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: biology, bodies, health/medicine, inequality, prejudice/discrimination, race/ethnicity, science/technology, violence, informed consent, institutionalized discrimination, eugenics, medical ethics, scientific racism, slavery, tuskegee syphilis experiment, 21 to 60 mins
Summary: This short interview on Democracy Now with author and scholar Harriet A. Washington provides useful entrée into a discussion about racial discrimination within the medical establishment. Drawing on work from her book Medical Apartheid: the Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial times to the Present, Washington shines a light on many of the systematic abuses African Americans and other People of Color have endured at the hands of scientists and medical professionals. • As Washington explains, the story of medical apartheid begins with scientific racism, the origins of which are often traced to 1779, when German scientist Johan Friedrich Blumenbach is credited with attempting to establish a race-based system of classification among humans (find more on Blumenbach's efforts here, and click on this link for information about how the scientific effort to find a biological basis for race continues into the present). Much has been written about how the legitimacy and authority of science allowed white slaveholders to justify the torture and confinement of their Black slaves; however, as Washington notes, there is a lesser known history of white medical professionals using Blacks as subjects in medical experiments. • In the above clip, Washington discusses The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male, as one of the most notorious examples of Blacks being used as subjects in medical experiments. The study was conducted between 1932 and 1972 in Macon County, Alabama, and it tracked 399 poor and mostly illiterate Black sharecroppers who were diagnosed with syphilis. The study subjects were deceived by medical professionals into believing that they were being treated for “bad blood," when in fact the documented intentions of those leading the study was to allow the disease to run its course, which often meant a very painful death. By 1947 penicilin was recognized as a cure for syphilis, but study clinicians denied the antibiotic to subjects and instead gave them a placebo. • As Washington notes, the racism that made something like the Tuskegee Syphilis Study possible was systemic and could be located at all levels of the medical establishment. Seated at the top of the medical hierarchy was the U.S. Surgeon General, Thomas Parran, Jr. Even when presented with the penicillian cure, Parran opted to continue experimentation with the Black men of Macon County. By his assessment, their lives were less valuable than knowledge about syphilis. • For images related to the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, check out our Pinterest board titled "Race: Health/Health Care."
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
Tags: discourse/language, theory, language acquisition device, noam chomsky, universal grammar, 00 to 05 mins
Year: clip 1: 2015 | clip 2: 1995
Length: clip 1: 1:47 | clip 2: 2:56
Access: clip 1: YouTube
clip 2: YouTube
Summary: In this pair of clips, one can find a useful synopsis of Noam Chomsky's theory of Universal Grammar (UG), which is the theory that the ability to learn grammar is hard-wired into the brain. The first clip is an animated video and part of the BBC and Open University’s A History of Ideas series. The second clip comes from Gene Searchinger's Human Language series. • To summarize, Chomsky was unconvinced by other thinkers, like John Locke, who argued that people are born blank slates. Instead, Chomsky argued that children learning to speak cannot possibly start as blank slates because they simply don't have enough information to perform many of the complex grammatical maneuvers he observed them making. According to Chomsky, our proverbial slates cannot be completely blank when we are born; we must be hard-wired with structures in our brains, or what he called language acquisition devices (LADs). The LAD is a hypothetical tool hardwired into the brain that helps children rapidly learn and understand language. • The existence of this language acquisition device means that humans are born with a grasp or an intuition of the rules of language; what they must still learn from their social environments is simply vocabulary. As evidence that a language acquisition device is a genetic endowment common to all people, Chomsky pointed to the fact that language is fundamentally similar across cultures. For instance, every language has something like a noun and a verb, a way to ask a question, and a system for making obligatory distinctions (e.g., singular and plural forms of words). As the narrator of the first clip observes, it would appear that "our slates have been written on before we emerge from the womb."
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
Tags: capitalism, class, marx/marxism, organizations/occupations/work, theory, alienation, division of labor, species essence, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: This video summarizes Karl Marx's concept of alienation. Marx wrote about alienation as a condition that uniquely arises from capitalism, and it comes in two basic flavors: first, workers are alienated from the product of their labor, and second, they are alienated from each other. It's useful to consider each of these claims separately. In the first instance, workers are alienated from the stuff they create because it disappears to shops in far off places; however, under capitalism, it is often the case that even when a product is sold in a shop just down the road from the factory or farm where it was created, workers often cannot afford it. For instance, many Ivory Coast cocoa farmers cannot afford to buy the chocolate they produce and just as many have never even tasted it. • In terms of the second type of alienation, workers are alienated from each other, meaning that the capitalist mode of production generally prevents workers from forming meaningful relationships with one another. Consider that one characteristic feature of capitalist production is the division of labor, which means that each worker becomes efficient at completing a single, tedious task, leaving him or her with neither the time nor opportunity for the kind of interpersonal interactions that were once a part of the production process (recall how Charlie Chaplin's character in Modern Times couldn't tighten bolts on an assembly line fast enough and how Lucille Ball's character in an episode of I Love Lucy couldn't wrap candy on an assembly line fast enough). In any case, as the video's narrator states, Marx argued that the only way out of this alienating mode of production is to organize and revolt. As Marx and his coauthor penned in The Communist Manifesto: "Workers of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your chains."
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
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: crime/law/deviance, inequality, prejudice/discrimination, race/ethnicity, social mvmts/social change/resistance, violence, black lives matter, black panther party, criminal justice system, institutional racism, racism, 06 to 10 mins
Access: New York Times
Summary: While it would be a mistake to reduce the Black Lives Matter movement to a mere facsimile of the Black Power movement that grew out of the Civil Rights Era, there are similarities between the movements that are difficult to ignore. Moreover, BLM did not emerge from a historical void or somehow as a response to an unprecedented set of circumstances; rather it is a continuation of the work started by organizations such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Black Panther Party (BPP). By explicitly calling for an end to patterns of racist police brutality, BLM is also continuing the unfinished work of generations of activists like Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Stokely Carmichael, and Huey P. Newton--Men and Women of Color who have bravely spoke truth to power by calling out the racist actions (and strategic inactions) of U.S. law enforcement officials. • The above news documentary, directed by Stanley Nelson, revisits the history of the Black Panther Party, which was founded by Huey P. Newton and Bobby G. Seale in October 1966. As Newton articulates in the clip, the BPP formed as a direct response to the problem of police brutality in Oakland, California, and the panther was chosen as a symbol of the organization because "The panther is a fierce animal, but he will not attack until he is backed into a corner; then he will strike out." Much like the BLM movement of the current era, soon after its formation the BPP found itself at the vanguard of a larger struggle, which sought to redress a wide array of racial injustices. In only a few short years, local BPP chapters opened all over the country. • Just as the killing of Trayvon Martin, Rekia Boyd, Michael Brown, and countless other young Black men and women has served as a catalyst for the BLM movement, the 1965 Watts Rebellion was cited by Newton and Seale as a catalyst for founding the BPP. For BLM, handheld cameras have proven to be a pivotal tool for igniting a public discussion about racism and racist violence, but people forget that the idea of surveilling the police in order to keep them honest actually grew out of the Watts Rebellion. Following the unrest, the Community Alert Patrol formed and began conducting patrols of police in Black communities. Inspired by this tactic, the BPP organized legally armed groups of Black Panthers to patrol police officers in the performance of their duty. As Party member Elbert "Big Man" Howard explains at the 2:40 mark, Panthers would stand at a distance and observe officers during traffic stops. • The story of the BPP cannot be written without reference to the efforts of the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover's leadership. Hoover successfully portrayed the BPP as a bona fide threat to U.S. national security, which was a gratuitous plank of the FBI's propaganda platform, particularly given the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Given this history, it is perhaps unsurprising that the BLM movement also finds itself maligned by U.S. law enforcement officials, but as with Hoover's allegations against the BPP, the evidence that BLM members want anything more than justice is sorely lacking. • For more information and resources, check out our Pinterest boards related to the BPP and the BLM movements.
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
Tags: biology, children/youth, gender, social construction, sports, american football, girls, 06 to 10 mins
Summary: This ESPN video explores the first all-girls tackle football league. They are changing what it means to "play like a girl" and the video shows girls excited to play a physically aggressive sport, which is more traditionally associated with boys and masculinity. But the video does more than challenge gender norms by providing an opportunity to think about the distinctions between sex and gender on shaping the body and body perceptions. Dr. Robert Cantu, Clinical Professor of Neurosurgery and Co-Director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, is an outspoken critic of boys (and girls) playing football before high school. He argues that children under the age of 12 that play tackle football have a "significantly greater late life chance to have cognitive problems, depression, and lack of impulse control, compared to the same group of people that started playing football at a later age." He goes on to argue that "young ladies [i.e. girls under 12] have much weaker necks than guys ... so that it takes less of a hit to produce a greater amount of shaking of the brain inside the skull" (the girls wear lighter helmets than those worn by the boys, and the football they use is smaller). But are these differences based in sex or gender? We might consider the degree to which weaker necks are a result of sex-based differences in average neck size and strength, or to what degree girls are socialized to do different types of activities in which they do not build comparable neck muscles? A further implication is that football is more dangerous for girls than boys, which begs the question of how we, as a society react to this claim about different neck sizes. Should we treat girls unequally and disallow them to play a sport that may carry greater risk for them, or should we promote gender equality in giving them equal opportunity to play a sport for which they have great passion? Towards the end of the clip, one of the girls interviewed receives a big hit during a game and "black[s] out." The mother discusses her concern for her daughter, but the young girl says "this is girls tackle football, and I need to toughen up."
Submitted By: Paul Dean
Tags: children/youth, education, emotion/desire, psychology/social psychology, theory, philosophy, postmodernism, 11 to 20 mins
Summary: This unconventional and provocative film challenges viewers to reflect upon what constitutes problematic behavior in children. As described on the film's website, "it presents a thought-provoking collection of visual, sound, and text images drawn from a range of sources, including art, education, psychology, special education, policy documents, popular media, and philosophy. These materials are organized around 5 key themes: What counts as problem behavior?; What is a normal child?; Difficult Bodies; Parents; and Observing and Monitoring." The film "depart[s] from the usual didactic conventions of the educational film or the in-service training video and invit[es] a more open and critical engagement from audiences." Its organization and style reflect some of its postmodern influences (e.g. Gilles Deleuze), and have provoked interesting responses from viewers (which have been shared by the film's creators). For example, viewers have noted its highly "emotional" and "somber" tone that suggests how education "controls children"; but its open-ended nature encourages a very diverse range of responses. The film also has accompanying educational support materials, "which can be used for training and professional development purposes, [and] provides some questions to guide discussion and further activity."
Submitted By: Rachel Holmes
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, class, education, inequality, race/ethnicity, the wire, 00 to 05 mins
Length: 1:31; 1:48
Access: YouTube clip 1; clip 2
Summary: Public education is meant to be the "great equalizer" and the cornerstone of the American Dream. But the reality is that the US has the greatest educational inequalities in the developed world, and in many ways, our educational system reproduces inequality rather than lessening it. These inequalities are largely rooted in how public schools are funded in the US. Most countries fund schools centrally and equally, but in the US, schools are largely funded through local property taxes and the wealthier your neighborhood, the wealthier the school (on average, wealthy schools spend 2-3 times more per pupil than poor schools). The impacts of these inequalities have been well documented in Kozol's (1991) classic study, Savage Inequalities, in more recent work (e.g. see "Structured for Failure: Race, Resources, and Student Achievement" by Linda Darling-Hammond, 2010); and they are illustrated throughout season 4 of The Wire. For example, schools in poorer districts cannot pay as high for teacher salaries and have a harder time attracting good teachers. In the first Wire clip above, the Principal and Assistant Principal discuss the teacher shortages that they have in science and math, and how the teachers took jobs in suburban schools. Roland Pryzbylewski (Prez) enters their office (after dealing with the schools' deteriorating infrastructure) in search of a job, and while he still lacks his teaching credentials, he is hired to teach math. Poor, low-achieving schools are five times as likely to have unqualified teachers, and this impacts teacher quality in the classroom (Darling-Hammond 2010). Schools in wealthier neighborhoods offer much higher salaries, more educational resources, and have fewer disruptive students, thus attracting better teachers to teach children from wealthier families. But the principals are happy to hear his past job was a police officer, given the severe behavioral issues Prez will face in the classroom. In the second clip, Bubbles helps his friend Sherrod return to school. Sherrod stopped attending school in the 5th grade, and is now 13 years old, which is a typical age for an 8th grader. But due to a lack of resources for students to repeat grade levels and a view that if they place the older children in the younger classes, "it us unfair to teachers, who are responsible for maintaining order." Accordingly, Sherrod will start off attending the 8th grade. This policy of "social promotion" effectively guarantees that Sherrod will not be prepared for the academic material taught in class. These types of inequality are also much more likely to impact students of color. Viewers would also be interested in this experiment on Oprah, where students from poor inner-city school traded places with a wealthy suburban school, which reinforces the examples above. You can also view other clips from The Wire that are useful for teaching sociological concepts.
Submitted By: Paul Dean
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