194 posts categorized "Popular Culture and Consumption"

January 23, 2015

Punk Rock Professors

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

It’s been said that “music soothes the savage beast.” Although that may be true, I think music can also have the opposite effect: it can turn the calm individual into a maelstrom of frenetic energy (think Animal from the Muppets). That’s certainly been my recent experience with music.

Questionable authorities

For over 10 years, I’ve been part of a punk rock cover band called Questionable Authorities. There are five of us in the band: a biologist, a psychologist, and three sociologists. We are all tenured, well-respected professors at SUNY New Paltz who do typical professor things such as teach and mentor students, write academic books and articles, and chair departments and campus committees. But we also play punk rock music together. We even have an official band video of our punk version of the SUNY New Paltz alma matter (set to the music of The Dead Kennedy’s Holiday in Cambodia). We are still waiting for this video to go viral (or at least get more than 200 views—hint, hint).

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January 16, 2015

Art and the Social Construction of Reality

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

What is art? This is an unanswerable question, certainly one that I will not attempt to answer in this post.

 A recent visit to our local museum of contemporary art triggered this question, as I passed by exhibits including a plywood box, a drain, scribbles with hand-drawn maps on brown pieces of paper, sock puppets, as well as diary entries that including the creator’s daily weight, body temperature, and her body’s elimination schedule.

For these pieces to be in a museum, someone must have declared them to have artistic merit (with which professional art critics might disagree). Perhaps the creators consider themselves to be artists and set out to create art and are thus regarded by others as artists. How one defines art is not just an individual endeavor, but one that is grounded in our social context.

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January 06, 2015

Smart Phones and Postmodern Theory

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

I have been to several concerts within the past year and have noticed that there are always at least a few people who use their phones to take videos during the concert, even if there is an explicit “no photography” rule in effect.

For audience members, these video-takers are very distracting. They are holding up a lighted object, often partly blocking the views of those behind them. From the perspective of the performers, not only can they be distracting, but for those who don’t want unauthorized images or videos of their work posted online, there can be copyright issues to consider.

At a recent show, I saw at least two people taking videos in my immediate vicinity, despite being told that all cell phones must be turned off so they would not interfere with the electrical equipment at the tiny venue (maximum capacity 155). It’s hard not to look at a smart phone while it’s taking a video right in front of you in a darkened room. At this concert, the “videographer” was zooming in and out of the stage, and shaking the phone to add his own effects to the music. It created a blurry, shaking, pulsating light in front of me.

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December 23, 2014

The Season of Giving, Charity, and Capitalism

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

Within the United States, we often hear the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas called the “season of giving.” During the past three years, this season has been kicked off by Giving Tuesday.I n the true spirit of capitalism, Giving Tuesday draws on the monetary successes of Black Friday and Cyber Monday in order to tap into two great American pastimes: charitable giving and shopping.

According to a study by the National Philanthropic Trust, in 2013 the average American household donation was $2,974. Furthermore, Americans donated $241.32 billion to charities; this dollar amount vastly outpaced the combined charitable giving by foundations ($50.28 billion) and corporations ($16.76 billion).  But what does it mean to give charitably?  Where did this idea of charity come from? And, why do Americans donate?

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December 03, 2014

The Social Nature of Personal Choices

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

Did you know that you could do more to reverse climate change by becoming a vegetarian than by driving a hybrid car such as a Prius? Apparently, it’s true. According to researchers at the University of Chicago, the amount of fossil fuels it takes to produce a meat-based diet is so great that if you want to reduce your carbon footprint you are better off cutting livestock out of your diet than by driving a fuel-efficient automobile. Other researchers have come to similar conclusions, finding that “plant-based diets in comparison to diets rich in animal products are more sustainable because they use many fewer natural resources and are less taxing on the environment.”

I imagine that this news may be hard for many of us to swallow—especially during this stretch of meaty holiday meals full of turkey, ham, pork, sausage, and steak. Let’s face it: eating meat (and driving gas guzzling cars, for that matter) is a favorite pastime in the United States. And as much as we love consuming meat, we hate having people tell us that we shouldn’t be eating it.

But what does eating tofu instead of turkey have to do with sociology? Many of us think that our lifestyle behaviors such as being a vegetarian or a carnivore are personal choices. In reality, all of our behaviors and habits are socially conditioned. Whether it’s the car you drive (a Hummer or a Prius), the type of exercise you do (walking to the mailbox or running a marathon), the foods you eat (meat based or plant based) or the habits you engage in (smoking, drinking, doing drugs, etc.), the things we “choose to do” are largely products of the social environments in which we find ourselves.

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October 06, 2014

Sociology, Murals, and Communities

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

Have you seen any murals in your community? If so, do you know what they depict? Do you know the history behind them? Finding such murals can be a good exercise for your sociological imagination.

There is one mural right next door to my college: The Great Wall of Los Angeles. It is a half-mile long, located along the interior wall of the Los Angeles River – yes, our river runs within a concrete channel, built to control the unruly flow of water. With our current state of drought, however, we don’t have much water flowing so we can see the entire mural!

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September 29, 2014

The Social Context Behind Street Food: Authenticity, Culture and Ethnicity

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

This weekend I went to go see the Jon Favreau movie, Chef. The film chronicles a chef’s fall from a gig at a high-end restaurant to rekindling his passion for food by operating a lowly food truck specializing in Cubanos and other Caribbean treats. Drawing from the explosion of interest in food trucks—due in part to the film’s co-producer, Roy Choi, owner of the real-life Korean-Mexican mash-up Kogi-BBQ trucks—the film is a love letter for simple, working class food as “authentic cuisine.”

Favreau’s chef, however, doesn’t offer the same kind of inventive spin on the Cubano as Choi does with his tacos, but instead adopts the common ”white folks do it better” film trope as he embraces, honest and authentic Cuban cuisine. But what is authentic, anyway? The chef, doesn’t speak Spanish yet capitalizes off of Caribbean food culture. Can a white guy like Favreau really make better cuisine? But what is Caribbean cuisine anyway, since it is, itself, a mixture of Native American Taino, French, African, and Mexican influences?

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September 25, 2014

Living with Strangers

Peter_kaufmanBy Peter Kaufman

 “You cannot know that you have a particular view of the world until you come in contact with differing views” (Inge Bell and Bernard McGrane, This Book is Not Required)

 For two weeks in July I was living with a family of complete strangers. They spoke a language I barely understood, lived in a town I had never heard of that was nearly 2,500 miles away from my home, and they had cultural norms and practices that were quite different from my own.  I was in Costa Rica for one month studying Spanish and as a way to augment my learning—both in terms of the language and the culture—I opted to do a homestay for part of my time there.

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August 05, 2014

Being There: Understanding Sociology through Film

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

It’s summer, and for me that means a chance to watch movies. I tend to prefer classics to the latest releases, and I recently re-watched the 1979 film Being There, starring Peter Sellers. It is filled with sociological (and political) insights about the ways in which our social interactions create meaning.

The film is about a mentally challenged man named Chance who works as a gardener for an elderly man. When the man passes away, Chance is on his own. No provisions are made for his care, so he wanders the streets, hungry and unsure of how to appropriately interact with others. When a group of young men seem menacing, he points his television remote at them, hoping to change the channel.

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July 29, 2014

The Never-Ending Beauty Shift

Peter rydzewskiBy Peter Rydzewski

Sociology Ph.D. student, University of Maryland

The idea that physical characteristics can be socially developed may be difficult to consider at first. According to Raewyn Connell, however, “bodies are both objects of social practice and agents in social practice” (p.67). This means that while most of our appearance is commonly attributed to gene composition and biological parents’ body characteristics, discussions about the power of gender expectations, although sometimes missed, continue to play a large role in the development of the way that we look.

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