216 posts categorized "Popular Culture and Consumption"

March 16, 2016

Masculinity So Fragile

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

Recently Will Smith's son, Jaden Smith, 17, became the face of the upcoming Louis Vuitton women's wear campaign. In the ads Jaden wears a black skirt and a fringed mesh top (you can see the photo here). This has sparked a mixture of cheers, jeers, and vitriol. Is it surprising that a gender-fluid image for a Spring 2016 fashion catalogue causes controversy? Why? Why would men—and it's mostly men—be so upset?

Here's something a little counter intuitive: masculinity, rather than being cast as the epitome of strength and power, is actually quite fragile. An undergraduate sociology student at UC Berkeley, Anthony J. Williams, added to the #masculinitysofragile hashtag to document the delicate yet heavily policed border between masculinity and femininity, and his contributions sparked an international trend. (Kudos!) This idea has been percolating in social media recently, and there are some solid sociological ideas to back all this up.

So, why the backlash?

Continue reading "Masculinity So Fragile" »

March 04, 2016

Our Subcultures: Making the Familiar Strange

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Are you part of a subculture, or a group that is a subset of the larger culture that has distinct values, norms, and practices? Chances are good you are and might not even be aware of it, because we become adept at switching between different groups and behaving accordingly, similar to what linguists call "code switching."

Sometimes the norms, values, and practices of a subculture become very apparent when we are new to a group; some people have a difficult time adjusting to a new group, sometimes experiencing culture shock when moving to a new region, attending college far from home, or even beginning a new job in an unfamiliar field.

Author Wednesday Martin describes the process of acclimating to a new subculture in her memoir, The Primates of Park Avenue, about her move from Manhattan's West Village to the Upper East Side, a journey of just a few miles but what she describes as inhabited by a significantly different subculture.

Continue reading "Our Subcultures: Making the Familiar Strange" »

February 26, 2016

Popular Culture, Race, and Representation

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

Zahira Kelly, who writes an advice column for The New Inquiry and for the blog Bad Dominicana, was recently on my campus to talk about the lack of Afro-Latin@/x representations within American and Latin American culture, history, and popular media. In her candid conversation, Zahira spoke honestly about her frustrations with systemic racism and heterosexism, and she mentioned the hate mail that she receives because she speaks openly about her experiences as a Black Latina.

While Kelly's talk highlighted the personal ways that racial erasure in popular media affects her on an individual level, it also showcased the lack of representations of a variety of people of color within our popular American consciousness. This negation of difference among and between communities of color both homogenizes these complex lived experiences and reinforces a simplistic understanding of race and culture that relies heavily on skin color and privileges whiteness.

Continue reading "Popular Culture, Race, and Representation" »

February 24, 2016

When Our Heroes are Also Villains

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

"We can be heroes, just for one day." This is the famous line from one of David Bowie's most popular songs, "Heroes." Bowie was indeed a hero to many people, and his passing at the beginning of the year was met with an outpouring of sadness from fans around the world. Bowie was known as a musical genius, a gender-bending norm breaker, and a crusader for racial justice in the music industry. But he was also known to have had sex with underage groupies and for some critics this dark side of his legacy is something we should not ignore.

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January 27, 2016

What are You Wearing?

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Most of us ask this question of others at one time or another. We might ask if we're going to a special event and want to make sure our clothing is appropriate, or we might silently wonder this at the sight of others if we are surprised by their wardrobe choices. Reporters ask celebrities a version of this question during red carpet interviews at award shows.

Clothing is profoundly social—it reflects culture, it might make a statement about a subculture we identify with, about our economic status (or the economic status we hope to project to others), about gender, and about our sense of self. Even if we are not consciously making choices to impress others or to fit in with a group, the clothing options available to us at any given time are produced in a social, cultural, and economic context.

Continue reading "What are You Wearing?" »

January 20, 2016

#Pinktax and #Genderpricing: Gender in the Checkout Aisle

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

Last month I wrote a post that was critical of the state's involvement in offering a voluntary tax of the poor and desperate via the lottery. And you are likely aware that women still make less than men (79 cents for every dollar a man makes at an equivalent job), the costs of birth control mostly fall on women, and research demonstrates a "mommy penalty" with the pay gap between mothers and fathers. This time I'd like to write about how women pay more than men in the checkout aisle.

You might think to yourself, "Well, like other bathroom products, tampons could just be folded into the cost of running a normal household." If you do think that way, there's a good chance that you are a man. Because, if you are a single mother or a young woman working her way through college or a member of a lesbian couple or have two teenaged daughters, it is a frustrating fact of life that women pay for and are taxed on everyday, essential products that the other 49% of the population does not have to pay for.

Continue reading "#Pinktax and #Genderpricing: Gender in the Checkout Aisle" »

December 29, 2015

If I Could Turn Back Time: Regressive Social Movements

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

When you imagine what an activist looks like, what comes to mind? The stereotypical "tree hugger?" A young, idealistic college student? A radical hippie from the 1960s? These are common images we have of activists, but they certainly don't fit all, or even most people involved in social movements.

We often think of social movements as progressive: a push for reform, a call for new ways of looking at an issue, or perhaps an expansion of rights for an oppressed group. But social movements can also be regressive: when people observe a change that has taken place that they feel is harmful, they call for a reversion to what they see as a better past. Rather than the stereotypes of activists mentioned above, activists might better resemble a college student's grandparent.

Continue reading "If I Could Turn Back Time: Regressive Social Movements" »

December 18, 2015

Sociology and Holiday Rituals

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Do you have certain holiday rituals that you look forward to each year, or at least feel compelled to participate in? Sociology provides us with tools for understanding these practices more deeply.

For Emile Durkheim, one of sociology's key nineteenth century thinkers, shared values and beliefs help to form society itself. Emphasizing particular values during end of year holidays like giving, connecting with family and friends through visits, cards, or well wishes serves a very important purpose. He contends that societies are more than just a collective of individuals, but rather people learn to be part of an already-existing society. Holidays aid in this process.

Continue reading "Sociology and Holiday Rituals" »

December 11, 2015

A Reflection on Death, Dying, and Illness

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

In a recent conversation with colleagues, we talked about the various ways we describe age. Whether it’s young, old, middle-age, wise, or (im)mature. I realized that I’m somewhere between feeling not really young, but also not quite middle-aged. This conversation, coupled with some recent medical issues that I’ve been contending with, has gotten me thinking about time, death, and my own mortality.

For me, the two scariest parts of dying are 1) the thought of not existing anymore (this has kept me up at night for hours, particularly during bouts of insomnia and high stress) and 2) not knowing how everything turns out. Humans have pondered question 1 forever. What is death? What does it mean to cease existing? Is there an afterlife? Have I fully lived?

Continue reading "A Reflection on Death, Dying, and Illness" »

December 03, 2015

The Sharing Economy Paradox

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

You don’t have to look hard to find invitations to join the “sharing economy:” ads invite us to drive for Uber or Lyft, rent a spare room on Airbnb or sell your wares on eBay. These online services promote easy use for consumers, and a way to make money by working as much or as little as you would like, and on your own schedule.

The “sharing economy” is not exactly new; people have been renting rooms in their homes, selling used items, and providing rides for pay through more localized channels well before the Internet’s existence. In communities with many elderly residents who no longer drive, it is not uncommon for a “younger” retiree to offer rides to neighbors for a small fee, for instance.

Technology has made it easier than ever to sell a variety of services online, made simple by companies like those mentioned above who provide a platform to connect buyers and sellers. No longer are drivers limited to their neighbors or word of mouth in order to make money. With online reviews and user ratings, these platforms provide at least a little information for consumers to make informed decisions about the services they are purchasing.

Critics have questioned whether this is indeed sharing—isn’t sharing something we do without the expectation of being paid? But more centrally, we might ask how the profits from these industries are distributed. Are the companies whose success comes from the service providers sharing the wealth they generate?

A Los Angeles Times columnist decided to find out for himself by becoming an Uber driver. He signed up to become a driver, did some test runs, and took an entire day to drive from 9 am to 5 pm, and then again after 9pm that day to get a sense of how much he might make. After 9 hours on the job he earned $122.64, after Uber’s cut.

He also had to pay for gas, and of course the car insurance and maintenance. As an independent contractor, he had no access to benefits. The app made it easy for people to pay online so he didn’t have to worry about collecting fares. Maybe because of this he didn’t get any tips. While Uber has an estimated value of $50 billion, Lopez estimated that he made just over $12 an hour during his experiment.

While this is just one day—certainly a driver’s income will vary each day—at this rate working 8 hour days, 5 days a week for 50 weeks a year one might earn $24,000 a year before taxes. When you consider the cost of gas, insurance, and the car’s maintenance, and income taxes, an Uber driver would likely have a net income low enough to qualify for food stamps. The “sharing economy” may be a contradiction in terms.

Lawsuits in California, Florida, and Massachusetts have challenged that Uber drivers are employees, not independent contractors, and should be granted the same rights as employees. Aside from benefits many full-time workers enjoy like health care, sick time, vacation time and retirement, these and other lawsuits raise questions about whether workers might be entitled to worker’s compensation or disability pay should they become injured. Driving, of course, is not without its risks.

By contrast, other online services might better fit the term “sharing economy.” For instance, Meetup.com earns revenues from organizers who pay fees to maintain their group on the site. This service promotes a variety of social activities from book clubs to photography groups, networking groups for different industries, political organizing, and an endless list of possibilities for people to join others for activities. While some groups charge nominal fees to participants in order to recoup the cost of the site, most events are free for participants.

While on vacation earlier this year, my husband and I signed up for a Meetup group at our destination in order to enjoy some outdoor activities with people who know the area. The organizer was a retired man who wanted to keep fit and active, and so he regularly scheduled 5-7 activities every week ranging from hikes to canoeing trips to visits to local festivals.

We went on one of his posted activities and enjoyed a hike in an area near our hotel with his group. He told us that he likes meeting new people and sharing his hometown with others. It is a win-win: he gets to exercise, avoid isolation, and feel pride about being able to help people enjoy their visit. He was truly sharing, expecting nothing in return from participants other than our company.

New opportunities to exchange goods and services are changing the economy in many positive ways, and with some drawbacks. Many people love the flexibility of renting a room in their house or getting rides from Lyft. It’s just not always technically sharing.

What other examples of the sharing economy can you think of that might not be truly sharing? Other examples of the sharing economy that embody the spirit of sharing?

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