Tags: biology, knowledge, race/ethnicity, social construction, subtitles/CC, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: In this short video from 2011, Jessica Alba appears on the talk show Lopez Tonight and endures George Lopez's comedic preamble before hearing the results of her ancestry DNA test. According to Lopez and the language used by the testing company, Alba is 87 percent European and 13 percent Native American. But to the astute observer, the show is actually claiming to reveal more than the details of Alba's genetic composition. It is also claiming to reveal information about her "true" race, and therein lies the problem. • As I have noted elsewhere on The Sociological Cinema, racial categories do not consistently correspond to biological observations (see here and here). To put it another way, race is not based on biology; it merely claims to be. This point often confuses people, for they reason that in some sense race must be biological. After all, skin color is largely a genetically determined characteristic, and so the thinking goes, race must be too. But while genetic instructions largely determine the amount of melanin a body produces, it is through socialization that people become predisposed to notice skin color as one of the most salient features a body can have. The thickness of one's eyebrows, the shape of their ears, or the color of their of eyes—these are also genetically determined characteristcs, but people mostly discount these features as the bearers of useful information. To socially construct race, then, is to teach people which physical characteristics are the salient markers of a racial group, and racism becomes possible once people begin assigning meanings to those salient racial markers. • At about the 45-second mark, Lopez explains that the DNA analysis distinguishes between four ancestral groups, and perhaps sensing that it would resonate with his audience, he incorrectly equates each ancestral group with a race. The Europeans, according to Lopez, are white, Sub-Saharan Africans are black, East Asians are Asian, and the Indigenous American group refers to Native Americans. The results confuse Alba, who racially identifies as Latina and knows her last name comes from Spain. But it is instructive to dwell a bit on the basis of her confusion, for it highlights the incompatibility between ancestral DNA and race. In the United States people with Spanish heritage tend to be racially categorized as Hispanic or Latino, which is a category believed to be distinct from white. However, DNA analyses show that the original inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula (i.e. Spain, Portugal, the small UK overseas territory of Gibraltar, and the Principality of Andorra) are a part of the same general migratory group of homo sapiens that settled the rest of Europe. As with all racial categories, contemporary distinctions between whites and Hispanics in the United States are socially created and not based on some deeper biological truth.
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
Tags: bodies, culture, gender, inequality, prejudice/discrimination, race/ethnicity, social construction, beauty culture, floating norms, laissez-faire racism, model industry, white privilege, subtitles/CC, 06 to 10 mins
Summary: Is being a model really all it’s cracked up to be? In this TED Talk, Cameron Russell answers this and other questions by vocalizing some of her experiences in the modeling industry. This video is useful for illustrating the work that takes place behind-the-scenes of the modeling industry in order to produce what sociologist Ashley Mears calls “the look.” In her book Pricing Beauty: The Making of a Fashion Model, Mears articulates that “the look” is something sought after by clients and bookers alike in the fashion industry. It is defined as the varying traits—both physical and personality—that make a model desirable. Yet, after spending more than two years conducting ethnographic fieldwork, Mears finds that industry professionals have a hard time describing what exactly constitutes a good look; rather, they claim they just “know it” when they see it. In this way, Mears illustrates how the look is characterized by a set of “floating norms” against which models are measured. These socially constructed ideals “are elusive benchmarks of fleeting, aesthetic visions of femininity and masculinity” (Mears 2011:92). The challenge with adhering to these norms is that they are consistently out of reach; models must constantly work to achieve them but, since they are ambiguous and always changing, they are ultimately unattainable. The result is that even models are insecure with, and always questioning, the value of their look. • In addition to illustrating the cultural production of the look, this clip also illustrates the various ways white privilege and laissez-faire racism operate in the modeling industry. Once again echoing Mears’s findings, Russell points to the scouting process as a site where ideas about race result in inequalities within the industry. In addition to youth and vitality, Russell asserts that she was also selected for her whiteness. It is both norms around conventional prettiness and the legacy of white privilege that has helped to secure Russell’s success. Mears’s research similarly documents the ways in which white models are significantly hired over African Americans, Latino/as, and people of Asian descent. When models of color are present in the industry, they are often used in exotic campaigns or they exhibit an “ethnicity lite” aesthetic, that is, a look that “blends mainstream white beauty ideals with just a touch of otherness” (Mears 2011:196). • Russell also points to the extensive work that goes into creating a look. Behind each advertisement or photograph is significant makeup and styling, as well as preproduction, postproduction, and Photoshop. How might this create challenges for individuals in society? Many young people seek to emulate “the look” that fashion models project. However, as Mears and Russell demonstrate, the look is unattainable; it is a socially constructed concept that is difficult to describe, and even more difficult to achieve. Nonetheless, people hold themselves up to this impossible standard, resulting in low self-esteem, incredible commercial gains for beauty companies, and a perpetual feeling of insufficiency.
Submitted By: Ruth Sheldon and Valerie Chepp
Tags: bodies, gender, health/medicine, marketing/brands, body dysmorphia, masculinity, michael kimmel, reflexivity, subtitles/CC, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: This video advertisement directs viewers to a workout program that promises to give men the washboard abs of their dreams, but for sociologists, the ad simply underscores an emergent masculine ideal, which is neither timeless nor inevitable. Contrary to all appearences, the ideal may not be all that healthy either. • In his article "Masculinity as Homophobia: Fear, Shame, and Silence in the Construction of Gender Identity," sociologist Michael Kimmel traces the origins of masculine ideals in the United States to the eighteenth century, where men aspired to the ideal of a Genteel Patriarch, whose standing was based on landownership. The Genteel figure was refined and elegant, while also being sexual and strong. According to Kimmel, by the 1830s the Genteel Patriarch gave way to a new ideal, or what he calls the Marketplace Man. This figure "derived his identity entirely from his success in the capitalist marketplace, as he accumulated wealth, power, status." • Fast forward to 2015 and take stock of the above video advertisement from Six Pack Shortcuts. Johnny, "the Six-Pack-Abs" pitchman, begins by asking men to guess which muscle is "scientifically proven" to attract women. Johnny assures viewers with a knowing smirk that he isn't talking about the penis (After all, it would be unacceptably shallow and misguided to objectify and fetishize a particular part of a man's body!). No, he's referring to men's abs, and he claims to know because, well, science, and because he's the six-pack-abs-guy. He also quotes from Men's Health, which states that women know "a little excess midriff meat now means one sloppy, fat bastard in 10 years." • In the view of many sociologists who study masculinity, the Marketplace Man has given way to a new Supermale masculinity, which is an aspirational ideal that involves manipulating one's body, purging it of fat stores, and accentuating muscle striation. In a relational context, the Supermale affirms his status by high-fiving the bros, broadcasting short clips of his lifts, posting carefully lit selfies of his abs on social media, and by frequently using the hashtag #DoYouEvenLift. • Masculine ideals change over time, and the generation of men who strive to ascend the ranks of any given ideal simultanously avail themselves to new possibilities and vulnerabilities. To understand the masculinity of an era is to understand the sacrifices men are being enticed to make, as well as the widely-shared conseqences for making those sacrifices. Those who pursued the ideal of the Marketplace Man were vulnerable insofar as they directly pinned their masculinity to the viscissitudes of market capitalism, but what are the distinct vulnerabilities of men pursuing the ideal of the Supermale? The fact is that the Supermale is a largely unattainable ideal that may lead boys and men to develop body image concerns, or even body dysmorphia. Johnny, the six-pack-abs-guy, and the entire industry Johnny represents, excel at branding their products as healthy, but if those products promise to deliver an unattainable ideal, they may be doing more harm than good.
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
Tags: children/youth, class, crime/law/deviance, inequality, rural/urban, violence, gangs, philippines, poverty, subtitles/CC, 61+ mins
Summary: This independent film, shot in the ghetto district of Tondo (Manila, Philippines), is "an ultra-realist depiction of youth corrupted by violence, death and decay, told documentary-style." The plot follows ten year-old Ebet as he witnesses the activities of rival street gangs, and is ultimately a story about the cycle of urban poverty. In the film, "the dangerous unlit streets and labyrinthine alleyways in the ghetto district of Tondo ... becomes a claustrrophobic backdrop to a random killing that triggers a wild and bloody gang war. Ebet, a 10 year old boy, encounters the members of Tondo’s gangsta tribes – juvenile thugs and petty criminals whose pastime of sex and drugs are veiled under their eloquent freestyle hip-hop rap – as each gang participates in a long, bloody and vicious cycle of revenge and reprisal, gangsta style. After a brutal midnight initiation ritual, young gang members discover the lifeless body of a young man on the street, knife still stuck in its back. Ebet watches as the police round up the gang, and charged for the murderous riots that erupt every night in the ghetto. The next day, members of the bereaved gang to whom the victim was a member of, discuss to find out which tribe perpetrated the crime. A vendetta is silently plotted, new alliances formed, to flush out the real murderers ... Hailed as a gritty portrayal of Manila’s notoriously violent streets of Tondo, Jim Libiran’s Tribu is Realist Cinema with a social project. To act as main actors, the filmmaker employed real-life gang members from rival clans, triggering a wave of unification and peace in a large part of Tondo's ghettos."
Submitted By: Jim Libiran
Tags: children/youth, consumption/consumerism, corporations, marketing/brands, media, science/technology, identity, internet, social media, teenagers, youth culture, subtitles/CC, 21 to 60 mins
Summary: This 2014 PBS Frontline documentary, Generation Like, serves as a nice updated follow-up to the popular 2001 documentary, The Merchants of Cool. As in the 2001 episode, Generation Like explores how large corporations and marketing firms seek to tap into young consumer markets. However, unlike the teens that came of age during the making of The Merchants of Cool, today’s young adults are navigating a radically different media and advertising environment, namely, one dominated by social media. As explained in this plot summary, “Thanks to social media, today's teens are able to directly interact with their culture - artists, celebrities, movies, brands, and even one another - in ways never before possible. But is that real empowerment? Or do marketers still hold the upper hand? In Generation Like, author and FRONTLINE correspondent Douglas Rushkoff (The Merchants of Cool, The Persuaders) explores how the perennial teen quest for identity and connection has migrated to social media - and exposes the game of cat-and-mouse that corporations are playing with these young consumers. Do kids think they're being used? Do they care? Or does the perceived chance to be the next big star make it all worth it? The film is a powerful examination of the evolving and complicated relationship between teens and the companies that are increasingly working to target them.” While this documentary would be useful for teaching ideas related to teen consumption and corporate advertising, it could also serve as a useful way to examine characteristics of the generational cohort following the Millennials, who have been dubbed "Generation Z."
Submitted By: Valerie Chepp
Tags: aging/life course, demography/population, methodology/statistics, demographic transition, fertility, mortality, subtitles/CC, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: In an earlier video post from The Economist I introduced the population pyramid, which is a type of graph used by demographers to interpret population characteristics and project how those characteristics will change in the future. Using these pyramid graphs, it's possible to discern whether a given population is growing rapidly, growing slowly, or in decline, and whether the country has undergone a demographic transition. Few graphs are more useful than population pyramids, for they allow policymakers to establish tax structures, based on projections of the number of working-age people who will be able to pay taxes and the number of people who will be dependent on social services. Knowing characteristics of a population is also essential if one hopes to prevent food shortages, avoid ecological threats, and lesson the blow of chronic poverty. This video lesson prepared by Kim Preshoff is a nice primer on reading the graphs, as it compares the population distributions of a number of different countries, including Russia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Canada, Japan, China, and the United States. After watching the video and discussing the potential challenges each country faces, it's useful to ask students to find or create population pyramids for other countries and report on the challenges their chosen country faces based on its population characteristics.
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
Tags: class, education, foucault, government/the state, inequality, knowledge, marx/marxism, theory, alienation, althusser, gramsci, hegemony, state apparatuses, subtitles/CC, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: In my Classic Sociological Theory class, I ask students to write a reflective essay on Marxist concepts of alienation (see also here, here, here, here, and here) and class conflict, and then I ask them to relate the concepts to Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall." It is a common misunderstanding that Marx was solely a materialist who ignored the sphere of ideas. On the contrary, Marx explicitly argued that "the ideas of the rulling class were in every epoch the ruling ideas." To stretch students’ analytical skills I ask and encourage them to also incorporate Althusser’s idea of state apparatuses (repressive and ideological). That is, drawing from the video, what does it mean to say that the state is repressive in order to further the interests of the ruling classes? I then ask students to push their argument even further and incorporate a discussion of Gramsci’s notion of hegemony (see also here, here, and here). Here the question is, how does the bourgeoisie develop a hegemonic culture, wherein its own values and norms become common sense for all? Instructors should feel free to press for a more radical departure from Marx. For instance, it might be fruitful to draw on Foucault to analyze resistance, punishment, and the complex notion of power-knowledge. I remind students that the objective is not to merely summarize the theories and create links between concepts and the video, but to use the video as a springboard for a deeper discussion about resistance and oppression.
Submitted by: Hadi Khoshneviss, University of South Florida
Tags: culture, discourse/language, knowledge, theory, cultural transmission, ferdinand de saussure, primatology, signifier, signs, symbols, subtitles/CC, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: There is a widely held myth that humans are distinct from all other animals because we have culture. As sociologists understand the term, culture is the system of beliefs, skills, and knowledge shared by a group of people or society, and stated in those terms, it is not something unique to homo sapiens. In fact, as Gillian Anderson (i.e., Dana Scully from The X-Files) explains in this short video, chimpanzees have a kind of culture too. What makes humans unique is that we are capable of passing on our culture, knowledge, and skills across generations to strangers we’ve never met, a phenomenon known as cultural transmission. Unlike chimpanzees, who have been observed teaching other chimpanzees how to use tools from their environment, humans are not limited to face-to-face interactions. Through our use of symbols, or signifiers in the terminology introduced by the Swiss semiotician Ferdinand de Saussure, we have proven to be very capable of transmitting our culture in various forms, such as writing, paintings, photographs, videos, and even in the artifacts we've designed, like tombstones and telephones.
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
Tags: class, crime/law/deviance, inequality, prejudice/discrimination, race/ethnicity, violence, broken windows theory, criminal justice system, institutional racism, racism, subtitles/CC, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: This exquisitely illustrated presentation from artist Molly Crabapple examines the origins of the broken windows theory, the kind of policing it led to, and the theory's connection to the deaths of people like Eric Garner and Akai Gurley. As Crabapple explains, social scientists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling introduced the theory in 1982 in an article they wrote for the Atlantic Monthly. "Social psychologists and police officers tend to agree," they explained, "if a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken...one unrepaired broken window is a signal that no one cares, and so breaking more windows costs nothing." • The theory has proven to be enormously influential in cities and municipalities all over the United States, and in New York City the theory appears to be the justification, if not the inspiration, behind the NYPD's controversial stop-and-frisk program. In line with the philosophy that police officers should devote time and attention to preventing broken windows in an effort to stave off a larger breakdown of social order, the NYPD regularly stops and searches people they encounter on the streets in order to confiscate guns before they can be used in more serious crimes. However, as Crabapple notes, it's important not to lose sight of the fact that broken windows policing doesn't mean police will fix up poor neighborhoods, and arguably, stop-and-frisk policing has not been implemented as a way to restore safety to crime-ridden communities. On the contrary, a far more convincing case can be made that the stop-and-frisk program has simply directed a disproportionate share of police scrutiny toward poor and marginalized people. • As a result, critics argue that the program has weakened citizens' cooperation with police, and it may have even increased the number of violent altercations between police and the citizens of those marginalized communities. On February 19th, 2014, NYPD officers beat 84-year-old Kang Wang for jaywalking. On July 17th of the same year, police choked and killed Eric Garner after initially confronting him based on the suspicion he was selling loose cigarettes. On the day he was killed, Garner voiced his objection to the police harassment, stating, "This stops today." Unfortunately, the NYPD's stop-and-frisk program and other forms of broken windows policing are by now entrenched features of the criminal justice system, and it is not yet clear when such programs might end.
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
Tags: discourse/language, inequality, media, prejudice/discrimination, race/ethnicity, science/technology, representation, subtitles/CC, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: Given the current media spotlight on racist patterns of violence, it's easy to lose sight of more subtle forms of racism. For instance, a daily barrage of media featuring white protagonists simply becomes an unremarked upon backdrop of everyday life, like the piped elevator music that cajoles one into humming along despite being ambivalent about the tune. One racist backdrop might be the book covers one encounters at a typical bookstore. For instance, one analyst found that in 2011 a white person was featured on roughly 90% of all young adult book covers, whereas a Person of Color could only be found on somewhere between 10% and 15% of covers. The quiet tendency to whitewash media is but one reason why representations of whiteness have come to dominate the media landscape. Black and brown characters in popular books are routinely rewritten as white characters in Hollywood film adaptations. And speaking of film and television, one 2013 study found that while whites comprised 63% of the population, they were featured on the evening cable news shows 79% of the time. • The point is not to simply draw attention to the disproportionate number of roles being written for white men and women, or the fact that whites are being given more of a voice in popular media. Instead, my aim is to simply point out that visual media, such as advertising, television, and film, play a key role in promoting the idea of whiteness as the default or universal human. More pointedly, such visual media reinforce the idea that People of Color are deviations, somehow not fully compatible with the human ideal. • Consider the phrasing, "normal to dark skin," recently spotted on a bottle of Dove body lotion. It escapes most people's attention that "normal" is being used as a synonym for "white." Whiteness is the default. In the above comedy sketch from Saturday Night Live, Sasheer Zamata points out a second example of how whiteness becomes normalized in the selection of emojis used in texting. Not one of the more than 800 emojis depicts a Black person, and as Zamata notes, "Unicode, the company that creates emojis, thought that instead of one black person we needed two different kinds of dragons, nine different cat faces, three generations of a white family. And all the hands are white, too. Even the Black power fist is white!"
Submitted by: Lester Andrist
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