| || | Apu takes the U.S. Citizenship Test in this episode of The Simpsons; video transcript below (note: turn volume up; audio is poor). Test Administrator:
Alright, here’s your last question: What was the cause of the Civil War? Apu:
Actually there were numerous causes, aside from the obvious schism between abolitionists and anti-abolitionists, economic factors, both domestic and international, played a significant– Test Administrator:
Hey, hey. Apu:
Yeah? Test Administrator:
Just, just say "slavery." Apu:
Slavery it is, sir.
Three years ago this April, our country commemorated the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. This year, we commemorate the midpoint of the Civil War, the peak of the conflict in which three-quarters of a million soldiers
lost their lives, and many millions more were devastated by the loss of their loved ones and homes. July 1st will mark 150 years since the Battle of Gettysburg, the major turning point in the war in which the momentum towards victory shifted to the north. It is at moments such as these, as museums and historic battlefield exhibits offer commemorations and special events, that conversations about the causes and meaning of this war resurface, and offer engaging opportunities for classroom discussion.
In the few short years that I have been teaching about war in college classrooms, I have noticed an interesting and complex social mythology in the minds of many students about the causes of the Civil War. There is widespread acknowledgement among many students that slavery was a cause of the Civil War, but this acknowledgement is quickly followed by some kind of expression that slavery is the “simple” answer, or not the “real” answer. Many students seem to believe that, while ordinary Americans think slavery caused the Civil War, scholars and historians are aware of a much more complex reality.
"Many students seem to believe that, while ordinary Americans think slavery caused the Civil War, scholars and historians are aware of a much more complex reality."
This is, of course, shocking to me as someone who studies the history of war because it is the exact opposite of reality. According to Princeton historian James McPherson
, at least 90 to 95 percent of Civil War historians agree
that slavery was the primary driving cause of the war. I am certainly not the first to note the divergence between how scholars and the American public conceive of the causes of the Civil War, but why is this misconception so pervasive and how can educators challenge this social myth in the classroom? My experiences teaching about the sociology of war have led me to some answers.
Book cover of Loewen's "Lie My Teacher Told Me."
To begin, the pervasiveness of this misconception is rooted in the American education system itself. Beginning in grade school, American history textbooks argue the case that slavery was an important, but perhaps not the most important driver of the war. When it is discussed, slavery is wrapped in terminology about states’ rights, differences in economic infrastructures, and cultural divergences. I have yet to see a public education textbook that wraps slavery in terminology about racism, oppression, or systemic white privilege. The Texas State Board of Education, which arguably sets the standard for what school children around the country learn about American history, recently adopted a set of proposed changes which “watered down” the role of slavery
in leading to the Civil War, putting it behind “sectionalism” and “states’ rights” as the primary causes. In fact, it’s fairly typical to see slavery listed third among the causes of the Civil War, often behind some combination of taxation, political and legal rifts, cultural differences, and always: states’ rights. This pattern among mainstream American history textbooks has been well documented by James Loewen
Relegating slavery as third among a variety of other causes creates a complex social mythology that simultaneously acknowledges and buries the significance of racialized slavery in our past and present. The idea that a significant segment of our population would wage such devastating violence primarily for the preservation of an institution that is now widely abhorred as inhumane and barbaric violates our modern sensibilities and forces us to confront the continuing legacy of that institution in our daily lives. I find that confronting this mythology is particularly difficult for white students with Southern heritage who must reconcile modern attitudes about slavery and racism with a family history which for many includes an ancestor who fought and perhaps died for the cause of the Confederacy. Grappling with the racism embedded in that cause and its ongoing effects is far more difficult than shifting the focus of the cause to something more mundane and less controversial, such as disagreements over taxes and economic systems. Giving lip service to slavery as a cause, but the simplest, most easily understood cause, further entrenches the social mythology that our society is finished with racism, that we’ve moved on and its dangers no longer affect us.
How do we challenge this social mythology in the classroom?
For those of us in higher education classrooms, battling for a critical revision of American history textbooks is certainly a worthy, although daunting task. Educators in college classrooms, however, must teach the students who walk in their door, not a future generation of students educated with a different set of textbooks. Students enter college classrooms with a set of entrenched ideas they have accumulated from these textbooks. Yet few come in with the critical thinking skills necessary to turn those ideas on their heads, equipped to examine the significance and meaning of what they have learned, and how and why they have learned it. It is the job of higher education to provide students with the skills and opportunity to take charge of their own learning.
Rather than offer students a contradicting set of propositions to the ones they already accumulated, educators can encourage students to critically examine their own learning and come to their own conclusions. One way to disentangle the social mythology surrounding slavery and the Civil War is to offer students an opportunity to see for themselves what drove political decision-making among our leaders, and what inspired ordinary people to follow them. Using primary documents, educators and students can examine the reasons leaders cited to justify this war. Given that wars need widespread social support, leaders direct their public declarations about the necessity of war toward these segments of the population. This information is available to us, and it should be the first place we direct our students to look to understand the causes of the war. I have recently started a collection of these publically declared justifications
, and I am making them available online.
What can Civil War primary documents reveal?
Certainly disputes about economic systems, legal codes, and states’ rights are mentioned, but in the full context of these documents it becomes patently clear that it was differences in slave and non-slave economies, laws about the obligation of Northern states to return escaped slaves to their owners, and states’ rights to determine the legal status of black people that drove Southern states to secede, setting off the deadliest conflict in American history. In other words, it was racialized slavery that caused the Civil War. Take, for example, South Carolina’s declaration of secession
, which in citing the rights outlined in the Constitution, declared that:
| || |
“The right of property in slaves was recognized by giving to free persons distinct political rights, by giving them the right to represent, and [burdening] them with direct taxes for three-fifths of their slaves; by authorizing the importation of slaves for twenty years; and by stipulating for the rendition of fugitives from labor. We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assumed the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery...”
Here, although economic differences, legal issues, and states’ rights are all cited as reasons for secession, each of these explanations is specifically framed in terms of slavery.
This passage also provides a very useful teaching moment: I have often heard students point out that the cause of the war could not really be slavery because most Northern leaders did not become anti-slavery until much later in the war, for example, Lincoln did not issue the Emancipation Proclamation until 1863. However, this document provides evidence that in 1861, Southern leaders were citing Northern condemnation of the institution as a reason for secession. Here is an opportunity to provide students with information about the role of abolitionists and the anti-slavery movement in the war, and the role of social movements more broadly in creating social and political change.
"Outrage," February 2, 1837 Handbill, Rare Book and Special Collections Division (41), Library of Congress
Similar justifications are provided in the Mississippi, Texas, and Georgia secession declarations as well. After stating that “we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course,” the Mississippi
document immediately states that:
| || |
“Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world....These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.”
Here again is a clear and inextricable link between slavery and economic differences as the primary driver of the war. The first reason given by Georgia
in its secession declaration is that “For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery.” Texas
similarly argues the need to separate from the Union and join the Confederacy because within the Confederacy, Texas can exist “maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery– the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits– a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time.” This specific link between the necessity of slavery “to promote [Texas’] welfare, insure domestic tranquility and secure more substantially the blessings of peace and liberty to her people,” and racial oppression and privilege creates an opportune moment to engage students with a discussion about white privilege. The “servitude of the African to the white race” and the benefits this institution held for whites was clearly at the forefront of the minds of those Texans who wrote this document, and they were willing to risk a great deal to preserve it. Despite the extent to which students acknowledge slavery as the central cause of the Civil War, many still struggle with connecting this piece of American history to the broader American political and social system. Jefferson Davis, the Mississippi legislator who became the president of the Confederacy, repeatedly makes the connection between the cause of the Confederacy and the revolutionary accomplishments of the founding fathers. In his farewell address to Congress, Davis declares that Mississippi is justified in its secession because “She has heard proclaimed the theory that all men are created free and equal, and this made the basis of an attack upon her social institutions; and the sacred Declaration of Independence has been invoked to maintain the position of the equality of the races.” In both Davis’ first and second inaugural addresses, he repeatedly connects the cause of the Confederacy in maintaining the racial structure that undergirded slavery as part of the revolutionary legacy of the founding fathers. These passages provide an opportunity to engage students in a discussion about the historical legacy of the revolution and the role it played in shaping the Civil War, and consequently, the historical legacy of the Civil War and the role it plays in our own time.
Certainly the causes of the Civil War, as all wars, were complex. They involved numerous actors and many interest groups. Undoubtedly, slavery was not the driving motivation behind every individual Southern soldier’s actions. However, slavery was the most significant factor at the institutional and structural level in that it was the driving force behind the Southern states’ decision to secede and it held a place of utmost prominence in the minds of Southern leaders when making decisions they knew would lead to war. It matters that students learn this. Having students learn that the central and primary driver of the Civil War was slavery does not simplify its causes, rather it forces students to think about and understand the complexities of racialized slavery as a foundation of our current society. Providing students with the opportunity to interpret primary source documents firsthand—to read the actual words of Union and Confederate leaders—can help students come to their own understanding of what caused the Civil War and what this legacy of racialized slavery means for our society today.
Molly Clever Molly Clever is a PhD candidate at the University of Maryland. Her research projects include an analysis of justifications for war as well as a database of war-related deaths. Her blog, teachwar, provides tips, strategies, and resources for teaching about war.
Last semester was a risk. It's always a risk, because we always try new things, every semester refining techniques, every semester looking for new ways to convey what we have to share. But for whatever reason, in the fall of 2012 in my sociology intro course I felt like trying something truly new. I blended my regular non-fictional sociological readings—chapters of textbooks, excerpts from works of social theory, peer-reviewed articles—with works of science fiction and fantasy.
It's worth pointing out that the use of fiction in the context of a sociology classroom isn't new. The Wire
, just as one example, has become such a go-to for many instructors covering social inequality that there have been entire courses constructed around it. But, as I make explicit in my syllabus, I'd argue that speculative fiction allows us to engage in a kind of theoretical work that other forms of fiction don't.
Fritz Lang's Metropolis could inspire students to think critically about social class and gender.
Speculative fiction—both science fiction and fantasy, as well as all permutations in between—has always been implicitly sociological. Its earliest forms deal with technology and science, with magic and legend, but all of these really serve as ways to talk about other things. In The Time Machine
, HG Wells is arguably just as concerned with the future organization of human society as he is with the book's namesake. Robert Heinlein explores political power and social change by positing futures in which enfranchisement is linked to military service, and technically-expert revolutionaries carry out a bloodless coup on a colonized moon. Ursula LeGuin, Octavia Butler, and Joanna Russ theorize gender by inviting us to consider worlds in which our binary construction of gender no longer applies.
In fact, I’ve argued before elsewhere
that speculative fiction contains conceptual tools that “literary” fiction usually lacks, and suffers for the lacking. Imagining the future is always a part of sociology, even when we have difficulties in being a traditionally “predictive” science. This is especially true in a world within which our relationship with technology is ever-more difficult and complex. As I wrote in another post
pushing for the place of fiction in theoretical work: Speculative fiction, among other genres, allows us to explore the full implications of our relationship with technology, of the arrangement of society, of who we are as human beings and who we might become as more-than-human creatures. It’s useful not because it’s expected to rigidly adhere to the plausible but
because it’s liberated from doing exactly that: it’s free to take
what-if as far as it can go. This differentiates it from futurism, which is bound far more to trying to Get It Right and therefore so often fails to do exactly that. William Gibson didn’t set out to imagine right now, but he was able to get far closer to it than a lot of futurists precisely because he wasn’t subjected to the pressure to do so. I think it was far more chance than any temporally piercing insight, but when we can imaginatively go anywhere, we usually get somewhere.
And then we can look back on what we imagined before, and it can tell us a great deal about how we got to where we are now and where we might go in the future
--and where we
need to go.
So I invite my students to imagine. I think we understand concepts more fully when we can work through their implications in unfamiliar contexts, when we can tweak this or that setting and see what results. It works in a mutually-strengthening dynamic: We arrive at a fuller understanding of something when we can do the above, and when we’re able to, we can demonstrate greater theoretical competence in a way that goes above and beyond the regurgitation of information. Good storytelling is by nature good critical thinking. You simply can’t have one without the other. And good analysis of story necessarily follows.
"So I invite my students to imagine...Good storytelling is by nature good critical thinking. You simply can't have one without the other. And good analysis of story necessarily follows."
The result of this is usually mixed, and I expected it to be going in; in fact, I expected a poorer reaction than the one I’ve been getting. Some students seem resistant, or at least puzzled. Some seem excited by the opportunity to do something unusual and unexpected in a class within which they may not have know what to expect to begin with. In class discussions, I ask them to consider a central question from which all other questions about the readings proceed: Why did I assign this? What is it about this particular story that speaks to anything we’ve learned? What can it tell us?
Fiction in general - and speculative fiction in particular - is not merely escapism. It’s conceptual voyaging. It’s pushing beyond what we know into what we can grow to understand. Myths and legends are all-too-often dismissed as untrue
; what this attitude fails to recognize is that the deepest, most foundational stories are persistent precisely because the best of them are vectors for the most profound elements of who we are, of how we understand ourselves to be, of where we imagine we might go. These things may be harmful, they may reproduce things that we find undesirable, but we need to understand them on their own terms before we can act.
In my course, I characterize most forms of social inequality to be based on myth - on origin stories. We’re better than these other people. This thing is bad. This is what it means to live a good life. This is what justice looks like.
And when we find the worlds these myths create to be undesirable, we depend on the ability to imagine the alternatives to work toward
Sometimes understanding these alternatives involves spaceships and robots. Or it can. And sometimes it’s better when it does.
My Sociology Intro syllabus containing my fiction readings can be found here
. Currently I’m teaching an Intro to Social Problems course that follows this model very closely, and contains most of the same readings. Dig Deeper. Consider drawing from the following films for your next sociology class.
- Metropolis (1927) - gender, social class
- Blade Runner (1982) - definitions of humanity, gender, slavery, stratification
- Brazil (1985) - gender, rationalization, social class
- Aliens (1986) - capitalism, gender
- Gattaca (1997) - bodies, disability, identity
- Princess Mononoke (1999) - gender
- The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003) - gender, race
- Children of Men (2006) - gender, immigration, race, reproductive politics
- District 9 (2009) - postcolonialism, race
- Avatar (2009) - postcolonialism, race
Sarah Wanenchak is a fourth year PhD candidate at the University of Maryland and writes speculative fiction under the pseudonym Sunny Moraine.
A Boy Scout troop protests to keep their troop "morally straight." Photo: Associated Press / Richard Rodriguez
The Boy Scouts is an American value-based youth organization that focuses on the development of boys into productive and responsible citizens by empowering them to be leaders in their communities. According to the Boy Scouts official mission statement
, “[t]he mission of the Boy Scouts of America is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law.” Scout Law defines a Boy Scout as “trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, [and] reverent,” universal characteristics which encourage all boys to become “responsible, participating citizen[s] and leaders”. However, the Scout Oath discerning the values that the boys must swear allegiance to includes the declaration that they will keep themselves “physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.” The exact meaning of “morally straight” has recently come under scrutiny and debate across the nation. For example, this news video features Peter Sprigg, Senior Fellow on the Family Research Council, encouraging “the Boy Scouts to stand firm with the timeless principles they have always represented” and to specifically uphold “moral principles,” which means discouraging homosexuality:
In January, the Boy Scouts of America met to vote on their policy that excludes membership to gays, lesbians, and transgendered individuals, but postponed the vote due to the “complexity of the issue”. While individual troops may choose to overlook the enforcement of this policy, the Boy Scouts handbook explicitly states that “[w]hile the BSA [Boy Scouts of America] does not proactively inquire about the sexual orientation of employees, volunteers, or members, we do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA
[emphasis added by author]” (BSA-discrimination.org
).This erroneously argues that LGBT people distract boys from becoming “responsible, participating citizens and leaders” in a way that blatantly suggests openly gay members are not capable of participating as full, equal members of society. Arguing that openly gay members would stop boys from making morally sound decisions subordinates the masculinity of gay men by claiming that their reasoning and morality is defective in comparison to heterosexual men’s masculinity. Presumably, the primary reason for this is their deviance in preferred sexual partners. This second clip of popular right-wing Christian leader Pat Robertson attempts to cast doubt about homosexual men’s masculinity as immoral and conflated with pedophilia, which reasserts that the most normal and accepted form of masculinity as one that is exclusively heterosexual:
Pat Robertson’s and Peter Sprigg’s claims exist as a part of public discourse on the issue even though the majority of the scientific community, including the American Psychological Association
, have soundly disproven these claims. In light of this, similar organizations, such as the Girl Scouts of America, have subsequently altered their policies
to be inclusive of LGBT members for a number of years.
One way of analyzing the continued defense of this policy by the Boy Scouts is through the lens of Raewyn Connell’s theory of hegemonic masculinity. Connell (2005
) describes hegemonic masculinity as “the pattern of practice (i.e., things done, not just a set of role expectations or an identity)” that establishes more than men’s dominance over women. Connell adds that hegemonic masculinity asserts other forms of masculinity as subordinate in relation to it and “embodie[s] the currently most honored way of being a man.” It “require[s] all other men to position themselves in relation to it.”
1.4 million people have signed a petition against the Boy Scout's discriminatory policy. Photo: Associated Press
Through this lens, the Boy Scouts’ ardent defense of an anti-LGBT policy can be seen as an attempt to reaffirm a rigid gender binary with the most popular version of a right, moral or correct masculinity. Not only does it establish that real men are strong and brave, but also heterosexual. It subjugates men who are attracted to other men, and portrays them as ”immoral”. Accordingly, part of the power of hegemonic masculinity in shaping gender norms rests in the subordination of alternative masculinities. Therefore, dislodging this type of masculinity from being seen as more moral and acceptable than other marginalized masculinities, such as queer masculinities, is a necessary step for these men to gain equality and power to voice their concerns about issues in their community. As long as gay men are prevented from participating fully in mainstream organizations, especially those concerned with morality and ethics, issues disproportionately affecting their community, such as the endemic of HIV/AIDS, cannot be fully addressed.
Elizabeth Dickson is a student at Ohio Wesleyan University, where she is double-majoring in Psychology and Sociology.
AMC’s award-winning zombie apocalypse drama The Walking Dead is currently in its third season of undead annihilation. The show’s protagonists are a motley crew of survivors, led by Sheriff Rick Grimes, who have beat the odds to stay alive in the Georgia wilderness. In this post, Ami Stearns pits the human group as communists employing classic Marxist tenets to avoid being eaten by the cold-blooded symbols of capitalism.
“Society suddenly finds itself put back into a state of momentary barbarism; it appears as if a famine, a universal war of devastation, had cut off the supply of every means of subsistence; industry and commerce seem to be destroyed…”
Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto
The Face of Capitalism?
That sound of a twig snapping in the forest? For the small band of survivors on The Walking Dead
lead by Sheriff Rick Grimes, it’s much more likely a zombie staggering along in search of a fresh human snack than it is a deer or a squirrel. Zombies, called “walkers” in this high-adrenaline drama, can only be stopped with a bullet to the head or a swift decapitation. In this world, letting down your guard or relaxing your weapon means you might be the next item on the walker’s lunch menu. With episode after episode featuring an exponentially increasing zombie population, it’s a miracle that any humans are able to survive at all. Or is it a miracle?
I’m a sociologist, so I did what sociologists do; I analyzed the zombiepocalypse
The survival tactics of Grimes’ warm-blooded group in The Walking Dead
can be viewed through the lens of Marxist theory. Without complete cooperation, shared responsibility, and equal allocation of assets, the entire fate of the human race would be doomed. The zombies embody the classic Marxist critiques of capitalism. The heartless creatures mindlessly devour resources (i.e. human brains) in the same way that capitalism pursues profit for its own sake. In case you’ve been holed up in the woods preparing for the next pandemic (hint…it’ll be zombies!), here’s a quick overview of Marx’s Communist Manifesto
In the mid-1800s, Karl Marx wrote The Communist Manifesto
within the context of the Industrial Revolution. The epic struggle of zombies versus humans in The Walking Dead
can help illustrate the principles of each orientation. Capitalism, according to Marx, reached into the far corners of the globe to dominate markets, exploit workers, and destroy local culture. The zombies in The Walking Dead
have completely overtaken urban Atlanta, and it’s not long before hoards of walkers begin pillaging the surrounding small towns and countryside as well. The zombies symbolize capitalism’s insatiable need to constantly expand, exploiting (or feeding on, more appropriately) people to reach its end goal, which is merely to sustain itself.
The main idea of Marx’s Communist Manifesto
is the elimination of private property. Grimes and the survivalists must keep on the move to stay a step ahead of the zombies, so claiming any property as private would be futile. They inhabit campgrounds, a farmhouse, and a prison as shared, communal property, abandoning shelter and moving on when threatened.
Marx also advocates abolition of the family as another principle in The Communist Manifesto
. Although a few family units are represented on the show, the members of the group care for one another communally. One character recently stated that the survivors are his family. A communist society, Marx says, will cause differences and antagonisms to diminish. We see this is true among Grimes’ community of survivors. The characters who have shown intolerance toward one another due to race or gender present a danger for the group’s safety and have been eaten by (or left to be eaten by) zombies. The desire for profit is absent among the group, as it would be absent among a communist society. Instead, survivors rely on one another to meet basic needs. Finally, not only does money never change hands, but it has become completely obsolete in this society. The Walking Dead’s
human survivors versus zombie dynamic illustrates some of the basic principles in Marx’s The Communist Manifesto
. Theory can sometimes seem dry and undead, but viewing a popular show through a sociological lens can help bring theory to life.Dig Deeper:
Ami StearnsAmi Stearns is a graduate student at the University of Oklahoma and is interested in the sociology of literature, sociological and feminist theory, female deviance, and women's reproductive rights.
- Could the zombies and human survivalists in The Walking Dead be interpreted with a different sociological theory?
- How have communist or socialist groups been presented in the past in American society?
- Can the communal survival tactics used by the survivors on The Walking Dead be as successful in a larger scale context?
- Zombie themes have been prevalent lately in pop culture. Have you seen the movies Zombieland or Warm Bodies? Can these movies also be interpreted with Marxist theory?
Glamorized violence, as part of hegemonic hypermasculinity is evident throughout popular music videos. It is portrayed both as male dominance and female submission across almost every mainstream genre of music in the U.S. While socializing men into positions of dominance, these images simultaneously socialize women into being passive, weak, and subordinated victims of aggression.
This violent male gaze is a part of the system of patriarchy that has been well-documented by scholar Sut Jhally in Dreamworlds 3: Sex, Desire, and Power in Music Videos.
Sut Jhally argues that one of the primary factors contributing to men carrying out violence against women, as well as other men, is the repetition of stories or narratives that masculinity involves an emphasis on dominance through attaining exaggerated muscles, physical strength, aggression, and control over women’s bodies. This specific brand of commercial masculinity, which he terms hypermasculinity, defines a man’s self-worth and success in how he does his gender. Jhally argues that one technique frequently used to gain the viewer’s attention in music videos is to produce videos shot with women backup dancers and lead vocalists in clothing and with camera angles that draw the focus away from seeing them as people or artists and more towards the emphasis and exploitation of their individual body parts.
The costumes and slow-motion shots of dismembered body parts reflect and reinforce women's sexual objectification and the male gaze.
An excellent example of this physical dismemberment and sexual objectification of female musicians’ bodies can be found in the recently popular music video “Pound the Alarm”
by Trinidad artist Nicki Minaj, which has had over 70,000,000 views and 328,000 likes on You Tube alone in the past 6 months. “Pound the Alarm,” which is set in the artist’s country of birth, Trinidad, tells a story of the celebration of the native Trinidad holiday Carnival from a sexually objectifying Western male gaze. The narrative is told in fast-paced, images of racially diverse female back up performers and Nicki Minaj dancing through the streets and beaches of Port of Spain, Trinidad. The moments where the story slows down and freezes primarily features shots of these women’s bodies that cut off their heads, focus on their shaking, dismembered breasts, stomachs, and buttocks, which have been mostly exposed in bikinis, and are accompanied by lyrics from Nicki Minaj
such as “What do I have to do to show these girls that I own them?,” and involve the smiling and laughing back up dancers silently complying to Nicki’s commands to be “turned out” on the streets. The stilling of the images of the girl’s body parts removed from their faces, which are covered at an angle from the floor up close, or in a grinding mess, is combined with the repeated image of men dressed in blue costumes cracking whips and breathing fire. This happens while Nicki Minaj and the other girls submit images to them of their body parts, which sends a message that female subordination through sexual objectification and aggressive acts is normal, glamorous, and even enjoyed by both men and women.
In light of the heated discourse in the news media on the growing trend of violence committed against large groups of people in public spaces such as schools and movie theaters (i.e. the December 14th, 2012 school shooting committed by Adam Lanza in Newtown, Connecticut, the recent homicide at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado on July 2012 and the April 2007 mass killing at Virgina Tech State University), some psychologists and mental health experts propose that these tragedies could have been prevented if the mental health system had more resources from the government to make sure that individuals with signs of mental illness are not overlooked. While this is certainly true and some commentators have pointed out that another contributing factor might be the amount of violence in television, video games, and movies that children are normalized to, there has not been any extensive discussion of violence and aggression in the mainstream news as an issue resulting from the way that boys are taught to assert their masculinity. There has been no mention of a crisis in relation to male gender socialization, even though for the past 30 years the perpetrators of these mass shootings have been entirely male.
The men are portrayed as aggressive, demonic blue creatures who set fire to and whip Nicki Minaj and the female dancers.
From a sociological perspective, one preventative measure to mass homicides may be to consider the extent that violent images of masculinity have become so accepted in society. We are not sensitized to how males with aggressive behavior tendencies may act when in psychological distress. While we may perceive these actions as that of ‘real’ men, we would not interpret their aggression as a pathological disturbance in the same way that we would if that person was a woman. Sensitization by the mental health system to aggressive behavior in boys as a symptom of the unhealthy psychological effects of gender socialization could prevent future mass killings by men, many of whom probably had some aggressive tendencies or plans of action that went overlooked prior to the actual violence. This prevention may only work once we are able to first stop sending the message to males with mental health issues, as well as their male peer groups, that violence is what it takes to be successful, powerful, and ‘real’ men.
Elizabeth Dickson is a student at Ohio Wesleyan University, where she is double-majoring in Psychology and Sociology.
In this essay Jason Eastman, Editor-in-Chief of SociologySounds, explores the value-added by music videos when instructors use song to teach sociological concepts.
SociologySounds is a website that helps educators find sociological music to play in their classes.
Fittingly, The Buggle’s "Video Killed the Radio Star
" was the first video played on MTV. While the song lyrics explain how the beginning of television marked the end of radio’s golden age, its more general, Frankfurt School-like critique about how technology inevitably changes aesthetic expression was symbolically perfect for this milestone in popular culture. Theodor W. Adorno
, the leading musicologists of the first generation Frankfurt School and almost every punk rocker since thought new technologies that diffuse culture undermined the ability of music (and art more generally) to achieve its essential social function: inspiring audiences to critically assess and hopefully better understand themselves and their social reality—oftentimes by connecting our emotional and rational selves to the larger social and institutional processes we experience collectively.
"Video Killed the Radio Star" (painting, 2010) by #_# ARGADOL (Artist)
Both the critical theorist and the punk rocker in me will always be a little leery of the nexus between music and economics. Also, the musician in me also knows no technology will ever surpass the collective experience of hearing music at a live performance—when an audience watches and hears a musician create an emotive expression that only you and the limited people around you will ever experience as an interconnected, harmonious group when all the sounds, beats, melodies, tones, and timbers come together and then disappear just as fast as they were created (although I do write on SociologySounds
that Billy Joel’s video and song for “Piano Man
” comes close).
On the one hand, fears that technology will undermine the expressive ability of music are not entirely misplaced—especially because, as the Frankfurt School pointed out, the economic or political control of communication technology often equates to control of expression (and I recognize there is a lot of problematic tripe finding its way to listeners’ ears these days). Yet on the other hand, throughout the last century every new technology that musicians and music scholars originally feared—from records, to radio, to video, to Napster, to whatever is created today—some pioneering artist is able to effectively incorporate in their musical expressions.
So while the goal of SociologySounds
is to coordinate the sociological community’s effort to extract songs’ capacity to inspire critical assessment of social reality, we regularly come across musicians who enhance their recorded musical messages with video. In fact, as a collection of audience-submitted music that sociology instructors can use in their classrooms, the site is not only of songs but also of music videos that undermine the Frankfurt School’s fear that technology denigrates cultural expression. In fact, many of these videos help songs communicate these critical theorists’ more general argument that capitalism is not only alienating, but modern economics fetters our progress toward achieving an enlightened modernity.
Fittingly, before I became Editor-in-Chief of SociologySounds
, the very first song I submitted was Bad Religion's “American Jesus
,” which I use to teach Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic
because not only do the lyrics describe the entanglement of religious morality and capitalism, but also because the video is sociologically insightful by depicting people going about their daily lives, seemingly unaware they are carrying large crosses (e.g., the Christian-based American Individualism) on their backs. Strangely, when the song "American Jesus" first came out in 1993, I was hesitant to buy it as, like most 15-year-old punkers at that time, I was angered my musician-heroes (one of whom is lead singer Greg Graffin who inspired me to my own Ph.D. with his graduate work at Cornell) signed with a major label and started making videos. Yet now, this song and video better explains both the social-psychological and the cultural aspects of American individualism to my undergraduate students than any passage I can read from the Dialectic of Enlightenment
"So while the goal of SociologySounds is to coordinate the sociological community’s effort to extract songs’ capacity to inspire critical assessment of social reality, we regularly come across musicians who enhance their recorded musical messages with video."
Once I became Editor-in-Chief, the first song submission we received also has a video that exposes the alienation in capitalism that was the foremost concern of the Frankfurt School. While “Cats in the Cradle
” is primarily about socialization and the family, it captures one of the most consequential aspects of alienation given how many people sacrifice time with their children to pursue economic success. When preparing this anonymous submission, I was listening to this song for the first time as a father—and I remember thinking how strange at that very moment I was ignoring my infant daughter in order to post a song warning people to be careful about balancing work and families. Perhaps because of what I was feeling at this time, instead of incorporating Harry Chapin’s original song, I linked to Ugly Kid Joe’s version because the accompanying video includes powerful images that look like home movies which actually show, as opposed to just lyrically describing, the mistakes a father made throughout his life.
Scene from Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall"
We’ve received other song submissions that have video accompaniments centered on alienation and capitalism. Just recently Bob Holman noticed we were missing a classic song about socialization and education that has an especially insightful music video from their more expansive rock opera: Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall
.” While the solid and repetitive bass line of the song effectively instills the power of the enforced conformity described by the lyrics, the video also depicts the suppression of free thinking and individuality by showing students uniformly marching into industrial machines and coming out sitting at desks with their faces removed—becoming the nameless, faceless, and mindless robots that first Marx, and then the Frankfurt School, cautioned us not to become.
Of course, since the Frankfurt School assumed all of popular culture was little more than clever propaganda that suppresses consciousness, they would likely be surprised by the amount of songs and videos on SociologySounds
that not only critique but also challenge social convention—especially the ways race, class, and gender influence our lives. Since I am from the northern Appalachians, personally I am drawn to Steve Earle’s “Copperhead Road
,” which incorporates historic-looking film to describe how three generations of men were forced to live outside the law because their social class limited opportunity. Nazlı Ökten submitted “Luka
” by Susanne Vega, which highlights how symbolic violence against women perpetuates actual violence by overlapping close-up videos of people with panoramic shots of the city. Dan Hoyt submitted “Double Burger with Cheese
,” a song where Lupe Fiasco incorporates movie scenes to reinforce the lyrics of his song about the construction of Black men via media.
"Of course, since the Frankfurt School assumed all of popular culture was little more than clever propaganda that suppresses consciousness, they would likely be surprised by the amount of songs and videos on SociologySounds that not only critique but also challenge social convention..."
Fiasco’s video is also interesting because modern technologies enable almost anyone to mimic this style of videography by adding their own imagery to songs, thereby self-creating original videos that can be shared world-wide with a brief upload. This means that while SociologySounds
is full of official artist videos, the vast majority of links provided are fans’ uploads of their favorite artists via YouTube videos. A few of these self-created videos are especially insightful, like zelja tebrex’s video interpretation of Rage Against the Machine’s “Ghost of Tom Joad
” which incorporates an immense collection of video from both movies and documentaries that help put this Dust Bowl refugee into the context of our own times. While this practice is far removed from a live musical performance, it does mirror a basic process in which an individual emotional resonance with a song is shared collectively with others—and it is only possible because of new technologies.
In fact, tracing the lineage of this video illustrates how new medias and technologies can enhance rather than undermine the communicative power of art to collectively diffuse a message that is also individually meaningful. Tom Joad was first a character in Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath,” which inspired the Woody Guthrie song “The Ballad of Tom Joad,” which became the basis of both John Ford’s film adaptation of the novel, and Bruce Springsteen’s song “Ghost of Tom Joad,” which was then covered by Rage Against the Machine, which was put to images by zelja tebrex on YouTube before it was passed along to SociologySounds
by Josh Greenberg. With each (re)interpretation, an audience-artist critically engaged the expression of their predecessors to make sense of their own contemporary reality, which was uniquely translated into another expression that was then passed along to others.
This sharing of an evolving artistic expression shows that while artists and sociologists often fear new technologies, and that the forms of expression they make possible will undermine the creation of insightful art, nearly the opposite seems to happen. Also, perhaps the most effective way sociology instructors can play a role in diffusing music’s especially powerful critiques of the social world that are both individually meaningful but also communally uniting is simply by exposing students to meaningful songs—and that’s why we at SociologySounds
are quietly exuberated yet also apologetic because we can never seem to keep up with all the great song suggestions passed along to us. Still, if you know of song that can be used to teach sociological ideas, please consider submitting
it to SociologySounds
. We also have a comment section where you can add tips about how the songs already posted can be used in the classroom.Endnote: SociologySounds
was started by Nathan Palmer of SociologySource.org
. In July 2012, Jason Eastman became Editor-in-Chief of SociologySounds
Jason Eastman is Editor-in-Chief at SociologySounds and an Assistant Professor at Coastal Carolina University. He researches how inequality is perpetuated through culture, often by focusing on the construction of identities through rock and country music, including specific bands like The Rolling Stones and an entire subgenre of country devoted to truck drivers.
When arriving at the dating age, I remember asking friends and relatives how I should act while on this date and common responses were usually “don’t hold back,” and/or “just be yourself,” “act natural.” But I already knew better than to literally take them at their word—particularly when it came down to expressing vital bodily functions. In the top clip from Sex and the City, Carrie lets one accidentally slip while in bed with Big during the early stages of their relationship, and her embarrassment, much to his delight, is palpable and lasting. In the bottom clip, the young woman is at first put-off when her boyfriend shamelessly farts. However, following his suggestion, she then comes to “act natural,” and indeed, to repetitively embrace the act—much to his chagrin.
Taken together, the clips provide a springboard to discuss the fact that many social norms are clearly gendered in the sense of their unequal application to the sexes. In terms of public displays of flatulence, many males seem to think nothing of engaging in it—sometimes even making it a high-sport for masculine amusement. Females, on the other hand, are supposed to hide their need for release, holding it in for all their worth. At a deeper level, gendered norms about flatulence suggest differential power between the sexes, and perhaps even contempt among men for women. As Weinberg and Williams (2005) note: “...bodily grossness may be valued for its opposition to the manners that femininity is thought to imply. The delight taken in physical behaviors like burping can indicate men’s disdain for what they perceive as feminine. Some men may adopt this form of embodiment as an expression of their power over women as they deliberately breach the habitus.”
"..the clips provide a springboard to discuss the fact that many social norms are clearly gendered in the sense of their unequal application to the sexes."
While the bottom clip humorously indicates the normative double-standard, it can also function as an illustration of a breaching experiment. Harold Garfinkel’s ethnomethodological perspective emphasizes understanding social reality as humanly constructed and hinged on unspoken social norms. The significant power of such norms is revealed by first deliberately violating or “breaching” them and then observing how others react in turn (see Garfinkel, 1967
Kim BryantKim Bryant is a graduate student at the University of Texas, San Antonio and is currently majoring in Sociology. Besides going to school full-time, she works as a teacher's assistant and in the United States Air Force Reserve Corps.
- Garfinkel, Harold. 1967. Studies in Ethnomethodology. Prentice-Hall, Inc.: New Jersey.
- Weinberg, Martin S. and Colin J. Williams. 2005. "Fecal Matters: Habitus, Embodiments, and Deviance." Social Problems, 52(3): 315-336
- Worsfold, Adrian. Harold Garfinkel (breaching experiment)
Over the years of integrating multimedia into my sociology courses, I’ve developed a number of rules of thumb to guide the use of video and video clips in the classroom. Any criticisms, suggestions, and/or additions would be most welcomed.
1. Determine general relevance of video: does it advance learning? Consider such questions as: Does it stimulate students to think about the topic, perhaps in a novel way? Does it appropriately illustrate or amplify? Worst case: it diminishes learning (e.g., might it confuse, frustrate, or talk down to?). Is it appropriate to course, level of learning, and student population?
2. Evaluate video relative to student, university, and community standards. Might students see it as offensive, disparaging, or otherwise objectionable? Note: your point in using it may be exactly to challenge or provoke. However, be aware of possible fall-out. If potential is high that students will be disturbed, it’s crucial to provide meaningful pre-showing discussion, placing the video in learning context.
3. In what venue will students watch video? Will it be in or out of class? (Note: clips integrated into class presentation also can be linked to syllabus for online viewing). This decision might be guided by: a) importance that students see it, in combination with b) length of class time you can reasonably devote to it (if longer than 5 minutes or so, I’ll usually place it online, unless it is critical to share in class).
4. How will it fit into the course relative to evaluation? If viewed out of class, will it be required or optional? If required, will you in some way provide test questions relating to it? If optional, might you attach some kind of extra-credit to motivate students to view it? Note: if video is not indicated on syllabus at beginning of semester will you require viewing? (Some colleges stipulate that the syllabus is a contract. Therefore, extra requirements cannot be imposed after the semester begins. If this is the case, you might list as optional.)
5. If video is to be viewed out of class, how will you orient students to it? Will you provide a set of questions for students to address while viewing? (Note: without such guides, students may not see what you want them to be sure to see.)
Infographic by Edudemic.com
6. If the video is to be viewed out of class, also consider the total length of viewing time you are imposing in relation to the time constraints facing students. Obviously this will vary by student population. You might assign shorter viewing lengths where they are likely to be working at outside jobs.
7. Determine also if there may be difficulties or hardships imposed on students relative to outside viewing. For example, to what extent do students have access to high-speed Internet service?
8. Note that a video may not be available at the time you want to show it (e.g., YouTube clips are particularly vulnerable to removal). Consider either downloading or have in mind an alternative, back-up video.
9. Inform students about technical considerations in using video. For example, at the beginning of the semester, warn about pop-up blockers and also indicate on syllabus necessary software downloads for their computers. Provide links on syllabus to downloads. Tell students importance of infoming you if they’re having troubles with videos. Remind students that links often break and that videos may be taken off Web. Ask them to let you know if video is not available.
10. Review the particular version of the video to be used beforehand. This cannot necessarily be determined by title. If you’ve seen it before, note the version you now have access to may not be same (e.g., YouTube clips are often extensively edited by contributors).Michael V. MillerMichael V. Miller is a sociologist at the University of Texas at San Antonio. His current research in this area focuses on how academic disciplines can best incorporate online multimedia and freeware media-authoring tools into instruction. For further reading, see: “A system for integrating online multimedia into college curriculum” and “Integrating online multimedia into college course and classroom.”
A privilege is a special entitlement or right granted to certain people or groups, but not to others. The notion of privilege in regards to race was made famous in Peggy McIntosh's now classic "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack
," where she identified list of everyday privileges she experienced from being white. This focus on privilege represents a way of understanding race by focusing not only on the disadvantages of racial minorities but also on the advantages systematically conferred upon whites. While a white person may not have done anything to get the privilege, and may not have asked for it, they still benefit from the (often invisible) privilege in everyday life.
In addition to the privileges conferred on whites in the labor market
, in shopping and financial transactions
, in the housing market, and many other social situations, whites also receive privileges in politics. In borrowing from McIntosh, I have
developed a list of privileges given to Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential race. Feel free to comment and add more.
1. Mitt Romney is able to talk to and over a moderator of his own race about his plan for the economy during the 2012 Presidential Debate. His reaction will not be interpreted as being from "the angry
white guy." He is also able to appeal to both a live and broadcast audience largely of his own race.
2. Mitt Romney’s citizenship and birth certificate have not yet been scrutinized in the media. He does not have to spend time and resources on his campaign to convince voters he is American.
Donald Trump insisted Obama was not born in the US.
Anti-Obama sentiment swelled at false allegations of being born in Kenya.
3. Mitt Romney is not regularly portrayed in political cartoons as a monkey or native to another country. 4.
Mitt Romney’s family does not have to constantly worry about how "white" or "normal" they appear to the public.
5. When Mitt Romney seeks to appeal to low-income voters, he does not have to fear being associated with negative stereotypes of welfare. A recent study
found that, compared to the broader population, people with "racial resentments" were much more responsive to negative ads linking Obama to welfare.
6. Mitt Romney does not have to worry about whether or not the public disproves of his dog because of racial resentment. Researchers
examined what would happen when they "showed respondents a picture of a Portuguese Water Dog and told half it was Ted Kennedy’s dog and the other half it was Obama’s dog." They found that "when respondents with higher levels of racial resentment heard it was Obama’s dog, they were more likely to disapprove of it.”
7. Mitt Romney does not have to speak eloquently or intelligently at all times to be taken seriously.8.
Mitt Romney does not have to constantly worry that every political move he makes will be attributed to his race.9.
Mitt Romney is not setting the precedent for the image of his entire race in a position of political power while simultaneously taking the heat for and trying to fix the mistakes of his successive white oppressors.
10. Mitt Romney can afford to speak about or avoid the topic of race if it is brought up in a debate without drawing attention to himself.
Disapproval of Obama's dog increased among respondents with "racial resentment."
Elizabeth Dickson is a student at Ohio Wesleyan University, where she is double-majoring in Psychology and Sociology.
In this post, Samir Goswami considers the impact that the recently announced NCAA sanctions will have on changing a culture of sexual abuse on U.S. college campuses. Rooted in a tradition of public sociology, Samir’s post would serve as an excellent complement to this classroom assignment in that he broadens the scope of the current debate, drawing out key sociological connections that are missing in the dominant media coverage of this story.
| |In a somber press conference the NCAA
announced sanctions against Penn State to address the gross inaction on its part in tolerating the continued abuse of young boys perpetrated by former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. Sandusky has been convicted of 45 counts of child sexual abuse, including during his tenure as assistant coach at the University. In the official investigations that ensued, Penn State was found liable of a massive cover-up of the crimes, including by the late Penn State football coach Joe Patterno, Sandusky’s boss who could have acted to stop his assistant’s crimes and prevent other children from being victimized. "Football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing and protecting young people…The sanctions needed to reflect our goals of providing cultural change," NCAA President Mark Emmert stated as he announced the penalties that include vacating 14 season’s worth of victories for its football team and the creation of a $60 million endowment by the University to fund programs that prevent child abuse. Ed Ray, chair of the NCAA Executive Committee added
, “The corrective and punitive measures the executive committee and Division 1 board of directors have authorized should serve as a stark wake-up call to every individual in college sports that our first responsibility as outlined in our constitution is to adhere to the fundamental values of respect, fairness, civility, honesty and responsibility.”
The NCAA should be commended for this awakening of responsibility, in the wake of unquestionable evidence of institutionally tolerated harm perpetrated by an acclaimed member of the university. It is now owning up to its responsibility to punish Penn State for knowingly tolerating sexual abuse while also attempting to promote “cultural changes” throughout the intercollegiate system that prioritize the safety of children and students above all else. The authority to do so comes from the governing by-laws of an athletic association that recognizes its paramount duty to ensure well-being. Cultural change, however, will not be easy.
Any measures to promote “cultural change” to prevent the future toleration of sexual abuse, however, will only succeed if on-campus sexual assault is addressed as well. The American Association of University Women
reports that, “During the course of their college careers, between 20 and 25 percent of women will be sexually assaulted or experience attempted sexual assault.” This pervasive violence perpetrated against female university students, primarily by their peers, is an epidemic and must also be honestly exposed and addressed.
| || |
Any measures to promote “cultural change” to prevent the future toleration of sexual abuse, however, will only succeed if on-campus sexual assault is addressed as well.
A Center for Public Integrity survey
found a frighteningly low conviction rate for on-campus sexual assault and that university-based justice systems are woefully ill prepared to handle student sexual assault cases. Furthermore, according to research conducted by USA Today in 2003
, perpetrators who are college athletes are less likely to be held accountable, “of 168 sexual assault allegations against athletes in the past dozen years suggests sports figures fare better at trial than defendants from the general population.” The abuse experienced by up to one-fourth of all women who go to college is perpetrated and tolerated in silence.
In stark contrast to the unprecedented taking of institutional responsibility by the NCAA to prevent such crimes and cover ups from happening again on a college campus, many continue to be unapologetic vocal supporters of Joe Patterno, because the roots of a culture of rape run deep
If “culture” is faulted for allowing the sexual abuse of boys to continue, then that culture will only be changed if all forms of pervasive sexual abuse on campus are addressed. The Sandusky case painfully exposed the tremendous harm that bystander silence can perpetrate. The inclination towards taking responsibility by those who should and can impact change is a tremendous opportunity to implement, or try to implement, measures toward real cultural change that will root out all forms of abuse and assault perpetrated in a college setting. The NCAA and Penn State also have to address an overall culture of rape tolerated on college campuses and we all have to commit to not being silent bystanders, but vocal opponents of the continuation of harm.
to read another post by Samir Goswami featured on The Sociological Cinema
. For another post on Jerry Sandusky and the Penn State scandal, click here
. Samir GoswamiSamir Goswami is a DC-based writer from India. Samir spent the last fifteen years working towards policy reform for the issues of homelessness and housing, workforce development, human rights, violence against women and human trafficking, specifically working with survivors to have a direct say in their governance. His work has been recognized by Business and Professional People for the Public Interest, the Chicago Community Trust, and the Chicago Foundation for Women, which honored him with the 2010 Impact Award. He is currently focusing on promoting authentic corporate social responsibility.