs we heard from Keri, is that there really are good things about this. Individualism just because we value it so much doesn't mean that it's universally good. In fact, in some ways it's very problematic.

But, my parents as soon as they were able to bought a house and moved out. So, I don't think that desire for your own space, your own fortress ever really goes away.

Desiree Cooper:You were talking earlier about how there has to be a big force to get Americans to let go of that rugged individualism. So, do think that this perfect storm of an environmental crisis, a housing crisis, globalization, immigration, the economy tanking, will these things really cause a permanent change in how we live?

Professor Vaisey: Certainly if anything you have this emerging talk about environmentalism. I think this is the thing that is really competing with individualism. Individualism is great but at the same time I think it consumes a tremendous amount of resources. We all understand the value of having our own car, but I think when gas is costing $4.50-$4.60 per gallon and likely to go up, people have an incentive to rethink some of these ideas. And I think ultimately, that will be a good thing.

So, you know there will probably be some sort of hybrid, some sort of mix between people try to balance out having their own freedom, their own autonomy, their own space, but at the same time being sensitive to the impact they are having on the world and that will definitely have an impact.

Bill Radke: Professor Vaisey, thanks for joining us.

Professor Vaisey: Thanks for having me, thanks a lot.

  • Music Bridge:
    Doctor Honoris Causa
    Artist: Elephant9
    CD: Dodovoodoo (Rune Grammofon)

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